Under the Influence of Christianity in the Poem Beowulf

June 7, 2022 by Essay Writer

The epic poem Beowulf, written centuries ago by an unknown author, takes the reader back to a time of intense battles and raging monsters in the night. Many who have read this passage have taken note of the multiple references towards the Bible. This may imply that the author, who is unnamed, was a Christian of that time as well as others within that society. However, Beowulf contains many accounts of monstrous activity as well. It is possible that these references to Christian beliefs and the Bible are used to soften what is the gruesome content that these monsters within this story create.

One of the first accounts of biblical reference that the reader comes across is actually the introduction if the first monster by the name of Grendel. Grendel was a horrendous creature who only grew more and more irritated when citizens of the kingdom would come together in the mead-hall to share stories of amazing victories and glorious battles. This ties to religious content due to the relations of Grendel with his mother being, none other than, Cain herself. A descendant of Adam and Eve who murdered her sibling Abel through jealousy. Thus, creating one of the first connections to religion that the reader sees in this piece of literature. This was something that historians held on to even to this day. As one could imagine, it is most unfortunate that the author of this long surviving work is a mystery and every little detail to be found regarding the unknown poet is valuable.

Furthermore, Beowulf also prays to God throughout the poem. In most cases than others he is praying for protection and even speaks humbly of how God is the reason why he has won so many glorious victories. When Beowulf came into town to fight and defeat the evil monster known as Grendel many people were both amazed and grateful. “Now a man, with the Lord’s assistance, has accomplished something none of us could manage” (Beowulf, 938-940). If it was not for God, working in the favor of Beowulf, there is a great chance that he would not have walked away from that fight with his life. Beowulf recognizes this, and is grateful that the hand of God chose to protect him that night. Of course, this poem is an epic which means it is long in length and filled with much more monsters than just Grendel.

Grendel’s mother, for one, is the next monster that is introduced to the reader in this poem. This is due to the vengeance that is left after Cain attacks the kingdom in rage from the death of her offspring Grendel. In doing so she kills King Hrothgar’s dear companion Eschere leaving Beowulf with yet another dangerous task to take on. In fact, Cain lives in an underwater lair. This was found only in the deepest part of the woods, far away, and surrounded with all kinds of other creatures. Thus, implying that, even though Grendel and Cain are only a few of the monsters we have heard of, there is indeed other dangerous creatures lurking about throughout the whole story. In the end, God decides to aid Beowulf in the fight against the demon who is Cain, granting him the victory followed by many rewards and praises. Years after this fight Beowulf faces his last encounter with a mighty beast, this time a dragon.

It is clearly shown that the Passage of Beowulf contains both many occurrences of monsters and the religious customs of Christianity, but what if this is only due to influence? It is clearly noticeable, especially to the Christian eye, that monsters as shown in Beowulf are not found in any passage of the Bible. When reading the epic poem it almost feels as though these two elements conflict with one another. Of course, Grendel is said to be related to a familiar figure, Cain, who is the descent of Adam and Eve themselves. However, it was never stated that Cain ever bared a child within the written scripture. Thus, further proving that perhaps this story was never meant to incorporate such religious aspects. This would make sense considering the age of Beowulf, that possibly “there was a time when these tales were repeated without the Christian reflections and allusions that are found in the poem that has reached us” today (Tidmarsh 1). In other words, as Beowulf was being passed down around the time it was created, it is likely that reflections of Christian values did not make an appearance within the lines until a later date. This could be due to the growing popularity of the religion and eventually it slipped its way into the lines of the poem. One may think about it being similar to the game known as “Telephone”.

This game consists of a long line of people were the objective is to pass a message down, one person to the next, until the last person is reached while trying to keep the message as consistent as possible. Normally, by the time the message reaches the last person, and they repeat out loud for everyone to hear, it has gone through so many changes and alterations making it almost unrecognizable. Beowulf was never written down at first as there was no way of recording it yet, so who is to say that even this famous work was not altered throughout all of those years. However, why would one want to alter this work of literature?

For all one knows, the cause of this action could have been due to Beowulf’s horrific outcomes in battles in order to balance this out with a slightly more light-hearted appeal. As stated earlier, the combination of both Christian values and mystical monstrous creatures seem to clash with one another. This could be due to the fact that Christianity is still a widely known and practiced religion to this day and is not a fictional being like that of these monsters. Of course, Cain is an individual of the Bible, and while she may have made some bad decisions, it never stated her as being this grotesque creature living within an underwater lair. Furthermore, the basis of a Christian lifestyle is loving and selfless. Something that we see in the mighty warrior Beowulf a few times throughout this poem. Just imagine if the element of religion was taken out of the poem Beowulf and how much different it would be. Everything from the characters and their dialogue to the details of each battle would hold a much different outlook from the reader’s perspective of today.


Read more