The Pagan Beowulf Essay Research Paper The

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The Pagan Beowulf Essay, Research Paper The Pagan Beowulf Scholars have argued about the religious stance of the epic poem Beowulf for centuries. Although the man who put the poem down on paper, known as the Beowulf poet, was a devout Christian, the actual poem itself is pagan. There are many clues in the epic that lead us to this conclusion such as the numerous references to pagan symbols, namely the symbol of fate. Also, the central idea of revenge in the poem opposes the ideas of Christianity. The poem also contains many breaches of the Ten Commandments, which prove that the story is not Christian. However, the biggest clue to the paganism of Beowulf is the scene that contains the burial of Beowulf and the building and idolization of the tower, all of which go directly

against the Christian religion. Pagan symbols such as ravens, dragons and monsters, and poison can be found throughout the epic of Beowulf. The raven was a symbol from Norse mythology; it was the messenger for a war god named Odin. We find the reference to this pagan symbol after Beowulf defeats Grendel’s mother. He and “the Geats slept till a black-feathered raven sang his cheerful song” (Norton 1587). This reference to such a pagan symbol is just the first piece of evidence for the paganism of the epic. We also know that Beowulf is a story based on the defeat by a warrior hero of two monsters and a dragon. However, dragons and monsters are not part of the Christian religion, so if the story were Christian, there would be no Grendel, his mother, or the dragon at all. Yet

the entire Wilder 2 story is based around these three characters. We cannot dismiss the fact that these beings are present in the story, nor can we ignore the fact that these beings are in no way Christian. Finally, the allusion to poison helps prove that this epic is pagan as well. Beowulf is killed by poison that came from the dragon’s fangs when the dragon bit the warrior on the neck. There is no evidence anywhere that leads us to believe that poison is part of the Christian religion, again emphasizing the paganism of the poem. Although all of these are important pagan symbols that lead us to believe that this poem is not Christian, probably the most significant pagan symbol is that of fate. The idea of fate ruled the lives of the pagans. Their belief was that you were born

with a fate, and there was nothing that could change this destiny. This idea becomes apparent in Beowulf several times. As Beowulf is dying he refers to his leaving this earth as just part of his destiny when he says that “[m]y days have gone by as fate willed” (Norton 1604). The idea of fate is called on again when Beowulf asks Wiglaf to succeed him as king of the Geats. He tells Wiglaf that he would have given the honor to his son, if he had one, but fate did not allow it. We see a reference to fate a final time when Wiglaf speaks of Beowulf after his death. He offers that as much as Beowulf’s people tried to convince him to leave well enough alone, to allow the monster to live on forever, there was no changing Beowulf’s destiny. Beowulf’s “[f]ate, and his will,

[w]ere too strong” (Norton 1611). Fate is clearly a non-Christian idea, and its presence in the poem helps the case for Beowulf being a pagan story. A huge theme in Beowulf is the revenge ethic that all of the characters possess. During the time in which the story takes place, revenge is very common. If one king and his army kill a warrior from another kingdom, it is inevitable that the offended king will Wilder 3 retaliate and the fighting will just go back and forth. The only way for this to end is if a man price is paid, and a truce called. This kind of conduct is definitely not Christian, so when we see examples of this behavior in Beowulf, we can infer that the story is non-Christian. Grendel’s mother is a main character that seeks to revenge. The Beowulf poet tells us