Monday, January 30, 2017

"Beowulf" Translated by Dick Ringler: A Review

My favorite work of fiction is the ancient English tale Beowulf - considered to be the oldest surviving English poem. Since first being exposed to this fascinating and rich narrative, I have enjoyed reading various translations and interpretations of the poem. More recently I read Dick Ringler's translation of Beowulf and consider it to be one of the best Beowulf volumes I've read.

First, Ringler's introduction alone is worth the price of the book. In this lengthy introduction, the translator walks the reader through various themes of the poem itself as well as insights into the background, the world of the narrative, and some of its primary characters.

Ringler makes as strong of a case for a theological reading of poem as anyone I have come across. Next to Doug Wilson, I have not come across anyone who has made as clear a case for the worldview and message of the poem. Being that the poem's current form was likely written, or at least edited, by monks, there is a clear agenda of the editors. The story begins and ends with a funeral and between those two bookends we find Beowulf triumphing over three monsters who serve as types of mirrors of humanity. Grendel seems to represent jealousy (a perpetual outsider), his mother seems to represent revenge, and the dragon clearly represents greed. The beauty of Beowulf is that though these monsters may provide the primary action of the story, the sins they represent are in humanity. That is why the book begins and ends in a dirge. The hope of the narrative is not that one Beowulf-like hero will arise with each new generation, but that the cycle of monstrous revenge, greedy pillaging, and violence will only end when Christian missions speak of a crucified Savior.

Indirectly Ringler walks the reader through some of these themes. Again, the introduction itself is worth buying the book.

In addition to the lengthy introduction, Ringler provides the best translation I've come across thus far. I suspect most new to the poem prefer to read Beowulf as prose as opposed to poetry, but certainly it is a story that is much richer as poetry. Ringler provides a poetic reading of the story with each line featuring a limited range of syllables.

A sample might suffice. Here is how the poem introduces Grendel:
When darkness came
the demon set out
for the silent hall
to see how the Danes
had bedded down in it
    after their beer-drinking.
They were sound asleep,
sated and carefree
   after the banquet
a band of warriors
slumbering softly
without sorrow or dread.
He attacked them at once
with terrible swiftness,
grimly, greedily
grabbing from their beds
thirty unlucky
thanes of the king,
gloating, glorying
int he grisly deed,then shambling home
with his shameful spoil. (lines 229-250, pg 9)
The language is rich, the flow is wonderful, and the translation highlights the beauty of the original writing. I love it.

If you are a fan of this poem, I highly recommend this volume. Though I thoroughly enjoyed Tolkien's take on the poem, Ringler's take has officially become my favorite.


For more:
"Beowulf" Translated by Dick Ringler: A Review
"Beowulf": A Review
A Shrewd Apologetic: Doug Wilson's Take on Beowulf
Beowulf: Resources and Links
Clash of the Gods: Tolkien's Monsters Documentary


Theology Series:
We Are All Descendants of Cain: A Theology of Beowulf - Introduction
We Are All Descendants of Cain: A Theology of Beowulf - Why Beowulf Matters
We Are All Descendants of Cain: A Theology of Beowulf - The Story, Part 1
We Are All Descendants of Cain: A Theology of Beowulf - The Story, Part 2
We Are All Descendants of Cain: A Theology of Beowulf - The Story, Part 3
We Are All Descendants of Cain: A Theology of Beowulf -  The Theology Part 1
We Are All Descendants of Cain: A Theology of Beowulf -  The Theology Part 2
We Are All Descendants of Cain: A Theology of Beowulf -  The Theology Part 3
We Are All Descendants of Cain: A Theology of Beowulf -  The Theology Part 4
We Are All Descendants of Cain: A Theology of Beowulf -  The Theology Part 5
We Are All Descendants of Cain: A Theology of Beowulf -  The Theology Part 6
We Are All Descendants of Cain: A Theology of Beowulf -  The Theology Part 7
We Are All Descendants of Cain: A Theology of Beowulf -  Conclusion
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