Annotated List of Beowulf Translations: Introduction

Marijane Osborn
Department of English
University of California/Davis
Davis, CA 95616

Beowulf: Two Centuries of Translations, Paraphrases and Adaptations


The chronologically organized list that follows below displays developments in the study of Beowulf and the way such study feeds upon itself in shifting "executions of the poem." Translations and retellings of a text in a language no longer living depend, whether immediately or ultimately, on scholarly editions of that text and related texts in the same language, on previous translations and scholarship, and on potential readership. Even Thorkelin, the first editor-translator of Beowulf, was influenced by someone else's ideas of what the manuscript contained.* Thus any translation is historically and culturally situated, or even situated within the translator’s specific access range (e.g. local library, teacher’s recommendation, grandfather’s bookcase, etc.), and the history of the recovery for a later generation's public of a work originally in a language no longer living is expressed in translations. Sometimes these are "executions" of the poem in a sense not intended by Valéry, but they also have their interest. The aim of this list of over three hundred items, therefore, is to be as comprehensive as possible concerning translations, paraphrases and adaptations that present Beowulf as a whole (and when special circumstances warrant, in part), not only to provide the information needed to access the materials listed, but also to provide access to an important and mostly neglected aspect of the modern reception of the poem. Please note that no translations after the year 2003 are included.

The list begins with the first attention to Beowulf as a document to be presented to a wider audience than those adept in Old English, and it includes items in languages other than English. (These often refer back to an earlier stage in the understanding of Beowulf than their date would suggest.) When a lesser item is of particular interest, or if a partial translation has come to my attention, I have noted that item also; this includes the Finnsburg materials, designated "Finnsburg" without discrimination. I have not sought these out. Some sound recordings and films are listed separately at the end of the list of printed works. No attempt is made to cover such current popular Beowulfiana as the use of "Beowulf" names in the computer world and the year 2000 "Thirteenth Warrior" stamp issued by the Republic of Komi. (But I had to mention that one!)

Items are listed chronologically by year and alphabetically by author within a given year. Additional information may follow the author's name and the year of publication, such as language if not English, the nature of the item, and the designations Fry and G-R (Greenfield-Robinson) with their bibliography numbers. If these easily accessible bibliographies contain the item, then the title, place of publication, and publisher may be omitted to save space in the list that follows; otherwise a full citation is given when available. The Fry and G-R reference numbers also let the reader know how familiar the item is within the discipline. The designation S-H indicates a discussion of the item by Shippey and Haarder in Beowulf: The Critical Heritage. The first partial translation into a particular language is in bold type, as is the first complete translation. If no language is specified, the work is in English. The few items reported about which no further information is available are in brackets. Occasionally the word "diss" appears; this refers to my 1969 Stanford dissertation, "Foreign Studies of Beowulf." If anyone needs information on a foreign item not available in the bibliographies above, it is possible that I have it, or have the item itself. Syd Allan, who has a wide collection of copies of complete translations into English, may be reached from his Beowulf webpage for information concerning these. From 1970 onwards items are often annotated in some detail. Two symbols are used throughout: a dagger (†) to indicate a complete translation and an asterisk (*) to indicate a version that deviates entirely from the original, such as a novel or musical composition. Warning: sometimes this is guesswork. Since this list is in large part a compilation from previous lists, not every item has been examined personally. Moreover, the compiler has discovered mistakes even in sources thought dependable and has undoubtedly introduced her own.

Sources used for compiling the list are various. The following bibliographical works, listed chronologically, have been invaluable (full citations follow below): Huyshe 1907, Klaeber 1950, Chambers-Wrenn 1963, Tinker 1903 supplemented by Osborn 1974 (several times cited as T/O; at the date of this writing, T/O is the only published comprehensive bibliography devoted solely to translations and other reworkings of Beowulf, which the present list now supercedes in terms of items), Fry 1979, the Greenfield-Robinson Bibliography of 1980, Douglas Short's Beowulf Scholarship of 1980 (especially for later items), Shippey and Haarder 1998 (for assessment of work on the poem to 1935), Hasenfratz's database for 1974-94, and The Old English Newsletter (OEN). Of these the most useful for translation study in particular, though it addresses only the earlier translations (27 items in detail), is Tinker 1903, which provides passages of an adequate length for comparison and extensive commentary on such matters as sources and style; this would best be used in conjunction with Shippey-Haarder. Short also provides commentary, the Old English Newsletter provides critical commentary annually, and Fry and Greenfield-Robinson are usefully though very minimally annotated bibliographies. I discuss a selection of the items assembled here in the last chapter of Bjork and Niles (editors), A Beowulf Handbook (1997). For drawing my attention to individual items I am grateful to many scholars and friends, among them Syd Allan, Robert Bjork, Rolf Bremmer, James E. Cross, Andreas Haarder, Anita Obermeier, Christopher Ricks, Fred C. Robinson, and C. L. Wrenn. I look forward to assistance in correcting and supplementing the present list, and for information on the few bracketed items. At all times a list such as this should be regarded as tentative, not definitive, with attention to its end-date. Oversights may be communicated to me at my institution: Department of English, UC Davis.

* In their Beowulf: The Critical Heritage T.A. Shippey and Andreas Haarder offer a view of this development of Beowulf-study as early scholars struggled to understand the poem. It is instructive to see how certain misunderstandings of those nineteenth-century scholars, corrected long ago, are perpetuated in popular accounts of Beowulf a century or more later.
-Marijane Osborn, Davis 2003

Added in 2014: In Translating Beowulf: Modern Versions in English Verse (Cambridge: D.S. Brewer, 2011), Hugh Magennis first introduces ideas and techniques of translation, then he describes and assesses in detail selected translations from Thorkelin (1815) to Glosecki (2007). His book is astute, engaging, and very highly recommended.

Bibliographies and Related Texts Cited in Introduction

Bjork, Robert, and John D. Niles, editors. A Beowulf Handbook. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1997.

Chambers, R. W. Beowulf: An Introduction to the Study of the Poem. 3rd edition with a supplement by C. L. Wrenn. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1963.

Fry, Donald K. Beowulf and the Fight at Finnsburh: A Bibliography. Charlottesville: The University Press of Virginia, 1969.

Greenfield, Stanley B., and Fred C. Robinson. A Bibliography of Publications in Old English Literature to the end of 1972. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1980.

Hasenfratz, Robert J. A Bibliography of Beowulf Criticism 1979-94 [database online].

Huyshe, Wentworth. Beowulf: An Old English Epic (The Earliest Epic of the Germanic Race), Translated into Modern English Prose with Notes and Illustrations. London: Routledge, 1907.

Klaeber, Friedrich, editor. Beowulf and the Fight at Finnsburg. Boston: Heath, 3rd ed. 1950.

Osborn, Marijane. Foreign Studies of Beowulf: A Critical Survey of Beowulf Scholarship Outside English-Speaking Countries and Germany. Stanford Dissertation, 1969. Unpublished.

Shippey, T. S., and Andreas Haarder. Beowulf: The Critical Heritage. London: Routledge, 1998.

Short, Douglas. Beowulf Scholarship: An Annotated Bigliography. New York: Garland, 1980.

Tinker, Chauncey B. The Translations of Beowulf: A Critical Bibliography. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1903; republished with an updated bibliography by Marijane Osborn and a forward to this section by Fred C. Robinson. Hamden, CT: Archon, 1974. (The 1974 publishers, as they admitted, dropped some plates in the post-proofreading printing, thereby making the supplement less useful than intended. In any case it should be used with caution, as not every item was examined personally by me.)

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