Pagan Ethic Poetry: Beowulf
Beowulf is a heroic narrative with more than three thousand lines long, concerning the deeds of a Scandinavian prince called Beowulf and it considered the most important Anglo-Saxon epic poem still in existence. Beowulf is written in the Wessex dialect and is characterized by a high poetic diction full of alliterations, kenning but without rhymes, except occasional internal ones.
The poem gives a precise picture of the aristocratic and military society of the 6th century, ruled by simple laws such as eating, drinking, fighting, hunting and sleeping, in which people often organize banquets accompanied by the songs of the ‘scop’. It is a society based of a precise hierarchy with the Lord at the top, and the loyalty to him is the main value.
The poem consists of two stories unified by the presence of the same hero.
-The first one presents Beowulf as a young man going to help Hrothgar, the king of the Danes, whose palace is regularly attacked by a monster called Grendel. Beowulf struggles with it and kills it, but later he had to fight with Grendel’s mother, who wants to avenge her son.
-The second story is about Beowulf as an old man. He had became the king of the Geats and now he had to fight between a fire splitting dragon, which is trying to destroy the country after the theft of the treasure he was guarding, Beowulf kills the dragon, but is mortally wounded and dies after.
When the monks translated, they added a Christian interpolation, in fact the typical cruelty of that society is purified by virtues of moderation and consideration for others. Beowulf himself can be ideally identified with Christ: in the first part he defeats Grendel’s mother (the devil) with a sword (whose shape is something like a cross); in the second part, above all in the final scene, like Christ, Beowulf sacrifices himself for his people. In short, Beowulf was probably only an imaginary hero, but his people really existed and lived in Scandinavia, mainly in Sweden, and the poem is an important testimony of the life of that time.