Havniae [Copenhagen]: Typis Th. E. Rangel, 1815. First edition. A lovely copy of the first complete edition of Beowulf (in Old English) and the first translation into any language. In full dark blue, straight-grain morocco binding (to style) with five raised bands, marbled end papers. Intricately stamped in gilt and blind on the spine and boards, an exceptionally lovely binding. Untrimmed and completely unopened, quarto, with the average page measuring 275 x 227 mm (with about a cm variation from the shorter to the taller leaves). An excellent, unread copy with an small stain on the title and trivial soiling to the margins, but pages generally crisp, white and in Fine condition. Collating: xx, 299, [1 blank], [iv Addenda et corrigenda]; complete. Overall a Fine copy of a rare and sought-after book.
Written between the 8th and 11th centuries, "Beowulf" is cited as the oldest – and most important – surviving poem in Old English. The poem follows the Geat hero Beowulf as he comes to the aid of the Danish King to defeat the monster Grendel and, afterwards, Grendel's mother. Returning home, Beowulf is crowned King of the Geats and rules until his death, being fatally wounded slaying a dragon.
After being discovered in the collection of 16th century scholar Laurence Nowell, the manuscript containing Beowulf found it's way into Sir Robert Bruce Cotton's famous library. The story is known in just that single manuscript, which unfortunately was badly damaged in the (aptly named) Ashburnham House fire in 1731. Danish historian and scholar Grimur Jonsson Thorkelin studied the manuscript in 1786 and published the first translation of the poem in 1815 into Latin, along with the text in Old English (offered here). Due to further deterioration of the original manuscript, his work has been incredibly important in preserving the poem.
"Beowulf" is now justly famous, in part through the work of J. R. R. Tolkien, who became one of the poem’s foremost scholars. The poem would exercise a considerable influence on him when he wrote "The Hobbit" and "The Lord of the Rings." It has continued to entrance modern readers and writers, with the most recent translation being by Nobel Prize-winning poet Seamus Heaney. With a single hit in recent auction records, it appears most surviving copies are institutionally held, with very few copies becoming available for private collections. And, as a point of reference, our friend and colleague Biblioctopus listed a copy for $18,000 (Cat. 52) Fine (Item #1836)
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