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The Never Ending Discussion

The Age of Beowulf

Even though Beowulf is one of the most popular Old English poems, there is still so much we do not know about it. Until today, it is still unknown who has written Beowulf, and also the place and date of the manuscript’s publication remains a great mystery. Because of its popularity and mystery Beowulf is studied by many scholars and students alike around the globe. New articles are being published in which scholars suggest what the time period could be in which Beowulf has been composed. Those articles lead into never-ending discussions about how old the Beowulf manuscript truly is. There are scholars who claim that Beowulf was written in the first quarter of the eleventh century (1000-1025). There are also scholars who believe otherwise. Leonard Neidorf (a Junior Fellow at the Harvard society of Fellows) published a book in 2014 about this subject. In this book, Neidorf claims that Beowulf was written between the 6th and the 8th century. Scholars disagreeing with eachother and the lack of real clues has made the dating of the Beowulf manuscript a never ending discussion. What arguments do the various scholars put forward in making their claims about the date of the Beowulf manuscript?

Scholars who claim that Beowulf originates from the first quarter of the eleventh century, provide credibility to their claim with the argument that the manuscript has been written by two scribes. After comparing the handwriting of the scribes, the scholars came to the conclusion that the two scribes had different styles of handwritings. According to the site Heorot, the first scribe had an “an Anglo-Saxon rounded insular minuscule hand with some Carolingian features” and the second scribe “more conservative Anglo-Saxon square minuscule hand”. Also, it is suggested that the second scribe made “alterations” in the manuscript. Another argument for dating Beowulf in this time period is given in the book Old English prose of Secular learning. The scholar Förster had compared the manuscript of Beowulf to other manuscripts like Wond. The startling conclusion that he made was that both Beowulf and Wond have the same script, so they must have been written around that certain time period.

There are also scholars, like Neidorf, who disagree with the arguments made above and claim that Beowulf has been written around the 6th-8th century. He based this on the manuscript connected to historical facts around that period, for example the reference made to king Offa, who was an ancestor of king Offa of Mercia. According to the site of the British royals, there was a king Offa, who lived from 757-796. Also, Neidorf mentions the death of the Frisian king Hygelac (died in 521) in his book as a “historical fact” (Neidorf, 147). His death is also mentioned 5 times in the Beowulf manuscript. Besides the historical facts, there are also linguistic facts that contribute support to his claim. The site of Heorot gives the explanation of the ‘Kaluza law’. In short, this linguistic law suggests that the language differs from the language used in manuscript around the eleventh century. And finally, there is onomastic (naming children after a heroic figure) evidence. Neidorf’s book mentions that names like ‘Offa’, ‘Beowulf’ and ‘Ingeld’, “occur predominately or exclusively in sources reflecting the name-giving of the seventh and the eight centuries rather than the ninth or tenth” (Neidorf, 9). This also provides evidence for the claim that scholars believe that Beowulf was written between the 6th and the 8th century.

By the time the Angler is published, the arguments on both camps can be old news. Perhaps there are other scholars, who published their work to support their claims. As Beowulf popularity still remains, scholars will always be attracted to the mystery of the manuscript and will be willing to try to solve it. There will always be the never ending discussion between Beowulf scholars.

by Michèle Huijsman



Works Cited


Britishroyals.com/kings.asap n.d. Internet. 4th of April 2016.

boydellandbrewer.com. www.boydellandbrewer.com/store/viewitem. asp?idProduct=1459. 2016. Online Article. 4th April 2016.

heorot.dk . n.d. Internet . 1st April 2016.

Hollis,Stephanie and Wright, Michael. Old English prose of Secular learning. Cambridge: D.S.Brewer,Boydell&Brewer Ltd, Boydell&Brewer Inc,1992.Print.

Neidorf, Leinard. Neidorf, Leinard. The dating of Beowulf: a reassesment. Cambridge: D.S.Brewer,Boydell&Brewer Ltd, Boydell&Brewer Inc, 2014. Print.