Beowulf was written in England sometime in the 8th century. Beowulf was written in a time when Christianity was becoming a major religion and Paganism was still widely practiced. Beowulf was originally probably a folklore legend told in early Celtic and Scandinavian cultures that was passed through the ages by word-of-mouth and was written down and revised by a Christian monk in later centuries. Beowulf has a combination of Pagan and Christian influences written into it. This combination makes this story great. The pagan elements in the epic poem Beowulf are evident in the characters superhuman qualities.
Beowulf is depicted as a superhero. … Beowulf,… the strongest of the Geats-greater and stronger that anyone any where in this world-… (Beowulf, lines 110-111). Dripping with my enemies blood… drove five great giants into chains… hunting monsters out of the ocean, killing them one by one… (Beowulf, lines 153-1580). Beowulf takes it upon himself to save the Danes from Grendel. In his battle with Grendel, Beowulf chooses not to use weapons; he relies on his super strength. … the monsters scorn… so great that he needs no weapons and fears none.
Nor will I… (Beowulf, lines 167-169). During the fight, Beowulf’s strength takes over and Beowulf wrestles with Grendel until he is able to rip one of the monster’s arms out of its socket. Superhuman feats also appear in the fight with Grendel’s mother. When Beowulf enters the water, he swims downward for most of the day before he sees the bottom. For hours he sank through the waves;… (Beowulf, line 572). He does this without the use of oxygen. During the battle with Grendel’s mother, Beowulf realizes that Unferth’s sword is useless against the monsters thick skin.
He grabs an enormous sword made by giants, almost too heavy to hold and slashes through the monster’s body. Then he saw, hanging on the wall, a heavy sword,… the best of all weapons but so massive that no ordinary man could lift… lifted it high over his head and struck with all the strength he had left,… (Beowulf, lines 633-641). This superhero strength continues into the battle with the dragon. By this time, Beowulf is an old man. He stands up to the dragon and wounds him. Although Beowulf is fatally wounded himself, he still manages to deliver the final blow that kills the dragon.
Grendel is also seen as a superhuman monster. Grendel has no knowledge of weapons so he too depends on his extraordinary strength to destroy his enemies. Snatched up thirty men, smashed them… (Beowulf, line 37). Also do to the fear of Grendel people prayed to their stone gods, a pagan ritual. And sometimes they sacrificed to the old stone gods… hoping for Hells support… (Beowulf, lines 90-92). The dragon is also seen as a super powerful adversary. The dragon in Beowulf spits fire with such intense heat that it melts Beowulf’s shield to his body. These battles are examples of epic folklore during pagan times.
Also Beowulf’s single destiny is to help his people by dying while fighting a supernatural creature. After Beowulf is defeated he wants his body cremated and wants his ashes placed in a memorial tower as a reminder of his bravery, a very unchristian ritual. Have the brave Geats build me a tomb, when the funeral flames have burned me, and build it here,… so sailors can see the tower, and remember my name, and call it Beowulfs tower… (Beowulf, lines 809-816). This leaves us the impression of pagan immortality. Christian influences are also very apparent in the poem. Many of the characters exhibit Christian characteristics.
Beowulf has great kindness. Beowulf understood the predicament of the Danes that are being attacked by the evil monster Grendel and knew what he had to do, just as Christ did for humanity. Both set out to save their people. Heard how Grendel filled the nights with horror… would sail across the sea to Hrothgar, now when help was needed(Beowulf, lines 112-116). When Beowulf battles Grendel, he exhibits a sense of fairness when he refuses to use a weapon. The idea throughout the poem of living right, of loyalty, and of being a good leader can all be seen as traits of a good Christian.
Just as Beowulf somewhat compares to Christ, Grendel is like Satan. Beowulf and Grendel represent the Christian beliefs of good verses evil. Grendel is referred to as a descendant of Cain, the man who killed his own brother. Conceived by a pair of those monsters born of Cain… punished forever for the crime of Abels death. (Beowulf, lines 20-24). Satan is jealous of the happiness and joy that humanity has, Grendel is jealous of the happiness and joy in Herot. … in the darkness, growled in pain, impatient as day after day the music rang… (Beowulf, lines 2-3).
Grendel lives in an underworld as Satan lives in hell. The dragon is Beowulf’s last and greatest battle. The dragon represents hostility, greed, and destruction, which can also be paralleled to the devil. Beowulf’s fight with the dragon is like how Jesus gave his life for his people. Finally, just as Christ had one last battle, Beowulf has his final battle with the dragon. Both Christ and Beowulf fought hard in their last battles with evil and although they both ultimately died in their final battle, they both were able to overcome the evil before they died.
Other more apparent influences of Christianity was the reference of Hrothgars throne being holy. … he never dared to touch king Hrothgars… throne, protected by God-God, whose love Grendel could not know. (Beowulf, lines 82-85). The reference to God was throughout the poem. God must decide who will be given to deaths cold grip. (Beowulf, lines 174-175). Surely the Lord Almighty could stop this madness, smother his lust! (Beowulf, lines 212-213). The theme of Cain and Abel is brought up one more time during the confrontation between Beowulf and Unferth.
You murdered your brothers, your own close kin. Words and bright wit wont help your soul:… Unferth, forever tormented. (Beowulf, lines 320-323). In conclusion, the author of Beowulf was very effective in combining pagan and Christian ideas in his poem. The technique of combining two different ideals made the poem Beowulf very interesting to read. In fusing Pagan and Christian ideas, the poet was able to emphasize the morals of his times and to enhance his characters with Christian values and Pagan folk legend.