The Impact of Christianity on ‘Beowulf’
Composed by Ebony-Lee Corbyn.
Beowulf is widely regarded as one of the earliest known works in the English Lexicon. The epic poem was originally performed orally for entertainment purposes, and evidence from the text itself suggests that it was later written down and preserved by a Christian monk. The literary piece is heavily influenced by Christian beliefs and ethos, which provides for further development of derivative themes within the text. This allows for the intertwining of religious morals with the virtues of the heroic code universally accepted as the social norm in this era.
Throughout the tale of Beowulf there is heavy influence of Christian values, such as the notion that man only survives through the protection of the Lord and that all natural abilities are the result of God. These ideals are accompanied with the accepted virtues of humility and selflessness. The text places strong emphasis on the conceptualisation of societal conventions, with a centralisation of God being receiving respect for the actions of men. “First and foremost, let the Almighty Father be thanked for this sight,” (l. 927-928) suggests a cultural tradition that occurrences by individuals are the acts of God.
Rather than the individuals being independent and in control of their own deeds, the text portrays that God has the upper hand and that their accomplishments are not truly theirs to celebrate. This is expressed through the text as a recurring value of humility: “But now a man with the Lord’s assistance,/ has accomplished something none/ of us could manage before now/ for all our efforts” (l. 938-941.) It is evident that the “but” contradicts an occurrence of the past, implying that before now no other man had the will of God in his actions to defeat Grendel. The stating of “for all our efforts” emphasises the pathos of the speaker and how much he feels he owes to God.
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