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Beowulf Manuscript (Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library) - R. D. Fulk

The new Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library is published and designed by the same people that brought us the Loeb Classical Library and follows the same format by giving an introduction, text and translation of the text that each particular volume contains.

The first volume in the Old English series covers the Beowulf Manuscript, meaning it includes The Passion of Saint Christopher, The Wonders of the East, The Letter of Alexander the Great to Aristotle, and Judith, but also adds The Finnsburg Fragment. While Beowulf and the Finnsburg Fragment are relatively easy to find, maybe too easy to find these days, the rest have only been available in Andy Orchard's Pride Prodigies, all except for The Passion of Saint Christopher. This situation seems rather odd considering that Sisam and numerous other scholars have long stated that the Beowulf Manuscripts is a book about monsters, coupled with Fred C Robinson's call for Old English texts to be read within their manuscript context for a better understanding of their meaning, this edition seems to be long overdue.

For this edition and translation of Beowulf the editorial board have chosen R. D. Fulk, a scholar amply qualified for the job. The foundation Fulk's reputation as a leading Old English scholar were laid in the 90s with his History of Old English Meter and more recently his Revision of Klaeber's Beowulf and completion of Richard Hogg's Old English Grammar.

All texts, except for Beowulf and Finnsburg are newly edited for this volume by Fulk. Fulk states that "except for the diacritics been removed, the texts of Beowulf and The Fight at Finnsburg are practically identical to those found in Klaeber's Beowulf and The Fight at Finnsburg (fourth edition)" meaning the general reader can get a feel for the Old English text alongside a modern translation before splashing out on a fourth edition Klaeber. The translation could also be used in conjunction with Fulk's new Klaeber as an aid to translation and guide to syntax.

The translations do not attempt an artistic interpretation of the texts but are readable scholarly prose aimed at a wide readership and make the poem accessible to both the scholar and general reader alike. I'm not sure I agree with Fulk's translation of Scyld Scefing into Scyld, son of Scef and his forcing of apposition where there isn't any and think the name should be left untranslated. Especially seeing that, to my knowledge, the problem has never been solved as to whether Scefing is a patronymic or tribal name.

After my only major gripe, on to the good points. Fulk very wisely leaves the problematic break in the text within line 62 where the text "hyrde ic þæt [.] wæs Onelan cwen" blank and doesn't try to fill the gap with an assumptive Old English version of the Norse Yrsa from Hrolfs Saga or Saxo Grammaticus. Fulk also preserves appositive phrases such as "Hróðgár maþelode, helm Scyldinga" by translating them "Hrothgar made a speech, helm of Scyldings". Abrupt transitional ending are also preserved with no attempt by Fulk to smooth them out in order to make the poem more acceptable to a modern readership.

All in all, this is an excellent and long awaited text and translation of the entire Beowulf Manuscript by a leading Old English scholar that should be read by anyone interested in the subject.