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The Transmission of "Beowulf"Language, Culture, and Scribal Behavior$
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Leonard Neidorf

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9781501705113

Published to Cornell Scholarship Online: January 2018

DOI: 10.7591/cornell/9781501705113.001.0001

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Cultural Change

Cultural Change

(p.73) 3 Cultural Change
The Transmission of "Beowulf"

Leonard Neidorf

Cornell University Press

This chapter examines a process of cultural change that took place during the Anglo-Saxon period as evidenced in the Beowulf manuscript. Scribal unfamiliarity with the traditions informing Beowulf led to the obliteration of dozens of proper names and the obfuscation of many others. Moreover, several names in the Beowulf manuscript are spaced in aberrant ways. Similar to erroneous spacing, cases of scribal self-correction constitute another category of paleographical evidence capable of registering some of the difficulties that the scribes experienced while transmitting the poem’s proper names. The chapter argues that the frequent obliteration and obfuscation of heroic-legendary names in the transmitted text of Beowulf is no mere accident. Carelessness might account for a few errors, but many of the errors also reflect a systematic problem that affected both of the final scribes, and perhaps antecedent copyists as well.

Keywords:   cultural change, Anglo-Saxon period, personal names, ethnic names, erroneous spacing, scribal self-correction, chronological issues

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