Beowulf - Analysis of the Epic

The Anglo-Saxon epic Beowulf is the most important work of Old
English literature, and is well deserved of the distinction. The epic
tells the story of a hero, a Scandinavian prince named Beowulf, who
rids the Danes of the monster Grendel, a descendent of Cain, and of
his exploits fighting Grendel’s mother and a Dragon. Throughout the
epic, the Anglo-Saxon story teller uses many elements to build a
certain depth to the characters. Just a few of the important character
elements in Beowulf are Wealth & Honor, Biblical & Paganistic, and Man
vs. Wild themes.
Many of the characters in Beowulf are, like in most epics,
defined by their status. But, in addition to status, the Anglo-Saxon
culture also adds an element of honor. To the Anglo-Saxons, a
character’s importance, as well as their wealth and status, where
measured not only in monetary terms, but it was also measured in terms
of honor, fame, and accomplishments. Hrothgar, king of the Danes, is
one example of the Anglo-Saxon measurement of importance in Beowulf.
In Canto 1 the story teller describes his wealth and importance, not
as mounds of gold or jewels, but instead as his ability to “[lead] the
Danes to such glory.” and as his tendency to “In battle, [leave] the
common pasture untouched, and taking no lives.” Through this display
of compassion for the commoner who doesn’t fight in battles, Hrothgar
proves the full extent of his honor and therefore the extent of his
wealth and status. Beowulf, the hero-prince, also proves his true
wealth and status through his deeds as defender of the Danes.. As he
fights and defeats Grendel, Beowulf Earns Fame and wealth from his
companions, and from the Danes, but more importantly, he earns honor
raising him to the level of an archetypal hero. Grendel, on the other
hand, is the total opposite of Beowulf. He has no wealth, no honor,
and he in infamous as an evil killer. This lack of wealth and honor
defines Grendel as a symbol of evil and corruption. In addition to
using Honor and wealth to define a character’s character, the
story-teller(s) have incorporated alternating Biblical and Paganistic
motifs in the epic-poem.
The original Epic was obviously Paganistic due to the time
period of it’s creation. But, as time wore on, the rewriting and
touching up of the manuscripts by various sources including religious
monks, caused the characters to have slight Christian characteristics.
These Christian themes have become very important to the epic to add
am element of depth that wouldn’t be possible in modern times due to
the lost of the Anglo-Saxon culture and beliefs. An example of the
Biblical motif in Beowulf is Grendel. Grendel it biblically described
as evil in this excerpt:

[ Grendel] was spawned in that slime,
Conceived by a pair of those monsters born
Of Cain, murderous creatures banished
By God, punished forever for the crime
Of Abel’s death. The Almighty drove
Those demons out, and their exile was bitter,
Shut away from men; they split
Into a thousand forms of evil--spirits
And feinds, goblins, monsters, giants,
A brood forever opposing the Lord’s
Will, and again and again defeated.

The Biblical reference in the epic has become a modern day archetypal
motif, and serves to give the listener an idea of the extent of
Grendel’s pure evil and gives a logical explanation for Grendel’s
murderous behavior. This example, not only shows the evil in
Grendel’s nature, but also the torture in his heart caused by his
Banishment from God. It serves to give the reader an idea of why
Grendel would kill the Danes for no reason other than their
happiness. Beowulf also has a religious motif to his character. One
example of this is in Canto 6 line 381 in which Hrothgar states, “Our
Holy Father had sent [Beowulf] as a sign of His grace, a mark of His
favor, to help us defeat Grendel and end that terror.” This religious
description shows Beowulf as a sort of messiah sent by god to save man
from evil. But, more than that, since Beowulf is in fact not a
messiah, this description shows the good in Beowulf’s heart and the
purpose of his mission. Another Biblical reference in Beowulf is
shown in the tower of Herot which is very