Christian and Pagan Elements in Beowulf

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In eighth century Anglo-Saxon society, history was passed down as oral stories, as writing historical events was too troublesome as there were too many dialects. In addition, in eighth century Anglo-Saxon society, there was an important transition from the old pagan traditions to the new theology of Christianity. Thus, as new stories were being told, to make them apply to the audience, Christianity had to be incorporated. Coming out of this age of transition, Beowulf has various Christian colorings along with the pagan traditions of old. Consequently, there have been debates over the ages whether the poem is a wholly Christian or Pagan poem. Hence, in an anonymously written Beowulf, the poet intermingled a range of Christian and Pagan elements and tradition to demonstrate the blending of theologies in eighth century Anglo-Saxon society.

To understand why Beowulf contains shadings of Christian and Pagan elements, one must first understand late eighth century Anglo-Saxon society. In the late eighth century, Christianity was just becoming the standard religion for the people. However, pagan traditions were still being followed and respected however to a lesser degree. Consequently these where interesting times to live in, where on one side of town there would be a hidden pagan community worshiping in the night or in hidden rooms. However, on the other side of town there would be Christians proudly celebrating their new religion, beholden to the traditions of old. This juxtaposition led to the literature of the time being overtly Christian, yet having just enough undertones of paganism so that not to alienate a part of the audience. Therefore Beowulf’s poet being from this period had an obligation to “treat, present, and interpret t...

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