The Danes and Geats alike. The storyThe Danes and Geats alike. The story

The fantastical tale of Beowulf is a Norse folktale of how Beowulf battled the troll Grendel and his mother, became the king of Geats, and finally met his demise at the hands of a dragon. Beowulf is revered and loved by his people, Danes and Geats alike. The story itself, in a modern context, tells not only the story of Beowulf and the characters around him, but it also alludes to old Norse mythology as well as Christian teachings. This tale originated from Norse oral folktales and was ultimately written down by Christian monks. Beowulf alludes to other texts due to the transition from an oral Pagan tale to a semi-Christian story written by Christian monk, in addition to the fact that new audiences from different locations, religions, and time periods will alter the story as well. The origins of Beowulf are explained within the story itself. The first line of verse mentions the “Spear-Danes” which is simply a reference to the people from Denmark (p1). The verse also mentions Swedes and Geats, the Geats being a group of people living in southern Sweden (“Beowulf”). This places the story within the realms of the Norse area. The time period of Beowulf is also explained within the text. In the lines 180 to 184 of verse, the text explains that “The Almighty Judge/Of good deeds and bad, the Lord God,/Head of the Heavens and High King of the World,/Was unknown to them” (p4). Now we know that this story takes place in the Norse area before the rise of Christianity. As for the specific type of tale that Beowulf started as could be discovered inside the text too. Even though this passage provided is told in verse, there are specific breaks in the verse to explain different parts in prose instead. This could imply a translation between oral to a written story. This could also be backed up by the smaller tales inside of Beowulf where several characters tell stories, which means the audience knows that this community tells stories to one another orally.    It is important to note that the story of Beowulf not only tells the tales of the title character, but also reveals stories about the characters around him, and even times before Beowulf himself. In fact, the first 17 lines of the provided verse are actually recounting the life of Shield Sheafson, who is revealed to be Hrothgar, the King of Danes’ grandfather. Later, in lines 262 through to 266, Beowulf then tells a short tale about his own father, “a noble warrior-lord name Ecgtheow” (p5). This boast is a tale of its own inside the main tale. There are many examples of these instances, including lines 420 through 424 where Beowulf boasts about his adventures against sea-monsters. Which is retold in lines 506 through 528 where Unferth, a man of Hrothgar’s hall confronts Beowulf about his battle against Breca the sea-monster. This tale speaks of Beowulf before the story of Beowulf begins. As a response, Beowulf then spends lines 530-606 giving the specifics of his battle against Breca, and how after he defeated Breca “Sailors would be safe, the deep-sea raids/Were over for good” (p7). These allusions to other tales in Beowulf show insight into how the Norse people of the time told their oral tales. They came together as a community like the boasts of warriors like Unferth and Beowulf inside mead-halls. Tales told by and known by the community are a driving force in Beowulf, which explains why it often alludes to old Norse mythology.Beowulf combines both Norse mythology and Christian tales, these different allusions come from the place that the story is being told during a given time period. For example, the Norse myths involved in Beowulf. There is a specific reference to pagan shrines from line 175 to 178 of the verse: “Sometimes at pagan shrines they vowed/Offerings to idols, swore oaths/That the killer of souls might come to their aid/And save the people” (p4) This is one of the very few specific references to Norse practices in this version of the story. However, it does provide an insight into the practices at the time. In addition to this, the mentions of trolls and dragons are already Norse beliefs. Trolls are common in Norse mythology, and range from Giants, like Grendel, and smaller trolls (Geller). These trolls show similar traits as Grendel did, such as isolation, travelling into nearby villages and destroying buildings, eating people, and causing general chaos (Geller). As for dragons, there are several mentions of dragons in the Prose Edda. which could be considered the Norse version of the Bible (“The Role of Serpents and Dragons in Norse Mythology”). Explicit tales of Sigurd the Dragon-Slayer has similar theme as Beowulf, where the dragon “represents the burden of great power and wealth,” and the tale of Sigurd comes from the Prose Edda itself, which makes it deeply rooted in the Norse mythological beliefs (“The Role of Serpents and Dragons in Norse Mythology”). Furthermore, in the last break in verse of the story, after line 2130 and before line 3173, the narrator is describing the funeral of Beowulf. In this funeral, the narrator mentions how Beowulf was cremated in “a large pyre, adorned with swords and shields” (p20). This type of funeral is a very Norse and Viking oriented funeral, which predates Christian burials (“Viking Funerals Buriels and the Afterlife”). Considering these aspects of the story proves how the origins of Beowulf are Norse and during a time period before the Christianization of Denmark, Sweden, and the surrounding southern states, alluding to other folktales, pagan practices, and Norse beliefs.In addition to the references to Norse mythology, Beowulf also has peppered mentions of Christian beliefs and references. For example, on the first page of the verse, lines 14 through 17 introduce the first mentions of a Christian view of God, explaining how Shield Sheafson was given a son “by God to that nation,” as “He knew” how the Danes suffered from no leader, “so the Lord of Life,/The glorious Almighty, made” Shield’s son “renowned” (p1). This initial allusion to Christian ideas come before any mention of the Norse mythological aspects of the tale. This is likely due to the fact that a Christian monk was the scribe of the written version of Beowulf that we turn to in modern times. This leads to the bible and God references that seem to be stitched into the story, for example, in lines 91 through 114, under the passage specifically labelled Grendel Attacks Herot, the narrator alludes to Cain and his “clan” in reference to Grendel (p2). In addition to these very specific Bible references, the narrator also uses the word God, or other phrases including God several times including, but not limited to, lines 72, 441, 706, 810, 1553, and 2650. Specifically looking at line 2650, the speaker, Wiglaf, is calling Beowulf’s fellow army men into battle to aid their King, and he uses the phrase, “As God is my witness,” which would be a highly unlikely direct quote as it is mentioned before that Beowulf itself takes place long before the Christianization of Denmark, Sweden, and the states surrounding them (p18).Now that it is established that Beowulf uses stories within itself, one has to determine why. As mentioned before, the story is set in Denmark and Sweden before the rise of Christianity, which makes the allusions to Norse Pagan beliefs and practices understandable. However, the existence of the Biblical references become more complicated.  Even though the original manuscript was found in the 1600’s, it was written in Old English, the language of the Anglo-Saxons, which suggests that Beowulf was written around the 700’s, during the time in which the Anglo-Saxons were settled in England (“Beowulf”). The term Anglo-Saxon itself is used to refer to the Germanic people from Angeln and Saxony, who settled into England after the fall of the Roman Empire (“History – Ancient History in Depth: The Anglo-Saxons”). These areas are old names of the land just south of what is known as Denmark, and the land at the very south of modern Sweden (“Engelholm”). This now creates the implication that as the Anglo-Saxons left their homelands and came to England, that they continued to share their oral stories as well as practice their Pagan beliefs for some time. This then leads to the writing of Beowulf. However, during this time period, the only people who had the ability to write were Christian monks. This created the inclusion of the Biblical references, even if they were not present before, they are included by the anonymous scribe because he was likely a Christian monk. Given that some parts of Beowulf still mention Norse Pagan practices, the full story has not been adopted as a biblical tale, it only has some Christianity injected into it for the Christian audience that would likely be receiving it.  In conclusion, Beowulf is an amalgamation of different interpretations from different generations, locations, and religions. It is further altered by turning the oral Pagan tale into a semi-Christian story through the act of writing it down. All of these different allusions to other characters, Norse mythology, and Christian beliefs come from the way word is passed from one person to the next, and yet they all create the story of Beowulf together.