I wondered about what we'd do with a social media version of the poem and decided to tweet it in 100 tweets over a few weeks in my @etreharne account, using the hashtag #Beow100. The **very long** blog that follows is the Twitter Beowulf in its entirety. For me, it was a worthwhile exercise, forcing me back to the Old English to try and capture, in the shortest possible length, what I thought were the essential components of the poem. I also used R. D. Fulk and other translations throughout the exercise. Fulk's translation is brilliant, though, because it is often lexically emulative of the Old English. I compressed speeches, but always tried to represent the direct speech as such; it's a major component. I only tangentially referred to the most complex of the digressions; they were too difficult to telescope. I had a lot of trouble with representing genealogical naming, which is frequent. I quickly understood, too, how much this is a poem of two halves: after Beowulf's return to Hygelac, the poem really does shift stylistically. Anyway, my students--whether or not they currently deal with Twitter--will have to engage with this effort (even if it proves to be unsatisfactory), because it is as valid as any. What is clear is how many people are interested in Old English and this poem, especially. Over the course of about three days, I gained some 700 new followers (thank you to all of them), which was a shock and turned the endeavour into much more of a performance. I now expect they'll swiftly abandon me when they realise how boring my usual tweeting is. I enjoyed the experience so much, though, that I'm tweeting everything else in Cotton Vitellius A. xv as #Beow200; that is, the WHOLE codex, which includes post-Conquest material seldom discussed in any context, let alone a public forum like Twitter.
The Twitter Beowulf
1. Hey, you know those awesome Danish kings of old? Scyld was the best, though he came from nothing. And his son, Beow, did him proud.
2. Scyld shuffled off, but not before ring-giving. Out on the sea in a gold-laden vessel, he bore love & praise, hope for hereafter
3. Noble Hrothgar, Scyld's successor, won war-glory, warriors' loyalty; built the towering horn-topped Heorot, firedoomed from day one
4. Creation lays sung in hall called to the moor-dwelling monster, he of Cain’s kind, foul offspring of flood-sundered demons, God’s antagonist #Beow100
5. Supper-sated by song, warriors slumbered, ‘til Grendel’s first frenzy saw thirty succumb. Continued attack and the hall stood quite empty #Beow100
6. Danes’ crumpled spirits suffered Grendel’s grasp 12 long years. He couldn’t near the ruler’s throne; their pagan ways led nowhere #Beow100
7. The great Geat, Beowulf, heard of Grendel’s greatness, Hrothgar’s horror. With fourteen men our hero embarked seaward to fly to the Dane’s aid #Beow100
8. The coastguard was curious as the Geat-troop climbed cliffward: "Hey! Where’d you come from? And who’s that well-armed one there?"
9. “D’you recall my dad—Ecgtheow? A most famous warrior (I know I take after him). We’ve heard of your monster and we’ve come to help Hrothgar.” #Beow100
10. "Easy to say” said the watchman. “This way!” They hurried to Heorot, heroes’ hall. Well-wishing, their guide left to guard the boat
11. The Geats stashed their gear & were asked their intentions. Beowulf said he'd tell all to the king. Heralded, hope met with valor
12. Hrothgar’s spirit rose: “I knew little Beowulf; I hear he’s worth 30 men. I'll richly reward him to rid me of Grendel. Let him in!”
13. "I AM BEOWULF, Hygelac's kinsman, killer of sea-nicor. I will purge Heorot, take on this Grendel, fight knuckle-bare, live or die!"
14. “Happy you're here.” Hrothgar welcomed the warrior. “Your fearless father was friend to me. Grendel harrassed us; now we can hope!”
15. All sat feasting. Unferð riled: “You? The Beowulf who swam a week in open sea against Breca, who outdid you? Is it Grendel's turn?"
16. “Boozy Unferð!” said Beowulf, “You're wrong. I swam best, killing beast after beast. Effort & fate saved me. You've done sod all.”
17. “Fratricidal, fearful Unferð! Grendel gripped the Danes ‘til we Geats arrived to restore feasting.” Beowulf’s boast brightened all.
18. Wealhþeo, Hrothgar’s wise wife, gave a hall-cup to warriors in turn, thanking God for Beowulf. He promised to fight to the death.
"You guard my hall, Beowulf," said Hrothgar, stumbling to bed. Our hero disarmed: "Hand-to-hand we fight. God let win who he will."
Warriors imagined the last of days, unknowing God's watching. Still they slept (bar the one) while the shadow-stalker sought solace
21. Grendel came, carrier of God's ire, to catch a hero. This time'd be harder. Furious, fiery-eyed, he broke into the hall & laughed
Beowulf eyed his foe, who wasted no time seizing & slitting sleeping prey: a warrior bitten, savored, swallowed whole. Beowulf next!
As he groped, our hero gripped so strongly that shock, fear & flight came to mind. Violent wrestling ensued & a horrorful howling
The hall guardian's grasp firm; the fiend’s fingers burst. God’s foe wished to flee; Hygelac’s warrior advanced. Din filled Heorot
25. In hard hold, Beowulf yanked shredded flesh, sundering arm from shrieking body. Grendel sloped off to die; his arm hung as trophy.
26. Beowulf’s battle-boast done, he delivered the Danes from evil. Morning light led victors to a bloody mere; heathen soul led to hell
27. Hrothgar’s scop shaped varied songs of Beowulf’s deeds—akin to Sigemund, whose noble sword melted a dragon & unlike warlike Heremod
Comitatus, king & consort came to gaze at battle booty. “Thank God for Beowulf,” said Hrothgar. “Never thought I’d see this day.”
29. “So happy to help” replied Beowulf boldly, “though all I could hang onto is hanging right there. No doubt God’ll sort Grendel out.”
30. The hand hung from unharmed roof. They hastened to ready Heorot for feast. All came & were happy. Healfdane’s sword was war-reward.
31. Hrothgar piled up treasure for Beowulf’s victory: wired helmet, shield, mailcoat, jeweled horses, king's saddle. Such rich gifting.
32. More treasure followed for Beowulf’s thanes & wergild for the one Grendel ate whole. So providence oversees all: perseverance pays.
33. Healgamen plucked the gameful lyre, sang of Hildeburh’s lament—brotherless sister, sonless mother—sad at the feud's fateful outcome
34. Hildeburh gazed. Pyre’s fire melted son & brother's blood, bones & booty. Spring brought Finn’s death; she, now, a husbandless wife
35. She was carted off. Strum! The song was done. Joy resumed. Wealhþeo said: “Be cheery, generous, & mindful of our boys, Hrothgar.”
36. The cup was sent round, many treasures were given—Brosings' neckring, the finest of all time, was presented & passed on to Hygelac
37. Wealhþeo spoke (none responded): “Bless you Beowulf; your glory's won. Be just to my sons.” Hall festivities flowed into nighttime
38. Warriors made ready for sleep on the hall-floor, surrounded by spears, shields and helmets. #Beow100
39. No one was prepared for what was to happen
40. She’s just a devil-woman, with vengeance on her mind. Beware the devil woman; she’s gonna get you
41. Grendel’s mother arrived, eager to avenge her loved son’s death. She hurriedly snatched Hrothgar’s hero and her son’s hand. Uproar!
42. “Sleep well?” said Beowulf in morning. “No joy here!" said Hroþgar. "Another grim enemy took dearest Aeschere. It was the mother.”
43. “We know these fen-demons live in a mere that's like hell with its frost and fire. None enters there even if life depends on it.”
44. ““Only you can help us if you dare to. I'll pay you.” "It's best to avenge your thane & gain glory!” said Beowulf. “Come with me.”
45. They rode past moor, rocky cliffs, following the she-fiend’s step, ‘til they saw gory water - bubbling, bloodied - & Æschere's head
46. Monsters, serpents, cruised the mere. With protective mail-coat, boar-jeweled helmet & sword Hrunting, Beowulf prepared for battle
47. Beowulf told Hroþgar: “If I die, protect my men; send Hygelac my gold so he can share my glory. Unferð gets my sword”. He dived in.
48. At mere’s bottom, grim & greedy, she gripped Beowulf, mail-coat-aided; benthic beasts struck as she hauled him to her fire-lit hall
49. With sword, the hero struck her head, but to no avail. Grabbing her hair, he fought hand-to-hand. She threw him down & drew a knife
50. Woven war-mail (& God) saved him. He spotted an old giant sword. Through her bone he cut. Light shone. He hacked off Grendel’s head
51. Above, Danes gave up at the ninth hour & left the Geats to stare at a blood-muddied mere. In the under-hall, the giant sword melted
52. Our hero swam up with head & sword-hilt, rejoicing in his victory. Loyal thanes thanked God; rode to Heorot to present the booty.
53. Beowulf spoke: “It wasn’t an easy fight, but divine intervention showed me a sword. Here, have the hilt. Now you’re free of fear.”
54. Hrothgar read the hilt’s runes, narrating the flood & giants’ destruction. He spoke. All listened. “Your glory's assured, Beowulf:”
55. “you’re not like that tyrant, Heremod: learn by his example. Don’t succumb to pride, carelessness, grimness, since God sees all.”
56. “Be wise through life, for all is fleeting. 50 years I’ve been king & never knew the horror that could befall. Thank God for you.”
57. Beowulf took his seat, as asked, & feasting began again in earnest. At bedtime, the hero accepted well-earned rest until sunrise.
58. Eager to leave, Beowulf gave Hrunting to Unferð with thanks. To Hroþgar: “I’d help again, as would Hygelac. We'll keep an ear out.”
59. The king replied: "You're dear, wise & worldly beyond your years, well-suited to be a peace-making king, should your own lord die."
60. Twelve more treasures were given. Hroþgar knew he wouldn't see Beowulf again; he clasped him close before the hero left for home.
61. The ship-guard was rewarded with a sword. The foamy-prowed boat sailed to the Geatish cliffs; a joyful watchman moored the warriors
62. They entered court. Queen Hygd was highly virtuous, unlike Thryð, who, ‘til tamed by Offa, fettered & executed men gazing upon her
63. Offa established order, unity. Beowulf's return created joy, richness, delight for his king, Hygelac, who requested the whole story
64. Hygd offered a mead-cup to heroes as Hygelac asked how things had gone. His kinsman replied: “I was glorious, lord; they loved me.”
65. “I fought Grendel, but first we feasted, when Wealhþeo & her daughter (doomed to fail at peaceweaving) passed the cup in the hall.” #Beow100
66. “Freawaru, the girl, won't bring a truce for the Danes; old wounds will open instead. But anyway, where was I? Ah, Grendel, yes.”
67. “The demon came & swallowed Hondscio whole. He wanted me as take-away—to put me in his dragonskin glove. I thwarted that ambition.”
68. “Anyway, I beat him & got gold & a harp’s glory. Then his mother came & avenged her son. So I went & killed her. See how it goes?” #Beow100
69. “For this heroism, I had many treasures from Healfdene’s son that I’ll present you, since I rely on you, Hygelac. Here! War-gear.”
70. Beowulf gave gifts to his uncle; to Hygd, the neck-ring. He showed loyalty, truth, heroism. He wasn't the slacker the Geats assumed
71. Hygelac gave Beowulf his father’s jeweled sword, made him a lord with land, with hall. Hygelac & his son died in battle. Now what?
72. Beowulf ruled the Geats’ kingdom, held & protected it wisely & well for fifty years—until a dragon reigned over the dark nights. #Beow100
73. Swollen with wrath at the loss of a precious vessel taken by a needy soul, the treasure-hoarding dragon flew in fiery fury through the night. #Beow100
74. Whose treasure the dragon guarded was unknown. Death seized them all, except one who remained, friendless, lamenting the lost past
75. "There's no joy left," said the Last Survivor 'til he died. 300 years, the dragon hoarded heathen gold, until theft woke its wrath.
76. Desiring night's activities, the dragon eagerly attacked the Geats (their king would get it worst) with baleful, wasteful flame
77. Hardest heartache was Beowulf’s when his hall was turned to ash. Contrition preceded courage. He armed himself for single combat. #Beow100
78. The hero knew no troop could help—as with Grendel, indeed; as with Hygelac, when only Beowulf survived. Hygd offered him the throne
79. When Hygd’s heir died at Onela’s hand, Beowulf acceded. He avenged Heardred then, as he avenged his people now against the dragon
80. With eleven thanes & the reluctant cup-thief, Beowulf sought the treasure-barrow. His fate was near, his mind sorrowful. He spoke:
81. “I know warfare. I was 7 when given to Hrethel as a warrior. I saw accidental death; saw an old man sorrow at his son’s hanging."
82. “Loss is joyless. Hrethel gave up after his son’s death. Feud killed the other son. Vengeance followed. I always lead in battle.
83. “I beat Hygelac’s killer with bare hands; now, alone, with hand, sword & shield I fight the fiery poison dragon. I will not yield.”
84. “Men! Wait on the barrow. I live or die here.” In thought, word & deed, Beowulf lived by bravery. He roared on entering the barrow.
85. Hero’s roar enraged the drake; flames poured out. Beowulf defended with shield, pointlessly struck with sword. Thanes fled, afraid.
86. Engulfed in flames, bereft of men, Beowulf was tested. Wiglaf, a warrior, kinsman, saw all this & was mindful of his lord’s favors.
87. Wiglaf said boldly: "We owe loyalty. He needs us. I won't leave him—greatest of lords... I’m here Beowulf! Let’s do this together.”
88. He stood strong in support, both under the shield as the fire-serpent bit into Beowulf’s neck. They avenged that with sword & knife
89. Beowulf slit the dragon, saw it off. He sat, exhausted, helped by Wiglaf: “My time has come. Show me this earthen-hall’s treasure.”
90. By the light of a golden banner, Wiglaf saw heaps of olden gold. He hurriedly carried to his dying lord sufficient precious things.
91. Beowulf gazed: “Thank God I got this for my people before dying. Build me a barrow so my name lives on & have my war-gear, Wiglaf.”
92. His soul passed into the doom of the truth-fast. Wiglaf tried to wake him with water, watched now by the thanes who'd fled in fear.
93. Wiglaf said woefully: “Where the hell were you when your lord needed your loyalty? I tried my best, but you are disgraced forever.”
94. Wiglaf told a man to break the news: “Our loved lord's dead; the dragon too. We’re in for it now. Ancient feuds will be renewed.”
95. “To avenge Ongenðeo's death, Swedes will fight us & we’ll lose. The raven will tell an eagle it fought a wolf for our dead flesh.”
96. The entire troop tearfully went to where their lifeless ring-giver lord lay, beside the fifty-foot dragon-corpse & rusty treasure.
97. Wiglaf spoke: “The worthiest warrior in this world is gone. Such is his fate—this cursed hoard. Ready a pyre for our beloved lord.”
98. 8 warriors got the barrow’s gold-heap. They threw the dragon over a cliff. They built a pyre, encircling their lord with war-gear.
99. The finest funeral fire lit, smoke rose skyward. Flames created bone-ashes. Hearts broke. A woman wept. She knew what was coming.
100. On a headland, a huge barrow was built, filled with useless gold. They mourned their worldly lord—hero, giver, kindest of all men.