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paganbeo Pagan and Heathen Elements in Beowulf

Pagan/Heathen Elements in Beowulf

In Beowulf the pagan element, which coexists alongside the Christian, sometimes in a seemingly contradictory fashion, is many faceted.

Certainly the pagan element seems to be too deeply interwoven in the text of Beowulf for us to suppose that it is due to additions made by scribes. While the poet’s reflections and characters’ statements are mostly Christian, the customs and ceremonies, on the other hand, are almost entirely heathen/pagan. This fact seems to point to a heathen work which has undergone revision by Christian minstrels. “The poet’s heroic age is full of men both ‘emphatically pagan and exceptionally good,’ men who believe in a God whom they thank at every imaginable opportunity. Yet they perform all the pagan rites known to Tacitua, and are not Christian” (Frank 52).

One of the foremost pagan practices in Beowulf is the burial rite of cremation. In the narrative after the conquest of Grendel, a gleeman sings the Finnsburh Episode, the story of a Danish peaceweaver who lost husband, brother and son in the feud. Once the tribes agreed to peace:

Then Hildeburh ordered her own dead son

placed on the pyre beside his uncle Hnaef,

their bone-cases burned, given full fire-burial.

Beside them both the noblewoman wept,

mourned with songs. The warrior rose up;

the mighty death-fire spiraled to heaven,

thundered before the mound. Their heads melted,

their gashes spread open, the blood shot out

of the body’s f…

… middle of paper …

…ons, edited by Harold Bloom. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1987.


A Comparison of Honor in Beowulf and Parzival

Honor in Beowulf and Parzival

Throughout literary history authors have created and restored figures from all times that seem to represent what is honorable and chivalrous. The two literary legends compared in this paper are Beowulf and Parzival. These two figures in their own way find within them what is virtuous.

At first impression it seems as though Beowulf is the warrior who contains the honor within himself, but as the two characters are compared in depth, it becomes obvious that Parzival’s journey through manhood brings him to a much more noble and honorable place. Beowulf and Parzival’s journey’s began on the same path, each fatherless, they strove to search out what they saw as adventure. They jumped to whet their desires for the unknown and the chance to be a hero. A young Beowulf, we learn, challenges a peer to a match of strength. Unferth tells this tale of “when for pride the pair of [them] proved the seas and for a trite boast entrusted [their] lives to the deep waters, undissuadable by effort of friend or foe whatsoever from that swimming on the sea,”(Beowulf,65).

Beowulf’s stubborn pride lead him even at a young age to challenge what may have seemed beyond his reach for glory. Later on, Beowulf hearing the horrific tales of the monster Grendel that had been reeking havoc at Heorot, abruptly left his homeland to prove his gallantry. “The wiser sought to dissuade him from voyaging hardly or not at all,” but the strong-headed Beowulf refused to listen to reason. Unlike Beowulf, Parzival was actually hidden from all opportunities of adventure by his mother. She fled to a place where she believed she could escape all traces of knighthood, which she believed to be evil. She was not successful though, and as soon as Parzival laid his eyes on the god-like knight, he made up his mind to leave his mother and all that he knew to seek adventure. The absence of her son drove her to an early grave. This action is one that Parzival was later deemed “unhonorable” for and one he deeply regretted. These boys both started out young and refused to listen to the reason of their elders. Against the wishes of the people who were wiser and more experienced, they let their pride and ambition overtake them. This did not show to be a promising beginning for either of them.

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