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Fate vs. Free Will in Beowulf, The Wanderer, and The Seafarer

Nowadays, it is being commonly assumed that name, the Christian worldview defines the essence of Western civilization, as we know it. However, the close reading of the earliest Scandinavian and Anglo-Saxon poetical pieces, such as “Beowulf”, “The Seafarer”, and “The Wanderer”, provides us with insight into the spiritual foundation of this civilization as being rather biologically than religiously defined. It is Europeans’ inborn sense of idealism, and not their adherence to Christian dogmatism, which allowed them to indulge in abstract philosophizing – thus creating metaphysical preconditions for the concepts of culture and science to be closely associated with Europe. Therefore, we can say that the essence of motifs of existential tension, found in all three poems, corresponds to the fact that the acceptance of Christian tenets by White people had only taken place after Christian dogmatism was being transformed by these people’s existential idealism into something opposite from what original Christianity used to be. Therefore, we can say that all three poems describe the process of Semitic materialistic mentality, (out of which the spirit of original Christianity originates) being “digested” by White people’s ability to operate with highly abstract terms. Christianity was being introduced to Europe, to spiritually corrupt Europeans, just as it was the case with Christianity finding its way into the Roman Empire. However, given that fact that at the time, the overwhelming majority of Europeans, and particularly Anglo-Saxons, were physically and mentally healthy individuals, the process of them being infused with the poison of Christianity, did not result in their speedy demise, as it was the case with degenerate Romans. Quite contrary – they were able to work out a spiritual vaccine (early Catholicism) against this poison. This is the reason why, even though the name of Lord is being mentioned in Beowulf”, “The Seafarer” and “The Wanderer” numerous times, anonymous authors do not perceive God as a bloodthirsty Jewish tribal deity, but rather as personified reflection of their understanding of what the concepts of truth and justice stand for.

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In “Beowulf”, the poem’s main character appears to possess the spiritual qualities of true heathen, even though they contradict the author’s view of Beowulf, as a defender of the Christian religion. Beowulf’s existential mode points out his affiliation with the Scandinavian combat philosophy of berserkers, which is heathen, in its essence:

“I ventured many battles
in my youth; now, old,
I will seek another,
try again for glorious
deeds, if that avenger
will come out”

What seems to attract the narrator more than anything else to Beowulf, is that he never walks away from the fight, even while facing impossible odds. Although Beowulf prays God, before challenging his enemies to mortal combat, his prayer has more to do with the prayer of Conan from the movie “Conan Barbarian”, than with his actual dependency on divine graces: “Please grant me victory and if you will not, then to hell with you!”. This allows us to talk about Beowulf as a person who relies on himself when it comes to dealing with challenges. This, of course, is nothing but an indication of his deep affiliation with heathen tradition. The poem’s metaphysical dualism betrays its heathen essence more than anything else. Grendel, his mother, and the Dragon cannot be “redeemed”, in the Christian sense of this word, because it is their physiology that defines who they are. They are being deprived of free will by the very fact of their birth. In “Beowulf”, Dragon represents ancient evil, as is always the case with serpent-like creatures in early Western literature. At the same time, he is the sublimation of a challenge or obstacle, which Beowulf needs to overcome. Dragon, just like Grendel before him, is driven exclusively by irrational impulse – seeking revenge. This prevents him from planning his course of action in the most effective way, which is becoming a reason for his ultimate demise. We can say that dragon is a highly allegorical figure in the poem. He represents force, but the essence of this force is irrational. Thus, the fight with the dragon is unavoidable for Beowulf, because the Dragon symbolizes values that are utterly alien to a European mentality.

“The Seafarer” is the poem that helps us to get a better understanding of how Europeans, during the early Middle ages, used to think of man’s virtues. These virtues were not being perceived through the lenses of Christianity, as it became the case in later history, but strictly within a context of an individual’s ability to leave a mark in history:

“I myself should strive with
the high streams,
the tossing of salt waves
the wish of my heart urges
all the time
my spirit to go forth,
that I, far from here,
should seek the homeland
of a foreign people”

One of the reasons why White people became undisputed masters of the world by the end of the 19th century is because they had a taste for indulging in seafaring adventures. Nowadays, this fact is often being referred to as the side-effect of Anglo-Saxons’ greediness. However, such a suggestion cannot be further from the actual truth. While leading the course of biological evolution, White people simply could exist statically, like Chinese or Arabs, for example, not even to mention Blacks. Whites always evolve, they always try new things, and they always strive to expand their intellectual horizons – they are the only people who are entitled the free will, as they write their own “behavioral programs”, even though they often make costly mistakes, during this process. Namely, their ability allowed Europeans to push forward cultural and scientific progress, throughout the centuries, up until recently, when they began to lose their existential vitality, with their own countries beginning to be colonized by illegal immigrants, as a logical result.

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In the poem “The Wanderer”, we find further proofs that substantiate the validity of the thesis, expressed in the first part of this paper. The poem’s author strives to come to terms with Christian dogma that one should be entirely happy, for as long as he “communicates” with God. However, he appears to have a hard time, while trying to free his soul of “world’s passions”, because he senses this process as being unnatural, despite the author’s inability to rationalize his feelings. It is not the fact that the author is nearing the end of his life that bothers him the most, but the absence of his close friends around him:

“He who has tried it knows
how cruel is
sorrow as a companion
to the one who has few
beloved friends”

In its turn, this allows us to conclude that poem’s author while being formally a Christian, possessed a heathen worldview, because the solitary form of existence does not make a whole lot of sense in his eyes. “All the joy has died!” exclaims the anonymous author, while concluding that his suffering can only be relieved he if assumes a position of an unengaged observer, towards the surrounding reality because it will make him wiser – thus putting him in favor with God. In other words – the author perceives God not as a “universal redeemer of mankind”, but a distant spectator, who favors those whose lives appear as being particularly dramatic, as the result of these people being able to take full advantage of their existential freedom.


Beowulf by Anonymous. 2008. The Project Gutenberg EBook.

The Wanderer. 2000. Anglo-Saxons.

The Seafarer. 2000. Anglo-Saxons.

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