Because of its complicated origin, Beowulf has elements of both pagan Germanic culture and Christianity. The story of Beowulf probably originated as an oral tradition sometime in the 7th century. But the only surviving manuscript of Beowulf was written in the 11th century by Christian scribes, who either inserted the Christian overtones to the story, or were working from a manuscript set down by previous Christians who added the Christian elements. Suffice it to say that the resulting Beowulf is like a pagan story wrapped in Christianity. This results in some strange inconsistencies. For instance, the narrator of the poem describes Hrothgar at one point as a pagan who does not know of the true God, and yet all the characters, including Hrothgar, constantly thank God for their good fortune. In addition, the pagan concept of fate becomes rather hopelessly confused with God's will, so that sometimes Beowulf (and the narrator) seems to believe he can affect fate through his courage, while at others either Beowulf or the narrator attributes his success solely to God's favor. As you read Beowulf, keep on the lookout for the ways that Christianity and paganism interact in the poem.
Christianity and Paganism ThemeTracker
Christianity and Paganism Quotes in Beowulf
Grendel who haunted the moors, the wild
Marshes, and made his home in a hell.
Not hell but hell on earth.
He was spawned in that slime
Of Cain, murderous creatures banished
By God, punished forever for the crime
Of Abel's death.
Than I am! I could kill him with my sword; I shall not,
Easy as it would be. This fiend is a bold
And famous fighter, but his claws and teeth...
Beating at my sword blade, would be helpless. I will meet him
With my hands empty-unless his heart
Fails him, seeing a soldier waiting
Weaponless, unafraid. Let God in His wisdom
Extend His hand where He wills, reward
Whom he chooses!
In her heart, that female horror, Grendel's
Mother, living in the murky cold lake
Assigned her since Cain had killed his only
Brother, slain his father's son
With an angry sword.
Must have sent you such words; nothing so wise
From a warrior so young has ever reached
These ancient ears...If your lord,
Hrethel's son, is slain by a spear,
Or falls sick and dies...I say that the Geats
Could do no better, find no man better
Suited to be king, keeper of warriors
and their treasure, than you..., beloved Beowulf.
Have gone by as fate willed,...
As I knew how, swearing no unholy oaths,
Seeking no lying wars. I can leave
This life happy; I can die, here,
Knowing the Lord of all life has never
Watched me wash my sword in blood
Born of my own family.