When a human being thinks that Old English, that or she most likely cannot aid but think that the most famous piece of literature of the language’s time, the legend Beowulf. In fact, if the same human being were to search for discussions ~ above Old English, he or she would discover many academic articles covering a selection of theories worrying Beowulf. One deserve to agree the this poem is frequently under scrutiny; these discussions cover every little thing from the allegorical an interpretation of Beowulf to the monsters’ roles. A really popular conversation explores the purpose of utilizing both Anglo-Saxon paganism and Christian themes in Beowulf since they are often contradicting in morals and nature. Some scholars dedicate their observations to the believed that Christianity is a fluid, cohesive part of the city (Fisher 171-172), while rather argue the Christianity is just an incoherent ide that was placed into the city to appease the beliefs of the poem’s scribes and also that the story of beowulf originated far prior to Christianity infiltrated the Anglo-Saxons (Moorman, “The Essential” 5). Also still, rather argue the these two principles coexist in a combined manner and also that this marriage is proper for the time, together scholars composing the city were Christian and also writing to a Christian audience, return the human being still took pride in your Germanic, pagan history.

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Another reasonably common argument worrying Beowulf is the inquiry of even if it is it is an epic or a tragedy. Part argue the Beowulf is an epos poem due to the fact that the key character, Beowulf, illustration the features of an epic hero, and also the ending is just a tragic component in a poem that reeks of epic quality. Greenfield, in his write-up “Beowulf and Epic Tragedy,” also goes ~ above to do a difference between what an epic tragedy is matches a dramatic tragedy (91-105). He differentiates this two principles by focusing on how the hero falls, stating, “e need to expect the drops of epic and also dramatic heroes to impact their societies differently” (94). The loss of an epic hero directly affects the fate of the culture of which the hero is a part, while the fall of a dramatic hero only directly affects himself (94).


I argue that these two really different discussions space interconnected. Beowulf offers both Christian and also pagan aspects to develop a paradoxical paradigm in which the personalities cannot effectively abide through these completing concepts. Therefore, regardless of whether they abide repetitively by pagan expectations or Christian expectation that form the story, or even if they shot to abide by both simultaneously, they room hypocritical, i beg your pardon becomes their tragic defect in a sense, and they space damned to destruction or catastrophic fate. In bespeak to totally understand this concept, though, it is appropriate to revisit each concept individually beforehand.

The an initial concept is the Christianity is a cohesive element of Beowulf. Fisher says in his post “The Trials the the epic Hero in Beowulf ” that Beowulf’s trials room a test displaying the “basic struggle in between the divine, the natural, and the demonic within the field of the hero’s experience.… he organic is made to offer the function of redemption, while the demonic is resisted and also uprooted” (172). He illustration this ide in his discussion of Heorot. Heorot is the “natural” that becomes demonized by Grendel (172). Heorot’s ultimate purging the Grendel is “a preparation for ascendancy over this ar of suffer which is later on represented through the realm of the Geats and the fifty-year power of the heroic king—the successor in epos myth to the original ‘divine king’” (172). What Fisher presume is that beowulf takes on “divine” qualities (172). It is my position that beowulf is caught in the paradoxical paradigm between paganism and Christianity. He tries to abide by both, unsuccessfully, and his tragic defect of hypocrisy create his tragic downfall. After ~ all, one cannot neglect the pagan facets of the poem. One could take the end the Christian elements in the poem, and also the plot would continue to be for the most part unchanged, however to take out the pagan facets would result in the deconstruction that the poem altogether. Therefore, the Christian facets cannot exist there is no the pagan elements.

One needs to ask, then, how personalities in Beowulf can possibly be successful if they space asked to be proud, revengeful, and also pay monetary quantities when lock kill, while in ~ the very same time castle are likewise supposed to it is in forgiving, humble, and also ashamed of your killings.

Unfortunately, this scenario provides it rather an overwhelming for every the characters found in Beowulf, including the title character. Paganism and Germanic tribal beliefs centered top top the principle of comitatus and wergild i beg your pardon demanded the deaths of kin were avenged, or the perpetrator paid wergild as compensation because that these deaths. Revenge and also bribery are totally contradictory facets to Christianity, i m sorry centers top top forgiveness and also penitential atonement. German tribes also sought to accomplish lōf or fame; lock were very prideful and also often boasted of your accomplishments. Again, this concept is in complete opposition to Christianity. In Beowulf, “The relationship in between heroes, monsters, and also gods have the right to be stated to suffer a sea change…if us realize the the vital pagan virtue of pride has become the rule vice because that Christianity” (Asma B14). In Christianity, pride is viewed as one of the seven deadly sins; Christian followers need to remain humble and not boastful, and also in biblical stories, monsters are regularly seen together possessing hubris (B14). However, in Beowulf, death monsters is Beowulf’s job, and he is celebrated for act so. In the pagan realm, success is commemorated in the present life; in Christianity, that is celebrated in the immortality (B14). So how should beo wolf act as soon as he slays Grendel?

One has to ask, then, how characters in Beowulf can possibly be effective if they are asked to be proud, revengeful, and pay monetary amounts when they kill, while in ~ the exact same time they are also supposed to it is in forgiving, humble, and also ashamed of your killings. They can not act effectively within these contradicting demands, developing a paradoxical paradigm. To abide through one is to overlook the other, causing a damned-if-you-do-damned-if-you-don’t situation. The personalities are bound to choose one over the other also though the plot stop them to both standards, consequently forcing castle to be hypocritical.

First, one can look in ~ the relentless struggle of the Danes and also the Geats to view this contradiction. Fratricide is a continuous theme checked out in both this tribes. By fratricide, ns am consisting of not only kin-killing, but also violence come in-laws and close girlfriend in mine examples since comitatus argues that loyalty did no just prolong to blood relations. Top top the Danes’ side, a reader deserve to see fratricide in the character Unferth. As soon as Unferth concerns Beowulf around his event with Brecca, beo wolf replies after comprehensive boasting, “hough without doubt you, Unferth, were the killer of your brothers: for which, clever together you are, friend will certainly be damned in hell” (Beowulf 40). Over there is an issue here. Unferth kills his brothers; therefore, the commits a crime versus the Danes as a tribe. However he is likewise a part of this tribe.

According come the pagan expectations, Unferth has actually committed a crime against the comitatus, and also according come the principle of comitatus, the Danes need to avenge Unferth’s brothers’ deaths, or Unferth should pay wergild. Yet Unferth is a Dane, for this reason if the dance avenge his brothers’ deaths, castle will additionally disobey the law of comitatus. The Danes, and Germanic people for the matter, have no answer because that fratricide (Reinhard 371). The Danes perform not blame Unferth, no one does Unferth pay wergild, but instead the “sits in ~ the foot of the Danish throne” (371). This solution, or lack thereof, argues that the Danes are not living by the expectations of pagan rule. One could argue the the Danes are acting more Christianly through forgiving Unferth because that his mishaps. Unfortunately, the Danes are not abiding by the Christian ascendancy either; believer have an answer for fratricide. Follow to the story that Cain and Abel, Cain is banished through God after the finds the end Cain eliminated his brothers Abel. The Danes perform not banish Unferth, though. Hence, they space acting hypocritically. They uphold this expectations once Grendel death Danes, but Unferth is not punished.

The Danes select the Christian-like route and forgive this killers, but they host Grendel to the pagan expectations and do not forgive him. They space not consistent, thus they space hypocritical in their expectations.

Another example of fratricide is seen in the relationship between Hrothulf and also Hrothgar’s sons. Wealhtheow is worried about Hrothulf, for this reason she talks to Hrothgar around Beowulf and also says, “They call me the you are going come treat this heroic fighting-man as your son.…eave her people and your kingdom to your children when the moment comes because that you come die!” (Beowulf 55). Hrothgar’s effort to embrace Beowulf argues that he would certainly rather have Beowulf 보다 his own sons as his heir. Wealhtheow reminds him the it is appropriate to pass judgment down to a organic family member, but she likewise is unsure of her sons’ abilities. Later, she asks beo wolf to clock over she boys, saying that she does no necessarily trust Hrothulf (56). She means that she is involved for she sons, and also she should be, together evidence and scholars indicate that Hrothulf kills his cousin after Hrothgar’s fatality (Hughes 390).

Fratricide have the right to be viewed even before Hrothgar and his children. Throughout one the the numerous digressions in the poem, we learn of a man named Heremod that ruled the danes long before Hrothgar. That is explained as one who “took no satisfied in the happiness, however in the death and destruction the the Danes.…e supplied to death his drinking companions and close friends” (Beowulf 67). The curse the fratricide can thus be viewed as a layout through the whole ruling line of the Danes. However again, the world in the poem are being held to the expectations of both the pagan and Christian ethics. To kill Unferth, Heremod, and Hrothulf would avenge the deaths they committed and permit the to dance to stay loyal come the principle of the comitatus in a way, yet the Danes would not it is in abiding through the Christian morals of forgiveness. To pardon Unferth, Heremod, and also Hrothulf would abide through Christian expectations, but the Danes would not abide through the dominion of the comitatus. The Danes choose the Christian-like route and forgive this killers, but they host Grendel to the pagan expectations and do not forgive him. They space not consistent, hence they are hypocritical in their expectations.

The Geats are no better. A leader sees the layout of fratricide extend to this tribe with the story that Haethcyn and Herebeald. Beo wolf tells a story around these two, saying:

For Haethcyn struck under his friend and liege with an arrow from his bow. The missed his aim and shot his brothers Herebeald. One brother eliminated the other with a bloodstained shaft! This was an inexpiable accident, and a heartrending crime; for everything happened, Herebeald should die unavenged. (Beowulf 84)

Haethcyn, for every little thing reason, kills his brother, and just like the Danes, the Geats take care of the case the same way. They execute not avenge Herebeald, though later on Beowulf avenges Heardred’s death (Beowulf 83). Therefore, the Geats, similar to the Danes, are hypocritical. They do not host their own accountable come the comitatus and act much more Christianly towards them, but they recognize when others outside their very own tribe continue to be true to the comitatus.

The Danes and also the Geats are not the just tribes the are forced to be hypocritical; Grendel is recorded in the paradoxical paradigm as well. Grendel is claimed to have actually been a descendent the Cain, therefore, the is banished (Beowulf 29). Grendel, although originally not a committer that fratricide, is punished for his ancestor’s mistake. This anger and also suffering boils right into jealousy, and also Grendel avenges self by essentially damaging the civilization who proceed to enforce this unfair retribution. Also though nobody was eliminated in Grendel’s “tribe” originally, Grendel is forced to live a life of expulsion that he did not cause. This is the factor for his attack; the is complying with an inner sense of comitatus . Unfortunately, that is not exactly how it is checked out from the Danes’ allude of view. Once Grendel kills plenty of of the Danes, that does no truly fulfill all the facets of the pagan beliefs, together he does no pay wergild because that those he kills. He also does not follow Christian beliefs because he does no feel remorse for his actions. Together Reinhard put it, “e is a completely unrepentant penitent, a established transgressor of penitential practice” (372). Perhaps this is why the is seen as such a monster in the poem. That is, after ~ all, “not just in violation the the human conventions that wergild.…He is a rebel against the divine law the the penitential, too, an opponent of men and also an adversary of God” (378). However, Grendel is adhering to something the the Anglo-Saxons stressed: pride. He is too proud to forgive the human beings for your unfair banishing, and he is as well proud to salary wergild because that his revenge. He also temporarily complies with the Christian systems for fratricide, banishment, even though that did not personally go it. Also still, the does not continuously follow one of two people pagan or Christian doctrines and also is therefore a hypocrite.

The mix of the Christian and also pagan expectations producing an environment the personalities cannot live by likewise leads the characters to disastrous fates.

What is even much more interesting is the if us assume Grendel is a direct descendant the Cain, climate Grendel is kin to the Anglo-Saxons, specifically if they believe they room all god’s children. So need to we not think about the killing of Grendel together a kind of fratricide? as Phillips defines it, “he monster is unsettling not simply because it is intent on ours destruction, but also because the is pertained to us: the uncanniness that the monster is bound up with the questionability the what it method to be human” (42). Grendel is inhumane and defined together a monster, maybe also the ultimate monster, because he does not abide by one of two people the pagan or Christian expectation that shape the poem. Yet, the is likewise a reminder the what we as humans can become, of what our epic hero can become—monstrous—for the implicit is the Grendel is kin due to the fact that he is concerned Cain. Beo wolf kills Grendel; therefore, beowulf commits fratricide. He is not meant to salary wergild, though, and is instead commemorated for killing Grendel. Kahrl would even argue the this hypocrisy is seen with a etymological connection. He states that the very same word an option pattern is used: “The impact of the normative maxim is to underline that truth that Beowulf’s perspective is praiseworthy, whereas Grendel’s is not, yet the same words are offered to describe both” (Kahrl 191). Both personalities get no joy from participating in feuds, but Grendel’s an answer to the feud is viewed as monstrous while Beowulf’s response is seen as praiseworthy (191).

The pattern of inconsistencies continues. By killing Grendel, beowulf commits a crime versus the comitatus that the monster tribe. In the vicious bicycle of comitatus, the monsters have actually every appropriate to avenge Grendel’s death, or Beowulf should pay wergild. The occurrence with Grendel’s mom shows the true hypocrisy the Beowulf. Beowulf is rather forgiving the Unferth and his fratricide; that does not take action, yet assumes God will handle this sin (Beowulf 40). However, when Grendel commits a similar sin, Beowulf looks for revenge. The is acceptable for him to execute this, and the Danes accept this together a noble pursuit. As soon as Grendel’s mother does the same thing and also avenges Grendel’s death, the Danes are not for this reason forgiving. They view her too as a monster, even though she is simply abiding by the very same pagan beliefs by which they are abiding. Beowulf does not pay wergild come Grendel’s mom for she son’s death, and also Grendel’s mommy does not pay wergild for the life she took together compensation for she son’s death. Yet, also though Beowulf’s and also Grendel’s mummy actions room the same, beo wolf is seen as the hero and Grendel’s mother, the villain.

A similar situation develops between the dragon and Beowulf. Some scholars argue the the dragon is hoarding the treasure that guards, and that it represents greed (Kahrl 195). Among the Geats steals indigenous its treasure, and so that wreaks destruction on the Geat tribe. The poet tries to justification the stolen cup through saying, “The guy who so provoked the Worm did no violate its treasure willfully or top top purpose, however through thin necessity” (Beowulf 79). Also so, this act goes versus Christian doctrine. Beo wolf does not see this act as such, though, and also does not commit come Christian expectation in this case, even though he previously acts Christianly towards Unferth as soon as Unferth insults him. Yet one can speculate that he has a political agenda in impressing Hrothgar, and killing Unferth would jeopardize the agenda, therefore one has to question what his intentions room in being forgiving come Unferth’s insults. That course, the dragon has actually committed a crime versus the Geat comitatus, and so Beowulf should avenge his tribe’s deaths. Beowulf chooses to monitor the rule of the pagan doctrine and does no take into consideration the wrong the is excellent to the dragon beforehand; he just looks in ~ the fact that the dragon burns down his property and kills his people. The has different expectations because that Unferth 보다 for the dragon and also thus is a hypocrite since in one instance he acts choose a Christian and also in the other he acts like a pagan.

From the really start, the poet creates a case in which the characters cannot survive. If they select to live by one belief system, they space neglecting the other.

The corkscrew in every one of these account is the last character that is trapped in this paradoxical paradigm, Grendel’s mother. Every the other personalities act based upon selfish tendencies, selecting to abide through Christian expectations and pagan expectations individually when they are many convenient. Grendel’s mommy is probably the only character who successfully tries to abide through both for selfless reasons. She is one ancestor the Cain as well, for this reason she abides through the Christian expectations of fratricide; she willingly remains banished and also keeps to herself. As soon as her child dies, she avenges his death as the pagan regulations prescribe, acquisition one life for the life of her son. After that, she goes back to she dwellings and wreaks no more havoc on the Dane tribe. Beo wolf takes no time to go after Grendel’s mother, and whereas beo wolf is capable of killing Grendel with his bare hands, Grendel’s mommy is harder come kill. Part have suggested this is the case because she is no monstrous; she is a disastrous character caught in the middle of a feud she did not create nor of which she was a part. She cannot be killed with just bare hands since she is not as deserving of gift killed. Basically, she did not kill just to kill (Moorman, “Beowulf” 67). Even still, she find the same fate that the Danes, Geats, and also Beowulf find: death.

The various other discussion concerning Beowulf is the concept of even if it is this poem is one epic city or a catastrophic poem. I argue that these 2 discussions: Christian and also pagan expectations and also the epic city versus tragic poem question are interrelated. The mix of the Christian and pagan expectations developing an atmosphere the personalities cannot live by additionally leads the personalities to catastrophic fates. After ~ all, every character mentioned dies or is conquered. The poem argues that the Geats and the Danes endure tragic downfalls after the deaths of your kings, beowulf is ultimately conquered and killed by the dragon, and also the monster are killed by Beowulf. Greenfield says that Beowulf is an ext an epos poem than a dramatic tragedy (91-105). His best support because that this is that Beowulf is not an affirmation that defeat however is an ext aligned come the principle that over there is no possibility to achieve (101). This might be true, as all the personalities are eventually defeated, and this ide is consistent with pagan perceptions that life does no get better and chaos reigns supreme.

However, Aristotle defines a tragedy as “an imitation not only of a complete action, but additionally of events arousing pity and also fear” (57). He defines tragic heroes as needing to be continual even if that method consistently inconsistent (59-60). Lastly, he additionally defines the tragic hero as one “whose misfortune, however, is brought upon the … by part error that judgement” (58). Every one of the personalities mentioned—the Danes, the Geats, Grendel, Grendel’s mother, and also even Beowulf—can exemplify these meanings of tragedy. Castle all space pitied due to the fact that the poet writes with contradicting themes that force them come live hypocritically and also inconsistently. They cannot abide by both Christian and pagan doctrines; these effects suggest the Christianity and paganism cannot exist simultaneously. Native the really start, the poet create a instance in i m sorry the characters cannot survive. If they choose to live by one id system, they room neglecting the other. Your flaws are inevitable since they are compelled to choose. Their tragic flaws pressure them to become hypocritical, and eventually castle all die as a result. Therefore, regardless of whether the poem was originally a pagan story or a Christian story, the poet to write a tragic story of right versus wrong, and also the personalities can perform nothing however be both.

Works Cited

Aristotle. “Poetics.” Critical Theory because Plato. Third ed. Eds. Risk Adams and Leroy Searle. Boston, MA: Michael Rosenberg, 2005. 52-69. Print.

Asma, Stephen T. “Never psychic Grendel. Can Beowulf dominate the 21st-Century Guilt Trip?.” Chronicles of greater Education 54.15 (Dec. 2007): B14-B15. Academic search Complete. Web. 21 Nov. 2015.

Beowulf. Trans. David Wright. Bungay, England: Richard Clay & Company, Ltd., 1961. Print.

Fisher, Peter F. “The Trials that the epos Hero in Beowulf.” PMLA 73.3 (Jun. 1958): 171-183. JSTOR. Web. 20 Nov. 2015.

Greenfield, Stanley B. “Beowulf and also Epic Tragedy.” Comparative Literature 14.1 (1962): 91-105. JSTOR. Web. 22 Nov. 2015.

Hughes, Geoffrey. “Beowulf, Unferth and Hrunting: one Interpretation.” English Studies 58.5 (Oct. 1977): 385-395. Academic search Complete. Web. 21 Nov. 2015.

Kahrl, Stanley J. “Feuds in Beowulf: A catastrophic Necessity?.” Modern Philology 69.3 (Feb. 1972): 189-198. JSTOR. Web. 20 Nov. 2015.

Moorman, Charles. “The essential Paganism of Beowulf.” Modern Language Quarterly 28.1 (Mar. 1967): 3-18. Academic find Complete. Web. 22 Nov. 2015.

—. “Beowulf.” Kings and also Captains: sport on a Heroic Theme. University press of Kentucky, 1971. JSTOR. Web. 19 Nov. 2015.

Phillips, James. “In the agency of Predators: Beowulf and the Monstrous descendants of Cain.” Angelaki: newspaper of the Theoretical liberal arts 13.3 (Dec. 2008): 41-52. Academic find Complete. Web. 25 Nov. 2015.

Reinhard, Ben. “Grendel and also the Penitentials.” English Studies 94.4 (2013): 371-385. Academic search Complete. Web. 20 Nov. 2015.

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Jaclyn E. Gingrich is a graduate student in the understand of art in English program. “Reading Beowulf: Paradoxical Paradigms” got the English Department’s Danny Ducker Graduate Merit award in 2016.