Beowulf: Pagan Or Christian? Essay, Research Paper
Beowulf the Pagan
by Michael Vaugh
Beowulf is an heroic poem verse form that combines the contrasting beliefs of the traditional Paganism and the modern appraisal of Christianity. The bulk of the characters in Beowulf are Pagans. This faith is based in the belief of many Gods ( polytheism ) . The narrative Beowulf was passed down by word of oral cavity for old ages prior to being written down. As is the instance with any word of mouth narrative, Beowulf doubtless changed each clip it was retold. One facet of these alterations was most likely the add-on of more pro-Christian elements. The first individual to compose down the narrative of Beowulf was most likely a Christian monastic. This original author is suggested by the fact that it was written on parchment, which was a luxury reserved for the Church at the clip. The monastics were for the most portion the lone category that could read and compose. However, the nucleus of the narrative remains in the Pagan values of personal wealth/accomplishment, ace human strength, monsters, and firing the dead. Beowulf is a Christian reworking of a heathen verse form with & # 8220 ; a twine of heathen ballads edited by monastics ; it is the work of a learned but inaccurate Christian antiquary & # 8221 ; ( Clark 112 ) .
The narrative was set in a clip when Christianity was a freshly budding faith in England. Beowulf is a nexus between two traditions, Pagan and Christian. Throughout the book there are obvious mentions to both Christian and Pagan rites. The characters in the heroic poem are freshly found Christians who are seeking to stay true to their new religion but are weak and hence, in times of great problem, they resort back to their Pagan traditions and Gods out of fright. Pagan rites in the book are normally present merely as contemplations of the yesteryear or in times of the character s greatest convulsion. Otherwise, in times of felicity and rejoicing, they worship their one, Godhead, Christian God.
When Grendel is assailing Herot, and it & # 8217 ; s people think they are in their greatest danger, the people of Herot have one such oversight of religion. Hrothgar and his counsellors make useless efforts to pacify Grendel. They can & # 8217 ; t offer him gold or land, as they might an ordinary enemy, which puts them at a loss.
Sometimes at heathen shrines they vowed
offering to idols, swore curses
that the slayer of psyches might come to their assistance
and salvage the people. That was their manner,
their pagan hope ; deep in their Black Marias
they remembered snake pit. The Almighty Judge
of good workss and bad, the Lord God,
Head of the Heavens and high King of the World,
was unknown to them. ( Heaney 175-183 )
The transition shows that it was because of uncertainty and fear the people of Herot regressed back to their Pagan roots. The usage of the word heathenish shows that the people did non admit God or the Bible at this clip. Hell refers to their old province under the Pagan faith. Obviously, the characters were non the Christians as portrayed by the author. The Christian component is farther added in the following lines.
Oh, cursed is he
who in clip of problem has to thrust his psyche
in the fires embrace, give uping aid ;
he has nowhere to run. But blessed is he
who after decease can near the Lord
and happen friendly relationship in the Father s embracing. ( Heaney 183-188 )
This says that the people whose fear consumes them to the point that they lose religion that, after decease, their psyches will non be granted ageless peace by the Lord. The soldiers who have fallen from religion in their conflict are making so because of great fright, but God and good Christians look down upon them. Merely those who will give themselves and swear in God will be let into Heaven.
The brilliant monsters of Beowulf are derived from the trolls of Norse mythology. They were shady animals of heathen beliefs that lurked around waterfalls or caves. During the relation of the beginnings of Grendel nevertheless, it is written that the monster is a merchandise of Cain ( Heaney 106 ) , a Christian character. This is a manner that the characters and Christian authors of the book warrant their belief in monsters. If they can state that the monster comes from a scriptural character, so they can & # 8217 ; t consider themselves blasphemers for believing in the Pagan thought of monsters. The characters are both frightened of the monster that is taking their lives and of what will go on if they show a deficiency of religion, as is shown in the above quotation mark.
A similar rationalisation can once more be made when Beowulf is boasting about his legion triumphs and Michigans to state that he is
non braggart but that he is true. Having excessively much pride had been the ruin of many Biblical characters and is the first lifelessly wickedness in Christianity. Beowulf returns to state his narrative but merely after he has put on a frontage of humbleness, showing that, at bosom, he surely isn’t an Orthodox Christian but merely needs to look to be one. It is easy to see that Beowulf s humbleness could hold easy been added to this narrative at a ulterior clip as a consequence of Christian influences in the documenting of the unwritten narrative.
The characters of Beowulf are really focused on the achievements they achieve in their life-times instead than their lives after decease ( Heaney 1386-1389 ) . The hereafter is non mentioned as phase of being. Christianity relies on the promise of hereafter to prolong its belief. Besides, retaliation is preferred over mourning harmonizing to Beowulf in lines 1384 and 1385. These transitions show two facets of Beowulf being the authoritative Pagan. The heathen virtuousnesss of the narrative besides require the characters to turn out themselves and their personal worth. Beowulf claims that the battle with the firedrake is no 1 s but his ain. He says the conflict is to mensurate his strength ( Heaney 2534 ) and turn out his worth ( Heaney 2535 ) even though he has demonstrated these things on many occasions. Paganism besides includes the belief that every human life is in the custodies of destiny or fate. Beowulf gives an illustration of this is by stating what occurs on the wall / between the two of us will turn out as destiny, ( Heaney 2525-2526 ) . He clearly feels that his life and decease is all inevitable and predetermined.
Shield & # 8217 ; s entombment at sea in lines 26 through 52 showed obvious Pagan traditions. He was buried with Far fetched hoarded wealths and cherished cogwheel. Christianity & # 8217 ; s moralities are based on submission and poorness non wealth and hoarded wealths. Throughout the narrative, the good workss of hero s are rewarded with great wealths and hoarded wealths every bit good. The importance of stuff goods was one of the central features of the Pagan & # 8217 ; s beliefs. On the other manus Christianity & # 8217 ; s moralities are based on submission and poorness. Even though Beowulf possesses religious strength, he isn & # 8217 ; t peculiarly concerned with the Christian virtuousnesss. He wants to assist people, in a Christian manner, but his motive for making so is directed toward celebrity. Beowulf demonstrates an avidity for stuff wagess and earthly celebrity, which is a characteristic of Paganism. He has the bosom of the Christian to assist people but received the selfish wagess of Paganism.
At the terminal of the narrative, Beowulf is cremated ( Heaney 3137-3148 ) which is far from a proper Christian entombment. In fact, throughout the narrative, all but Shield & # 8217 ; s decease ceremonials are conducted by cremation, a ceremonial looked down upon by Christians. Indeed in times of decease and hardship the people of Beowulf & # 8217 ; s England are non the devout Christians they were portrayed as. This shows that bad times go manus in manus with Pagan values in the author s eyes, proposing a prejudice against the faith. This is easy explained by sing the religion of the original author.
Throughout Beowulf cardinal heathen features are strongly apparent. Even after centuries of Christian interlingual renditions the heathen nucleus of the narrative remains merely somewhat altered. However the inside informations of the narrative have been distorted to suit the Christian demands of an heroic poem. The author cites heathen rites merely if they occurred in the distant yesteryear or in times of utmost adversities. Even in these instances the author describes the unfaithful as pagans non worthy of Gods heaven. In the description of Grendel, who is evidently a heathen belief, the author places the monster in the line of descent of a scriptural character. This is reasonably clever if the author is a Christian himself or herself. The chief character of the narrative, Beowulf, is described as a hero. He possesses charming ace strength while contending in incredible environments, but harmonizing to the author he had god given abilities. The author of Beowulf has turned around the heathen aspects of the narrative in order to conform to his or her ain beliefs. Personal wealth, achievement, strength, and destiny besides play a function in the narrative. Each of these qualities is of a heathen nature. Peoples are cremated versus go forthing the organic structure whole for the hereafter. In fact, small consideration is given by the characters to the hereafter, which is a Christian demand. Treasure and wealths are used as position symbols. With all of these heathen virtues combined with the likely religion of the author, a belief that Beowulf is originally a heathen narrative can be supported.
Clark, George. Beowulf. New York: Twayne, 1990.
Heaney, Seamus. Beowulf. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2000.