Scholars have argued about the religious stance of the epic poem Beowulf for centuries. Although the man who put the poem down on paper, known as the Beowulf poet, was a devout Christian, the actual poem itself is pagan. There are many clues in the epic that lead us to this conclusion such as the numerous references to pagan symbols, namely the symbol of fate. Also, the central idea of revenge in the poem opposes the ideas of Christianity. The poem also contains many breaches of the Ten Commandments, which prove that the story is not Christian. However, the biggest clue to the paganism of Beowulf is the scene that contains the burial of Beowulf and the building and idolization of the tower, all of which go directly against the Christian religion.
Pagan symbols such as ravens, dragons and monsters, and poison can be found throughout the epic of Beowulf. The raven was a symbol from Norse mythology; it was the messenger for a war god named Odin. We find the reference to this pagan symbol after Beowulf defeats Grendel's mother. He and "the Geats slept till a black-feathered raven sang his cheerful song" (Norton 1587). This reference to such a pagan symbol is just the first piece of evidence for the paganism of the epic. We also know that Beowulf is a story based on the defeat by a warrior hero of two monsters and a dragon. However, dragons and monsters are not part of the Christian religion, so if the story were Christian, there would be no Grendel, his mother, or the dragon at all. Yet the entire story is based around these three characters. We cannot dismiss the fact that these beings are present in the story, nor can we ignore the fact that these beings are in no way Christian. Finally, the allusion to poiso...
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...greatly. The Beowulf poet makes sure to include small but meaningful references to the paganistic background of the epic poem. There are too many pagan symbols scattered throughout the work to be ignored, and too many rules of the Christian religion are broken by the characters of the poem for an argument to be made against the paganism of Beowulf. Also, we must not forget that ideas such as fate and revenge, which are shunned in Christianity, are two of the main themes in this story. Consequently, even though the Beowulf poet may have been Christian, as for the poem itself, all signs point towards paganism.
Beowulf. Norton Anthology of World Masterpieces. Expanded Edition Volume 1.
ED. Maynard Mack et al. New York: Norton, 1995. 1546-1613.
Holy Bible. International Children's Bible. New Century Version. Word
Publishing, 1083. 55-56.
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