Date of Degree
PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Beowulf's contest with Grendel has universally been read as an assertion of heroic agency. Yet as I demonstrate, this purportedly neutral convention derives from the misreading of a riddle design that invites and then disrupts expectation in the accidental denouement of Grendel's self-destruction. As an alternative to heroic misprision, I locate Beowulf's salient analogues in the poetic hagiographies, Andreas and Juliana. Within these poems I demonstrate a distinctive Christian critique, which defines heroic order through its assertion of loyalty to insiders and enmity to outsiders, and aligns with René Girard's anthropology in marking enmity both as a source of social cohesion and instability. I also demonstrate a distinctive "crossover poetics" that switches godly and demonic attributes between the opposed communities. As this crossover design gives rise to tropes of heroic-hagiographic hybridity, it exposes a biblical prophetic distinction between the physical realm of objects, actions, and words, and the metaphysical realm of emotional, ethical, and relational principles--a distinction by which the poem locates the origin of enmity in the idolatrous gestalt of egoistic materialism and the origin of loyalty in the covenant ethos of transcendent affiliation. This crossover design, moreover, functions in rapprochement with heroic culture, to affirm the godliness of loyalty and reject demonic enmity, while also interrogating the idolatrous potentiality of Christian discourse. As an alternative to the instabilities marked within heroic social order, the hagiographies offer a new social order based in a two-fold conception: a Christological model that entails compassion for enemies and self-sacrificing obedience to the covenant ethos, and a prophetic model that resists violent contagion through egoistic effacement, entailed in acts of divine praise and benevolent prayer. Lacking these redemptive disciplines, Beowulf's pagan fictive world nevertheless incorporates the same hagiographic critique, but through dystopian patterns of demonic inversion. Thus, Beowulf synthesizes the cardinal hagiographic elements--the same narrative arcs, lexical patterns, and crossover poetics--in a drama that schools its audience in prophetic discernment: to see the essential, defining reality beneath the surface of human events and to recognize patterns of divine retribution as paradoxical enactments of demonic self- destruction.
Andreas, Anglo-Saxon Christianity, Beowulf, Hagiographies, Heroic Culture, Juliana
ix, 371 pages
Includes bibliographical references (pages 359-371).
Copyright 2013 Nettie Christine Vinsonhaler