In translations of great and historical literature more often than not some translations will gain more of one element, while others lose a great portion of the aforementioned element. Everything comes down to the idea that, no matter what the translation, the reader still gets essentially the same story line, just a different interpretation. Looking at how such writing morphs and changes, translators are giving the readers several different views of the same events. In the analysis of a passage near the end of Beowulf (lines 2177-2199 in our textbook) changes in the maturity of Beowulf, and how other characters of the epic perceived him, are shown through the translator’s diction throughout the passage and varies in other translations through omission of information or alternative word choices.

            Reading the textbook’s translation of Beowulf the reader gains a lot of new information about the hero in the passage that starts on line 2177. First, the changes in Beowulf’s mannerisms are discussed, which leads the reader to believe that he has matured over the course of the events with Grendel. Beowulf is described as acting with “valor” (2177) and “never cut down/a comrade who was drunk” (2179/2180). The version of Beowulf that is described here, doesn’t sound quite like the same man who verbally attacked Unferth when he made it clear that he wasn’t happy about Beowulf’s presence in Heorot. The version of Beowulf that is described in the passage being analyzed is one that is more than likely mature enough to not be insulted by someone challenging his abilities or his presence in general.

            This passage also reveals information about Beowulf’s past, which has not been discussed until this point. The poet chooses to reveal in this section that “He had been poorly regarded/for a long time” (2183/2184) and that Hygelac along with the rest of the Geats think that Beowulf “lacked force” (2187) and are also convinced that “the prince was a weakling” (2188). Before this, readers have no idea that anyone thinks so lowly of Beowulf. When he is introduced, it seems as though everyone has faith in Beowulf’s strength. The view of Beowulf as weak, and not a force anyone had to be afraid of, changes dramatically after Hygelac and the Geats hear about the great accomplishment Beowulf has achieved. This change of perception leads to Hygelac giving Beowulf a beautiful sword, along with several pieces of land. Later on, it also leads people to have faith in Beowulf when problems with the dragon arise. Overall, this passage serves as a major turning point in the epic in terms of the growth of Beowulf, along with the Geat perception of him.

            Looking closer at the perception of Beowulf, some translations such as those done by Michael Alexander and Heorot.dk, include this interesting information about Beowulf’s past. On the other hand, a translation of the work done by Rosemary Sutcliff omits the fact that the Geats had very little faith in Beowulf’s abilities. Sutcliff’s translation also leaves out any discussion of changes in Beowulf’s interactions with the other Geats. This can either be interpreted as Sutcliff trying to communicate that Beowulf was already mature to begin with, or that his tendency to brag can never be completely remedied.

            Also included in this translation, Sutcliff interprets that Beowulf is the only one giving gifts. Hygelac doesn’t give Beowulf a sword, hall, throne, hides and land like he does in the textbook’s translation. This, paired with the omission of past perceptions, paints Beowulf in an even more heroic light because there were never any doubts about him or his abilities. By having Beowulf give away his gifts, and not getting any in return makes him look selfless, while in contrast Hygelac looks like a “bad king” by not respecting Beowulf’s abilities through rewarding him for his accomplishments while he was away.

            In contrast to Sutcliff’s translation, Michael Alexander does bring up that everyone undervalued Beowulf. This might cause the reader to see that Beowulf isn’t as selfless as he’s started to seem because he wants to prove himself as a warrior more than anything. This is especially true when it comes to Hygelac, since the king doesn’t see Beowulf as a threat. Beowulf most likely felt that he had to prove himself to Hygelac and the best way that he would be able to do that would be to kill Grendel.

            One line of dialogue in Alexander’s translation brings a new understanding to the perception of Beowulf. While discussing the Geats’ perceptions that Beowulf is lazy, Alexander includes: “’the atheling was idle!’” (2188). Through further research, it can be found that atheling is a word used to describe a prince or a lord, or a person who is eligible for kingship. It is interesting to see that even though Beowulf was a person of nobility, people still believed so little in him. This again shows, though, that Beowulf had a lot to prove not only to himself, but also to others.

            In Heorot.dk’s translation of Beowulf, the writer uses the word “abject” (2183) to describe the Geat perception of Beowulf. If the word is used in context of the situation, it very likely means that Beowulf doesn;t have any pride or dignity until he proves himself by killing Grendel and Grendel’s mother. The use of this word to describe Beowulf is intriguing since for much of the beginning of the epic, Beowulf seems like he has an overabundance of pride and dignity.

            Another part of this translation that differs from the rest is found when Beowulf is said to have “led his life for glory” (2179). While it is mentioned that Beowulf is known for his abilities in war right before this line, this translation goes further than just focusing on how great Beowulf fights in battles and wars. This could be interpreted that Beowulf possibly wants to be known for his compassion and caring personality instead of just his fighting abilities. The ability for care for others that earlier had no faith in him is what ended up making Beowulf a great king.

            Overall, these translations do a thorough job of giving the readers a broad view of who Beowulf is as a warrior and a king. For being such a small portion of the epic, this passage serves a great purpose in further characterizing Beowulf as more mature and also exploring the Geat perception of him, through the eyes of the interpreter. Heorot.dk, Sutcliff, and Alexander give different views from those created in our textbook translation through the use of unique diction and omission of some events. Considering how long Beowulf has been in existence, and the role that it has played in today’s literature, readers will always be working through the piles of great translations of this epic.

Other Translations Used:

Heorot.dk

Rosemary Sutcliff (1962)

Michael Alexander (1973)

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