Beowulf, is a story of a man who seems to be unrealistic to people of today. Yet the character, Beowulf still arouses the imagination of any generation from all over the world. Beowulf, is undoubtedly one of the most studied, debated over, and read epics of all times. One of the most controversial topics in the tale is the juxtaposition of Christian ethics which are found throughout the story, yet the time frame of the tale was a time that is known as mainly a pagan belief existing among the people. Upon researching different authors, one can find every possible interpretation imaginable about the Christian verses pagan elements in the story. However, the fact still remains that either the Christian elements found throughout was derived from the poet or perhaps a man even in the time of Beowulf could have been chosen by God to try and lead the people to a true God. The beautifully written epic, Beowulf, tells of a simpler time when a man such as Beowulf could understand and appreciate his unusual strength as a gift worthy only to be claimed by almighty God.
As the epic begins, a far away land is in trouble and in desperate need of hero. Beowulf hears of a fierce monster ravaging and killing men of King Hrothgars land, the Danes. These same people were at war long ago with Beowulfs people, the Geats, therefore Beowulf and his people knew of the Danes well. Beowulf’s father was the first to strike a blow and start a famous feud (Crossley-Holland, 44). Yet when Beowulf heard of the Danes distress he quickly understood that he should go. Beowulf was considered the bravest and strongest of his people, and most other warriors for that matter. Beowulf understood his strength to somehow be of divine nature rather than of his own accord (Norton Anthology, 1058). Many times throughout the epic are references made to God or to an all-powerful force. Such references are excessively embedded in the beginning when Beowulf speaks of omens about the decision to make the trip to help the Danes. For instance, the passage written in Beowulf by George Clark, Between
the heros command, his announcement, and his selection of his companions for the exploit, the Geatish councilors consult the omens and approve his plans even as he leads his picked company to the sea and the ready ship(Clark, 53).
Also references are made to the men giving thanks to God for a safe journey once making their way across the ocean to the Danes (Crossley-Holland, 38). Even as he speaks to King Hrothgar he mentions several times that if God wills a victory that he, Beowulf, will end the Danes suffering from Grendels rage (Nortons Anthology, 1058). In essence all of these mentioned show Beowulf to be earnest in his desire to help the Danes for their well being, and not for fame or fortune for his own benefit.
As we prepare to encounter the beast Grendel with Beowulf, we find that Beowulf seems confident not in his own talents, but in God. The last conversation which Hrothgar and Beowulf have before Beowulf actually encounters Grendel confirms this because Beowulf tells Hrothgar that the fate of the battle is up to God. Even then Hrothgar cautions Beowulf not to enter into the fight with selfish pride (Robinson, 84). Beowulf expressing his intentions to fight the battle against Grendel without a weapon once again examplifies his faith in a power greater than his own strength. It is not an indication of selfish pride.
Beowulf explains in this quote his belief about the fight: Grendel is no braver, no stronger than I am! I could kill him with my sword; I shall not, easy as it would be. This fiend is a bold and famous fighter, but his claws and teeth scratching at my shield, his clumsy fists beating at my sword blade, would be helpless. I will meet him with my hands empty–unless his heart fails him, seeing a soldier waiting weaponless, unafraid. Let God in His wisdom extend his hand where He wills, reward whom He chooses!(Norton Anthology, 1067). These words could be taken, as the translators manipulation to the epic, yet time and time again there seems a presence around Beowulf which is not evident amongst other characters.
So upon meeting Grendel, Beowulf stands firm and the beast does in fact seem
frightened. Grendel, the descendent of Cain has finally met his ultimate match, Gods chosen
soldier! Grendel tries with all of his might to break free from Beowulf, and does so only after leaving his arm as proof of the battle. Beowulf later informs Hrothgar of his own disappointment for not leaving the bleeding body lying in Herot Hall, but that Gods will was different. Hrothgar is overwhelmed with joy and begins to ready the kingdom for a feast unlike no other.
An apparent love is shown from Hrothgar to Beowulf, by the elaborate measures he goes to repay him for this most wonderful of deeds he has performed of the Danes. Beowulf seems modest in the accomplishment and thus very little of an acceptance speech is heard, instead he seems apologetic when he speaks because all he has to show from the battle with Grendel is his arm. Nevertheless, Beowulf would not offend the King or custom by refusing the praise or gifts, which Hrothgar seems to lavish easily. All that the Danes wish to give will only be handed to Beowulfs own King and kinsmen, and not horded for his own reward.
In the midst of a wonderful celebration of good fortune, another monster comes from the depths of hell, Grendel’s mother. Fiercer than Grendel she is, as a mothers passion consumes the hall. Beowulf without hesitation enters into this great battle as well. She too comes at night; this night unlike any other was a night the people slept as though sleep had not touched their world in years. Grendels mother came in and took Hrothgars closest friend, and for fear of her own life fled back to the swamp from which she had come. Beowulf follows her to the swamp knowing his strength alone cannot defeat such passion as what this mother, Grendels mother must feel. In this we can again see a meaningful understanding from Beowulf of an omnipotent ruler over the entire world. Thus he enters the swamp only out of pure faith of Gods abilities to carry him through. The fight is one of such magnitude that during and after Beowulf seems to change, to somehow mature. Perhaps even in his belief in a power over all man, there was still a little pride in himself before this battle with Grendels mother, yet his victory from the battle truly
enlightens him of fate being only as God ordains it (Greenfield, 18). The struggle which
Beowulf goes through between having some unknown, indescribable knowledge and his peoples customs and beliefs being so very different seems to come to a climax during this instance, and a conclusion for his confusion all at once (18).
So we come to a conclusion to such a seemingly wonderful heroes life. Beowulf has by this time grown very old, and has been the King of his own people, the Geats for many years. But one final battle is still left for Beowulf to fight and this one will prove to be the most important of all. R. E. Kaskes interpretation of Beowulf explains that this battle is the most important because, not only does Beowulf have to encounter the ever-present dangers as a human being of militia, but also as a king, in combating an apparent spread of militia among his people, typified by the actions of the goblet-stealer and the later defection of his own retainers (127). Still even in his old age he feels the desire to protect those weaker than he and his final moments are spent fighting for the safety of his people.
In his old age, Beowulf still tells his people, No man could fight this battle but me and win, which again implies the understood strength Beowulf has to be more than merely a human strength. Kaske implies that the dragon represents the greatest of evils, since the devil is often referred to as the dragon, and in a way Beowulf has always been fighting the dragon, or some evil (126-127). Some wonder why the dragon kills Beowulf, and this seems an unfitting end. Yet in truth, Beowulf accomplished his feet against the dragon, he killed him and saved his people from another evil. But Beowulf is human and humans die. This ending to the epic is what humanizes Beowulf and the entire epic.
A mere man faces unbelievable triumphs and is victorious every time, well almost every time. But this last battle should not be seen as a defeat, because the victory was meant for God all along, not a human, which is why Beowulf is finally released of his duties from God. A man cannot be worshipped as the bravest and the strongest, only God should hold this high honor.
Beowulf was considered a larger than life hero even in his time. Surely few people can
obtain fame, fortune, and the respect of his piers, in one lifetime. Yet something seemed special, or different about Beowulf. Perhaps in a world still ruled by Pagan belief Beowulf was a man of unusual knowledge, a knowledge granted by God to a man in a world of pagan sin. Maybe Beowulf was one of the first of the old ancestors to be chosen by God, as Moses and Abraham are in later years, to show their people a love and forgiveness which is unconditional and forever. A man in the midst of pagans, who will show these heathen people a grace that will lead them to eternal heaven and rid them of an eternal death. The many wonders about the actual origin of this epic is sure to be pondered upon as long as man can read and rationalize. One thing seems evident though as to the origin of Beowulfs beliefs. A life of fame did little to shorten Beowulfs belief in his countrymen, kinsmen, or his almighty God.