Beowulf’s Three Great Fights in Beowulf

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Beowulf, which is considered the oldest English masterpiece, celebrates the three great fights of Beowulf. Whether Beowulf is a Christian poem written based on pagan story or a pagan poem rewritten under Christian influence remains unknown, considering that the poem combines pagan and Christian elements rather seamlessly. While Beowulf is described as a hero with admirable Christian virtues, he is still essentially a pagan hero. The poem does not reject the pagan heroism. However, Beowulf’s oldest manuscript was written by a Christian for freshly-converted Christians, thus the poem as we know it shows the superiority of Christianity over pagan religions. The three great fights can be interpreted as a criticism of Beowulf’s flawed characteristics from a Christian’s perspective.
The first fight depicted in the poem is between Beowulf and Grendel, who is described as a “cruel spirit” and an “unhappy being” (102-4). Grendel is a monster descended from Cain (106-7), who murdered his brother and was condemned by God. Grendel attacks the Hrothgar’s kingdom because he is envious the joyfulness of Hrothgar’s mead hall (86-99), thus Grendel represents envy. Beowulf fights Grendel without neither weapon nor armour because he is fair and brave. He fights against Grendel to save other people, not because of any personal gain, which shows his generosity and. He believes in God and thus is worthy of his strength. Beowulf is considered the strongest man on earth, therefore he does not envy. As a result, Beowulf easily wins the fight and kills Grendel (808-814). This first fight shows that there are similarities between Christian heroism and pagan heroism. Even though Beowulf is a pagan, his courage, kindness and aversion towards envy are eviden...

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...f was buried with gold and treasure (2802-8), similar to how the ancient king Shield Sheafson was sent out to sea. These physical possessions are the pagan representation a king’s greatness, but they seem vain in the Christian’s point of view.
Beowulf’s three great fights - the main events of the poem - show the deficiencies in Beowulf’s characters in contrast with the Christian belief. Beowulf possesses many pagan traits, such as pride and might and courage, which are considered virtuous by the pagans. However, from a Christian perspective, Beowulf is not entirely virtuous and his actions seem to be contradicting. Nevertheless, although Beowulf’s character flaws have killed him in the end, he is still an admirable hero that deserves respect from both Christians and pagans.

Works Cited

Alexander, Michael, trans. Beowulf. New York: The Penguin Group, 1973. Print.

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