Kemp Malone in his essay “Beowulf” comments that the hero’s swimming match with Breca, an episode of more than 100 lines, is “not told as such,” but set in a frame: “the flitting between Unferth and Beowulf” (Malone 144). This contention or challenge between the hero and a rude challenger appears not only in Beowulf but in other heroic poetry like the Odyssey.
When Beowulf and his crew of brave Geat warriors arrive to the court of King Hrothgar of Denmark, one of the king’s retainers, Unferth by name, has been drinking too heavily of the mead. This puts him into a drunken state of mind wherein he unwisely and rudely challenges the hero regarding a swimming contest sometime earlier:
Unferth, Ecglaf’s son, rose to speak,
who sat at the fee of the lord of the Scyldings;
he unbound a battle-rune – the journey of Beowulf,
the brave seafarer, caused him chagrin,
for he would not grant that any other man
under the heavens might ever care more
for famous deeds than he himself:
“Are you the same Beowulf who challenged Breca
to a swimming match on the open sea?
There out of pride you both tested sea-ways,
through foolish boasting risked lives on the deep.
None could dissuade you, friend or foe,
keep either of you from that hapless trip,
when you went swimming out of the bay,
your arms embracing the crests, sea-currents,
flung out your hands to measure the sea-roads,
the ocean of wind. The steep seas boiled
in winter’s pourings. You both toiled seven nights
driven by the waves, and in that swimming
he overcame you, had greater strength.(499ff.)
So far Unferth, a proud warrior himself, tells Beowulf that the hero is foolish and that he has been bested in this sea-competition by his opponent – both of which are big, embarrassing putdowns. Unferth continues to rub it in:
The sea cast him up on the Heatho-Raems’ shore;
from there at daybreak he sought his homeland,
beloved by his people, came back to the Brondings,
fair peace-fort where he had subjects,
stronghold, and treasures. The good son of Beanstan
had truly fulfilled his whole boast against you(519ff.)
Nothing like siding 100% with the foe! Before even hearing both sides of the story! Finally, in concluding, Unferth states his minimal expectations of Beowulf considering the latter’s utter failure against Breca:
Epic of Beowulf Essay – Foreign and English Translations and Versions of Beowulf
Foreign and English Translations and Versions of Beowulf
From 1805 until the present there have been introduced an abundance of paraphrases, translations, adaptations, summaries, versions and illustrations of Beowulf in modern English and in foreign languages due mostly to two reasons: the desire to make the poem accessible, and the desire to read the exotic (Osborn 341). It is the purpose of this essay to present a brief history of this development of the popularity of the poem and then compare some of the translations with respect to some more difficult passages in the poem Beowulf.
In 1805 Sharon Turner included some passages from Beowulf in his The History of the Anglo-Saxons; he increased the text in later editions. In 1815 Grimur Johsson Thorkelin published the complete, though inaccurate, translation of the poem Beowulf. Thorkelin thought that the poem was a translation made in the court of King Alfred. These two citations show how Beowulf got its start towards fame in the modern era.
In more recent years more contemporary Beowulf enthusiasts are publishing a version in Hungarian (by Gyorgy in1994); doing photographic representations of the poem (Swearer, etc. in 1990, etc.); doing a meditative translation (Hudson in 1990); doing an Augustinian translation (Huppe in 1994); a translation based on syllabic meter (Greenfield in 1982); writing a novel, Eaters of the Dead, based on th epoem (Crichton in 1978); retelling the poem as a rock musical (Wylie in 1974); and the list is endless. Each approach strives to reinterpret Beowulf in the local and contemporary idiom (Osborn 341).
Regarding the translation of Beowulf into English and foreign languages, both verse and prose, in 1815 a Latin…
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…hor Books, 1977.
Crossley-Holland, Kevin, trans. Beowulf The Fight at Finnsburh, edited by Heather O’Donoghue. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.
Donaldson, E. Talbot, trans. Beowulf The Donaldson Translation, edited by Joseph Tuso. New York, W.W.Norton and Co., 1975.
Heaney, Seamus. Beowulf, A New Verse Translation. New York: W.W. Norton