Thursday, January 9, 2014

Beowulf in a Hundred Tweets : #Beow100

As the Christmas break started, I began preparing my course for the Winter Quarter, "Beowulf from Then 'til Now", which looks at all existing and imagined manifestations of Beowulf, from the oral fantasy to the Heaney translation, Zemeckis film and, particularly, R. D. Fulk's wonderful Dumbarton Oaks edition of the Beowulf-manuscript ( The underlying theoretical question for this course is "What is (the) Text?" What constitutes Beowulf? What is its core and what do we understand by "Beowulf"? In some senses, this seeks to address, for Beowulf, F. W. Bateson's question, "If the Mona Lisa is in the Louvre, where then are Hamlet and Lycidas?"

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

December 10th
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. #Beow100

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 #Beow100

December 11th

3. Noble Hrothgar, Scyld's successor, won war-glory, warriors' loyalty; built the towering horn-topped Heorot, firedoomed from day one #Beow100

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

December 12th

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?" #Beow100

December 13th

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 #Beow100

11. The Geats stashed their gear & were asked their intentions. Beowulf said he'd tell all to the king. Heralded, hope met with valor #Beow100

December 14th

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!” #Beow100

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!" #Beow100

14. “Happy you're here.” Hrothgar welcomed the warrior. “Your fearless father was friend to me. Grendel harrassed us; now we can hope!” #Beow100

December 15th

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?" #Beow100

16. “Boozy Unferð!” said Beowulf, “You're wrong. I swam best, killing beast after beast. Effort & fate saved me. You've done sod all.” #Beow100 

December 16th

17. “Fratricidal, fearful Unferð! Grendel gripped the Danes ‘til we Geats arrived to restore feasting.” Beowulf’s boast brightened all. #Beow100

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. #Beow100

19. "You guard my hall, Beowulf," said Hrothgar, stumbling to bed. Our hero disarmed: "Hand-to-hand we fight. God let win who he will." #Beow100

20. Warriors imagined the last of days, unknowing God's watching. Still they slept (bar the one) while the shadow-stalker sought solace #Beow100

17th December

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 #Beow100

22. Beowulf eyed his foe, who wasted no time seizing & slitting sleeping prey: a warrior bitten, savored, swallowed whole. Beowulf next!#Beow100 

23. As he groped, our hero gripped so strongly that shock, fear & flight came to mind. Violent wrestling ensued & a horrorful howling #Beow100 

December 18th
24. The hall guardian's grasp firm; the fiend’s fingers burst. God’s foe wished to flee; Hygelac’s warrior advanced. Din filled Heorot #Beow100

25. In hard hold, Beowulf yanked shredded flesh, sundering arm from shrieking body. Grendel sloped off to die; his arm hung as trophy. #Beow100

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 #Beow100

27. Hrothgar’s scop shaped varied songs of Beowulf’s deeds—akin to Sigemund, whose noble sword melted a dragon & unlike warlike Heremod #Beow100

December 20th

28. Comitatus, king & consort came to gaze at battle booty. “Thank God for Beowulf,” said Hrothgar. “Never thought I’d see this day.” #Beow100

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.” #Beow100

December 21st

30. The hand hung from unharmed roof. They hastened to ready Heorot for feast. All came & were happy. Healfdane’s sword was war-reward. #Beow100

31. Hrothgar piled up treasure for Beowulf’s victory: wired helmet, shield, mailcoat, jeweled horses, king's saddle. Such rich gifting. #Beow100

December 22nd

32. More treasure followed for Beowulf’s thanes & wergild for the one Grendel ate whole. So providence oversees all: perseverance pays. #Beow100

33. Healgamen plucked the gameful lyre, sang of Hildeburh’s lament—brotherless sister, sonless mother—sad at the feud's fateful outcome #Beow100

34. Hildeburh gazed. Pyre’s fire melted son & brother's blood, bones & booty. Spring brought Finn’s death; she, now, a husbandless wife #Beow100

35. She was carted off. Strum! The song was done. Joy resumed. Wealhþeo said: “Be cheery, generous, & mindful of our boys, Hrothgar.” #Beow100

December 23rd

36. The cup was sent round, many treasures were given—Brosings' neckring, the finest  of all time, was presented & passed on to Hygelac #Beow100

37. Wealhþeo spoke (none responded): “Bless you Beowulf; your glory's won. Be just to my sons.” Hall festivities flowed into nighttime #Beow100 

38. Warriors made ready for sleep on the hall-floor, surrounded by spears, shields and helmets. #Beow100

December 24th

39. No one was prepared for what was to happen #Beow100

40. She’s just a devil-woman, with vengeance on her mind. Beware the devil woman; she’s gonna get you #Beow100 (with thanks to Cliff Richard)

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! #Beow100

December 25th

42. “Sleep well?” said Beowulf in morning. “No joy here!" said Hroþgar. "Another grim enemy took dearest Aeschere. It was the mother.” #Beow100

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.” #Beow100

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.” #Beow100

December 26th

45. They rode past moor, rocky cliffs, following the she-fiend’s step, ‘til they saw gory water - bubbling, bloodied - & Æschere's head #Beow100

46. Monsters, serpents, cruised the mere. With protective mail-coat, boar-jeweled helmet & sword Hrunting, Beowulf prepared for battle #Beow100

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. #Beow100

December 27th

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 #Beow100

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 #Beow100

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 #Beow100

December 28th

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 #Beow100

52. Our hero swam up with head & sword-hilt, rejoicing in his victory. Loyal thanes thanked God; rode to Heorot to present the booty. #Beow100 

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.” #Beow100

December 29th

54. Hrothgar read the hilt’s runes, narrating the flood & giants’ destruction. He spoke. All listened. “Your glory's assured, Beowulf:” #Beow100

55. “you’re not like that tyrant, Heremod: learn by his example. Don’t succumb to pride, carelessness, grimness, since God sees all.” #Beow100

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.” #Beow100

57. Beowulf took his seat, as asked, & feasting began again in earnest. At bedtime, the hero accepted well-earned rest until sunrise. #Beow100

December 30th

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.” #Beow100

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." #Beow100

60. Twelve more treasures were given. Hroþgar knew he wouldn't see Beowulf again; he clasped him close before the hero left for home. #Beow100

61. The ship-guard was rewarded with a sword. The foamy-prowed boat sailed to the Geatish cliffs; a joyful watchman moored the warriors #Beow100

December 31st

62. They entered court. Queen Hygd was highly virtuous, unlike Thryð, who, ‘til tamed by Offa, fettered & executed men gazing upon her #Beow100 

63. Offa established order, unity. Beowulf's return created joy, richness, delight for his king, Hygelac, who requested the whole story #Beow100

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.” #Beow100

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.” #Beow100

January 1st

67. “The demon came & swallowed Hondscio whole. He wanted me as take-away—to put me in his dragonskin glove. I thwarted that ambition.” #Beow100

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.” #Beow100 

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 #Beow100

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? #Beow100

January 2nd

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 #Beow100

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. #Beow100

76. Desiring night's activities, the dragon eagerly attacked the Geats (their king would get it worst) with baleful, wasteful flame #Beow100

January 3rd

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 #Beow100

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 #Beow100

80. With eleven thanes & the reluctant cup-thief, Beowulf sought the treasure-barrow. His fate was near, his mind sorrowful. He spoke: #Beow100

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." #Beow100

82. “Loss is joyless. Hrethel gave up after his son’s death. Feud killed the other son. Vengeance followed. I always lead in battle. #Beow100

January 4th

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.” #Beow100

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. #Beow100

85. Hero’s roar enraged the drake; flames poured out. Beowulf defended with shield, pointlessly struck with sword. Thanes fled, afraid. #Beow100

86. Engulfed in flames, bereft of men, Beowulf was tested. Wiglaf, a warrior, kinsman, saw all this & was mindful of his lord’s favors. #Beow100

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.” #Beow100

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 #Beow100

January 5th

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.” #Beow100

90. By the light of a golden banner, Wiglaf saw heaps of olden gold. He hurriedly carried to his dying lord sufficient precious things. #Beow100

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.” #Beow100

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. #Beow100

January 6th

93. Wiglaf said woefully: “Where the hell were you when your lord needed your loyalty? I tried my best, but you are disgraced forever.” #Beow100

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.” #Beow100

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.” #Beow100

96. The entire troop tearfully went to where their lifeless ring-giver lord lay, beside the fifty-foot dragon-corpse & rusty treasure. #Beow100

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.” #Beow100

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. #Beow100

99. The finest funeral fire lit, smoke rose skyward. Flames created bone-ashes. Hearts broke. A woman wept. She knew what was coming. #Beow100

100. On a headland, a huge barrow was built, filled with useless gold. They mourned their worldly lord—hero, giver, kindest of all men. #Beow100


  1. This is wonderful. This relies on an idea similar to the secondary thesis of a paper I did on the use of kennings in Beowulf, that kennings are extremely meaning dense, but instead of what I did, expanding and explaining, you further compressed Beowulf, without losing anything.

  2. Thanks for doing this - now I know the whole story!

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. Beowulf slays monster Grendel, slays Grandel's mother, slays a dragon, and dies.

    1. Human hero Beowulf encounters worthy rivals, among them Grendel and Grendel's mother, til the Lord is bested at his zenith by the Unnamed Dragon.

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  7. Love the Beowulf tweets. Thanks for posting! I think my favorite is 'Warriors imagined the last of days, unknowing God's watching. Still they slept (bar the one) while the shadow-stalker sought solace.' Super deep!