Why is there an infusion of Christian elements in the pagan poem Beowulf?

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The version of Beowulf that survives for us to read today—which is only one copy—was written down in the Christian era, when the poem was already several centuries old. Many of the ideas and themes expressed in the poem are common to other Anglo-Saxon and Germanic texts which predate the...

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The version of Beowulf that survives for us to read today—which is only one copy—was written down in the Christian era, when the poem was already several centuries old. Many of the ideas and themes expressed in the poem are common to other Anglo-Saxon and Germanic texts which predate the introduction of Christianity to these peoples. However, the person who wrote down the copy of Beowulf which survived was certainly a Christian. The pre-Christian Anglo-Saxons did not write on vellum and in books in the way we now understand, so all we have left of their written culture is in the form of runic inscriptions. The Christian Anglo-Saxons who wrote the poem down, then, made an attempt to marry the older poem with the new Christian conventions, in order to provide an element of continuity and also to justify the continued existence of the poem. Introduction of Christian elements into heroic poetry can be seen elsewhere, most notably in The Dream of the Rood, which casts Christ himself in the role of the traditional pre-Christian Anglo-Saxon hero but, of course, seeks to explain how heroic culture can fit into a Christian world, too.

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Beowulf emerged from a pagan Anglo-Saxon oral tradition, but its popularity continued well into the period when northern Europeans adopted Christianity, around the eighth and ninth centuries. In fact, the earliest surviving manuscript of Beowulf dates to around 1000. This manuscript, which was probably a copy made from older copies, would almost certainly have been executed by a Christian monk. So it is natural that this story, which had its origins in a pagan world, would nevertheless contain strong elements of Christianity. In fact, it is highly possible that Beowulf was intended (or had been intended) to be didactic in nature, containing lessons about Christianity expressed in the older idiom of Anglo-Saxon epic poetry.

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