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Penguin Classics Beowulf [Paperback]

Michael Alexander
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Jan. 28 2003 Penguin Classics
"Beowulf" is the greatest surviving work of literature in Old English, unparalleled in its epic grandeur and scope. It tells the story of the heroic Beowulf and of his battles, first with the monster Grendel, who has laid waste to the great hall of the Danish king Hrothgar, then with Grendel's avenging mother, and finally with a dragon that threatens to devastate his homeland. Through its blend of myth and history, "Beowulf" vividly evokes a twilight world in which men and supernatural forces live side by side. And it celebrates the endurance of the human spirit in a transient world. 'Alexander's translation is marked by a conviction that it is possible to be both ambitious and faithful [and] ...communicates the poem with a care which goes beyond fidelity-to-meaning and reaches fidelity of implication. May it go on another half-million copies' - Tom Shippey, "Bulletin of the International Association of University Professors of English".

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Product Description

About the Author

Michael Alexander is Berry Professor of English Literature at the University of St Andrews. For Penguin he has translated, 'The Earliest English Poems', 'The Canterbury Tales: The First Fragment', as well as a prose translation of BEOWULF. Michael Alexander is Berry Professor of English Literature at the University of St Andrews. For Penguin he has translated, 'The Earliest English Poems', 'The Canterbury Tales: The First Fragment', as well as a prose translation of BEOWULF.

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First Sentence
Attend! We have heard of the thriving of the throne of Denmark, how the folk-kings flourished in former days, how those royal athelings earned that glory. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

4.0 out of 5 stars
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Most helpful customer reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Important, Tedious July 24 2000
Format:Mass Market Paperback
This book is considered to be one of the most important pieces of early english literature. By virtue of this alone, most everyone who goes through high school is forced to read it. It reads as a mildly interesting narrative. This translation is decent but fails to bring the story really to life. Beowulf, here, is a laborius and uninvolving read. If you are reading this for fun, you are better off seeking another translation (like Seamus Heaney). I suppose everyone should read this book to make themselves more knowledgeable of english literature, but it requires a sheer act of will. Unless you are forced to read it or really want to read it, you will probably be bored by this translation.
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4.0 out of 5 stars The original super hero May 22 2003
Format:Mass Market Paperback
Beowulf is the original super hero, doing deeds other dare not do. I found Beowulf to also be a generalization of life. In our youth we think ourselves invincible and do daring things. As we get older, we get tied down to a job. In our old age, our strength fails us. Then it is up to the next generation to take over, with all their zeal and enthusiasim.
The translation from Old English came through nicely and even had some flow. Beowulf may be the most important Old English poem, but it is also an important Germanic epic poem, and little seems lost or changed by the Christian writers.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Beowulf March 18 2014
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
At school I learned early on that Beowulf was about the oldest European book that has survived to this day. The stories are fart removed from current reality. But it is fascinating to learn what went through early literary minds and cultures.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 3.7 out of 5 stars  10 reviews
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Good translation of a great epic Feb. 7 2008
By Jordan M. Poss - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Michael Alexander's translation of Beowulf is among the best available today. While neither as readable nor as poetic as the more famous Heaney translation, Alexander's is exciting, close to the original, and tells the story in such a way that it never fails to grip and thrill.

There is so very little wrong with this translation that I'll get it out of the way. While the poem is generally very readable and smooth, there are a few places that read clumsily or just sound strange. Alexander also chooses to alter the spelling of some names for the sake of understanding or pronunciation. I generally dislike this in a translation, but it's a matter of preference and doesn't detract from the enjoyability of this epic.

That said, this is still one of the best editions of Beowulf available today, and makes an excellent companion piece to a bilingual edition of the Heaney translation or a student edition of the original text itself. Great reading for anyone interested in Anglo-Saxon, epic literature, or good stories in general.

Highly recommended.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars If you don't realize this is the best modern English version, then you are a Grendel! Dec 10 2011
By Plotinus - Published on
Look, I am not going to dispute the greatness of Seamus Heaney, or his awesome, magical rendering of Beowulf. Part of its magic lies in how modern he made the poem. The thing is though that it is translation or a paraphrase. Alexander's poem is more of a modernization, rather than a translation. You are basically reading the original Beowulf, with the words updated in their spelling, or replaced when necessary with more modern words where the old ones are no longer comprehensible. He of course preserves the alliteration as much as possible, and the lines remain short. To me this method leaves the poem as it was, and merely transforms its dialect from that of 11th Century Wessex to modern international English. To be sure, this method demands more of the reader than a paraphrase does, since you have to figure out what the swan's road or the whale's way, and kennings (riddle-names) like these are. So, if you are really intrigued by this poem, which must have been intended to be the monument of its civilization, especially when you think of the number of sheep they had to kill and the expenses involved in preparing their skins, and the fact this story concerns what was supposed to be the greatest hero in the most heroic age of man, then you will want to read Alexander's rendition.
As for why you would want to read Beowulf in whatever edition, the main thing is that it is the great poem of the English language. No one will dispute that Shakespeare is our language's greatest playwright, and few would dispute that the prosody of the King James Bible overwhelms that of any other prose work, or maybe even that the Lord of the Rings may be our greatest novel, but for epic poetry, ORIGINAL epic poetry, is there anything like Beowulf in English? It must have stood out in its day as the greatest poem ever, considering like I mention above, the expense involved in its production, and no one has ever since, in English, written a poem so great in scope, and so representative of the experience of English-speaking civilization. Spencer tried, but his allegorical figures hold no mystery - they beat you over the head with their meanings and the moral lessons you, a corrupt creature, are supposed to learn from them. Chaucer, though great too, bundles a collection of tales together about a trip to a church. Milton, who seems to have based his greatest poem on another Anglo-Saxon poem in his friend's collection, is retelling something we can find in Genesis. Beowulf treats the Danish ancestors of the English before they crossed the sea to England. It's a lovely reminder that we in North America are no more separated from the homeland of our language than they of our language's supposed homeland from their own. Beowulf has achieved national epic status in England for good reason, and more than this, it has achieved pan-national epic status for the entire English-speaking world. This is quite the triumph for the resident poet of some Anglo-Saxon king and his many sheep, so long ago. They put in their great effort, the sheep sacrificing their very lives even, to preserve and propagate this awesome work. The poem fought the ravages of time and fire, and is now preserved and sprung anew from the ashes, like the phoenix, to provide great solace and sustenance for us, the Anglo-Saxons' linguistic inheritors, today, in our brief flit though this lighted mead-hall of life.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Michael Alexander's Beowulf Introduction Oct. 30 2012
By Juss - Published on
Whether you decide you enjoy Michael Alexander's translation of the poem or not, this volume is worth having for his insightful introduction alone. It is wonderful, giving insight into the actions and relationships of the poem, setting them (and the epic as a whole) in the appropriate contexts of culture and epic tradition, and clearly and carefully pointing out relationships that greatly enrich the reader's appreciation of the story. Read through it once or twice. You'll find that it will make shine something that you might've feared would be boring or archaic. You may also feel that you've come to possess--for the mere investment of an hour or two--what seems like a semester's worth of knowledge about something familiar these days to fewer and fewer people.
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great epic, good translation June 20 2008
By Christopher R. Travers - Published on
Beowulf is the most important traditional epic in the Old English language and, I would argue, the most important piece of ancient literature to read in English. It preserves the rich oral traditions from which it arose in all of its glory and is more accessible in this regard than the Homeric epics (to which it would be most closely compared) because the languages are more closely related and thus the forms are easier to keep intact (though this is still by no means easy).

In general, I found Alexander's translation of this poem to be good. He obviously tries to keep close to the original and this is appreciated. However, since this is the apparent aim, the lack of a facing page translation format hurts this goal somewhat.

All in all, this is a good translation of an important work.
3.0 out of 5 stars Beowulf is one of my favorite stories. I don't think it's suited for Kindle though. Feb. 14 2014
By Kitty Hooligan - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Disclosure, I majored in Medieval Studies in college.

I read Beowulf in English Lit and it was one of the influences that lead me to my major.

I love the language, the compound words, and the tale itself. It's fun to read out loud, giving the experience more flavor. I read it originally with the modern translation and Anglo-Saxon side by side. It was fantastic to listen to when the professor read parts of it.

That said I prefer the translation by Seamus Heaney and reading it in paperback, having the translation with original A-S on the facing page.
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