Beowulf As Christian Allegory
Beowulf’s story is somewhat of an allegory in which he is
depicted as the Christ figure. The theme of Beowulf is a contrast of good and
evil which is manifest in both Christian and pagan elements; Beowulf
represents good, while Grendel, his mother, and the dragon represent evil.
The first monster our hero, Beowulf, faces is Grendel. Grendel is said to be
a descendant of Cain. "Unhappy creature (Grendel), he lived for a time in the
home of the monsters’ race, after God had condemned them as kin of Cain"
(Norton, 28). Cain is the son of Eve, the woman who bore sin into the world.
A connection, however vague, can be made between the maternal relations of
Eve and Cain and Grendel and his mother. Grendel’s mother can be considered to
personify man’s fall from grace and Grendel himself might embody sin.
Furthermore, the dragon Beowulf battles can be said to be a picture of Satan:
"the smooth hateful dragon who flies at night wrapped in flame" (56). When
facing Grendel, Beowulf relies on God alone to protect him, saying,
"...may wise God, Holy Lord, assign glory on whichever hand seems good to
Him" (36). When Beowulf tears off Grendel’s arm, Hrothgar remarks, "I endured
much from the foe, many griefs from Grendel" (39). It could be said that the
Christian foe is sin, which causes much grief.
Against Grendel’s mother, original sin, Beowulf becomes the Christian
soldier. When Beowulf struggles against Grendel’s mother, God grants him a
precious gift: "The Wielder of Men granted me that I should see hanging on
the wall a fair, ancient, great-sword – most often He has guided the man
without friends – that I should wield the weapon" (Norton, 48). This great
sword is further described as "a victory-blessed blade, an old sword made by
the giants... the work of giants" (Norton, 47). The sword used to slay
Grendel’s mother is work of her ancestral giants, who were godly until they
fell from grace. "From (Cain) sprang all bad breeds, trolls and elves and
monsters – likewise the giants who for a long time strove with God" (Norton,
28). Therefore, the sword was god-forged and godly. Here the hero is using
"the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God" to prevail (The Book of
Ephesians 6.17, Bible).
In his battle with the dragon (which may represent Satan) Beowulf is
martyred, losing his life in the of the killing the dragon. Beowulf is the
Christ figure; the monsters are sin personified; and, moreover, the work
Beowulf effectively becomes the sword of the Spirit and the word of God.
It is important to note that, while there are many references to Cain, the
devil, and God (Christian elements) there are also several mentions of fate
and destiny, pagan elements. Beowulf believes in predestination and feels
that destiny is mortally unchangeable, saying, "Fate always goes as it must"
(33). This idea propels him into many battles even though the competition
seems overwhelming. Yet, in apparent disregard for fate and destiny, Beowulf
prays to God for help and thanks God for victory and protection.