The Contest between Good and Evil in Beowulf

Beowulf is one of the examples of the medieval heroic epic poems, which dates back to the ancient Germanic legends of pagan times. The world of Beowulf is a world of kings and warriors, the world of feasts, battles and fights. The poem glorifies the pagan virtues, such as courage in the battles, loyalty to the native tribe and the leader, and ruthless revenge.

The poem can be interpreted as a Christian allegory of the universal struggle between good and evil, life and death. Beowulf's enemies are not the people from other tribes, as it is depicted in most such poetic works, but they are bloodthirsty creatures, the enemies of the whole mankind. A contrast between good and evil plays an important role in ancient mythology, where each of the symbols and the characters refers either to a positive bearer of good, or a negative personification of evil.

The plot of this Anglo-Saxon epic is not complicated. Beowulf is a young knight, who knows about the disaster that struck the King of the Danes and is eager to help people in need. The evil monster Grendel attacks the King’s palace and causes the continuous destruction to his warriors for the last twenty years. Beowulf decides to go overseas to kill Grendel. There is no specific description of this monster in the poem, so it is hard to make a conclusion about his outlook. Nevertheless the monster’s actions speak louder than any physical descriptions:

Not longer he tarried,

But one night after continued his slaughter

Shameless and shocking, shrinking but little

From malice and murder; they mastered him fully (III, lines 20-24).

Having beaten the awful monster Beowulf meets with another monster, Grendel's mother, who is thirsty for the revenge for the death of her son:

The mother of Grendel,

Devil-shaped woman, her woe ever minded,

Who was held to inhabit the horrible waters,

The cold-flowing currents (XX, lines 9-11).

The almighty Beowulf had enough courage to overcome both monsters. Showered with awards and thanks, he returns to his homeland. There he makes the new feats, later becomes the King of Gautam and safely rules the country for fifty years. After the happy years of kingship Beowulf is engaged in battle with the third evil demon, the dragon, which is devastating the neighborhood. Beowulf wins the fight again, but the cost of it is his own life.

The views of the ancient Anglo-Saxon tribes help to understand the way they percept the nature of good and evil. Mostly they combine the inner traits with the natural phenomena, such as hurricanes, storms and even the change of day and night, as well as the seasons throughout the year. The three monsters depict the storms in the North Sea, when Beowulf is a divinity, who conquers the elements of nature. His peaceful reign is during the blessed summer, while his death symbolically coincides with the beginning of winter. Thus, the contrasts of nature are symbolically depicted in the poem. They mean growth and decay, rise and decline, youth and old age. Such confrontation between the two opposing forces divides the images of the poem into two camps, one of which is the hero, the king and queen of the tribe, their guards, and the other consists of monsters and enemies. The world of the poem is divided into two parts, with Beowulf in the center of the first and his opponents in the center of the second. All the elements of this world tend to one of these poles, there is no "neutral" position.

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The pagan mythological foundation of work is obvious. Saturating fiction poem reflects the mythological interpretation of history and the relationship of tribes in the early medieval period. People are shown in their conflict with the frightening forces of nature represented in the images of the Burning Sea, sea monsters and fire-breathing dragon. The justice and piety are not the determining qualities of the hero. Beowulf embodies the traits that give an idea of the ideal knight and the medieval warrior, a hero, who has the power of nature and physical strength. The image of Beowulf shows the reader the ideal folk hero, eager to tame the forces of nature. Pagan and Christian outlooks are knotted in the understanding of the forces of evil. After all, the understanding of God as the Creator is peculiar in the poem. We can meet with such names, as the "lord of the world", the "Mighty God", but we will never find there the name of Christ. In the mind of the author and his audience there is no place for the theological sense of the sky, which occupied much of the medieval minds of people.

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None of the other Anglo-Saxon works, which came up to present times, managed to receive the same worldwide recognition as this poetic creation had done. This poem is the only piece of the ancient heroic epic, where we can read the completely survived primary source. It is evident that the brave vigilantes gave birth to this song, devoting most of the content to battles, courageous soldiers and feasts, as there are no further descriptions of any other aspects of life in Anglo-Saxon society. The basis of the poem gives the opportunity to think over the ethical outlook of people who lived in that era. We can easily imagine the way they percept the world around them and the nature of good and evil. 

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