Christian and Pagan Elements in Beowulf
Maria Isabel Carrasco Cara Chards CHRISTIAN AND PAGAN ELEMENTS IN BEOWULF The poem Beowulf is full of Pagan and Christian elements, this combination gave place to many discutions about the origin of the poem. On the one hand some scholars have said that this is the result of a transcription made by some monks where they added the christian elements, on the other hand it is believed that the poem was written in a period in which the Anglo-Saxons were being converted from their worship of Germanic Pagan gods to the Christian God. It was long held that the most substancial surviving Old English poem, Beowulf, was a pre-Christian composition which had somehow been tampered with by monastic scribes in order to give it an acceptably Christian frame of reference. ”1 “The poem is strongly linked to the Germanic roots of the English nation and displays the qualities of English before the language and literary tradition became quite intermingled with French, classical and other non-Germanic cultures. ”2 1 SANDERS, Andrew, The Short Oxford History of English Literature, Oxford, University of Oxford, 1996. p. 21 2 C. ROBINSON, Fred, Beowulf, The Cambridge companion to Old English Literature, ed. Malcolm Godden and Michael Lapidge, Cambridge University Press, New York, United States of America, 2008. pp. 142 In the story we can find the Christian philosofy which says than man can only survive through the protection of God, that man must be humble and unselfish. But we can also find that there is a stong sense of heroic pride which contrasts with these Christian Values. Many times Beowulf says that God is his protector.
One of these times is when he tells his battle with Grendel’s mother, he says that God guarded him. We can get the idea that a warrior must be true to his values in order to earn God’s protection. There are several references to the Bible in the poem. The first one is that Gredel is a descendant of Cain. There is also a reference to the Great Flood, in this reference it is suggested that the sword’s creators were descendants of those that caused God to bring on the flood, kind of suggensting that they were also descendants of Cain.
But these creators are also described with Pagan elements. Once again there is a big contrast of both cultures. “Unlike the heroic-age figures described in Beowulf, the poet is a Christian whose intellectual horizons have been expanded to include not only biblical learning but the wider world of Christian-Latin culture in general. ”3 3 C. ROBINSON, Fred, Beowulf, The Cambridge companion to Old English Literature, ed. Malcolm Godden and Michael Lapidge, Cambridge University Press, New York, United States of America, 2008. p. 142 I think that Grendel has some similarities with Satan the first one is that Grendel lives in the underworld just as Satan lives in Hell, the second one is that as Grendel is jealous of the happines in Heorot, Satan is jealous of the happiness that Adam and Eve have in paradise. But there might be another comparison between Beowulf and Jesus, Beowulf is a savior who gives his life for the people’s sake, he is good-hearted and charitative. […] to the pagan Germanic characters in the poem, Grendel is a monster out of pagan Germanic mythology; to the Christian poet and his Christian audience, the creature is known to be in truth a manifestation of evil as it is rightly understood by Christians. ”4 Another Pagan elements are the dragon which is a very common theme in Germanic Pagan stories and also the idea of the superhuman strengh just as Beowulf and Grendel. It is also mentioned the god of war which clearly upports the ideals of paganism, and God the singularity of christianism. Both elements forms a contradiction that maybe were not meant by the original author. The monsters are another Pagan ideals which is very dominant through the story. Most of the pagan myths have gods defeating horrible monsters and heroes gaining honour through many battles. These ideas 4 C. ROBINSON, Fred, Beowulf, The Cambridge companion to Old English Literature, ed.
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Malcolm Godden and Michael Lapidge, Cambridge University Press, New York, United States of America, 2008. pp. 149 were incorporated into Beowulf. The hero fights against demons and when he is finally defeated, he is honored by his people. “The anonymous poet-narrator recognizes that his story is a pagan one and that his characters hold to pagan virtues and to a pre-Christian world-view, but he is also aware that older concepts of heroism and heroic action can be viewed as compatible with his own religious and moral values. 5 “Belief in a hero has always been an important article in the social and political faith of the Germanic peoples, whether they were Christian or not. ”6 It is clear to me that the Christian elements of the poem were influenced by the earlier Pagan factors, it means that it was based on Germanic Paganism when it was written, and later as the society became Christianizes, the poem acquired Christian elements as well.
Nevertheless the complete idea of the poem is based on the Christian sense of good versus evil. It seems that the creation of the characters with both Christian and Pagan ideas emphasizes the changing morals in the society at the time. 5 SANDERS, Andrew, The Short Oxford History of English Literature, Oxford, University of Oxford, 1996. pp. 21. 6 POOLEY, ANDERSON, FORMER, THORTON, England in Literature, Glenview, Illinois, United States of America, 1963. pp. 25.