The story of Beowulf shows the effect of the spread of Christianity in the early Danish paganistic society that values heroic deeds and bravery above all else. The mythical creatures that Beowulf kills with his supernatural strength make the story into an epic celebrating the life of a great hero. However, blending in among Beowulf's triumphs against the three key creatures, we also see Christian virtues being instilled upon the listeners. The good qualities of loyalty, humility, sacrifice for the good of others, and sympathy for those less fortunate are seen woven into the text as well as the negative consequences from greed and pride. The characters of Grendel, his mother, and the dragon are tools used by the author to teach values, but also to rejoice in the legendary success of Beowulf.
The menacing character of Grendel is introduced as horrible, but his humanistic side is shown as well. As a result, Grendel's character helps further the Christian influence on the book as well as paint Beowulf as a magnificent hero. Grendel is first described as "the creature of evil, grim and fierce, and was quickly ready, savage and cruel, and seized from the first thirty thanes." (Tuso, 3) Beowulf can be interpreted as a heroic epic when Grendel is seen as a ravenous monster because it makes Beowulf appear even more spectacular for defeating the horrendous monster. However, there is a strong Christian influence as well because Grendel is a descendent of Cain and is therefore rejected by God and must live in suffering. When Grendel appears, he is "wearing God's anger" which is the opposite of the thanes who celebrate god's grace in their victories in the hall Heorot. (Tuso, 13) Th...
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...he heroic epic that it is.
The poem beautifully celebrates the culture of the early Danes, while incorporating newer influences from Christianity. It is interesting in the end that Beowulf's heroism, a Danish attribute, triumphs over the Christian values of humility and self-sacrifice. Beowulf can be interpreted so many different ways, but it stands out almost as much as a historical document of the changing times as a great work of fiction.
Works Cited and Consulted:
Beowulf: The Donaldson translation backgrounds and sources criticism. Ed. Joseph F. Tuso. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. 1975. 1-55.
Bjork, Robert E. & John D. Niles, A Beowulf Handbook
Greenfield, Stanley B. A New Critical History of Old English Literature (New York University Press)
Hasenfratz, Robert J. Beowulf Scholarship: An Annotated Bibliography, 1979-1990
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