He laid aside his correcting pen, rubbed his eyes, straightened his back, leaned on his forearms, seemed willing to talk about the work in hand. “Touching up a text that develops the story of Beowulf . . . puts it in final-form verse narrative beyond any improvisation it may have begun with—a text to read and hear again, without change.”

The text, carefully written (and corrected) on parchment, does not change. Trouble is, readers of the meticulously created text have changed. Many harbor notions about these older texts that the original scribes of the sole exact copy never thought about. They were later, they had theories about meter, and they had no hesitation in recasting the authority and the way of reading the letter-strings on parchment. They had certainty about their superior and far different understanding of text and art that had...

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