christian and pagan elements in beowulf
“It is better for a man to avenge his friend than much mourn” (45). Christian and pagan ideals are the motivation for vengeance in “Grendel’s Mother’s Attack. ” It is hard to ignore the Christian and pagan elements of Beowulf. These elements, that have been so uniquely combined in the poem, define the heroic warrior, Beowulf, and the evil menace, Grendel’s mother. The reader is introduced to Grendel’s mother through her lineage. “From [Cain] sprang many a devil sent by fate”(43).
From this quotation alone we can see the fusion of Christian and pagan elements. The Old Testament character Cain and the pagan idea of fate have been merged to characterize Grendel’s mother. Beowulf himself is defined in terms of wyrd. Beowulf says “fate often saves the undoomed man when his courage is good” (34) just after a “signal of God, the sea became still” (34) saving the warrior from sea-monsters. The Christian God has given man free will; therefore what will happen to man is not controlled by fate, but it is controlled by God.
To further understand the Christian and pagan elements that exist in Beowulf, we must first uncover why the author has merged Christian and pagan ideas. Once we discover why the two have been combined, then we may see how they work to induce Grendel’s mother to take revenge on her son’s death, and how they work to persuade Beowulf to take vengeance for Aeschere’s death. The poem’s fusion of Christian and pagan ideals is a reflection of the time in which it was written. It was “a period in which the virtues of the heathen ‘Heroic Age’ were tempered by the gentleness of the new belief; an age warlike, yet Christian.
As a good Christian, the poet found himself faced with the task of treating this origanally pagan material in a manner acceptable to a Christian audience” (Brodeur, 183)(Brodeur 219). The poem is “a Christian perception of the insane futility of the primitive Germanic thirst for vengeance; and the facts that Beowulf’s chief adversaries are not men but monsters and that … [the] king of the Geats did not seek wars with their neighboring tribes may reflect a Christian appreciation for peace among humans” (22). It was also a period in which people such as “Hrothgar and his Danes… were punished for their idolatry” (Brodeur 207).