Teachers' Guide to Welwyn Wilton Katz's Beowulf

The story Beowulf was sung by bards (or "skalds") for at least two hundred years before it was first written down. The oldest known written version of the story is an epic poem that comes from the eighth century A.D. Because Beowulf is one of the longest and earliest pieces of Anglo-Saxon writing and as well has at least two references that are verifiable historically, huge numbers of scholars have translated it into many languages, including modern English. From over a dozen different English translations of the original poem that I read in both verse and prose, there were six that I referred to again and again in my work in order to keep my version of Beowulf an honest rendition of the original story (sticking to the "truth" where those six translations told me what the truth was and making up only a few things that were not in the original poem but which could have happened). These six were translations by Francis B. Gummere (Macmillan, 1909), Kevin Crossley-Holland (Macmillan, 1968), Stanley B. Greenfield (Readable Beowulf, Southern Illinois University Press, 1982, with a fascinating introduction by Alain Renoir), David Wright (Penguin, 1957), Albert W.Haley Jr. (Branden Press, 1978), and the widely studied E.Talbot Donaldson translation (W.W. Norton, 1975).

Whether the hero Beowulf really existed is not proven, but some of the people that are mentioned in his tale certainly did. I like to think he did exist, and that the tales of his might and bravery are true. If they are true, Beowulf probably lived sometime from around A.D. 500 to A.D. 571. Wiglaf, who is the hero of my version of the Beowulf story, is indeed in the original poem, though I make him part of the story from the very beginning (when in the poem he comes into the story only at the end.)

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