Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting nature.com. You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

Beowulf single-authorship claim is unsupported

Matters Arising to this article was published on 11 November 2021

The Original Article was published on 08 April 2019

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution

Access options

Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.

$32.00

All prices are NET prices.

Fig. 1: Full-line pattern variation.
Fig. 2: Hierarchical agglomerative clustering of overlapping samples of 300 lines from Beowulf based on 25 and 100, 150, 200, … , 1,000 most frequent character 2-, 3-, 4- and 5-grams.

Data availability

The data necessary to reproduce the analyses are provided at https://github.com/versotym/beowulf.

Code availability

The complete set of analysis code is available at https://github.com/versotym/beowulf, allowing all the analyses to be fully examined.

References

  1. Neidorf, L., Krieger, M. S., Yakubek, M., Chaudhuri, P. & Dexter, J. P. Large-scale quantitative profiling of the Old English verse tradition. Nat. Hum. Behav. 3, 560–567 (2019).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Sievers, E. Altgermanische Metrik (Niemeyer, 1983).

  3. Kendall, C. B. The Metrical Grammar of Beowulf (Cambridge Univ. Press, 1991).

  4. Stockwell, R. P. & Minkova, D. in A Beowulf Handbook (eds Bjork, R. E. & Niles, J. D.) 55–85 (Univ. of Nebraska Press, 1997).

  5. Golston, C. in Versatility in Versification (eds Dewey, T. K. & Frog) 105–122 (Peter Lang, 2009).

  6. Fabb, N. What is Poetry?: Language and Memory in the Poems of the World (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2015).

  7. Cooper, A. Unified Account of the Old English Metrical Line. PhD thesis, Stockholm Univ. (2017).

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Contributions

P.P., A.C., B.N. and A.Š. designed the study. P.P. and B.N. wrote the code. All authors analysed the results and wrote the manuscript.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Petr Plecháč, Andrew Cooper, Benjamin Nagy or Artjoms Šeļa.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing interests.

Additional information

Peer review information Nature Human Behaviour thanks Michael Drout and the other, anonymous, reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

Publisher’s note Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Extended data

Extended Data Fig. 1 Half-line pattern variation.

Relative proportions of each pattern, taken over a 200-line rolling window throughout the text. The horizontal line shows the start of the disputed section.

Extended Data Fig. 2 Usage of hapax compounds.

a. Difference between slopes for two samples of Elene is comparable to the difference reported between Genesis A and B in supplementary figure 4 of the original article (sample 1: slope = 31.25; r = 0.9792; sample 2: slope = 22.67; r = 0.9798). b. When Elene, Genesis B and Phoenix are merged together, the quality of linear fit is comparable to that of Beowulf (slope = 28.05; r = 0.9983). Merging together Genesis A and Andreas produces a good quality fit as well (slope = 23.88; r = 0.9972).

Extended Data Fig. 3 Shared compounds.

Replication of original figure 3 with Christ I and Christ III added to the chart. Despite the fact that Christ I, II, III are claimed to be written by different authors, their mutual correlations do not significantly differ from those of poems signed by Cynewulf (t(7) = 0.19; p = 0.8567). This suggests that the method is sensitive to a common topic and as such cannot be accepted as “further support for unitary composition” of Beowulf.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary Fig. 1 and Discussion.

Reporting Summary

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Plecháč, P., Cooper, A., Nagy, B. et al. Beowulf single-authorship claim is unsupported. Nat Hum Behav 5, 1481–1483 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41562-021-01222-5

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1038/s41562-021-01222-5

This article is cited by

Search

Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing