Translating Beowulf:

Translators Crouched and Dangers Rampant*1)

Jana K. Schulman


Those who read Beowulf in Old English find themselves concerned:if not immediately, then eventually:with issues of translation, of audience, of ambiguity.  Each time I have worked with the poem in Old English, I read the same lines that I have read before differently.  For example, when I last taught Beowulf, I found myself reluctant to translate the word elleng1st as "demon" because I had previously argued that the word should be reevaluated. I translated the word as "powerful visitor" and found that in so doing, I carefully chose each subsequent word.  Therefore, my translation of the opening lines that describe Grendel (ll. 86-89b) depicted a much more sympathetic character:  "Then the powerful visitor, who dwelt in darkness, suffered hardship painfully, when he heard joy, loud in the hall, every day."

This is not the usual depiction of Grendel; all editors and translators view him as the cannibalistic monster that he proves himself to be only 20 lines later.  I, also, do not deny that he is a cannibal.  However, to translate elleng1st as demon misses the ambiguity in the word g1st, ambiguity produced definitely by the lack of spelling standards in Old English and possibly by the poet himself, reveling, perhaps, in a brief moment of misleading description to increase the audience's suspense.  After all, many guests visit Heorot; two of them, both Grendel and Beowulf are uninvited and very strong, a fact that has not eluded translators and scholars.  Many have, in fact, commented on the ambiguities that color these two characters, which sometimes, especially as the poet gets caught up in the narrative and the action, makes it hard to distinguish one from the other.2)

The reality of Beowulf is that it is an ambiguous text in terms of its purpose, its meaning, its very essence. "It has been called a heroic epic, a wondertale, an elegy for a bygone age, a mirror for princes, a celebration of pagan Germanic values, an allegory of Christian virtues, an exploration of the moral ambiguities of life and so on."3)  At the level of language, the poem's ambiguities reveal themselves still further. Old English is a fully inflected language, which results in more ambiguities: 1) adjectives can be made substantive; 2) verbs often appear without an expressed subject, especially in poetry; 3) variation and apposition exist for nouns, adjectives, and verbs; and 4) ambiguous pronoun referents are far more frequent because of grammatical instead of natural gender.  Moreover, as I mentioned before, there are neither spelling standards nor long vowels marked in the manuscript, both of which require editors' decisions to resolve.  Their resolutions, just like my example with elleng1st, may result in a reading that varies from either another editor's or the poet's. Eventually, we arrive at numerous readings of the same passage, each cogently argued by its editor/translator, but nonetheless debatable in its very attempt to remove the ambiguity.

Johann Köberl in a book entitled The Indeterminacy of Beowulf noted that in his trying to translate Beowulf into "pedestrian prose, he found that the text abounds in ambiguities.  Since these ambiguities cannot always be retained in translation, at first [he] tried to disambiguate, only to find that often a decision for one reading rather than another would have been purely arbitrary, and that even where a plausible case could be made for preferring a particular reading, retaining the ambiguity would often make for a more satisfactory reading of the text.4)

In this essay, I argue that translators need to do more than decide who their audience is, what medium to use in order to present the poem, and what critical arguments to incorporate in their readings of various cruxes. This is not an aesthetic issue, but an ethical one. Ambiguity at its smallest level:that of puns, of pronouns, of substantivized adjectives, of foreshadowing:must be acknowledged in editions and translations. When the same word can be used for a monster and the hero, when referential pronouns have more than one possible referent, both facts which would have been obvious to an audience hearing the poem, then there may be a deliberate blurring of boundaries.  Failing to acknowledge these, translators of Beowulf deny the reader the interplay of suggestion and the blurring of boundaries, verbal and other. By focusing on the surface or discursive logic of the poem and stripping the multiple meanings, translators violate the symbolic logic of the text.

The six examples of ambiguity that I discuss below fall into several categories.  Example 6 discusses ambiguity that results from a substantivized adjective.  Example 5 focuses on two referential pronouns that result in an ambiguous reading. Example 4 examines two pronouns that refer to the same person; however, their referent depends on how we understand a previous line. The ambiguity comes because the pronouns could refer to either Hrothulf or Unferth.  Example 3 analyzes a pronoun that has an ambiguous referent because of the grammatical system of Old English; the gender of the noun conditions the gender of the appropriate pronoun. Example 2 discusses the word agl1ca and its usage in a line where the referent is not clear.  I begin with an example of intentional ambiguity in the form of a play on words.

Example 1: Intentional Ambiguity

Plays on words or puns, which would have been eliminated in oral performance because of the vowel difference, become evident in the written manuscript. The scribes have not differentiated the spellings of the words g1st (with a short vowel) and g1st (with a long vowel). There are also other spellings of the word "guest." Several scholars have discussed this spelling ambiguity in terms of puns and what J. Edwin Whitesell calls "slant suggestions"; he argues that these allow an audience to perceive a double entendre and that they may be instances of "intentional ambiguity."5)

Editors of Beowulf agree that it is difficult to disambiguate which word is meant, g1st (a variation of gist, stranger, guest) or g1st (variation of gast, ghost, spirit) because it occurs throughout the Anglo-Saxon poetic and prose corpus with different spellings (See Appendix 1).  The poetic texts in the different manuscripts tend to a slight preference in spelling.  One example will suffice.  According to the Concordance to the Anglo-Saxon Poetic Records, the form g1st (with an ash) occurs 170 times.6)  Of those, 106 (or 62 %) are found in the Exeter manuscript in @Christ,A @Guthlac,A and @Juliana.A  The Beowulf manuscript has more variants; forms of g1st appear six times, gast, four times, and gyst, once.7)

Not only do the spellings differ in simplex words, but also in compounds.  In the Concordance, Bessinger discusses the second half of compounds that appear in poetry.  He lists twenty different compounds, eight of which occur in Beowulf

inwitg1st: Bosworth-Toller8): guileful guest, Bwf. l. 2670, referring to the dragon

ni3g1st: Bosworth-Toller: malicious, malignant guest, Bwf. l. 2699, the dragon

elleng1st: Bosworth-Toller: a bold or powerful spirit, Bwf. 1. 86, Grendel

ellorg1st: Bosworth-Toller: a spirit living or going elsewhere, Bwf. l. 807

(Grendel), l. 1349 (Grendel and his mother), l. 1617 and l. 1621 (Grendel, his mother, or both)

geosceaftg1st: Bosworth-Toller: a fatal, dire spirit (?), Bwf. l. 1266

w1lg1st: Bosworth-Toller: a deadly guest, a murderous guest, Bwf. l. 1331

(Grendel?s mother), l. 1995 (Grendel)

gryregiest: Bosworth-Toller: a dreadful guest, l. 2560, referring to the dragon

selegyst: Bosworth-Toller: a guest in a hall, Bwf. l. 1545, referring to Beowulf

and five of which Bosworth-Toller reads as @guest.A  In actuality, twelve of these twenty compounds, regardless of the spelling, are translated as @guestA and only eight are translated as @spiritA; three of the @spiritA compounds appear in Beowulf.  Of the other five @spiritA compounds, one is found in @ChristA and refers to the Holy Ghost, two appear in @GenesisA and refer to angels, and two occur in @GuthlacA:one compound refers to the devils who persecuted Guthlac, the other to a @spirit of anxiety, a fearful ghost.A  The remaining compounds all describe different guests: a guest at the table, that is, an invited guest (Andreas); a sea-guest or sailor (Riddle 3); a pedestrian guest (Exodus); a welcome guest (Vainglory); a battle guest or enemy (Riddle 53); a guest or foe that comes quickly (Riddle 3); a thievish guest (Riddle 47).

Given that the @spiritA compounds occur, with the exception of Beowulf, in religious texts, it suggests that the tendency to translate g1st when applied to Grendel as @spiritA or @demonA is misguided.  As the poem itself tells us, albeit after Grendel is introduced, he is @in the form of a manA  (on weres w1stmum, l. 1352). And yet, the three earliest dictionaries in English:Bosworth-Toller, Clark-Hall, and Sweet9) : identify Grendel, the elleng1st, as supernatural, a spirit or demon, and translators follow the lexicographers. John Kemble was the first to translate Beowulf in its entirety (1837) and Alan Sullivan and Timothy Murphy are the most recent (2002). In between, there have been at least forty other complete translations into English. Of the thirty translations (See Appendix 2) I have consulted for this essay, eleven translators follow Boswell-Toller and identify Grendel in his first appearance as some kind of spirit. Another seven follow Clark Hall and Sweet and identify him as a @demon,A including Liuzza and Heaney. I include four other translators in this group even though two selected "monster," one "hobgoblin," and one "fiend" for a total of eleven.  Other translators have opted for translations as diverse as "ghost" (which some might argue belongs with "spirit"), "beast," "being," "soul," "creature," "evil dweller," and "immense with strength" (See Appendix 3).

The Dictionary of Old English defines elleng1st as a @powerful spirit [or] bold spirit,A following Bosworth-Toller, although the entry goes on to say that the @second element has also been interpreted as a form of giest >visitor, guest?, or word-play on both senses.A10)  Whitesell suggests that the translator incorporate the blurring between guest/visitor and ghost/demon by recognizing the potential of the word "g1st as 'the visitor who was also a demon' and for g1st some such effect as 'the demon who was also a visitor.'"11)  He does note the difficulties in incorporating such effects in a translation, but I would suggest that the translator can make that simple word resonate, perhaps by alternating visitor and demon, perhaps by a footnote.

In the case of a compound like elleng1st, the translator can also let readers draw their own conclusions by translating the word as @powerful visitor" or "powerful guest.A Such a translation creates an image of someone who has strength and comes from outside Heorot, someone who, theoretically, for a brief moment, sounds like Beowulf himself:an idea that is echoed later in the poem when Beowulf is described as a hall-guest in Grendel?s mother?s home (selegyst, l.1545). I would argue further that this ambiguity about who is a guest blurs boundaries.  Grendel and Beowulf are both uninvited guests who arrive at Heorot.  Perhaps each should be regarded cautiously until he proves his intention.

Example 2: Blurred boundaries and referent: l. 1269a.

Line 1269a, the only a-verse I examined, includes the word agl1ca, a word used for both monsters and heroes. Bosworth-Toller glosses the word agl1ca as @a miserable being, wretch, miscreant, monster, fierce combatant,A and almost every translator focuses on the meaning @monsterA when the word refers to Grendel or the dragon.  However, the word occurs once, referring to Sigemund, and once to Beowulf and the dragon together.  It is in these instances that we see that there is a linguistic inconsistency as these occurrences have led lexicographers to include the definitions @hero and warrior,A thereby further demarcating the differences between good and evil.  Sherman Kuhn, allowing for all referents, has suggested that @we define agl1ca as >a fighter, valiant warrior, dangerous opponent, one who struggles fiercely.?A12)  Such a redefinition allows the reader to appreciate the fighting skills of all the adversaries in Beowulf without harping on the monstrosity of any one of them.

Furthermore, the occurrence of agl1ca in this line proves interesting because it occurs in a narrative summary where it's not quite clear who the agl1ca is. Line 1266b shifts the narrative from a discussion of Cain and his descendants to Grendel, one of those descendants:

1266                        w1s 31ra Grendel sum,

1267   heorowearh hetelic,     se 1t Heorote fand

1268   w1ccendne wer        wiges bidan;

1269   31r him agl1ca        1tgr1pe wear3;13)

                            One of them was Grendel,

       a hateful, savage outcast, who found at Heorot

       a wide-awake man      waiting for war;

       There the agl1ca         laid hold of him;14)

Who the agl1ca is in line 1269a depends on how the reader interprets the point of view of this section of narrative.  Every translation that I examined takes the word as a reference to Grendel with the exception of two who allow the blurring to stand. Alexander's "the grim one fastened his grip upon him there" and Greenfield's "there the foremost foe reached out for him" retain the ambiguity by not clearly identifying the agl1ca as either Beowulf or Grendel (See Appendix 4).

While every other translator consulted takes agl1ca to refer to Grendel, there is room for doubt.  The relative pronoun se in line 1267b shifts the narrative to Grendel's point of view; he went to Heorot and found what he did not expect: a wide-awake man waiting for war.  From his perspective, then, Beowulf is the adversary, the one who laid hold of him. In line 1270a, there is the pronoun he, which implicitly is confirmed as Beowulf because, we are told, he remembered the gift of strength which God had given him (hw13re he gemunde m1genes strenge/gimf1ste gife, 3e him God sealde, ll. 1270a-1271b).  The mention of God does remove Grendel from the equation, and that he must be taken to refer to Beowulf.  However, a reference to Beowulf in the next lines neither precludes another switch in perspective nor insists that Grendel be the agl1ca.

Example 3: Grammatical Ambiguities: Line 2568b

       2554   Hete w1s onhrered,     hordweard oncniow

       2555   mannes reorde;         n1s 31r mara fyrst

       2556   freode to friclan.        From 1rest cwom

       2557   oru3 agl1cean         ut of stane,

       2558   hat hildeswat;          hruse dynede.

       2559   Biorn under beorge      bordrand onswaf

       2560   wi3 3am gryregieste,    Geata dryhten;

       2561   3a w1s hringbogan      heorte gefysed

       2562   s1cce to seceanne.      Sweord 1r gebr1d

       2563   god gu3cyning,        gomele lafe,

       2564   ecgum unslaw;         1ghw13rum w1s

       2565   bealohycgendra        broga fram o3rum.

       2566   Sti3mod gestod        wi3 steapne rond

       2567   winia bealdor,          3a se wyrm gebeah

       2568   snude tosomne;        he on searwum bad.

       2569   Gewat 3a byrnende      gebogen scri3an,

       2570   to gescipe scyndan.

              Hate was aroused,      the hoard-guard recognized

              a man's voice;          there was no more time

              to ask for peace.        First came

              the breath of the agl1can out from the stone,

              hot hostile-vapor;        the earth resounded.

              The man below the barrow       turned [his] shield

              toward the dreadful stranger,      the lord of the Geats;

              then was the dragon's    heart eager

              to seek battle.          Sword had drawn

              the good battle-king,     old heirloom,

              in edges not blunt;      each of

              the hostile ones        felt terror at the sight of the


              Firm stood            with [his] high shield

              the lord of men,        while the dragon coiled itself

              quickly together;         he waited in armor [in striking                                    position?].

              Went then flaming      the coiled one, crawling,

              hastening to [his] fate.

Line 2568b, he on searwum bad, occurs in the middle of Beowulf's fight with the dragon. This becomes ambiguous when we consider that line 2567b refers to the dragon and the Old English word, wyrm, is a masculine noun.  If a pronoun were substituted for that noun, it would be the pronoun he. The matter is further complicated because the narrative keeps shifting from Beowulf to the dragon and back.  Lines 2554 to 2558 focus on the dragon, with the exception of 2555b and 2556a where the narrator comments more generally on the build up of the action: "there was no more time to ask for peace."  Lines 2559 to 2560 switch the scene to focus on Beowulf.  Lines 2561 to 2562a swing back to the dragon, eager for battle.  Line 2562b turns back to Beowulf; this shift stands out because each previous view of the antagonists began with an a-verse and comprised two complete lines. Lines 2562b to 2564a describe Beowulf's sword.  In lines 2564b to 2565b, the narrator sums up the building tension on both sides, pointing out that "each of the hostile ones felt terror at the sight of the other."  The narrator's comment also demonstrates the beginning of the blurring of the combatants because the substantivized adjective, bealohycgende, i.e. hostile ones, is in the genitive plural and refers to both Beowulf and the dragon. Lines 2566 to line 2567a focus on Beowulf, while lines 2567b to 2568a definitely focus on the dragon; both parties are prepared for the fight: "The lord of men stood firm with his high shield, while the dragon coiled itself quickly together." Lines 2569a to 2570a, "went then flaming the coiled one, crawling, hastening to [his] fate," also refer to the dragon.  Lines 2567b to 2570a, with the exception of 2568b, refer explicitly to the dragon.

To whom or what does he in line 2568b refer?  Köberl has noted that "while Beowulf appears to be the primary referent of he in line 2568, there is nothing that would prevent it from referring to the dragon in his scale-armour."15)  The last noun before the pronoun is se wyrm, a masculine noun, in the b-verse.  Grammatically, the pronoun could refer to the dragon. Just before that, but in the a-verse, there is a masculine noun, bealdor, that refers to Beowulf.  If we determine the referent by the pronoun's proximity to a preceding noun, however, then he refers to the dragon. However, the majority of translators does not agree with this reading and take the pronoun to refer to Beowulf.  This simple half-line is further complicated by the prepositional phrase, on searwum. Klaeber glosses the noun searo first as contrivance, skill, and second, as armor.16)  Twenty-two translators translate that phrase as "in armor."   Two strip the pronoun from the half-line and integrate on searwum adjectivally, translating the line as "the mailed one waited," a clear reference to Beowulf (See Appendix 5).

Given the lines above and following this half line, I believe the pronoun he has to refer to the dragon.  All the shifts between the participants last at least three half-lines.  If this is a shift, then it is the only one that happens in so few half-lines, at least in this section of the narrative.  Also, the other shifts don't rely on a pronoun; in each case, there is a noun that clearly identifies the actor as either Beowulf or the dragon.  Grammatically, the last masculine noun preceding the pronoun is se wyrm.  Finally, if one considers dragon lore,17) and lines 2567b to 2568a where the dragon coils himself, then on searwum may also describe the dragon.  Its scales and coils form its armor.  Admittedly, if one translates bad as waited, then the dragon's movement appear to stop; however, we can read this pause as a moment of final preparation, an assessment of his own readiness, before the attack.

Example 4: Ambiguous Connections: Past and Future Betrayal and line 1167.

1162                           3a cwom Wealh3eo for3

1163   gan under gyldnum beage     31r 3a godan twegen

1164   s1ton suhtergef1deran;        3a gyt w1s hiera sib 1tg1dere,

1165   1ghwylc o3rum trywe.        Swylce 31r Unfer3 3yle

1166   1t fotum s1t frean Scyldinga;   gehwylc hiora his ferh3e treowde,

1167   31t he h1fde mod micel,      3eah 3e he his magum n1re

1168   arf1st 1t ecga gelacum.

                               Then came Wealhtheow forth

           to walk under the gold crown   where the two good [men]

       sat, nephew and uncle;   then was their friendship still whole,

       each loyal to the other.          Likewise Unferth the 3yle

       sat at the feet of the lord of the Scyldings;   each of them trusted his


       that he had great courage, even though he was not to his kinsmen

       merciful at the play of swords.

Line 1167 is a hypermetric line with two occurrences of the pronoun he, both of which have always been taken to refer to Unferth since his name is actually mentioned in line 1165b (See Appendix 6). However, the referent for those pronouns actually depends on how we interpret line 1166b:gehwylc hiora his ferh3e treowde, each of them trusted his spirit.  The passage begins with the entrance of Wealhtheow, followed by an explicit mention of Hrothulf and Hrothgar; the poet explains that their friendship still existed and that each was loyal to the other.18)  This emphasis highlights the fact that the audience knows that this state of affairs will not last.  Immediately following, we are told that Unferth sat at Hrothgar's feet. If we read the subject of line 1166b, gehwylc hiora, as referring to Hrothulf and Hrothgar, then the pronouns his and he must refer to Unferth. However, because of the flyting between Beowulf and Unferth, we know that Unferth has proven himself in the past disloyal to his kin, which opens up another possibility:that the his and he of l. 1166 may refer to Hrothulf.  In fact, if we take the subject of the line to be Wealhtheow and Hrothgar, then the pronouns would seem to refer to Hrothulf.  Köberl supports the reading of his and he as referring to Hrothulf, although he does point out that the his could mean "the other," that is Hrothgar still trusts Hrothulf and vice-versa.  He observes that "within this touching idyll there lurks a snake in the grass.  The proximate referent of his in line 1166 is Unferth, but since Hrothgar and Hrothulf...are mentioned in the same passage and doubt is cast on their relationship, his may also be taken to mean "the other's": Unferth may not be the only source of future strife; we receive a premonition of a web of discord."19)

This passage is, in some ways doubly ambiguous.  Lines 1167 to 1168a, "that he had great courage, even though he was not merciful to his kinsmen at the play of swords," contributes to the confusion not only because of the pronoun referent, but because of the negative verb: n1re. Should we read the verb form as the simple past or as the subjunctive? According to Mitchell's Guide to Old English, 3eah 3e is nearly always followed by the subjunctive and is concessive in function.20)  The subjunctive is also used for statements involving possibility and unrealized situations.21)  If we translate the past subjunctive by adding "would" to the action of the verb, then the translation could read "that he had great courage, even though he would not be merciful to his kinsmen at the play of swords."  That he would refer to Hrothulf since the second part of the clause does concede a fear of what Hrothulf might do, even if it is yet unrealized. The poet certainly knew of Hrothulf's future treachery, mentioning it four times (in lines 1018-1019; 1164-1168; 1178ff, and 1228-1230). Moreover, there is no narrative advantage to be gained by mentioning Unferth's earlier betrayal as that has already taken place.  Hrothulf's has yet to come.

Example 5: Pronominal Ambiguities

The following two examples (lines 2490b and line 2692b) both have the pronoun he in the b-verse.  In each case, the translator has made a decision as to whom or what the he refers. Line 2490b introduces the pronoun he who is the same person referred to as him in the a-verse.  However, in this section, beginning at line 2425, Beowulf summarizes the events that led to H1thcyn's death in a battle against the Swedes, which culminates in one kinsman avenging the other's death.  The avenger, since the other sons of Hrethel are dead, must be Hygelac.  However, the last mention of Hyeglac by name occurred in line 2434, 56 lines before line 2490.  In 2490, Beowulf switches from distant past events to more recent ones:when he repaid Hygelac in battles for gifts received.  Although the narrative clues are diffuse, we know that the him and he in line 2490 must refer to Hygelac because he is Beowulf's lord.  Translators approach the problem of resolving the ambiguity differently.  The majority will either mention Hygelac's name in line 2490 or at the first logical opportunity in the preceding lines (nineteen translations).  Three leave the pronouns as is and identify Hygelac in a footnote. Three others don't identify Hygelac by name but make the connection implicit by having Beowulf refer to his prince or master. Four leave the pronouns unidentified, thereby letting the ambiguity stand (See Appendix 7).

Line 2692b follows the dragon's third attack on Beowulf and comes immediately after the dragon has bitten Beowulf's neck.

       2688   3a w1s 3eodscea3a     3riddan si3e,

       2689   frecne fyrdraca         f1h3a gemyndig,

       2690   r1sde on 3one rofan,    3a him rum ageald,

2691   hat ond hea3ogrim,      heals ealne ymbefeng

       2692   biteran banum;         he geblodegod wear3

       2693   sawuldriore,           swat y3um weoll.

       Then the people's foe    for the third time,

              the terrible dragon      mindful of enmity,

              rushed at the brave one,   when opportunity permitted him,

              flaming and fierce,      enclosed the entire neck

              with sharp fangs;        he was covered with blood

              with life blood,         blood welled in waves.

The half-line strikes me as ambiguous because, while it is clear whose blood it is, it is not clear whom has been covered by the blood. The b-verse itself says merely that "he was covered with blood," and the referent can be understood to be either Beowulf or the dragon.  Line 2693a has a noun in the dative, which translates as "with life-blood," but this phrase does not clarify the situation.  Regardless, this does not hinder the majority of translators from adding "his" to their translations of the a-verse, which then renders Beowulf covered in his own blood.  Six translators add Beowulf's name; two implicitly refer to him.  Raffel translates these lines thusly: "Into Beowulf's neck; he staggered, the blood/Came flooding forth, fell like rain."  Because of the juxtaposition of the fangs in Beowulf's neck, the subsequent he must refer to Beowulf; he staggers as a result of having been bitten. Kennedy's translation also implicitly refers to Beowulf even though the line itself is rendered "he was bloodied with gore," because Kennedy uses the pronoun "it" to refer to the dragon.  Nine translators add "his" and seven more include both Beowulf's name and "his." Tharaud has rewritten the lines in this section and made them more prosaic: "sharp fangs/dug at his neck, drew blood."  Alexander is the only translator to decide that it is the dragon who becomes covered in Beowulf's blood. Four translators (Donaldson, Chickering, Porter, and Clark Hall) have let the ambiguity stand (See Appendix 8).

Example Six: A Substantivized Adjective and variant readings: l. 310b

Line 310b comes toward the end of a passage that describes Beowulf and his men's first glimpse of Heorot as gold adorned, magnificent, and famous.

306                         Guman onetton

307    sigon 1tsomne,        o3 31t hy [s]1l timbred

308    geatolic ond goldfah     ongyton mihton;

309    31t w1s forem1rost     foldbuendum

310    receda under roderum.    on 31m se rica bad;

311    lixte se leoma          ofer landa fela.

                            Warriors hastened,

       marched together,       until they the timbred hall

       adorned and gold-decorated      were able to see;

       that was the most famous        to earth-dwellers

       of buildings under the skies,      in which the powerful

                                               one waited;

       its gleam shone        over many lands.

Just before the narrator concludes this description, he mentions, almost as an afterthought, a person who dwells or waits in it: on c1m se rica bad.  Although the majority of translators take the substantivized adjective, se rica, to refer to Hrothgar, this is not the only possible interpretation.  Klaeber glosses the adjective rice as powerful, mighty, of high rank as do most editors.  Yet, Hrothgar is not the only powerful one who waits in the hall; every night, he and the majority of his men leave the hall and Grendel takes possession of it. 

However, none of the translators whose versions I examined explore explicitly the possibility that se rica is Grendel (See Appendix 9).  Eight translate rica as ruler, which is somewhat ambiguous, but probably refers to Hrothgar; three translate it as the mighty one, which, while ambiguous, allows for both possibilities.  Fifteen translators identify the person as either "the high king," the king," "majesty," "lord," or Hrothgar. Three translators omit the line entirely, and one, Trask, has completely rewritten the line to read "where heroes live," which I assume must be ironic.

In lines 144-146a, Swa rixode  ond wic rihte wan/ana wi3 eallum,   o3 31t idel stod/husa selest, the narrator explains that "thus he [Grendel] held sway6 until the best of houses stood empty." This comes after a description of Grendel's depredations and the ironic comment that the Danes chose to find rest far from the hall. The narrator makes is clear that Grendel rules Heorot: at night, literally, during the day, figuratively.  Furthermore, the verb ricsian used in line 144 means to rule or hold sway and is related to the adjective rica found in line 310b.  Se rica, then, may refer to Grendel; I believe it does.  If we understand the line in this way, then the horror of Heorot is made even more dramatic.


When editors and translators made decisions about referents for pronouns and substantivized adjectives, they deny the poem's ambiguities and violate the symbolic logic of the text.  While it is true that identifying he in line 2490b as Hygelac:either in a note or in the text itself:does not affect the reading of the line, not all such resolutions and identifications are equally neutral.  In the other examples that I have discussed:g1st/g1st, agl1ca, the four examples of he, and se rica:ambiguity adds to the blurring of the participants, thereby creating a richer and more nuanced poem.  In order to preserve those nuances, translators should acknowledge the ambiguities by alternating words as in the case of guest and demon, by noting the use of agl1ca for both Grendel and Beowulf, by footnoting the pronouns to explain the significance of them, and finally, by choosing a neutral term like "the mighty one" for se rica. Thus, they allow the readers of the poem to appreciate the symbolic logic of the poem as well as its ambiguous beauty.

Appendix 1

Anglo Saxon Poetic Records

Variant spellings of g1st in Beowulf

-GܡST @guestA (see also –GAST, -GEST, -GIEST, -GIST, -GYST)

                     inwit  ni3

-GܡST @spiritA (see also –GAST, -GEST)






-GAST @guestA (see also -GܡST, -GEST, -GIEST, -GIST, -GYST)



-GAST @spiritA (see also -GܡST, -GEST)




-GEST @guestA A (see also- GܡST, -GAST, -GIEST, -GIST, -GYST)



-GEST @spiritA (see also -GܡST, -GAST)


-GIEST @guestA (see also -GܡST, -GAST, -GEST, -GIST, -GYST)





-GIST @guestA (see also -GܡST, -GAST, -GEST, -GIEST, -GYST)


-GYST @guestA (see also -GܡST, -GAST, -GEST, -GIEST, -GIST)


Appendix 2

Translations of Beowulf consulted

William Morris and A. J. Wyatt.  The Tale of Beowulf.  London: Longmans, Green and Co., 1895.

John Clark Hall. Beowulf.  London: Swan Sonnenschein, 1901.

Francis Gummere. The Oldest English Epic: Beowulf. New York: MacMillan Group, 1909.

R.K. Gordon. The Song of Beowulf.  New York: E.P. Dutton and Co., 1922.

William Leonard.  Beowulf.  New York: Random House, 1932.

D.H. Crawford. Beowulf. London: Chatto and Windus, 1926.

Charles Kennedy.  Beowulf.  London: Oxford University Press, 1940.

Edwin Morgan.  Beowulf.  California: University of California Press, 1952.

David Wright.  Beowulf.  London: Penguin, 1957.

Burton Raffel. Beowulf.  New York: New American Library, 1963.

Constance Hieatt. Beowulf, and Other Old English Poems. New York: Odyssey Press, 1967.

Kevin Crossley-Holland.  Beowulf.  Cambridge: D.S. Brewer, 1968.

George Garmonsway.  Beowulf and its Analogues.  London: Dent, 1969.

Michael Alexander.  Beowulf.  Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1973.

E. Talbot Donaldson.  Beowulf.  New York: W.W Norton & Co., 1975.

Howell Chickering, Jr. Beowulf.  New York: Doubleday, 1977.

John Porter.  Beowulf.  2nd ed. London: Pirate Press, 1977.

S.A.J. Bradley.  @Beowulf.A In Anglo-Saxon Poetry.  London: J.M. Dent, 1982.

Stanley Greenfield. A Readable Beowulf.  Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University  Press, 1982.

Marijane Osborn.  Beowulf.  Berkeley: University of California Press, 1983.

Bernard Huppé. Beowulf, a New Translation.  Binghampton, NY: Medieval & Renaissance Texts & Studies, 1987.

Ruth Lehman.  Beowulf.  Austin: University of Texas Press, 1988.

Marc Hudson.  Beowulf.  Lewisburg, PA: Bucknell University Press, 1990.

Randolph Swearer, Raymond Oliver, and Marijane Osborn. Beowulf: A Likeness.  New Haven: Yale University Press, 1990.

Barry Tharaud.  Beowulf.  Colorado: University Press of Colorado, 1990.

Frederick Rebsamen.  Beowulf.  New York: Harper Collins, 1991.

Richard M. Trask.  Beowulf and Judith.  Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1997.

Seamus Heaney.  Beowulf. New York: W.W Norton & Co.,  2000.

R.M. Liuzza.  Beowulf.  Ontario: Broadview Press, Ltd.,  2000.

Alan Sullivan and Timothy Murphy. Beowulf.  In The Longman Anthology of British Literature. 2nd ed. Addison-Wesley Educational Publishers, 2003. [2002]

Appendix 3

Translations of l. 86

3a se elleng1st earfo3lice

Morris (1895)          Then the ghost heavy-strong bore with it hardly

Clark Hall (1901)        Then the mighty spirit who dwelt in darkness

Gummere (1909)        With envy and anger an evil spirit

Gordon (1922)         Then the mighty spirit who dwelt in darkness

Leonard (1925)        And that grim hobgoblin was Grendel named by


Crawford (1926)        Then the bold spirit that abode in darkness

Kennedy (1940)        Then an evil spirit who dwelt in the darkness

Morgan (1952)         But the outcast spirit haunting darkness

Wright (1957)         At that time a mighty fiend who lived in darkness

Raffel (1963)          A powerful monster, living down/In the darkness

Hieatt (1967)          This was an evil time for a certain powerful


Crossley-Holland (1968)  Then the brutish demon who lived in darkness

Garmonsway (1969)     Then the savage being that lurked in dark places

Alexander (1973)        It was with pain that the powerful spirit

Donaldson (1975)       Then the fierce spirit painfully endured hardship

                     for a time

Chickering (1977)      Then the great monster in the outer darkness

Porter (1977)          Then the fierce beast terribly

Bradley (1982)         Then that obdurate being:the one which waited

                     in places of darkness

Greenfield (1982)        Then that powerful demon, he who dwelt

Osborn (1983)         In those days a spirit who dwelt in darkness

Huppé (1987)          The valorous demon glowered in the darkness

Lehmann (1988)        Then that sorry soul suffered awhile

Hudson (1990)         Then the bold demon who went by darkness

Swearer (1990)         For he was near, immense with strength the one

Tharaud (1990)        Then Grendel, the fierce spirit who dwelt in


Rebsamen (1991)        Then an alien creature cold wanderer

Trask (1997)           Then a huge-horror, a hostile spirit

Heaney (2000)         Then a powerful demon, a prowler through the


Liuzza (2000)          A bold demon who waited in darkness

Sullivan (2002)        Each day, one evil dweller in darkness

Appendix 4

Translations of l. 1269

31r him agl1ca 1tgr1pe wear3

Morris (1895)          Where to him the fell ogre to hand-grips befell;

Clark Hall (1901)       The monster there had laid hold of him.

Gummere (1909)         With whom the grisly one grappled amain.

Gordon (1922)         There the monster came to grips with him.

Leonard (1925)         There the ogre gripped him,

Crawford (1926)         There the great monster came to grips with him;

Kennedy (1940)         The monster grappled;

Morgan (1952)         The monster had him there in his grip,

Wright (1957)          There the monster had grappled with him,

Raffel (1963)           He'd snatched at Beowulf's arm,... (Grendel

                     mentioned 2 lines previously).

Hieatt (1967)           There the monster had laid hold of him,

Crossley-Holland (1968)  Grendel gripped and grabbed him there,

Garmonsway (1969)     The monster had tried to get to grips with him


Alexander (1973)       The grim one fastened his grip upon him there,

Donaldson (1975)       There the monster had laid hold upon him

Chickering (1977)       The monster had seized him there in his hall bed.

Porter (1977)           There with him monster to grips got;

Bradley (1982)         There the monster had fallen to grappling with


Greenfield (1982)       There the fearsome foe reached out for him,

Osborn (1983)          The horrible being laid hold of Beowulf,

Huppé (1987)          who in the hard grasp of his adversary's hold

Lehmann (1988)         The creature caught him, clutching his arm,

Hudson (1990)         That demon locked him in a hard hand-grip;

Swearer (1990)         [Omitted]

Tharaud (1990)         The monster had seized him,

Rebsamen (1991)       Grendel grabbed him grappled his hand

Trask (1997)           There  the ugly one went at gripping.

Heaney (2000)         The monster wrenched and wrestled with him

Liuzza (2000)          There the great beast began to seize him

Sullivan (2002)         The monster met there a man who remembered (1.                      1118)

Appendix 5

Translations of l. 2568b

he on searwum bad

Morris (1895)          in war-gear he bided; 

Clark Hall (1901)       he waited in his armour.

Gummere (1909)         The mailed-one waited.

Gordon (1922)         he waited in his war gear.

Leonard (1925)         The Mailed One waited nigh.

Crawford (1926)         In harness he waited,

Kennedy (1940)         Clad in his war-gear he waited the rush.

Morgan (1952)         he waited in his armour.

Wright (1957)         [omitted] - The prince resolutely stood his ground

                     in the shelter of his great shield while The Worm

                     gathered its coils together.

Raffel (1963)          Waiting in his shining/Armor.

Hieatt (1967)          he waited in his armour while the serpent quickly

                     coiled himself together:

Crossley-Holland (1968) Beowulf waited ready armed.

Garmonsway (1969)     in his armour he waited.

Alexander (1973)       he waited in his armour.

Donaldson (1975)       he waited in his armor.

Chickering (1977)       in armor he waited.

Porter (1977)          he in armour waited.

Bradley (1982)         in his armour he waited.

Greenfield (1982)       stood by his tall shield, strong in armor,

Osborn (1983)         Beowulf waited.

Huppé (1987)          and stood in his mail [reverses the order of the


Lehmann (1988) :-     : in his corslet he stood.

Hudson (1990)         he waited in his armor.

Swearer (1990)         [omitted]

Tharaud (1990)         Beowulf waited in his armor

Rebsamen (1991)        1. 2566: Beowulf stood still with his steep


                            death faced with death as the dragon

                            coiled then

                            swelling with fury simmering with rage.

Trask (1997)           he waited in his battle armor.

Heaney (2000)         Sure of his ground      

Liuzza (2000)          he waited in his war gear

Sullivan (2002)        His will unbroken, The warlord waited / behind

                     his tall shield, helm and hauberk. (11. 2263-64)

Appendix 6

Translations of l. 1167

31t he h1fde mod micel 3eah 3e he his magum n1re

Morris (1895)   That of mickle mood was he, though he to his kinsmen/

                     were un-upright in edge-play.

Clark Hall (1901) That he had much courage, although he might not have

                     been upright with his kinsfolk at the play of                       swords.

Gummere (1909)  his keeness of courage, though kinsmen had found him /

                     unsure at the sword play.

Gordon (1922)  That he had a noble mind, though he had not been faithful

                     to his kinsmen at the play of swords.

Leonard (1925)  That he was man of courage keen; though he unto his kin

                     of old, Were not at sword-play merciful.

Crawford (1926)  That he had great courage, though to his kin he were not /

                     kind at the play of swords.

Kennedy (1940)  and both showed trust / In his noble mind, though he

                     had no mercy / on kinsmen in swordplay.

Morgan (1952)  That he possessed a mind of power, although he had been /

                     unmerciful / to his kinsmen when swords were                      glancing.

Wright (1957)  ... and great courage, although he had shown treachery

                     toward his brothers in a passage of arms.

Raffel (1963)   Believed in his courage, although he'd spilled his relatives'


Hieatt (1967)   and believed that he had great courage, although he may              not have been honorable in swordplay, with his kinsmen.

Crossley-Holland (1968) his spirit and audacity, although he had deceived /

                     his own kinsmen in a feud

Garmonsway (1969) believing that he had great courage, although in the play                      of swordblades he had shown no mercy to his                      kinsmen.

Alexander (1973) accounted his courage great:though toward his kinsmen /                      he had not been/kind at the clash of swords. 

Donaldson (1975) that he had much courage, though he was not honorable to                      his kinsmen at swordplay.

Chickering (1977) that he had great spirit, / though he kept his kinsmen in                      nothing like honor /when edges met.

Porter (1977)   that he had courage great though he to his kin was not                      honour-firm inedges' clashes.

Bradley (1982)  and that he had much courage:even though he had not                      been unwaveringly honourable towards his                       kinsmen in a contest of swords.

Greenfield (1982) both had faith / in his forthright courage, though to his                      kinsmen / he'd been less than kind where swords                      clashed.

Osborn (1983)  They praised and trusted / his great courage, though to his                      kinsmen / he had done little service at the play of                      swords.

Huppé (1987)   and of the greatness of his daring though he had not dealt                      honorably / with his kinsmen at the play of                       swords.

Lehmann (1988)  that he was to his lord loyal. Though he should lack mercy /                      in quarrels at kinsmen's defiance.

Hudson (1990)  believed him possessed of great spirit, despite his ungentle                      usage /of close kinsmen in swordplay

Swearer (1990)  Praised for his courage though with sword he'd murdered /                      His brother.

Tharaud (1990)  Everyone trusted Unferth's mettle and courage, despite his                      dishonorable deeds against his own brothers in a                      trial of arms.

Rebsamen (1991) hailed his courage / though to his family he failed in honor                      / at clashing of swordedge.

Trask (1997)    that he had high spirit, though he spared not his kinsmen /                      kindly in swordplay.

Heaney (2000)  admired by all for his mind and courage / although under a                      cloud for killing his brothers,

Liuzza (2000)   That he had great courage, though to his kinsmen he had                      not been / merciful in sword play

Sullivan (2002) Everyone thought him honest and trustworthy, / blameless                      and brave, though his blade had unjustly / stricken                      a kinsman (1. 1027)

Appendix 7

Translations of l. 2490b

3e he me sealde

Morris (1895)          which erewhile he gave me (unidentified)

Clark Hall (1901)       I paid back the treasures which he (Hygelac) had

                     given me,

Gummere (1909)         For all that he gave me - [glossed in note as


Gordon (1922)         The treasures he bestowed on me. (unidentified)

Leonard (1925)         For treasures he had given me ["My master"

                     (Hygelac) in previous line]

Crawford (1926)         that Higelac gave me

Kennedy (1940)         that Hygelac gave me

Morgan (1952)         For the treasures he gave me I paid him again

Wright (1957)          which Hygelac lavished upon me.

Raffel (1963)           The gifts that Higlac gave me,

Hieatt (1967)          Hygelac gave me land and a splendid dwelling. I

                     repaid him for the  treasure

Crossley-Holland (1968) I repaid Hygelac for his gifts of heirlooms

Garmonsway (1969)     ...that I might repay Hygelac ... for the treasures he

                     had given me;

Alexander ( 1973)       ... to Hygelac for the treasures he had given me.

Donaldson (1975)       that he gave me [he glossed in note as Hygelac]

Chickering (1977)       that Hygelac gave me,

Porter (1977)          which Hygelac me gave

Bradley (1982)         Those treasures which Hygelac gave me

Greenfield (1982)       he conferred on me (Hyglac mentioned 3 lines


Osborn (1983)         the gifts of my prince

Huppé (1987)          that Hygelac gave me

Lehmann (1988)         tendered me by Hygelac

Hudson (1990)         I repaid him for the treasures he gave me

Swearer (1990)         [omitted]

Tharaud (1990)         ... that he gave me. [Hygelac]

Rebsamen (1991)        for the treasure he gave (Hygelac mentioned in

                     line above)

Trask (1997)           I repaid him [Hygelac]

Heaney (2000)         ... that Hygelac lavished on me

Liuzza (2000)          he gave me (glossed in note as Hygelac)

Sullivan (2002)        repaid my prince for the gifts he granted (1. 2194)

Appendix  8

Translations of l. 2692b

He geblodegod wear3

Morris (1895)          all bebloody's he waxed / with the gore of his soul.

Clark Hall (1901)       he was bathed in life-blood:the gore gushed out

                     in streams

Gummere (1909)         and covered him / with waves of blood from his

                     breast that welled.

Gordon (1922)         Beowulf grew stained with his life blood;

Leonard (1925)         To death the Geat was hurt, / Bloodied o'er with

                     his own gore, in welling wave and spurt.

Crawford (1926)         he was all bloodied / by the waves of his

                     life-blood gushing forth.

Kennedy (1940)         he was bloodied with gore; [he is Beowulf

                     because Kennedy uses "it" for the dragon]

Morgan (1952)          the stain overran him / Of his own life's blood,

Wright (1957)          A torrent of gore gushed out, and Beowulf was

                     spattered with his own lifeblood

Raffel (1963)           Into Beowulf's neck, he staggered, the blood /

                     Came flooding forth, fell like rain.

Hieatt (1967)           bathing him in his life's blood;

Crossley-Holland (1968)  Beowulf was bathed / in blood;

Garmonsway (1969)     Beowulf was stained with his own dripping


Alexander (1973)       blood covered him, / Beowulf's lifeblood

Donaldson (1975)       he was smeared with life-blood, gore welled out in


Chickering (1977)       all bloodied he was, / dark lifeblood.

Porter (1977)           he drenched was / in soul blood

Bradley (1982)         Beowulf was smothered with blood, his lifeblood;

Greenfield (1982)       Beowulf was bathed / in his life's blood

Osborn (1983)          And now / Beowulf's life-blood drenched his


Huppé (1987)          Beowulf's blood / welled in waves from mortal


Lehmann (1988)         A torrent of life-blood / welled from the warrior;

Hudson (1990)         2691b: sharp fangs / dug at his neck, drew blood,

Swearer (1990)         his boiling veins / cracked with his soul-gore.

Tharaud (1990)         and the hero was bathed in his own lifeblood

Rebsamen (1991)       Beowulf stopped then / his life force draining

Trask (1997)           bloodied he was / in his soul's life essence

Heaney (2000)         Beowulf's body / ran wet with his life blood:

Liuzza (2000)          he was bloodied / by his mortal wounds:

Sullivan (2002)         Beowulf's life-blood came bursting forth (1. 2378)

Appendix  9

Translations of 1. 310b

On 31m  se rica bad;

Morris (1895)          wherein bode the mighty;

Clark Hall (1901)        : in this the ruler dwelt,

Gummere (1909)         where Hrothgar lived,

Gordon (1922)         in which the mighty one dwelt

Leonard (1925)         wherein King Hrothgar sat

Crawford (1926)         wherein dwelt the ruler;

Kennedy (1940)        the seat of the King,

Morgan (1952)         and home of a king:

Wright (1957)          the seat of Hrothgar

Raffel (1963)           [omitted]

Hieatt (1967)           The dwelling of the mighty lord

Crossley-Holland (1968)  The ruler lived in it;

Garmonsway (1969)     in which a mighty ruler dwelt

Alexander (1973)       The home of the king;

Donaldson (1975)       in which the mighty one waited

Chickering (1977)       : the king lived there

Porter (1977)           in it the ruler lived.

Bradley (1982)         in which the great ruler lived.

Greenfield (1982)       as this ruler's seat

Osborn (1983)          [omitted]

Huppé (1987)          home of the king (in 1. 308?)

Lehmann (1988)         in which the high-king lived;

Hudson (1990)         in which the king waited.

Swearer (1990)         [omitted]

Tharaud (1990)         and therein dwelled the mighty lord, Hrothgar.

Rebsamen (1991)       Hrothgar's gift house

Trask (1997)           where heroes live.

Heaney (2000)         Majesty lodged there,

Liuzza (2000)          :where the high king waited;

Sullivan (2002)         ? the roof of the ruler lit up his realm.

(Western Michigan University)

Works Cited

An Anglo-Saxon Dictionary based on the Manuscript Collections of the Late Joseph Boswoth. Ed. T. Northcote Toller. London: Oxford UP, 1964.

Beowulf. Trans. Friedrich Klaebe. 3rd ed. Lexington: Heath, 1950.

Bessinger, Jess B. A Concordance to the Anglo-Saxon Poetic Records. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1978.

Bright's Old English Grammar and Reader. Ed. Frederic G. Cassidy and Richard N. Ringler. New York: Holt, 1971.

Chambers, R. W. Beowulf: An Introduction. 3rd ed. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1963.

Clemoes, Peter. "Action in Beowulf and Our Perception of It." Old English Poetry: Essays in Style. Ed. Daniel G. Calder. Berkeley: U of California P, 1979. 147-68.

Evans, Jonathan D. "Semiotics and Traditional Lore: The Medieval Dragon Tradition." Journal of Folklore Research 22.2-3 (1985): 85-112.

Dictionary of Old English. Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, 1986 to date.

Gould, David. "Beowulf: A Formulaic Translation with a Critical Introduction." Diss. U of Connecticut, 1993.

Hall, J. R. Clark. A Concise Anglo-Saxon Dictionary. 4th ed. Toronto: U of Toronto P, 1984.

Kendal, Calvin. The Metrical Grammar of Beowulf. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1991.

Köberl, Johann. The Intermediacy of Beowulf. Lanham: UP of America, 2002.

Kuhn, Sherman. "Old English Agl1ca - Middle Irish Oclach." Linguistic Method: Essays in Honor of Herbert Penzl. Ed. Irmengard Rauch and Gerald F. Carr. The Hague: Mouton, 1979. 213-230.

Lionarons, Joyce Talley. The Medieval Dragon: The Nature of the Beast in Germanic Literature. Middlesex: Hisarlik, 1998.

Mitchell, Bruce, and Fred C. Robinson. Guide to Old English. 6th ed. Oxford: Blackwell, 2001.

O'Keefe, Katherine O'Brian. "Beowulf, Lines 702b-836: Transformations and the Limits of the Human." Texas Studies in Literature and Language 23.4 (1981): 484-94.

Rauer, Christine. Beowulf and the Dragon. Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 2000.

Sweet, Henry. The Student's Dictionary of Anglo-Saxon. Oxford: Clarendon, 1997.

Whitesell, J. Edwin. "Intentional Ambiguities in Beowulf." Tennessee Studies in Literature 11 (1966): 145-49.


Translating Beowulf: Translators Crouched and Dangers Rampant

Jana K. Schulman

Beowulf is an ambiguous text. One area of ambiguity not obvious to the reader of the poem in Modern English is the occurrence of ambiguous pronoun referents in the Old English.  In this essay, I look at six examples of ambiguity: intentional ambiguity (an analysis of the word elleng;st); blurred boundaries and monsters (the use of agl;ca in l. 1269a); grammatical ambiguities and dragons (the pronoun "he" and its referent in l. 2568b); ambiguous connections and betrayal (the pronoun "he" in l. 1167); pronominal ambiguities (ll. 2490b and 2692b); and, finally, the substantivized adjective rica in l. 310b.  When editors and translators make decisions about referents for pronouns and substantivized adjectives, they deny the poem's ambiguities and violate the symbolic logic of the text.  The ambiguity in Beowulf creates a richer and more nuanced poem; translators need to devise a means of acknowledging these ambiguities.  In this essay, I conclude that translators should consider alternating words as in the case of guest and demon, by noting the use of agl;ca for both Grendel and Beowulf, by footnoting the pronouns to explain their significance, and finally by choosing neutral terms when possible (such as "the mighty one" for  se  rica).

Key Words: Beowulf, Translators, Pronominal ambiguity, agl;ca, Translation  theory,  elleng;st

1)* This essay was first presented in November 2003 at the 6th International Conference of Medieval and Early Modern English Studies of Korea, at Korea University, Seoul, Korea, which I here gratefully acknowledge. I would also like to thank participants at the MEMESAK conference, whose comments during the discussion helped me revise this essay, and Dr. Eve Salisbury for her suggestions.

2) See David Gould, "Beowulf: A Formulaic Translation with a Critical Introduction," Diss. University of Connecticut, 1993, pp. 7-8, 11, 30-31; Peter Clemoes, "Action in Beowulf and Our Perception of It" in Old English Poetry: Essays in Style, ed. Daniel G. Calder (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1979) [147-68]; Katherine O'Brian O'Keefe, "Beowulf, Lines 702b-836: Transformations and the Limits of the Human," Texas Studies in Literature and Language 23.4 (1981): 484-94.

3) Calvin Kendall, The Metrical Grammar of Beowulf,  Cambridge Studies in Anglo-Saxon England, 5 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991), p. 1.

4) Johann Köberl, The Indeterminacy of Beowulf (Lanham: University Press of America, Inc., 2002), p. viii.

5) J. Edwin Whitesell, "Intentional Ambiguities in Beowulf," Tennessee Studies in Literature 11 (1966): 146 [145-49].

6) Jess B. Bessinger, A Concordance to the Anglo-Saxon Poetic Records (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1978).

7) For further discussion of the problems surrounding the word "guest," see Joyce Talley Lionarons, The Medieval Dragon. The Nature of the Beast in Germanic Literature (Middlesex: Hisarlik Press, 1998), pp. 35-37.

8) An Anglo-Saxon Dictionary based on the Manuscript Collections of the Late Joseph Boswoth, edited and enlarged by T. Northcote Toller (London: Oxford University Press, 1964). All further references to this dictionary will be abbreviated as Bosworth-Toller.

9) J.R. Clark Hall, A Concise Anglo-Saxon Dictionary. 4th ed. (Toronto: University of Toronto Press in Association with the Medieval Academy, 1984); Henry Sweet, The Student's Dictionary of Anglo-Saxon 18th Impression (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1997).

10) Dictionary of Old English (Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, 1986-), letter E, p. 1192.

11) Whitesell, "Intentional Ambiguities," 148.

12) Sherman Kuhn, "Old English Agl1ca - Middle Irish Oclach," Linguistic Method: Essays in Honor of Herbert Penzl, ed. Irmengard Rauch and Gerald F. Carr (The Hague: Mouton, 1979), p. 218 [213-230].

13) Old English lines are quoted from Friedrich Klaebe, Beowulf 3rd ed. (Lexington: D.C. Heath and Company, 1950).

14) All translations are my own, unless otherwise indicated.

15) Köberl, The Indeterminacy of Beowulf, p. 104.

16) Klaeber, Beowulf, p. 394.

17) See Jonathan D. Evans, "Semiotics and Traditional Lore: The Medieval Dragon Tradition," Journal of Folklore Research 22, no. 2-3 (1985 May-Dec.): 85-112; Christine Rauer, Beowulf and the Dragon (Cambridge: D.S. Brewer, 2000), pp. 41-43.  In his book, Beowulf: An Introduction, R.W. Chambers noted that "Both heroes [Frotho and Beowulf] waste their blows at first on the scaly back of the dragon.  But if the hero went at once for the soft parts, there would be no fight at all, and all the fun would be lost" (3rd ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1963), pp. 94-95.

18) Marijane Osborn observes in her translation of the poem in a note on these lines that "'still' suggests some event to follow that will contradict this scene, and may be a hint about Hrothulf's disloyalty. Unferth, sitting at their feet, here seems to me to function almost as a symbol of faithlessness between kin" (136).

19) Köberl, The Indeterminacy of Beowulf, p. 154.

20) Bruce Mitchell and Fred C. Robinson, Guide to Old English. 6th ed. (Oxford: Blackwell, 2001), p. 87.

21) Bright's Old English Grammar and Reader, ed. Frederic G. Cassidy and Richard N, Ringler (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Inc., 1971), p. 91.