Download Beowulf (2007)
In the poem, Beowulf, a hero of the Geats, battles three antagonists: Grendel, who is attacking the Danish mead hall called Heorot and its inhabitants; Grendel's mother; and, later in life after returning to Geatland (modern southern Sweden) and becoming a king, an unnamed dragon. He is mortally wounded in the final battle, and after his death he is buried in a barrow in Geatland by his retainers.
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The events described in the poem take place in the late 5th century and during the 6th century after the Anglo-Saxons had begun their migration and settlement in England, and before it had ended, a time when the Saxons were either newly arrived or in close contact with their fellow Germanic kinsmen in Scandinavia and Northern Germany. The poem could have been transmitted in England by people of Geatish origins. It has been suggested that Beowulf was first composed in the 7th century at Rendlesham in East Anglia, as Sutton Hoo also shows close connections with Scandinavia, and also that the East Anglian royal dynasty, the Wuffings, were descendants of the Geatish Wulfings. Others have associated this poem with the court of King Alfred, or with the court of King Canute.
The poem deals with legends, i.e., it was composed for entertainment and does not separate between fictional elements and real historic events, such as the raid by King Hygelac into Frisia, ca. 516. Scholars generally agree that many of the personalities of Beowulf also appear in Scandinavian sources, but this does not only concern people (e.g., Healfdene, Hrorgar, Halga, Hroulf, Eadgils and Ohthere), but also clans (e.g., Scyldings, Scylfings and Wulfings) and some of the events (e.g., the Battle on the Ice of Lake VÃ¤nern). The Scandinavian sources are notably Ynglinga saga, Gesta Danorum, Hrolfr Kraki's saga and the Latin summary of the lost Skjildunga saga. As far as Sweden is concerned, the dating of the events in the poem has been confirmed by archaeological excavations of the barrows indicated by Snorri Sturluson and by Swedish tradition as the graves of Ohthere (dated to c. 530) and his son Eadgils (dated to c. 575) in Uppland, Sweden. In Denmark, recent archaeological excavations at Lejre, where Scandinavian tradition located the seat of the Scyldings, i.e., Heorot, have revealed that a hall was built in the mid-6th century, exactly the time period of Beowulf. Three halls, each about 50 metres long, were found during the excavation.
The majority view appears to be that people such as King Hrogar and the Scyldings in Beowulf are based on real people in 6th century Scandinavia. Like the Finnsburg Fragment and several shorter surviving poems, Beowulf has consequently been used as a source of information about Scandinavian personalities such as Eadgils and Hygelac, and about continental Germanic personalities such as Offa, king of the continental Angles.
The spellings in the poem mix the West Saxon and Anglian dialects of Old English, though they are predominantly West Saxon, as are other Old English poems copied at the time. The earliest known owner is the 16th century scholar Laurence Nowell, after whom the manuscript is named, though its official designation is Cotton Vitellius A.XV because it was one of Robert Bruce Cotton's holdings in the middle of the 17th century. It suffered damage in the Cotton Library fire at Ashburnham House in 1731. Since then, parts of the manuscript have crumbled along with many of the letters. Rebinding efforts, though saving the manuscript from much degeneration, have nonetheless covered up other letters of the poem, causing further loss. Kevin Kiernan, Professor of English at the University of Kentucky is foremost in the computer digitization and preservation of the manuscript (the Electronic Beowulf Project), using fiber optic backlighting to further reveal lost letters of the poem.
Icelandic scholar Grímur Jónsson Thorkelin made the first transcriptions of the manuscript in 1786 and published the results in 1815, working under a historical research commission of the Danish government. He made one himself, and had another done by a professional copyist who knew no Anglo-Saxon. Since that time, the manuscript has crumbled further, and the Thorkelin transcripts remain a prized secondary source for Beowulf scholars. The recovery of at least 2000 letters can be attributed to these transcripts. Their accuracy has been called into question, however (e.g., by Chauncey Brewster Tinker in The Translations of Beowulf, a comprehensive survey of 19th century translations and editions of Beowulf), and the extent to which the manuscript was actually more readable in Thorkelin's time is unclear.
List of characters and objects in Beowulf
* Abel - a biblical character and the brother of Cain.
* Ælfhere - a kinsman of Wiglaf and Beowulf
* Æschere - Hroðgar's closest counselor and comrade, killed by Grendel's Mother.
* Banstan - the father of Breca.
* Beowulf - an early Danish king and the son of Scyld, but not the same character as the hero of the poem.
* Beowulf - the eponymous hero of the Anglo-Saxon poem.
* Breca - Beowulf's childhood friend who competed with him in a swimming match.
* Dæghrefn - a Frankish warrior killed by Beowulf.
* Cain - biblical character described as an ancestor of Grendel.
* The Dragon - beast (Old English, wyrm) that ravages Beowulf's kingdom and which Beowulf must slay at the end of the poem. It is the cause of Beowulf's death.
* Eadgils - a Swedish king also mentioned extensively in the Norse sagas.
* Eanmund - a Swedish prince, and the brother of Eadgils.
* Ecglaf - Unferð's father.
* Ecgþeow - Beowulf's father who belonged to the Swedish Wægmunding clan. He joined the Geats after having been banished for killing the Wulfing Heaðolaf, and married a Geatish princess.
* Ecgwela - an earlier Danish king.
* Elan - possibly an incomplete name for Hroðgar's sister, see Yrsa, below.
* Eofor - the "boar". A Geatish warrior who avenged the death of Hæþcyn by slaying Ongenþeow during the Swedish-Geatish wars. He was recompensed with the daughter of king Hygelac.
* Eomær - son of king Offa of Angel
* Eormenric - a legendary Gothic king.
* Finn, a Frisian lord whose tale picks up where the Finnsburg Fragment ends.
* Fitela - a Germanic hero
* Folcwalda - the father of Finn
* Freawaru - the daughter of King Hroðgar and Queen Wealhþeow and wife of Ingeld, king of the Heaðobards.
* Froda king of the Heaðobard's and father of Ingeld. He also appears in Norse tradition.
* Garmund - the father of Offa of Angel
* Grendel - one of three antagonists (along with Grendel's Mother and the dragon).
* Grendel's mother - one of three antagonists (along with Grendel and the dragon).
* Guðlaf - a warrior in Hnæf's retinue.
* Healfdene - Hroðgar's father and predecessor, also prominent in Norse tradition.
* Hama - a Germanic hero
* Halga - Hroðgar's brother. He is hardly mentioned in Beowulf but he is a prominent character in Norse tradition.
* Hæþcyn - the son of the Geatish king Hreðel.
* Hæreð - the father of Hygd, queen of the Geats.
* Heaðolaf - Wulfing killed by Beowulf's father Ecgþeow.
* Heming - a kinsman of Garmund
* Heardred - the son of Hygelac, king of the Geats, and his queen Hygd.
* Hengest - a Danish lord who attacked the Frisians to avenge Hnæf
* Heorogar - Hroðgar's brother and predecessor.
* Heoroweard - Heorogar's son; Hroðgar's nephew. According to Norse tradition, his attempt to become king would cause the end of the Scylding clan.
* Herebeald - the son of the Geatish king Hreðel.
* Heremod - an early Danish king.
* Hereric - a relative of Heardred
* Hildeburh - the daughter of the Danish king Hoc and the wife of the Finn - king of the Frisians.
* Hoc - a Danish lord and the father of Hildeburh and Hnæf.
* Hnæf - the son of the Danish lord Hoc and brother of Hildeburh. He was killed by Finn.
* Hondscio - a Geatish warrior.
* Hreðel - king of the Geats.
* Hreðric and Hroðmund, the two sons of Hroðgar.
* Hroðgar - king of the Danes; married to Wealhþeow. Also prominent in Norse tradition.
* Hroðulf (also known as Hrólfr Kraki) - , Hroðgar's nephew, but more prominent in Norse tradition.
* Hun - a Frisian warrior who gives Hengest the sword Lafing.
* Hygd - queen of the Geats; the wife of King Hygelac.
* Hygelac - king of the Geats; the husband of Hygd. Existence attested by other sources. Death during the poem dated to c 516.
* Ingeld - a Heaðobard lord; married to Freawaru, daughter of Hroðgar. He also appears in Norse tradition.
* Modþryð - a princess, later queen, who punished inferiors who looked her directly in the eye; later marries, and is reformed by, Offa of Angel.
* Offa of Angel, a king of the Angles who also appears in Norse tradition.
* Ohthere - king of the Swedish house of Scylfings, and also mentioned in Norse tradition. The father of Eadgils and Eanmund, and the brother of Onela.
* Onela - king of the Swedish house of Scylfings, and also mentioned in Norse tradition. The brother of Ohthere.
* Ongenþeow - king of Sweden. Slew the Geatish king Hæþcyn, but was himself killed by Eofor, during the Swedish-Geatish wars.
* Oslaf - a warrior in Hnæf's retinue.
* Scyld - (Scyld Scēfing) warrior king who founded the ruling house in Denmark.
* Sigemund - a legendary Germanic hero whom Beowulf is compared to.
* Swerting - the grandfather of Hygelac
* Unferð - a thane of the Danish lord Hroðgar.
* Wealhþeow - queen of the Danes; married to Hroðgar.
* Weohstan - the father of Wiglaf and a Swedish warrior fighting for Onela. He also appears to be mentioned in a stanza in the Prose Edda.
* Wæls - the father of Sigemund
* Wayland Smith - a smith of Germanic legend who forged Beowulf's breast plate.
* Wiglaf - Beowulf's relative. A Swedish warrior of the Waegmunding clan who helps Beowulf slay the dragon.
* Wondred - the father of Eofor and Wulf.
* Wulf - the brother of Eofor
* Wulfgar - the herald of Hroðgar, renowned for his great wisdom.
* Yrmenlaf - younger brother of Æschere.
* Yrs(e) - a character borrowed from Norse tradition that appears in some translations (e.g., Burton Raffel) and commentaries, as an emendation of a corrupt line (62) where Hroðgar's sister is mentioned. His sister is, however, named Signy in Norse tradition (Skjöldunga saga and Hrólfr Kraki's saga), whereas Yrsa was Halga's daughter and lover with whom he had Hroðulf.
* Brosinga mene - a collar identified with the goddess Freya's necklace Brisingamen. Given to Beowulf by Wealhþeow as reward for having slain Grendel.
* Heorot - the great hall built by king Hroðgar.
* Hrunting - the magical sword given to Beowulf by Unferð
* Lafing - a sword that Hun gives to Hengest.
* Nægling - the magical sword used by Beowulf to slay the dragon; however, Beowful's might was too strong and the blade broke in combat. Name probably translates as "Nail" or "Kinsman of the Nail."
* Weregild - was a reparational payment usually demanded of a person guilty of homicide or other wrongful death, although it could also be demanded in other cases of serious crime.
Tribes and clans
* Brondings - the people of Breca.
* Danes - a tribe having their centre on the island of Zealand.
* Geats - a tribe whose centre was in modern Västergötland.
* Finns - Finno-Ugric peoples in the north and north-east of Scandinavia.
* Franks - a powerful Germanic tribe on the Continent.
* Frisians - a tribe led by Finn living along the eastern shores of the North Sea.
* Gifðas - the Gepids, a tribe which had migrated to the Balkans by the time of Beowulf. They are mentioned in connection with Swedes and Danes, and it has been suggested that Beowulf refers to the people of Östergötland.
* Heaðobards, or Heaðo-beardnas, a clan or tribe at war with the Danes.
* Helmings - the people of queen Wealhþeow. Widsith mentions Helm as the leader of the Wulfings.
* Hetware - a tribe part of the Franks, or allied with them.
* Hugas - a name for the Franks or for a group of their allies.
* Heaðoræmas - a tribe named Heaðoreamas appears in Widsith, and -reamas agrees with ON Raumar which positions the tribe in what is today south-eastern Norway.
* Ingwins - a name used for the Danes and which means "friends of Ing (Freyr)".
* Jutes (Eotenas) a tribe living in modern Jutland, and who took part in the migration to England.
* Merewioingas, i.e. Merovingians - the ruling Frankish dynasty, by metonymy used to refer to the Frankish nation as a whole.
* Sceadugenga - Shadow-Walkers
* Scylding - the ruling clan in Denmark, by metonymy also used to refer to the Danish nation as a whole.
* Scylfing - the ruling clan in Sweden, by metonymy also used to refer to the Swedish nation as a whole.
* Swedes - a tribe who had their centre in modern Uppland.
* Wægmundings - a Swedish clan to which belonged Beowulf, Ecgþeow and Wiglaf. Wiglaf is called "the last of the Wægmundings".
* Wendlas - identified as the people of Vendsyssel.
* Wulfing - the clan of Heaðolaf and possibly Wealhþeow. Old Norse sources describe them as the lords of Östergötland.