Suggested Beowulf

“Do you know about any good recorded reading (or should I say storytelling?) of Beowulf? If so, could you point me to the source?”

karla (threadbndr):
“I’m like Uke – any source for an audio book reading done right?”

Ky Person:
“I’d love to hear Beowulf read by someone who knows what he’s doing.”

All righty, then.

I’m kind of hesitant to suggest this — for a number of reasons. The gentleman reciting Beowulf is doing so in the original language.

To me, being familiar with the story, this is fantastic. I am afraid, though, that folks who aren’t familiar with Beowulf are going to hear a language they don’t quite understand, and will give up watching and listening — maybe to give up on the story altogether. Which would be a tragedy.

The DVD has an English subtitle option, however, so all may not be lost.

This version of the saga ends too soon. It finishes after the defeat of Grendel’s mother — which, to be fair, is the popular ending. To the best of my knowledge, the gentleman has not done a complete telling of the tale — something I hope he chooses to attend to in the future.


The gentleman’s name is Benjamin Bagby, and he recites Beowulf the way it was meant to be done — in Old English, with proper flair, and accompanied by a harp when required.

Here is the opening of the saga:

Mr. Bagby’s rendition of Beowulf is available from his web-site, or from popular on-line sellers.

I suggest viewing the DVD at night, with the lights off or down low for proper effect.


Happy Thanksgiving.

13 thoughts on “Suggested Beowulf”

  1. “Out of the darkness of the prehistory of the human race, a superb and splendid hero emerged to do battle with the monstrous forces of evil.” — Lin Carter on Beowulf.

  2. I don’t understand Old English, and it’s been a long time since I read Beowulf, but that was awesome! I’m going to have to buy the CD now.

  3. ..a language they don’t quite understand.

    Nope. A completely different language, to my ears. For a native speaker of english (i. e. most of the readers here), there is, no doubt, a similarity. Even unprepared and randomly selected, he will be able to spot enough common phonemes to understand some words, and he can, by reverse-engineering his own daily speech, guess at the meaning of other.

    But for me.. I was partially educated in Polish, then Czech. I can understand English reasonably well, or at least well enough to read – fiction or nonfiction. But (and it is a big but) I lack the same roots, that give you the edge.

    And therein lies the challenge, of course. :o)

    It could, perhaps, be likened to Czech, Slovak, Pole or even Russian attending Mass that is served in Old Slavonic. (Been there, done that..) The language is related, even ancestral, and if he is familiar with what usually goes on in church, he will be able to follow it in the same fashion. But should any of the gentle readers frequenting this site find himself there, well.. You’d be in my shoes then.

    But I want to hear the story in the way it was meant to be heard – and preserved. Wich is why i humbly asked LawDog for a referal.

    Thank You, LD. The lady in the interlibrary loan office shall, no doubt, hate me.. But it’s worth it.

    Raising a glass across the pond


  4. I’ve read it in the original, but never heard it. My Anglo Saxon is a bit rusty, also. An excellent example of the skills of the scop.

  5. If you haven’t read the translation by Seamus Heaney, please take a look at it. Haney’s love for the language is contagious. Heaney won a Nobel Prize in Literature in 1995. His translation speaks to Everyman. ~Elizabeth

  6. My grandfather had a recording on vinyl which might still be lurking in the corners of ebay.

    It’d be the very rare man who could interpolate from Modern english to the Old English that Beowulf is written in. Icelanders specifically, and scandinavians would have much better chances.

    Much more than most European languages, english has changed drammatically. An educated but non specialized English speaker has serious trouble reading and understanding Chaucer and Shakespear (as they were written, not inthe modernized versions) and that’s the birth of “modern” english. That’s not even medieval “english”, much less old English.

    I’ve a book which contains William Marshal’s, the greatest medieval Anglo-Norman knight, life as a (book length) poem, one side is modern french the other is in the original.. Frenglish. It’s not really French , but it sure as heck isn’t English either. (William Marshal was the greatest knight of his age, a man who won about 500 tourneys, who trained Richard Lionheart, who was Henry II’s right hand man and who as regent in his late 70’s/80’s saved England from french invasion (He personally led a cavalry charges and went into combat. This guy was hard core.) after John’s idiocy, and that poem was written in “state of the art” aristocratic language of the day. It’s not English.

    Heck, english wasn’t even the administrative language of England until the late renaissance, and has had an enormous French influence. (Amusingly, French has been used to administer England for a longer period than it has been used to adminster France…even today. The French medieval administration mostly worked in latin which allowed them cut across the heavy regional dialects/languages more effectively.)

    All to say, that you may enjoy listening to Beowulf in the original, but if you want to “get it” you’ll need text with good translation and extensive glosses as to cultural assumptions and historical context. Modern english ain’t going to help you, and even Shakepearean scholars would find it very heavy sledding.

  7. A background in Altheissen (Old high German) is of immense help with Old English. Or even just German. However, the old language was spoken with a lilt that can still be heard when a Scandinavian speaks English. We have lost the lilt along with the language. The Scots of the last century retained the lyricism of a people who admired their troubadors and poets and honored them as much as they did warriors. My great-uncle, grandmother, and father all spoke in an entirely different mode of English when they were telling the old family tales. They had some words of which I knew the meaning by association, but only recognized when I visited Scotland. Many of those words, which I assumed were Outer Hebrides Gaelic turned out to be Cherokee!
    With the original Beowulf, you want to clear your mind of modern trappings and put yourself in a wooden ‘manor’ inside a palisade deep in the woods. Snow outside, a snapping fire built on a round stone central hearth. Walls hung with skins and spears stacked in the corners. No light but the fire, a huge wolfhound curled up next to you, a mug of mead, and the silent company of friends, all listening to the winter treat of the travelling poet/troubador.
    Even if you don’t understand the language, the music of it and your imaginary surroundings will affect you.
    It’s worth it.

  8. I may have to score myself a copy of this before Gulf Wars XVII next March, & see about scheduling a viewing in the longhouse at the site.

  9. wow, that is fantastic! Yep, gotta get a copy of that. I am a native English speaker who was raised among German and Norwegian speaking Great Taunties and Onkles. I can catch maybe one word in 10, but that’s enough with the subtitles.

  10. Interesting. I wonder how he’d do with the Old Testament book of Job.

  11. “This version of the saga ends too soon. It finishes after the defeat of Grendel’s mother — which, to be fair, is the popular ending. To the best of my knowledge, the gentleman has not done a complete telling of the tale — something I hope he chooses to attend to in the future.”

    He may have plans for that in the future, as his website refers to his DVD as “Part 1”

    The Heany book and this DVD are now on my “Must Get” list, which is, of course, really long.

    Thanks for the reference.

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