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 refined it to the story it is today and there is evidence of the Monk’s work throughout the whole story. Beowulf is a Christian reworking of a pagan poem with “a string of pagan lays edited by monks” (Clark, 112).
One of the easiest ways to see the Christian elements intertwined in the pagan story is by looking at the character Beowulf. 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. / Beow was blessed with boldness and honor; / throughout the North his name became known” (p 32, line 14). Before the story can even begin the Monk’s have made reference to God and have blessed the warrior hero. Throughout the...