The Beowulf Epic is a Fake!
Uwe Topper
Berlin · 2001
Full text in German. The English and Spanish version are both abridged
beowulf francais


Alfred Tamerl wrote in "Zeitensprünge" 3/2001, pp. 493-512, that the "8th century Old-English" epic called Beowulf was written much later than expected, thus saving Illig's thesis that in the 8th century no manuscripts could have been written, as the 7th, 8th and 9th centuries did not exist.

This approach is methodically wrong, but Tamerl went deeper into the theme. He was inspired by the assumption of well-known German literature critic Walter Klier, that Beowulf might have been written by an 11th century monk (FAZ, March 31st, 2001) and this seems in Tamerl's judgment the more probable date for Beowulf according to his statement at the end of his article. Yet he does not give any sound reason why this particular date would be preferable.

Reading Tamerl's article with an open eye and ready for logical conclusions, one cannot miss the point (which the editor tried to hide) that the earliest date for a possible fabrication of the Beowulf manuscript is the late 17th century. The American Kevin S. Kiernan (1993) used very sophisticated technical methods to find out that the manuscript was definitely written down by the poet himself; erasures by razor and acid and corrections are all made by the author's own hand. So the only existing ms. is a product of the man who wrote those many thousand verses. On the other hand, it is known that the epic had a pagan Anglian background but was reworked by a Saxon monk, a Christian. Thus it becomes clear that it is a concoction.

One third of the words in Beowulf do not appear in any other document, they might simply have been invented.Who was able to invent this language? It could have only been Franciscus Junius (1589-1677) who was the first to publish a grammar and dictionary of the Old English language, and it was he too, who in 1665 gave his authority to the authenticity of the Wulfilas-Bible, which is a fake as well (see Topper 1998). Moreover, twice in his life Junius had access to the codex Vitellinus A. XV in which Beowulf was found after Junius' death. It had not been in it when its contents were listed earlier.

Of course, Junius did not dare to publish his epic right away but had to leave this to a future generation. It was the Danish scholar Thorkelin who was given insight into the ms. and who - after hesitating 25 years - finally published it in 1815. As the contents have nothing to do with England but are Scandinavian throughout, this might seem a fair procedure, but on the other hand: would the English discoverers of the ms. not have been proud to be the first to publish this most ancient text of their language if they had thought it to be genuine? They, too, did not dare to do so, I suppose, because in those times learning was at a very high level, and the fake could easily be recognized. Their fear was unnecessary, the world believed the authority of Thorkelin, and since then we have one more precious manuscript testifying to the invented history. First doubts arose when 19th century philologists found a great number of anachronisms in the text, but those could easily be attributed to the scribes of the 11th century who supposedly copied the text, thus saving the epic as an entity.

There remains the question why Junius went through this enormous labour? One of the important points are the quotations from Pope Gregory I, thus giving more support to the historicity of this invented figure. And the reconstruction of a medieval Christianity in England or Denmark was another important object of the "great action" (as Kammeier called it) of the church. If Tamerl did not come to the same conclusion as Uwe Topper, it may be excused by premature publication of his research or by censorship of his text by the editor.


Farrer, J. A. (1907): Literarische Fälschungen (translated from english original, Leipzig)
Kiernan, Kevin S. (1996): Beowulf and the Beowulf Manuscript (University of Michigan Press, USA)
Klier, Walter. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ). 31 March 2001.
Tamerl, Alfred (1999): Hrotsvith von Gandersheim. Eine Entmystifizierung (Mantis Verl, Gräfelfing)
(2001): Beowulf - das älteste germanische Heldenepos? (Zeitensprünge 3/2001, S. 493-512, Gräfelfing)
Topper, Uwe (1998) : Die Große Aktion (Tübingen)

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