He Was Descended From Cain
Beowulf was written in England sometime in the 8th century. This provides us with an idea that the poem was written during a time when society was in the process of being converted from Paganism to Christianity. The Christian influences were combined with early folklore and heroic legends of German tribes that we try to look at whether or not Christian and biblical influences where added later to an originally Pagan poem or not. The fact that Christianity and Paganism are so closely intertwined in the poem is the reason Beowulf has both Christian and Pagan influences. Beowulf reflects somewhat of a universal conflict that all people can relate to, all human beings are called to fulfill life’s goals and destinations.
Christianity is the world religion with the greatest number of followers. The word Christian itself comes from the Greek word “Messiah”. Christianity began in Palestine in the 1st century as the claimed fulfillment of God’s promise to the Jews. Jesus of Nazareth was born in the Roman Empire. At the age of 30 he was baptized and has a vision in which he received the blessing of God. After being spoken by God he began a ministry of teaching, healing, and miracle working. He spoke of the Kingdom of God and condemned religious hypocrites, he spoke before crowds of people, and chose twelve disciples. The twelve disciples followed him and believed that he was the long awaited Messiah who would usher the kingdom of Gob on earth. A couple years later opposition grew against Jesus and he was crucified by the Romans. Three days after his death three women went to the tomb were they found it to be empty and an angel told them that Jesus had risen from the dead. At first his disciples were scared and confused, but Jesus appeared to them on several occasions and then ascended into heaven before their eyes.
Christianity plays a close tie with Beowulf: Beowulf represents a Christ-like figure. He was brought to help the Danes in their fight of good versus evil just like Jesus came to save the Jewish people. Beowulf came to the aid of the innocent Danish hoping to save them from Grendel, the descendent of Cain. Both Beowulf and Christ knew of the challenges that would face them in their future but continued to fight the evil. The Christian elements of this poem tell us how man can only survive with the help of God and that all earthly possessions ultimately come from the Lord. The Christian fundamentals say that it is not our pride or our wealth that we should hold onto, but that wealth through God’s divinity we should share with all. Christian elements dominate most of the poem. Many of the characters exhibit Christian characteristics. When Beowulf battles Grendel he shows a sense of fairness when he doesn’t use a weapon. The idea of living right, loyalty, and being a good leader are all connected to the traits of Christ. Just like Beowulf exemplifies Christ, Grendel mirrors Satan. Grendel is referred to as a descendant of Cain, whom Satan tricks into sinning and committing the first sin; he is an image of a man fallen from grace through sin. Like Satan who is jealous of the happiness that Adam and Eve have, Grendel is jealous of the happiness in Herot. Grendel lives in under a lake as Satan lives in hell. The dragon is Beowulf’s last fight, the dragon is a foe which represents all the evils that a man must fight to preserve what is good. Both Christ and Beowulf fought hard in there last battles and although they both died, they were both able to conquer evil.
The word pagan can mean a variety of things-it may mean one that is not Christian, Muslim, of Jewish, or someone that has no religion. Pagan comes from the Latin word paganus meaning “country-dweller”. In simplest terms Paganism is a religion in which all are characterized by a connection and reverence for nature and believe in many gods and/or goddesses. Modern paganism is practiced in the west and although there are many forms most are descended from Celtic origins. It is a religion of nature in which they worship every tree, animal, and object. Unlike Christianity, Islam, and Judaism the divine is the female as well as male. This is because the Gods of the major religions then for be “super natural” whereas Pagan gods/goddesses are natural, symbolizing aspects of nature or human nature. Pagans believe in four ancient elements that have a special significance: earth, air, fire, and water. Each element is some kind of a spiritual substance from which all things are made. Another fact about Pagans is that they believe in some form of reincarnation, it gives them a different view of life. Early Christians saw karma as a trap in endless reincarnations, never being free, but Pagans see reincarnation as a chance to improve or to continue unfinished work.
There are many Pagan influences in the poem. Many of them fit under the superhuman personifications that were given to some of the main characters. Beowulf was a hero to many people in Herot. He uses his strength to fight Grendel and the dragon without any weapons even though he was very old at the time when fighting the dragon he still had enough strength to defeat the dragon. Another good example of Beowulf’s superhero features is when he is fighting Grendels mother, he dives into the water and swims without any oxygen. Grendel is also seen as a superhuman monster, he has no knowledge of weapons he just uses his strength to destroy his enemies. Beowulf also does many non-Christian deeds like drinking excessively and killing people and creatures; he also cares more about getting a reward and being remembered then doing it out of good will. The fact that he also asked to be cremated suggests that he is a pagan.
The Beowulf story has its roots from a pagan Saxon past but by the time the epic was written down, almost all the Anglo-Saxons has converted to Christianity. As a result there in confusion whether the poem is Christian because of its not-so Christian like behaviors. This causes many questions about it referring to God, hell, and heaven, and many allusions to the Old Testament. Though some of Beowulf’s values, such as his dedication to his people, he ultimately lives for the preservation of earthly glory after death. The author of Beowulf was very good at combining Pagan and Christian ideas, in mixing these two religions the poet was able to emphasize the morals of his time and enhance the characters with Christian values and Pagan legends.
The poem Beowulf is a renowned story that displays many different surroundings and religious beliefs. Some may believe that the story of Beowulf portrays pagan beliefs or customs and others believe that the poem is more in agreement with Christian ethnicity. The author of Beowulf uses both Christian and Pagan elements in the poem to define the heroic warrior and the evil dragon. After reading Beowulf, the author clearly shows how Beowulf is a man who is filled with Christian customs and is willing to die and defend the world against evil using the help of God. His courage and faith can be seen throughout the entire poem, and the author shows how the other characters thought of him in lines 114-119,”None of the wise ones regretting his going, much as he was loved by the Geats: the omens were good, and they urged the adventure on.”