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Conflicting Christianity in Beowulf Essay



Throughout the epic "Beowulf", there are many elements of Christianity that conflict with references to the Anglo-Saxon pagan culture. The Anglo-Saxons believed in a fatalistic, dark, gods religion. The Author uses Christian and Pagan elements to symbolize the good Beowulf and the evil dragons. The Author presents the Anglo-Saxon culture in the epic, however, he does describe many Christian elements the Anglo-Saxons were influenced by during their reign.

In the beginning of the epic, the author describes God and how God created the earth. This story of the creation of the earth comes from the book of Genesis in the bible. Along with this Christian reference, the author tells us who Grendel was, a descendant of Cain. According to the bible, Cain killed his brother Abel out of jealousy. In Anglo-Saxon culture, killing one's own kin was an non-repayable sin. This is a symbol of Grendel's evil. These two references, however greatly conflict with the pagan references to evil in the end of the section about Grendel. Lines 26 and 27 mention "1,000 forms of evil-spirits, fiends, goblins, monsters and giants". The epic describes them as "opposing the Lord's Will, another reference to Christianity, Although Anglo-Saxon culture was prominent during the time, it was greatly influenced by the Christian ministries. In this section of the epic, one could interpret that a Christian, possibly one of the monk that lived in England during the time Beowulf was written, added to the epic a Christian twist.

Some other examples of Christianity lie within the story. After Grendel's killings of the warriors in Herod hall, Grendel lives in the now deserted hall. In lines 83 and 84, it mentions that Grendel could not touch Hrothgar's throne because it was "protected by God". Grendel could not touch the throne because he did not know about God's love. Throughout the end of the second part, the author warns readers of Hell and of the punishments not knowing God. Although the pagan culture of the Anglo-Saxons offered no hope of an after life, in lines 85-100, it talks about Heaven and Hell and an after life "those who will rise to God seek Father's peace". This is just another example of Christianity's influence on the Anglo-Saxons.

If one critically examines the epic, one can draw many conclusions about symbols of Christianity. In the story, Beowulf plays a man with supernatural powers. If you look in the bible, Christ is a man with heavenly, more than human gifts, that was there to save the world, our society. Beowulf is a symbol Christ, a man out to save our society. Beowulf could also be seen as a symbol of David or Samson, other great heroes of the bible. Beowulf is full of Christian morals, and is risking his life to defeat evil. Also Beowulf uses God's help. Elaborating on this point, Grendel could be seen as a symbol of the devil, evil and malicious, out to destroy society. The Biblical reference to Cain, being evil clearly shows Grendels' evil . Unferth in the epic challenges Beowulf, and tries to bring him down. So Unferth could be a symbol of the anti-Christ, trying to bring the hero down. The anti-Christ is a normal man who puts down and destroys all that is good. Unferth attempts to anger Beowulf and make him malicious, however, like the anti-Christ in real life, is defeated and the hero, Beowulf continues to fight evil. These are symbols of the evil in people.

There are also references to the bible regarding places and things. A symbol of hell could be in lines 494-495, the lake that Grendel and his mother live in is "a fiery flame". In the bible, Hell is a fiery lake, compared to the fiery lake of Grendel's home. The magical sword on the wall in Herod Hall could be a symbol of God helping Beowulf. Recall , Beowulf could not harm Grendel's Mother until the battle was taking place in the Hall. Then Beowulf was able to get the magical sword, the help from God.

Now that we have examined mostly Christian elements, lets not forget other Anglo-Saxon elements of voodoo and evil. During Beowulf's final battle, the epic mentions the dragon's treasure. According to the Anglo-Saxon religion, dragon's treasure is a symbol of death. Also throughout the epic, there are numerous words such as fate, luck and references to good and bad omens. This is another element of Anglo Saxon religion that conflicts with the Christian references to God and the bible. Another Anglo-Saxon element mentioned is loyalty. According to their culture, people were loyal to their leaders if the wanted to survive in their cruel world. When Beowulf and his men go to fight the dragon, all of the men fled except Wiglaf. Wiglaf was loyal to Beowulf and fights with Beowulf till the end. This is a part where the Anglo-Saxon loyalty had it's influence on the story.

Although many people can say that Beowulf is mostly a pagan epic, one can examine it closer and find that numerous Biblical references are just as prominent. Even though the Anglo-Saxons had their pagan, fatalistic religion, the elements of Christianity that were brought in by outsiders greatly influenced the literature, such as "Beowulf" in many ways.

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