Paganism In Beowulf

1504 Words7 Pages
Sean Edwards
Professor Wallace
ENGL 2300C
October 9, 2014
In the Introduction to his translation of Beowulf, R. M. Liuzza suggests that the poem establishes “a kind of spiritual solidarity between the pagan past and the Christian present” (30). While the poem certainly establishes a solidarity between the two beliefs, the way the two intertwine throughout the poem suggests that it is more of a melting pot of the two beliefs, rather than just a “spiritual connection.” The melting pot of the two religions is displayed during Beowulf’s fights against the three monsters: Grendel, Grendel’s Mother, and the dragon. The poem Beowulf creates a melting pot of Pagan and Christian beliefs that reflect the period of transition between Paganism and Christianity.
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After Grendel’s mother kills a warrior to avenge her son’s death, Beowulf says to the mourning King that “It is always better / to avenge one’s friend than to mourn overmuch” (Liuzza 1384-5). When Beowulf finished speaking, “The old man leapt up, thanked the Lord, / the mighty God, for that man’s speech “(Liuzza 1398-9). These lines are both ironic and representative of the melting pot of Pagan and Christian ideas. It’s ironic because vengeance is forbidden in the bible, yet the old man thanks God for Beowulf’s intent to murder Grendel’s Mother. The bible says to “never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, ‘vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the lord.’ No, ‘if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.’ Do not be overcome with evil, but overcome evil with good” (New Revised Standard Version, Romans 12:19-21). Fighting Grendel’s mother, like fighting Grendel, is going directly against God’s wishes. Standing up to an enemy is more of a Pagan ideal, akin to the courageous, boastful, and vengeful warrior. In this instance, the society is still living under Pagan ideals but attributing them to the Christian God. To echo Liuzza’s statement, the poet is establishing a connection between the Pagan past and the Christian present. They may be…show more content…
Beowulf fights the dragon and once again claims that “wyrd [will decree]” the victor (Liuzza 2526). He then says that the fight will bring him “that gold — or grim death” (Liuzzia 2536). These two lines are almost entirely Pagan. Beowulf is saying that fate will, or already has, decided the victor, which is entirely Pagan and takes the result out of the hands of God, and the fact that he is fighting for “gold,” shows that he is once again conforming to the Pagan ideal of the boastful and successful warrior. After Beowulf is mortally wounded, he exclaims that he wished he had a son to pass on his war-gear, but “fate” did not “grant” him any heir (Liuzza 2730-1). These lines almost suggest a sense of falling out between Beowulf and God. Beowulf had doubted God previously in the poem, when he was unable to kill Grendel instantly, he said that the “Creator did not wish [Grendel’s death]” (Liuzza 967). In this line Beowulf suggests that he was unable to kill Grendel because of God. Later when Beowulf begins to fight Grendel’s mother, he is “received” by the “surging sea” (Liuzza 1494). Beowulf then goes on to fight and kill Grendel’s mother. This imagery suggests a sort of baptism or renewal of trust between Beowulf and God. On its own it may not be a very strong argument, however, as we see Beowulf diverting his attention to fate and

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