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Thread: Best Beowulf Translation?

  1. #1
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    Best Beowulf Translation?

    I was curious as to some of your opinions as to what the best translation of Beowulf is. I'm contemplating getting the Norton Critical Edition which is translated by Seamus Heaney, but I thought I'd ask here.

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    In the fog Charles Darnay's Avatar
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    I loved the Heaney translation. the only other one I read was the McNamara and compared to the Heaney, the McNamara translation is dense. I do not read old English, so I cannot testify to the accuracy of the Heaney translation (in fact, based on what I read, the McNamara is a more faithful translation) - but if you do not care about that, and are looking for readability in modern English, the Norton's is the way to go.

    There are some editions that have the original text on the facing page, which the Norton's does not have. So again it depends what you are looking for.
    I wrote a poem on a leaf and it blew away...

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    Well, I definitely don't need the original text as it would be useless (that's one of my least favorite things about the Hollander's translation of Dante's Comedia--I'm buying the translation, I don't want to see the original [and, yes, I get why it's there], but I digress). And I've come to believe that for translations, accuracy is overrated. I'd much rather read a more enjoyable but less accurate translation than vice-versa, to a point, of course.

    I need to ask my professor, who is a Beowulf expert. We'll see how all of your opinions stack up to her's.

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    Voice of Chaos & Anarchy
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    There have been many translations of Beowulf, and most are fairly good. I did not enjoy the Heaney translation, but I forgotten which other translations I have read.

    The links is to a list of translations. You might want to read a few more before you make a final decision.
    http://www.acmrs.org/academic-progra...s/beowulf-list

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    Card-carrying Medievalist Lokasenna's Avatar
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    Speaking as someone who is fluent in Old English, has written extensively on Beowulf, and teaches Old English Literature at university level, then I have this to say: do not go with the Heaney translation.

    Every year I get so frustrated with the bloody thing. Not only are the translations at times grossly inaccurate, they are intentionally misleading - rather than drawing attention to points where the meaning of the language is obscure or contentious, Heaney just bulldozes his own intention over it, an act with destroys some of the subtelty and mystery of the poem. I think, furthermore, that Heaney's translation is not particularly wonderful as poetry in its own right, though I admit that is something of a subjective opinion - I just don't feel it works all that well.

    I teach our first years using the Heaney translation (because I have to), but for second and third year students we use Michael Swanton's edition and translation. This gives you the benefit of having the original Old English text with facing page translation, and whilst Swanton has chosen to translate each passage into prose it is nevertheless an excellent, scholarly, accurate and measured translation. I would recommend that as the best version to use. Here's a link to it.

    Alternatively, if you're feeling really brave there is George Jack's student edition of Beowulf. This contains only the Old English text, but does have a very supportive gloss -it was how I learned OE myself. It can be found here.

    Hope that helps! If you haven't read Beowulf before, then you are in for a treat!
    "I should only believe in a God that would know how to dance. And when I saw my devil, I found him serious, thorough, profound, solemn: he was the spirit of gravity- through him all things fall. Not by wrath, but by laughter, do we slay. Come, let us slay the spirit of gravity!" - Nietzsche

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    Okay, so nay on the Heaney.

    I have read it before, but it was quite a while ago. Thanks for the tips, Lok.

  7. #7
    I have the Dover Thrift Edition of Beowulf which is translated by R. K. Gordon. I haven't read any other translations and don't know a lick of Old English, so I have no idea if this is considered a decent translation. There is of course a note at the beginning that may or may not just be hyperbole. In the note it states that "The present translation by R. K. Gordon, is sensitive to the syntactic complexity of the original and preserves the many kennings (or compounds) so intrinsic to Anglo-Saxon poetry.", although I suppose this quote isn't all that useful. Any way, I enjoy this edition and at some point intend to find another translation to compare the two.

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