01/16/2011 12:04 pm ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Want to Read the Original 'Beowulf' Manuscript? There's an App for That

The British Library unveiled its "Treasures" app this week for the iPhone and Android, allowing people to hold some of the real treasures of Western Civilization in their hand (or hands -- if you have an iPad). The app gives you access to high-resolution photos of more than a hundred of the museum's most revered documents, including a Gutenberg Bible, an original copy of the Magna Carta, and pages from Leonardo Da Vinci's notebooks.

Being the geek that I am, I paid the two dollars for the app (which is a lot for me -- I won't even shell out 99 cents for the full version of "Angry Birds"). I was sold by the access to the museum's literary manuscripts, including its thousand-year-old manuscript of the epic poem "Beowulf." It's arguably the first work of English Literature -- though, as it's written in Middle English, you probably won't be able to read it (here's a sample):

Hwæt! We Gardena

in geardagum,

þrym gefrunon,

It turns out that the app only features about a dozen literary works, so you'd better be interested in the museum's other treasures to make the it worthwhile. Still, the manuscripts are beautiful and zoom-able and many come with some high quality video commentary.

Featured poetic works include Shakespeare's first folio, a notebook by the visionary Romantic poet William Blake, and a handwritten draft of Wilfred Owen's well-known poem about the horrors of World War I, "Dulce et Decorum est." Also included is a page from a 15th Century illuminated manuscript of Chaucer's "The Canterbury Tales," that offers the famous opening lines:

Whan that Aprill, with his shoures soote

The droghte of March hath perced to the roote

And bathed every veyne in swich licour,

Of which vertu engendred is the flour;

The app is well organized and runs smoothly on my iPhone, but it's surely a better app for the iPad, which would let you explore the HD images on a bigger screen. It's also likely to improve, as the museum says it will be updated to highlight current British Library expeditions. "Treasures" is available for purchase for $1.99 until January 24th, after which time the price will double. You can take a look at the details here.