Beowulf Questions and Answers

Beowulf book cover
Start Your Free Trial

"The brilliant light shone, suddenly as though burning in that hall, and as bright as Heaven's own candle, lit in the sky. He looked..." What does the light described in the lines above from Beowulf suggest about Beowulf's victory?

Expert Answers info

mwestwood, M.A. eNotes educator | Certified Educator

bookM.A. from The University of Alabama

calendarEducator since 2006

write16,150 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, History, and Social Sciences

The dilemma of describing the light as emanating from the Christian God is that Beowulf himself is a pagan. It is important to note that there is often in the poem Beowulf a mixture of Christian thought with the pagan epic because the Christian poet writing the poem interprets Grendel and his mother as descendents of Cain and Beowulf's victory as one on which the God of the Old Testament looks favorably upon, but the pagan character viewing these acts does not.

Therefore, it is more likely that the light which shines "as bright as Heaven's own candle" is more likely viewed by Beowulf as favor received from his old Teutonic god, whom he describes as a war-like god who defends him,

Aught to accomplish, aided by Hrunting
Though that weapon was worthy, but the Wielder of earth-folk
Gave me willingly to see on the wall a
Heavy old hand-sword hanging in splendor
It is worthy of note that Beowulf actively seeks praise and glory on his own. Of note, too, is the fact that although there are Biblical allusions in the poem, they are to the Old Testament from which Christ is absent. This fact raises another question about Beowulf: Was it ever intended as Christian typology?
Further Reading:

check Approved by eNotes Editorial

accessteacher eNotes educator | Certified Educator

calendarEducator since 2009

write13,728 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, Social Sciences, and History

The way in which the light is described in this quote is highly symbolic, coming, as it does, straight after Beowulf has killed Grendel's mother in her lair. Beowulf owes his victory to God alone, rather than exclusively through his own power and skill, and the text in this description clearly supports this through describing the light as being "as bright as Heaven's own candle." The reference to Heaven is no accident, as it shows that not only Beowulf owes his victory to God, but that Beowulf, in killing Grendel's mother, is acting as a force of good, and the divine light that shines once Grendel's mother is dead reinforces this symbolism. Note how God is referenced just a few lines before this section of the text:

and Holy

God, who sent him victory, gave judgement

For truth and right, Ruler of the Heavens,

Once Beowulf was back on his feet and fighting.

The way that the description of the light references Heaven clearly therefore shows that Beowulf is acting as an agent of divine good, and that also it is God who gives Beowulf his victory. Such quotes expose the way this text is a curious product of both early Christianity and a more pagan past.

Further Reading:

check Approved by eNotes Editorial