DQ: How does the poet mix Christian and pagan elements, especially beliefs and habits?
Throughout the text of BeowulfÂ it is easy to see a strong sense of Christian elements in a poem about pagan individuals. We know from the Norton Anthology of English Literature that the original poem was found in old English written about Germanic warriors. Since the text also mentions wars back in 520 A.D. we know that the text was written in a previous time then it was recorded. This may reflect why the author has mixed or blended together the pagan habit and lifestyle with the Christian beliefs.
The pagan lifestyle can be seen with the values of being “morally upright” (pg. 37). This is seen through the values that Hrothgar and Beowulf. With Hrothgar it is seen through the value and safety of his people in that he is willing to do anything including letting a stranger come into his territory to fix the problem. He even associates Beowulf as his “friend” (457). These acts done by a great and powerful king to be so gracious and welcoming reflect the values of a good man which ultimately reflects that of a pagan man. Beowulf is also seen as a good man for coming to Dane to risk his life to free these people from this horrible monster. He does not ask for any gold or money but merely states that he has “come here to you” (417). Throughout these two characters we see a strong sense of good coming forth from them that is commonly seen throughout the pagan beliefs of being “morally upright”. These characters represent the traits of pagan individuals very strongly with their actions. However other ideas presented in the text give the idea of Christian beliefs and elements are also strongly recognized.
The Christian Beliefs can commonly be seen as a “well established English Tradition” pg.37. Even though the characters are that of pagans the forces of the poem reflect those of Christian elements. This can be seen with the origins of Grendle being that he came from Cain the son of Adam and Eve who has been
“condoned as outcasts for the killing of Abel
The Eternal Lord has exacted a price:
Cain got no good from committing that murder […]
and out of the curses his exile there sprang
orges and elves and evil phantoms” (104-114)
This quote represents a couple of things. It represents the history of his past which is tied closely to God in that God decided the fate of this horrible monster, this is shown in that Cain is the father of Grendle. Since Grendle came forth from this “evil phantom(s)” It also shows why Grendle is so horrible in that he was born out of evil or sin, something which is commonly seen throughout the Christian faith on the idea of good and evil. With God representing the good and sin and punishment bad or evil. God’s judgement and power is also strongly effected throughout the poem in that “God can easily halt these raids and harrowing attacks” (478-479). This quote shows the power of God in that he is the ultimate control of fate and that “fate goes ever as fate must” (455) which, demonstrates the idea of “a just judgement by God.” (441). Showing that God has all the power and control something which is commonly seen throughout a Christian ideals in that he is the creator the one who gave life and can take it away. Lastly the poem reflects a monotheist view in that there is one God and he is all mighty all powerful and all knowing. Throughout the text the idea of “God” and “Lord” are commonly seen. This shows a common Christian theme of there being one almighty. This differs from a pagan view in that pagan lifestyle reflected on more than one deity.
The text itself seems to be at an identity crisis in that it is a story about individuals with pagan morals but a very strong sense of Christian elements and beliefs which the characters feel strongly tied to. Perhaps this crisis can reflect the author and give us a glimpse back into history to show us how strong religion was at the time it was written. If you continue with that branch of thought the story is not merely about a “morally upright” pagan battling monsters but, a glimpse into the strength that the Christian religion had during the time it was written.
Beowulf. Trans. Seamus Heaney.Â The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Gen. ed.
Stephen Greenblatt. 9th ed. Vol. A. New York: Norton, 2012. 41-108. Print.