Beowulf refers to an epic literary work that was developed during the social/religious transition from paganism to Christianity. The Anglo-Saxon epic story is one of the excellent examples of Old English epics, which existed in the 18th century. The term Beowulf is a conceptual aspect of identity, which reflects two major principles namely individual reputation and ancestral heritage. Family lineage is deemed as an important aspect within Beowulf’s society. Many literature experts tend to believe that the author of this poem was a Christian while others believe the author was a pagan. There is an extensive reflection of Christianity and paganism in the story, which makes it easy for the audience/readers to draw different parallels between pagan and Christian beliefs. However, the objective of this analysis is to articulate the complicated interplay between the pagan warrior code and the Christian warrior code in Beowulf.
The Complicated Interplay between the Pagan Warrior Code and Christian Code in Beowulf
The realm of morality and ethics has elicited extreme arguments regarding paganism. Clarification of matters can be undertaken by using different terms such as non-Christian or secular. The fundamental foundation of the poem’s ethical code is practically secular. It is driven by the warrior code of loyalty, aristocracy, generosity, and celebrating bravery where the hero is constantly seeking immortality and long-lasting fame. However, the interruption of supernatural sanctions interfered with the existence of such warrior codes within the Anglo-Saxons society. Bjork and Niles (180) argue that there was particular strictness within a Christian context where some of the secular virtues mentioned above were deemed as vices. For instance, derivation of pleasure from material wealth and exclusive display of strength were regarded as inappropriate within the Christianity world. Wealth, to Christians, can lead to deadly sin and self-destruction. Christians viewed pagans as people who had a prospect of damnation even though they were strict on their code.
The poem uses Christian’s morality perspective to articulate the retrospective on pagan Scandinavian. The poem contains extensive elements of both paganism and Christianity. Hill (138-188) provides numerous examples regarding religious themes that are inherent in Beowulf. The theme of religion can be understood by reviewing the allusion, vocabulary, description of divinity, and a comparative analysis of monotheism and heathenism. Beowulf displays several virtues of Germany warrior, such as loyalty (to Hygelac), strength, a sense of obligation and bravery. His prowess is equalized to that of a supernatural being.
There is extensive tension between Christian values and the values held by pagan warriors. The story was developed during a time when the Anglo-Saxons had converted to Christianity. The poem attempted to resolve the conflict between pagan Saxon (un-Christian behavior) and Christian beliefs. The conflict results in frequent reference to heaven, God, and Hell, as well as other significant allusions inherent in the Old Testament. According to the Christian’s point of view and standards, Beowulf failed to lead a good life. The Beowulf’s values overlapped with that of Christians. However, he could not neutralize the tension inherent between Christians and warrior pagans.
To what Degree does the Author of Beowulf Foreground the Christian Ethos?
The epic story of Beowulf is rich in Christianity, ethos, and culture. Consensus agreements among readers reveal that frequent Christian references fit naturally and easily into the context of Christianity. It illustrates the unconscious utilization of normal language to depict the aspects of Christianity. Besides, the author was probably a Christian owing to the influence he or she had in the poem. Christianity was a religion founded on the practices, as well as the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth. It was based on monotheistic beliefs regarding transcendent and personal God. Just like Jesus, Beowulf is viewed as a nobleman who is above human beings and God-like.
“Meant to be a wonder of the world forever; it would be his throne-room, and there he would dispense His God-given goods to young and old. But not the common land or people’s lives” (Beowulf, 4).
Just like the way Jesus sacrificed himself to save the world, Beowulf sacrificed to fight with the dragon to save his people. Beowulf is regarded as a savior of people and equalized to a Christian Knight or even Christ per se. The story of Beowulf is permeated by a sense of mystical protection, which is conspicuous in Beowulf’s actions. There is an embodiment of Christian beliefs during the battle between Beowulf and Grendel (Beowulf, 433-440). The poem alludes extensively to indisputable Christian vocabulary and sentiments, as well as utilizing allusive and familiar biblical stories. For instance, the author strives to explain the compoundable feud that existed between the race of Cain and God’s people. The victory of Beowulf is symbolized by a giant-made sword used to kill the monster with God’s assistance.
The story depicts the Christian philosophy and its interplay with pagan practices. Christianity guides that all men are protected and are possessions of God and hence, they are supposed to remain unselfish and humble. However, the story illustrates a double morality where the values of Beowulf seems to conflict with those of Christians. There is a continuous presentation of God throughout the narrative where exclusive names such as Lord God, the Almighty Judge and the High King of the World are used. The presence of rituals and pagan goddesses assists in illustrating the existence and the nature of Christian ethos.
In which Areas of Life is the Ethical Clash most Evident or Interesting in Beowulf?
Duty, loyalty, sacrifice, honor, and bravery were at the core of the Anglo-Saxon warrior culture. Valor and prowess in the battlefield, unquestionable devotion to lord, and unflinching courage were what made a warrior honorable and admirable. Meanwhile, cowardice, betrayal, and contrariwise of one’s peers and lord were considered disgraceful. However, the objective of Beowulf to engage in a fight with the dragon was not only to save his people’s kingdom but also to acquire fame. Even on his deathbed, he had to request a monument to be erected in his commemoration (Goldsmith 86). His need for fame contradicted with ethics and morality. The warrior culture on moral standards discouraged any practice, which is deemed to be individualized for personal benefits.
The objective of this analysis was to articulate the complicated interplay between the pagan warrior code and the Christian warrior code in Beowulf. Based on the explanation above, the narrative is practically secular and is founded on an ethical code of conduct. Pagan warriors were guided by the code of loyalty, celebration of bravery, aristocracy, and generosity. However, some of these virtues contradict with Christians values. The utilization of extensive reference from familiar biblical stories illustrates the degree to which the author of Beowulf foregrounds the Christian Ethos. Besides, Beowulf’s request for a monument demonstrates an ethical clash of seeking fame rather than offering protection for the benefit of everyone.
Bjork, Robert E., and John D. Niles, eds. A Beowulf handbook. U of Nebraska Press, 1997.
Goldsmith, Margaret E. “THE CHRISTIAN THEME OF” BEOWULF”.” Medium Ævum 29.2 (1960): 81-101.
Hill, Thomas D. “The Christian Language and Theme of Beowulf.” Companion to Old English Poetry (1994): 63-77.
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