The Origins of Beowulf

From Vergil to Wiglaf

by Richard North

This book suggests that the Old English epic Beowulf was composed in the winter of 826-7 as a requiem for King Beornwulf of Mercia on behalf of Wiglaf, the ealdorman who succeeded him. The place of composition is given as the minster of Breedon on the Hill in Leicestershire (now Derbyshire) and the poet is named as the abbot, Eanmund. As well as pinpointing the poem's place and date of composition, Richard North raises some old questions relating to thepoet's influences from Vergil and from living Danes. Norse analogues are discussed in order to identify how the poet changed his heroic sources while four episodes from Beowulf are shown to be reworked from passages in Vergil's Aeneid. One chapter assesses how the poem's Latin sources might correspond with whatis known of Breedon's now-lost library while another seeks to explain Danish mythology in Beowulf by arguing that Breedon hosted a meeting with Danish Vikings in 809. This fascinating and challenging new study combines careful detective work with meticulous literary analysis to form a case that no future investigation will be able to ignore.

  • OUP Oxford; February 2007
  • ISBN: 9780191525735
  • Read online, or download in secure PDF format
  • Title: The Origins of Beowulf
  • Author: Richard North
  • Imprint: OUP Oxford

In The Press

fascinating and wide-ranging monograph

About The Author

Richard North was born and brought up in Oxford, and read Old English and Old Norse literature at Oxford University. He completed his PhD in the Department of Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic at Cambridge University, where he compared Old English and Old Norse poetry, building up interests which led to two books on the literary remains of Anglo-Saxon paganism. He has also written on Old Icelandic literature, mainly poetry, and since 1989 has been teaching these subjectsat University College London.