Beowulf's fame in modern culture has led to its constant reinterpretation through the process of translation. Each translation is the unique product of its translator, telling a familiar story in a new and exciting way. Tolkien's translation stresses the archaic feel that the original listeners would have got from the mead-hall recounting of the tale. Heaney's is more obviously poetic, and might bring with it more of the pomp and showiness of the original. More recently, Headley has re-imagined the text through modern language, removing the stodgy inaccessibility with a sense of immediacy.
There was also that god-awful CGI-nightmare film: the less said about that the better....
All of these pale in comparison, however, to my new favourite translation by Dr Killilea: Boyo-wulf. This is an attempt. to translate the well-known and well-trodden text of Beowulf into Cork slang, in a completely unique approach. You can find the website here.
Here's are a couple of little extracts from the translation that I think shows the work in all its glory:
'And then the morning would fall over the hall and jesus, the gaff would be caked in manky shit when the day shone in, the benches pure drenched in blood, y’know, like blood from the fight all over the hall.'
'And bloody right that a young lad do a bit of good, and pay his way while under his auld fella’s roof, so that when he himself is an auld fella, all the lads will stick by him when a fight comes ’round, and the people too will have his back.'
So, if you're due a re-read of Beowulf, why not opt for Dr Killilea's. It's both a great laugh and a great example of the process and creativity of translation.
Interested in history and archaeology, and keen to access more information and resources? I have recently released a set of free, online notes for the history of 'Anglo-Saxon' England - this is available here.
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A new Deep-Dive article on the Westfield Farm cemetery can be found here.
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