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It is a cold, dark night when Beowulf enters the great hall carrying the head of the treacherous Grendel . He has defeated both the beast and his mother, so the Danes rejoice upon seeing their hero alive. They all listen eagerly as Beowulf tells his amazing tale of glory. He credits his success to God, saying that he would not have survived "if God had not guarded" him (Norton 48). Hrunting, the sword he has brought to battle, has failed him because Grendel's mother has bewitched all swords so that they can not harm her. Luckily, fate has led him to "see hanging on the wall a fair, ancient great sword" (48) with which he defeats the powerful woman. Once he has slain the monster, the sword mysteriously melts, leaving him with only the golden hilt to bring back to his Lord.
After hearing this great tale, King Hrothgar speaks. He is especially pleased with Beowulf's success, as he no longer has to live in fear for his kingdom. Through his speech, he congratulates Beowulf and advises him with words of wisdom. Hrothgar cautions the almighty warrior to beware of his pride by not allowing it to swell, due to his glory. He tells a tale about the notorious King Heremod who is blessed with everything--money, power, strength, and glory:
Until his portion of pride
increases and swells within him;
then the watcher sleeps,
the soul's guardian;
that sleep is too sound,
bound in its own cares,
and the slayer most near
whose bow shoots treacherously. . .
he cannot protect himself. . .
angry-hearted he covets. . .
and then he forgets and
regards not his destiny
because of what God,
wielder of heaven, has given him . . .
In the end it happens in turn
that the loaned body weakens,
falls doomed; another takes
the earl's ancient treasure,
one who recklessly gives precious
gifts does not fearfully guard them
From this speech, parallels can be drawn between Beowulf and Hrothgar. Hrothgar states that he "ruled the Ring-Danes for a hundred half-years" (49), and in the second part of the tale, it is revealed that Beowulf also reigns as a wise King for fifty years. In his speech, Hrothgar's reference to the "loaned body" and the "earl's ancient treasure" directly relate to "The Last Survivor's Speech" in the second part of Beowulf. It is this later revelation that connects Beowulf with "The Wanderer." Click on the picture to the right for a closer look at the passages that clearly show the parallel between Beowulf and "The Wanderer.
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Another important part of this section is the number of Christian references. Hrothgar warns Beowulf to guard himself "against that wickedness [called pride] . . . and [to] choose better--eternal gains" (49), as death will eventually defeat him. Hrothgar is a great King because he is the opposite of Heremod. He rules his kingdom wisely and gives his subjects gifts. Even great men like Hrothgar, however, must be careful not to fall into selfish traps, allowing pride to rule them.
Pride and gift giving are important concepts in the Christian religion and their role in the epic of Beowulf should not be overlooked. Celtic Christianity had a tremendous effect on the writing of the early medieval period.
The conclusion of this section is brief. Hrothgar thanks Beowulf for defeating Grendel, and the celebration continues. After Beowulf feasts, he rests well in preparation for his journey home. At daybreak, the thanes rise "eager to set out again for their people" (50). Beowulf returns Hrunting to Unferth, thanking him for the loan. He then goes to greet King Hrothgar before setting out for his homeland.
Throughout the epic of Beowulf, there are symbols from both the Christian and pagan religions. In the section entitled "Further Celebration at Heorot," there are specific references that should not be overlooked. Perhaps the most obvious evidence of Christian undertones is the opening reference to the great flood that "slew the race of giants" (Norton 49). This has parallels with the story of Noah and the flood in the Old Testament of the Christian Bible. As the chapter continues, more Christian elements can be seen as Beowulf tells of his great battle with Grendel's mother. During his tale he credits both his bravery and success to God by saying, "the fight would have been ended straightway if God had not guarded me" (48). He believes that God has pointed him to the great sword on the wall, which enables him to defeat Grendel's mother.
Religious undertones can also be found in King Hrothgar's great speech to Beowulf. Hrothgar's reference to pride has a religious implication because pride is one of the Seven Deadly Sins in Christian teachings. He advises Beowulf not to allow his pride to swell within him, as this may cause his downfall. The Christian religion also teaches that pride can cause man's downfall because it is a mortal sin.
Christian references can be seen in the story of King Heremod. One of the reasons that Heremod is considered an evil King is because he does not give gifts to his people. The giving of alms to the poor is an important part of Christian religion because in the Bible it states that "each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver" (2 Corinthians 9:6) .
Pagan elements can also be seen in this passage from Beowulf, because although Beowulf credits his success to God he also attributes part of it to Wyrd, or fate. Wyrd is a pagan belief that is summed up in this famous quotation:
"fate often saves an undoomed man when his courage is good" (34).
Although Beowulf's success is mostly attributed to God one cannot overlook the fact that during this time period, wyrd, or fate, would also have been taken into consideration.
Other evidence supporting allusions to paganism can be seen in all of the references to monsters throughout the epic. The giants and devils that are found in this passage definitely do not come from Christian beliefs.
Beowulf. Norton Anthology--English Literature. Ed. M.H. Abrams, New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1993, 27-68.
"The Wanderer." Abrams 68-70.