Mix of Pagan and Christian Ideas in Beowulf
- :: 6 Works Cited
- Length: 1651 words (4.7 double-spaced pages)
- Rating: Excellent
The Mix of Pagan and Christian Ideas in Beowulf
Beowulf was written in England around 1000 AD. "This provides us with an idea of a poem that was written during a time when the society had converted from paganism to christianity"(Cohen 138). "We know that paganism did exist alongside Christianity during the approximate era that Beowulf was composed"(Hall 61). "The Christian influences were combined with early folklore and heroic legends of dramatic tribes, early Beowulf scholars began to investigate whether or not Christian and biblical influences were added later to originally pagan influences"(Hall 61). "The Christian elements are almost without exception so deeply ingrained in the fabric of the poem that they cannot be explained away as the work of a reviser or later interpolator"(Klaeber 2). The fact that the two values are so closely intertwined in the poem, I believe that is the reason Beowulf has both Christian and pagan influences.
The pagan elements in the epic poem Beowulf are evident in the characters superhuman personifications. Beowulf is depicted as a superhero. Beowulf takes it upon himself to save the Danes from Grendel. In his battle with Grendel, Beowulf chooses not to use weapons; he relies on his super strength. During the fight, Beowulf's strength takes over and Beowulf wrestles with Grendel until he is able to rip one of the monster's arms out of its socket. Superhuman feats also appear in the fight with Grendel's mother. When Beowulf enters the water, he swims downward for an entire day before he sees the bottom. He does this without the use of oxygen. During the battle with Grendel's mother, Beowulf realizes that Unferth's sword is useless against the monsters thick skin. He grabs an enormous sword made by giants, almost too heavy to hold and slashes through the monster's body. This superhero strength continues into the battle with the dragon. By this time, Beowulf is an old man. He stands up to the dragon and wounds him. Although Beowulf is fatally wounded himself, he still manages to deliver the final blow that kills the dragon. Grendel is also seen as a superhuman monster. Grendel has no knowledge of weapons so he too depends on his extraordinary strength to destroy his enemies. The dragon is also seen as a super powerful adversary. "As in most pagan folklore, the dragon is a much used enemy of the hero of the story"(Greenfield 87).
How to Cite this Page
|Essay about Beowulf: A Pagan Epic Hero? - Throughout literature there have been countless parallels and references to the story of Christ as written in the Bible. Even in such unexpected places as in seemingly pagan poems of ancient Danes and Geats- an epic with dragons and monsters- one still finds similar biblical allusions. In just such an unexpected place, the epic Beowulf, it's title hero and his circumstance, become an allegory for the story of Christ. In this sense, Beowulf can be seen as a Christian story of salvation. The similarities between Beowulf and the story of Christ are striking.... [tags: Epic of Beowulf Essays]||1641 words|
|Christian And Pagan Ideals In Beowulf Essay - Before the invention of the printing press or written history, oral history, especially in early Germanic culture, became the foremost means of transcribing values, and past events. Written down in approximately 1,000 A.D. by an unknown author, Beowulf, originally a pagan fable, became a Christian allegory upon its transcription by Christian monks. However, as scholars have debated over the religious context in Beowulf, the attempts by the monks to turn the epic poem into a Christian parable ended merged, including both original and Christian aspects.... [tags: Epic of Beowulf Essays]||1328 words|
|Pagan and Christian Influences in Beowulf Essay examples - The author of the epic poem Beowulf is unknown, and similarly to the Illiad by Plato its origins remain a mystery. Throughout the poem there are many clues that Beowulf has become a tradition and was passed down orally for centuries, and finally have been translated from the “old English” that it possibly could have been originally recited as, to the English we know today. In the poem Beowulf a bard recites poetry orally, or in a song, usually telling stories about historical triumphs and adventures.... [tags: Epic Poems, Grendel, Anglo-Saxon]||2304 words|
|Essay about Beowulf Is A Pagan Work - The poem Beowulf was written in England sometime in the 8th century. It was written during a time when the society was in the process of being converted from paganism to Christianity. The Christian influences are combined with early folklore and heroic legends of Germanic tribes. Yet, the pagan elements in the epic poem Beowulf clearly overshadow the Christian elements, and it is visible in the character’s superhuman personifications, their hunger for revenge, and their strong belief in fate.... [tags: Epic of Beowulf Essays]||518 words|
| Essay about Pagan Aspects in Beowulf - Scholars have argued about the religious stance of the epic poem Beowulf for centuries. Although the man who put the poem down on paper, known as the Beowulf poet, was a devout Christian, the actual poem itself is pagan. There are many clues in the epic that lead us to this conclusion such as the numerous references to pagan symbols, namely the symbol of fate. Also, the central idea of revenge in the poem opposes the ideas of Christianity. The poem also contains many breaches of the Ten Commandments, which prove that the story is not Christian.... [tags: Epic Poem Beowulf]|
:: 2 Works Cited
| Pagan Burial Rites in the Epic of Beowulf Essay - Pagan Burial Rites in the Epic of Beowulf Scores of essays are written about the Christian influence on the Beowulf poet. Most notable Beowulf scholars such as Kl‘ber, Robinson and Whitelock do not fail to address the matter. Given the complexity of the issue and the proliferation of evidence within the poem, we can understand the universal appeal of this topic. The poet transposes his Christian convictions onto a story which formed in a culture devoid of Christianity. In many instances, however, the poem's pagan basis shines through.... [tags: Epic of Beowulf Essay]|
:: 3 Works Cited
|Beowulf (Christianity vs. Paganism) Essay - Christianity vs. Paganism In the story of Beowulf, there is a noticeable struggle between Christianity and Paganism, and the characters personal battle between the two. Throughout the story the characters display actions that lead towards Paganism and Christianity. Contrary to Pagan belief Beowulf is seen as the epitome of good and beneficent to all of mankind. In Beowulf, the people showed their faith and love in God, however due to horrific events, paranoia caused them to look for a quick fix and turns them to Paganism.... [tags: Epic of Beowulf Essays]||672 words|
|Essay on Beowulf as a Pagan Oral Tradition - The unknown author of Beowulf uses examples throughout the poem that suggest the story comes from an "oral" tradition. In the poem Beowulf, a Germanic scop, or bard, recites poetry orally, or in a song, usually telling stories about historical triumphs and adventures. These poets were referred to in this epic poem as "carriers of tales..., traditional singer[s] deeply schooled in the lore[s] of the past" (Beowulf 50). This was common in Germanic culture. Scops would keep folkloric heroes alive in the "oral" tradition.... [tags: Poetry]||1660 words|
|Fear in Beowulf Essay - Pagan Aspects in Beowulf Scholars have argued about the religious stance of the epic poem Beowulf for centuries. Although the man who put the poem down on paper, known as the Beowulf poet, was a devout Christian, the actual poem itself is pagan. There are many clues in the epic that lead us to this conclusion such as the numerous references to pagan symbols, namely the symbol of fate. Also, the central idea of revenge in the poem opposes the ideas of Christianity. The poem also contains many breaches of the Ten Commandments, which prove that the story is not Christian.... [tags: Epic of Beowulf Essays]||889 words|
|Epic of Beowulf Essay - It is common opinion that Beowulf was written by a Christian poet. This was probably true because at the time when it was written, most of the few people who knew how to read and write were in the clergy. There are various references within the poem to elements of the Christian religion. However, the story is about Pagan people and certain aspects of their culture are even glorified. The ambiguity of Beowulf’s religious content has caused confusion as to what significance religion had in inspiring the author and in what manner the author meant to inspire or influence his audience.... [tags: Epic of Beowulf Essays]||1466 words|
Pagan Beowulf Christian Poem Beowulf Christian Elements Fight Wounds Paganism Added Scholars
The dragon in Beowulf spits fire with such intense heat that it melts Beowulf's shield to his body. "The author has fairly exalted the fights with fabled monsters into a conflict between the powers of good and evil"(Klaeber 3). These battles are examples of epic folklore during pagan times.
The pagan beliefs about immortality are also significant in the poem. "It is believed that a warriors life after death was a continuation of his life on earth" (Greenfield 91). Beowulf's single destiny is to help his people by dying while fighting a supernatural creature. " If Beowulf's confrontation with the dragon is a symbol of evil, then Beowulf's death, to the pagan, would be regarded as a victory for Satan because Beowulf dies"(Greene 66). "The fundamental contrast between the good God and blind fate is shown by the fact that God invariably grants victory, whereas it is a mysterious spell that brings about Beowulf's death"(Klaeber 2). Beowulf wants his body cremated; a very unchristian ritual. " In supernatural elements of pre-Christian association, heathen practices are mentioned in several places such as the vowing of sacrifices at idol fanes, the observing of omens, and the burning of the dead which was frowned upon by the Church"(Klaeber 1). Beowulf wants his ashes placed in a memorial tower as a reminder of his bravery. This leaves us the impression of pagan immortality;" the memory in the minds of later men of a hero's heroic actions"(Greene 68).
While many pagan influences appear in the poem, Christian overtones dominate. Many of the characters exhibit Christian characteristics. Beowulf has a Christ-like behavior in his humility and charity. Beowulf understands the plight of the Danes that are being oppressed by the evil monster Grendel just as Christ knew of the oppression of the Jewish people. Both set out on a venture to save their people. "To free themselves from the monster, the Danes need a savior and Beowulf through his desire to alleviate their suffering, comes to save them"(Cook 287). When Beowulf battles Grendel, he exhibits a sense of fairness when he refuses to use a weapon. "In the rejection of armed help, there is perhaps a suggestion of Beowulf's magnanimity and rejecting the use os swords in his fight with Grendel; but the emphasis here is certainly not upon character in the old heroic sense, but upon the ease with which without shield or spear, Christ is able to overcome the enemy in spiritual battle"(Greenfield 142). The idea throughout the poem of living right, of loyalty, and of being a good leader can all be seen as traits of Christ. Just as Beowulf exemplifies Christ, Grendel mirrors Satan. Beowulf and Grendel represent the Christian beliefs of good verses evil. Grendel is referred to as a descendant of Cain. "He is the image of a man fallen from grace through sin"(Cook 299). Like Satan who is jealous of the happiness and joy that Adam and Eve have in the Garden of Eden, Grendel is jealous of the happiness and joy in Heorot. Grendel, as with Satan, is an adversary of God and poses a great challenge to Beowulf. Grendel lives in an underworld as Satan lives in hell. "Grendel was concieved as an impersonation of evil and darkness even an incarnation of the Christian devil"(Hall 76). Grendel is referred to in the poem as "the guardian of sins". The dragon is Beowulf's last and greatest battle. The dragon represents malice, greed, and destruction. He is a symbol of the power of Satan. Beowulf's fight with the dragon is a realization of the story of salvation where Beowulf like Christ gives his life for his people. "The dragon is ' a timeless foe.' He represents the eternal evils that man must fight to preserve that which is good"(Hall 82).
Beside Christian elements, the poem has many Christian parallels. Grendel who is described as a descendant of Cain is a very hateful creature. He envies the fellowship and happiness he sees. He hates living in the underworld, cut off from the company of other men. He stalks the people and terrorizes them because he is jealous of their joy. This is similar to the devil when he was cast out of heaven and the joys that were there. He became jealous of mankind and to this day stalks people with temptations of evil. Also, along the lines of parallels, the concept of comitatus exists in the poem. "In the concept of comitatus, a band of warriors pledges themselves to a feudal lord who is known for his bravery and generosity. They swear to defend him to their death. They were known for their bravery and loyalty. In return, the lord gave protection"(Cohen 120). This is comparable to Christ and his band of warriors called apostles. They all swore their loyalty to Christ and the lord protected them. More parallels are evident in Beowulf's preparation and descent into the mere where Grendel's mother lives. "While Beowulf is preparing to enter the water, he is pondering the evils that inhabit the pond"(Greene 74). He knows he is faced with a greater challenge than before. He prepared as though he were preparing for death. "He forgives his enemies and does not mourn death"(Greene 74). Christ knew before his death that he was facing a great challenge and he forgave his enemies. "Beowulf's descent into the mere is like a baptismal rite. The immersion purifies him and he overcomes the evil power of Grendel's mother. He rises from the water a redeemed man much as Christ arose from the tomb"(Greene 74). While Beowulf is in the mere, all the thanes except Wiglaf gives up hope and leaves at the ninth hour-the hour of the day-the hour of Christ's death on the cross. The waiting is similar to the apostles waiting for Christ to return from the Garden of Gethsemane. While Christ was in the Garden, the apostles gave up and fell asleep, all except Peter who loyally awaited Christ's return. Finally, just as Christ had one last battle, Beowulf has his final battle with the dragon. Both Christ and Beowulf fought hard in their last battles with evil and although they both ultimately died in their final battle, they both were able to conquer the evil before they died.
In conclusion, the author of Beowulf was very effective in combining pagan and Christian ideas in his poem. "A poet leaves his mark on a poem through the techniques he uses"(Klaeber 4). The technique of combining two different ideals made the poem Beowulf very interesting to read. "In fusing pagan and Christian ideas, the poet was able to emphasize the morals of his times and to enhance his characters with Christian values and pagan folklore"(Klaeber 8).
Works Cited and Consulted
Beaty, J. O. "The Echo-Word in Beowulf with a Note on the Finnsburg Fragment," PMLA 49 (1934): 365-373.
Calder, Daniel G. "Setting and Ethos: The Pattern of Measure and Limit in Beowulf, SP 69 (1972): 35.
Chambers, R. W. Beowulf: An Introduction. Cambridge: Univ. Press, 1967.
Garmonsway, et. al. Beowulf and Its Analogues. New York: Dutton, 1971.
Gang, T. M. "Approaches to Beowulf." RES 3 (1952):.6-12.
Gildas. De Excidio Britanniae in Wade-Evans, A. W. , trans. Nennius' History of Britons. London: Methuen, 1938.
Goldsmith, Margaret. "The Christian Theme of Beowulf." Medium Aevum 29 (1960): 81-101.
Green, Martin. "Man, Time, and Apocalypse in The Wanderer, The Seafarer, and Beowulf," JEGP 74 (1975): 502-518.
Hieatt, Constance B. "Envelope Patterns and the Structure of Beowulf," English Studies in Canada 1 (1975): 249-265.
Show MorePagan and Christian Elements in Beowulf
The praised epic poem, Beowulf, is the first great heroic poem in English literature. The epic follows a courageous warrior named Beowulf throughout his young, adult life and into his old age. As a young man, Beowulf becomes a legendary hero when he saves the land of the Danes from the hellish creatures, Grendel and his mother. Later, after fifty years pass, Beowulf is an old man and a great king of the Geats. A monstrous dragon soon invades his peaceful kingdom and he defends his people courageously, dying in the process. His body is burned and his ashes are placed in a cave by the sea. By placing his ashes in the seaside cave, people passing by will always remember the…show more content…
In 1731, a fire swept through the Cottonian Library, damaging many books and scorching the Beowulf codex. In 1786-87, after the manuscript had been deposited in the British Museum the Icelander, Grinur Jonsson Thorkelin, made two transcriptions of the poem for what was to be the first edition, in 1815 (Clark, 112-15).
Beowulf is a mixture of pagan and Christian attitudes. Heathen practices are mentioned in several places, such as vowing of sacrifices at idol fanes, the observing of omens, the burning of the dead, which was frowned upon by the church. The frequent allusions to the power of fate, the motive of blood revenge, and the praise of worldly glory bear testimony to the ancient background of pagan conceptions and ideals. However, the general tone of the epic and its ethical viewpoint are predominantly Christian . There is no longer a genuine pagan atmosphere. The sentiment has been softened and purified. The virtues of moderation, unselfishness, consideration for others are practiced and appreciated. Beowulf is a Christian reworking of a pagan poem with "a string of pagan lays edited by monks; it is the work of a learned but inaccurate Christian antiquarian" (Clark, 112). The author has fairly exhaulted the fights with Grendel, his mother, and the dragon into a conflict between powers of good and evil. The figure of Grendel, while originally an ordinary Scandinavian troll is conceived as an impersonation of evil and