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Paganism And Christianity In Beowulf Essay

1459 words - 6 pages

Beowulf is an epic poem that centers around the hero Beowulf, a Geat from Sweden who crosses the sea to Denmark in a heroic quest to save King Hrothgar, king of the Danes and the builder of Herot, and his men from the demonic monster Grendel who kills and feasts on Hrothgar’s warriors. Beowulf’s adventure does not end when he defeats Grendel though, he must also kill Grendel’s mother because she seeks revenge for her son’s death. Once Beowulf kills Grendel’s mother, he goes home and soon becomes the king. However, his last adventure in old age leads him to his death. He fights and slays a vicious dragon with the help of a Geat warrior named Wiglaf. Beowulf pays a heavy toll for his last victory since he dies from the great wounds that the dragon inflicted upon him. Throughout these three central battles in the poem, pagan and Christian themes and concepts are intertwined. Beowulf is oral art. This poem, originally pagan, was handed down from one minstrel to another with many Christian changes and embellishments leading to the mixture of the two religions. Scholars and critics have long debated whether the poem is truly pagan or truly Christian. The poem as a whole though is ultimately pagan with Christian elements sprinkled throughout it. Beowulf is a hero whose ultimate goal is to just achieve success and who is driven and guided to achieve such success by forces beyond his control: he is fated to be a hero.
When Beowulf hears of Hrothgar’s sufferings, he immediately decides to aid the king by traveling to Herot and killing Grendel. One prominent factor that encourages Beowulf’s journey is the pagan belief that “the omens were good, and they urged the adventure on” (3 118-119). Beowulf wants to achieve success, glory, and fame which is why he wants to embark on this journey, at the same time, fate leads him to this path and presents him with the opportunity to make a greater name for himself, so Beowulf is destined to be a hero. Beowulf believes in fate and “knew the sea, would point the prow straight to that distant Danish shore” (3 123-124). When Beowulf arrives at Herot, he boasts about himself and brags by saying, “’the days of my youth have been filled with glory’” (4 142-143). Beowulf describes all of the monsters that he killed and explains that “’death was my errand and the fate they had earned’” (4 158-159). Beowulf requests to fight Grendel alone and promises to do it without any weapons because he wants all the glory to himself and wants to prove that he is the strongest man on earth. He also seems to know that he will win and says, “’Fate will unwind as it must’” (4 189). Beowulf is concerned with how people view and perceive him. This shows that Beowulf is concerned about glory and fame rather than morality and right and wrong. If Beowulf was truly a Christian, he would only be concerned with God’s view of him. Unferth, one of Hrothgar’s courtiers, is extremely “vexed by Beowulf’s adventure, by their visitor’s courage, and angry...

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