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Out of the mixture of Latin & Germanic paganism and the Christianity of the Early Middle Ages sprung one of the world's supremely great pieces of literature. J.R.R. Tolkien, author of
The Lord of the Rings, delivered a famous lecture to the British Academy in 1936 in which he maintained that
Beowulf was a poem all of a piece, not (as had been suggested) a jumble of fragments for pedantic scholars to paw over. The power & beauty of
Beowulf enchanted Tolkien so much that he borrowed freely of its imagery & even of some of its plot when he forged his own epic of Middle Earth.
This medieval masterpiece, written in pre-Norman England Saxon, lay forgotten for centuries, rediscovered & printed for the first time early in the 19th century. It has been translated many times since, and the more people read Beowulf, the more they admire it. For good reason. In strikingly beautiful lines, it affirms the ideal of tenderness joined to strength, and of courage ennobled by virtue. It speaks resounding tones of valor, faith, and honor. It¿s a heroic tale of pagan Germanic origin, a saga of a vanishing age retold in the new light of the Christian era. Its author, most likely an educated monk from Northumbria, was certainly influenced by the work of Virgil. The old pagan legends of blood feuds & monsters formed the dark background against which the Christian hero Beowulf would shine forth with deeds of courage & virtue. Of all old Anglo-Saxon poems, Beowulf is the greatest.
This version of Beowulf is organized in 17 parts. Within some sections, there are digressions which do not, strictly speaking, belong to the central plot. These sections, called "lays", have been enhanced by an echo to help the listener detect them. An introduction by Henry Bradley precedes the poem.