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Beowulf and Lejre - John D. Niles

It has long been known that the seat of the Danish Scylding Dynasty was situated on the site of a Danish village called Lejre and that the kings of Lejre play a prominent part in the Old English Beowulf poem, Saxo Grammaticus and Hrolfs Saga Kraki. The first half of Beowulf contains an account of the heroes visit to Denmark to rid the Scylding kings hall, named Heorot, of the the predatory attacks of the monstrous Grendal. Modern scholarship situates Heorot at the site of Lejre, with recent archaeological investigations uncovering the remains of an Iron Age hall, burial mounds and strange standing stones.

The digs were mostly led by Danish archaeologist Tom Christensen who published a number of important papers on his finding. Unfortunately these papers were all published in Danish, making them unreadable by most Old English scholars, that is, up until now. The publication of this volume makes them available to the English speaking world alongside some new articles by Beowulf scholars that attempt to interpret the literary sources in the light of archaeological findings.

Essentially this volume is a long overdue interdisciplinary approach to the historical remains and literary remains that have grown up around the site of Lejre over the centuries that have followed its destruction. The collection is divided into five sections, two that deal with archaeology and one by prominent Beowulf and Scandinavian literary scholars. The fourth section collects and translates a number of medieval literary sources, including selections from the fragmentary Skjoldunga Saga and some other obscure Danish Chronicles. The collection is rounded off by translations of articles published by a number of Danish antiquarians that have shown interest in the site over the last few centuries.

Contributors to the volume include Tom Shippey, John D Niles, Marijane Osborn, Tom Christensen and David M. Wilson. The collection is accompanied by various archaeological diagrams, photos and full colour plates. The collection is edited by John D. Niles, who over the last couple of decades has published a couple of essential volumes on Beowulf studies and even taken a hand in editing the new fourth edition Klaeber's Beowulf.

I've had a copy of this book for a few years and constantly find myself having a reread of the essays. The sheer weight of information is staggering and one read is not enough. I would highly recommended it to anyone seeking a good understanding of Beowulf and the Scandinavian versions of the legends that centre around Lejre.