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One Night Stand
On Teaching Beowulf

spacer So, we sit on the floor in the dark, clustered around a massive collection of candles, and listen to Seamus Haney read Beowulf to us. And it is magic.
spacer Later that night, the students read Burton Raffels translation on their own, footnotes and all, and complete response journals that will begin our discussion the next day.
spacer The morning I looked up and saw all three principals, two counselors, and the superintendent of schools sneaking in my classroom, I knew something was afoot. The superintendents son had come home, insisting his mother listen to Beowulf, the best story ever. (Note: the fire marshall did not appreciate the candles.)

spacerListening to Heaney, then reading Burton Raffel, works. Studying two translations provokes discussion that leads to other translations, and even to the evolution of our language. Activities below show this works richness.
spacer My last word on the subject, “You are going to be so pleased that you have been intimate with Beowulf…when we read Grendel in the spring.

Ruth Caillouets classic English Journal article, “Everything I Need to Know about Teaching I Learned from Beowulf is still a useful and inspiring delight.



Seamus Heaney’s translation is particularly accessible, what with only 14 footnotes in the whole text. YouTube audio version (Part 1 @ line 1 and Part 2 @ line 1492).



Burton Raffel’s translation is more difficult, but my favorite. Exerpts -- Unknown Text (34 pages) and Glencoe Unit (62 pages) with ancillary materials.



Crossley-Hollan d


Kevin Crossley-Holland’s translation for British youngsters is very accessible. Grisly Charles Keeping illustrations mesmerize. Just Imagine Story Guide has great activities for our teenagers.


Group Project comparing six translations, with detailed background, instructions, and chart. More information on Old English Poetics. (Adapted from unknown teacher.)

Worksheet comparing and contrasting four translations.

Handout with thirteen translations of lines 710-736.


Online Versions
of the Epic

Editions of Beowulf -- Check out BeowulfTranslations.net for links to virtually every edition written, even comic and film versions.

Young Beowulf

Adventures of Beowulf is a modern translation by David Breeden, a creative writing professor at Schreiner University, is very accessible. Includes excellent illustrations, including the drawings used on this page.

Annotated Beowulf uses The Harvard Classics translation by Frances B. Grummere with footnotes.

Beowulf in Cyberspace is a new modern translation with interesting original art. The site itself is quirky because of fancy scripting, but the glossary and illustrations are worth clicking a few times. Also check out the pictorial guide.

Beowulf in Hypertext uses The Harvard Classics translation by Frances B. Grummere with extensive sidenotes and explanations.

Electronic Beowulf is an image-based digitized version of the original manuscript.

A Work in Progress is Tim Romano’s modern translation.

Bulfinch Chapter 42 from Mythology is only a summary of Beowulf, but the links to background materials, illustrations, explanations, and analyses makes a visit worthwhile.

Just the Facts

Definition of the Epic

Family Trees

All about Kennings

Comitatus and Interlacing

Listen to Beowulf sound files

Warrior Gear -- imaginative painting showing how King Rædwald might have looked wearing the full regalia from Sutton Hoo (you may click on details of the royal war-gear in that picture for more information).

Just for Fun

Beowulf Shrinklit by Maurice Sagoff -- retells the whole story in rhyming couplets.

Beocat by Henry Beard -- a poetic parody.

“Beowulf” by Richard Wilbur -- a modern elegy.

Overly Sarcastic Productions Overview

Thug Notes (language warning).

Japanese Kamishibai -- a Japanese folk art popular in the 1920s and 1930s. The kamishibai cards had a story, illustrations, and a script on the back. Includes directions and middle-school samples based on the Robert Nye translation.

“World Without Heroes” by KISS Essay (yes).


“Beowulf to Batman: The Epic Hero and Pop Culture” by Roger B. Rollin (Abridged 3 pages with Close Reading Worksheet.) (Full 19-page College English article.) -- excellent way to introduce close reading of a critical article.

Exerpt from The Art of Beowulf by Arthur Gilchrist Brodeur -- Focuses on analyzing each of the three battles.

“Heorot and the Guest-Hall of Eden: Symbolic Metaphor and the Design of Beowulf” by Alvin A. Lee -- symbolism of four significant episodes.

“Of Beowulf, Boxing,and the Ali Myth” by Edmund Fuller -- exceptional, heartbreaking Wall Street Journal about Ali’s defeat by Spinks. Works for text annotation, vocabulary in context, and powerful openings and endings. A favorite essay.

“Universal Hero” by Thomas Napierkowski -- Review of Heaney translation considers why the epic still speaks to us.


Journal Assignments
for the Epic

Old Beowulf

Seminar Topics for the Epic

Creative Assignments
for the Epic

Extra Credit Options for the Epic:
Only 50 Points Allowed

The Beowulf Boast -- Write an original boast about yourself, in Anglo-Saxon style, and perform it for the class (50 points).

Epic Movie -- Watch an epic movie from an approved list and write an essay analyzing its epic qualities (50 points)

Modern Writing -- Write a modern version, analyze the epic’s relationship to modern terrorism, or apply concepts from the epic to your own life (50 points).

Essay Topic for Beowulf -- Write an essay on the topic given here.

Book of Kells -- Read the article about the Book of Kells, look at the sample images provided, do additional research yourself, and write a composition explaining the ways in which the illuminated designs can be connected to the structure of the epic Beowulf.

Outside Reading and/or Viewing -- Read one of the following versions of the Beowulf story and write a comparison contrast essay.

Just for Review

20 Questions for Discussion -- from Tulane University

Supporting a Thesis -- critical analysis

Sample Beowulf Essay -- “Until the Dragon Comes” by your teacher!

BBC In Our Time -- YouTube critical discussion.

Beowulf Crossword Puzzle (free from Prestwick House).



Teacher Resources



HelmetHistory Alive!

The Sutton Hoo Treasure at the British Museum shows us the artwork and everyday objects prized by the Anglo-Saxons.

Teaching History with 100 Objects.

BBC Treasures of the Anglo-Saxons covers multiple sites (one hour) -- Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4.

PowerPoint featuring the most famous Sutton Hoo pieces, with activities.

In Search of Sutton Hoo

Chronicled in The Dig, a Netflix original, the background to the treasure search itself fascinates.

Art Girl Analysis of the accuracy of the film and discussion of the archaeological significance.


IG THEnrichment Activities

Course Hero Infographic
-- for analysis or as a model for even better student designs (printable as a poster from Acrobat).

Literary Elements -- Literary elements in Beowulf, also applied to a modern hero. (Group Activity from unknown teacher.)

Beowulf and 9/11 Heroism -- Connects past to present by focusing on a chosen hero from 9/11, as compared to Beowulf. Includes a powerful Powerpoint. (Group Activity from unknown teacher.)


Benjamin Bagby almost makes me believe I can understand Old English. Beowulf and Grendel (Lines 672-702) in Old English. The Entire Epic -- one hour performance.


 Graphic Novel

Grimmest Gripe

Gear of War

 Grimmest Gripe

Gear of War

 Doom of Glory

Illustrations from amazon.com

Special thanks to colleagues on the AP ListServ who shared their assignments and materials.
Please let me know if I have miscredited or neglected anyone.

John Gardner’s Grendel Novel

Updated 3 January 2023.

If you download or print anything from this site, please consider making at least a $10.00 donation through PayPal.
I can maintain and expand this website only with your help.

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