Conflict of Beliefs in Beowulf

Anglo-Saxon paganism, Beowulf

Throughout the epic poem of Beowulf, Paganism and Christianity correlate respectively creating a contrasting system of values present in the work. We notice elements of Paganism through the idea that wealth is important and to be held in a high regard, one must have an abundance of it. We also see Paganism present in the theme of vengeance, and how it seems to be essential in this poem through the vengeance of Hildeburh and Grendel’s mother and through the lack of a “death-price” from Grendel for killing. Christian elements are seen through the distribution of wealth and the unselfishness of the act and through the monotheistic principles witnessed. Ultimately, we see elements of Christianity and Paganism present in Beowulf. The two belief systems co-exist in the poem, contradicting each other through the ideas of wealth and vengeance.

When one first begins to dissect Beowulf and its ulterior allegory, it seems to be written supporting Paganism beliefs. The first issue encountered in the poem is the issue of wealth. We see many scenes of wealth distribution in the poem, as if the poet assumes the audience enjoys seeing wealth being handed out. Ultimately, wealth attained must be shared generously. In the prologue, the poet speaks of issuing wealth referring to Hrothgar: “it would be his throne room and there he would dispense / his God given goods to young and old--” (lines 35-36). Just like in the Pagan religion, in Beowulf, wealth is seen as a tool. Hrothgar knows to be a successful king, he must dispense his wealth to his people to receive adoration. Again, we see Hrothgar use wealth as a tool to convince Beowulf to conquer Grendel. Hrothgar says to Beowulf: “Finally I healed the fued by paying: / I shipped a treasure trove to the Wulfings, / and Ecgtheow acknowledged me with oaths of allegiance.” (43-45) Hrothgar paid the Wulfings because Beowulf’s father killed Heatholaf. Hrothgar uses this to convince Beowulf but does so in a clever way, basically telling...
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