This website uses cookies to ensure you have the best experience. Learn more

The Cultural Tension Of The Pagan And The Christian Lie At The Very Heart Of The Poem. Paganism And Christianity In The Epic Poem "Beowoulf"

1518 words - 7 pages

Christianity had recently took hold in England at the time of the writing of Beowulf. Many people believe that Beowulf is a Christian story, when in fact it is not. Instead, the poem reflects a society that has a deep pagan background and has brought with it stories from its pagan past. Beowulf is a Germanic tale that was likely first composed in the first half of the eighth century, but it was not until the late tenth century that it was committed to parchment. At the time of its writing, the Germanic tribes were clearly pagan, as seen by such evidence in the text as Beowulf’s cremation at the end of the epic and the direct reference to swearing oaths at “pagan shrines” (line 175). As Christianity’s teachings and values began to take root in these pagan societies over the decades and eventual centuries, the stories of the Bible began to be worked into the tale as it was told, retold, and retold even again. When it came time to be written—probably by a Christian monk (or monks) whose beliefs, it is fair to say, flavored the work—the bards and storytellers had crafted an epic with the Christian permutations already in it. However, that is not to say that the writer was ignorant when it came to what message he desired to relate to the reader.
In the Beowulf poem, there are numerous instances of characters thanking the Christian God in their lives or praising Jesus or where the poet marvels at how lucky the pagan characters were to have God in their lives even if they did not know of His existence. This may seem contradictory in a lot of ways, and it is that the Beowulf poem is one big game of ‘telephone.’ So after three centuries of oral transmission, after three centuries of being told and retold, and the countless changes that occurred during that process, the poem is finally transcribed, likely by a Christian monk or monks, sometime in early or late eleventh century. It is likely that they further embellished the tale with additional allusions and direct references to Christianity. However, because the tale was retold so many times by an increasingly Christian population, it seems reasonable to assume that many of the Christian elements were inserted into the poem well before in ended up on paper. What one must remember is Grendel, the first monster that Beowulf must face, has an intriguing link to the Christian Bible. (quote here) According to the Old Testament, Cain, son of Adam, was mankind’s first murderer. He slew his brother Abel out of jealousy, and symbolizes the worst of human passions. Grendel inherits his forefather’s legacy. Grendel resents and is jealous of the humans who are feasting in the mead-halls as he lives outside of the community as a loner. Grendel has no language, gives and receives no gifts, and is therefore envious of the comradeship taking place within the hall, filled with such light and cheer that is forsaken him. His reaction to his enmity is to attack and destroy. In his bloody attacks on ---, there is one person...

Find Another Essay On The cultural tension of the pagan and the Christian lie at the very heart of the poem. Paganism and Christianity in the Epic Poem "Beowoulf"

Epic of Beowulf Essay - Shields in the Epic Poem, Beowulf

1038 words - 4 pages Shields in the poem Beowulf       Shields, a defensive weapon mentioned in the poem Beowulf, include a variety of compositions from wood to iron; and this is wholly in accord with archaeological finds. There are a considerable number of references to shields in the poem, making this topic a very relevant one to consider.   “Weapons could be heirlooms, and royal treasuries and armories still preserve arms and weapons from

Analysis of the Epic Poem, Beowulf - Beowulf and Caedmon’s Hymn

2319 words - 9 pages the audience to give them the interesting old pagan stories. At the beginning of the poem, there is the account of the pagan funeral rites of Scyld Scefing, and at the close of the poem we see the heathen rites of burial for Beowulf himself, including cremation, deposition of treasures and armor, etc. with the corpse in the burial mound overlooking the sea. Including such heathen rites enables the poet to “communicate his Christian vision of

The Pessimism of Beowulf in the Epic Poem, Beowulf

2922 words - 12 pages Beowulf poet himself gives another perspective through Hildeburh’s wretchedness: her loss of brother (Hnaef), son, and finally of husband (Finn), so the the heroic-elegaic pattern of the whole poem is reflected in miniature in this story (87).    “Their glory was gone” seems to underscore the futility of the Germanic, non-Christian way of violent living; and it anticipates the finale of the poem where the glory will be gone for the Geat nation

The Epic Poem, Beowulf - Vengeance and Revenge in Beowulf

1323 words - 5 pages , youth and old age, paganism and Christianity and the heroic ideal code, into his principal narrative and numerous digressions and episodes; all of which were extremely important to his audience at the time.  Vengeance, part of the heroic code, was regarded differently by the two distinct religions.  Christianity teaches to forgive those who trespass against us, whereas in the pagan world, revenge is typical and not considered an evil act.  In

The Odyssey, An Epic Poem of Epic Proportions

842 words - 3 pages Students might moan and groan when you hand them The Odyssey. “It’s so big; it’s so confusing”, they could say. But, if you look a little deeper, The Odyssey is a perfect example of epic poetry for the Greeks. To the Greeks, an epic hero has a massive significance. It symbolizes everything they look for in a leader and the qualities he/she should posses. Odysseus, being an epic hero, is an essential part of making The Odyssey an epic poem

The Epic Poem of Beowulf and The Tale of the Great Warrior

1543 words - 7 pages The epic poem of Beowulf and the tale of the great warrior has been one of the most revered texts of old Anglo-Saxon literature, and has maintained a self-sustaining relevance in today’s society as a result of the vast amounts of translations and reworks of the tale into movies, art, and literature. The epic poem dates back to the ninth century and was first translated off of an old frayed manuscript, leaving some portions of the epic to be

Digressions in the Epic Poem, Beowulf

2165 words - 9 pages Scefing in the beginning may seem like a digression, but it serves to introduce us to the Danish court of King Hrothgar, and it additionally serves, with Scyld’s funeral, as a foreshadowing of the funeral of our hero at the end.   In the secong half of the poem, the digressions related to the Geats’ feud with the Franks and with the Swedes, contribute to the buildup of  an aura of catastrophe, or mood of impending doom (Wright 127

An Analysis of the Epic Poem, Beowulf - Characterization of Beowulf

1995 words - 8 pages Characterization of Beowulf             The dialogue, action and motivation revolve about the characters in the poem (Abrams 32-33). It is the purpose of this essay to demonstrate the types of characters present in the anonymously written Anglo-Saxon poem, Beowulf - whether static or dynamic, whether flat or round, and whether protrayed through showing or telling.   At the very outset of the poem the reader is introduced, through

An Analysis of the Epic Poem, Beowulf - Origin and Evolution of Beowulf

1659 words - 7 pages motive for the monks to make such an addition.             The strong Christian message drawn from this excerpt of Beowulf echoes like a sermon and feels out of place in this heroic epic.  The poem glorifies a Pagan world characterized by violence, pride, worldly goods and a disregard for the after-life, qualities which contrast a Christian way of life. When the speaker states that the Danes, ". . . swore oaths/[to] the killer of souls

The Epic Poem, Beowulf - A Jungian Reading of Beowulf

793 words - 3 pages A Jungian Reading of Beowulf          The epic poem, Beowulf, depicts the battles and victories of the Anglo-Saxon warrior Beowulf, over man-eating monsters. The noble defender, Beowulf, constantly fought monsters and beasts to rid the land of evil. The most significant of these monsters, Grendel, represents Beowulf's shadow, the Jungian archetype explored in the essay collection, Meeting the Shadow.   The character Grendel

The Perfect Ruler in the Epic Poem, Beowulf

2662 words - 11 pages “surging water” in pursuit of Grendel’s Mother, the hero asks Hrothgar: “If I in your service lose my life, … be a protector of my warriors.” In this episode, when Beowulf delayed in returning, his men were “sick at heart …they wished but did not hope, that they would see their dear lord again,” illustrating a very evident emotional bond between lord and subject. When the hero surfaced, “His men rushed toward him, thanking God they saw him safe

Similar Essays

Christianity And Paganism In The Epic Of Beowulf

1844 words - 7 pages end, he has a warrior's burial on a funeral pyre, instead of a more Christian type service. Beowulf's shortsightedness and quest for glory are clearly part of the pagan influence on the poem that molds it into the heroic epic that it is. The poem beautifully celebrates the culture of the early Danes, while incorporating newer influences from Christianity. It is interesting in the end that Beowulf's heroism, a Danish attribute, triumphs

The Epic Of Gilgamesh Poem Essay

1808 words - 7 pages In the epic poem titled The Epic of Gilgamesh, Gilgamesh was a king who ruled over the Sumerian city of Uruk around 2600 B.C. Gilgamesh was a very powerful and strong king, but he realized that he must use his power to help the people of Uruk. He is two-thirds god and one third human, which makes him realize that he must reconcile with the fact that he will eventually face death. He realizes that he will not reach full immortality and needs

The Epic Poem Beowulf Essay

2323 words - 9 pages pledge of loyalty was reciprocal: Just before going into the “surging water” in pursuit of Grendel’s Mother, the hero asks Hrothgar: “If I in your service lose my life, … be a protector of my warriors.” In this episode, when Beowulf delayed in returning, his men were “sick at heart …they wished but did not hope, that they would see their dear lord again,” illustrating a very evident emotional bond between lord and subject. When the hero surfaced

The Theme Of The Epic Poem Beowulf

639 words - 3 pages rescue and kills Grendel and his mother. Also Beowulf kills a dragon and gets killed by the dragon. The most important theme of the great epic poem Beowulf is 'death.' By the death of the enemy, characters in the poem earn pride and dignity.The poem is about a hero from the land of the Geats to help the kingdom of Danes. Danes have a place called Heorot, a huge mead-hall, and one night without warning, Grendel attacks the hall, because of his