In the anonymous Old English poem Beowulf, how does Beowulf feel his life was saved? (See lines 1651-1887 of the Seamus Heaney translation)

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vangoghfan | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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In lines 1651-1887 of the Seamus Heaney translation of the Old English epic poem Beowulf, Beowulf offers several reasons why his life was saved in his battle with Grendel’s mother.  His description of his fight with her includes the following elements:

  • He acknowledges that the battle was

. . . hard-fought, a desperate affair

that could have gone badly; if God had not helped me,

the outcome would have been quick and fatal. (1656-58)

He thus acknowledges his utter dependence on God and gives God the glory for the victory.

  • He acknowledges the insufficiency of his own strength and weaponry and thus credits God with his victory (1659-1661).
  • He gives God credit for allowing him to spot a useful weapon (1661-64).
  • He indicates that, having received help from God, he then conducted himself wisely and bravely, although he doesn’t boast (1665-66). He thus shows that God helps those who try to help themselves, especially if their causes is virtuous and just.
  • He offers his victory as a gift to Hrothgar and the Danes (1671-76).
  • He shows respect to Hrothgar by giving Hrothgar what is left of the weapon used to slay Grendel’s mother (1677-79).

In short, Beowulf speaks precisely as an ideal early Christian warrior should speak: he glorifies God; he shows respect to those above him on the “great chain of being”; he is modest; he is brave, he is eloquent; he is wise; he acknowledges the power of earthly evil while also paying tribute to the greater power of God; he sees himself as an instrument of God’s providence; and he conducts himself with dignity, humility, sincerity, and prudence.

 

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