Beowulf: Pagan Values Tied with Christianity

The poem titled Beowulf was composed sometime between the seventh and tenth century in a language that is known as Anglo-Saxon. It incorporates many pagan themes and concepts, yet it also contains many references to Christianity. Although paganism and Christianity can be seen as unalike, the two aspects are brought together by the poet in order to show the need for grouping. The pagan themes, such as fate or the common goal of fame and heroism, raise questions in the religious community that could be misleading or misinterpreted without the Christian insight provided in the text.
As a result, it is clear that this combination of pagan concepts and Christianity shown in Beowulf is for a Christian audience. In order to enhance the value of the poem Beowulf, the author reconciles pagan concepts such as fame, vengeance, and fate with Christianity. The pagan concepts play key parts in the storyline and are related to the components of Christianity in the poem. One of the pagan concepts depicted in Beowulf is fame. Other ancient texts, such as The Odyssey and The Iliad, show warriors who venture out far from home to accomplish heroic tasks and build fame.
The poem shows Beowulf and other characters in the story to have the same urge. Beowulf is shown early in the story as “the mightiest man on earth, high-born and powerful” (p. 15). The concept of fame is very important to him and to his people. After hearing of Grendel and his strength, Beowulf declares “to heighten Hygelac’s fame and gladden his heart, I hereby renounce sword…: hand to hand is how it will be, a life-and-death fight with the fiend” (p. 31). He wants to maximize not only his own fame but the fame of his king.

He will fight Grendel equally matched and “perform to the uttermost what your people wanted or perish in the attempt, in the fiend’s clutches” (p. 43). The pagan concept of fame is accomplished when Beowulf defeats Grendel and gives the arm of the creature to Hrothgar. Beowulf has proven his skills and strength by ridding the land of Grendel and Hrothgar praises him by stating, “You have made yourself immortal by your glorious actions” (p. 63). Although the idea of fame at this time conflicts with certain notions of Christianity, the author reconciles the two by adding many references to God with the achievement of fame.
The author is able to attribute both Christian concepts and heroism to God through the dialogue of Hrothgar. When Hrothgar arrives in the mead-hall the morning after the slaying, he first thanks God by saying, “let the Almighty Father be thanked…the Heavenly Shepard can work His wonders always…” (p. 63). He praises Beowulf and states that the killing of Grendel was accomplished “with the Lord’s assistance” (p. 63). Another example of the ties between God and fame is when Hrothgar gives his speech to Beowulf over the dangers of power. He tells the story of Heremod, a king who eventually loses everything due to selfishness, to Beowulf. Almighty God had made him eminent and powerful and marked him from the start for a happy life… a change happened, gave no more rings to honour the Danes… he suffered in the end…his life lost happiness” (p. 119). The story shows that God is the true beholder of power and when man strays from Him, or lives a life of no values, He has the power to take away happiness and power. The only way to live on earth is through the grace of God. Consequently, the pagan concept of fame ties back to God and is reconciled to Christianity. Another concept of paganism found in the poem is the concept of vengeance.
The first sign of vengeance comes clear when Grendel’s mother becomes aware of Grendel’s death. She is infuriated and “desperate for revenge” (p. 89). She had no interest in the Danes or Geats until the death of her son. She goes to the mead-hall, kills Aeschere, and takes back Grendel’s remaining corpse. This anger and desire to avenge Grendel’s death also leads to her eventual death when Beowulf meets her at the mere and kills her with the mystical sword. After killing Grendel’s mother and resurfacing to land, Beowulf tells his men, “if God had not helped me, the outcome would have been quick and fatal” (p. 15). The author seems to imply that latching onto anger and vengeance leads to the destruction of oneself. It can also be interpreted that Beowulf was aided by God to destroy Grendel’s mother due to her fixed desire to wreak havoc and revenge on the mead-hall. This can be seen as the authors attempt to reconcile vengeance with Christianity. Another example of vengeance can be seen when Grendel’s mother kills Aeschere and Hrothgar mourns over his death. Beowulf tries to console Hrothgar by saying, “Wise sir, do not grieve. It is always better to avenge dear ones than to indulge in mourning. ” (p. 97).
This shows the importance of avenging the death of one’s comrade or friend to Beowulf and also the contrast between vengeance and Christian belief. After Beowulf finishes his boast, Hrothgar “sprang to his feet and praised God for Beowulf’s pledge” (p. 97) This is another attempt by the poet to reconcile the pagan concept of vengeance with Christianity. The desire to seek vengeance is discouraged through Christianity, and in the case of Grendel’s mother, can result in the destruction of oneself. Although, the question rises as to why Beowulf wasn’t corrected for seeking vengeance on Grendel’s mother.
This is where a third pagan concept is seen in Beowulf; the pagan concept of fate. The pagan concept of fate in Beowulf is mentioned in association with good and bad fortune. For example, when explaining Hygelac’s death, the author states “fate swept him away because of his proud need to provoke a feud with the Frisians” (p. 85). The use of fate in this context refers to bad fortune due to Hygelac’s desire to stir up a confrontation with the Frisians. At an earlier point in the story, Beowulf tells Hrothgar, “no need to lament for long or lay out my body: if the battle takes me…Fate goes ever as fate must! (p. 31). Here Beowulf leaves the decision to fate, which is a concept of paganism, but there is no mention of fate being controlled by God. This is in direct conflict with Christianity and the author is does associate fate with Christianity in other portions of the text. For example, when Beowulf is declaring his formal boast to kill Grendel, he states, “And may the Divine Lord in His wisdom grant the glory of victory to whichever side He sees fit” (p. 47). This example shows Beowulf’s demonstration of his Christian beliefs and acknowledgement that it is ultimately up to God who will win the fight.
After the fight with Grendel’s mother, Beowulf makes another declaration of fate when he states “it was hard-fought, a desperate affair that could have gone badly; if God had not helped me, the outcome would have been quick and fatal” (p. 115). Beowulf surrenders himself to God and is fully aware that his fate was left to God’s will. Beowulf once again shows his belief in not only the pagan concept of fate but in God as well. Therefore, the author has successfully reconciled fate with Christianity. In order to enhance the value of the poem Beowulf, the author reconciles pagan concepts such as fame, vengeance, and fate with Christianity.
These concepts are seen all throughout the poem and act as representation for the relationship between pagan concepts and Christianity. Although in some areas the two aspects of Anglo-Saxon life can be seen in conflict, as in the pagan concept of vengeance, the two seem to be interrelated. Although Beowulf is an epic narrative, it is full of Christian elements that show the beliefs of Christians today venture back in time to as early as the seventh century. Christian customs, such as man believing in God and the presence of good in the world, make this pagan story into what is now believed to be a primary Christian story amongst many.


What is Grendel in Beowulf

Beware of Grievous Grendel! We have all heard of the great epic poem Beowulf; one of the first major works in English literature. Grendel is a monster in this epic poem, in which he terrorizes people. He is a huge, powerful descendant of the biblical Cain, the son of Adam and Eve, who killed his brother Abel out of jealousy. In the same way as Cane, Grendel was cursed and condemned by the mighty Creator. Grendel is envious, resentful and angry toward mankind. He may attack at any time, for no reason at all and there is no way to reach an agreement with him to make him stop what he is doing. He exists to devastate and to murder human beings.
Grendel may be a part of fiction in this poem, but he also exists in real life. In modern life we can find the character of Grendel in natural disasters and human beings. A citation from the poem, translated by Kevin Crossley-Holland, would give a good picture of what Grendel caused to human kind; think of a beautiful place, a mead-hall, where people came together every night to eat, drink, sing and feast. People were living in harmony, until one night Grendel turned up and started the terror upon Hrothgar’s people, which would continue for the next twelve years: Then, under cover of night, Grendel came o Hrothgar’s lofty hall to see how the Ring-Danes were disposed after drinking ale all evening; and he found there a band of brave warriors, well-feasted, fast asleep, dead to worldly sorrow, man’s sad destiny. At once that hellish monster, grim and greedy, brutally cruel, started forward and seized thirty thanes even as they slept; and then, gloating over his plunder, he hurried from the hall, made for his lair with all those slain warriors. Grendel turns up out of nowhere, kills, murders people, and then disappears. In modern life we deal with natural disasters in a similar way.
There are earthquakes, tornados, volcanic eruptions and floods, which cause loss of life and property damage. A natural disaster comes without giving any notice, shatters homes, takes lives and leaves a population helpless with the ruins of its attack. People in modern civilization experience the same feelings as Hrothgar’s people, who were attacked for years and years; living in fear of horror, never knowing when to expect disaster to strike. Besides natural disasters, human beings can be Grendels themselves. Before going further into this topic, I would like to mention Freud’s Ego theory.

According to Freud, we are born with our Id. The id is an important part of our personality because as newborns, it allows us to get our basic needs met. Freud believed that the id is based on our pleasure principle. In other words, the id wants whatever feels good at the time, with no consideration for the reality of the situation. When a child needs to be changed, the id cries; when the child is hungry, the id cries again. The id does not care about reality, or about the needs of anyone else; when the id wants something, nothing else is important.
Within the next three years, as the child interacts more and more with the world, the second part of the personality begins to develop. Freud called this part the Ego. The ego is based on the reality principle. The ego understands that people have needs and desires and that something being impulsive or selfish can hurt us in the long run. It is the ego’s job to meet the needs of the id, while taking into consideration the reality of the situation. Around the age of five the Superego develops.
The superego is the moral part of us, which can sort right from wrong, and develops due to the moral and ethical discipline taught by our parents. In a healthy person, according to Freud, the ego is the strongest so that it can satisfy the needs of the id, not upset the superego, and still take into consideration the reality of every situation. If the id gets too strong, impulses and self gratification take over the person’s life. If the superego becomes too strong, the person would be driven by rigid morals, would be judgemental and unbending in his or her interactions with the world.
So when the ego is incapable of maintaining control of the id and superego, some kind of abnormality arises; here we meet the terrorists and murderers in modern life who we can compare to Beowulf’s Grendel. We never know when they will show themselves and their cruel intentions. But when they do appear in our lives, we suffer pain, become afraid and sad because of their actions. We know they are there and can’t stop them from doing harm to people. As a conclusion we can say Grendel is not fiction and he is not in the past.
Grendel is still among us, keeping us afraid of what might come to harm us or our loved ones. When the next natural disaster will arise is a surprise and we’ll never know when an unhealthy person or group will decide to attack us. So be aware of grievous Grendel and be ready to suffer, because you might be next in line! Leyla Doner Dugdu – 285533 – evening References: http://psychology. about. com/od/eindex/g/def_egostrength. htm http://www. betterlivingthroughbeowulf. com/? p=328 Beowulf, translation by Crossley-Holland, K.


Critical Analysis of Beowulf

Grendel Deep within the earth, in the frigid darkness laid the mighty beast Grendel. His tall, grisly frame trembled as the melodious hymns floated down to his lair. The joyful music sounded like liquid gold and it stung Grendel’s ears. He howled a mournful, drawn-out growl in pain. After several days of the Earthwalkers’ continuous celebration, Grendel was becoming steadily impatient, thirsting for retribution. How he longed to taste the bitter, metallic blood that coursed through their veins, and how his whole body ached to cause mayhem.
The enormous demon was growing weary of hearing about how the world was created. He was tired of them drinking, and celebrating, all while he suffered within the black, bleak cave he was banished to. He would make them suffer, though. Grendel was a deft demon, and he was ready to demonstrate how powerful he truly was. Children of Cain, such as Grendel, do not often sit idly by, as those whom carouse the victories of the Gods that banished Grendel and his familiars to the Underworld.
Forever was Grendel to be punished for the death of Abel, a crime of which he did not commit. To make matters worse, his familiars were on the losing end of the war against God’s creatures, thus casting them deeper within the shadows. However, that would not be the case today. It had gone on long enough. Grendel’s large feral body trembled in anticipation – he would strike them tonight. He would spill their blood in the streets and show them what such a mighty creature can do. Then, as the icy blanket of night crept across the Above World, Grendel emerged from his cavern.

His muscular legs propelled him quickly across the grassy fields to Herot, and as he went, Grendel wondered how the warriors would be recuperating from their celebrations. As he approached Herot, he found all of the warriors scattered throughout, all in a deep sleep. As he stepped lightly on the ground, Grendel sniffed the air. A fowl stench of brandy mixed with the bitter scent of their sweat intoxicated Grendel. His canine ears perked as he heard the slow, rhythmic beating of each of their hearts. He walked among their numbers, gazing upon each potential victim and sizing them up.
Who would provide the best kill? Who would give him the luscious blood he so eagerly wished to taste. Finally, he came upon the perfect victim – a boy, about to become a man, his warrior’s helmet was slightly askew on his sandy-colored hair. A silvery trail of drool slid from his lips and out onto the cold stone floor as he snored quietly. He had obviously never experienced battle, for his armor was made only of thin leather and had not even a fleck of dirt on it. Grendel’s black lips curled upwards as he gazed down upon his unknowing victim.
The power of the demon could crush his skull in a second, splattering the boy’s hopes and dreams all across the stone floor. No, that would be too abrupt – and it wouldn’t be the warrior’s death that this boy obviously so eagerly desired. No, Grendel would enjoy this. So with one slash of his razor-sharp talons, the boys throat was cut. Long ribbons of scarlet ran down his almost severed head and down onto the floor. The instant his neck was cut, his eyes shot wide open in horror, staring for only a moment at his murderer.
The fear, now etched eternally in his face, was like that of watching your worst nightmare transpire right in front of your eyes. That moment was everything Grendel wanted from his journey into mayhem. That single moment was what captured Grendel’s thirst and made it even stronger. Grendel licked the crimson beads from his claws and savored the coppery taste. He could feel it enter his body and it made him even stronger. Every one of his muscles throbbed in eagerness to slaughter more people, to taste more blood, and to incite even more fear. He moved swiftly between his victims, his footsteps barely making a whisper.
After a few more throat cuttings, Grendel decided he would massacre more by crushing a few skulls. Moving up to one rather rotund warrior, he grasped the warrior’s head within his long fingers, and the instant Grendel felt the warrior awaken, he squeezed with tremendous force. Within that moment, the warrior’s body felt limp, his enormous weight now pulling Grendel’s arm down. The demon could feel the sharp fragments of bone and helmet inside his hand, and the warm, stickiness of the blood as it ran along his fingers. Over two dozen more, he did this to, before carrying all of their bodies back to his lair.
On his way back, though, he made sure that they left a long river of blood towards his cavern. Grendel greatly anticipated the awakening of the other warriors. As soon as day broke, he was not disappointed – those whom Grendel had spared began to cry and moan as they discovered the fate of their loved ones and compatriots. Their joyous songs of celebration turned to marred hymns of lament. Now that was music to Grendel’s ears. In fact, the magnitude of excitement Grendel felt made it impossible for him to stay within his cavern that night.
Just like he had done last night, he crept out of his lair and slaughtered even more of the warriors. As the months drew on, eventually the remaining warriors would try to combat Grendel, or run and hide. Each warrior, young or old, met the same fate as those Grendel had killed on his first night. A gruesome and gory death awaited any and all who Grendel wanted to kill. Years began to pass, and Herot became abandoned, thus making Grendel the only inhabitant. No longer were stories told of the creation of the world, but instead of Grendel’s power and hatred.