Christianity And Paganism In Beowulf Essay, Research Paper
Beowulf was written in England sometime in the 8th century. Beowulf was written in atime when Christianity was becoming a major religion and Paganism was still widelypracticed. Beowulf was originally probably a folklore legend told in early Celtic andScandinavian cultures that was passed through the ages by word-of-mouth and waswritten down and revised by a Christian monk in later centuries. Beowulf has acombination of Pagan and Christian influences written into it. This combination makes thisstory great. The pagan elements in the epic poem Beowulf are evident in the characterssuperhuman qualities. Beowulf is depicted as a superhero. …Beowulf,…the strongest ofthe Geats-greater and stronger that anyone any where in this world-… (Beowulf, lines110-111). Dripping with my enemies blood…drove five great giants intochains…hunting monsters out of the ocean, killing them one by one… (Beowulf, lines153-1580). Beowulf takes it upon himself to save the Danes from Grendel. In his battlewith Grendel, Beowulf chooses not to use weapons; he relies on his super strength. …themonster s scorn…so great that he needs no weapons and fears none. Nor willI… (Beowulf, lines 167-169). During the fight, Beowulf’s strength takes over andBeowulf wrestles with Grendel until he is able to rip one of the monster’s arms out of itssocket. Superhuman feats also appear in the fight with Grendel’s mother. When Beowulfenters the water, he swims downward for most of the day before he sees the bottom. Forhours he sank through the waves;… (Beowulf, line 572). He does this without the use ofoxygen. During the battle with Grendel’s mother, Beowulf realizes that Unferth’s sword isuseless 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. Then he saw, hangingon the wall, a heavy sword,…the best of all weapons but so massive that no ordinary mancould lift…lifted it high over his head and struck with all the strength he hadleft,… (Beowulf, lines 633-641). This superhero strength continues into the battle withthe dragon. By this time, Beowulf is an old man. He stands up to the dragon and woundshim. Although Beowulf is fatally wounded himself, he still manages to deliver the finalblow that kills the dragon. Grendel is also seen as a superhuman monster. Grendel has noknowledge of weapons so he too depends on his extraordinary strength to destroy hisenemies. Snatched up thirty men, smashed them… (Beowulf, line 37). Also do to thefear of Grendel people prayed to their stone gods, a pagan ritual. And sometimes theysacrificed to the old stone gods…hoping for Hell s support… (Beowulf, lines 90-92). Thedragon is also seen as a super powerful adversary. The dragon in Beowulf spits fire withsuch intense heat that it melts Beowulf’s shield to his body. These battles are examples ofepic folklore during pagan times. Also Beowulf’s single destiny is to help his people bydying while fighting a supernatural creature. After Beowulf is defeated he wants his bodycremated and wants his ashes placed in a memorial tower as a reminder of his bravery, a
very unchristian ritual. Have the brave Geats build me a tomb, when the funeral flameshave burned me, and build it here,…so sailors can see the tower, and remember my name,and call it Beowulf s tower… (Beowulf, lines 809-816). This leaves us the impression ofpagan immortality. Christian influences are also very apparent in the poem. Many of the charactersexhibit Christian characteristics. Beowulf has great kindness. Beowulf understood thepredicament of the Danes that are being attacked by the evil monster Grendel and knewwhat he had to do, just as Christ did for humanity. Both set out to save their people. Heard how Grendel filled the nights with horror…would sail across the sea to Hrothgar,now when help was needed (Beowulf, lines 112-116). When Beowulf battles Grendel, heexhibits a sense of fairness when he refuses to use a weapon. The idea throughout thepoem of living right, of loyalty, and of being a good leader can all be seen as traits of agood Christian. Just as Beowulf somewhat compares to Christ, Grendel is like Satan.Beowulf and Grendel represent the Christian beliefs of good verses evil. Grendel isreferred to as a descendant of Cain, the man who killed his own brother. Conceived by apair of those monsters born of Cain…punished forever for the crime of Abel sdeath. (Beowulf, lines 20-24). Satan is jealous of the happiness and joy that humanityhas, Grendel is jealous of the happiness and joy in Herot. …in the darkness, growled inpain, impatient as day after day the music rang… (Beowulf, lines 2-3). Grendel lives in anunderworld as Satan lives in hell. The dragon is Beowulf’s last and greatest battle. Thedragon represents hostility, greed, and destruction, which can also be paralleled to thedevil. Beowulf’s fight with the dragon is like how Jesus gave his life for his people. Finally,just as Christ had one last battle, Beowulf has his final battle with the dragon. Both Christand Beowulf fought hard in their last battles with evil and although they both ultimatelydied in their final battle, they both were able to overcome the evil before they died. Othermore apparent influences of Christianity was the reference of Hrothgar s throne beingholy. … he never dared to touch king Hrothgar s…throne, protected by God-God, whoselove Grendel could not know. (Beowulf, lines 82-85). The reference to God wasthroughout the poem. God must decide who will be given to death s coldgrip. (Beowulf, lines 174-175). Surely the Lord Almighty could stop this madness,smother his lust! (Beowulf, lines 212-213). The theme of Cain and Abel is brought upone more time during the confrontation between Beowulf and Unferth. You murderedyour brothers, your own close kin. Words and bright wit won t help your soul:…Unferth,forever tormented. (Beowulf, lines 320-323). In conclusion, the author of Beowulf was very effective in combining pagan andChristian ideas in his poem. The technique of combining two different ideals made thepoem Beowulf very interesting to read. In fusing Pagan and Christian ideas, the poet wasable to emphasize the morals of his times and to enhance his characters with Christianvalues and Pagan folk legend.