Beowulf: Christian vs Pagan Influence Term Paper

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The European epic, Beowulf, was written sometime in the eighth century in England. This time period provides us with an idea for the mixture of Christian and pagan elements because of an English society that was in the process of converting from Paganism to Christianity. Examples of Pagan and Christian traditions are presented all throughout literature. Many of the influences deal with what it going on in the world, when the piece is written. When Beowulf was written, St. Augustine had just come over to try and convert the Anglo-Saxon people to Christianity; although the conversion succeeded it was a shallow conversion, and there were still people following the Pagan ways. The fact that Christianity and Paganism are so closely combined in the epic explains the reasons for Beowulf’s Christian and pagan influences. Blending in among Beowulf's triumphs against the three key creatures, we also see Christian virtues being instilled upon the listeners. The good qualities of loyalty, humility, sacrifice for the good of others, and sympathy for those less fortunate are seen woven into the text as well as the negative consequences from greed and pride. In a thorough analysis of Beowulf, the Christian and pagan elements, represented in the characters and their journeys through various countries, creates an epic adventure filled with superhuman qualities and Christian ideals that often parallel themselves to biblical characters and events.

The pagan elements of the epic are evident in a couple of the characters’ superhuman qualities during the first two parts of the poem. Beowulf is seen as a superhero and takes it upon himself to use his strength to defeat Grendel and save the Danes from the turmoil that has haunted them for the past twelve years. Beowulf vows to fight Grendel with no weapons and will rely only on his super strength to defeat the monster. During the battle, Beowulf wrestles with the evil monster until he is able to grab hold of Grendel’s arm and rip it out of the socket (47-8). These pagan, superhuman feats also appear in part two where Beowulf swims downward for an entire day, without oxygen, before reaching the lair of Grendel’s mother. In their battle, Beowulf’s sword is useless against the tough skin of Grendel’s mother. He seizes a sword hanging on the wall that was forged by giants too heavy for any normal human to hold and slashes through the monster’s tough body (61-2). Beowulf’s superhuman strength is even more undeniable when he tells of his swimming match at sea with Breca. They each swam in icy waters for five days and five nights carrying swords to fight off the sea monsters. When Beowulf found himself pulled underwater by a monster, he killed it and eight other sea beasts that came to attack him (42-4). These pagan influences of amazing superhuman strength are not only apparent in Beowulf, but in many of the monsters he confronts on his journey. Another pagan influence is instilled. The hilt of the sword found in the deeps is described as "twisted and ornamented with snakes" and made by giants and supernatural beings. In many pagan religions and believes, animals were worshiped as gods. Beowulf seems afraid of defeat and failure. His boastful remarks are reminders to himself of his invincibility. In this poem, the poet is both critical and praising of the Anglo-Saxons’ beliefs and customs. Grendel, as well as his mother, has no knowledge of weapons so he depends on his extraordinary strength to destroy his enemies. He devours men whole leaving almost no trace of blood or destruction except for the door he ripped off the hinges. In Beowulf, among other pagan stories, the dragon is seen as a super powerful enemy to the hero. When a thief infiltrates the dragon’s lair and steals a gem-covered goblet, the dragon awakes with rage and terrorizes the Earth. The dragon’s rampage eventually targets the throne of Beowulf and his Kingdom. Beowulf confronts the dragon who spits fire with such an intense heat...
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