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Goldgyfan or Goldwlance: A Christian Apology for Beowulf and Treasure

Goldgyfan or Goldwlance: A Christian Apology for Beowulf and Treasure STUDIESINPHILOLOGy Volume107 Winter2010 Number1 by Joseph E. Marshall he debate as to what extent Beowulf is a Christian poem often centers on the poet's struggle to understand and reconcile its obvious pagan elements with its religious values. One such areaofconcernisthehoardofreferencestotreasure.Whilecommentatorshaverecognizedtheimportantpresenceofgift-exchangeinBeowulf,theyinvariablydisagreeaboutwhattreasurerepresentsandhow it functions within the poem, especially in the final one third of the poem(lines2200to3182)whereBeowulfeagerlyexchangeshislifefor thedragon'sburiedtreasure.Ahostofcritics,includingKempMalone, E. G. Stanley, Margaret Goldsmith, Eugene j. Crook, and Alan Bliss, questionBeowulf'smotivesforseekingthegoldandconcludethathe isguiltyofavarice.Othercritics,suchasWillemHelder,PatriciaSilber, RobertCreed,HenryWoolf,andWadeTarzia,grapplewiththedubious nature of the dragon's hoard and offer a variety of explanations foritscurse,plundering,andreburial.Thisarticleoffers,inresponseto Thisgreatdebatespansmorethanonehundredsixtyyears,withmostnineteenthcentury scholars arguing that the poem is fundamentally pagan and most twentiethcentury scholars arguing that it is unmistakably Christian. More recent investigations tend to argue that Beowulf "mixes" and "blends" the two traditions. Fora critical surveyand chronologyof this issue, see Edward Irving, "Christian and Pagan Elements," inA Beowulf Handbook,ed.RobertE.BjorkandjohnD.Niles(Lincoln:UniversityofNebraskaPress,1997),175­92. 1 ©2010TheUniversityofNorthCarolinaPress A Christian Apology for Beowulf and Treasure critics'accusationsofavariceandtheiruncertaintyaboutburiedtreasure,arenewedinvestigationoftheBeowulf-poet'sdistinctionbetween distributedtreasureandunusedtreasure,fortheformerseemstobea metonymyforlordshipandtheChristianideal,whilethelatterseems tobeaperversionofthemboth. Beginningintheearly1960s,commentatorsbegantoquestionBeowulf's motives and behavior in the final section of the poem.One of theearliestcriticstoraisedoubtswasMalone,whodespiteproclaimingBeowulf"anidealhero,"acknowledgesthatBeowulfseemsparticularlyfondofthedragon'shoard;forMalone,itsymbolizes"thevanity ofworldlygoods."TwoyearslaterStanleyproposedthatBeowulfis guiltyof"avarice"becausehenotonlytakessolaceinthefactthathehas acquiredthehoardbutalsodesirestoseethehoardbeforehedies. Thenext,mostprolificcondemnationsofBeowulfcamefromGoldsmith,whofirstraisedconcernsaboutBeowulf'savariceinherarticle "The Christian Theme of Beowulf." In her first examination into the allegoricalmeaningofthepoem,sheassertsthat"youngBeowulfwas humbleandnotcovetous,"forhe"didnotdesireGrendel'sgold,"nordid heretainany"royalrewardshegainedatHeorot."TheolderBeowulf, sheclaims,becomescovetous.Afterquotingbiblicalpassages,suchas Matthew6:19­21and1Timothy6:10,aswellasexaminingBeowulf's behavior,Goldsmithconcludesthat"Beowulf,likeHygelacbeforehim, wastaintedwiththesinsofthedragon,arroganceandloveoftreasure" andultimatelysacrificeshissoulandthelivesoftheGeats"forthesake ofthegold."Afewyearslater,Goldsmithonceagainconcludedthat Beowulf,"thedeludedoldman,"hasbartered"hislifeforthegold,[as] hehascommittedthedirefollyofbuyingwhatisworthlessatthegreatest price." Goldsmith continues, "Beowulf, blinded byarrogance and desireforthetreasure,exchangestheremainderofhislengthofdays Malone, "Symbolism in Beowulf: Some Suggestions," English Studies http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png Studies in Philology University of North Carolina Press

Goldgyfan or Goldwlance: A Christian Apology for Beowulf and Treasure

Studies in Philology , Volume 107 (1) – Jan 13, 2009

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Abstract

STUDIESINPHILOLOGy Volume107 Winter2010 Number1 by Joseph E. Marshall he debate as to what extent Beowulf is a Christian poem often centers on the poet's struggle to understand and reconcile its obvious pagan elements with its religious values. One such areaofconcernisthehoardofreferencestotreasure.Whilecommentatorshaverecognizedtheimportantpresenceofgift-exchangeinBeowulf,theyinvariablydisagreeaboutwhattreasurerepresentsandhow it functions within the poem, especially in the final one third of the poem(lines2200to3182)whereBeowulfeagerlyexchangeshislifefor thedragon'sburiedtreasure.Ahostofcritics,includingKempMalone, E. G. Stanley, Margaret Goldsmith, Eugene j. Crook, and Alan Bliss, questionBeowulf'smotivesforseekingthegoldandconcludethathe isguiltyofavarice.Othercritics,suchasWillemHelder,PatriciaSilber, RobertCreed,HenryWoolf,andWadeTarzia,grapplewiththedubious nature of the dragon's hoard and offer a variety of explanations foritscurse,plundering,andreburial.Thisarticleoffers,inresponseto Thisgreatdebatespansmorethanonehundredsixtyyears,withmostnineteenthcentury scholars arguing that the poem is fundamentally pagan and most twentiethcentury scholars arguing that it is unmistakably Christian. More recent investigations tend to argue that Beowulf "mixes" and "blends" the two traditions. Fora critical surveyand chronologyof this issue, see Edward Irving, "Christian and Pagan Elements," inA Beowulf Handbook,ed.RobertE.BjorkandjohnD.Niles(Lincoln:UniversityofNebraskaPress,1997),175­92. 1 ©2010TheUniversityofNorthCarolinaPress A Christian Apology for Beowulf and Treasure critics'accusationsofavariceandtheiruncertaintyaboutburiedtreasure,arenewedinvestigationoftheBeowulf-poet'sdistinctionbetween distributedtreasureandunusedtreasure,fortheformerseemstobea metonymyforlordshipandtheChristianideal,whilethelatterseems tobeaperversionofthemboth. Beginningintheearly1960s,commentatorsbegantoquestionBeowulf's motives and behavior in the final section of the poem.One of theearliestcriticstoraisedoubtswasMalone,whodespiteproclaimingBeowulf"anidealhero,"acknowledgesthatBeowulfseemsparticularlyfondofthedragon'shoard;forMalone,itsymbolizes"thevanity ofworldlygoods."TwoyearslaterStanleyproposedthatBeowulfis guiltyof"avarice"becausehenotonlytakessolaceinthefactthathehas acquiredthehoardbutalsodesirestoseethehoardbeforehedies. Thenext,mostprolificcondemnationsofBeowulfcamefromGoldsmith,whofirstraisedconcernsaboutBeowulf'savariceinherarticle "The Christian Theme of Beowulf." In her first examination into the allegoricalmeaningofthepoem,sheassertsthat"youngBeowulfwas humbleandnotcovetous,"forhe"didnotdesireGrendel'sgold,"nordid heretainany"royalrewardshegainedatHeorot."TheolderBeowulf, sheclaims,becomescovetous.Afterquotingbiblicalpassages,suchas Matthew6:19­21and1Timothy6:10,aswellasexaminingBeowulf's behavior,Goldsmithconcludesthat"Beowulf,likeHygelacbeforehim, wastaintedwiththesinsofthedragon,arroganceandloveoftreasure" andultimatelysacrificeshissoulandthelivesoftheGeats"forthesake ofthegold."Afewyearslater,Goldsmithonceagainconcludedthat Beowulf,"thedeludedoldman,"hasbartered"hislifeforthegold,[as] hehascommittedthedirefollyofbuyingwhatisworthlessatthegreatest price." Goldsmith continues, "Beowulf, blinded byarrogance and desireforthetreasure,exchangestheremainderofhislengthofdays Malone, "Symbolism in Beowulf: Some Suggestions," English Studies

Journal

Studies in PhilologyUniversity of North Carolina Press

Published: Jan 13, 2009

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