Beowulf

Essay by PaperNerd ContributorHigh School, 12th grade February 2002

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In the essay, "Why Read Beowulf" by Robert F. Yeager, we learn that Beowulf is a historic epic about good luck and mystery. Interesting enough, the evolution of Beowulf is also a mystery. Two scribes wrote a manuscript of Beowulf in the late 900's. However, the whereabouts of this manuscript is unknown. In 1583, Lawrence Nowell, Dean of Litchfield, owned the manuscript and kept from destruction from Henry VIII. Unknowingly, the manuscript fell into the hands of Sir Robert Cotton and is now in the British Library in London. Who wrote Beowulf? The "author" of Beowulf is unknown. We assume Beowulf began as an oral poem passed on by generations. However, we don't know how the manuscript was written. Was it recited to a scribe as the scribe wrote it down? Or did the two aforementioned scribes write it from another manuscript? And finally, the role of Christianity in Beowulf is also a mystery.

Beowulf was recited and performed in time of great Christian influence. However, Beowulf is set in pagan times and "the only Biblical references in Beowulf are to the Old Testament, and Christ is never mentioned". The characters are not "demonstrably Christian" and are "idol worshipping pagans". However, Beowulf prays to a "higher power". Was Beowulf praying to a pagan idol in terms approved by Christians? Or was Beowulf "a Christian Ur-hero, symbolically refulgent with Christian virtues". Although Beowulf is a mystery and we may never know why it is what it is, but it still serves a classroom classic and a connection to the past and evolution.