Saturday, February 12, 2011

Option 3

Christianity in Beowulf has been an ongoing discussion in the classroom and in articles. Richard Bodek wrote an article Beowulf based on the poem’s religious background. F.A. Blackburn felt “Beowulf is essentially a heathen poem; that its materials are drawn from tales composed before the conversion of the Angles and Saxons to Christianity… (Bodek, 2004)Bodek found scholars that had different views on if there was a Christianity overlay.

The first sign Bodek gives of the idea of Christian influence was in the beginning of the poem. During Hrothgar speech after Beowulf defeated Grendel and Grendel’s mother, Hrothgar praises Beowulf for doing God’s work with God’s help. Hrothgar continues by quoting Genesis 6:4 which spoke of God’s destruction of the race of giants. The acts of violence in the entire were meant to rid the world of God’s enemies (Bodek, 2004). Bodek believed that Christian readers would find Beowulf’s actions praiseworthy. Hrothgar succeeds in convincing Beowulf that relying on God would only end in sadness and misery. He did this by explaining that only gifts that matter are those exchanged among mortals with generosity (Bodek, 2004).

Beowulf realized that servicing God even when rewarded by blessings and favor is insufficient (Bodek, 2004). Bodek felt that Beowulf was becoming a second Cain. The poem Beowulf was full of advice; each character gave one another a piece of wisdom that foreshadows the rest of the story. Hrothgar’s advice to Beowulf implies that God is untrustworthy and that Beowulf should beware. In the poem, Grendel is categorized as the spawn of Cain. This article insists that Beowulf was becoming a man of Cain’s stature. In Genesis 4:3-5 Cain brought the fruit of the ground as an offering to the Lord and his brother, Abel brought the firstlings of his flock. Abel’s offering was seen by the Lord as sincere, whereas Cain’s offering was not. Cain’s anger and jealousy led him to kill Abel. As a result God sentenced Cain to wander the world unable to settle in a home.

The article and poem both questioned the Christian story of Cain and Abel. The poem only took excerpts from the first book of the bible, Genesis. In the multiple class discussions, we discussed Grendel’s ancestry and the poem’s ideas of him being a descendant from Cain. After reading Beowulf the only connection between Cain and Grendel is that they shared the same fate of wandering the world alone. Grendel was to be without a friend or companion and Cain fate was set due to the murder of his brother. If the two weren’t damned to walk the world alone I think that there would have been no similarities. Understanding all stories have good guys and bad guy’s I think this is the only reason Grendel was listed as a spawn of Cain. Grendel is seen as a beast and a monster, Cain was not physically seen in that light but his actions would make him look like a monster. Bodek added that Beowulf was beginning to be another Cain before Hrothgar gave Beowulf advice on how God works. It could be seen that Beowulf’s action was similar to one of Cain’s. No one is perfect, there are only perfect intentions.

Works Cited
Blackburn, F.A. "The Christian Coloring in the Beowulf." PMLA 12.2 (1897): 205-25. JSTOR. Web. 7 Feb. 2011.
Bodek, Richard. "Beowulf." Explicator 62.3 (2004): 130-32. MLA International Bibliography [EBSCO}. Web. 7 Feb. 2011. .

1 comment:

  1. There's a lot that's good here, and a couple points to criticize, or at least question.

    First, I thought you did a pretty good job explaining both pieces; you seemed particularly interested in Beowulf as a second Cain, but your description of Blackburn was fine, too. As more of a point than a criticism, usually it's not a good idea to start out with research that's well over a century old. I think it's very important for a scholar to understand the ongoing thread of the debate, going all the way back to Blackburn, but it's usually best in literary criticism (like in the science, but it's not quite as important) to at least begin with more current scholarship.

    That being said, you picked two interesting pieces, explained them, and set them in tension with one another. Ideally I would have liked to know more about *your* views of either the poem or the character keeping in mind the ongoing debate re: its Christian vs. pagan nature.

    Ultimately I like this because you do a good job of showing that there is, and has been, an ongoing debate on this subject.