Beowulf-Christianity or Paganism
Beowulf was written in England sometime in the 18th century. "This provides us with an idea of a poem that was
written during a time when the society had converted from paganism to Christianity"(Cohen 138). "We know that
paganism did exist alongside Christianity during the approximate era that Beowulf was composed"(Hall 61). "The
Christian influences were combined with early folklore and heroic legends of dramatic tribes, early Beowulf
scholars began to investigate whether or not Christian and biblical influences were added later to originally pagan
influences"(Hall 61). "The Christian elements are almost without exception so deeply ingrained in the fabric of the
poem that they cannot be explained away as the work of a reviser or later interpolator"(Klaeber 2). The fact that the
two values are so closely intertwined in the poem, I believe that is the reason Beowulf has both Christian and pagan
The pagan elements in the epic poem Beowulf are evident in the characters superhuman personifications. Beowulf is
depicted as a superhero. Beowulf takes it upon himself to save the Danes from Grendel. In his battle with Grendel,
Beowulf chooses not to use weapons; he relies on his super strength. During the fight, Beowulf's strength takes over
and Beowulf wrestles with Grendel until he is able to rip one of the monster's arms out of its socket. Superhuman
feats also appear in the fight with Grendel's mother. When Beowulf enters the water, he swims downward for an
entire day before he sees the bottom. He does this without the use of oxygen. During the battle with Grendel's
mother, Beowulf realizes that Unferth's sword is useless against the monsters thick skin. He grabs an enormous
sword made by giants, almost too heavy to hold and slashes through the monster's body. This superhero strength
continues into the battle with the dragon. By this time, Beowulf is an !
old man. He stands up to the dragon and wounds him. Although Beowulf is fatally wounded himself, he still
manages to deliver the final blow that kills the dragon. Grendel is also seen as a superhuman monster. Grendel has
no knowledge of weapons so he too depends on his extraordinary strength to destroy his enemies. The dragon is also
seen as a super powerful adversary. "As in most pagan folklore, the dragon is a much used enemy of the hero of the
story"(Greenfield 87). The dragon in Beowulf spits fire with such intense heat that it melts Beowulf's shield to his
body. "The author has fairly exalted the fights with fabled monsters into a conflict between the powers of good and
evil"(Klaeber 3). These battles are examples of epic folklore during pagan times.
The pagan beliefs about immortality are also significant in the poem. "It is believed that a warriors life after death
was a continuation of his life on earth" (Greenfield 91). Beowulf's single destiny is to help his people by dying while
fighting a supernatural creature. " If Beowulf's confrontation with the dragon is a symbol of evil, then Beowulf's
death, to the pagan, would be regarded as a victory for Satan because Beowulf dies"(Greene 66). "The fundamental
contrast between the good God and blind fate is shown by the fact that God invariably grants victory, whereas it is a
mysterious spell that brings about Beowulf's death"(Klaeber 2). Beowulf wants his body cremated; a very
unchristian ritual. " In supernatural elements of pre-Christian association, heathen practices are mentioned in several
places such as the vowing of sacrifices at idol fanes, the observing of omens, and the burning of the dead which was
frowned upon by the Church"(Klaeber 1). Beowulf wants !
his ashes placed in a memorial tower as a reminder of his bravery. This leaves us the impression of pagan
immortality;" the memory in the minds of later men of a hero's heroic actions"(Greene 68).
While many pagan influences appear in the poem, Christian overtones dominate. Many of the characters exhibit
Christian characteristics. Beowulf has a Christ-like behavior in his humility and charity. Beowulf understands the
plight of the Danes that are being oppressed by the evil monster Grendel just as Christ knew of the oppression of the
Jewish people. Both set out on a venture to save their people.
"To free themselves from the monster, the Danes need a savior and Beowulf through his desire to alleviate their
suffering, comes to save them"(Cook 287). When