Christianity vs. Paganism
In the story of Beowulf, there is a noticeable struggle between Christianity and Paganism, and the characters personal battle between the two. Throughout the story the characters display actions that lead towards Paganism and Christianity. Contrary to Pagan belief Beowulf is seen as the epitome of good and beneficent to all of mankind. In Beowulf, the people showed their faith and love in God, however due to horrific events, paranoia caused them to look for a quick fix and turns them to Paganism.
The pagan elements in the epic poem Beowulf are evident in the characters superhuman personifications. Beowulf is depicted as a superhero. Beowulf takes it upon himself to save the Danes from Grendel. In his battle with Grendel, Beowulf chooses not to use weapons; he relies on his super strength. During the fight, Beowulf’s strength takes over, and Beowulf wrestles with Grendel until he is able to rip one of the monster’s arms out of its socket. Superhuman feats also appear in the fight with Grendel’s mother. When Beowulf enters the water, he swims, without the use of oxygen, downward for an entire day before he sees the bottom. During the battle with Grendel’s mother, Beowulf realizes that Unferth’s sword is useless against the monsters thick skin. He grabs an enormous sword made by giants, almost too heavy to hold, and slashes through the monster’s body. This superhero strength continues into the battle with the dragon. By this time Beowulf is an old man. He decides that he must avenge his people and fight the dragon. Although Beowulf is fatally wounded himself, he still manages to deliver the final blow that kills the dragon. Grendel is also seen as a superhuman monster. Grendel has no knowledge of weapons, so he, too, depends on his extraordinary strength to destroy his enemies. The dragon is also seen as a super-powerful adversary. The dragon in Beowulf spits fire with such intense heat that it melts Beowulf’s shield to his body. The author has exalted the fights with fabled monsters into a conflict between the powers of good and evil. These battles are examples of epic folklore during pagan times.
While many pagan influences appear in the poem, Christian overtones dominate. Many of the characters exhibit Christian characteristics. Beowulf has a Christ-like behavior in his good-heartedness and charity. Beowulf understands the plight of the Danes that are being oppressed by the evil monster Grendel just as Christ knew of the oppression of the Jewish people. Both set out on a venture to save their people. To free themselves from the monster, the Danes need a savior, and Beowulf, through his desire to disperse their suffering, comes to save them. When Beowulf battles Grendel, he exhibits a sense of fairness when he refuses to use a weapon. The idea throughout the poem of living right, of loyalty, and of being a good leader can all be seen as traits of Christ. Just as Beowulf exemplifies Christ, Grendel mirrors Satan. Beowulf and Grendel represent the Christian beliefs of good verse evil. Grendel is referred to as a descendant of Cain, whom Satan tricks into sinning and committing the first murder. He is the image of a man fallen from grace through sin. Like Satan who is jealous of the happiness and joy that Adam and Eve have in the Garden of Eden, Grendel is jealous of the happiness and joy in Heorot. Grendel, as with Satan, is an adversary of God and poses a great challenge to Beowulf. Grendel lives in an underworld as Satan lives in hell. Grendel is referred to in the poem as “the guardian of sins”.
In conclusion, the author of Beowulf was very effective in combining pagan and Christian ideas in his poem. The technique of combining two different ideals made the poem Beowulf very interesting to read. In mixing Christian and pagan ideas, the poet of Beowulf was able to emphasize the morals of his time and to enhance his characters with Christian values and pagan legends.