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Beowulf (Signet Classics) Mass Market Paperback – June 3, 2008

ISBN-13: 978-0451530967 ISBN-10: 0451530969 Edition: Signet Classics

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Product Details

  • Series: Signet Classics
  • Mass Market Paperback: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Signet Classics; Signet Classics edition (June 3, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0451530969
  • ISBN-13: 978-0451530967
  • Product Dimensions: 6.7 x 4.3 x 0.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (29 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,444 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Burton Raffel has taught English, Classics, and Comparative Literature at universities in the United States, Israel, and Canada. His books include translations of Beowulf, Horace: Odes, Epodes, Epistles, Satires, The Complete Poetry and Prose of Chairil Anwar, From the Vietnamese, Ten Centuries of Poetry, The Complete Poetry of Osip Emilevich, Mandelstram (with Alla Burago), and Poems From the Old English and The Annotated Milton; several critical studies, Introduction to Poetry, How to Read a Poem, The Development of Modern Indonesian Poetry, and The Forked Tounge: A Study of the Translation Process; and Mia Poems, a volume of his own poetry. Mr. Raffel practiced law on Wall Street and taught in the Ford Foundation’s English Language Teacher Training Project in Indonesia.
Burton Raffel has taught English, Classics, and Comparative Literature at universities in the United States, Israel, and Canada. His books include translations of Beowulf, Horace: Odes, Epodes, Epistles, Satires, The Complete Poetry and Prose of Chairil Anwar, From the Vietnamese, Ten Centuries of Poetry, The Complete Poetry of Osip Emilevich, Mandelstram (with Alla Burago), and Poems From the Old English and The Annotated Milton; several critical studies, Introduction to Poetry, How to Read a Poem, The Development of Modern Indonesian Poetry, and The Forked Tounge: A Study of the Translation Process; and Mia Poems, a volume of his own poetry. Mr. Raffel practiced law on Wall Street and taught in the Ford Foundation’s English Language Teacher Training Project in Indonesia.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

From John McNamara’s Introduction to Beowulf

 

Even more perplexing is the question of values and beliefs in the poem. The world of Beowulf is the world of heroic epic, with its legendary fights among larger-than-life figures, both human and monstrous, its scenes of feasting in great beer halls presided over by kings, its accounts of bloody feuds trapping men and women alike in cycles of violence, its praise of giving riches to loyal followers rather than amassing wealth for oneself, its moments of magic in stories of powers gained or lost—and over all, a sense of some larger force that shapes their destinies, both individual and collective. Readers have often looked upon this long-gone heroic world for a glimpse of a pagan past in Northern Europe before Christianity was brought by foreign missionaries, yet the poem is filled with references to the new religion and the power of its God. This tension between the ancient past and what was, in the time of the poet, a new worldview disturbed many romantic and nationalistic critics in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. They sought in Beowulf the origins of Germanic, including Scandinavian, culture—or at least clues from which that culture could be reconstructed. Yet many were for the most part frustrated, for they saw the epic of Northern antiquity “marred” by the intrusions of foreign beliefs and values, such as the Christianity imposed by missionaries from the Mediterranean South, and equally “marred” by the fantastic fights with monsters in the center of the poem, while the historical materials that most interested them were placed on the outer edges. In this view, the poem simply was not the poem that it should have been.

 

However, the great work of Friedrich Klaeber, and especially the influence of Tolkien, cited above, would change all that. In recent times, scholars have not only stressed the Christian element as integral to the poem as a whole, but they have spent enormous energy in ferreting out its sources and functions. All of which brings us back, not just to the question of the poet, but more importantly to the question of the audience. After all, the poet was composing the work for a community that already shared certain core values, though those values appear at times to emerge from a moment of cultural transition between the memory of the old and the power of the new. So, once again, we are faced with complexity, and attempts to reduce Beowulf to some single, or at least predominant, worldview cannot explain the creative tensions in this complexity.

 

Yet there are further questions about audience. Did it consist, as some scholars have proposed, of people so well versed in Christian teachings, and even in learned theology, that it would have been a monastic community? The answer is by no means clear. We do have the famous letter from Alcuin to the monks of Lindisfarne (797) enjoining them not to include secular heroic narratives in their entertainments. But we also have the even more famous story of the poet Caedmon in Bede’s History of the English Church and People (731), which shows the members of the monastery at Whitby singing narrative lays, while accompanying themselves on the harp. Their lays must have been secular since it was only after the miracle of Caedmon’s poetic inspiration that Christian biblical narratives were set to traditional Anglo-Saxon poetic forms. Such a community would not only house scholars, as well as monks with considerably less education, but also the monastic familia was made up of all the lay people—men, women, and children—who occupied and generally worked the lands surrounding (and dependent on) the monastery.

 

Our modern view of medieval monasteries has been shaped by later reforms, in which walled structures often shut reclusive monks in cloistered protection from the temptations of the larger world. But in Anglo-Saxon England, the monasteries were generally open to the social world, and the Rule of St. Benedict lays great stress on the need to extend hospitality to all who come to the community. We also have depictions in monastic works, such as lives of the saints, of storytelling events that included monks and laypeople alike. Thus, even if one were to claim that Beowulf was aimed at a monastic audience, it is clear that such an audience would most probably include many who were not monks. And, of course, one need not postulate a monastic audience at all in order to account for the Christian element in the poem. For the dominant ethos of the poem is a celebration of the values of heroic society, and while the poet-narrator’s comments often reflect a Christian point of view, the heroic values in the poem are in themselves primarily secular. Or do we have, once again, a complex creative tension between the two?            

--This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

I read this in one afternoon.
Jonathan Homrighausen
Raffel's translation of "Beowulf" to me seems more vivid and poetic in its language than Seamus Heaney's now more famous one.
Eichendorff
The translation by Burton Raffel in this book is by far the best I have ever read.
Tony Marquise Jr.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

27 of 28 people found the following review helpful By TJam on July 5, 2010
Format: Mass Market Paperback Verified Purchase
I first read Beowulf, as did countless high schoolers over the years, in my senior English class; the experience was less than memorable, due in part to my teacher's insistence on using an Old English text. When I entered college the most vivid imagery I still had was of Grendel entering the mead hall and tearing the diners limb from limb.
Had I been able to also read the text in modern English in that senior class, I would have been well-prepared to tackle the OE with a deeper understanding of how this great work acts as a foundational text for all British literature from Chaucer to the Renaissance and beyond.
Burton Raffel's clear translation allows the reader to establish a connection to the allegorical and mythological constructs without having to resort to a "Beowulf for Dummies," just to get a passing grade. I am using this book in a graduate class in Horror Text and Theory, and though I am now able to read the OE with more fluency, the accessibility of this translation situates the text in a more viable position for discussion and critical analysis in an arena populated with 20th and 21st century horror. I would recommend Raffel's Beowulf to anyone as their entree into Old English Lit.; to be read along side the original text. It takes the "horror" out of ready Horror.
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22 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Eichendorff on May 18, 2010
Format: Mass Market Paperback
Raffel's translation of "Beowulf" to me seems more vivid and poetic in its language than Seamus Heaney's now more famous one. The images he provides stand out as clear and beautiful pictures, making a deep sensory impression where Heaney's poetry seems to employ at times more abstract, at times more mundane, less inventive language. This is not to say that Heaney's translation lacks poetic beauty--it certainly does not. Yet, browsing both editions, comparing various passages, I found that Raffel's rendition almost always struck a deeper chord with me, appealing to the senses and the imagination more strongly. Raffel's translation is not available in the same beautifully bound, larger-print, dual language edition as Heaney's, yet I still find that it gives me greater reading pleasure. As to accuracy, I do suspect that Raffel might be granting himself somewhat more poetic license than Heaney does, and yet, neither translation strays significantly from the original. I prefer Robert Fitzgerald's poetic, somewhat less accurate translation of the "Odyssey" to Richmond Lattimore's for similar reasons.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By SupeTube on September 5, 2012
Format: Mass Market Paperback
Now that I have used both the Raffel edition and the Heaney edition, I would recommend Raffel's for the high school classroom. Raffel's edition offers a major difference that works wonders for the 9th and 10th grade psyche: short chapters. The narrative is chunked thoughtfully and facilitates reading assignments. Raffel does a great job with the syntax and though the diction is a little less interesting, the poem doesn't suffer too much there. Lastly, unless you are going to do a lot of work with the Old English available in the Heaney edition, the side-by-side format hampers class discussion, causing kids to flip more pages to find support.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Kristen Slosser on September 10, 2013
Format: Mass Market Paperback Verified Purchase
Raffel's translation is the most readable, easiest to understand, and most honest translation available. I do not begrudge Seamus Heaney his poetry, but I find that Beowulf has already had to undergo glosses of other types in its recordings without further flowery alterations being performed on the text. The original composition/song would have been understandable and engaging for any of the warriors, villagers, or foreign guests of the Anglo-Saxon tribes: it should be equally as accessible to modern high school students and twenty-somethings. Raffel achieves this, and this translation is a steal while it remains available. If you are interested in Heaney's version of Beowulf, spend the extra money: but know that you are buying Heaney, not Beowulf.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Vithmers on June 11, 2011
Format: Hardcover
The Barnes & Noble Classics line offers a lot of classic (or at least old) works at very reasonable prices. They manage to do this by using, by and large, editions that are out of copyright. By reducing the production costs of the books, they can reduce the price for the customers.

This approach is excellent for works that were originally written in English. B&N gets a modern scholar to pen an introduction, and maybe some notes. These are attached to the freely-available text and sold at a low price. You could download a copy for free and read it (and this would probably be the preferred method if you have an ereader device), but for those who still read paper books, you pay a small price ($5-$10) and get someone to typeset and bind it for you.

Translations of non-English works are another matter. By using an out-of-copyright translation, you miss out on modern scholarship, and you get a translation that might sound archaic (although some readers probably prefer this). I figured this would be the case with Beowulf, so I was pleasantly surprised when I discovered that B&N had commissioned a modern translation.

John McNamara has produced a translation that is really quite good. It is very faithful to the original text, but is not literal to the point that it becomes hard to read. On the contrary, it reads very well. No attempt is made to mimic the meter of the Old English, although McNamara does make fairly frequent use of alliteration. To round it out, there is a good, brief introduction and a set of end-notes that help to clarify tricky bits of the poem, or to give some context.

In all, this is a highly recommended translation. If you're looking to read Beowulf for the first time, I would have no hesitation in recommending this version, especially (but not only) at this price. The serious Beowulf student will need extra materials, but then that's true of most Beowulf translations.
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