Beowulf: Pagan or Christian?

Topics: Poetry, Christianity, Paganism Pages: 4 (998 words) Published: May 11, 2014


Beowulf: Pagan or Christian?
Beowulf is the first important work of English literature. It is composed around 700 A.D. by an unknown poet (Greenblatt, 36), after the Anglo-Saxons were Christianized. The manuscript of the poem was seriously damaged in a fire; so several lines and words have been lost from the poem. One of the significant issues of this poem is whether or not it is a Pagan or Christian poem. Although the poem appears to have many Christian elements, it has roots in a Pagan past. The Christian and Pagan elements in Beowulf are a matter of debate for years. Most critics agree on the fact that Beowulf is the work of a single Christian poet. There are critics who consider it a Pagan poem, but there are also critics who think it is a Christian poem. Articles from Moorman and Blackburn and a close reading of poem will be used to support the idea that although Beowulf may contain references to Christianity it is a work of Pagan poetry.

Beowulf is a poem that has to be placed in a historical context for a better understanding. Beowulf existed in oral tradition for many years before it was written down. Therefore, is the Beowulf with witch the first Anglo-Saxon audiences were familiar with probably different from how it is known nowadays. The poem probably already existed before the conversion of the Anglo-Saxons into Christianity. Many things could have happened to the narrative during the process of diffusion. Blackburn writes three possible hypotheses in his article “The Christian Coloring in the Beowulf”. The first one is that the Christian poet used stories, which already existed. The second one is that “the tales had already been versified and were in poetical form before they were used by the author”. The last one is that the author was a heathen, but that a Christian poet changed it later (205). There are so many theories about Beowulf, but hypothesize is the only thing historians can do, because there is not much evidence. Blackburn,...


Cited: "Beowulf". Trans. Seamus Heaney. The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Ed. Stephen Greenblatt. 9th ed. New York: Norton, 2012. Print.
Blackburn, F.A. “The Christian Coloring in the Beowulf.” Modern Language Association, 1879. 205-225. Web. 16 Feb. 2014.
Greenblatt, Stephen. The Norton Anthology of English Literature. 9th ed. New York: Norton, 2012. 36-39. Print.
Moorman, Charles. “The Essential Paganism of Beowulf”. Modern Language Quarterly, 1967. Web. 16 Feb. 2014.
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