A combined admiration and regret is the dominant tone in Beowulf and one of the poet’s signal triumphs was to adopt the precisely appropriate style for striking that tone. Admiration for pagans, however, has often been judged a highly improbable attitude for medieval Christians to assume. Many readers have held that a moral revulsion is the only possible reaction that a converted Anglo-Saxon could have when confronted with pagans. But…this is not the case.
-Fred C. Robinson, Beowulf and the Appositive Style, 1985
The attitude Robinson criticizes, that “revulsion is the only possible reaction” to pagan society, is more a reflection of modern readers’ sensibilities than the possible views of the Anglo-Saxons. It is naive to think that an entire culture would wholly abandon centuries of tradition in favor of Christianity. Such assumptions are becoming less common these days, I think, with advances in communication and the easy access we have to information. Professionals and lay-people are increasingly aware of the syncretic belief systems that pop up all over the world when cultures clash. Vestigial pagan customs and rituals are evident even in modern Christian celebrations, despite the contempt many adherents have for non-Christian or pre-Christian societies.
The description of Beowulf’s passing is designed both to celebrate the valour and nobility of a great hero of the past and to look with compassion upon the limited horizons and misdirected aims of the unregenerate sons of Adam.
-Margaret E. Goldsmith, The Mode and Meaning of Beowulf, 1970
An individual’s desire for glory…becomes an increasingly dangerous motivation as a man’s responsibility for leadership grows. Even without such a desire, a leader’s excessive reliance on his personal strength easily brings calamity.
-John Leyerle, “Beowulf the Hero and the King” 1965
Sounds like certain American leaders…