Christian Elements In Beowulf Christian Elements in Beowulf The praised epic poem, Beowulf, is the first great heroic poem in English literature. The epic follows a courageous warrior named Beowulf throughout his young, adult life and into his old age. As a young man, Beowulf becomes a legendary hero when he saves the land of the Danes from the hellish creatures, Grendel and his mother. Later, after fifty years pass, Beowulf is an old man and a great king of the Geats. A monstrous dragon soon invades his peaceful kingdom and he defends his people courageously, dying in the process.
His body is burned and his ashes are placed in a cave by the sea. By placing his ashes in the seaside cave, people passing by will always remember the legendary hero and king, Beowulf. In this recognized epic, Beowulf, is abound in supernatural elements of pagan associations; however, the poem is the opposite of pagan barbarism. The presentation of the story telling moves fluidly within Christian surroundings as well as pagan ideals. Beowulf was a recited pagan folklore where the people of that time period believed in gods, goddesses, and monsters.
Its significance lies in an oral history where people memorized long, dense lines of tedious verse. Later, when a written tradition was introduced they began to write the story down on tablets. The old tale was not first told or invented by the commonly known, Beowulf poet. This is clear from investigations of the folk lore analogues. The manuscript was written by two scribes around AD 1000 in late West Saxon, the literary dialect of that period. It is believed that the scribes who put the old materials together into their present form were Christians and that his poem reflects a Christian tradition.
The first scribe copied three prose pieces and the first 1,939 lines of Beowulf while the second scribe copied the rest of Beowulf and Judith. In 1731, a fire swept through the Cottonian Library, damaging many books and scorching the Beowulf codex. In 1786-87, after the manuscript had been deposited in the British Museum the Icelander, Grinur Jonsson Thorkelin, made two transcriptions of the poem for what was to be the first edition, in 1815 (Clark, 112-15). Beowulf is a mixture of pagan and Christian attitudes. Heathen practices are mentioned in several places, such as vowing of sacrifices at idol fanes, the observing of omens, the burning of the dead, which was frowned upon by the church. The frequent allusions to the power of fate, the motive of blood revenge, and the praise of worldly glory bear testimony to the ancient background of pagan conceptions and ideals. However, the general tone of the epic and its ethical viewpoint are predominantly Christian .
There is no longer a genuine pagan atmosphere. The sentiment has been softened and purified. The virtues of moderation, unselfishness, consideration for others are practiced and appreciated. Beowulf is a Christian reworking of a pagan poem with a string of pagan lays edited by monks; it is the work of a learned but inaccurate Christian antiquarian (Clark, 112). The author has fairly exhaulted the fights with Grendel, his mother, and the dragon into a conflict between powers of good and evil. The figure of Grendel, while originally an ordinary Scandinavian troll is conceived as an impersonation of evil and darkness, even an incarnation of the Christian devil.
Grendel is a member of the race of Cain, from whom all misshapen and unnatural things were spawned (Kermode, 42) such as ogres and elves. He is a creature dwelling in the outer darkness, a giant and cannibal. When he crawls off to die, he is said to join the route of devils in hell. The story of a race of demonic monsters and giants descended from Cain. It came form a tradition established by the apocryphal Book of Enoch and early Jewish and Christian interpretations of Genesis 6:4, There were giants in the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God had relations with the daughters of men, who bore children to them (Holland Crossley, 15).
Many of Grendels appellations are unquestionable epithets of Satan such as enemy of mankind, Gods adversary, the devil in hell, and the hell slave. His actions are represented in a manner suggesting the conduct of the evil one, and he dwells with his mother in a mere which conjures visions of hell. The depiction of the mere is the most remarkable because it is a conceptual landscape made fearsomely realistic by the poetry. The closest parallel with Grendel and his mothers mere is from the vision of hell in sermon 17 of the tenth century Blickling Homilies. This scene is based on the apocryphal vision of St. Paul, where the saint visits hell under the protection of St. Michael.
The similarities to the mere are italicized: But now let us ask the archangel St. Michael and the nine orders of holy angels that they be a help to us against hell-fiends. They were the holy ones that receive mens souls. Thus St. Paul was looking toward the northern part of this middle-earth, where all the waters go down under, and there he saw a hoary stone over that water, and north of that stone the woods had grown very frosty, and there were dark mists, and under that stone was the dwelling of nickers and outlawed creatures. And he saw that on that cliff many black souls were hanging on the icy trees with their hands bound, and the devils in the likeness of nickers were seizing them as does the greedy wolf, and the water was black underneath the cliff.
And between the cliff and the water there was the distance of twelve miles, and when the branches broke off then souls that were hanging on the branches plunged downward, and the nickers seized them. These, then, were the souls of those who here in this world had sinned unrighteously and would not repent of it before their lifes end. But let us now earnestly ask St. Michael that he lead our souls into bliss, where they may rejoice in eternity without end. Amen (Morris, 209-11). These remarkable verbal parallels show that the landscape of the mere symbolizes hell.
It is a garden of evil, in which one of the race of Cain dwells in freezing sin. The soul that avoids these dark waters is based on Psalm 42, As the hart pants after the running streams, so my soul cries aloud to Thee, O God. The soul would rather die than hide his head i …