Beowulf Christian or Pagan Beliefs
Beowulf: Christian or Pagan Beliefs? Beowulf is one of the longest and oldest epic poems written in English, it may have been composed more than twelve hundred years ago. Beowulf has been spoken orally for hundreds of years. It was not thought to be written down until 750 A. D. It is widely believed that Beowulf is the work of a single poet, who was a Christian and the poem reflects a well established Christian tradition. The poem is said to have Christian beliefs but have a pagan theme throughout its entirety.
Beowulf highlights both pagan and Christian values. Bravery, honor, loyalty, strength and courage are all the morals of the tale Beowulf. Each one is depicted through pagan or Christian standards. “This great debate spans more than one hundred sixty years, with most nineteenth century scholars arguing that the poem is fundamentally pagan and most twentieth century scholars arguing that it is unmistakably Christian. More recent investigations tend to argue that Beowulf “mixes” and “blends” the two traditions” (A Christian Apology for Beowulf and Treasure 1).
This discussion can be a little perplexing, because both themes are so relevant in the text. “A comfort sent by God to the nation” (Beowulf 13-14). This gives an indication that the theme of Christianity is prominent. The poem itself has a lot of different allusions to the bible and other strong Christian beliefs, such as God’s judgment and the principle of fate (wyrd). Grendel is the embodiment of all sinful and dark. The monster Grendel is said to be a descendent of Cain.
Cain was an outsider in society, which is a direct similarity to Grendel This is one of the many allusions from the bible. Cain killed his own brother, the association Grendel has with Cain portrays him as an evil being or a threatening force. On the other side of the spectrum, feuds against one another are also a subject matter that is reoccurring, which is a pagan value. Although, Christian values are a major viewpoint in the epic poem so are pagan values.
The idea of revenge and battle is a pagan belief. “Wise sir, do not grieve. It is always better to avenge dear ones than to indulge in mourning. For every one of us, living in this world means waiting for our end. Let whoever can win glory before his death. When a warrior is gone, that will be his best and only bulwark” (Beowulf 1384-1389). Vengeance is another pagan value that is influenced throughout the poem. There are also a lot of different battles among each character in the story.
There are a multitude of feuds and vengeances going on such as: Beowulf fighting Grendel, Grendel’s mother seeking revenge on Beowulf for killing her son, and Beowulf fighting the dragon. Including dragons in an epic poem is also another pagan value. “Although most critics who censure Beowulf acknowledge that he is an ideal pagan because of his manly courage, they invariably find him lacking in Christian virtue because he vows to win the treasure at all costs: I shall win the gold with my courage or battle, perilous deadly evil, will take your lord” (A Christian Apology for Beowulf and Treasure 4).
Pagan and Christian ethics are both important roles in the tale Beowulf but Christian morals surpass pagan values. At the end of the epic poem, Beowulf dies for his country and sacrifices himself for his people. This is an allusion from the bible, Jesus died for our sins in order for the greater good. “So the Geat people, his hearth-companions, sorrowed for the lord who had been laid low. They said all the kings upon earth he was the man most gracious and fair-minded, kindest to his people and keenest to win fame” (Beowulf 3178-3183).