A prophetic declaration of what must be; fate. Exploring the Anglo Saxon concept of preternatural fate, the poem Beowulf depicts the protagonist, Beowulf, and his epic tale of events that ultimately decide the hero’s destiny. In particular, the poem explicates whether God, man himself, or a combination of the two ultimately control the destiny of man. Influence of Christian elements merges with pagan tradition to portray fate as a manifestation of God’s will or judgment. Within this system, the poet discloses God’s rewards for those whose actions exhibit honor and good judgment. Likewise, the poet depicts that God imposes punishment and calamity upon the imprudent figures of the poem. In spite of the direct intervention of an irrefutable Christian god, Beowulf expresses that man ultimately determines his own fate by choosing whether to honor his people in accord with the Germanic warrior code; to allow hubris to overcome him and selfishly seek his own welfare.Order now
As a result of centuries’ of assimilation of Christian influence into Scandinavian culture, Beowulf displays a combination of pagan fatalism, man’s inevitable death, and the respect with which his peers regard him, with the Christian doctrine of individuality. For example, Beowulf orders Hrothgar not to mourn his death should he fall in battle with Grendel and concludes, “Fate goes ever as fate must” (455). Beowulf suggests the existence of fate as a singular, inevitable figure. In Anglo-Saxon culture, preceding the introduction of Christianity, the lack of individual choice renders stoicism as a primary heroic trait. However, as he recounts a tale defending his valor against the accusations of the boastful Unferth, Beowulf entails that he has some liability for surviving the tribulation at sea, “Often, for undaunted courage,/ fate spares the man it has not already marked” (572-573).
Although fate remains an omnipresent and predestined idea, it spares Beowulf as a result of subordination to God, as well as acknowledging Beowulf’s resoluteness in battle; thus, Beowulf plays an indisputable role in his destiny. The Christian belief of free will does not challenge Beowulf’s certainty of his function in his own fate; rather, it supports the proposition of human responsibility. Thus, the Christian perceptive of free will does not overcome the pagan understanding of fate, but enhances the understanding of the contradictory predestination concept. Finally, as Beowulf forebodes his imminent death in the last third of the poem, the poet speaks religiously of the fate that conveys the hero’s inevitable kismet, “His fate hovered near, unknowable but certain…” (2421). In addition, the concluding part of this phrase appears to be an epithet for God; implying that man is controlled by fate, a force of the Christian God.
In accordance with the merit of each man, and predominantly, of each ruler, God bequeaths rewards of longevity and tribute that patent themselves in the fates of their receiver. In order to obtain such holy blessings, man must live in accord with the warrior code. For instance, after boasting to his thanes that he will battle Grendel without weapons, Beowulf portrays assurance in God’s salvation of himself, the worthier warrior, as he states, “And may the Divine Lord/in His wisdom grant the glory of victory/to whichever side he sees fit” (685-687). Girding himself before his battle with Grendel, Beowulf invokes God to aid him in his commendable efforts to halt Grendel’s evil reign. Beowulf further acknowledges God’s ability to defeat Grendel and his role in the outcome of the matter. Additionally, the narrator foreshadows God’s intention to spare Beowulf and his thanes as a reward for his integrity, “…the Lord was weaving/a victory on his war-loom for the Weather-Geats./Through the strength of the one they all prevailed;/they would crush their enemy and come through in triumph and gladness” (696-700). Beowulf and his thanes merit the reward of victory God bestows on them because of the leader’s willingness to make even their nation’s debt to Hrothgar.
Thus, God rewards Beowulf and his men not simply for the admirable and valiant act of defending Hrothgar and his land against Grendel; Beowulf gains triumph through God’s abet as he has chosen to use his power to aid others. Moreover, after Beowulf attributes his victory over Grendel and his mother to the intervention of God, Hrothgar delivers the ultimate praise to the hero, stating, “A protector of his people is entitled to affirm that this man/was born to distinction. Beowulf, my friend,/ your fame has gone far and wide, you are known everywhere’” (1700-1704). In granting Beowulf this outstanding victory, God also confers upon him the immense honor of reverence as clans across the lands recognize Beowulf as the epitome of a hero and great warrior. Beowulf attains these honors as a consequence of his decision to assist Hrothgar to honor the Germanic warrior code. Additionally, the poet informs the audience of divine intervention on the hero’s behalf after his sword shatters while battling Grendel’s mother scorns subtlety. “It was easy for the Lord,/…to redress the balance/… a sword in her armory, an ancient heirloom/from the days of the giants, an ideal weapon,/…but so huge and heavy of itself/ only Beowulf could wield it in battle” (1554-1562). God commends the hero for his loyalty to the warrior code that demands he avenge Aeschere’s death with that of Grendel’s mother and aids the warrior in his glory.
Through the fabled force of fate, the Christian God of Beowulf abhors those who act in a manner that furthers their own welfare and portrays self-centeredness. For instance, the narrator reveals Hrothgar’s reason for erecting the beautiful hall that incurs Grendel’s rage. “The fortunes of war favored Hrothgar./…So his mind turned/to hall-building: he handed down orders for men to work on a great mead hall,/ meant to be a wonder of the world forever;/it would be his throne room…Then a powerful demon, a prowler through the dark,/nursed a hard grievance. It harrowed him/ to hear the din of the loud banquet/every day in the hall…” (64, 67-71, 86-89). Hrothgar commands his people to build Heorot, a mead-hall of grand proportion, in his honor and dispenses his favor from his throne; Grendel attacks the fabled site out of spite. However, the poet’s interpretation of God implies that He allows the Half-Danes to suffer because of the pride of Hrothgar. Thus, God further demands reprisal from Hrothgar as he allows hubris to engross him from sufficiently serving and protecting his people. Moreover, in a discussion of king Hygelac, the poet insinuates that God’s judgment plays a role in the fate of the domineering king, as he states, “Fate swept him away/because of his proud need to provoke/a feud with the Frisians” (1205-1207).
In this case, Hygelac suffers God’s displeasure for placing his own desire to pillage the Frankish territories above the protection of his people from conflict with perilous neighboring clans. Like Hygelac and Hrothgar before him, Beowulf suffers as a consequence of his own lack of awareness and the recklessness of considering the well-being of his people secondary to his own wealth and reputation. Accordingly, the Christian God abandons the warrior as he battles the abhorred dragon, “Unyielding, the lord of his people loomed/…Yet his shield defended/ the renowned leader’s life and limb/ for a shorter time than he meant it to:/ that final day was the first time/ when Beowulf fought and fate denied him/ glory in battle” (2566-2575). The poet further reaffirms God’s desertion of the hero even after Wiglaf comes to his aid, explicating, “Inspired again/ by the thought of glory, the war-king threw/his whole strength behind a sword stroke/and connected with the skull. And Naegling snapped./Beowulf’s ancient iron-gray sword/let him down in the fight” (2677-2681). The poet highlights that fate, a force largely governed by God, disappoints Beowulf in this instance only, implying that several factors distinguish this battle from those in which Beowulf triumphs. To understand Beowulf’s death strictly as a personal failure, however, is to neglect the overwhelming emphasis given to fate in this last portion of the poem. The conflict with the dragon has an aura of inevitability about it. The indefinable distinction lies within the proud mentality that corrupts Beowulf in his old age, and in the hero’s choice to fight the dragon in order to gain material wealth for his people, and unaccompanied.
In conclusion, the tragic heroic poem Beowulf proposes that although the Christian God bestows judgment and recompense to his subjects, these people control their own fate by choosing either to honor and defend those to whom they are loyal or to superciliously disregard the wellbeing of other to benefit their own affluence or repute. Principally, as an expression of the ruling of the Christian God, fate gives the entity the liberty to make his own choices and bears him accountable for these actions. Furthermore, God requites the worthy hero with praise according to the merit and honor of his decisions. Likewise, this same God abhors the unworthy men entrusted with headship who succumb to egotism over the welfare of the people they protect. The Anglo-Saxon Christianity of Beowulf permits man the liberty of responsibility for his own actions, evoking a desire to treat the independence of his people with esteem and charity in case he may endure divine abhorrence.