Note that on the Electronic Beowulf CD by Kevin Kiernan, on the first CD, in the file /CD/help/beobib90.htm, is a bibliography containing 479 entries. I could paste those entries into this page, but I think that would be going a little too far on copyright infringement.
I found that the most difficult version to read was probably the
Thorpe translation because the language is sort of formal and old-fashioned and it appears that no attempt is being made to make the story accessible to a mass audience (which is not necessarily a bad thing). The
John Porter version is also a little bit difficult to read because it is a very literal translation and is not really rearranged to flow in a way which would be familiar to the modern reader. I sort of like the John Porter version however because you do not get the sense that the translator might be rearranging things in a way which changes the poem; instead you feel like you might be reading the "truest" version (whatever that means when you are studying something like Beowulf). James M. Garnett takes a similar approach in his translation published in 1895. In the Preface to his edition, James Garnett makes a point of saying that in his translation (begun in 1878) he:
gave it as nearly as possible a rhythmical form, still retaining the line-for-line feature. This involves naturally much inversion and occasional obscurity, and lacks smoothness; but it seemed to me to give the general reader a better idea of the poem than a mere prose translation would do, in addition to the advantage of literalness. While it would have been easy, by means of periphrasis and freer translation, to mend some of the defects chargeable to the line-for-line form, the translation would have lacked literalness, which I regarded as the most important object.
The Ben Slade translation makes a similar trade-off, somewhere between the word-for-word approach in Porter, and the line-for-line approach in Garnett. I like all three of these translations very much.
The loosest adaptation of the story is perhaps in the
Robert Nye (1968) version, although a number of other Beowulf adaptations have been published which I have not included on this page. The Nye adaptation is really not a translation at all. In the Nye version Unferth admires Grendel, Unferth gives Grendel's mother his sword (instead of giving it to Beowulf) and she uses it to kill Aeschere, Beowulf talks to Grendel and to his mother a lot during his fights with them, Grendel's mother kills Unferth and Beowulf discovers Unferth's severed head as he is about to enter the lake above Grendel's mother's cave, Beowulf does not kill Grendel's mother with her own sword but rather talks her into a trance and strangles her (he does not find the sword until just before he uses it to cut off Grendel's head), and Wiglaf props the dragon's mouth open with a stick and Beowulf shoves bees down its throat; the bees sting the dragon and Beowulf to death. I read a web page once (I can't find it now) in which the author of that page scolded the other Beowulf translators for not realizing, as Robert Nye had realized, that Beowulf used bees to kill the dragon.
Roy M. Liuzza (2000) translation contains an appendix with translations of lines 229-257 (in which an armed Danish coast-guard confronts Beowulf and his men as they come ashore and insists that they explain why they have come and why they are armed) by 20 authors: Sharon Turner (1805/1852), John Josias Conybeare (1826), J.M. Kemble (1835), Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1845), John Earle (1892), William Morris and A.J. Wyatt (1895), Francis B. Gummere (1909), William Ellery Leonard (1923), R.K. Gordon (1923), Charles W. Kennedy (1940), Edwin Morgan (1952), Burton Raffel (1963), E. Talbot Donaldson (1966), Kevin Crossley-Holland (1968), Howell D. Chickering Jr. (1977), S.A.J. Bradley (1982), Stanley B. Greenfield (1982), Ruth P.M. Lehmann (1988), Marc Hudson (1990), and Frederick Rebsamen (1991/2004). In the appendix, Liuzza comments:
Some early translators tried to recreate the poem in an idiom their contemporaries would recognize as 'heroic' [Conybeare, Longfellow, Morris and Wyatt]; others have tried to reproduce the aural effect of the poem's alliteration and stress [notably Gummere, Lehmann, Rebsamen]; still others avoid imitation or archaism and have tried to recreate the poem in a modern poetic idiom [Raffel, Greenfield, Hudson], while others, beginning with Kemble, have forgone verse altogether and presented the poem in prose.
In selecting a translation of Beowulf, it would seem that the best choice might be one which captures the spirit of the language as well as the meaning. This does not mean that there should be a line-for-line, word-for-word alliteration. On the other hand, the total absence of alliteration or kennings would miss the essence of the Beowulf poet's style. The ideal translation, whether prose or poetry, would probably be one in which the story is sprinkled with as many of the fascinating poetic devices of Anglo-Saxon poetry as possible. One of the best alliterative verse translations, one which preserves the kennings and offers a superb critical introduction,
is the translation of Beowulf by Charles W. Kennedy, available in Oxford paperback.
Excerpts from the Charles W. Kennedy translation are available on this site, so you can read them for yourself. I don't agree that it is one of the best alliterative verse translations available, but it does have a good 57-page Introduction.
Although my favorite versions to read are the
Tim Romano, and
Bertha Rogers versions, the one which I would probably recommend as the best version for most people to read if they were only going to read a single translation, is the
Seamus Heaney (2000)
translation. Seamus Heaney has struck a good balance between plain language and alliterative poetry, and it is probably a little easier to follow the details of the story using his translation than it is using the Rebsamen or Romano versions. He has also included an Old English version along with his translation.
One translation which I particularly dislike is the one by
William Ellery Leonard (1923).
I dislike this version because it is written to rhyme, with line 1 rhyming with line 2, line 3 rhyming with line 4, etc. This rhyming style is so distracting that I find the story very difficult to follow and, in fact, almost unrecognizable as the Beowulf story.
Beowulf: A Paraphrase. The Bayard Press, Williamsport, Penna., 1933. ISBN: none.
Manly Banister (1975)
The Craft of Bookbinding. Dover Publications, Inc., New York, 1975. ISBN: 0-486-27852-2. ...this book on bookbinding will give you information which is very useful to know when you are reading Kevin Kiernan's descriptions of how the Beowulf manuscript may have been assembled into various codices during its lifetime (before, and after, being in the Cotton library)
English Poems: Selected and Edited, With Illustrative and Explanatory Notes and Bibliographies. Granger Index Reprint Series, Books For Libraries Press, Freeport, New York, 1910 (reprinted in 1970). LC: 70-109935. ...this book is edited by Walter C. Bronson, but the Beowulf translation is by Elsie Straffin Bronson
Anglo-Saxon Manuscripts. The British Library Board, London, 1991. ISBN: 0-7123-0266-2. ...detailed information about manuscripts (not just the Beowulf manuscript) by a Curator in the Manuscript Collections of The British Library. 80 pages. A beautiful and interesting little book.
Beowulf and the Finnesburg Fragment George Allen and Unwin, London, 1911. ISBN: none. There doesn't seem to be an ISBN number on the copy of the book which I own. It was originally published in 1911, I have a sixth edition published in 1963 which has an introduction by C. L. Wrenn written in 1949. In the flyleaf is a note from the publishers stating that "In 1940 we published Professor Wrenn's thorough revision of the late Dr. Clark Hall's translation of Beowulf...". The book was published by George Allen & Unwin Ltd.
Beowulf: The Donaldson Translation, Backgrounds And Sources, Criticism. Norton & Company, New York, 1975. ISBN: 0-393-97406-5. This was published in 1975, with Joseph F. Tuso as the editor, and again in 2002, with Nicholas Howe as the editor. Part of the Norton Critical Edition series.
Michael Drout (2001)
Beowulf and the Critics, by J. R. R. Tolkien (edited by Michael Drout). Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, Tempe, AZ. 2002. ISBN: 0-86698-290-6.
Beowulf. Dover Thrift Editions, 1992 (1923). ISBN: 0-486-27264-8 (pbk.) ...this is an unabridged replication of R. K. Gordon's translation published in the volume Anglo-Saxon Poetry (J. M. Dent & Sons, London, 1926)
Beowulf, An Anglo-Saxon Epic Poem, Translated From The Heyne-Socin Text. D. C. Heath & Co., Publishers, Boston, 1892. ISBN: none.
James A. Harrison, Robert Sharp, [M. Heyne 1879] (1883)
Beowulf: An Anglo-Saxon Poem. Ginn and Company, New York, 1883. ISBN: none. ...contains the poem in Old English (based on the 1879 M. Heyne version), 50 pages of notes, and a 200-page glossary, but no translation
Beowulf: A Verse Translation. W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., New York, 2002. ISBN: 0-393-97580-0 (pbk.). ...the translation is the same as his 2000 book, but this book does not contain the Old English text. Part of the Norton Critical Edition series.
Beowulf: An Old English Epic George Routledge & Sons Ltd., London, 1907. ISBN: none.
Edward B. Irving Jr. (1968)
A Reading of Beowulf. Yale University Press, New Haven, 1968. ISBN: none -- LC number is 68-13911.
Edward B. Irving Jr. (1969)
Introduction to Beowulf. Prentice-Hall, Inc., Englewood Cliffs, N.J., 1969. ISBN: none -- LC number is 77-79447.
George Jack Edition (1997)
Beowulf: A Student Edition. Oxford University Press, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1997. ISBN: 0-19-871044-5. ...contains the poem in Old English (but no translation), in-line word-by-word translations of the text, ~15 pages of glossary, an index of names, and a 12 page bibliography
A Translation of the Anglo-Saxon Poem of Beowulf, With a Copious Glossary, Preface and Philological Notes William Pickering, London, 1835-7. ISBN: none. ...volume 1 (1835) is an Old English version, volume 2 (1837) is a translation
Electronic Beowulf. [2 CD's] The University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor, MI, 1999. ISBN: 0-7123-0494-0 (British Library) 0-472-00260-0 (University of Michigan Press). EBeowulf Home PageBuy at UMich.
Kevin S. Kiernan (1981)
Beowulf and the Beowulf Manuscript (1996 revised edition). The University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor, MI, 1981 and 1996. ISBN: 0-472-08412-7 (paper). ...this edition does not contain the Old English and it does not contain a translation but it does contain extensive notes and background material and several facsimilies of the original manuscript as well as, according to the Forward by Katherine O'Brien O'Keeffe, "...an attack on every dimension of the [traditional ideas as to the history and implications of the original manuscript]"
Beowulf. Thomas Y. Cromwell, New York, 1913. ISBN: none.
Fr. Klaeber (1922)
Beowulf and the Fight at Finnsburgh. D.C. Heath and Company, Lexington, Massachuseets [sic], 1922 and 1950. ISBN: 0669212121. ...this edition does not contain a translation but it does contain the Old English version plus extensive notes. The Google online PDF for this book is at http://books.google.com/books?vid=OCLC00352284.
Beowulf: A New Verse Translation. Broadview Press Ltd., Peterborough, Canada, 2000. ISBN: 155111-189-6. Roy M. Liuzza's Beowulf study guide is at http://www.tulane.edu/~beowulf/. ...contains an appendix with translations of lines 229-257 by 20 different authors
H. W. Longfellow (1849)
The Poets and Poetry of Europe. Carey and Hart, Philadelphia, 1849. ISBN: none. ...not a transcription -- several short poems
Beowulf and Judith: Done in a Normalized Orthography. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass., USA, 1959/1966. ISBN: 0-674-06700-2.
P. J. M. Marks (1998)
The British Library Guide to Bookbinding -- History and Techniques. University of Toronto Press, 1998. ISBN: 0-8020-8176-2. ...this book on bookbinding will give you information which is very useful to know when you are reading Kevin Kiernan's descriptions of how the Beowulf manuscript may have been assembled into various codices during its lifetime (before, and after, being in the Cotton library)
Beowulf. Barnes & Noble Classics, New York, 1995. ISBN: 1-59308-266-5.
Bruce Mitchell and Fred C. Robinson (1964/2001)
A Guide to Old English. Blackwell Publishers, Maldon, Mass., USA, 1964/2001. ISBN: 0-631-22636-2.
Bruce Mitchell, Fred C. Robinson (1998)
Beowulf: An Edition With Relevant Shorter Texts. Blackwell, Oxford, U.K., 1998. ISBN: 0-631-17226-2 (pbk.). ...this edition has the Old English text but no translation but it does have extensive notes and background material and a dozen pages of photographs of Viking artifacts.
Beowulf: A Verse Translation with Treasures of the Ancient North. University of California Press and Pentangle Press, Los Angeles, 1983. ISBN: 0-520-04599-8 ...this is not the same as her 1990 book with Raymond Oliver and Randolph Swearer; the same translation is reprinted in Beowulf Chapter 3 in "Narrative Fiction: An Introduction and Anthology," edited by Kelley Griffith, and published by Harcourt Brace Publishers, New York, in 1994. [ISBN: 0-15-500155-8]
Beowulf Is My Name (and selected translations of other Old English poems). Rinehart Press, San Francisco, 1971. ISBN: 03-084555-6. ...not the same as Frederick Rebsamen's 1991/2004 book Beowulf: A Verse Translation.
Beowulf -- A Paraphrase (Published for Students at the University of Waterloo [Canada]). 1968. ISBN: none. On page 11 is a note that the translation and part of the introductory section first appeared, in slightly different form, in the Revue de l'Université d'Ottawa, XXXVII (1967), pages 231-268. ...this is a 58-page booklet published by W. K. Thomas for his students and does not appear to have been available for wider retail sale.
Beowulf. Newson & Company, New York, 1902. ISBN: none.
Chauncey B. Tinker (1903)
Translations of Beowulf: A Critical Bibliography. Yale Studies in English, Gordian Press, New York, 1967 (originally published in 1903). ISBN: my hard-cover edition of this book contains no ISBN number but it does have the LC number of 67-21717 and I bought this book from amazon.com using their listed ISBN number of 087752114X. This book was also apparently reprinted by Burt Franklin: Bibliography & Reference Series 90, in 1968, with LC number 68-58234, ISBN: 0-833-735398X. It was published as part of Chauncey B. Tinker's doctoral thesis and includes notes on and excerpts from translations published between 1805 and 1902 by Sharon Turner, Grimus Johnssen Thorkelin (or Thorkelsson), Nicolas Frederic Severin Grundtvig, John Josias Conybeare, John M. Kemble, Ernst Moritz Ludwig Ettmüller, Frederik Schaldemose, A. Diedrich Wackerbarth, Benjamin Thorpe, C.W.M. Grein, Karl Simrock, Moritz Heyne, Hans von Wolzogen, Thomas Arnold, L. Botkine, H.W. Lumsden, James M. Garnett, Giusto Grion, Rudolf Wickberg, John Earle, John Lesslie Hall, P. Hoffmann, William Morris/A.J. Wyatt, L. Simons, H. Steineck, John R. Clark Hall and Chauncey Tinker's own translation. The Google online PDF for this book is at http://books.google.com/books?vid=ISBN083373539X&id=D1e4_JAWUtIC.
Beowulf and Judith: Two Heroes. University Press of America, Lanham, Maryland, 1998. ISBN: 0-7618-0825-6.
Sharon Turner (1805)
The History Of Manners, Landed Property, Government, Laws, Poetry, Literature, Religion, and Language of the Anglo-Saxons. 1805 [pages 398-408 in the first edition of volume IV of a 4-volume set]. ISBN: none.
Sharon Turner (1852)
The History Of The Anglo-Saxons -- From The Earliest Period To The Norman Conquest. 1852 [pages 251-269 in the seventh edition of volume III of a 3-volume set]. ISBN: none.
Epics and Romances of the Middle Ages. E. P. Dutton and Company, New York, 1917. ISBN: none.
C. L. Wrenn, W. F. Bolton (1953)
Beowulf With the Finnesburg Fragment. University of Exeter Press, Exeter Medieval English Texts and Studies, England, 1953 (1996). ISBN: 0-85989-518-1. ...contains the poem in Old English (but no translation), ~75 pages of notes, ~75 pages of glossary and a 6 page bibliography
Beowulf: A Prose Translation With An Introduction By David Wright. Penguin Books, New York, 1957. ISBN: 1010873279.
Alfred J. Wyatt, R. W. Chambers (1914)
Beowulf With the Finnsburg Fragment. Cambridge University Press, London, 1914 (1920). ISBN: 0-521-06882-7. ...contains the Old English version only.
Julius Zupitza (1880/1959)
Beowulf: Reproduced in Facsimile From the Unique Manuscript British Museum MS. Cotton Vitellius A. xv. Published for the Early English Text Society by Oxford University Press, New York, 1880/1959. ISBN: none. ...reproduces the entire manuscript, in the original size (pages about 8 by 5 inches each), in what are sort of like black and white photocopies. These are not the original Zupitza images from 1880, but rather new images from 1957, from the Official Photographer of the British Museum. It does, however, include Zupitza's original text and notes.