Christian and Pagan Ideals in Beowulf

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Before the invention of the printing press or written history, oral history, especially in early Germanic culture, became the foremost means of transcribing values, and past events. Written down in approximately 1,000 A.D. by an unknown author, Beowulf, originally a pagan fable, became a Christian allegory upon its transcription by Christian monks. However, as scholars have debated over the religious context in Beowulf, the attempts by the monks to turn the epic poem into a Christian parable ended merged, including both original and Christian aspects. Throughout Beowulf, the epic combines pagan ideals of fate or wyrd and the will of God, the similar concepts of the afterlife, and the contrasting ideas of the individual.

In Beowulf, a tension arises between the natural construction of the poem and the Christian ideals added. Before the advent of Christianity, paganism placed an emphasis on wyrd. According to Christianity, God instills within mankind a sense of free will, which directly contrasts with the pagan idea of fate. Throughout Beowulf, these characteristics of paganism and Christianity transmute together. Beowulf instills the principle of fate within his speeches, as when he talks about how “fate saves an undoomed man when his courage is good” (11). However, previously in the poem, Beowulf graciously thanks “God that the wave-way had been easy for them” (5). In the fight with Grendel, Beowulf does not depend on his weapons, but his innate strength. As King Hrothgar states “‘Fate always goes as it must’” (9), Beowulf trusts in his own abilities, and not those created by man. As a young warrior, Beowulf “had long been despised” (38), but “change came to the famous man for each of his troubles” (38). Beowulf’s realization of fate allows him to full develop his abilities, and these allow him to gain a venerable reputation through feats of accomplishment, as with his victorious swimming match against Brecca, that cement his standing among the warrior...
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