What Would Beowulf Do? How Beowulf Is a Christ-Like Figure

What Would Beowulf Do? How Beowulf Is a Christ-Like Figure

The contemplative question of “What would Jesus do? ” has become a popular pragmatism in society today. There is an unwritten rule or sense of morality by which a properly functioning civilization may live. However, what method did early Anglo-Saxons use to remind themselves of what would be the proper thing to do in a situation? Even though they were a violent and warmongering culture as a whole, geared toward waging and winning war, they did have a moral code to honor.

Anglo-Saxons prized the values, which they would have been learned by rote since childhood, including: courage and selflessness, honor, discipline and duty, hospitality, self-reliance, and perseverance. These principles of character are some of the main mores clearly displayed in the epic poem, Beowulf, a tale of the adventures and struggles of a mighty Geatish (Swedish) warrior, Beowulf, against a sinister afflicter of men, a vicious revenge seeking mother, and a fire breathing twilight-spoiler.

The author of one of the most important works of Anglo-Saxon literature is unknown; however, it is believed that the heroic poem was finally translated by monks, which may account for the reason that according to the narrative, Beowulf is seen as an instrument of righteousness called by God to perform His will for the Danes, exactly as Christ was sent to carry out His will for the Jews. Beowulf further exemplifies Christ in many ways, such as his embarking on quests, his supernatural abilities, and his victory in the salvation of his people through his death.

In Beowulf’s first quest, his objective is to deliver the Danes from the monster Grendel, a hulking beast of a bottomless lake who is immune to the man-made weapons which attempt to pierce his scaly skin as he effortlessly devours the Danish warriors one by one. Grendel is a physical manifestation of the evil which Christ ventured to save the Jews from, in his time. Alan Alda explained, “When you embark for strange places, don’t leave any of yourself safely on shore. Have the nerve to go into unexplored territory. This advice can be seen to have been put to use by Beowulf when he came by ship to find a way to help the Danes, even when he knew there was a tremendous malevolence awaiting him on land. The characteristic of an unmitigated wickedness– a ubiquitous evil presence which common man cannot easily see, but is eventually consumed by– is clear in both accounts; in Beowulf’s case, he grapples with Grendel and defeats him by tearing his arm off, in Christ’s struggle against evil, He spiritually wrestles Satan during

His forty days and forty nights in the desert where he fasted, prayed, and eventually conquered Lucifer by resisting temptation. “I count him braver who overcomes his desires than him who conquers his enemies; for the hardest victory is over. ” Aristotle’s words embody the true difficulty Christ endured in first conquering Himself in order to be victorious over the Devil. Another indication of Beowulf and Christ’s similar nature is that both maintained loyal disciples, Beowulf, his fourteen thanes, and Christ, his twelve apostles. Both heroes are also shown to have been doubted in their respective tales.

When Beowulf presents himself before King Hrothgar, Unferth, a noble warrior openly expresses his doubts in Beowulf’s character and overall credibility as one who will stop Grendel. Similarly, Christ was berated by High Priests of the synagogues for his astonishing wisdom; He was not taken seriously by the elders, simply because He was a child at the time- the Priests challenged all Christ had to say, and became enraged that He proved them wrong every time, just as Beowulf silenced Unferth when he finally defeated Grendel. Ed Belfour’s simple statement, “I love proving people wrong. comically displays the acts which Christ and Beowulf were able to accomplish in the success of their quests. Perhaps even some of the credit of Christ and Beowulf’s victories may be given to the supernatural abilities they both possessed in defeating their enemies. Beowulf’s immense strength of 30 men, and his ability to swim in the ocean for seven days straight, is almost parallel to Christ’s ability to raise Lazarus from the dead, multiply fish and bread by thousands to feed the hungry, and His feat of walking on water- no pun intended!

These capacities are far beyond the ambit of average men, further explaining the supernatural nature of these two heroes. Beowulf’s exploits in the ocean, treading the bounding main weighed down by heavy armor and weapons, amidst sea creatures and stormy waters, attests to his metaphysical endowment by some higher power. “The hero with a thousand faces. ” Written by Joseph Campbell, about Odysseus in epic of The Odyssey describes the path a person takes as he journeys through a heroic cycle, but the words also relate here to Christ.

Not only did He walk upon water as if it were dry land, but he also calmed the brewing storm around him instantly. Anyone can tell that it weather takes time to fully abate when it has become restless, yet somehow, right as Christ told the waters to calm, immediately the ominous clouds parted, and the gray seas became blue again. The aforementioned instances are clear exemplifications of the essence these heroes exude as more than ordinary men. Both could physically and mentally endure a significant amount more than a typical fellow.

The traits Christ and Beowulf portray are superhuman in that no man off the street can go to a cemetery and command a dead man to rise and walk, as Christ did, or tear off a massive monster’s arm with his bare hands, as Beowulf did. John Wooden explains that in perseverance, “It’s not so important who starts the game but who finishes it. ” Neither Beowulf, nor Christ began the quarrel with the many evils they faced, but both heroes faced them regardless, and their possession of the power to achieve which ultimately led them both to victory.

The last major experience Beowulf and Christ share is the classic triumph over evil and conclusive salvation of their people in their last battles, won through death. An Anglo-Saxon Oath of Fealty reads, “I will to my lord be true and faithful, and love all which he loves and shun all which he shuns. ” This oath, recited by each warrior, portrays the responsibilities a trustworthy disciple places upon himself in his duties and in honoring his king. Both protagonists are followed by loyal men, Beowulf leads fourteen noble thanes, and Christ is followed by twelve devout apostles.

In Beowulf’s situation, he is a man worn down by age and experience, however, when a greedy and vengeful dragon appears and attacks his kingdom, Beowulf once again rises to the impossible challenge. His men follow him into assault on the dragon, yet last minute, they fall back, abandoning the elderly Beowulf who then has to fend for himself. Then Wiglaf, a relative of Beowulf emerges from the cowardly soldiers and aids Beowulf in his encounter with the antagonistic wyvern. In the end, Beowulf is killed, yet the dragon is slain. This provides the poem with a victory at the cost of the hero’s life.

In relation, through Christ’s death on the cross, He opened the gates of heaven and saved His people from eternal damnation- another victory won through the sacrifice of the champion’s life. After Christ died and rose, God’s chosen people went into a decline. They rejected Him and brought misery upon themselves. For two centuries they were persecuted by Rome. For two millennia they have been shoved aside and animated many times. Beowulf’s people took the treasure and the curse that came with it. “The spell…solemnly laid…was meant to last…Whoever stole their jewels…would be cursed” (3068-3070). Beowulf’s people have misery awaiting hem. Yet the failure lay with the people, and the humanistic tendency to get back into jeopardy, usually by the faults of men, and regress to more primitive ways. “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. ” (John 15:13) Both heroes were prepared and fully willing to die a most painful death in order that they might achieve the salvation of their people, and by doing so, they proved their love for their people in the ultimate sacrifice. In the epic poem, Beowulf, the main character for whom the masterpiece of literature is named, is a mirror of Christ, whose experiences are revealed in the Bible.

From their many quests to defeat evil stirrings, to their superhuman abilities, to the sacrifice of their lives for the liberation of their people, through subtle symbolism, Beowulf’s heroic character traits, and his undertakings are proved to be similar to that of Christ. The most significant experience they share is the sacrifice of each of their lives so that their people would be protected and saved. Just as an army retreats, their brave general having fallen, they know they have won. The cost is great, but it had to be paid. Even today the battle rages on and the war will not end until the last enemy falls.

Beowulf and Christ both paid the price for their people’s protection and freedom. The enemy exacted its toll, but it was not enough. The hero and the Savior live on today, yet another paragon of their similarity. Overall, the technique of combining two different ideals in mixing Christian and pagan ideas, the poet of Beowulf was able to emphasize the morals of his time and to enhance his characters with Christian values and pagan legends. Now that the connection of Beowulf and Christ is made clear, when one is confronted on an issue of moral integrity and strength of character, he may find himself asking, “What would Beowulf do? ”