Analysis of the Epic Poem, Beowulf - Beowulf and Caedmon’s Hymn

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Beowulf and Caedmon’s Hymn

In Beowulf the Christian element, which coexists alongside the pagan or heathen, may have originated in part from the works of Caedmon.

The Christian element in Beowulf had to be included by the original poet or by minstrels who recited it in later times because it is so deeply imbedded in the text. The extent to which the Christian element is present varies in different parts of the poem. While the poet’s reflections and characters’ statements are mostly Christian, the customs and ceremonies, on the other hand, are almost entirely heathen/pagan. This fact seems to point to a heathen work which has undergone revision by Christian minstrels.

The Christianity of Beowulf is of a vague type. The minstrels who introduce the Christian element probably had but a vague knowledge of the faith, and on top of that they were under pressure from the audience to give them the interesting old pagan stories. At the beginning of the poem, there is the account of the pagan funeral rites of Scyld Scefing, and at the close of the poem we see the heathen rites of burial for Beowulf himself, including cremation, deposition of treasures and armor, etc. with the corpse in the burial mound overlooking the sea. Including such heathen rites enables the poet to “communicate his Christian vision of pagan heroic life.”(Bloom 2).

The minstrels’ catechesis seems poor because their allusions to the church and to the Bible are quite indistinct, vague, indefinete. In the whole poem there is possibly one half-hearted paraphrase of a Scriptural passage, in lines 1743ff:

Too sound is that sleep,

bound up in cares; the killer very near


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Chickering, Howell D.. Beowulf A dual-Language Edition. New York: Anchor Books, 1977.

Collins, Roger and McClure, Judith, editors. Bede: The Ecclesiastical History of the English People; The Greater Chronicle; Bede’s Letter to Egbert. New York: Oxford University Press, 1969.

Frank, Roberta. “The Beowulf Poet’s Sense of History.” In Beowulf – Modern Critical Interpretations, edited by Harold Bloom. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1987.

The Holy Bible, edited by dom Bernard Orchard. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1966.

Ward & Trent, et al. The Cambridge History of English and American Literature. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1907–21; New York:, 2000
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