Pagan and Christian Elements in Beowulf
The praised epic poem, Beowulf, is the first great heroic poem in English literature. The epic follows a courageous warrior named Beowulf throughout his young, adult life and into his old age. As a young man, Beowulf becomes a legendary hero when he saves the land of the Danes from the hellish creatures, Grendel and his mother. Later, after fifty years pass, Beowulf is an old man and a great king of the Geats. A monstrous dragon soon invades his peaceful kingdom and he defends his people courageously, dying in the process. His body is burned and his ashes are placed in a cave by the sea. By placing his ashes in the seaside cave, people passing by will always remember the legendary hero and king, Beowulf.
In this recognized epic, Beowulf, is abound in supernatural elements of pagan associations; however, the poem is the opposite of pagan barbarism. The presentation of the story telling moves fluidly within Christian surroundings as well as pagan ideals. Beowulf was a recited pagan folklore where the people of that time period believed in gods, goddesses, and monsters. It's significance lies in an oral history where people memorized long, dense lines of tedious verse. Later, when a written tradition was introduced they began to write the story down on tablets. The old tale was not first told or invented by the commonly known, Beowulf poet. This is clear from investigations of the folk lore analogues. The manuscript was written by two scribes around AD 1000 in late West Saxon, the literary dialect of that period. It is believed that the scribes who put the old materials together into their present form were Christians and that his poem reflects a Christian tradition. The first scribe copied three prose pieces and the first 1,939 lines of Beowulf while the second scribe copied the rest of Beowulf and Judith. In 1731, a fire swept through the Cottonian Library, damaging many books and scorching the Beowulf codex. In 1786-87, after the manuscript had been deposited in the British Museum the Icelander, Grinur Jonsson Thorkelin, made two transcriptions of the poem for what was to be the first edition, in 1815 (Clark, 112-15).
Beowulf is a mixture of pagan and Christian attitudes. Heathen practices are mentioned in several places, such as vowing of sacrifices at idol fanes, the observing of omens, the burning of the dead, which was frowned upon by the church. The frequent allusions to the power of fate, the motive of blood revenge, and the praise of worldly glory bear testimony to the ancient background of pagan conceptions and ideals. However, the general tone of the epic and its ethical viewpoint are predominantly Christian . There is no longer a genuine pagan atmosphere. The sentiment has been softened and purified. The virtues of moderation, unselfishness, consideration for others are practiced and appreciated. Beowulf is a Christian reworking of a pagan poem with "a string of...