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Elements of Christianity and Paganism in The Works of Beowulf

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Words: 1481 |

Pages: 3|

8 min read

Published: Apr 29, 2022

Words: 1481|Pages: 3|8 min read

Published: Apr 29, 2022

The question being asked is if Beowulf is a work of paganism with Christian remarks or if it is a Christian work with pagan remarks. The unknown author of Beowulf creates a mystery in regards to their beliefs; however, Dream of the Rood, also an unknown author, had clear Christian influence. “The poem is an excellent illustration of how the conventions of Old English heroic poems like Beowulf were adapted to the doctrines of Christianity”. The fact that Beowulf had an influence of the poem Dream of the Rood does not mean it was influenced of Christian or pagan beliefs. It is more regarding the fact of the heroism in an epic was adapted into Christian dogmas. So, is Beowulf a matter of Christianity or paganism?

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In a macro perspective of Beowulf, some could see that the original author of the tale could be told from a Christian perspective as the author may have been using the story as a lesson—just like how a Bible story has moral meaning behind the stories it tells. First, Beowulf can be seen as a Christ-like figure because of his values that he kept dear to his heart. “A member of the lord’s comitatus—his band of warriors—was expected to follow a rigid code of heroic behavior stressing bravery, loyalty, and willingness to avenge lord and comrades at any cost”. The morality of Beowulf represents a faith—faith from Christianity applied to the fundamentals of the government. For example, Christian faith is to God as a knight’s faith is to the king. The characteristic of the main protagonist is probable of a Christian methodology.

Furthermore, into the macro perspective of Christianity in Beowulf, Goldsmith states “that the hero Beowulf is the poet’s ideal. Many notable scholars have convinced themselves that Beowulf is presented as the savior of his people, like a Christian knight, or even like Christ himself”. In the final stanza of the poem, there is a parallel of Jesus’s story:

Then the warriors rode around the barrow,

twelve of them in all, athelings’ sons.

They recited a dirge to declare their grief,

spoke of the man, mourned their king.

They praised his manhood and the prowess of his hands,

they raised his name; it is right a man

should be lavish in honoring his lord and friend,

should love him in his heart when the leading-forth

from the house of flesh befalls him at last

The most obvious parallel of this stanza is the fact that the author referenced twelve of the athelings’ sons. The twelve sons are a representation derived from the twelve disciples in the Bible. Disciples in a biblical sense refers to someone who is in learning; they could be seen as a student to a leader. The parallel is that Beowulf’s character was created in Jesus’s reputation. These twelve warriors learned from Beowulf regarding his knightly morality and mourned over him because he was a savior who slayed the dragon for their safety. Beowulf sacrificed his life like Jesus. Moreover, Jesus anticipated his death: Beowulf also anticipated his death, “gloomy was his spirit though, death eager, wandering…”. Most definitely, Christ’s burial resonated in the final lines of Beowulf. It is honestly interesting that the author did not go as far as having a resurrection for Beowulf.

The third, and most ironic, example of the Christian standpoint is how the story is told from a third-person omniscient point of view. An all-knowing narrator seems like they have godlike characteristics. Because the narrator is all-knowing, surprises do not typically happen unless the narrator purposefully restricts it from the reader’s knowledge-creating a third-person limited perspective; however, because the narrator does not use third-person limited, the omniscient point of view is ironic. The perspective manifests an authorial voice and it also is a traditional way of telling stories. The Bible itself is told from a third-person point because an omniscient God inspired the Bible. It seems as though the story of Beowulf was shaped from a biblical standpoint with this supernatural element.

Moreover, the story of Beowulf came of the Anglo-Saxon epic oral tradition that later transitioned into a fully written work; therefore, the story could have been warped by the views of whoever told the poem. Whether it was Christian or pagan, Beowulf has influenced of both. Beowulf could possibly be told through many different people that lead to a mixture of views. That being said, pagan remarks are prevalent in the story as well. “Beowulf offers an extraordinary double perspective, however. First, for all its acceptance of the values of the pagan heroic code, it also refers to Christian concepts that in many cases conflict with them”. However, paganism originated from nothing. Many elements from Christianity that were intriguing will still be used. Paganism, in a sense, follows their own ways, but from a Christian’s perspective, paganism is simply the gospel getting lost in a web of lies. A good example of paganism would be during Nimrod’s reign. According to the biblical account, Nimrod was a very powerful man, especially when cities grew, such as Babylon. Nimrod was the ruler of Babylonia, “he made the laws, and those laws decreed that Babylonians should not look to the God of Noah as their ruler, but should be ruled by human governments. Nimrod also taught them that Satan should be honored by worshipping objects they could see, such as the sun and snakes and other kinds of things”. Their society held onto certain principles, philosophies, and truths that they passed on or else their society would have never existed. What had been interesting to the people would have been an element of strength from a pagan society simply because it intrigued the heart and mind of the people such as what defines an honorable life—to which Beowulf is a great story representing those values, but like the Bible says, there is no greater love than laying yours down for another. So, in a culture where Christianity and paganism cross paths, they will become assimilated.

Moreover, there are more paganistic references included in the work as well. A sword named Hrunting that had well-bestowed respect was used by Beowulf when he goes to fight Grendel’s mother. An inanimate object like a sword had lively element:

Not at least among these mighty aids

was the hilted sword that Hrothgar’s spokesman,

Unferth, lent him in his hour of trial.

Hrunting was its name; unique and ancient,

its edge was iron, annealed in venom

and tempered with blood; in battle it never

failed any hero whose hand took it up.

It was until the battle where Beowulf actually used the sword and it failed to live up to the standard it proclaimed to be. The dependence on superstition items, for example, luckiness, usually are faulty. “Superstition is a belief, half-belief, or practice for which there appears to be no rational substance. Those who use the term imply that they have certain knowledge or superior evidence for their own scientific, philosophical, or religious convictions” (Britannica). The fact the sword claimed that it has never failed anyone and yet lost its magic power is quite comical, but it leads to the conclusion that superstitions are irrational. However, the sword was ineffective—leading the argument on whether Beowulf is of Christian or pagan work.

Additionally, another pagan reference with the term wyrd is often used within the poem of Beowulf. According to the lectures, wyrd is simply a fear of fate. However, as cocky as Beowulf seems to be, he acts forth with paganistic values that he can fight the battles alone. He would rather die a brave and heroic death than live life under public scrutiny for not doing so. The reason that wyrd is significant in paganism is because Beowulf is inferring that he does not need God in order to win. In turn, Beowulf soaks in his glory, embodying paganism which goes against Christian belief.

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The question of whether Beowulf is a story told from a Christian standpoint versus a paganistic view depends on the perspective. Beowulf has both references of each attitude immersed throughout the story. The story of Christ happens to have a lot of influence on literature after the timeline of Jesus. Most stories that resemble the parallels of Christianity in their stories are found to have the foundation set in the story of Christ. I believe that Beowulf is a work of Christianity with pagan references. With that being said, is Beowulf just a counterfeit story? The typical story we all hear includes the good guy, or the main protagonist, and the bad guy, who is the antagonist. The story always plays out that the bad guy looks like he is going to win, but the good guy always does. Perhaps Beowulf is just an interesting counterfeit just like all the shows we watch on Netflix. Beowulf has a similar story as Jesus, and I claim that it is counterfeit because Beowulf is sharing the glory that is Jesus has; therefore, I see the story as a passive image of Christ.

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Elements Of Christianity And Paganism In The Works Of Beowulf. (2022, April 29). GradesFixer. Retrieved March 1, 2024, from https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/elements-of-christianity-and-paganism-in-the-works-of-beowulf/
“Elements Of Christianity And Paganism In The Works Of Beowulf.” GradesFixer, 29 Apr. 2022, gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/elements-of-christianity-and-paganism-in-the-works-of-beowulf/
Elements Of Christianity And Paganism In The Works Of Beowulf. [online]. Available at: <https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/elements-of-christianity-and-paganism-in-the-works-of-beowulf/> [Accessed 1 Mar. 2024].
Elements Of Christianity And Paganism In The Works Of Beowulf [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2022 Apr 29 [cited 2024 Mar 1]. Available from: https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/elements-of-christianity-and-paganism-in-the-works-of-beowulf/
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