Did ‘Beowulf’ have one author? Researchers find clues in stylometry

Monday, April 8, 2019 - 11:00 in Physics & Chemistry

It’s been a towering landmark in the world of English literature for nearly a millennium, but for two centuries “Beowulf” has also been the subject of fierce academic debate, much of it revolving around the question of whether the epic poem is the work of a single author or was stitched together from multiple sources. In an effort to resolve the dispute, a team of researchers led by Madison Krieger, a postdoctoral fellow at the Program for Evolutionary Dynamics, and Dartmouth College research associate Joseph Dexter, Ph.D. ’18, turned to a very modern tool — the computer. Using a statistical approach known as stylometry, which analyzes everything from the poem’s meter to the number of times various combinations of letters show up in the text, Krieger and his colleagues found new evidence that “Beowulf” is the work of a single author. The study is described in an April 8 paper published in...

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