Christian Elements in Beowulf

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Beowulf is one of the great heroic poems in English literature. The epic follows a courageous warrior named Beowulf throughout his young, adult life and into his old age. As a young man, Beowulf becomes a legendary hero when he saves the land of the Danes from the hellish creatures, Grendel and his mother. Later, after fifty years pass, Beowulf is an old man and a great king of the Geats. A monstrous dragon soon invades his peaceful kingdom and he defends his people courageously, dying in the process. His body is burned and his ashes are placed in a cave by the sea. By placing his ashes in the seaside cave, people passing by will always remember the legendary hero and king, Beowulf. In this epic the presentation of the story telling moves within Christian surroundings as well as pagan ideals. Beowulf was a recited pagan folklore where the people of that time period believed in gods, goddesses, monsters,a heaven and an underworld. It's significance lies in an oral history where people memorized long, dense lines of tedious verse. Later, when a written tradition was introduced they began to write the story down on tablets. The old tale was not first told or invented by the commonly known, Beowulf poet. This is clear from investigations of the folk lore analogues. The manuscript was written by two scribes around AD 1000 in late West Saxon, the literary dialect of that period. It is believed that the scribes who put the old materials together into their present form were Christians and that his poem reflects a Christian tradition. The first scribe copied three prose pieces and the first 1,939 lines of Beowulf while the second scribe copied the rest of Beowulf. In 1731, a fire swept through the Cottonian Library, damaging many books and scorching the Beowulf codex. In 1786-87, after the manuscript had been deposited in the British Museum the Icelander, Grinur Jonsson Thorkelin, made two transcriptions of the poem for what was to be the first edition, in 1815 (Clark, 112-15). Beowulf is a mixture of pagan and Christian attitudes. Heathen practices are mentioned in several places, such as vowing of sacrifices at idol fanes, the observing of omens, the burning of the dead, which was frowned upon by the church. 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 mostly Christian . There is no longer a genuine pagan atmosphere. The sentiment has been softened and purified. The virtues of moderation, unselfishness, consideration for others are practiced and appreciated. The author has fairly exhaulted the fights with Grendel, his mother, and the dragon into a conflict between powers of good and evil. The figure of Grendel, while originally an ordinary troll is conceived as an impersonation of evil and darkness, even an incarnation of the Christian devil. Grendel is a member of the race of Cain, he is a creature dwelling in the outer darkness, a giant and cannibal. When he crawls off to die, he is said to join the route of devils in hell. The story of a race of demonic monsters and giants descended from Cain. It came form a tradition established by the apocryphal Book of Enoch and early Jewish and Christian interpretations of Genesis 6:4. Many of Grendel's actions are unquestionable epithets of Satan such as "enemy of mankind," "God's adversary," "the devil in hell," and "the hell slave." His actions are represented in a manner suggesting the conduct of the evil one, and he dwells with his mother in a mere which conjures visions of hell. Beowulf's last monstrous foe is designated by the word "wyrm" meaning a serpent or worm, and the word "draca" meaning dragon. In the Old English poetry, the worm and dragon represent enmity to mankind. The worms who devour man's corpse after death, the dragons and serpents...
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