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  • Writer's pictureSara Ault

Beowulf, Introduction - Witan Callahan

One of the very first recommendations I have when folk ask me for my "reading list" is Beowulf. Many of the more advanced and academic works often reference or cite Beowulf, so, in my opinion, it's one of the most important works to start with. It is the "Gateway Lore"...

Beowulf is one of the most translated (and debated) pieces of Old English literature. Although the original manuscript is believed to have been composed between 950-1000 during the conversion of our people to Christianity, it is argued that the story itself originated as an oratory tradition far earlier and that the pagan elements and themes can still be seen in throughout the poem.

The original manuscript used for translation is referred to as the Cotton Vitellius A XV. The manuscript was found in the library of Sir Robert Cotton, an antiquarian. Sir Cotton's library was lined with cases of manuscripts, and on the top of each case were busts of Roman Emperors. The bound manuscript containing Beowulf was found in the case with Emperor Vitellius' bust, on the first shelf (A) and the 15th tome in.

Although the manuscript was damaged by fire in the 1730s, modern technology has been utilized to read previously unseen text. The same technology has also been used to determine where the manuscript was changed from its (possible) original version.

Although heavily "Christianized", traditions and culture of our people are still relevant and play center stage in the poem. Courage, nobility, honor, fidelity, and reputation are only a handful of recognizable themes that we can appreciate.

A few things to know when starting your study of Beowulf:

-The story takes place in the late 5th to early 6th century in Scandinavia

-It is important to keep track of the genealogy as you go along (just trust me)

-The narrator is to be trusted. Unlike modern novels or scripts, the narrator does not have agenda.

-Try to apply what you "see" into Asatru themes: loyalty, hospitality, honor. Do not let the word "God" deter you from reading an outstanding preservation of Anglo-Saxon culture, ritual, and tradition.

Stay tuned for more Beowulf in upcoming articles in The Runestone.

Witan Brandy Callahan


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