This is my first selection for the Year of Reading Dangerously challenge. I know I probably had to read this, or a portion of it, at some point during my time in school. However, I really don't remember reading it. I have always felt like I was not properly educated because I couldn't really say for sure if I'd read it or not. So, that's why I chose this one for this particular challenge.
Like everyone, I already knew the gist of the story -- great warrior king faces overwhelming odds numerous times and rules his country justly for many years until he is finally killed as an old man doing battle with a dragon that no other warrior would fight.
I read the 2001 Seamus Heany bilingual edition. I was actually pleasantly surprised. I really liked it and read it quickly. I guess it has just gotten a bad rap over the years like other classic works forced on students in school. But, this is a really well-written epic poem. Of course, I was reading the translation. The Old English on the other side of the page might as well have been Greek.
I particularly liked the introduction by Heaney in which he describes several possible ways of approaching Beowulf. The first he says is to simply look at it as "three agnons in the hero's life..." These are the three major battles he fights -- first against Grendel, then Grendel's mother, and finally the dragon. Another way to look at the epic, is to consider it the story of three groups of people and how their lives were intertwined through the character of Beowulf. The third way to approach the poem is to look at it as a study of the honor-bound warrior culture, which is also tinted with Christian references.
I really thought I would have a hard time understanding any of this, but again, I was pleasantly surprised. I had no trouble understanding the story. The only thing that was a little difficult was the pronunciation of the names and keeping all the lineages straight in my head. So, if like me, you haven't read it or don't remember reading it. Go ahead, it's not that scary or dangerous after all.