Conflict of Beliefs in Beowulf
Throughout the epic poem of Beowulf, Paganism and Christianity correlate respectively creating a contrasting system of values present in the work. We notice elements of Paganism through the idea that wealth is important and to be held in a high regard, one must have an abundance of it. We also see Paganism present in the theme of vengeance, and how it seems to be essential in this poem through the vengeance of Hildeburh and Grendel’s mother and through the lack of a “death-price” from Grendel for killing.
Christian elements are seen through the distribution of wealth and the unselfishness of the act and through the monotheistic principles witnessed. Ultimately, we see elements of Christianity and Paganism present in Beowulf. The two belief systems co-exist in the poem, contradicting each other through the ideas of wealth and vengeance. When one first begins to dissect Beowulf and its ulterior allegory, it seems to be written supporting Paganism beliefs. The first issue encountered in the poem is the issue of wealth.
We see many scenes of wealth distribution in the poem, as if the poet assumes the audience enjoys seeing wealth being handed out. Ultimately, wealth attained must be shared generously. In the prologue, the poet speaks of issuing wealth referring to Hrothgar: “it would be his throne room and there he would dispense / his God given goods to young and old–” (lines 35-36). Just like in the Pagan religion, in Beowulf, wealth is seen as a tool. Hrothgar knows to be a successful king, he must dispense his wealth to his people to receive adoration.
Again, we see Hrothgar use wealth as a tool to convince Beowulf to conquer Grendel. Hrothgar says to Beowulf: “Finally I healed the fued by paying: / I shipped a treasure trove to the Wulfings, / and Ecgtheow acknowledged me with oaths of allegiance. ” (43-45) Hrothgar paid the Wulfings because Beowulf’s father killed Heatholaf. Hrothgar uses this to convince Beowulf but does so in a clever way, basically telling Beowulf he is not obligated to do this but making it very clear that Beowulf owes him something for his gratuity. The second issue present is the issue of vengeance.
In Paganism, vengeance was considered necessary, something that had to be done to withhold your honor. Pagans followed a system; if someone kills your family member, you must kill them unless they give you wealth. Grendel exemplifies this by killing numbers of people and then does not abide by the system, he does not negotiate. He is seen as even worse for not doing so; “nothing but war; how he would never / parley or make peace with any Dane / nor stop his death-dealing nor pay the death-price. ” (154-156) Grendel does not buy into the social mechanism about vengenace, he does not play by the rules of the anglo-saxons.
Vengeance is also seen in the foreshadowing effect seen in lines 1163-1164, “ “each of whom still trusted the other. ” It is being suggested in this line that Hildebur intends to avenge her own son. This connects us to Grendel’s mother; they both have the desire and need to protect their children. The two women abide by the systematic fundamentals of vengeance in Paganism, avenge those who hurt those close to you. Christian elements are clear throughout the poem. Firstly, the idea that man survives only through the protection of God and the concept of monotheism is evident.
Just like Paganism, Christianity promotes the belief that wealth must be shared generously, however, Christianity describes wealth as being attained by God. Throughout the poem, Beowulf acknowledges God as his deity. After the battle with Grendel’s mother, he states “The fight would have ended straightaway if God had not guarded me. ” ? These beliefs are clearly conflicted. It is considered good to have wealth in Paganism but wealth is considered a problem in Christianity. The Bible states, “Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income.
This too is meaningless. ” (Ecclesiastes 5:10) In Paganism, vengeance is essential. In Christianity, it is considered more honorable to turn the other cheek. “Whoever hits you on the cheek, offer him the other also… ” (Luke 6:29). In Beowulf, we see the praise of wealth from Paganism, the sharing of it from Christianity and the strong system of vengeance from Paganism. Obviously, the two beliefs counteract throughout the poem. Ultimately, Through the characters and language in the poem, we are able to notice the appearance of the two fundamental belief systems of the time: Paganism and Christianity.
The distribution of wealth and the importance of it in the two religions are similar yet different at the same time. Also, the two conflicting perspectives on vengeance reside throughout the poem making it one of the most discussed and important Anglo-Saxon works in literature. Works Cited 1. Beowulf. Pages 29-100. Greenblatt and Abrams. The Norton Anthology of English Literature, Eighth Edition, Volume 1. New York, NY: WW Norton & Company, 2006. Print. 2. New American Standard Bible. Zondervan Press. Grand Rapids, Michigan. 2002.