Thursday, February 07, 2008

Beowulf A New Translation by Dick Ringler

A colleague loaned me this version of the Old English masterpiece, and, once again, I was disappointed. First came Seamus Heaney’s Celtic interpretation, which found its way into the Norton Anthology. He really rewrote it for a Celtic audience, even beginning the poem with “So!” Not to be outdone, Longman Publishing commissioned a couple of Irishmen to out-Celt Heaney. Yikes! They were ruining this great work! Not only did these translators change the culture, they did away with all the kennings.

Now we have another sanitized version set in, of all places, Denmark. Denmark did not exist in 750 ce when this was most likely composed. Rather the peninsula was called Jutland, which was inhabited by the Jutes, one of the three original tribes that eventually merged with the Angles and the Saxons to become Anglo-Saxons. I guess this is okay for the casual reader, but I am afraid such a translation does not convey the flavor of the original. Imagine watching Kirk Douglas’ version of Ulysses and figuring you now know all about Homer!

Sorry, I guess I am an old fogey about this stuff. I despise modern versions of Beowulf, Shakespeare, or Mozart operas. Don’t get me started on modern versions of Verdi, Puccini, or Rossini. Three stars

--Chiron, 2/7/08

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