Christian Allegory In Beowulf Essay

1227 words - 5 pages

The Anglo-Saxon poem “Beowulf” takes the reader back into a time long past; one of family, fate, and fealty. Beowulf offers a glimpse of a society struggling between two different paths, one path being the assimilation into the new Christian traditions and the other is the fast fading past of glorified warriors and family ties. In the poem, the reader can see the attempts of the poet to convey the values and stories of Judeo-Christianity in a society of Anglo-Saxon paganism. The poet illustrates the infiltration of the Christian teachings and how they might have appeared within the lives of the people through the literary devices of symbolism, allegory, and allusion.
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Later in the poem Beowulf must descend into the lair of Grendel and his mother to defeat the she-demon that spawned Grendel. The lair of Grendel and his mother is said to be a lake whose bottom “the wit of living men is not enough to know” and men have seen “fire in the water”. The surroundings of dark trees and plunging cliffs create a haunting and eerie image in the readers mind. The poet is leaving no doubt in the readers mind that this is a place of evil. The lake of fire and unknown depths described by the poet leave little speculation on what this lair is to symbolize. The heroic Beowulf has no doubt descended into the symbolic hell to do battle with the demon and act as Savior once again.
The final example of symbolism is seen at the end of Beowulf’s life. The great warrior is now a kind of his own land and faces his own monster. The monster that has invaded and terrorizing his kingdom is none other than a dragon. A dragon that is said to “quote about dragons looks” (pg #). The poet choosing a dragon for Beowulf’s final battle is crucial as the beast is to symbolize a very specific biblical character who is described in Revelations 12:9 “ the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan”. Indeed, biblically it is Christ and Satan who engage in the final battle and the greatest evil of Christianity is symbolized by the Dragon. Throughout the poem, the narrator uses symbolism to introduce Christian symbols in a way that is relevant and understandable to the lives of the Anglo-Saxon people.
An allegory is defined as a story, character, or picture that can be interpreted to reveal a hidden meaning and all throughout the poem there are both “Echoes the liturgy and reflects the New Testament theological dogma”” (Allegory for Salvation).The poet of Beowulf utilizes allegory repeatedly throughout the poem. In fact the protagonist and hero is the greatest example allegory in the poem. The poet introduces Beowulf in a very specific way. The hero is revealed as a male heir sent to deliver Hrothgar’s people. There are multiple biblical parallels for the reader to draw and the poet makes use of Christ figure allegory as the play continues. Allen Cabaniss notes that “as one reads the middle section, the account of the struggle with Grendel's mother, he observes a rather strange suggestion of Patristic theological speculation about Christ's "harrowing of hell."(Beowulf and Liturgy). The decision to have the savior of a people descend into a fiery lake to do battle undoubtedly...

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