Beowulf one of the oldest English poems in existence today was believe
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Beowulf, one of the oldest English poems in existence today, was believed to be written sometime in the eighth century. The origins of the Beowulf poet are unknown but believed by some to be from what is Midland England today (Abrams 21). The poem, although written in English, deals with the Danes and the Geats two south Scandinavian tribes. Historically, the poem takes place some centuries before it was written, which points to it being a pagan folklore finally put into words by the Beowulf poet. This plays a significant role in how many view the religious aspects of the work. It has been proven that paganism and Christianity existed together on and before the time that Beowulf was written. This fact can explain many of the dual perspectives given throughout the world of Beowulf.
Although two conflicting issues in the Anglo-Saxon world, paganism and Christianity are both present in Beowulf, the poem is more Christian then pagan. The pagan elements, while present throughout the entire story, are overshadowed by Christian references. There is a double perspective that is maintained through the entire book in the characterization of the heroes and monsters (Bloom 84) On a simpler level all the characters
are pagan, due to the world in which they live but in their thoughts and actions they are strongly Christian. The poet creates a world in which heathens and Christian types coexist and their ideals are blended.
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 downward for an entire day before he sees the bottom. He does this without the use of oxygen. 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 stands up to the dragon and wounds him. 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. "As in most pagan folklore, the dragon is a much used enemy of the hero of the story"(Greenfield 87). The dragon in Beowulf spits fire with such intense heat that it melts Beowulf's shield to his body. "The author has fairly exalted the fights with fabled monsters into a conflict between the powers of good and evil"(Klaeber 3).
The fact that Beowulf was written in England sometime in the eighth century provides us with an idea of a poem that was written during a time when the society had converted from paganism to Christianity (Cohen 138). We know that paganism did exist alongside Christianity during the approximate era that Beowulf was composed. The Christian influences were combined with early folklore and heroic legends of dramatic tribes, early Beowulf scholars began to investigate whether or not Christian and biblical influences were added later to originally pagan influences (Hall 61). "The Christian elements are almost without exception so deeply ingrained in the fabric of the poem that
they cannot be explained away as the work of a reviser or later interpolator"(Klaeber 2). The fact that the two values are so closely intertwined in the poem, it is believed that these battles are examples of epic folklore during pagan times.
The pagan beliefs about immortality are also significant in the poem. "It is believed that a warriors life after death was a continuation of his life on earth" (Greenfield 91). It is very closely related to the Christian
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Beowulf, The Dragon, Grendels mother, Unfer, Grendel, Hrothgar, Heorot, European dragon, Beowulf: A Translation and Commentary, Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics
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