Saturday, 23 April 2011

christianity vs. non christianity in Beowulf

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Christianity vs. non-Christianity culture in Beowulf

The epic Beowulf deals with two different cultural aspects, one being a heroic warrior of a non-Christian Anglo-Saxon culture, and the other a Christian culture.

The story of Beowulf shows the effect of Christianity in the Anglo-Saxon society by instilling certain virtues. The menacing character, Grendel, is portrayed as horrible yet showing a Christian influence. Grendel first is described as grim demon haunting the marches, marauding round the heath and the desolate fen(Norton 4). The Christian influence is displayed on Grendel because he is a descendent of Cain and is rejected by God and lives in suffering due to carrying the curse of Cain. When Grendel arrives in the mead hall, he is outraged due to the bard who is singing a song about creation. This, however, is completely different than the thanes who are celebrating God’s grace by the singing of songs. Gredels disregard for God is revealed here since he goes to the mead hall and kills all the men.

Beowulfs Christian virtue is demonstrated through his self sacrifice for the good of others. Beowulf risks his own life when he fights Grendel and dives in to the mere alone. Beowulf swimming to the bottom of the mere can be symbolized as swimming into hell. Since on his journey a bewildering horde came at him from the depth, droves of sea-beasts who attacked with tusks and tore at his chain-mail in a ghastly onslaught (Norton 65). All of the creatures can be shown as the entry into hell. Another Christian value Beowulf characterizes is not having greediness when he decides to bring back Grendels head back instead of the treasure he found.

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Beowulf is also shown as a heroic warrior of a non- Christian Anglo-Saxon culture throughout the epic. There are many Anglo-Saxon non-Christian values referenced in the epic like monsters, sorcery, supernatural being and believing in fate. In the epic poem, Beowulf is described as the most heroic man of the Anglo-Saxon times. Beowulf is portrayed with all the extraordinary traits of a hero. For example, he is able to use his super-human physical strength and courage to defend himself and others. On countless times, he risks his own life for the good of others. Beowulf is strong enough to kill Grendel with his own bare hands by ripping off Grendel’s arm. When Beowulf is fighting Grendel’s mother, who is seeking revenge on her son’s death, he slays her by slashing her neck with a sword. The Anglo-Saxon non-Christian influence is shown when the sword used by the Beowulf is observed. Giants, who are supernatural beings, made the sword which is ornamented with its scroll worked hilt(Norton 6). Beowulfs strength is a symbol of his heroism when he chops of her head, and he carries it to the ocean with ease.

Another heroic trait of Beowulf is his lack of fear of dying. He always expresses his death wishes before going into battle and requests to have any possessions delivered to his people. He states if this combat kills me, take care of my company and my beloved Hrothgar, to send Hygelac the treasures I receive (Norton 65). Beowulf realizes that when he fights the evil monsters, Grendel and Grendels mother, that he will achieve immortality as the defeater or loser. The non-Christian value is displayed when he understands that fate will work its magic no matter what and death can approach him any time in his life. Beowulf declares, Fate goes ever as fate must” (Norton 4). Beowulf believing in fate shows that he thinks a certain power controls what happens in one’s life. However, the Anglo-Saxons in this society also believed God as being the resolute supremacy.

The Anglo-Saxon non-Christian value is later expressed in the end of the epic when Beowulf, is dying decides to have a burial on a funeral pyre, instead of a Christian type of service. And instead of having a Christian value of understanding that there is no need for treasure after leaving earth but that it should be left for the benefit others, he insisted that it be buried with him. This displays a more non-Christian value than a Christian value in the end.

Beowulf is a prime example of a hero. This is shown with his bravery and supernatural strength. He came to the Danes wanting to help them and ended up helping them in the end. The epic shows the culture of the Anglo-Saxons while incorporating both Christian and non-Christian values.

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