Beowulf as a Pagan Oral Tradition Essay

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The unknown author of Beowulf uses examples throughout the poem that suggest the story comes from an "oral" tradition. In the poem Beowulf, a Germanic scop, or bard, recites poetry orally, or in a song, usually telling stories about historical triumphs and adventures. These poets were referred to in this epic poem as "carriers of tales..., traditional singer[s] deeply schooled in the lore[s] of the past" (Beowulf 50). This was common in Germanic culture. Scops would keep folkloric heroes alive in the "oral" tradition. They passed down stories orally from one generation to the next.

"The Beowulf poet himself imagines such oral performances by having King Hrothgar's court poet recite a heroic lay at a feast celebrating Beowulf's
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In this example the unknown poet of Beowulf does not go into detail about the poets song, as he does in the others, but it is still an example that the "oral" tradition is alive in the text.

Beowulf was obviously, in its origin, a pagan text. There are several examples of pagan elements throughout the story. The belief in wergild, a term meaning man-price, is one of the strongest of these ideas. It also incorporates the pagan ideas of fate, the fashion in which lords are buried, and symbols of paganism. The text is clearly one that tells a Germanic heroic narrative, which is not acceptable to the Judeo-Christian ideals.

The belief in wergild is very similar to the idea of "an eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth." "If one[s] kinsmen had been slain, a man had a moral obligation either to kill the slayer or to exact the payment of wergild in compensation" (Beowulf 30). It was also shameful to not "take revenge or to exact compensation" (Beowulf 30). This idea is exemplified throughout the entire text. Since no man price could be paid for Grendel's slaying of Hrothgar's people, Grendel had to be slain. "So he overcame the foe, brought down the hell-brute. Broken and bowed, outcast from all sweetness, the enemy of mankind made for his death-den.
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