Epic of Beowulf Essay - Ambiguous Allegories and Imperfect Symbols

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Ambiguous Allegories and Imperfect Symbols in Beowulf

Though Beowulf contains apocalyptic elements from beginning to end, perhaps the most important apocalyptic element of Beowulf is the poet's historicizing of the biblical monsters in his characterization of Grendel, his mother, and the dragon. Of course, the many ambiguities found in Beowulf is the source of considerable confusion. For instance, on the one hand, early in the poem we read that the Danes in their dire necessity pray at heathen temples, invoking the devil for aid: "Such was their custom, the hope of the heathens; they thought of hell in their hearts; they knew not the Lord, the Judge of deeds, they knew not the Lord God, nor could they praise the Protector
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Edward Risden has explored more thoroughly the apocalyptic elements in Beowulf than all the other scholars in his very informative Beasts of Time: Apocalyptic Beowulf. But more needs to be done.

The main concern in this paper is with the monsters of Beowulf, who are related not only archetypally but also genetically, to the monsters of Apocalypse. According to Martin Green, Grendel "fits the paradigm of the apocalyptic beasts in general terms. He is the enemy of men and God (godes andsaca); he is associated with apostasy....In other words, like the apocalyptic beasts, Grendel becomes a physical projection of the world in a state of imminent collapse; and it is this level of symbolism that gives to Beowulf's battle against him its intensity and urgency" (515). Green, like all critics before and after, refuse to dwell on the allegorical element of apocalyptic beasts and instead talk about symbols and archetypes. Margaret Goldsmith, who also links the Beowulfian monsters to the beasts of Apocalypse, sees rather only the moral sense of the patristic tradition which associates the dragon to concupiscence. Irving sees the dragon strictly in terms of the heroic values of the poem. Calder rejects the association of the dragon and the apocalyptic beast and sees it as elemental force of evil unleashed in the universe, totally beyond and separate from the merely petty evils of

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