According to new research, the infamous opening line of Beowulf has been misinterpreted for centuries.
The opening proclamation of ‘hwæt’ has been translated to read as ‘so!’, ‘listen!’, and other variations on this attention-grabbing theme. Dr George Walkden, a researcher at the University of Manchester, has argued against this popular wisdom to say that the opening line of Beowulf should be read as “how we have heard the might of the kings,” as opposed to “listen! We have heard of the might of the kings.”
While perhaps a subtle change, this different reading can give us some insight into Beowulf’s audience. Dr Walkden points out that perhaps the Anglo-Saxon audience were receptive to the story, rather than being cajoled into listening; “it doesn’t say ‘Oi you, listen to this!’ Perhaps they were more appreciative.” Anglo-Saxon Norse and Celtic, Archaeology and Anthropology and History students should look at the history behind the Beowulf epic to understand how historical fact fed into fiction.
English students should think further on the importance of accurate translations and the nuances of syntax when creating new adaptations, particularly looking at the varying translations of Shakespeare across time as an example of how literature is malleable through translation.
Translation is also a crucial area of inquiry for Theologians. Investigating some common difficulties in translations of the Bible is a way to begin understanding the variations in different versions of the Bible and why these are historically significant.
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