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ASU professor Robert Bjork brings Beowulf to life in humanities lecture

ASU Foundation Professor of English Robert E. Bjork in front of the ruins of an Anglo-Saxon-inspired church in Sigtuna, Sweden

ASU Foundation Professor of English Robert E. Bjork sits in front of the ruins of an Anglo-Saxon-inspired church in Sigtuna, Sweden, that nation’s first town, established in 980.

November 02, 2015

Beowulf is the kind of guy who leaves an impression.

Do you remember where you were when you first read or were exposed to some incarnation of the Old English epic poem?

Robert Bjork, ASU Foundation Professor of English and director of the Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, first read “Beowulf” during his second year as an undergraduate at Pomona College in California.

“I was smitten by its strangeness and wonder,” said Bjork, who would go on to earn master’s and doctorate degrees at the University of California, Los Angeles, and has taught the poem almost every year since graduating in 1979.

“I still find something new every time I read it,” he observed. “It is an existential poem. It offers insight into a whole social structure, but it also takes you into the existence of the individual. And it’s a poem without real resolution, a fact which intrigued me as a sophomore and continues to intrigue me as a professor.”

Bjork closes out the fall portion of the College of Letters and Sciences’ Humanities Lecture Series on ASU’s Downtown Phoenix campus with his presentation “Beowulf of the Many Faces” on Thursday, Nov. 5.

Beowulf of the Many Faces lecture announcement
Image courtesy of the ASU Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies

Bjork will explore how, since the late 18th century, when this unique manuscript was discovered in the British Museum, “Beowulf” has spread its power throughout the world in editions, translations, literature, art, music, movies, television, and video games — including a 2007 film version starring Angelina Jolie and a music video for history classrooms set to Nena’s “99 Luftballons.”

As a teacher and mentor, Bjork’s interests range over the whole of medieval English language and literature. His primary research areas are Old English poetry, modern Swedish literature, and biomedical writing.

In 2008, Bjork published a new edition of “Beowulf and the Fight at Finnsburg” with two colleagues. The update included new information gleaned from such things as archeological digs and advances in technology.

“The latter has allowed scholars to decipher letters that were previously illegible,” Bjork explained.

He served as general editor of the four-volume Oxford Dictionary of the Middle Ages in 2010.

“Bob Bjork is an incredibly gifted teacher and internationally respected scholar,” noted College of Letters and Sciences’ principal lecturer Mirna Lattouf, who organizes the Humanities Lecture Series.

“Always an engaging speaker, he’ll be bringing to life with movie, music and television clips an understanding of how literature produced in the seventh century is still relevant to we humans today.”

The lecture, co-sponsored by ASU’s Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, will be held on ASU’s Downtown Phoenix campus, in the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication/KAET Channel 8 (CRONK), room 128. The lecture begins at 6:30 p.m. and is free and open to the public.

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