Essay on Christianity And Paganism In Beowulf

The poem of Beowulf follows a heroic character who defeats monsters and faces adversity, but approaches it all with what can be seen as Christian beliefs. The author is unknown so there is no way of knowing if the author was actually Christian, and rather it is believed it was orally told in a time period of paganism. It can be confusing to differentiate between the different elements of Christianity and Paganism within the poem. Topic)

In the Beowulf poem, the poet christianized a pagan oral story (Argument) for a christian audience (Reason) because it they were trying to reclaim a pagan past and demonstrate the nobility of Anglo Saxon ancestors. The author of the poem brings in some biblical allusions about Grendel. (Topic) The author had some knowledge of the bible and was related his characters to ones in the bible to provide more of a description of them. (Point) When speaking of Grendel the author relates it to “kin of Cain…

From him spring all bad breeds, trolls, and elves and monsters” (Beowulf 5). Cain was one of the sons of Adam and Eve in the bible and when Cain got jealous of his brother Abel, he killed him, and then was cursed by God for the act. The children of Cain then were also to be cursed and naturally seen as wretched, so this is true for Grendel. (Explanation 1) The author wouldn’t of related Grendel to Cain if they did not have a sense of the bible.

The author was giving more details about Grendel in a christian reference so that the audience could better understand the foulness of Grendel. (Explanation 2) Grendel being a child of Cain, explains why it acts so ferociously, therefore providing background to the character and showing the author’s knowledge of the christian bible. (Explanation 3) Many scholars add onto this idea of how christianity is represented in Beowulf. (Transition)

Beowulf in the plot retells many stories, while the poem itself is all a retelling of christian and pagan topics. (Topic) This leaves a message about the interpretation of the novel and how stories can change over time, which relates to how people view the poem reflecting christian beliefs. (Point) Fred C. Robinson points out that this has “special significance, since the old stories are ultimately pagan stories and the poet is telling them to a Christian audience which has been warned against too much interest in pagan times” (Robinson 95). Evidence)

The author may of been writing for a pagan time period, but knew that without christian elements, the readers might lose focus on the story because the characters were pagan, and wanted to appeal more to the readers. (Explanation 1) The interpretation of the poem is up to each individual reader, and the interpretation the author wanted for those christian readers was that the characters were christians so that they would continue to read the poem. Explanation 2) The insight on the author given through this is that they were hyper aware of their audience, and those christian references were important because they typically make the christian readers interpretation of Beowulf as a representation of Christianity. (Explanation 3)

The author of the poem retold these stories in a mixture of a christian and pagan way to appeal to the audience while stay true to the story. (Transition) The oral poem of Beowulf was pagan, but when the poet decided to write Beowulf down, times had changed and people found religion. Topic) The way the story was written with christian elements is a reflection of the time period. (Point) As it is perceived that the poet was a Christian he” found himself faced with the task of treating this originally pagan material in a manner acceptable to a Christian audience” (Brodeur 219) The poet felt the need to translate the story acceptable to a christian audience because he felt that would appeal to others. (Explanation 1) The reflection of the time period is in the

Christian elements, while the Pagan elements show more about when it began to be told orally. (Explanation 2) The poet wanted the characters to be seen as heros and noble, like the ones in the christian bible, because they knew that is what people idolized at the time. (Explanation 3) The examples of how character, like Beowulf, were seen as they reflected characters in the bible shows how the poet transformed the story from pagan to christian. (Transition) Beowulf can be seen as a character who represents the biblical Jesus. Topic) The author christianized Beowulf, an Anglo Saxon, to redeem the past mistakes of their pagan ancestors. (Point) In Beowulf’s dying moments, looking upon his treasures from the dragon, he says “I speak with my word thanks to the Lord of All for these treasures, to the King of Glory… for what I gaze on here, that I might get such for my people before my death day” (Beowulf 47). (Evidence) Beowulf made sure before he died that he got the treasure for his people, therefore sacrificing himself to reward others.

This is alike what Jesus does in the Bible, he dies so that others can be saved from their sins. Beowulf also gives thanks to the Lord, which recognizes a religion and not paganism. (Explanation 1) When Beowulf was presumably written, the Anglo Saxons were not proud of their Pagan ancestors. So, when the author wrote down the oral poem, he made the character have a knowledge of religion, like having Beowulf represent lesus in his dving moments, so that the reader would not be turned away from the disappointment of the pagan ancestors. Explanation 2) The author of the poem was favoring a christian audience and themselves to forget about their vex past. (Explanation 3)

Although the story was built for a christian audience, there are some pagan elements to the poem, like the swords Beowulf received. (Topic) With christianity, it is unlikely that the characters would have praised the swords as much as they did in Beowulf. (Point) The sword was the center of the Geats and”. there was not then among the Geats a better treasure in swords kind” (Beowulf 37). Evidence) The Geats gave Beowulf a sword that they so highly praised for all of the good he did in killing Grendel. (Explanation 1) They spoke of the swords and armour, material things, like they were God instead of mentioning to praise God for those things. (Explanation 2) This could be a window into the pagan way of life as in the oral version of the story, since they were praising worldly things instead of God himself, which was frowned upon later in history. (Explanation 3)

The presence of religion in the poem makes a major difference in how it is perceived. Transition) The characters have their pagan actions, but say that they praise God. This is the mixture of both christianity and paganism, since the author must of not fully changed their actions. (Topic) The author mixed the two religions so that the story did not change as much but had the characters mention christian ideals to cover up their pagan actions. (Point) They seem to be “men who believe in a God whom they thank at every imaginable opportunity. Yet they perform all the pagan rites known to Tacitus, and are not Christian” (Frank 99). Evidence) The author has the characters say christian things but do pagan actions, and since actions come before words, or ctions come before words, one can tell they are ultimately supposed to be pagan. (Explanation 1)

Therefore there is a mixture of paganism and christianity in the poem which thickens the motives to the characters. (Explanation 2) The author was attempting to aim for a christian audience, but could not completely change the story, so the pagan actions are left with a notion towards christianity in their words. Explanation 3) The appearance of religion matters to the author to appease their audience. (Transition) Another moment where the oral story Beowulf shows a recognition of religion is when Beowulf returns home to the Geats. (Topic) The author wanted to further show off the nobility of the Anglo Saxon Beowulf, so they made sure that his thanks were to God. (Point) After Beowulf finished his speech to the Geats, “His heart was not savage, but he held the great gift that God had given him, he most strength of mankind, like one brave in battle” (Beowulf 37). (Evidence)

The reason that Beowulf was so strong, and not just violent is because God had given him the gift of being that way. (Explanation 1) Since Beowulf was an Anglo Saxon ancestor, the author was attempting to show that his actions were good because of a God, even though in the time period the actual Beowulf may have not believed that if he was truly pagan like the time period suggest. (Explanation 2) This is to show that ore christianity the people were not so crippling and nothing to be ashamed about, so that he could reclaim the pagan past. (Explanation 3) The Anglo Saxons were going through a difficult time of transition and the author made christianity present so the transition was understood. (Transition) The Anglo Saxons had gone from a shifting of power when Beowulf became the Geatish king. (Topic)

The Anglo Saxons were transitioning from what is believed to be multiple people in power, to kings, or a single ruler, which christianity had a huge influence in. (Point) Frederick M. Biggs points out that “Christianity played a leading role in this change is, I would argue, equally perceptive. It would not be unreasonable to identify his awareness of this cause with the influence of the Carolingian reform” (Biggs 716). (Evidence) Christianity was a major reason why the characters in Beowulf were reforming to having the one king when Beowulf came into power. (Explanation 1) Christianity was the reason for this because there is one overall ruler, God, in the religion, so they reflect that in their political systems to have just one ruler.

In paganism there were no specific outlines to how many people should rule because there was no religion so there was no need to have only one ruler. (Explanation 2) This reclaims the pagan past by showing that eventually the ancestors realized that they needed to model the bible and made a shift that stuck for generations. (Explanation 3) Beowulf is incredibly influenced by Christianity because the author did not want to dwell on the pagan past. (Transition)