Mistranslating Beowulf

Then it became clear,
obvious to everyone once the fight was over,
that an avenger lurked and was still alive,
grimly biding time. Grendel’s mother,
monstrous hell-bride, brooded on her wrongs.

That’s how Seamus Heaney translated the lines that begin Grendel’s mother’s part of the Beowulf. It contains the word one novelist says has been translated with bias many times over.¬†Maria Dahvana Headley says a particular word is translated “monstrous” here and “hero” when related to Beowulf. She thinks that depiction runs over the nobility of a woman described as a bride of Cain,¬†“because that’s not as good a story for our culture.”

“Many of these canonical texts have been kind of misinterpreted as just exclusively masculine when really many of them are about love.”

Or maybe these old texts are about whatever you want them to be about. As Jean de La Fontaine¬†reportedly said, “Everyone believes very easily whatever they fear or desire.”

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