The Role Of Fate In Beowulf
In the poem, Beowulf by a still unknown author destiny plays a key role in distinguishing who Beowulf is. Death, what all men are fated with, is not a decision made by man, but an unalterable driving force controlled by the forces of fate and destiny. Just like how God gave Samson his strength through his hair, it is said by the priests that Beowulf was blessed by God with the arm strength of thirty men. We are all made uniquely with a variety of different characteristics. Beowulf willingly goes to face the dragon as his final battle. Just as God graces people with unique attributes such as intelligence and a conscience which we draw upon to decide what is right from wrong. Essentially, people may know their destiny and look to seek it, even if it is undesirable. Just like how Jesus trusted God’s decision knowing that Judas will betray him. Beowulf, before the battle with the dragon, knew that this would be his last final heroic deed before his death. He continued with his fate knowing his demise would be impending, “…’twill befall us as Fate decreeth.”
“The idea that fate in Beowulf is sometimes controlled by God is subject to qualifications.” As we are today, we can decide on our own free will on how we would like our lives to turn out. Similarly, the Anglo-Saxons believed this same premise behind fate and how they were given the free will to live their lives. This gives Beowulf the free will to decide what he does and doesn’t do. Seeing that Christianity had influenced this land prior to this tale, fate was seen as a divine decree, it could not be altered by man or God after being set in motion. Beowulf was seen as an agent of God and as someone who could set fate in motion. Beowulf was a believer in fate and sought out what he thought was just. He willingly helped fight and prove his loyalty to Higlac. He proved to be a loyal comrade to Hrothgar by slaying Grendel. He was set here on Earth by God with superhuman strength to fight the battles of evil. He continued to follow his fate and fight off evil because he knew it was his destiny. He would continue to fight and stay alive because he knew that “fate saves the living when they drive away death by themselves.” He had an affinity for doing what is best and trusting in his accomplishments to drive his fate to where it may end. Similar to Jesus, we see Beowulf is seen as a descendant of God in the eyes of those around him. His heroic qualities and unwavering belief in his followers even though he knew they would betray him. Just like Jesus and his apostles. Both Beowulf and Jesus continued with their destiny knowing they were going to meet their end.
Are we all connected by fate in this flawed world we live in? That is something that William Cooke would go on to argue about the fate of Beowulf in his article. Was it fate that made “the last survivor of an ancient race chose that barrow chamber as a resting place for wealth?” Which ended up enticing the dragon to stay there and guard the lost fortune. Many would say it was the fugitive slave seeking shelter who stumbled on the ancient barrow and took a golden chalice to buy back his master’s good grace. However, if the treasure wasn’t there, would the slave have anything to steal? Fate plays a role in everyone’s lives, good and evil. We are opened to this principle that fate is challenging Beowulf in the form of battle, loyalty, and the forces of calamity. Time and time again Beowulf would test his fate by battles with sea monsters, Grendel, and Grendel’s mother. It could be seen that it was fate that led Grendel to start attacking the mead hall which would lead Beowulf onto his heroic journey. Everybody, good or evil, has already been pre-determined in spite of who they become in life.
There are always two halves to a circle, where there is good, there will be evil. Fate drives Beowulf’s life, keeping him alive if the face of evil and greed. He continued to fight on to save the people’s lives thinking only in others rather than himself. Just as fate dictates Beowulf’s life, it also dictates the one’s who he had slayed. There is Grendel and his mother, descendants of Cain and spawns of hell who had crossed paths with Beowulf. Fate brought them together through Beowulf’s loyal demeanor throughout his family’s history and the jealousy that Grendel had towards the Danes. It was fate that helped Beowulf fight Grendel’s mother with the sword that was hanging on the wall in her den. Why was the sword there? “We certainly cannot imagine Grendel and his mother taking joy or comfort in this particular heirloom”. The sword had a depiction of God’s judgment upon the race of giants. The giants being the descendants of Cain, from Genesis 6.4, which would mean that Grendel and his mother were not too distant cousins. Since they were cursed to be uninjured by mortal weapons, why would the magical giant slaying sword be there? Was it destiny that the sword would be used to eradicate the last descendants of Cain or was it the hand of God who put the sword there? On the other hand, the dragon plays more of a moral significance to Beowulf rather than an evil beast that needs to be slayed. It became a moral necessity to protect those around him that he must go forth and slay the beast. It is suggested that Beowulf’s death is after all an illustration of the truth which the hoard represented, along with the digression that helps clarify Beowulf’s struggle with the dragon. It is an unforgiving truth that though Beowulf was a loyal, selfless man who ruled peacefully for fifty years, death waits for no one. Since he had not named a successor either, fate had made it so that the long successful kingdom that he reined over are all now doomed to war and uncertainty. Fate had doomed not only his long prosperous life, but also the people he cared most for.
“It is always better to avenge dear ones than to indulge in mourning. For every one of us, living in this world means waiting for our end. Let whoever can win glory before death. When a warrior is gone, that will be his best and only bulwark.” As seen from the essay, fate played a large role in the understanding of the characters in this poem. Beowulf tried to take fate in his own hands; however, it is something that is never changing and always changing. It was something the Beowulf would keep in mind, the inevitability of death at the hands of fate and he made proper use of the honours granted him by God during his life. He knew the day would come when he would have to pass on. Even while at the gates of his demise, he continued on without hesitation knowing his destiny was in God’s hands. That even though it was his end, he had to complete his fate for himself and those around him.
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