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Old Testament Allusions In Beowulf

Thesis: The Beowulf poet incorporates Old Testament allusions in order to teach
the Anglo-Saxon pagans about the new religion. I. Biblical Allusion A. The
Definition of Allusion B. The Old Testament II. Descendant of Cain A. Story of
Cain B. Grendel 1. Descendant a. Committing Murder b. Living as Grendel III.
Allusions to David and Goliath A. Story of David and Goliath B. Story of
She-Monster C. Death of the She-Monster 1. Decapitation IV. The Serpent A. Story
of the Serpent B. Story of the Dragon 1. Allusion to Satan V. Lord of the
Universe A. Act of Creation B. Ruler of All Adam Bussey Dr Vivone English 4A,
Period 5 24 April 2000 Old Testament Allusions in Beowulf Throughout literature,
many writers have alluded to stories in the Bible. Whether it’s from the Old
Testament or the New Testament, writers have paid references to Biblical
stories. In literary analysis, this is called an allusion. The Oxford
Encyclopedic English Dictionary defines an allusion as a reference, especially a
covert, or indirect one (37). In the case of Beowulf, the allusion is referring
to instances in the Bible. The specific references are to stories told in the
Old Testament. During the time period of the poet of Beowulf, there were many
Anglo-Saxon pagans. The pagans are people not subscribing to any of the major
religions of the world. At this time, the new religion of Christianity also came
about in this region. Religion, therefore, is taught through stories, such as
those of the Old Testament. The Beowulf poet incorporates Old Testament
allusions in order to teach the Anglo-Saxon pagans about the new religion. The
first Biblical allusion told in the epic poem is about Cain. Cain was a
character in the Old Testament who committed the first murder. He had grown so
jealous of his brother that he murdered him. In the Judeo-Christian world, he
represents the first real evil act committed by man against another man. This is
alluded to by the story of the Grendel monster. For many years, the Grendel
monster terrorized the people of Herot. He came in and killed the inhabitants by
slashing and even eating some of them. This act is much like the act that Cain
committed and therefore Grendels actions can be traced back to Cain. Grendel
is a descendant of Cain because he committed the same act of murder. The Grendel
monster also did not have a very promising life. His life contained no positive
outlooks. He lived in his abode only to go out of it to kill and plunder for
treasure. These living conditions help establish a reason for his killings. He
still committed these acts against man and became evil for them. Grendel can
also be linked to Cain by the fact that it tells that the Grendel monster, which
was originally a Scandinavian troll, represents evil and darkness (Tuso104).
Since he represents evil, Grendel can be linked to the Old Testament, just like
that of Cain. The Old Testament allusion of Cain is told through the Grendel
monster. A second allusion that the poet of Beowulf told about is the allusion
to David and Goliath. The story of David and Goliath is an easy one. David was a
very small man who was of no match to Goliath. Goliath, on the other hand, was a
giant and was almost unbeatable. David went against this great opponent and
triumphed even with his impossible odds. Then, as a trophy of some sort, David
cut the head off Goliath and kept it. This story is alluded to in the poem
through the story of the She-Monster. The She-Monster is Grendels mother as
well. After learning that her son was killed by the mighty Beowulf, she decides
to enact revenge on Beowulf. But Beowulf acts first by searching for the
She-Monster. He finds her underwater lair, where she also has been hoarding
treasure together. Beowulf uses the sword he was given; yet it fails him. Thus,
against all odds, Beowulf still struggles against the giant She-Monster and
continues to fight. Beowulf eventually triumphs over the great beast and decides
to prove to the people that he killed the creature. He grabs a sword and cuts
the head off the She-Monster. This story line resembles much of the story line
of David and Goliath. The allusion of the She-Monster comes in two close parts.
Both allusions are to the same story of David and Goliath. The first is when
Beowulf loses his sword and has to fight against incredible odds. This is much
like David fighting against Goliath. Both Beowulf and David fought against an
almost invincible foe and triumphed. The second allusion is the decapitation of
the She-Monster. The She-Monster and Goliath were both killed in the same
method: decapitation. Since the story of the She-Monster and the story of David
and Goliath resemble each other, its safe to say that the poet alludes to the
Old Testament. The next allusion differs from the earlier two. The poet of
Beowulf uses this following allusion to show the relationship of the devil:
mans greatest foe. This allusion started in the Genesis chapter with the tale
of Adam and Eve. In the Garden of Eden, there was mans perfect world. There
were no worries of any kind at all and no problems. It was a literal Utopia.
There was only one conflict that the two human inhabitants of Eden had to worry
about: the tree of knowledge. The serpent, who was also Satan, eventually
persuades Eve to eat from the tree: then, she convinces Adam as well. This
eating of the apple was Satans first real act of evil and leads to mans
downfall from Eden. This story is the first showing of the serpent in the Old
Testament. The dragon, in the final battle of Beowulf, is an allusion to the
serpent. The dragon represents evil for all mankind. The author of this poem
alluded to the story of the Garden of Edens serpent. The dragon is the
greatest foe that Beowulf ever faces. Since Beowulf was one of the greatest of
mankind, then the dragon can be led to represent Satan or the serpent. Also, the
visualization of the dragon being a member of the serpent or reptile family also
alludes to the serpent. The dragon is also “mans greatest foe in a
monster form” (Carey 49). This would lead the reader to believe that the
dragon is alluding to the serpent from the Garden of Eden. By this logic, the
two are related. The story of the dragon alludes to the serpent from the Garden
of Eden in the Old Testament. The last and final set of allusions that the poet
of Beowulf told about is of God. The poet told so much of how humble the human
race was to the all-powerful Lord. The poet told of how God was the Lord of the
Universe and creator of all. In the beginning of the epic poem, it tells of the
construction of Herot. This construction can also be alluding to the creation of
the world. Also, the Old Testament tells the reader that God is the Creator of
the Universe. Throughout the entire poem, God is also referenced or alluded to
in this same fashion. This allusion is the poet’s way of showing the Anglo-Saxon
pagans more about God. Literature over the ages has taught a variety of
lessons. These lessons can be anything from a simple moral or to something
greater. In the epic poem Beowulf, this lesson is a little more dramatic.
Beowulf is a poem of great teaching importance. This epic poem began at the
start of a new country and laid the groundwork for its religious upbringing. The
Anglo-Saxon pagans inhabited the area, in which the poem was written. These
pagans knew nothing of the new religion of Christianity or any other form of it.
Consequently, the poet decided to write the epic poem for this country and use
allusions from the Bible to help its influence. These allusions are from the Old
Testament and tell the tales of Cain, David and Goliath, the serpent and the
Almighty Lord. Through use of allusions, the poet of Beowulf taught the pagans
the way of the new religion. Works Cited Carey, Gary MA, ed. Cliffs Notes on
Beowulf. Lincoln: University of Colorado, 1990. Tuso, Joseph F, ed. Beowulf: The
Donaldson Translation Backgrounds and Sources Criticism New York: WW Norton,
1975. Vivone, John. “Lecture on Biblical Allusions in Beowulf,”
given at Cherry Hill East on 28 September 1999.

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