Pagan and Christian Elements in Beowulf Essay

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Pagan and 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
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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

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