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Beowulf, first folio

2014 November 7

The image below is a drawing of the first folio of Beowulf, which along with the rest of the manuscript was damaged by a great fire in 1731; for details please see my book Cotton’s Library.

I release this image, and a high-resolution version, free of charge for you to do with it absolutely whatever you want.

Drawing of first folio of Beowulf

It begins, very roughly translated, “check it out, yo.”

All of the pages of the Beowulf manuscript have been photographed multiple times, and are available online from multiple sources, but all of them forbid you from re-using their photos… and good luck getting the British Library to let you take your own photos. As I’ve detailed in this earlier post, this situation seems kind of jerk-y to me. So if you have some need for an image of Beowulf, feel free to use this one!

Otherwise, hm, yes this was about as tedious an exercise as you might imagine. Unlike my drawing of Cotton’s Mappa Mundi, I took no shortcuts with the text, here, and reproduced every letter as accurately as the state of the manuscript permitted. Along with stains, mottling, scorch marks and everything else that has afflicted this object over the centuries…

Realistically, it isn’t that much to look at. This is no illuminated manuscript; there isn’t much lost to the absence of color. Really it isn’t all that hard to understand why no one took much notice of the text until centuries after the Cotton library as a whole came to prominence.

Still… it is a great story, and the story of how this sole manuscript of its text (barely) survived until people took notice is also quite a tale. (Obviously I think so, at any rate.) And even those who don’t know that story have probably heard of Beowulf. So, this felt worthy of inclusion in my drawing efforts.

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