The Legend of Beowulf

Who or what is Beowulf?-James Rutherfurd

Beowulf is a long epic poem in Old English which was the language spoken in Anglo-Saxon England before the Norman Conquest. The poem is more than 3,000 lines long and is in three acts.  Beowulf is about the adventures of a hero named Beowulf.  The poem tells about his ongoing battles with a monster called Grendel.  Beowulf also has battles with Grendel’s revengeful mother and with a dragon, which was guarding a hoard of treasure.

What is the legend about? 

Beowulf is about the triumph of good over evil.  The poem begins in Denmark, where Grendel is terrorising the kingdom of King Hroðgar. Beowulf, who is the Prince of Geatland, hears of his neighbours’ troubles, and sails to assist with a band of warriors.  Beowulf finds the monster, Grendel in unarmed combat.  He rips of Gendel’s arm, which ends in Gendel’s death.

The Danish people then rejoice.  However, Grendel’s loathsome mother takes her revenge, and makes a brutal attack upon the king’s hall. Beowulf seeks out the mother in her underwater lair, and slays her after a huge battle. Again there is rejoicing, and Beowulf is rewarded with many gifts. The poem finishes 50 years later when Beowulf is older. He is now king of the Geats.  He meets a rampaging dragon, which had been guarding treasure. Beowulf enters the dragon’s den and kills it, but he is fatally wounded in the battle.

Beowulf concludes with the his funeral, and a sad lament for the dead hero.

Where is the manuscript and is it damaged?

The Manuscript of Beowulf is now kept at the British Library in London.  There is only one solitary manuscript.  The manuscript has no date, and its age has to be calculated by analyzing the scribes’ handwriting. Some scholars believe that the manuscript was made at the end of the 10th century; others think it was made in the early decades of the eleventh.

The most likely time for Beowulf to have been copied is the early 11th century, which makes the manuscript about 1,000 years old.

During the 18th century, the Cotton manuscripts were moved for safekeeping to Ashburnham house at Westminster. However there was a fire in October 1731, which resulted in a many of the manuscripts being damaged or completely destroyed.

The Beowulf manuscript escaped the fire relatively intact.  Handling in the following years later damaged it.  Letters crumbled away from the outer parts of its pages.   The manuscript was placed in paper frames in 1845, however it still is incredibly fragile, and needs to be handled carefully.


Is Beowulf a pagan or a Christian poem?

Although there are indications that Beowulf is a pagan story, it seems to have Christian themes. There are many Christian elements in the poem.  It refers to earthly gifts from God, Grendel is connected to the family of Cain, God provides protection to his people, and Beowulf is seen as Christ-like in some ways.

This poem seems to be originally a pagan story but there are many parts of the text that point to Christian influence and tradition. Beowulf seems to be a Christian story with Christian messages in many ways.  One Christian theme is that man’s survival depends on the protection of God.

In the poem, there are many references to Christianity, mostly referring to God, or the Almighty. The story starts with Grendel hearing the poet telling the story of creation. The reader hears how the Almighty has made the earth and all that is beautiful, lovely, and full of life. This shows how God has given his people great gifts.  Beowulf also recognizes the importance of God in his life.

Some of the characters in the poem believe in the protection of God.  This is first seen when Grendel dares not to touch King Hroogar’s throne because it is protected by God. This is also seen when Beowulf is speaking about fighting Grendel. He is not afraid of the beast because he says that God must decide who will die in this battle.

There are also comparisons between Grendel and Satan in the poem.  Grendel is often referred to as a demon and a fiend. His lair is also similar to hell. Grendel’s lair is where evil lives in the poem.

Beowulf is seen as a Christlike figure. In the Bible, Jesus is called upon by God to give his life to conquer evil.  Similarly, Beowulf is called upon by the King of the Danes, Hrothgar, to defeat evil (Grendel).  Jesus was prepared and willing to die for the sake of good and righteousness. The same can be said about Beowulf. He was willing to give his life in the battle for righteousness.

Beowulf wanted the battle between good and evil to be fair and equal, so he wanted to fight with only his hands. Jesus was also a fair and just man.  Both Jesus and Beowulf met their death in the defense of goodness and in the battle against evil.

I think that the poem has many Christian themes.



The First Battle

This model depicts a number of aspects from Beowulf.  It shows King Hroðgar who built a great hall for his people. In the hall the King’s wife and his warriors spend their time singing and celebrating.  Grendel, a troll-like monster does not like the singing and attacks the hall and kills and devours many of Hroðgar’s warriors while they sleep.

Grendel does not touch the throne of Hroðgar, for it is described as protected by a powerful God.  Beowulf, a young warrior from Geatland, hears of Hroðgar’s troubles. Beowulf carries no weapons, as Grendel is immune to human weapons.

Beowulf and Grendel battle until the hall nearly collapses. Finally, Beowulf tears Grendel’s arm from his body at the shoulder and Grendel runs to his home in the marshes to die.


3 Comments on “The Legend of Beowulf”

  1. swoonie says:

    Great post and I love the diorama!

  2. swoonie says:

    Excellent post and I love the diorama!