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Norse Mythology and Christianity in Beowulf

Natasha Cribbs

Dr. Sunni Thibodeau

World Literature to 1650

27 March 2013

Norse Mythology and Christianity in Beowulf

            Beowulf is an epic that many people have read. It is taught in classes and read for fun. One of the interesting aspects of Beowulf  is the religion that is involved. Unlike many stories, Beowulf does not only coincide with one religion. The tale of Beowulf was created to be in the time of paganism. The religion that it would therefore be, is Germanic Norse. The Norse religion is an old one and is often seen in Viking history. Beowulf does not only pertain to the Norse religion, though, and has many glimpses of Christianity.

During the time of Beowulf, the Norse religion would have been quite prominent. There are symbols of this throughout the tale. When a lot of people think of Beowulf they often think of the fight between him and Grendel, as well as the fight between him and Grendels’ mother. It is during those battles that one can see the link between Beowulf and the creation and destruction story. Many religions have similar stories. In Norse religion it pertains to the tales of Odin, Thor, Ymir the Frost-Giant, and other Gods. “First there was nothing, and the North and South together formed Ymir, the Frost-Giant. Ymir’s sweat created an entire race of Giants, and then a cow was created to feed these Giants. Next, Bur emerged from the ice covering the entire world, and he had three sons, which together defeated Ymir. The blood of the Giant created the sea, the three sons created the land using Ymir’s body, and from his skull they made the entrance to the heavens”.(Norse n.d.). This is just a part of one of the many tales that include the gods of the Norse religion.

The aspect of that story that entwines with Beowulf is the mention of the Frost-Giant. It just so happens that the weapon that Beowulf uses to kill Grendels mother is a sword of the giants. Many readers are likely to not catch small symbols like the sword and its relation to the Norse mythology.

Another symbol that relates to the Norse religion is the raven. Ravens are quite often used as symbols for death and hopelessness. In Beowulf, though, the raven can be viewed from a different perspective. The God Odin has two or so ravens. They are messengers and bring news back to him. Therefore seeing ravens in the tale of Beowulf is likely not a coincidence.

Even if the time frame focuses around the time of Vikings and the Norse religion, does not mean that there are not Christian views in the story as well. Over time many pieces of literature gets translated for its readers. Beowulf is one of the stories that was translated, and during the translation may have changed. It is said that a Christian monk is the one that translated Beowulf. The monk who translated the tale may play a role in the Christian points in the tale.

Throughout Beowulf God is mentioned many times. Thanks and recognition are given to him even though during that time it would have been different. That is not the biggest link to Christianity, however. The largest aspect that points to Christianity is Grendel and his mother. It is stated that the ogre is a descendant from Cain. It is the malice of Cains betrayal and evil that relates to the demons in Beowulf. ” In the Anglo-Saxon period of Beowulf, all evil was believed to exist because of Cain. Beowulf is the Savior, who represents good, who fights all evil in order to sustain happiness of all the people. He is the hero of all heroes. Once he takes a vow, he stands by it” (Sharma, Shalini n.d.).

Much of the epic of Beowulf revolves around the defeat of evil. Defeating evil is part of one of the basic formations of religions in general. It was one of the parts of Beowulf that lets the two religions come together rather than clash.

Both religions are present in the epic but do not interfere with the messages, reading, or learning about Beowulf. Over time the translation may have altered a bit, but a decent amount of each religion still has its’ own mark on the tale.

Work Cited

“Norse.” ThinkQuest. Oracle Foundation, n.d. Web. 27 Mar. 2013.

Sharma, Shalini. “Beowulf – The Story of Cain.” Beowulf – The Story of Cain. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 Mar. 2013.

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