In the novel, Beowulf, there are many connections that can be made to Norse mythology. From the way that they buried their dead to their views on heroism, and their thoughts on war and violence, Beowulf is a good representation of historical Norse mythology. In Norse mythology, a person’s honor depends on the way that they die. A hero proves himself not by conquering evil, but by dying while fighting against it. Beowulf becomes a hero by dying when he is fighting the dragon. In most religions, mythology is used to explain the world in which a person lives. For the Anglo-Saxons, the world was filled with war and violence. Therefore, their gods and goddesses live in a hostile environment that is filled with war and violence. The gods also usually reflected what their creators were. The gods were created by their worshippers, and were therefore very much like the Norsemen. The gods and humans had very close relationships and were sometimes even thought of as companions. No one had complete control over the other. If a god did not perform to a worshipper’s expectation, then the human would turn away from the god and/or abuse him. This made the gods much like humans because they had to please the humans to gain their worship. The most important god of the Norse was Odin “who somewhat represented a sky god” (Davidson). He was the head god and leader of the Aesir. He is considered to be the wisest of all gods. However, he was always searching for more wisdom. To gain wisdom, he would do anything. He was even noted to have sacrificed his eye “in order to during from the Well of Mimir which bestowed great knowledge” (http://www.ugcs.caltech.edu/ cherryne/list.html). On each of his shoulders, a raven sat. One named Thought (Hugin) and one named Memory (Munin). These birds were said to have flown around all day gaining knowledge, and then come back to Odin and recite everything that they had found out. Another important god was Thor. Thor was the favorite god of the people, and was the most like them. He was the son of Odin and the god of thunder and the main enemy of giants. His prize possession was his hammer, Mojollnir, which he would use against enemies. His other possessions consisted of a belt which made him stronger when it was worn; his gloves which allowed him to crush rocks, and his chariot lead by two goats. He was so important to the people because “the common man would call on him to ensure fertility” (web page). Thor was thought to protect the people from all evil. To do this, he would ride around in his chariot with his hammer and protect the people from giants, monsters, and other enemies. Odin was also usually worshipped above all other gods because warriors believed that if they were his favorite warriors, he would give them special gifts. Many times these gifts were believed to be magic swords, spears, or horses. It was also said that Odin could make warriors invincible. Thor’s hammer was the most important treasure because it was used to protect the people and gods from their enemies. The hammer was made of gold, and the only flaw was in the handle; it was slightly unfinished and a bit too short. In the myth, the hammer was given to Thor by his enemy Loki. In a mischievous act, Loki had cut off the hair of Sif, Thor’s wife (Davidson 70). So to spare his own life, Loki repaid Thor by finding two dwarfs to make new hair for Sif out of gold. These two dwarfs also made two other treasures, one for Freyn, and one for Odin. Loki then found two other dwarfs and had the two pairs compete to see who had better craftsmanship. It was from this competition that Thor’s hammer was created. However, while making the hammer, Loki decided to get back at Thor, and stung one of the dwarfs in the eye. The dwarf was unable to finish the hammer and ended up leaving the handle a little short. The hammer was said to be able to be thrown at a particular item, hit it, and return to the owner’s hand (Davidson 70). According to the web page that I sited earlier, all gods were threatened by their enemies and other forces. In Norse mythology, there are nine worlds. Asgard is the realm of the gods and goddesses, and Midgard is the realm of the humans. Many of the other realms threatened Mingard. Some of these were the homes of giants, serpents, and other enemies. The realm that supports the entire world is Utgard; it is held by a serpent who, if let free, will destroy the entire universe. Gods and goddesses were not genuinely immortal; they can die just like humans. The gods know that they will die, and the Ragnarok (which I will discuss later) will eventually come. Odin just works hard to prolong the time until destruction of the world.Odin was believed to welcome his bravest warriors into his great hall. This hall was called Valhalla. Norse men believed that when there was a battle, Odin, god of war, would send out his special attendants, the Valkyrs, or choosers of the slain. They would select half of the warriors killed in battle and bring them back to Valhalla. The reason believed for the collecting of the slain by Odin was that eventually there would be a final battle between the gods and the giants that would decide whether good or evil would rule eternally. The chosen slain, it was believed, would make up the army that would defend the gods in this war (Davidson 28). “A brave death entitles them-at least the heroes- to a seat in Valhalla, but there too they must look forward to final defeat and destruction” (Hamilton 300). Sometimes, a favorite hero was brought into Valhalla. To this one, Odin would rise from his throne and welcome him personally, an honor rarely given.
The Norse men also believed that generous entertainment, and huge portions of good and drink were provided in Valhalla for the warriors at a great feast every night. Often the warriors would dress in wolf’s clothing and take on animalistic actions to become more primal. Warriors who did this were considered to be among the most heroic. Most Norse heroes are characterized by their bravery and how they die. For the most part Norse heroes were warriors who wandered looking for battles and adventures. The warriors usually had to die a noble death in order to be considered a hero. After a hero had died, he would normally be burned on a pyre with his weapons, steeds, and sometimes his wife and dependents (Hamilton 300). One of the bravest tribes of people were the Berserks. It was believed that they were such good warriors that they were most often chosen to fight in many kings’ armies. The Berserks were chosen warriors of Odin who often dressed and acted like animals when the battle came on. They dedicated their lives to fighting and were supported by the community as followers of the god (Davidson 38-39). Many other groups of warriors, who believed they were blessed by Odin, would fight without armor. These warriors would often take part in a ritualistic “weapons dance” with only a belt, a horned helmet, and carrying a sword and spear (Davidson 38). For the Norse men, warrior rituals and heroic deeds were not only ways to worship their gods, but also a means of keeping their spirits high. The one thing that most of the Norse dreaded was Ragnarok, the destruction of the world, also known as “Twilight of the Gods” (Hveberg 82). The gods knew in advance when this was going to occur, for there were many signs that indicated of the events to come. According to Hveberg, the first major thing that happened is that the world broke out into mass wars where brothers were killing brothers for three years. When the three years were up, Fimbul Winter (the great winter) will set in for three winters with no summers in between. Then Loki and Fennir (an evil wolf) break free from their bindings and prepare to fight the gods. They gather with an army from the Hel realm, the serpent and many other evil forces. Meanwhile, Odin, Thor, and many gods are preparing to fight even though they know that they will lose. A huge battle then took place in which Odin will try to charge at the wolf, but gets swallowed whole. Thor then goes out to meet the serpent, and slays it with no problem. However, as the serpent died, Thor became poisoned by the venom and died in his hour of victory. At the end of the battle, Surt throws fire over the entire earth and it, the heavens, and the universe disappear into the sea (Davidson 122). Then the earth rose from the water and was fresh and green and was “cleansed of all the terror and destruction” (Davidson 122). Also, a bright new sun rose, and an eagle could be seen in the sky. Many episodes in Beowulf can be compared to Norse myths because they have many of the same ideas and principles. The first thing that is most evident is the amount of emphasis placed on being heroic. The heroic triumphs and accomplishments of men in their myths served to keep their spirits up and know that they could succeed. Also, since most of the heroes were actual men, the Norse men had realistic and virtuous goals to reach. These tales parallel the tales that Beowulf’s men knew. They knew what Beowulf had accomplished, and that gave them hope, and something to strive for when in battle.In the Ragnarok, the fight between Thor and the Midgard serpent resembles the fight between Beowulf and the dragon. In both instances, the hero is able to see the victory, and feel pride before dying. Thor knows he will die because no one is destined to survive the “Twilight of the Gods,” yet he fights for his people until the end. Beowulf goes through the same situation. He realizes that he is older and that the dragon is stronger than he is. However, he attempts to slay the dragon for his people and fights until the end. Fighting and war are most important in Norse mythology, which is probably why they were all destroyed to rid the earth of evil. Since Odin is the head god, it is obvious that he is also the god of war, showing what their people believe in and worship the most. Their religion begins and ends with violence, from the creation story to the death of all living creatures. Not just the myths of gods, but the actual gods are very similar to the people who created them. These hostile gods were the humans with extra-special powers. Which gives perfect reasoning as to why the world was so harsh and had to end by the death of all living creatures. Basically Beowulf was a parallel to the son of Odin, Thor. They both died while fighting and gaining hero status. However, Thor’s heroicism was never really realized because all of the living creatures were destroyed when he was killed by the serpent. However, Beowulf was respected as a hero because there were people that were there to fight when he fell to the dragon. Also, because there were still people that survived the battle, whereas all of Thor’s men were dead, too.
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