In many ways, it was an inspired approach, and Christianity’s evangelical methods helped the religion seep across the West and take firm root among its people. Still, the marriage of Christian virtues and local tradition was not always a natural one, and Beowulf is one of the best examples of this battle between old and new ethics. Though Beowulf is considered the first Christian epic by many literary historians, one can also argue that Beowulf is the last stand of pagan faith in the North – a cautionary tale about the repercussions of adopting Christian values over the ones that had served the Northern leaders well in pre-Christian times. In fact, Beowulf might be read as a battle, not just between the hero and the three monsters of the tale, but between the traditional Norse values and the new Christian ethos.
Like Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus or I Samuel in the Old Testament, Beowulf feels anachronistic – much of its content could easily be lifted and reset as the plot for a modern action film. The critical events of Beowulf center on violence – like a good action movie, the violence is the point, and the rest of the narrative is wrapped around it in a fairly gratuitous bow. (This may be one reason critics like W.P. Ker have classified Beowulf as second-class literature despite its historic significance.) This emphasis on violence is one of the most salient examples of the conflict between Christian virtues and pagan values in Beowulf. As Thomas Prendergast points out, Beowulf’s ostensible rejection of violence – an adoption of Christian pacifist values – it belied by the relish with which the poem describes the violence it contains: “For even as the work’s narrator cautions against the idolatrous seductions of violence, the work unfolds as an idolatrous memorialization of the pleasures of violence—a pleasure compulsively repeated in