Beowulf dating

It is one of the most important works of Old English literature. The date of composition is a matter of contention among scholars; the only certain dating pertains to the manuscript, which was produced between and The story is set in Scandinavia. Beowulf , a hero of the Geats , comes to the aid of Hrothgar, the king of the Danes , whose mead hall in Heorot has been under attack by a monster known as Grendel. After Beowulf slays him, Grendel's mother attacks the hall and is then also defeated.

Anglo-Saxon epic poem Beowulf was work of just one author, computer analysis suggests

Skip to main content. Log In Sign Up. On the dating of Beowulf Beowulf: Basic Readings, Roy Liuzza. On the dating of Beowulf. Tolkien made these remarks in Not only has the traditional dating of the poem to the somewhat elastic "Age of Bede" come under increasing suspi- cion. An emblem of this erosion of certainty may be drawn from the works of Stanley B. Calder in Various linguistic. Robinson advises that "when such learned and formidable challenges to an early date [i. Irving's Rereading "Beowulf"hesitates: Ruth P.

Lehmann, in "Beowulf": Kiernan, and the contributors to The Dating of "Beowulf. The poem. In a recent article, Robert P. Creed accepts what may be the earliest possible date for the poem: Fulk, and Claus-Dieter Wetzel. Swanton; proponents of a later date include W. Busse and R Holtei. Patricia Poussa. John D. Alexandra Hennessey Olsen. Rowland L. Without a doubt. With only the most general notions of the poem's context, its backgrounds.

Yet this is precisely the situation of the reader of Beowulf It may well be the English literary text most in need of an interpretive context. This frustrating situation is itself of considerable interest. I believe that the assumptions made in dating the poem, a branch of the study of Old English often regarded as ancillary, technical and perhaps a bit antique, tell us a great deal about our sometimes unspoken and unformulated critical attitudes towards Old English literary texts; each effort to date the poem contains an implicit ars One of the first problems raised by an effort to date the poem, for example, is that of definition-what we mean when we speak of wulf To fix the moment of origin is to have some conception of the nature of the thing brought into being: MichMliJuzza from errors but without substantive variation from the surviving text?

Each of these definitions has important consequences not only for how we date but for how we read it; dating the poem forces us to make explicit our understanding of its form and content. Of the many methods which have been used to determine the poem's date, two call for special attention. One might call them "the beauty of inflections" and "the beauty of innuendoes": The faith of the historicist method was simply expressed by Ritchie Girvan in The complexity of the poem's attitude towards the men and tribes it depicts suggests that its author did not "play the flat historic scale" and hold a monocular view of the world.

In its most basic form the historical method relies on a poem which is already interpreted, whose opinions and attitudes are beyond dispute; one of the most important goals of placing historically, how- ever, is to discover the context in which its ambiguities can themselves be interpreted. An example of the problem of simultaneously interpret- ing text and context is seen in the erosion of consensus regarding the tnminus lJutm of the Viking Age for the poem's composition.

Dorothy Whitelock, for example, believed that the poem must predate the onset of the Viking raids because of its praise of the Danes: It is not how men like to hear the people described who are burning their homes. To ascribe the same nationalistic attitudes to the Anglo- Saxons. The Viking-Age limit was widely accepted for other reasons as well; for most critics.

In either case our preconceptions about the nature of the text. Apart from this general hermeneutic dilemma. Literary and cultural historians in increasing numbers have come to realize that there is often. Texts and the cultures in which they are created exist in a dialectical relation24 of mutual interpretability; rarely is there an uninterpreted given.

The linguistic method. The connection between metries and dating relies on the belief that Old English verses "wild with motion, full of din" contain patterns of variation which are, however subject to individual style or ability, ultimately controlled by historical developments in the language-that is, there are metrical laws parallel to and dependent upon sound laws. Their analysis draws on two bodies of information, neither of which is certain: The Anglo-Saxons left no text comparable to the Old Norse SkaUskaparmal to help us understand their poetry; all metrical rules for Old English are "a glass man, without external refer- ence," induced from the evidence of the surviving manuscripts.

The first of these Donoghue neatly formulates as "distinguishing the tradition from the individual talent" 2. All readers of Old English recognize that the poetty is formulaic; even translations from Latin like the Paris Psalter and the Meters ofBoethius are full of conventional expressions and verses. Metrical evi- dence, even if it could separate "the poet's gibberish" from "the gibber- ish of the vulgate. Nor is the process of poetic composition in Old English so well understood that we can rule out the wholesale borrowing of verses.

The piecemeal process of accretion, conjuncture, and interpolation described by nineteenth-cen- tury critics under the inRuence of Lachmann's analysis of the Nib- elungmlitd. Donoghue's theoryofCynewulf's compositional technique, for example, in which he proposes that the poet revised and added his runic signature to pre-existing poems in what is, to a contemporary reader, an act of plagiarism, would work against any metrical evidence for dating the poem.

Poems such as con- taining a vast portion of a transmogrified Old Saxon poem. If such borrowing was common. On the other hand, metrical tests for dating tend to subsume all variation under historical causation, thereby ignoring or severely re- stricting the extent of individual control in a poet's work. As Thomas Cable has said, the individual metrical style of a poet can override the presumed style of his age and rurn our chronological typology into a wishful ideal.

This is especially true as we focus on the subtleties of style. He contends that verses with three levels of ictus i. The problem. Moreover, he recognizes that the use ofC. Amos makes an analogy to Shake- spearean pronunciation: The fact mat Genesis A has mostly disyllabic forms, the Cynewulf corpus has mostly contracted forms, and Beowulf and Daniel have both forms certainly creates a hierarchy within the Old English literary corpus, but again this is not necessarily a chronological order'" It is disturbing that most models of Old English poetic composition describe activities mat would, if practiced on any appreciable scale, frustrate all efforts to date the poetry by means oflanguage or meter.

In fact whenever the process of composition, performance, or transmission is taken into account, the methods of the metrical dating studies begin to look suspicious. MichaeliJuzza poet or audience led to variety in metrical rules, then efforts to organize a limited corpus of poems by their adherence to or violation of the metrical norms of would end up measuring style and tradition rather than date.

Given all these objections, the strict application of metrical evidence to the question of date begins to look, in Kenneth Sisam's phrase, like "guess-work hampered by statistics. This may be introduced by considering the relation of metrical study to textual emendation. Metrical analysis, like emendation, works in part by removing layers of scribal corruption to reveal an author's original phrase; in some cases editors correct their manuscripts based on their conception of Old English meter.

Emenda- tion causa is a necessarily circular process, as Bliss notes early in his of "the necessity for emendation may seem at first sight to discredit the rule on which the emendation is based" 4. Moreover, emendation is normative rather than empirical, smoothing out irregularities in the meter by substituting similarity for difference. In both of the cases just mentioned, the emendation assumes that a scribe has substituted a non-alliterating synonym for the original author's words-thus he was understanding and altering his text, not mechanically transcribing it, and while he may have been a bad poet in these cases he was at least a good reader.

An alternative model of manuscript transmission proposes that scribes were active participants in the process, mediating between the text and its readers, reconstituting the text in a performance on the manuscript page with sometimes scant regard for the precise reproduc- tion of an authorial text; some of them, perhaps, even had a sense of the sound of a line of Old English poetry.

The scribes may have altered the metrical form of a line in such a way that their words are, in the absence of a second copy of the text, not distinguishable from those of an author. S4 In prose texts which survive in more than one copy, it is usually evident that scribes did not practice their craft with the honest simplic- ity and good intentions that metrical dating studies require. Most manuscripts contain, of course, a number of recognizable and un- controversial errors which can plausibly be corrected by emendation, but beyond the garbling of sense into nonsense, there are few external grounds for determining the nature and extent of scribal "corruption.

When a text survives in only one manuscript the amount of such interaction is unknowable. There are, however, a number of Old English poems found in more than one manuscript which can serve as evidence. A better, though still problematic, example is the West Saxon ver- sion of Caedmon's Hymn: Modernization of forms in the course of transmission was allowed and even required by the use for which Old English works were intended.

After noting the number of variants. Other poems found in two manuscripts offer more evidence for the habits of Old English scribes with regard to meter and authorial word- ing; significant differences, from the addition 0: The two texts of the Gloria I show comparatively little variation: Shoner texts show a degree of variation similar to the longer poems: The two versions of the Exeter Book Riddk JO contain eighteen half-lines and four metrical differences, or 2.

BattleofBrunanburh, edited from four manuscripts in Dobbie's edition for Anglo-Saxon contains half-lines and twenty- six variants. It should be stressed that this is not the same son of scribal interference with meter condoned by traditional metrical-dating studies, such as the writing of contracted monosyllabic forms where the meter requires a disyllabic form; these are alterations of the metrical shape of the half-line which do not, for the most part.

Assuming that the two surviving copies of these poems do not represent different authorial drafts, one must conclude that at least one of the surviving copies falsifies the author's metrical practice; from the figures it is tempting to extrapolate that, in a hypothetically average copy of an average Old English poem, approxi- mately one half-line in five will vaty from the author's original words. If one assumes, as most critics do.

Such scribal intervention is hardly conducive to the accurate transmission of the metrical details of an early poet; the extent of variation in Old English poetic manuscripts supports the theory that Anglo-Saxon scribes functioned rather like modern editors-unlike editors, however, they did not have as their goal the restoration of an original authoritative text. It is therefore implausible to suppose that a poem might preserve for several centuries of written transmission the metrical shape of its first composition.

The skepticism with which most critics greeted the reading wundini goltk in line , proposed with such enthusiasm by c. Wrenn as linguistic evidence for an eighth-century written text of BtoWUIf,72 ought to be extended to any argument which supposes that the linguistic and metrical details of a poem remained substantially unaltered during the course of its trans- mission. The lines of verse on the Ruthwell Cross and the preservation of a ninth-century text of the Ltitkn poems which reappear in some form in the major manuscripts of Old English poetry, confirm the belief that the date of composition of an Old English poem may be centuries before its date of compilation.

But as the texts of these poems themselves indicate, the process of manuscript transmission, like that of oral trans- mission, was not at all likely or even able to preserve the fixed form of a text or the sort of details on which metrical dating arguments must be based. Metrical dating studies must assume that there is a difference between the scribe's work and the author's; establishing a chronology by metrical means necessarily assumes that there is on the one hand a group of original texts, the full expression of their authors' intention, and on the other a series of divergent and derivative versions contained in the surviving manuscripts.

Beowulf is an Old English epic poem consisting of 3, alliterative lines. It is one of the most important works of Old. The date of Beowulf, debated for almost a century, is a small question with large consequences. Does the poem provide us with an accurate if idealized view of.

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The date of Beowulf , debated for almost a century, is a small question with large consequences. Does the poem provide us with an accurate if idealized view of early Germanic culture? Or is it rather a creature of nostalgia and imagination, born of the desire of a later age to create for itself a glorious past? If we cannot decide when, between the 5th and 11th centuries, the poem was composed, we cannot distinguish what elements in Beowulf belong properly to the history of material culture, to the history of myth and legend, to political history, or to the development of the English literary imagination. This book represents both individual and concerted attempts to deal with this important question, and presents one of the most important inconclusions in the study of Old English. The contributors raise so many doubts, turn up so much new and disturbing information, dismantle so many long-accepted scholarly constructs that Beowulf studies will never be the same:

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The date of Beowulf, debated for almost a century, is a small question with large consequences. Does the poem provide us with an accurate if idealized view of early Germanic culture?

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Epic Literature and Beowulf
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