Get help from the best in academic writing.

Mix of Pagan and Christian Ideas in Beowulf

The Mix of Pagan and Christian Ideas in Beowulf

Beowulf was written in England around 1000 AD. “This provides us with an idea of a poem that was written during a time when the society had converted from paganism to christianity”(Cohen 138). “We know that paganism did exist alongside Christianity during the approximate era that Beowulf was composed”(Hall 61). “The Christian influences were combined with early folklore and heroic legends of dramatic tribes, early Beowulf scholars began to investigate whether or not Christian and biblical influences were added later to originally pagan influences”(Hall 61). “The Christian elements are almost without exception so deeply ingrained in the fabric of the poem that they cannot be explained away as the work of a reviser or later interpolator”(Klaeber 2). The fact that the two values are so closely intertwined in the poem, I believe that is the reason Beowulf has both Christian and pagan influences.

The pagan elements in the epic poem Beowulf are evident in the characters superhuman personifications. Beowulf is depicted as a superhero. Beowulf takes it upon himself to save the Danes from Grendel. In his battle with Grendel, Beowulf chooses not to use weapons; he relies on his super strength. During the fight, Beowulf’s strength takes over and Beowulf wrestles with Grendel until he is able to rip one of the monster’s arms out of its socket. Superhuman feats also appear in the fight with Grendel’s mother. When Beowulf enters the water, he swims downward for an entire day before he sees the bottom. He does this without the use of oxygen. During the battle with Grendel’s mother, Beowulf realizes that Unferth’s sword is useless against the monsters thick skin. He grabs an enormous sword made by giants, almost too heavy to hold and slashes through the monster’s body. This superhero strength continues into the battle with the dragon. By this time, Beowulf is an old man. He stands up to the dragon and wounds him. Although Beowulf is fatally wounded himself, he still manages to deliver the final blow that kills the dragon. Grendel is also seen as a superhuman monster. Grendel has no knowledge of weapons so he too depends on his extraordinary strength to destroy his enemies. The dragon is also seen as a super powerful adversary. “As in most pagan folklore, the dragon is a much used enemy of the hero of the story”(Greenfield 87).

The Allegory of the Dragon in Beowulf

The Allegory of the Dragon in Beowulf

In the Book of the Apocalypse, Rome is represented by several allegories: the beast of the land, the beast from the sea, the harlot, Babylon, and the dragon. The Beowulf-poet also manipulates the dragon allegory to represent Rome, but his dragon represents not Rome, pure and simple, but a hostile area of the (former) Roman empire, the Romanized Britain or the Roman-British .

There is increasing consensus among critics–against Tolkien’s views–that the dragon is “a different sort of creature from the Grendel tribe” (Gang 6) and that among the innumerable dragon stories “there is probably not one which we can declare to be really identical with that of Beowulf” (Chambers 97). Of course, nobody denies that the dragon is like the Germanic worm that dwells in a barrow and guards treasure. He does not symbolize evil like Grendel of the devilish brood of Cain; he is merely provoked to deeds of slaughter and destruction. The dragon, unlike, Grendel, is given no clear ancestry, no companion; he is not an ellorgæst (807), though an attorsceatha (2839); he is autochthonous; he is kind of ageless (wintrum frod, 2277); he has been keeping the treasure for a long time (2277-78); the messenger in the poem thinks that the dragon belongs where he dwells: “We could not give our beloved prince … the good advice not to attack the guardian of the gold, but let him lie where he had been so long and remain in his own abode till the world’s end” (3079-83). Though the dragon is not God’s foe–it is good to remember that the British people were already Christians in the fifth century–, yet he is the enemy of the Geatish nation (theodsceatha, 2278, 2688); therefore, a confrontation is bound take pla…

… middle of paper …

Nicholson, Lewis E. “The Literal Meaning and Symbolic Structure of Beowulf.” Classica et Mediaevalia, 15 (1964): 151-201.

Niles, John D. Beowulf: The Poem and Its Tradition. Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 1983.

Niles, John D. “Ring Composition and the Structure of Beowulf,” PMLA 94 (1979): 924- 935.

Paschoud, François. “La doctrine chrétienne et l’idéologie impériale romaine.” in L’Apocalypse de Jean. Eds. R. Petraglio, et al. Geneva: Droz, 1979: 31-72.

Risden, Edward L. Beasts of Time: Apocalyptic Beowulf . New York: Peter Lang., 1994.

Sermo Lupi ad Anglos, ed. Dorothy Whitelock. New York: Appleton, 1966.

Thundy, Zacharias P. “Beowulf: Meaning, Method and Monsters,” Greyfriar 24 (1983): 5- 34.

Thundy, Zacharias P. “Doctrinal Influence of Jus Diaboli on Beowulf,” Christian Scholar’s Review 2 (1973):150-169.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.