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Beowulf And Religion

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The concept of conversion in late antiquity and the early middle ages was highly persisting idea as pagan groups would convert to Christianity. However, while the religious ideals of these peoples changed, cultural pagan values and mythologies still remained and mixed with Christian communities as well. The Scandinavian text Beowulf as well as Augustine of Hippo’s Confessions both convey pagan elements in Christianity in form of classical philosophy and Norse legends. Moreover, these pagan characteristics signify that the ideas of religion and culture were two separate entities within conversion, and that one could retain cultural beliefs while still adopting Christian practices. Beowulf incorporates numerous Norse pagan ideals and values…show more content…
The core story of Beowulf seems clear as a telling of a legendary king who embarks on various adventures akin to other pagan myths such as the Epic of Gilgamesh or the heroes of Greek mythology, all of which slay mythical creatures and retain certain ideal qualities of their societies. For example, Beowulf fulfills these qualities in killing Grendel, Grendel’s mother, and the dragon while also holding Norse ideal traits including fighting prowess, personal strength, and experience in leadership. From this, it would seem that the story of Beowulf would have likely stemmed from a single or a collection of Norse myths of a Scandinavian leader. However, the modern version of Beowulf is translated by a Christian author, and contains numerous Christian elements. Beowulf as a character, while a fighter, also embodies ideal Christian characters. He is a good king and leader, is loyal to his family and lords, and sacrifices himself to protect his kingdom from the dragon. Furthermore, in certain excerpts, he is warned of, specifically, sin, a uniquely Christian embodiment of evil. There also exists smaller Christian details about certain characters, such as Grendel being a descendant of Cain, that strongly denote a Christian background to the conflict of the…show more content…
For the most part, the Norse pagan characteristics of Beowulf seem to outweigh the more trivial traits of it. The various Norse creature such as the dragon and Grendel are far more essential to the structure of the narrative than say, one of the warnings of sin given to Beowulf or the ideas of self-sacrifice that Beowulf portrays that also overlap with Norse ideal characteristics. Even so, it would seem possible that Beowulf could exist as a complete work if any mention of Christianity, primarily in small pieces of dialogue and descriptions of characters, is omitted whereas deletion of the Norse elements, such as all the antagonists, would call for a drastic rewriting of the text. Moreover, the entire nature of Beowulf is far different to the New Testament texts of the Bible emphasized in Christianity and more similar to the Old Testament kings, which also share parallels with Sumerian writing styles and myths. This would suggest that Beowulf would likely have originated a pagan text but was then rewritten by Christians in either an effort to reconcile their cultural beliefs with Christianity or as a deliberate effort to encourage conversions. This then further depicts that conversion to Christianity, in the case of Scandinavia, may have merely been a strictly religious affair, meaning
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