Martin E. Huld

title.none: Jack, ed., Beowulf: A Student Edition

identifier.other: baj9928.9605.001 96.05.01

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Martin E. Huld,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 1996

identifier.citation: Jack, George, ed. Beowulf: A Student Edition. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1994. Pp. x, 244. $49.95. ISBN: ISBN 0-19-871044-5.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: Bryn Mawr Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 96.05.01

Jack, George, ed. Beowulf: A Student Edition. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1994. Pp. x, 244. $49.95. ISBN: ISBN 0-19-871044-5.

Reviewed by:

Martin E. Huld

George Jack's new, attractively formatted Beowulf: a Student Edition is a nearly ideal vehicle to introduce, in its own idiom, the most significant surviving Anglo-Saxon poem to beginners. With the aid of an inexpensive grammar such as Mitchell's and Robinson's Guide to Old English (1991) and a brief Anglo-Saxon history, it is possible to use the inexpensive paperback version of Jack's edition of Beowulf to construct a well-rounded course that explores the Old English language and literature and Anglo-Saxon culture within the means of most undergraduates.

Although seasoned users of Fr. Klaeber's long-established edition Beowulf and the Fight at Finnsburg, (1950) may at first be disconcerted by the layout in which the commentary appears dispersed at the bottoms of the pages rather than as individual discussion sections in the introduction, after five minutes work with the text, they will wonder that readers of Beowulf for so long quietly accepted the habit of segregating such information or reserving it for notes at the end, necessitating endless flipping back and forth to receive enlightenment. Of course, I suspect that most students soon give up and read the poem without much enlightenment.

The generous right-hand margin of the text page is dedicated to glosses of unfamiliar or lexically altered OE words and wide spacing of the main text comfortably admits personal annotations and marginalia. Unobtrusive footnotes list significant editorial emendations in much the same manner as Klaeber or Dobbie and larger notes identified by bold line number references provide a running commentary on difficult or interesting points. This practice makes it possible for the student to begin to read Beowulf in its own context more easily than with Klaeber and more authentically than with Howell Chickering's bilingual edition (1977) or any of the numerous translations in prose or verse of varying quality and authenticity.

A 26 page introduction describes the unique MS, although without a facsimile, an omission of no great consequence. That given in Klaeber is of such poor quality as to be virtually useless. The student who requires a view of the MS will find both Malone (1963) and Zupitza (1959) referenced in the bibliography. Jack also discusses fairly and evenly the dating of the poem, summarizing the major views. He notes the implausibility of both Kiernan's 11th century date (1981) and older views of a pre-Chrisitan date without the unfortunate over-emphasis on "Christian coloring" that looms so large in Klaeber (1950:xlviii-li) and Chambers-Wrenn (1959:121-28). A clear and expeditious summary of the narrative and of the dynastic players (all three genealogies are presented on a single page) serves to prepare the reader for the actual text. The discussion of style and diction is similarly concise, but here Jack has perhaps been too circumspect. I find the discussion of meter thin. Jack merely gives the conditions for alliteration, yet Tolkien long ago averred that alliteration was as non-essential to "alliterative" verse as rhyme is to iambic verse (1940), and at least a sketch of Sievers' five types such as Tolkien gave to introduce the revision of Clark-Hall's translation would help students understand points of textual criticism. The great weakness of Klaeber is, obviously, its lack of newer views and discussions of Beowulf and Old English meter, and here Jack fails to summarize the isochronous theory of Pope that loomed so large in the period from the forties to the sixties, the popular generative school that Keyser launched in 1968 or Sledd's irrefutable demur to their theoretical sand castles. Nevertheless, fundamental questions as to the date and correct reading of the text depend on the view the editor takes about the system of scansion that describes the poet's metrical practices, and students need to know the state of Old English metrical studies. In justice, however, the more useful studies of meter by Bliss (1958 and 1962) and Cable (1972) are indeed referenced, though Russom (1987) is a curious omission by any standards. Despite this omission, the one page "Further reading" which ends the introduction is well-chosen. This and the 12 page bibliography at the end will serve the student well, although I would include also Bessinger's and Kahrl's Essential Articles for the Study of Old English Poetry, which contains a number of useful articles not mentioned by Jack, and Sledd's Old English Meter: a Demur as a fundamental explication of methodology. Because the marginal glosses cover much of the vocabulary, the formal glossary at the end is quite short. Like other features of Jack's edition, this practice reduces the need to turn away from the text and concentrates on allowing the student to access Beowulf as directly as possible for a poem whose language is no longer spoken. This is surely the strongest possible recommendation for adopting this edition for literature classes.

As is customary, because it contains characters alluded to in Beowulf, Jack includes the fragment that goes by the anachronistic title Fight at Finnsburh (the manuscript Finnsburuh is indubitably Hickes' error for *Finnesbur(u)h and as Tolkien pointed out (1982) the modern form would be Finnsborough or Finnsbury). Other heroic poems included by Klaeber -- Widsith, Deor and Hildebrand -- do not appear, possibly because they do not deal with the narrative action of Beowulf to the same degree that the Fight does.

Usually the commentary is quite judicious and sound. I find only a few places where I would take great issue. The problematic half-line 6a egsode eorl is emended as usual to egsode eorl[as], though Sewell's 1924 proposal to read the supposed plural as the OE cognate of the tribal name Eruli is rightly rejected. Bammesberger's vindication of the MS reading (1992) taking eorl as a neuter plural `troop of warriors' as Kock had already done in 1904, is dismissed a bit too cavalierly, even though such a use is documented in other Old English texts. Surely the adopted emendation, the addition of the plural marker -as, is a drastic change, coming as it does, not at the end of the line but in the middle. Schubert long ago (1870) noted that the preceding word 'ofteah' ended in h and that following verb, 'egsode', began with an e so that an accusative object 'hie' may have been lost by haplology before egsode. The resulting text would then mean "them, the warrior terrified." Metrically, in Schubert's emendation the verb would receive accent from the proclitic pronoun and the hemistich would be a B-verse: [hie] e/gsode e/orl. The usual emendation e/gsode e/orl[as] is an A-verse; both require the second syllable of e/gso\de to be weak, but the reading e/go\de e/orl defended by Bammesberger would take secondary accent after the heavy syllable and thus violate Sievers' constraints unless it is part of an E-verse. If we accept Campbell's statement that such preterite did indeed bear secondary accent (1969:34), Kock and Bammesberger may be right after all. The acceptability of a number of emendations in Beowulf depends on the editor's assumptions about the metrical practices of the poet, and a more complete discussion of meter would be a benefit to students. Another such case is line 1117 where textual earme on eaxle has been emended to e:ame on eaxle. Not only does this emendation require taking e:ame as an ethical dative instead of a genitive, but it ignores the fact that am was originally a compound *e:/aha:\m, whose disyllabic scansion is preserved in the E-verse of line 881a e:/a:\m his ne`fan where the last two short syllables are resolved as a single lift. As such, the emended reading is much weaker than taking both earme and eaxle as adverbials, the first of manner and the second of place so that Hildeburh's son is laid to rest on his uncle's pyre 'sadly [and] closely (ie at the shoulder)'.

A different problem in emending the text occurs at line 84, where Jack presents the usual emendation a:/thum swe[or]an for a text which reads athum swerian (lit. a non-sensical `swear by oaths' with a dative plural before the infinitive). The emended construction is simply glossed as "son-in-law and father-in-law" with no further analysis or explanation of why an a-stem masculine swe:/or (representing an earlier *sw`ehor, preserved in the E/pinal Glossary plural suehoras 1062 for which, by the way, Sweet's index mistakenly gives the reference as 1099 [1885:618]) has appeared as an incomprehensible n-stem oblique while a:thum appears as a nominative or accusative singular in a construction that apparently requires a dative, for the verb scolde wacnan `arise' is intransitive. However, the form is a peculiar Indo-European syntactical construction known as a devatta dvandva requiring both forms to be in the plural or in earlier languages, the dual. As I pointed out previously (1982:156), to account for the existing text and to explain the construction, the underlying exemplar must have read athiiiii~ sweriiiii. Scribe A has misread the five minums and omitted the tilde that ought to have appeared over the fourth and fifth in the first word; the restored text should thus read *athmu[m] swrum, both words in the dative plural indicating by that fact that father-in-law and son-in-law are a unity. This same construction with the orginal dual for closely associated elements also appears in the Rig-Veda ( e.g. Mitra:u Varuna:u, meaning "Mitra and Varuna," not, as it would appear from the surface grammar, "the two Mitras and two Varunas") as well as in the Russian chronicles (Borisa i Gle:ba). Here Beowulf preserves, after a bit of textual sleuthing, a particularly archaic bit of Indo-European poetic diction, and it perhaps a shame that Jack has overlooked it. Nevertheless, Jack's emendations are on the whole sound, and even where one disagrees, sufficient attention to opposing viewpoints has been incorporated in the text for the reader to form his own judgment.

This is exactly what a literary student needs from an edited text, and Jack's edition can be recommended without qualification for both beginning and advanced undergraduate courses in Beowulf. For advanced graduate work, this edition was never intended to replace Dobbie's (1942) for real scholarly reference, nor the upitza (1959) and Malone (1963) facsimiles, but it will make a useful companion, even at those levels. Jack's edition is ideal for the beginner to really read the poem and for the experienced reader to have a readily accessible text unencumbered by the apparatus of scholarship. This fine and useful book should please student and teacher alike, and I look forward to using it in the classroom.


Bammesberger, Alfred. 1992 "Five Beowulf Notes" in Words, Texts and Manuscripts, ed by M. Korhammer Cambridge: D. S. Brewer.

Bessinger, Jesse B. and Stanley J. Kahrl. 1968. Essential Articles for the Study of Old English Poetry. Connecticut: Archon Books.

Bliss, A.J. 1958. The Meter of Beowulf. Oxford: Blackwell.

Bliss, A.J. 1962. An Introduction to Old English Metre. Oxford: Blackwell.

Cable, Thomas. 1974. The Meter and Melody of Beowulf. Illinois Studies in Language and Literature, 64. Urbana.

Campbell, Alastair. 1969. Old English Grammar [3rd corrected printing]. Oxford: University Press.

Chambers, R. W. 1959. Beowulf: an Introduction to the Study of the Poem, [3rd ed. by C. L. Wrenn]. Cambridge.

Chickering, Howell D. 1977. Beowulf: a Dual Language Edition. New York: Anchor Books.

Dobbie, Elliot V. K. 1942. Beowulf and Judith (ASPR iv). New York: Columbia University Press.

Huld, Martin E. 1982. Birds, Beasts and IE Merismatic Compounds ... Zeitschrift fuer vergleichende Sprachforschung 96:152-58.

Keyser, Samuel J. 1969. Old English Prosody. College English 30:331-56.

Kiernan, Kevin. 1981. Beowulf and the Beowulf Manuscript. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press.

Klaeber, Fr. 1950. Beowulf and the Fight at Finnsburg, [3rd ed]. Boston: D. C. Heath.

Kock, Ernst A. 1904. Interpretations and Emendations of Early English Texts, iii Anglia 28:218-37.

Malone, Kemp. 1963. The Nowell Codex (Early English Manuscripts in Facsimile, 12). Copenhagen: Rosenkilde and Bagger.

Mitchell, Bruce and Fred Robinson 1991. A Guide to Old English, [5th ed]. Oxford: Blackwell.

Russom, Geoffrey. 1987. Old English Meter and Linguistic Theory. Cambridge.

Schubert, Hermann. 1870. De Anglo-Saxonum Arte Metrica. Berlin.

Sewell, W. A. P. 1924. A Reading in Beowulf. Times Literary Supplement, Sept. 11:556.

Sledd, James 1969. Old English Meter: a Demurrer. College English 31:71-74.

Sweet, Henry. 1885. The Oldest English Texts. Oxford: Early English Text Society (OS 83).

Tolkien, J.R.R. 1940. "Prefactory Remarks on Prose Translation of 'Beowulf'" in John R. Clark-Hall Beowulf and the Finnesburg Fragment. Cambridge. (Reprinted in The Monsters and the Critics and Other Essays]. Boston: Houghton-Mifflin. 1984.)

Tolkien, J.R.R. 1982. Finn and Hengest: the Fragment and the Episode. [ed A.J. Bliss] London: Unwin and Allen.

Zupitza, Julius. 1959. Beowulf Reproduced in Facsimile. Oxford: Early English Text Society (OS 245).