In Beowulf, a tension arises between the natural construction of the poem and the Christian ideals added. Before the advent of Christianity, paganism placed an emphasis on wyrd. According to Christianity, God instills within mankind a sense of free will, which directly contrasts with the pagan idea of fate. Throughout Beowulf, these characteristics of paganism and Christianity transmute together. Beowulf instills the principle of fate within his speeches, as when he talks about how “fate saves an undoomed man when his courage is good” (11).
Christianity and the Beowulf Poet In my initial study of Beowulf it seemed to me that the Christian references in it were overlaid onto the essentially pagan tale that makes up the bulk of the poem. So I innocently decided to investigate this incongruity as the topic of this paper. And so I found myself smack-dab in the middle of an argument that has evidently raged for the last one hundred years or so. I found sources that ran the gamut from the position that Beowulf was a quintessentially Germanic pagan work that had been corrupted by some revisionist monastic scribe (Mooreman 1967), to the assertion that the author intentionally created a Christian allegory along the lines of Book 1 of The Faerie Queen (McNamee 1960). I have chosen the middle ground in formulating my thesis, which after further study of the text and a wide range of criticism seems to make the most sense.
In England’s history, the country has had many different cultures come and go as the main population of the land. First there was the pagan population consisting of many barbaric groups like the Anglo Saxons whose way of life consisted of pillaging, brotherhood, and materialism. However, the Romans soon conquered the lands, bringing their own Christian religion. This changed the landscape of the country entirely, as Christianity preached peace, God, and righteousness. Beowulf was written by a Christian monk in an attempt to convert the previous Pagan population to the increasingly popular Christianity.
In conclusion, the epic tale of Beowulf is a pagan tale with a pagan hero. Although there are Christian images throughout the tale, the story is clearly pagan in nature. The Beowulf poet portrays the culture and people by separating the main ideas like a prism does with light. Although there are the Christian references surface throughout the tale, a look at the epic as a whole clearly shows its true pagan nature. No matter which end of the spectrum you are looking from, all the ideas prove that pagan concepts and principles prevail over the values of Christianity.
The Christians are monotheistic in beliefs, meaning that Christians believe in only one God. The Anglo-Saxons on the other followed paganism, meaning the Anglo-Saxon people believed in many gods. Having the main hero of a myth that originated in pagan culture make references to the god of another religion, that would be considered not only a crime of blasphemy in Christianity and showing disrespect the pagan’s gods and beliefs as well. The third, and probably the biggest, place we see evidence of Christianity in the story of Beowulf is the character of Beowulf and how similar he is to Jesus. Beowulf 's character is very much similar to that of Jesus ' in many ways.
“ has come down from heathen times and acquired its Christian character gradually and piecemeal from a succession of minstrels.” ( Hector Monro Chadwick as quoted by Brodeur 182), while others believed that Christianity and Paganism both belonged in the poem. “almost without exception so deeply ingrained in the very fabric of the poem that they cannot be explained away as the work of a reviser or later interpolator … the main story has been thoroughly imbued with the spirit of Christianity.” ( Klaeber, quoted by Brodeur 182). I agree with Klaeber and I believe that the poem exhibited a gradual acceptance of Christianity, and the still present belief in pagan values, and that the poet brilliantly combined the strengths of both into his poem. It is fully understandable that the conversion to Christianity would not have happened over night, and that many people would have still shared many of the beliefs and values of their ancestors. I think it is best to try and not read the poem as either a Christian poem or as a pagan heroic tale, but instead read it as an example of how people believed in both.. A person could spend months pulling out evidence of Christianity and creating references to the testaments to support their claims.
Beowulf understood that the key to being a great leader was selflessness, which is also why he chose Wiglaf, son of Wexstan, to be his successor. In Beowulf’s time of greatest need Wiglaf was the only selfless warrior that came to Beowulf’s aid. Even in death, Beowulf understood all the qualities of a great leader and saw them in Wiglaf. There is no question that Beowulf was a great leader. His fearlessness, selflessness, and faith in God all aided in shaping him into the great warrior and the great king that he was.
The first few lines of Beowulf immediately use the act of courage as the definitive form of greatness. The Danes will be celebrated because of their bravery and heroism before anything else. When Grendel attacks the Danes, their land is described as desolate, after being pillaged; “So Grendel ruled in defiance of right, one against all, until the greatest house in the wo... ... middle of paper ... ...Beowulf will forever be remembered. Beowulf, who initially is a prideful, young hero, matures into a respected king who shows respect and loyalty to his people. Before Beowulf reigns as king, there are important characteristics that he exemplifies that lead one to believe his true nobility and future as a renowned King of the Geats.
He goes to the land of the Danes of his own volition. His king does not order him to go. He tells his king that he wishes to go help the Danes defeat Grendel, because he believes he can and should. His people support him because they know what a great warrior and leader he is. He also wants to help King Hrothgar because his father was in debt to Hrothgar and he wants to pay that debt.
As the song states, “He was adventurer most famous, far and wide through the nations, for deed of courage – he had prospered from that before, the protector of warriors – after the war-making of Heremod had come to an end, his strength and his courage” (38). The final piece which comprises the Anglo-Saxon hero is the notion of fame. The only after life a warrior could ever aspire to have was immortality through fame. One again this is explained by the introduction to the story, “Beowulf’s chief reward is pagan immortality the memory in the minds of later generations of a hero’s heroic actions” (24-25). By understanding what defines a hero it is a simple matter to comprehend why Beowulf is considered by some to be the greatest of all.