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Christianity V. Paganism In Beowulf

7 Pages 1714 Words

Beginning with a richly adorned burial at sea and ending with an equally elaborate funeral pyre, with plenty of killing and gore in between, Beowulf is an epic poem about the warlike ways of the Northmen and the monsters they encounter. Yet despite its obviously pagan roots, Beowulf has a Christian overtone that is impossible to ignore. Just as the poem’s contemporary readers were thrown into a neurotic state by analyzing the pull of a pagan past against the new teachings of Christianity, the poet himself was put to task to successfully blend these religious ideologies in a complex yet effective plot that appealed to his audience precisely because they were attempting to reconcile their own beliefs. When Christian missionaries introduced their beliefs to the Anglo-Saxons, it was clear that the two could not coexist; therefore, they must abandon these ancient icons to hold a more monotheistic view. In Beowulf exists the quiet battle between the two, and several examples from the text support either side. The dramatic warrior culture, the religious ceremonies practiced, and the superhero image of Beowulf himself all point to a classic pagan society. In fact, the poem is often compared to the original heroic epics, Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, tales of honor, adventure and bloodshed. Logically, Achilles and Odysseus, the noble heroes in the Homeric epics, would then share much the same qualities as beast-slaying Beowulf, and for the most part they do. The two earlier heroes even seem to be momentarily reincarnated in him when he declares, “Let whoever can win glory before death.” There is all emphasis on winning glory in this life with no thought of what happens after death. However, Christian qualities, some blatant and some subtle, can be highly attributed to both the storyline and the characters as well. The ultimate comparison is that of Beowulf to Jesus. If this statement needs support to prove the overwhelming infl...

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