Stanford Medievalist Compresses Old English Epic ‘Beowulf’ Into 100 Tweets

Stanford Medievalist Compresses Old English Epic 'Beowulf' Into 100 Tweets

Is it possible to capture the essence of a book, play, or poem in a tweet? If not one, then a series chronicling the arc of the work?

Stanford medievalist and “text technologies” researcher Elaine Treharne gave it a shot, as the Atlantic reports, compressing ‘Beowulf’ into 100 tweets.

Treharne explains the motivation behind the project:

“As the Christmas break started, I began preparing my course for the Winter Quarter, ‘Beowulf from Then ’til Now,’ which looks at all existing and imagined manifestations of ‘Beowulf,’ from the oral fantasy to the Heaney translation, Zemeckis film and, particularly, R. D. Fulk’s wonderful Dumbarton Oaks edition of the ‘Beowulf’ manuscript. The underlying theoretical question for this course is ‘What is (the) Text?’ What constitutes ‘Beowulf’? What is its core and what do we understand by ‘Beowulf’?”

She turned to Twitter as an exercise in exploring the experience of the epic tract distilled into 140-character chunks.

Here’s now her noble quest begins and ends:

1. Hey, you know those awesome Danish kings of old? Scyld was the best, though he came from nothing. And his son, Beow, did him proud. #Beow100

2. Scyld shuffled off, but not before ring-giving. Out on the sea in a gold-laden vessel, he bore love & praise, hope for hereafter #Beow100

99. The finest funeral fire lit, smoke rose skyward. Flames created bone-ashes. Hearts broke. A woman wept. She knew what was coming. #Beow100

100. On a headland, a huge barrow was built, filled with useless gold. They mourned their worldly lord—hero, giver, kindest of all men. #Beow100

Who said tweets can’t be poetry?

Read the whole shebang by scrolling through the hashtag #beow100 or heading to Treharne’s site, where she’s archived her work.

(Source: Atlantic. Beowulf manuscript image via Paddle Trips.)