Christian vs. Pagan Elements in Beowulf
Beowulf is an epic poem that is labeled as one of the first great heroic poems in English literature. The story is that of a warrior that becomes a hero by saving the Danes from the monsters, Grendel and his mother. Beowulf becomes a king of the Geats and ends up fighting a dragon for his people, an act that kills him. The poem contains many elements of pagan associations but also contains many Christian references. The reader of Beowulf can not deny that there are tensions between the Christian and the pagan elements of the poem.
The first to translate the oral story Beowulf was more than likely a Monk. Monk’s were in the elite group of people that could read and write; therefore, they were usually the ones to write the very early transcripts of the stories we have today. Clark states, “The frequent allusions to the power of fate, the motive of blood revenge, and the praise of worldly glory bear testimony to the ancient background of pagan conceptions and ideals. However, the general tone of the epic and its ethical viewpoint are predominantly Christian. The sentiment has been softened and purified” (112). The Monk’s took what the Anglo-Saxons were telling them and ref
The Monk, whether consciously or unconsciously, took this pagan poem and included his own touches of work into it. Another couple of characters that have Christian and pagan elements entangled are Grendel and the dragon. Beowulf always seemed to simply let God take control and God always makes sure that Beowulf is taken care of, "My foe would have won our war underwater had the Lord not looked after my life" (p 63, line 1461). When all evidence is noted, and there is more than what is stated here, one can not ignore the overwhelming presence of a Christian influence in the poem of Beowulf. When looking at the poem as whole, it could be thought of that the fight between Beowulf and Grendel represents the salvation of mankind, the fight with Grendel"tms mother represents Christ"tms Resurrection, and the fight with the dragon resembles Christ"tms death. In the very beginning of the poem it is stated, "The Lord had seen how long and sorely the folk had languished for lack of a leader. It is a timeless classic that has endured the centuries. While Grendel and the dragon were originally used as pagan enemies to the war hero, the Monk used the characters to represent events and elements from the Bible. " The dragon is snakelike in behavior and appearance, qualifying him as a Christian symbol. The figure of Grendel, while originally an ordinary troll, is conceived as an impersonation of evil, an incarnation of the devil. Beowulf is a Christian reworking of a pagan poem with "a string of pagan lays edited by monks" (Clark, 112). Before the story can even begin the Monk"tms have made reference to God and have blessed the warrior hero. Grendel"tms characteristics resemble those of Satan; he belongs to the lineage of Cain, the first murderer, and his home also stirs up visions of hell, "the frightening fen-path where falling torrents dive into darkness, stream beneath stone amid folded mountains" (p 58, line 1204). In Revelation 12:9, Satan is revealed as "the great dragon"the serpent of old.