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Beowulf Manuscript History

The "Beowulf" manuscript has had an eventful life, having suffered fire, water, and the ravages of time, not to mention the hands of inept transcribers and monastic scribes, after having been passed down orally for unknown generations. It is, indeed, a miracle that it survived at all.

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DATE

c.800

c.1000

1563

1705

1731

1787

1789

1807

1815

1817

1820

1824

1826

1829

1830

1833

1845

1850

1855

1857

1861

1876

1879

1881

1882

1904

1905

1910

1914

1922

1933

1936

1938

1939

1941

1951

1963

1999

EVENT

-   Oral composition and transmission of alliterative verse from legendary folk material

-   Anglo-Saxon text of the poem written down. It was long thought to have been copied from an earlier manuscript, now lost, but recent scholarship suggests the extant manuscript was the working copy.

-   Lawrence Nowell acquires the only surviving copy of the poem, incorporating it into the Nowell Codex.

-   Humfrey Wanley first catalogues and describes the poem (inaccurately), transcribing lines 1-19 & 53-73.

-   Fire damages the only existing manuscript.

-   Grímur Jónsson Thorkelin commissions the first transcript, possibly carried out by James Matthews of the British Museum, now known as Thorkelin A.

-   Thorkelin undertakes his own transcript, Thorkelin B.

-   Sharon Turner translates and prints forty-one lines of the poem (very inaccurately)

-   Thorkelin publishes the 1st full edition of the poem, with Latin translation, introduction, and indices, in Copenhagen. Text and translation both very inaccurate. Grundtvig lists numerous errors in his review.

-   John J. Conybeare collates Thorkelin’s edition with the original manuscript.

-   N.S.F. Grundtvig produces the first translation of the poem into a modern language, the Danish ballad-metre, appending to it forty-five pages of corrections to Thorkelin’s edition.

-   Sir Frederic Madden copies Conybeare’s collation along with his own into his 1st edition Thorkelin.

-   Conybeare, Illustrations, based on his 1817 collation, contains eighteen pages of corrections to Thorkelin.

-   Gruntvig undertakes his own collation of the manuscript.

-   Benjamin Thorpe makes his own collation of Thorkelin with the manuscript (published 1855).

-   John M. Kemble produces the first modern, scholarly English translation of the poem (2nd edition, 1835-7).

-   Restoration binding both preserves and conceals the damaged edges of the manuscript.

-   Ludwig Ettmüller edits several passages, proposing numerous emendations to Kemble’s text.

-   Benjamin Thorpe publishes an edition based on his 1830 collation.

-   C.W.M. Grein publishses a conservative text (not collated), the first based on modern scholarly principles.

-   Gruntvig publishes a conservative edition based on his 1829 collation and the Thorkelin transcripts.

-   E. Kölbing proposes over twenty pages of corrections to the existing editions, most subsequently adopted.

-   Mortiz Heyne’s 4th edition text employs Kölbing’s collation with the manuscript.

-   Alfred Holder publishes the first diplomatic edition.

-   Julius Zupitza publishes a photographic facsimile including a transcription collated with Thorkelin.

-   Moritz Trautmann produces a radical edition employing extreme conjectural editing.

-   Ferdinand Holthausen’s edition employs a middle course between radical and diplomatic.

-   B.F. Gummere’s modern English translation becomes a standard edition for collegiate study.
-   Walter Sedgefields employs a collation of the manuscript with a heavily emended text.

-   R.W. Chambers revises A.J. Wyatt’s 1894 edition, collated with the manuscript, marking the ascendancy of ultra-conservative over conjectural editing.

-   F. Klaeber’s edition appears and becomes the scholarly standard.

-   R.W. Chambers, ed., Beowulf: An Introduction [with supplement by C.L. Wrenn, 1959 3rd edition]. Provides extensive analysis and notations, with annotated bibliography.

-   Professor J.R.R. Tolkien delivers his critical lecture which rekindles academic and artistic debate.

-   A.H. Smith employs new photographic technology to transcribe the badly damaged last page.

-   Discovery of the Sutton-Hoo ship tomb, providing archaeological support for the poem’s descriptions.

-   Frederick Klaeber, Beowulf and the Fight at Finnsburg is the latest revision of his standard edition.

-   Kemp Malone publishes a facsimile edition of Thorkelin’s transcripts.

-   Kemp Malone, The Nowell Codex, facsimile edition of the source manuscript.

-   Kevin Kiernan releases the Electronic Beowulf, a computer edition comprising hi-resolution manuscript scans along with transcriptions and facsimiles of Thorkelin, Conybeare and Madden.

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