What are two Christian influences or references in the Old English epic poem Beowulf?

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vangoghfan | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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Christian references and influences pervade the Old English epic poem Beowulf, perhaps in part because the poem was probably transcribed by an early English Christian monk.  In any case, the poem is full of Christian ideas and imagery, as in some of the following examples (taken from the Seamus Heaney translation):

  • In lines 12-17, God is credited with assisting the Danish nation by giving them yet another good king. This very early reference to God makes the important point that everything good comes from God and that all people (and all peoples) depend on God’s favor and mercy.
  • Hrothgar, the latest in a long line of good Danish kings, is praised for dispensing “his God-given gifts to young and old” among his people (72).
  • After Hrothgar has built and occupied his glorious hall, he and his people sit and listen as a poet celebrates God’s creation of the earth; they listen to

. . . the clear song of a skilled poet

telling with mastery of man’s beginnings,

how the Almighty had made the earth

a gleaming plain gilded with waters . . . . (90-93)

  • Grendel, the evil and destructive monster who now begins to torment the Danes, is explicitly associated with

Cain’s clan, whom the Creator had outlawed

and condemned as outcasts. For the killing of Abel

the Eternal Lord had exacted a price . . . . (106-08)

  • References to God recur repeatedly during the opening sections of the poem, as when “the Almighty” is said to have made Cain “anathema” (110); and when the poet mentions “giants . . . who strove with God” (113); and when Grendel is called “God-cursed” (121); and especially when some of the Danes are condemned for religious back-sliding when they worship Satan as a way of coping with the threat posed by Grendel (175-86). In response, the poet offers an emphatic declaration of Christian belief:

. . . blessed is he

who after death can approach the Lord

and find friendship in the Father’s embrace. (186-88)

It would be easy to offer an extremely long list of such references to the Christian god as they appear throughout Beowulf and as they profoundly color the tone and meaning of the poem.

 

 

 

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