The pagan belief in fate is seen most often in the work called Beowulf. Wyrd means fate personified. Another written form of wyrd is weird. This weird means to foretell the fate of; to predict; or destined. In the epic of Beowulf, where the title refers to the main character, he feels that his fate is controlled most often by courage. "Fate often saves an undoomed man when his courage is good."(34) Here Beowulf is speaking to Hrothgar. Beowulf firmly believes in the pagan element of fate. He feels that those who wait around for death will have it. However, if he is courageous he will be saved because it is the more honorable and noble thing to do.

     The first time the belief in fate comes into play is in the beginning of the story: "May it be granted by fate that one who behaves so bravely pass whole through the battle-storm." Here, one of the guards tells Beowulf that he is so courageous for coming to fight the monster Grendel that his fate will be changed by his courage.(31)

     Beowulf later speaks to Unferth (34) and tells him how fate has control over the undoomed man as long as his courage is good. In Anglo-Saxon warrior society, it is far more honorable to die in battle fighting for his lord. However, if the warrior survives the battle and harm is done to his Lord he is looked upon as a coward. If a warrior’s fate is to survive battle it is because he is brave and stoic.

     Pagans believed that fate ruled all things. If a warrior is destined to die, or be harmed in any way, then he is doomed and he is confined by his fate. Nothing he does can prevent or stop the event from occurring. In Beowulf, which is a story about warfare, the element of fate arises many times in the passages. Whether fate controls the death of a warrior or if he survives, he is doomed either way. If he dies, he leaves behind a grieving family and friends, and if he survives, he is looked down upon.

Written by Giovanna Priolo   Feb. 1999

Works Cited

M.H. Abrams. The Norton Anthology of English Literature. NY: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. Sixth Edition. © 1993. Pp. 31, 34