Thursday, September 20, 2007


One of the student athletes signed up for a literature course in which he must read Beowulf. When scheduling classes, his adviser told him, "Whew! Beowulf, eh? That's a tough book."

"I'll be fine," he told her, and scheduled the class.

Last night, he brought the book into the writing center to get started on his homework. He opened to the first page. "What the f^$k is this?"

"That's Beowulf," I said. "It's a classic."

"But what is this? I can't read this. It's another language."

I looked at him, a bit stunned. Surely he would have realized this by now? "It's Old English. Or maybe it's called Middle English. Anyway, all the books for this course are like this. Look, you have Canterbury Tales, Sir Gawain, lots of stuff."

He starts freaking out. He throws his hands in the air. "Are you kidding me?" He calls for his adviser. "Why did you let me take this class?"

"You told me you could handle it. I told you it was hard."

He is freaking out now, way past add/drop period. Stuck in the class. "I can read a real book. I'll read any real book you want. This isn't a real book."

He puts his feet up on the desk and crosses his arms, like a little baby who is angry that we turned off the television. Only he is 6'7" and weighs 310 pounds. "I can't believe it's not even a real book."


Valtastic said...

Tell him to read it outloud.. it's the only way I could understand it.. I hated it at first then I liked it.. if he doesn't know what meade is then tell him... he'll like it more...

JP said...

Beowulf: Old English.
Canterbury Tales: Middle English.

Did he show the book to you? I'm pretty sure I've run across versions of Beowulf which had alternating pages of Old English and modern English. I think it was Seamus Heaney's (excellent) translation. Assuming he had such a copy, he could indeed have been looking at something entirely unintelligible. Ordinary mortals who've not studied Old English cannot just pick it up and read it.

Then again, it still wouldn't be much of an excuse, since he'd merely have to look at the next page to realize what's going on.

Reading it aloud is good advice. Indeed, it's the only way I've been able to really notice the sense of rhythm that's supposed to underly the entire text.

Anonymous said...

Like JP said, I have a version with Old English and the translation on opposing pages.