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Review of the book Klaeber's Beowulf and the Fight at Finnsburg: Edited, with Introduction, Commentary, Appendices, Glossary, and Bibliography, by Friedrich J. Klaeber, R.D. Fulk, Robert E. Bjork, & John D. Niles

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Friedrich Klaeber's "Beowulf and the Fight at Finnsburg", first published in 1922, has perhaps been best known through its third, supplemented edition of 1950. Its magisterial presentation of essays on numerous facets of the poem and
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  The Heroic Age A Journal of Early Medieval Northwestern Europe Founded 1998 | ISSN 1526-1867 Issue 16 (2015)Reviews Recent Scholarship Klaeber, Friedrich J., R.D. Fulk, Robert E. Bjork, and John D. Niles, eds. 2008.  Klaeber's Beowulf and the Fight at Finnsburg: Edited, with Introduction, Commentary, Appendices, Glossary, and Bibliography .Toronto Old English Series 21. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. cxc + 497 pages. ISBN 978-0802098436 (hardcover), ISBN 978-0802095671 (paperback).¤1.  Beowulf   might well be dubbed "the tale that would not die;" some might prefer to amend that to "thetale that should not be." Yet todayÑsome thousand years or so after its sole known manuscript wascommitted to parchment, about five hundred years since that copy escaped destruction in the Dissolution of the Monasteries, almost three hundred years since it was hurled from the window of a burning library, andless than two centuries since its first modern editionÑ   Beowulf   not only survives but even flourishes. Theopening years of the twenty-first century have seen not only new Modern English translations but alsovideo games, comic books, rock operas, and multiple films based on  Beowulf  . That is not bad for amillennium-old tale of heroic fantasy set against a background of misty septentrional antiquity.¤2. It is both appropriate and welcome, then, that the new century has also brought us a freshly updatedversion of Friedrich Klaeber's  Beowulf and the Fight at Finnsburg  . This work, first published in 1922 but perhaps best known through its third, supplemented edition of 1950, has a justly earned reputation as a"Bible" for  Beowulf   studies. Its magisterial presentation of essays on numerous facets of the poem and itsstudy, as well as a now-standard edition of the text itself accompanied by copious notes and glossaries, hasexercised a powerful influence on scholars and students of the poem for most of the last century. Of course,much of what has kept Klaeber's work relevant stems from his continual and exhaustive labors of revisionand expansion. In the sixty years since Klaeber's death, however,  Beowulf   scholarship has seen continuousand vigorous growth while Klaeber's  Beowulf   and its supporting matter had perforce stood stillÑuntil, atlong last, the appearance of this new, fourth edition in 2008.¤3.  Beowulf   scholarship has always strongly reflected its times, and the fourth edition of  Klaeber's Beowulf  (as its front cover proclaims it) is no exception. For one thing, it is a collaborative workÑa practicalapproach in an age when few scholars can claim complete familiarity with all aspects of the poem and itsstudy. It is likewise something of a mash-up; while Klaeber's general design and a substantial quantity of his own text remain intact, the new editors have added, altered, moved, or removed a great deal in bringingthe work up to date. Mostly, however, it seems they have added. When comparing the 2008 edition withthe 1950 edition, one is immediately struck by the two facts: though the size of the typeface has remained  roughly the same, the new edition has both significantly larger pages and rather more of them. The notesand commentaries have gained over fifty pages, as has the introduction (which has been divided into moresections, placed in a revised order, and given new titles); the appendices have gained around twenty pages.In comparing the actual content of the new edition with that of 1950, the changes generally come across as both appropriate and in keeping with the spirit of Klaeber's own life-long endeavors to maintain maximumvalue, relevance, and currency to students of the poem in a manageable, book-sized package.¤4. Retrofitting the best of six decades of ever more voluminous scholarship into that book-sized package Ñeven with the noted enlargementsÑwas doubtless no easy task. Perhaps few, if any, current  Beowulf  scholars can justly claim the comprehensive knowledge that Klaeber possessed in his day, if only becauseof the dauntingly vast bibliography that now confronts us. This surely forced certain limitations on the newedition in terms of the space available in a printed book. For example, many citations appear inaggressively abbreviated forms that give even veteran bibliographers pause. Similarly, the reader whoseeks to "reach the requisite material for a serious study" (as was one of Klaeber's chief intentions for his book) will find that the list of works cited is really a list of "works cited frequently, as well as works of especial importance," but that there is little indication of how frequently cited or especially important awork needed to be for inclusion in that list. Likewise, in apparent contrast to the general policy of expansion evident elsewhere in the new edition, the works cited section now runs only to about twenty pagesÑslightly fewer than the 1950 edition's bibliography and several bibliographic supplements.Although the new edition includes helpful pointers to external bibliographic resources, this inevitablydetracts from the one stop shop feel of earlier editions, and one wonders whether the production of anelectronic edition might have helped overcome such limitations.¤5. Along these lines, the new editors have made a set of supplementary Web pages available in addition tothe printed book's apologetically-toned references to additional printed bibliographies. Admittedly, theseare buried deeply within the University of Indiana's Web site (currently athttp://www.indiana.edu/%7Eklaeber4/), though they are also findable from the rather more modern-looking (and findable) faculty page of editor R.D. Fulk (currently athttp://www.indiana.edu/~engweb/faculty/profile_rFulk.shtml). Though these online supplements representa step in the right direction, or at least good intentions on the parts of the editors, their potential remainslargely unfulfilled. They give the impression of a half-hearted and incomplete setup with a surprisinglyoutdated 1990s web design aesthetic. None of the four content pages of supplementary information Ñ"Bibliography", "Editions", "Critical Studies", and "Resources and Links" Ñincludes more than a fewdozen linked items; many of these are to external sites, and one need not look hard to find broken links.The accessible items themselves are something of a mixed bag, including links to external bibliographies,materials in Google Books, and a locally held scan (perhaps a scanned photocopy) of the bibliographiesand bibliographical supplements from Klaeber's third edition. This latter is not unwelcome, though a well- presented and searchable bibliography that incorporated the new editors' additions alongside Klaeber'ssrcinal entries would have been better. Indeed, it must be said that there remains a clear opportunityÑ  perhaps even a needÑto build a more modern and comprehensive website that serves as a genuine hub for academic information on  Beowulf   and its related scholarship: a true "e-Klaeber" in both spirit andexecution.¤6. Appropriate moves toward digital formats might open up new possibilities for presenting material anddiscussion to contemporary students who have been raised in an always-on multimedia storm. For example, while the illustrative figures at the front of the new edition are more extensive, more recent, andof better quality than those provided in 1950, they remain a set of static, black-and-white images that mayappear curiously antiquarian to the modern student. Considering approaches to update to the presentationof the contentÑin ways that actually enhance the utility of the updated content rather than merely providing flash and bangÑwould be a gauntlet worth taking up for future revisions, whether in print or asan e-book. Given that Helen Damico's foreword in the new edition reminds us of Klaeber's "taste for   'innovation,'" this is something of which the grand old man himself might have approved.¤7. Not everything calls for modernization, of course, and the actual edition of the poem remainssubstantially Klaeber's. Some cosmetic but useful technical enhancement comes in the form new diacriticalaids to readers; for example, "dots above" now mark palatalized !  and  "  . Following more recentmanuscript studies, the new edition dispenses with line 2229 from the 1950 edition, though sensibly retainsits line numbering (skipping straight from line 2228 to 2230). Readers from both the literature andlanguage sides of study will be interested in the appearance or disappearance of certain named characters.For example, heal-gamen , which was "hall-entertainment" in the 1950 edition, has become the character Heal-gamen, Hr  !" g # r's poet. Likewise, 1950 edition's M ! d-  $ r  %" o is effectively replaced by the newedition's Fremu (or, in other words, the 1950 edition's adjective  fremu  meaning "good, excellent" is nowseen as the name of a person characterized by m # d-  $ r   %&  ,  "force of will, arrogance"). The edition of theFinnsburg fragment, now improved by a facsimile of Hickes's text, also hews more closely to that text,with the person of [H]naef in line 2 of the 1950 edition restored to n '  fre  "never" (and at the end of line 1).On the vexed question of date, the new edition remains largely in line with Klaeber's understandings.Although the topic is now approached with more caution than was perhaps typical in Klaeber's day, anddue consideration is given to the wide-range of arguments put forward on this issue since Klaeber's day,linguistic and metrical considerations seem to predominate in a continued preference for an earlier rather later date. This may be either hailed or reviled as a conservative approach, though equally it seems unlikelythat any decision on this issue could possibly please all the people all the time.¤8. A modernized editorial approach, and one that doubtless draws on ample classroom experience, seemsevident in the reorganization of the commentaries and other supporting material. Perhaps of particular noteis the division and expansion of Klaeber's "Language, Manuscript" and "Genesis of the Poem" sectionsinto "Manuscript", "Language and Poetic Form", and "Date, Origins, Influences, Genre" sections, all of which sport substantially augmented texts. Separating discussion of the manuscript from other topicsseems appropriate in the light of debate over the relationship of our manuscript to any earlier versions,while distinct and enhanced focus on linguistic topics is probably necessary in an age when fewer students(or even professors) will necessarily come to the poem with the philological preparation (or appreciation)that Klaeber might have expected. Likewise, the new subsection on "Meter and Alliteration"Ñno doubtstrengthened through recourse to editor R.D. Fulk's prodigious expertise in these areasÑserves to orientmodern users perhaps less familiar with such topics than their predecessors.¤9. The content of the commentaries and supporting material also probably benefits from a more generallycautious or circumspect approach. Even simple changes, such as the alteration of the section headings "TheFabulous or Supernatural Elements" and "The Historical Elements" from the 1950 edition to, respectively,"The World of Monsters and Myth" and "The World of Humans" seems to recognize that though modernreaders might view the fabulous and the historical as clearly distinct, the srcinal poet or audience may nothave done so (at least in the same way). In another salient example, the regnal dates Klaeber oncesuggested for various legendary kings have been quietly disposed of, reflecting a now greater air of uncertainty over any relationships between the poem's content with actual history. Equally, views that the poem nudges and winks about future feuds amongst the ScyldingsÑa preoccupation of many earlytwentieth-century scholars, Klaeber among them, which depends largely on comparisons with medievalScandinavian analogsÑare treated much more cautiously. Yet at the same time, awareness of and referenceto the recent archaeological excavations of the pre-Viking halls near LejreÑissues covered much morewidely in editor John D. Nile's indispensible 2007 collection  Beowulf and Lejre  Ñare brought into thediscussion with appropriate nuance and erudition.¤10. Even so, the modernizing approach is not always applied consistently. For example, the "The Danes"subsection retains text from Klaeber's earlier editions that could naturally be read as implying that thedetails for a genealogical tree of the Danish royal line were extracted from the poem, even though  subsequent text (also retained from earlier editions) admits that, for example, the tree's identification of Hr  !" wulf as H # lga's son is inferred from later Scandinavian sources (most, though not all, of whichspecify Hrolfr as Helgi's son). Had we only  Beowulf   as witness, of course, we might reasonably supposethat Hr  !" wulf (described in the poem only as Hr  !" g # r's nephew) could just as well be son of Heorog # r or even some other unmentioned brother of Hr  !" g # r. Although we may be justified (in this case, at least) inadmitting inferences from related traditionsÑas Klaeber and many of scholars of his time likely did almostwithout questionÑit might have seemed more in keeping with the new edition's generally more critical andcautious tone to highlight instances of learned speculation or reconstruction more clearly and consistently.¤11. Wholly new discussionsÑespecially where these engage with perhaps less familiar aspects of the poem's studyÑmay seem ambiguous. For example, in new passages touching on Leake's (1967)suggestions about possible relationships between the name Getae  in classical sources and the poem's ()  atas , the new edition repeats the oft-made observation that the short vowel in the former name "does notcorrespond" to the long diphthong in the latter name, additionally citing a number of sources that "pointout linguistic obstacles standing in the way of an identification of the &' atas with the Getae." However, thenew edition also suggests that the appearance of the Getae in the  Liber Monstrorum  "doubtless É points tothis same English name [ ()  atas ]" and that the author of the  Liber Monstrorum  "equated the native term[ ()  atas ] for these people with a name familiar from Latin literature [ Getae ] on the basis of guesswork."As readers may at this point also recall (from discussion earlier in the introduction) that not all of thenames in  Beowulf   share exact linguistic correspondence with their presumed Scandinavian counterparts(facts that seem to occasion much less scholarly excitement than do hypothetical relationships between Getae  and ()  atas ), readers may then wonder if they should understand Anglo-Saxon poets and scribes ashaving been more likely to employ philologically correct reconstruction techniques or guesswork whenchoosing names. In such cases, it might have been possible to afford the reader more clarity about theissues under debate. In the case of this particular example, while philology assures us ()  at-  could not haveevolved through natural oral processes from Get-  (thereby closing one door), in the case of a written production (which, at least in the form we have it,  Beowulf   certainly is) medieval writers could and did usename forms that were not linguistically cognate with analogs in other traditions (thereby leaving other doors, if not open, at least unlocked).¤12. Nevertheless, while readers particularly versed or interested in different aspects of the poem's studymay find various such minor matters to trouble themselves over, this should not distract us from theundoubted value of this new fourth edition of Klaeber's  Beowulf  , which represents a substantial andlaudable victory in the enormously difficult task of maintaining a classic work's modern utility as a generalintroduction to and edition of this great poem. Any question as to whether it should remain a premier resource for students and scholars may be safely answered in the affirmativeÑfor it both upholds andexpands on Klaeber's own aims. If it sometimes struggles to be as all-encompassing as earlier editions, thisis perhaps principally because the work's vision has begun to exceed the practical carrying capacity of the physical book's form. We should expectÑor at least hopeÑthat further revisions and editions will continueto appear (ideally before another sixty years pass), and we might eagerly anticipate the innovations thattwenty-first century publication and distribution technologies, as well as new directions in scholarship,might bring to enhance this enduringly useful work on the enduringly compelling  Beowulf  . Works Cited Leake, Jane Acomb. 1967. The Geats of Beowulf: A Study in the Geographical Mythology of the Middle Ages . London: University of Wisconsin Press.Carl Edlund Anderson  Universidad de La Sabana
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