Beowulf is the Greatest Example of Old English Literature

Beowulf is the greatest example of Old English literature. According to the traditions of epic of this period, it represents the features of pageant and Christian literature, which altogether form the character of Beowulf as a heroic ideal of an epic hero.

The oldest Anglo-Saxon poetry is pageant in spirit and ideas and has only a few rather mechanical Christian editions. In Beowulf pageant motives are represented by such features as references to an impersonal fate that defines destinies of humanity: “Fate always goes as it will …Fate often saves an undoomed man if his courage holds” (Breeden). Moreover, there are some pageant rituals represented in Beowulf. Firstly, it is burning of body in fire with the treasure: “The woman mourned, sang lamentation, as the warrior ascended, waned to the clouds as the greatest of death fires around roared on the barrow…Those were the aged king’s last words, thoughts from the heart, before he tasted the funeral-fire, that hot, hostile flame…For him then they prepared a huge funeral pyre on the earth, hung with helmets, war-shields, and bright coats of mail, as Beowulf  had asked” (Breeden). Secondly, it is defining of destiny with the help of omens: “Wise men urged to that adventure though he was dear to them. They examined omens and whetted him on” (Breeden). Finally, it is worshipping of idols: “They even went to heathen temples, worshipped idols, and called to the Devil for help” (Breeden). However, there are many Christian motives in this poem as all texts of Old English period came through very strict Christian filter. Firstly, the features of Christianity are represented by references to God: “It’s well known that God always rules the race of men…Thanks to the Creator, the Eternal Lord…” (Breeden) Secondly, Christian motives are described by some stories from the Old Testament: “After Cain killed his brother, his father’s son, he went in quiet, marked by murder, fleeing the joys of men to occupy the waste land” (Breeden) Thirdly, Christianity is depicted by references to some elements of Christian beliefs such as Hell: “But you, your own brother’s murderer, shall be damned and burn in Hell no matter how strong your wit is” (Breeden). Finally, best Christian qualities and traits form the character of the main hero, Beowulf. Beowulf is depicted like the champion of goodness and light against the forces of evil and darkness.

Beowulf is a heroic ideal of an epic hero. He presents the idea of endurance in the face of bravery, fidelity, loyalty to the lord and readiness to revenge. Moreover, he fulfills his social obligations perfectly too. He looks after his people, protects them from monsters and labors for the good future of his country. He is a good warrior as well as a good king, because even after gaining this title he does not fail to protect his people. As an old man without a shadow of hesitation he goes to save his nation from the dragon.  By it, he teaches readers that there are no limits for the deeds of bravery. The following quotations are the evidence of it: “I am Hygelac’s Kinsman and warrior. I have undertaken many glorious deeds. I learned of Grendel in my native land...This is the best-born man! My friend Beowulf, your renown is established beyond the wide ways, you over all the nations…Later it happened after Hyglac fell in the storm of war…that the broad kingdom came into Beowulf’s hand. He held it well, ruled fifty winters; he was an old guardian… Beowulf scorned a host, a large army, when he sought the dragon; he did not fear he dragon’s war; he trusted his strength and courage…” (Breeden).

To sum, Beowulf is a great epic poem of Old English period in which pageant and Christian motives are closely connected that make the Beowulf a heroic ideal of an epic hero.

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