Copenhagen: Th. E. Rangel, 1815. First Edition. Full calf. 1st edition (in both Old English and Latin) of the Anglo–Saxon epic, [BL Cotton Vitellius A. XV]. Contemporary calf, uncut, spine and 1 scratch darkened, neat, small contemporary notes and corrections in the blank margins of pages 4–25, else near fine, complete, and untrimmed with extraordinary boardwalk margins. Scarce (ABPC says no copies sold in 40 years). Coll: 4to, xx, 299,  pp. Near fine. Item #261
The 10th century manuscript laid dormant in the British Library, its content a secret, even after it was listed by Wanley in his 1705 survey of Anglo–Saxon manuscripts (Antiquae Literaturae Septentrionalis) because he only translated 1% of it. In 1786, Grímur Jóhnson Thorkelin, an Icelandic scholar in the Danish civil service, got a royal grant “to study the treasures of the British libraries” enabling him to visit England, where he reassessed Wanley’s listings and felt the poem might bestow some insight into early Danish history. He examined the Beowulf codex, sensed he was beholding splendor, made 2 copies, and over 25 years unlocked the mysteries of its true content. In 1807, while Thorkelin worked, Sharon Turner hastily mis–translated a fragment of it (20%) in the 2nd edition of his History of the Anglo–Saxons. His rendition was so disjointed (Turner trying to milk a bear) and inaccurate (translating “Grendel” as “swamp”) that any hint at the poem’s meaning remained invisible. Finally, in 1815 this full and accurate translation exposed it to the world for what it was, the monumental pagan heroic tale, long preserved in oral tradition, then carried to England by Danish invaders where it was overlaid with a veneer of Christian theology, and transcribed into Old English, by an unknown poet, 1,000 years ago. It’s set in 6th century Denmark and fuses Norse legends and Danish historical events in 3,182 lines of alliterative verse. Here is Beowulf, the super–human mercenary, Hygelac, Beowulf’s lord and ruler of the Geats, Hygd his queen who offers Beowulf her son’s throne after Hygelac’s death, Hrothgar, King of the Danes who adopts Beowulf as his son, Wealtheow, his Queen who gives her own sons over to Beowulf’s care, Wiglaf, last of Beowulf’s kin and his heir, Fitela and Sigemund, the legendary Volsungs, and finally Grendel, the paradigm monster of monsters, who regularly visits Hrothgar’s hall to carry off and devour his warriors.