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Invitation to World Literature

Try It Yourself: Beowulf

Original Text

Here are the opening lines from Beowulf, the earliest epic in the Anglo Saxon tradition.

It is written in Old English, a precursor to modern English. The speaker is identifying himself and his listeners as part of the same clan, the Spear-Danes, who are about to hear a story of one of their great heroes, Beowulf.

Hwæt. We Gardena    in gear-dagum,
þeodcyninga,    þrym gefrunon,
hu ða æþelingas    ellen fremedon.


Here is the version translated word for word:

What. We of the Spear-Danes    in old days
of the people-kings,    power heard,
how the princes    brave deeds did.


Write your own translation of these lines, using the literal translation. You can use poetry or prose, modern or ancient language, change words, add words, delete words—anything you want to do, so long as you feel it gets the tone and message of Beowulf across to your modern audience.


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Invitation to World Literature


Produced by the WGBH Educational Foundation with Seftel Productions. 2010.
  • Closed Captioning
  • ISBN: 1-57680-892-0