Grímur Jónsson Thorkelin

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Grímur Jónsson Thorkelín (8 October 1752 – 4 March 1829) was an IcelandicDanish scholar, who became the National Archivist of Denmark and Professor of Antiquities at Copenhagen University.

In 1786 he travelled to England in order to search for documents relating to mediaeval Danish-English contacts. In 1787 he hired British Museum employee James Matthews [1] to transcribe the sole extant manuscript of the Old English epic poem Beowulf and made another copy himself. He was elected a Foreign Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1790.[2]

Under a commission from the Danish government, Thorkelin had prepared Beowulf for publication by 1807. During the Battle of Copenhagen (1807) his house was burned, and the manuscript of his edition (the work of 20 years) was lost. The two transcripts survived, however, and Thorkelin began all over again. The poem was eventually published in 1815.[3] Thorkelin was the first scholar to make a full translation of the poem, into Latin.

Grendel reaches Heorot: Beowulf 710–714
Old English verse Thorkelin's Latin Francis Barton Gummere, 1910
Ðá cóm of móre     under misthleoþum    Tunc venit per tesquas     Secundum nebulosum montem     Then from the moorland, by misty crags,
Grendel gongan·     godes yrre bær·    Grendel gradiens.     Dei hostis attulit     with God’s wrath laden, Grendel came.
mynte se mánscaða     manna cynnes    Decretam cladem     Generis humani,     The monster was minded of mankind now
sumne besyrwan     in sele þám héan·    Quosdam illaqueando,     In aedibus sublimibus.     sundry to seize in the stately house.

The Thorkelín transcriptions are now an important textual source for Beowulf, as the original manuscript's margins have suffered from deterioration during the 19th and 20th centuries. His early copies provide a record in many areas where the text would otherwise be lost forever.

Thorkelín is generally regarded as one of the pioneering figures in Nordic and Germanic studies. Moreover, his visit to Britain reinvigorated interest and appreciation in the island's Germanic past, in ways both scholarly and Romantic. However, this view is not without its detractors; Magnús Fjalldal describes Thorkelín as "essentially a fraud as a scholar" and lists a number of errors in Thorkelín's edition and translation, many of which were pointed out by contemporary reviewers.[4]


  1. ^ Kiernan, Kevin (2011):Electronic Beowulf Archived 2011-06-29 at the Wayback Machine Third Edition, "Thorkelin Transcripts."
  2. ^ "Book of Members, 1780–2010: Chapter T" (PDF). American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 28 July 2014.
  3. ^ Altick, Richard D. (1987): The Scholar Adventurers. Columbus: Ohio State University Press. ISBN 0-8142-0435-X, pp. 211-15.
  4. ^ Fjalldal, Magnus (2008):To Fall by Ambition: Grímur Thorkelín and his Beowulf Edition Neophilologus 92:321-332

Further reading[edit]

  • G. J. Thorkelín, De Danorum rebus gestis secul. III & IV : Poëma Danicum dialecto Anglosaxonica : ex Bibliotheca Cottoniana Musaei Britannici / edidit versione lat. et indicibus auxit Grim. Johnson Thorkelin, 1815.
  • The Thorkelin transcripts of Beowulf in facsimile / edited by Kemp Malone. Copenhagen : Rosenkilde and Bagger, 1951. (Early English manuscripts in facsimile ; volume 1)

External links[edit]