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This paper focuses on an Anglo-Saxon epic poem set in Scandinavia between the period 8th and 11th century. The major character in the poem is Beowulf, who battles Grendel, Grendel’s mother and the dragon who have been invading the kingdom and killing the warriors of the Geatland Mead hall. After two successive victories, Beowulf becomes king of Geatland. Beowulf later dies after a fatal battle with the dragon in the cave, but he succeeds in the killing of the dragon before the demise. From the poet’s perspective, the monsters are nocturnal humanoid creatures, which kills, drinks blood and eat flesh of the human beings. The paper presents parallelisms that exist between the traditional pagan folklore culture and Christian society in the Kingdom of Danes. Beowulf is in a pagan traditional society setting that portrays an extremely hostile nature and uncontrollable forces of destiny, which picks, its victims randomly. The death of Beowulf marks him as a failure, and that man is never in harmony with the world.
The poem portrays the dragons and the monsters as some powerful creatures that kill and feed on humans or cause destruction and death as the case of the dragon. These creatures used to exist a long time ago though their existence has not been proved. In this article, there are two monsters, which are, Grendel and Grendel’s mother. There is also unnamed dragon. Grendel would invade in the night kill and take away Heorot’s strongman and the weak alike. This devastates King Hrothgar and wondered how he would restore peace amongst the Danish people. Every time he sent warriors to guard the residents in the hall, Grendel struck and killed them. Eventually, Deowulf comes and saves them all by killing the monster, as well as, its mother.
All throughout the poem, especially during the battles with the monsters and the dragon, parallels on pagan beliefs can be highlighted. Beowulf capability to fight the super creatures and free the entire human race in Danes is symbolic to Christian beliefs to battling the earthly enemies, and in the end gaining redemption, also the way the heroes, the kings and the monsters portrayed in a traditional epic setting, as noble and have divine interventions.
Although Beowulf was old enough, as a king he demonstrates his courage, heroism and honor to his kingdom by fighting the dragon. He vows to defend his people to maintain his status and glory in the society. The epic is portraying him to posses much strength thus making him a superhuman; this is another point where pagan characteristic can be identified. Despite the fact that he is aging and seriously hurt by the fire and fangs of the dragon, he destroys the dragon with a single hack. He tucks his sword deep into the flank of the dragon killing it. Another pagan belief of immortality is when he wanted to carry what he held to the afterlife, and a memorial mound made for his remembrance, as a dying wish. He requests to be shown the dragon’s treasures in order to sleep with it before he joins the afterlife. He also makes another order of having his troops to construct a barrow at the coast which he argues, that it be named after him and thus a significant remembrance to his people of his heroic deeds. To his wish, Beowulf gets his wish obeyed by burning his body on a pyre.
On a Christian point of view, Beowulf’s character cab be said to be similar to that of Jesus Christ in that he volunteers to fight dragon alone the way Jesus faced the Satan. He symbolizes an only sacrifice, just like Jesus Christ, a savior to free his people from the evil monsters and the dragon. Beowulf believes that fate is from God as was the case of Jesus Christ on His crucifixion. Jesus had a last supper with His disciples, amongst them, Judas the traitor before the crucification in the following day; Beowulf emulates this by holding a final meeting with his men, including the slave who stole the golden cup from the dragon. All throughout the poem, Beowulf can be said to believe in God as the only source of protection to mankind.That explains why in the end he confesses, and accords thanks to God. He offered his life to protect his people from the evil just as Christ did for the sins of the entire humankind. Just like Jesus Christ, Beowulf is aware of his fate and that his life was ending (Dickinson 67).
The dragon and the monsters in the epic depict both the pagan as well as the Christian characteristics. The dragon and the monsters are being depicted in the pagan folklore, to represent the evil with supernatural powers and characteristics. They represent a source of terror and evil to the society. The monsters represent the evil that can only be phased out of the society, by individual heroes chosen by God, to deliver the people. Despite the super powers of the evil, they cannot prevail over right. The dragon symbolizes death and the evil actions of human beings that can equally be defeated by the good deeds. The stealing of the dragon’s golden cup portrays man as greedy and this has some fatal consequences as depicted by the dragon’s rage and revenge. It attacked the resident of the Geatish town destroying crops and setting their crops on fire, infuriated by the missing golden up. In this way, the dragon symbolizes Satan and its disastrous, evil powers. Like Satan it distant itself from the good, the dragon lives in dark and fiery lair. The evil beasts strike when darkness falls carrying with them the burning flames of their inner torment and carrying their hell with them (Crossley-Holland 79).
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The theme of the good against the evil is widely used in the entire epic. In the folklore, the hero, Beowulf, fights and kills the evil monsters and the dragon. Eventhough, Beowulf in the first two battles chose to engage Grendel and Grendel’s mother without the use of weapons, he fights his third battle with the use of a sword and shield to kill the dragon. The bloody fights and the use of the sword in the final battle with the evil, they deviate more to the pagan folklore than to the Christian ways. This expresses that in the end; Beowulf cannot equate to Jesus Christ in terms of heroism as he falls. The context that demonstrates the pagan belief that the righteous always overpowers the evil, as is the case in the end of the third battle with the dragon; despite the fact that he severely hurts and that he was aging, Beowulf manages to kill the undefeated dragon. In the Apocalyptic writing, a knight known as “The word of God” overpowers the dragon, Beowulf too who is also a servant of god kills the dragon in a more similar way in which Satan falls by the power of Jesus Christ.
Before his crucifixion, Jesus Christ forgave his enemies. He held a last supper with his disciples and promised them that He would return, but His al of His disciples never believed in His return except Peter. This can be related to the Beowulf’s men who lost faith in him during the battle with the dragon. Wiglaf is the only one who remains behind and helps his king to bring down the dragon. Wiglaf here represents the pagan symbol of kinship ties, strong faith and loyalty to his leader. He encourages his king to pursue the dragon and keep his fame, he holds from his youth, and promises to stand by him during the battle, and indeed, he did. He washes his king’s wounds after the battle just the way Jesus’ after the crucifixion.
The pagan heroic code provides that had better perish in the battlefield than to live and lose to the invaders shamefully. This portrays Beowulf, as a truly unquestionable pagan hero. Beowulf thanks God after the battle with the deadly dragon and acknowledges Him as a sole Protector of his life. Beowulf gains heroic merit in the eyes of his followers by slaying the dragon rather than attaining salvation before the eyes of God. In all his battles, Beowulf seemed to be aiming at delivering his people from the evil torments of the deadly monsters, but this can be disapproved in the time of his death. His motive establishes when he asks Wiglaf to let him lay by the treasures of the dragon and barrow be made in his remembrance.
This Beowulf epic poem demonstrates a pagan legend intersecting hand in hand with the Christian morals making it acceptable to the ever-changing society. The intermingling tradition elaborates the values of courage, faith and loyalty while facing danger or death. It presents a story of a hero willing to offer his life for the sake of delivering fellow human beings from life threatening evil forces.