The cultural tension of the pagan and the Christian lie at the very heart of the poem. Paganism and Christianity in the Epic Poem "Beowoulf"

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Christianity had recently took hold in England at the time of the writing of Beowulf. Many people believe that Beowulf is a Christian story, when in fact it is not. Instead, the poem reflects a society that has a deep pagan background and has brought with it stories from its pagan past. Beowulf is a Germanic tale that was likely first composed in the first half of the eighth century, but it was not until the late tenth century that it was committed to parchment. At the time of its writing, the Germanic tribes were clearly pagan, as seen by such evidence in the text as Beowulf’s cremation at the end of the epic and the direct reference to swearing oaths at “pagan shrines” (line 175). As Christianity’s teachings and values began to take root in these pagan societies over the decades and eventual centuries, the stories of the Bible began to be worked into the tale as it was told, retold, and retold even again. When it came time to be written—probably by a Christian monk (or monks) whose beliefs, it is fair to say, flavored the work—the bards and storytellers had crafted an epic with the Christian permutations already in it. However, that is not to say that the writer was ignorant when it came to what message he desired to relate to the reader. In the Beowulf poem, there are numerous instances of characters thanking the Christian God in their lives or praising Jesus or where the poet marvels at how lucky the pagan characters were to have God in their lives even if they did not know of His existence. This may seem contradictory in a lot of ways, and it is that the Beowulf poem is one big game of ‘telephone.’ So after three centuries of oral transmission, after three centuries of being told and retold, and the countless changes that oc... ... middle of paper ... ...ut the raven winging/darkly over the doomed will have news” (lines 3023-25). The disloyalty and cowardice of the Geats means that there communal life is over. Dragons represent human greed but amplify this sin tenfold as this is a monstrous creature whose only interest is in gathering gold and hoarding it. Before Christianity rebranded dragons simply as a manifestation of Satan, they were the ultimate embodiment of power, ferocity, and mystery. Beowulf’s death at the end of the poem represents the idea that all men and all their works shall die. A great hero, the icon of northern warrior, is dead, but his legend lives on. “So the Geat people, his hearth-companions,/sorrowed for the lord who had been laid low./They said that of all the kings upon earth/he was the man most gracious and fair-minded,/kindest to his people and keenest to win fame” (lines 3178-82).

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