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Christianity And Paganism In The Epic Of Beowulf

1844 words - 7 pages

Christianity and Paganism in Beowulf


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) The reader feels pity for Grendel when it understood that he hates Heorot because it is everything that he lacks. Grendel is even described as an "unhappy creature" while the thanes are regarded as living in "joy and blessed." (Tuso, 3) Heorot is a symbol of the victory of the thanes and it where they are merry, happy, social, and even play music, which particularly irks Grendel. Grendel's jealousy and pain resulting from being an outcast explain his violent reaction to the thanes. These are very human emotions and it seems like one of the first Christian values is being instilled here; sympathy for those less fortunate. Later on, when Grendel retreats to his lair to die, his weakness and human side is again seen.

Grendel is forced to flee because Beowulf mortally rips off his claw. The claw is a direct symbol of Beowulf's strength since it is from his hand to claw battle with Grendel. "The awful monster had lived to feel pain in his body, a huge wound in his shoulder was exposed, his sinews sprang apart, his bone locks broke. Glory in battle was given to Beowulf." (Tuso, 15) Beowulf is depicted as the great hero who gains victory over a supernatural being, Grendel. This story of the underdog is similar to the...

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