|ome||ummary||hemes and definitions||redits and links|
|Beowulf is a poem with pagan
origins, yet it has many Christian elements. Indeed, the second quotation we are given
from this passage assigns fate as the "ruler of every man." A true Christian
poet would never assign rule over man to any other than the Father, the Son and the Holy
Ghost. Additionally, the gaining of earthly treasures or, specifically the taking of
treasure from a defeated enemy, is not an activity that is heroic in the Christian sense.
Christians champion the cultivation of spiritual rather than worldly treasure. Beowulf seeks fame by killing the dragon, not salvation through belief in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. His deeds win him lasting fame in the heroic, rather than the Christian, sense. In the Norton Anthology's introduction to Beowulf, the editors conclude that, "One must, indeed, draw the conclusion from the poem itself that although Christian is a correct term for the religion of the poet and his audience, it was a Christianity that had not yet by any means succeeded in obliterating an older pagan tradition, which still called forth powerful responses from the hearts of men and women, despite the fact that many aspects of this tradition must be abhorrent to a sophisticated Christian." (23)
As an epic poem, Beowulf is filled with references to Norse gods, mythical monsters, weapons with magical powers, and races of giants. These references are pagan elements that indicate a persistence of the power of traditional myths and legends in early medieval times. The concept of heroism as the ability to conquer ones neighboring tribe and take their possessions and the centrality of monsters and magic in the poem are evidence that this poem comes from an older, pagan tradition. This tradition still believed in animism to some extent. That tradition has been sanitized by a later Christian scribe.
The Christianizing process was done to add Christian moral anecdotes to make the poem more acceptable to a society that was changing from the old pagan ways to the new Christian order. The power of the poem, however, lies not in its Christian moral anecdotes, but rather in its bittersweet descriptions of the glory and the sadness of Beowulf's heroism and the values of his warrior society.
Mortality is another theme that runs throughout the poem. Wise men remind each other of their mortality as a warning against excessive pride. Within this chapter, the inevitability of Beowulf's death becomes more and more intensely felt.
Many of the speeches and boasts about heroism in Beowulf are done by men who are drunk in the mead-hall. In this passage, Wiglaf is the only one other than Beowulf himself whose courage stands up in the face of a true heroic challenge. This is so, even though it is his first battle. His actions indicate that heroism is also something that is fated, not learned.
|Weohstan had slain his nephew, Eanmund, and
given his battle gear as war booty to Onela. Onela was Eanmund's uncle and he subsequently
gave Weohstan the sword, which was from a race of giants, to give to his son, Wiglaf.
The fact that he has killed his brother's son does not deter Weohstan from taking his victims armor. This slaughter of kinsman contributes to the sense of harshness and doom in the poem. There seems to be no end to the retributions among tribes and a deep sense of foreboding overshadows all of the boasts of heroism and kinship.
|arth-Hall:||burial mound or barrow|
|irm-Hearted:||bravery or bravely|
|elm-Bearers:||soldier wearing a helmet|
|hield-Warrior:||fighter behind the shield|
|tone-Cliffs:||rocks, wall, cliffs of stone|
|tout-Hearted:||bravery or bravely|
|ar-Steam:||fire from the dragon|
|nimism:||animism \An"i*mism\, n. [Cf. F. animisme, fr. L. anima soul. See Animate.] 1. The doctrine, taught by Stahl, that the soul is the proper principle of life and development in the body. 2. The belief that inanimate objects and the phenomena of nature are endowed with personal life or a living soul; also, in an extended sense, the belief in the existence of soul or spirit apart from matter. --Tylor.|
|arrow:||barrow \Bar"row\, n. [OE. bergh, AS. beorg, beorh, hill, sepulchral mound; akin to G. berg mountain, Goth. bairgahei hill, hilly country, and perh. to Skr. b?hant high, OIr. brigh mountain. Cf. Berg, Berry a mound, and Borough an incorporated town.] 1. A large mound of earth or stones over the remains of the dead; a tumulus.|
|legiac:||elegiac \E*le"gi*ac\ (?; 277), a. [L. elegiacus, Gr. ?: cf. F. ['e]l['e]giaque. See Elegy.] 1. Belonging to elegy, or written in elegiacs; plaintive; expressing sorrow or lamentation; as, an elegiac lay; elegiac strains.|
|ate:||fate \Fate\, n. [L. fatum a prophetic declaration, oracle, what is ordained by the gods, destiny, fate, fr. fari to speak: cf. OF. fat. See Fame, Fable, Ban, and cf. 1st Fay, Fairy.] 1. A fixed decree by which the order of things is prescribed; the immutable law of the universe; inevitable necessity; the force by which all existence is determined and conditioned.|
|eirloom:||heirloom \Heir"loom`\, n. [Heir + loom, in its earlier sense of implement, tool. See Loom the frame.] Any furniture, movable, or personal chattel, which by law or special custom descends to the heir along with the inheritance; any piece of personal property that has been in a family for several generations.|
More on Kennings
|Kenning n : conventional metaphoric name for something, used esp. in Old English and Old Norse poetry|
|insman:||kinsman \Kins"man\, n.; pl. Kinsmen. A man of the same race or family; one related by blood.|
|cribe:||scribe \Scribe\ (skr[imac]b), n. [L. scriba, fr. scribere to write; cf. Gr. ska`rifos a splinter, pencil, style (for writing), E. scarify. Cf. Ascribe, Describe, Script, Scrivener, Scrutoire.] 1. One who writes; a draughtsman; a writer for another; especially, an offical or public writer; an amanuensis or secretary; a notary; a copyist. 2. (Jewish Hist.) A writer and doctor of the law; one skilled in the law and traditions; one who read and explained the law to the people.|
The most famous Old English scribe was a monk named Bede
|cylfing:||1: the member of a Swedish tribe|