3/24/2019

"Beowulf" : The pagan and Christian elements in it.


Beowulf grew out of the independent lays composed in celebration of the glory of Beowulf who is supposed to be a hero of
great valour. He is identified with a soldier in the army of King Hygelac. These independent lays were later welded together by a
Christian compiler. He held to whole together with artistic unity and embellishment, probably incorporating a good ideal of his own
personal writings in the old work. Beowulf has great similarity to the story and setting of Scandinavian sagas. It is an interesting
intermingling of many elements: history heroic legends, folk-lore, heathen myths and Christian religion. It is made up of heroic legends
about the semi-historical persons which are interwoven with mythological conceptions upon which the Christian character has
been superimposed by the last compiler.

Biblical elements abound and Christian elements are incorporated in the poem. But the background of Beowulf is distinctly heathen and its philosophy markedly Pagan. Pagan
elements are found in the love of war, deep rooted belief in heathen customs and ceremonies as shown in the description of the funeral of the heroes- the hero is consigned to the fire. Pagan element is also
evident in the descriptions of feasts and halls and in the belief in weird or fate. The deads are cremated, omens are observed, sacrifices
are vowed at the temple of idols. The praise of worldly glory, the theme of blood vengeance, the frequent references to the proof of
wyrd (fate) look to a heathen past. Thus Beowulf is clearly a heathen work which has undergone revisions by Christian minstrels rather than a Christian work with heathen reminiscences.

Christian elements vary in the different episodes of the poem. They are evenly distributed between the speeches and the narratives. There are portions which are probably later substituted for passages
originally heathen in character by the Christian complier of the poem. However, the Christian elements do not go beyond the description of simple Christian ways, institutions, rituals and a.simple Christian faith in providence. There are no allusions of Biblical characters except the character of Cain.

In the poem, there are many references to Christianity. Some of these seem strangely incongruous. Hrothgar's minstrel sings a
religious poem about the creation. Yet Beowulf is cremated with l Pagan ceremonies. There are no references to Christ, the Cross, angels and saints. But the food, the deluge and Satan are mentioned. The virtues of moderation, unselfishness and service to other are highly praised. The atmosphere of the poem and the outlook on life embodied in Beowulf show a curious fusion of the Pagan and Christian elements. Atmosphere of gloom and horror and mysterious night and references to such sinister places as swamps where the
dragons inhabit are the combined production of sad northern landscape and the gloomy imagination of the Pagan poets. But the
impression of nothingness of life and glory is not wholly Pagan.

The Christian idea in the early stages of monastic Christianity, of the futility of earthly life among gloomy scenery is also found in
the poem. Beowulf is a poem coming out of a cold cell of a Northumbrian cloister and breathes the air of the tomb.

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