September 7, 2012
Analysis of Christian and Pagan Themes in Beowulf
The heroic poem, Beowulf, written circa ninth century after the Common Era (C. E.), presents a bloody chronicle of a king’s role in the violence and tumultuous Germanic tribes shortly after the Roman Empire’s expulsion from the low countries of Northwestern Europe. Evolving from oral narrative’s, Beowulf’s origins, while traceable to a general place and time in history, remains obscure, and comes to modern readers through a manuscript written around the year one thousand C. E.. Written in the language of the Anglo-Saxons, Beowulf, namesake for the title, defeats three monsters, Grendel, Grendel’s mother, and ...view middle of the document...
The author’s choice of a demon born from Christian legend, while prayers for salvation fall upon the ancient pagan temples, casts light on the possible tenuous relationship between pagan and Christian religions of the Germanic tribes. The author sets up a subtle test of religious strength, with the winner claiming the very spiritual soul of the Germanic people.
Deliverance arrives to the Danish shores when the Great warrior Beowulf disembarks his sailing ship. The Germanic code of honor governs Beowulf, and he volunteers his assistance to the Danes, fore he, “celebrates those who exhibit friendship, self-sacrifice, concern for their community, and generosity, virtues shared by Germanic peoples” (Mazzeno). Before his life and death battle with the beast Grendel, Beowulf addresses Hrothgar in his great hall. Beowulf in a curious choice of words announces, “Whichever on death fells must deem it a just judgment by God” (Beowulf 1189). The author introduces a dichotomy within the protagonist, Beowulf, in that a pagan warrior invokes a Christian God while discussing his own tentative fate. The Juxtaposition of the two religious elements within the character of Beowulf demonstrates a unique eruditeness. Within Beowulf, the author incorporates, “features of the Christian Savior in the destroyer of hellish fiends, the warrior brave and gentle, blameless in thought and deed” according to Prussian-born American philologist and textual critic, Friederich Klaeber, in his 1922 illustrated edition of Beowulf. The author unites two religions in the heroic character of Beowulf.
Beowulf slays Grendel, but his mother in an act of revenge attacks the great hall leaving Beowulf to trace the deadly menace to her underwater lair. After Beowulf returns victorious in the slaying of Grendel’s mother, a second celebration arises in the hero’s honor. Beowulf presents to Hrothgar the hilt of the ancient sword used to sever Grendel’s head off his body. Hrothgar while examining the hilt takes notice, “It was engraved all over and showed how war first came into the world and the flood destroyed the tribal giants” (Beowulf 1216). The author intertwines the Noah flood into the story with the ornamental hilt Beowulf recovers from the lair of the Christian beasts. With the introduction of an actual physical...