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the juxtaposition of christian and Pagan elements in Beowulf

brit12 1 / -  
Oct 19, 2008   #1
The Juxtaposition of Christian and Pagan elements in Beowulf mirror the mix of religious practices occurring in Anglo-Saxon society., the epic poem provides the idea that the poem was written during a time when society was in the process of changing from Paganism to Christianity. "A period in which the virtues of the heathen 'Heroic Age' were tempered by the gentleness of the new belief; an age warlike, yet Christian. The fact that Christianity and Paganism are so closely intertwined in the poem is the reason Beowulf has both Christian and Pagan influences. This is evident in the characters in the poem, they display superhuman personification.

Beowulf is depicted to be a superhero. He takes it upon himself to save the Danes from Grendel. "If weapons were useless he'd use his hands, the strength of his fingers" (506) in his battle with Grendel he chooses to not use any weapons and relies on his "superhuman" strength. During Beowulf's battle with Grendel his strength takes over him and he ends up ripping off Grendel's arm. His "superhuman" strength also appears in his battle with Grendel's mother and his battle with the dragon. Grendel, in the epic is depicted as a superhuman monster that has no knowledge of weapons and simply depends on his strength to defeat his enemies. This shows how Pagan elements are displayed in the poem. Beowulf also cares more about being remembered more that doing a deed for the charity of it.

"When the wind stirs and storms, waves splash toward the sky, as dark as the air, as black as the rain that the heavens weep: Our only help, again, lies within you. Grendel's mother is hidden in her terrible home, a place you've not seen. Seek it, if you dare! Save us, once more, and again twisted gold, Heaped-up ancient treasure, will reward you for the battle you win (439-448). The idea under consideration here is "pride goes before a fall" Hrothgar specifically warns Beowulf not to "give way to pride." "So fame comes to the men who mean to win it and care about nothing else!" (507) in this statement Beowulf shows his paganism. He sees nothing more rewarding then the reward that comes from glory. Hrothgar also emphasizes about "eternal rewards" - a Christian idea- rather than a worldly success. However, it seems that eternal rewards Hrothgar emphasizes can only be won through worldly success- the reward of fame for being a warrior.

While many pagan influences appear in the poem, Christian elements are dominite. Many of the characters exhibit Christian characteristics. Beowulf has a Christ-like behavior. Beowulf understands that the Danes are being oppressed by the evil monster Grendel just as Christ knew of the oppression of the Jewish people. Both set out to save their people. To free themselves from the monster, the Danes need a savior, and Beowulf, through his desire to disperse their suffering, comes to save them. When Beowulf battles Grendel, he shows a sense of fairness when he refuses to use a weapon. The ideas throughout the poem of living right, loyalty, and of being a good leader are all traits of Christ. Just as Beowulf exemplifies Christ, Grendel mirrors Satan. Beowulf and Grendel represent the Christian beliefs of good verse evil.

Grendel is referred to as a descendant of Cain, whom Satan tricks into sinning and committing the first murder. He is the image of a man fallen from grace through sin. Like Satan, who is jealous of the happiness and joy that Adam and Eve have in the Garden of Eden, Grendel is jealous of the happiness and joy in Herot. Grendel lives in an underworld as Satan lives in hell. Grendel is referred to in the poem as the guardian of sins. The dragon is Beowulf's last and greatest battle. The dragon represents greed, and destruction. He is a symbol of the power of Satan. Beowulf's fight with the dragon is a realization of the story of salvation where Beowulf, like Christ, gives his life for his people.

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