Jan 14: Beowulf question

Consider two heroes of this week, Beowulf and Christ in Dream of the Rood. Do they share heroic qualities, or are there significant differences between them?

9 thoughts on “Jan 14: Beowulf question

  1. Beowulf and Christ in Dream of the Rood do share heroic qualities. I would say they have more similiarties than differences. One heroic quality they share is they fight for their people. When Christ and the tree were drenched in blood, they still stand with dignity and ready for what comes next. Beowulf is compared to the strength of “thirty men.” Both characters portray loyalty, intelligence, courage, and over all they would do anything to protect the people they care for.

  2. I would agree with Tori Rivera, and go further to suggest that not only are both Christ and Beowulf seen as heroic figures, but both have fates intertwined with God from birth.

    In “Beowulf”, the main character is mentioned as being born due to “God” sending him as “solace to the people”, as if his fate was pre-determined to save his people as the next king (line 13-14). A higher being decided that the son of Scyld would be the ruler to answer the people’s “dire distress” in needing a lord to lead them (line 15).

    Christ himself was born of God, according to the Bible. Outlined in “The Dream of the Rood” as “the King of glory, guardian of heaven’s kingdom” (line 89), it shows that “God” also intended him to be a ruler, if more metaphorical than the fate of Beowulf.

  3. As Tori and Aimee have said I agree that Beowulf and Jesus both possess heroic qualities; however, I think the expression of their heroism varies greatly which makes them two very different protagonists.

    In “Beowulf,” the main character asserts his power and heroism through violence as shown when he bare-handedly drives away Grendel by inflicting “great bodily pain” (line 816) and later kills and beheads Grendel’s mother (line 1590). This violence is how Beowulf gains respect.

    Conversely, Jesus is heroic for his nonviolence. As detailed in “The Dream of the Rood,” Jesus did not fight or protest to gain respect. Instead, he peacefully bore the price for the sins of humanity as he “eagerly” took his place on the cross (line 33). It is also important to differentiate that Jesus did not gain the majority of his peers’ respect while he was living.

  4. I would argue that, while there are many similarities in the way that the two are presented, Beowulf is presented as more of a traditional heroic figure. Beowulf’s physical strength is a large part of this. As others have noted, Beowulf is said to have the strength of thirty men, and the narrator claims that Beowulf is “he who among men was the strongest of might in those days of his life” (p. 75, 789-790). Beowulf also defeats Grendel with his bare hands.

    Christ, on the other hand, is portrayed as having strength of soul rather than strength of body. Rather than slay demons, he inspires people to be righteous. As the narrator of “The Dream of the Rood” writes, “On me the son of God / suffered for a time; and so, glorious now / I rise up under the heavens, and am able to heal / each of those who is in awe of me” (p. 60, 82-85). Christ saves people by turning them away from evil. Christ is thus a heroic figure in that he saves people and defeats evil, but he does this in a way that is different from a more traditional hero, such as Beowulf, who uses physical strength to defeat a physical evil.

  5. Although Beowulf and Christ in the Dream of the Rood do share heroic qualities, I would contend that is due mostly to their shared cultural context, not innate similarities. Beowulf is a far more violent hero, as noted by previous commenters, who battles a corporeal enemy. Christ in the Dream of the Rood, on the other hand, faces down Death and the Devil in a “mighty battle” (line 65), which I did not interpret as taking place in the material world. The “Christ as a warrior” is relatively unfamiliar to modern audiences; he is usually seen as being a physically passive figure, though no less noble for his strength of spirit. However, the Dream of the Rood’s representation of Christ fits into Anglo-Saxon culture, where physically powerful warriors were revered. This meshing of mainstream Christian beliefs and Anglo-Saxon culture shows that Christian tradition picked up certain flavors of the local society as it spread across Europe.

  6. The similarities between Beowulf and Jesus are far more abundant than their differences. Like Jesus, Beowulf came to the Danes in their time of need (Grendel’s terror) just as Jesus came when God suspected Man needed a Savior. They are also similar in their deaths, as both those fighting with Beowulf and the disciples fled due to fear while the hero fell. However, as stated above, our heroes vary in the sense that one is known for his incredible strength and the other for nonviolence and righteousness. Although both are fighting a war against evil, they do so in very different ways.

  7. Beowulf and Christ in Dream of the Rood share some heroic qualities, but their characters are painted in somewhat varying light. Christ does not have a voice in the poem, but is instead depicted through the perspective of the cross. The cross emphasizes its need for a hero to overcome death and even endures part of Christ’s suffering. (“They mocked us both together” line 47) Towards the end of the poem, a time of reflection reiterates Christ as an intimate, spiritual hero and friend.

    Beowulf, on the other hand, speaks directly to the audience and his heroic qualities are more focused on physical strength and performance. The importance placed on Beowulf’s family lineage and the worldly glory he receives from battle is a far cry from the depiction of Christ in Dream of the Rood. In some ways Beowulf mirrors Christ, especially in self-sacrifice and devotion to the people. However, his heroic qualities seem to differ largely from Christ in his character of greed, pride, and violence.

  8. I would say that both Christ in “Dream of the Rood” and Beowulf are heroes. In “Dream of the Rood,” Christ is a hero for all mankind, and he ultimately sacrifices his life for the salvation of others. When the tree speaks to the narrator in his dream, the tree recounts Christ coming towards him before being nailed to the cross and he says, “Then the young hero made ready-that was God/ almighty-/ strong and resolute; he ascended on the high gallows,/ brave in the sight of many, when he wanted to ransom/ mankind.” (p. 59, lines 37-40). Christ was brave as he met his death because he knew he was dying so that mankind could be saved. This makes him a selfless hero and one that is not searching for the same sort of glories that I believe Beowulf was after.

    Beowulf, although maybe not a hero for all of mankind, is a hero for his people. The brave warrior Beowulf hunts down Grendel and manages to kill the monster with his own bare hands. This instantly makes Beowulf a hero and this is evident in the praise that Hrothgar bestows him. Upon returning with Grendels head, Hrothgar says to Beowulf “your glory is exalted throughout the world,/ over every people…You shall become a comfort/ everlasting to your own people,/ and a help to heroes.” (p.86 lines 1703-1709). Beowulf is hero to the Danes because he is a great warrior and unafraid to go into battle and protect his people.

    Christ in “Dream of the Rood” is a hero because he is a redeemer of all people and unafraid to die in order to save mankind. Beowulf and Christ do have this in common- they are both willing to “go to battle,” so to speak, and die for their respective people even if their motives are different.

  9. I believe that Christ and Beowulf have more similarities that people give credit for. While as mentioned earlier, they are both portrayed in these Anglo Saxon tales as warriors combating evil and sin (with Christ’s being more symbolic than literal), the similarities don’t end there. They both descendants of powerful, renowned fathers, and they are both famous for doing many fantastic and impossible deeds prior to the accounts these texts detail, Christ having performed many miracles and Beowulf slaying sea monsters and giants.

    Most importantly, they share similar roles in regards to sacrificing themselves for the good of mankind. Christ famously dies on the cross, bearing the weight of the world’s sins, and rises from the grave three days later. As for Beowulf, he went off to fight Grendel’s mother on his own, knowing full well that he might not come back. “Consider now…what we spoke of before: / if ever in your service I should / lose my life, that you would always be / in a father’s place when I have passed away” (pg. 84, 1473-1479), and later, “I shall / win honor and fame, or death will take me!”
    (pg. 84, 1490-1491).

    The fact that Beowulf is inevitably successful is irrelevant; it is Beowulf’s belief that he might die, and willingly fighting a living embodiment of sin despite that fact for the betterment of his comrades, that makes this a sacrifice. To top it off, when he is victorious, after all believe him to have died beneath the waves, Beowulf rises again from the ocean, paralleling Christ rising from the grave after his ‘victory’ and also alluding to other Christian themes of baptism. Though their battles are fought in different ways and on different scales, the conflicts of these two heroes are innately very similar.

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