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Beowulf by Chris McCully


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Beowulf – the earliest surviving English epic – was written down at some point between the eighth and the early eleventh centuries. The poem’s authors are unknown. It has many times been translated, recently and notably by Seamus Heaney.

Any translation is a reading. Chris McCully reads Beowulf as an epic written in English using all the complex metrical conventions of its time, as well as distinctive epic tropes including sea-crossings, oracular pronouncements and encounters with the monstrous. This reading renders the original in readable contemporary English but also keeps as close as it can to the older, alliterative metrical system, so that readers may experience something of the textures and formal properties of the original. An extended ‘Afterword’ explains the translator’s formal choices and explores the nature of this epic, with its emphasis on tribe, location and mortality.  Family trees, a glossary of names and a list of sources are also provided.

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