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Essay/Term paper: Beowulf

Essay, term paper, research paper:  Beowulf

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Beowulf


Beowulf was written in a time when Christianity was a newly budding
religion in England. Throughout the book there are obvious references to both
Christian and Pagan rituals. The characters in the epic are newly found
Christians who are trying to remain true to their new faith but are weak and
hence, in times of great trouble, they resort back to their Pagan traditions and
gods out of fear. Pagan rituals in the book are usually present only as
reflections of the past or in times of the characters's greatest turmoil.
Otherwise, in times of happiness and rejoicing, they worship their one, almighty,
Christian God.

When Grendel is attacking Herot, and it's people think they are in their
greatest danger, the people of Herot "sacrificed to the old stone gods / Made
heathen vows / hoping for Hell's Support, the Devil's guidance in driving their
affliction off." (175-178). With the use of the word "old" in this section, it
can be inferred that the stone gods are things of the past. The rest of the
passage shows that it was because of the doubt and fear, instilled in the people
by Grendel, that the people of Herot regressed back to their old gods. The use
of the word "heathen" shows that the soldiers were already Christian and
reverted back to their old ways.

Soon after this statement, the poem reads:

Beware, those who are thrust into danger,
Clutched at by trouble, yet can carry no solace
In their hearts, cannot hope to be better! Hail
To those who will rise to God, drop off
Their dead bodies and seek our Father's peace!

This says that the people whose fear consumes them to the point that
they lose faith that, after death, their souls will not be granted eternal peace
by the Father, God. This illustrates that the soldiers who have fallen from
faith in their worship are doing so only because of great fear, but that they
are looked down upon by God and good Christians. It says that only those who
will sacrifice themselves and trust in God will be let into Heaven. These
soldiers know this but are too scared to keep faith.

During the telling of the origins of Grendel, there is mention that
Grendel is a product of Cain, a Christian character. This is a way that the
characters of the book justify their belief in monsters. If they can say that
the monster comes from a biblical character, then they can't hold themselves as
blasphemers for believing in the Pagan idea of monsters. The characters are
both scared of the monster that is taking their lives and of what will happen if
they show a lack of faith, as is shown in the above quote.

This fearful rationalization is made again when Beowulf is bragging
about all his victories and stops to say that he is not boastful but that he is
truthful. Having too much pride had been the downfall of many Biblical
characters and is the first deadly sin in Christianity. Beowulf proceeds to
tell his story but only after he has put on a facade of humility, demonstrating
that, at heart, he certainly isn't an orthodox Christian but only needs to
appear to be one.

In the reflections of Shild's burial at sea which was reminiscent of a
Norse ceremony, in which they sent their great warriors across the River Stix to
Valhalla, we see the obvious Pagan tradition. At the end of the book, Beowulf
is cremated which is far from a proper Christian burial. It is also said that
the smoke from the fire is swallowed up by the Heavens which is very similar to
the Egyptian idea that the light which hits the top of a pyramid carries the
spirit into the afterlife. Both events were times of great sadness where one
might question one's faith. In fact, throughout the story, all but Shild's
death ceremonies are conducted by cremation, a non-Christian burial. Indeed in
times of question the people of Beowulf's England were not the devout Christians
they would have liked to be. From the beginning of the novel to the end, there
is this ever present return to the old Pagan ways. There is little transition
because even after the monsters are defeated there is still the greatest fear
of all in death. It shows that it will take time for these people to fully
accept their new faith and they are fragile.

However, when making glorious speeches and trying to impress one another,
the Christian beliefs are expressed. When the story tells of the times before
Herot fell to Grendel, one of the images used to paint them as a beautiful time
in history is the poets of Herot singing the Creation Song. When more closely
examined, the song is very similar, if not the same as, the Christian myth of
creation.

Throughout the entire poem there are numerous examples of both Pagan and
Christian rituals. The people of the times were Christians. As is seen when
the threat of Grendel is looming, when Beowulf is bragging about his
accomplishments, and when Beowulf is dead, these people are weak and susceptible
to the ideals that other religions offer them. All the examples can be used to
focus on the conclusion that, in this text, the Christians are weak and often
revert back to their Pagan ways when they are most frightened.



 

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