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Fate In Beowulf Essay, Research Paper

Fate was a major factor in the life of pagan cultures of any time period. This is well

documented in the epic poem Beowulf, in which a pagan warrior wins because it is his

destiny to win, not because of any free will. This is amply demonstrated throughout the


For instance, in line20, the text states ?then Scyld departed at the destined hour.?

This is but one of many examples that demonstrate the role of fate in death in pagan

societies. They believed that a man could not do anything to avoid it, but had to embrace

it. This may be one of the reasons that Beowulf goes to confront the dragon; he feels the

pull of fate, and realizes that if it was his time to die, he would die. If, however, he was

fated to live, that would allow him to triumph. Therefore, there was nothing he could?ve

done to alter his future. This is partially elaborated on by the text in lines 1580-1583: ?The

eminent prince was doomed to reach the end of his days on earth, his life in this world.

So too was the dragon, though he had guarded the hoard for generations,? and in lines

1717-1721: ?fate hovered over him, so soon to fall on that old man, to seek out his

hidden spirit, to split life and body; flesh was to confine the soul of the old man only a

little longer.?

This idea that fate is inflexible, that the future is already planned, is in part

responsible for the massive amount of blatant foreshadowing in the story. In this way, the

outcome of the entire battle is known even at the beginning of the story, giving it a bit of

an omniscient point of view. The mortals in the story do not know the outcome of their

lives, but it is revealed to you almost constantly. Other examples of fate and

foreshadowing intertwined are in lines 644-646: ?But after that night fate decreed that he

should no longer feed off human flesh.?, lines 715-718: ?Grendel?s death, his departure

from this world, was destined to be wretched, his migrating spirit was fated to travel far

into the power of fiends.?; lines 955-956: ?But one of the feasters lying on his bed was

doomed, and soon to die.?; and lines 1694-1697: ?Thus, the son of Ecgtheow had survived

these feuds, these fearful battles, these acts of single combat, up to that day when he was

destined to fight against the dragon.?

The idea of fate in modern society is not nearly as prevalent, nor as rigid, as it was

in 11th century Norse society. Many modern cultures, including ours, subscribe to the

Christian idea of free will, the idea that we are in charge of our own destinies. This is

strange since it seems to be at odds with the idea of an omnipotent being that can?t know

the future because we?re still creating ours, yet is still omniscient. Yet other factions in

modern society believe in neither absolute fate nor absolute free will, but a combination, in

which free will can be excercised in details, but the big picture is already set. Either way,

unconsciously, everyone believes in at least some amount of fate. This can be seen in

horoscopes, fortune cookies, the idea of psychics, and even the idea that there is someone

for everyone implies some amount of fate.

The idea of fate is universal, either on a conscious level like the Anglo-Saxon and

Norse religions state, or a subconscious level, as in our own modern culture. Great writers

from across the world have written on the topic of fate, but Seneca described the pagan

idea of fate best when he said ?What must be, shall be; and that which is a necessity to him

that struggles is little more than a choice to him that is willing.? This is the idea of fate in


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