Beowulf has always haunted me. It is a glow of fire and gold that has served to burnish my fascination with Anglo-Saxon England. Midway between the pagan and the Christian, of unknown authorship and indeterminate date, it is all the more potent for being so enigmatic. Every time I read it, I am struck by new perspectives, new reflections.
Beowulf is the greatest surviving work of literature in Old English, unparalleled in its epic grandeur and scope. It tells the story of the heroic Beowulf and his battles, first with the monster Grendel who has laid waste to the great hall of the Danish king Hrothgar, then with Grendel’s avenging mother, and finally with a dragon that threatens to devastate his homeland.
Through its blend of myth and history, Beowulf vividly evokes a twilight world in which men and supernatural forces live side by side. It celebrates the endurance of the human spirit in a transient world.
Historian Tom Holland annotates this edition of Beowulf.
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TOM HOLLAND is a historian of antiquity and the early Middle Ages: author of Rubicon, Persian Fire, Millennium and In The Shadow of The Sword, and the translator for Penguin Classics of Herodotus’s Histories. His most recent work of history, Dynasty: The Rise and Fall of the House of Caesar was published last year. His biography of Æthelstan, the first in Penguin’s monarchs of Britain series, was published last summer.
He is the presenter of BBC Radio 4’s Making History, and of TV documentaries on topics that have ranged from St Paul to dinosaurs. His most recent film, ISIS: The Origins Of Violence, was screened last month on Channel 4.