The Dream of the Rood

The Dream of the Rood

            “The Dream of the Rood” is a poem portraying an Anglo-Saxon Paganistic view of  Christ as he died on the cross for our sins. Much is seen in the triumph of Christ’s victory, the battle of good over evil, and the significance of the oak tree and cross. According to the text, the cross and the tree experience a vast amount of emotion throughout the entire crucifixion. This was common for this era, due to the fact that natural physical objects play a heavy role in the pagan worship. Victories, battles, heroes, warriors, and dying an honorable death are not only important to this society, but play a major role in the shaping of this poem. Many of these themes can be seen in terms of the sacred worship of the tree as it is transformed into the cross, pagan religious characteristics of Christ, as well as the differences between modern Christian views of the crucifixion versus the Anglo-Saxon view of the crucifixion.

In many religions, the tree is seen as a primary symbol of worship. Many such symbols include: the Cosmic Tree, the Tree of Life, the Tree of Knowledge and the Tree of Death. The Anglo-Saxon Pagan religion is said to have relied heavily on tree worship and giving it spiritual value. In the Anglo-Saxon culture, the tree that is transformed into a cross is the symbol of  Christianity while Christ simply is on the cross, but in modern Christianity Jesus is the symbol of Christianity as he hangs on the cross. The Dream of the Rood exemplifies this Paganistic element of the medieval time period. “‘Others…refused to accept the pure teachings of the Church in their entirety…’ ‘some continued secretly, others openly, to offer sacrifices to trees’” (Willibald, Boniface and the Oak of Donar). The Dream of the Rood uses this clear idea of tree worship to symbolize the importance of the cross being transformed from the tree into what it symbolizes. “The temples of the idols in that nation ought not to be destroyed; but let the idols that are in them be destroyed” (Bede, EH, I.30). Idolatry is the idea of giving a physical object a spiritual connection with God; in other words, using that object as a representation of God; therefore, destroying such an object would be a sin to the people. In The Dream of the Rood the idol or sacred tree is depicted as the main character and God-like image. “‘I saw glory’s tree honored with trappings, shining with joys, decked with gold…’ ‘Strong fiends seized me there, worked me for the spectacle; cursed ones lifted me…then fixed me on the hill; then saw I mankind’s Lord come with great courage when he would mount on me. Then dared I not against the Lord’s word bend or break” (“The Dream of the Rood”, Lines 15-16, 33-36). The poem is showing the Paganistic idea of their spiritual connection with the trees by making the tree the main character of the poem and giving it actions and emotions. The tree gains strength as Christ mounts it to be crucified. The tree was equally as important to the people as Christ was because it was the cross that was made from the tree that Christ died on.

The Dream of the Rood gives very clear characteristic of Christ throughout the poem. “The young hero …I lifted a mighty King… stood in our places after the warrior’s cry went up” (“The Dream of the Rood”, Lines 39, 44, 71-72). The poem clearly characterizes Christ as not only a hero, king, and man, but a warrior-like figure.

Christ’s depiction as warrior-like is a main difference that is portrayed between the modern Christian view and the Anglo-Saxon Paganistic view. “With dark nails they drove me through: on me those sores are seen, open malice wounds” (“The Dream of the Rood”, Lines 46-47). According to the text, the cross was experiencing all of the pain and suffering; however, according to modern view, Christ the nails were driven through Christ as he suffered the pain and agony in front of everyone. “Then they worked him an earth-house, men in the slayer’s sight carved it from bright stone, set in it the Wielder of Victories. Then they sang him a sorrow-song” (“The Dream of the Rood”, Line 67). This example portrays two clear distinctions between the two views of Christ’s Crucifixion. According to the text, Christ was given a burial very similar to one of a night or warrior of the medieval time period. During this time, warriors were meant to be honored during their burials; Christ’s tomb was made of bright stone and he was sung a song before departing the tomb. Modern view depicts the burial as something simpler and more passive as his body was simply wrapped and placed into the nearest tomb. This example also exemplifies the difference in the view of the outcome of the crucifixion. According to The Dream of the Rood, Christ is victorious; this goes hand-in-hand with Christ being depicted as warrior-like. During the medieval time period, it was an honor for a warrior to die in battle as it portrayed him as victorious to the people. This depicts Christ as not only being warrior-like, but brave and heroic. The modern Christian view does view Christ as victorious to an extent; however, it is more of a passive and forceful crucifixion rather than voluntary heroic, brave, and depicted as a battle.

Christ also experienced a vast amount of humiliation prior to being led to the cross according to modern view. “They put a purple cloak on him: ‘Hail, kind of the Jews!; Again and again they struck him on the head with a staff and spit on him. Then they knelt down and paid homage to him. When they had finished mocking him, they stripped him of the purple cloak” (Mark 15:16). The people mocked Jesus as a king and humiliated him. “The young hero stripped himself – he, God Almighty” (“The Dream of the Rood”, Line 39). According to this text, Christ was simply stripped of his clothing. The Anglo-Saxon view puts more emphasis on the cross’s emotions throughout the poem versus Christ’s emotions in such circumstances as the humiliation and beating that took place.

There are many clear distinctions between the Anglo-Saxon Paganistic view and the modern Christian view. Some of the Paganistic views remain in modern Christian view today, such as Christ depicted as victorious. The people view Christ as a victory over sin, as he died for our sins on the cross. “All there beheld the Angel of God fair through predestiny” (The Dream of the Rood, Lines 9-10). Many Christian modern views still believe we are born pre-destined and our fate is already chosen for us. The Anglo-Saxon view was very much the same in terms of the Rood being a part of the eternal plan from creation to the future. With the differences being portrayed, one remains the same; Christ died for the people on the cross and is honored for that noble deed each and every day.

Works Cited

“The Dream of the Rood.” Ed. Jonathan A. Glenn. 8 Feb. 2006. Web. 22 Sept. 2011.

<http://faculty.uca.edu/jona/texts/rood.htm&gt;.

Bede, . “Pope Gregory’s Letter to Abbot Mellitus.” The Ecclesiastical History of Bede.

Web. 22 Sept. 2011. <http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/basis/bede-book4.asp&gt;.

Willibald, . “Boniface and the Oak of Donar.” Ed. D L. Ashliman. Web. 22 Sept. 2011.

<www.pitt.edu/~dash/oak.html>.

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The Dream of the Rood

Image

The Dream of the Rood

            The image of Jesus Christ is one that is depicted in numerous ways depending on the culture of the land it is presented in. This reality is one that is demonstrated throughout this Anglo-Saxon poem. In the poem, The Dream of the Rood, a poet comes across the cross that Jesus Christ was crucified on. The cross speaks of the strength and courage of Christ and compels the poet to revere the cross as a symbol of hope and strength. In many aspects the depictions of the events are similar to that of modern Christianity. On the other hand, in other ways the depiction is far from what is the normal belief of the emotional state of Christ during his final hours.

First, for one to understand the differences of the Christian views of this time period and their significance, they must know about the current religious state of the Anglo-Saxon community during this time period. During this time period, Pope Gregory sent a letter to Abbot Mellitus on how to help Anglo-Saxons transition over to Christianity in ways that would not assault all of their previous beliefs (Bede, 1.30). The church was on a mission to convert the Anglo-Saxons to Christianity from their current Pagan values. In the Pagan culture, they worshiped idols including trees and springs and offered sacrifices even though many had converted to Christianity (Talbot). In an effort to slowly move the Anglo-Saxons to Christianity, Pope Gregory gave some instructions to Abbot. He told Abbot that, “the temples of the idols in that nation ought not to be destroyed, but let the idols that are in them be destroyed… seeing that their temples are not destroyed may remove error from their hearts, and knowing and adoring the true God, may the more familiarity resort to the places to which they have been accustomed” (Bede, 1. 30) Pope Gregory’s plan of attack against the Pagan religion was to slowly move the Anglo-Saxons towards more Christianized behavior and practices. Repurposing the temples for Christian purposes gives some familiarity to the Anglo-Saxons and helps ease their transition over towards Christianity. He also tells Abbot, “There is no doubt that it is impossible to efface everything at once from their obdurate minds; because he who endeavours to ascend to the highest place, rises by degrees or steps, and not by leaps” (Bede, 1. 30) This slow transition from Paganism to Christianity is one that is evident throughout the poem as both Pagan and Christian symbols are used.

Anglo-Saxons, as Pagans, worshipped trees, streams and offered sacrifices to Gods. Their culture valued heroic warriors who fought valiantly for their causes. Due to this cultural value of warriors, the poet uses this value to connect Christ with their current belief system as he depicts him as hero with great courage (Dickens 39). The poet also used titles such as Lord and King to refer to Christ. Both of these titles are valued by the culture and easily relatable to the view of Christ as a man or God to be worshipped. In addition to the word choice used by the poet, the symbolism is heavily influenced by Paganism. As previously mentioned, Pagans worshiped trees. The use of a tree as a main character alone is a wonderful example of the poem’s intended relativity to the popular culture of the time period. The cross is depicted as having human characteristics including the ability to talk and stand strong.  The tree is, “decked with gold/ gems had wrapped that forest tree worthily round” (Dickens 16-17). These gems and gold adorned on the tree is similar to that of which the Pagans would have done to trees prior to Christianity. In addition, the poet goes on to revere the cross in high regard in what appears to be a literal sense. The poet refers to the tree as the “victory-beam” and goes on to praise the tree. The tree appears to believe that it is of religious value, saying, “Therefore I, glorious now/ rise under heaven, and I may heal / any of those who will reverence me” (Dickens 84-86). This idea that the actual cross should be reverenced and worshipped as an idol is traditionally a Pagan view. Its use helps to bridge the gap between the physical world that the Pagans worshipped and the spiritual world that the Christians valued. You can see this reverence for the cross in modern Christianity. The main difference is that modern Christians speak of the cross in a non-literal way and instead focus their attention on the spiritual journey that Christ’s crucifixion allowed them to experience, not the greatness of the tree that was used to suspend his body from.

On the other hand, not all of this poem was focused on the tree. As briefly mentioned earlier, the Anglo-Saxons valued strong and mighty men. The choice of wording about Chris in this poem was not an accident. Christ was depicted as a man with great courage that embraced his fate and sought to endure his destiny and not run from it (Dickens 42). The cross said that he lifted, “a mighty king / Lord of the heavens” (Dickens 44-45). It also said that, “The young hero stripped himself… / strong and stout-minded.  He mounted high gallows / bold before many, when he would lose mankind / I shook when that man clasped me” (Dickens 39 – 42). All of these examples portray Christ as an active participant in his death and not someone who solely endured suffering at the hands of his enemies. Seeing Christ as a mighty man with great strength without a doubt gives the Anglo-Saxon reader a relatable and favorable depiction of Christ in a context that is of great value to them. Adversely, this portrayal is not necessarily the same as later depictions of the crucifixion.

In more modern texts, such as the Bible, Christ is illustrated as God who is in ways had his fate forced upon him. According to John, chapter 19, “Then he (Pilate) delivered him therefore unto them to be crucified. And they too Jesus and led Him away” (21st Century King James Bible, John. 19.16). In this more modern illustration, Jesus is said to have been delivered, not coming with great courage. A better contrast between the two ideals is found later in the book of John. “Then the soldiers, when they had crucified Jesus, took His garments and made four parts…” (John 19.23). In The Dream of the Rood, the cross said that, “the young hero stripped himself” (Dickens 39). This difference may seem slight but it is of great significance. The Anglo-Saxons, valuing strong and mighty men, might not have revered Christ if they had felt that he had been forced against his will and stripped of his clothes as he was led to his death. Instead of depicting him as a martyr, the poet paints him as a man of great courage who “dared not to bend” upon the cross. This picture of Christ is one that Anglo-Saxons could relate to and thus value Christ as someone to be worshipped for courageously enduring.

Overall, this poet uses Anglo-Saxon cultural values, symbols and strong illustrations to depict Christ as an ideal hero to the Anglo-Saxon community. Undoubtedly, works such as The Dream of the Rood, played an integral part in the slow conversion of Anglo-Saxons from Paganism to Christianity. Without the blending of Pagan symbols and Christian symbols, this piece would not have acted as a bridge for the Anglo-Saxons but with its use it serves as link from the old values of the Anglo-Saxon culture into the new ones of today.

Work Cited

21st Century King James Bible. Michigan: Grand Rapids, 2002. Print

Bede, The Ecclesiastical History of the English Nation, translator not clearly indicated (But it
seems to be L.C. Jane’s 1903 Temple Classics translation), introduction by Vida D. Scudder
(London: J.M. Dent; New York E.P. Dutton, 1910)

C. H. Talbot, The Anglo-Saxon Missionaries in Germany (London: Sheed and Ward, 1954), pp. 45-46.

Dickens, Bruce, and Alan S.C. Ross, eds. The Dream of the Rood. Methuen’s Old English
Library. New York: Appleton, 1966.

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The Origin of Revenge

                                                

“Till the monster stirred, that demon, that fiend, Grendel, who haunted the moors, the wild marshes, and made his home in a hell not hell but earth. He was spawned in that slime, conceived by a pair of those monsters born of Cain, murderous creatures banished by God, punished forever for the crime of Abel’s death. The Almighty drove those demons out, and their exile was bitter shut away from men; the split into a thousand forms of evil – spirits and fiends, goblins, monsters, giants, a brood forever opposing the Lord’s will, and again and again defeated” (Raffel, Lines 101-114) Cain is noted as the first murderer in history for killing his brother Abel over jealously and greed. Many critics would like to conclude that Grendel portrays Cain-like attributes. From this paragraph it is noted conceived by a pair of those monsters born of Cain. Cain is perceived as a monster because of his horrendous act of murder, whereas Grendel kills King Hrothgar’s people out of jealously. Grendel was isolated in his swamp and forced to listen to the sounds of the town people enjoying themselves while he sat in his own despair. He was forced there because he was a decendent of Cain, who like Cain was depicted as a murderous monster.

Every mother morns the loss of her child. Grendel’s mother not only mourned the loss of Grendel who was slain by Beowulf, but sought out the revenge on the murder. “But a monster still lived, and meant revenge. She’d brooded on her loss, misery had brewed in her heart, that female horror, Grendel’s mother, living in the murky cold lake assigned her since Cain had killed his only brother, slain his father’s son with an angry sword”  (Raffel, Lines 1257-1263). Her revenge makes her more of a reasonable murderer because while Grendel enjoyed his acts of murder, Grendel’s mother did not. “Snatched up thirty men, smashed them unknowingly in their beds and ran out with their bodies, the blood dripping behind him, back to his lair, delighted with his night’s slaughter” (Raffel, 122-125) As noted in this quotation from the story Beowulf, Grendel was delighted with his night of slaying; therefore,  putting to rest his own agony.“His mother’s sad heart, and her greed, drove her from her den on the dangerous pathway of revenge” (Raffel, lines 1276-1279) Grendel’s mother murdered mearly out of revenge and grief of her only son. Her motifs were much more reasonable because had her son not been slain there would have been no reason for her attacks on Beowulf.

Kin-slaying is a major theme throughout Beowulf. “He told them of Finn’s people, attacking Hnaf with no warning, half wiping out that Danish tribe, and killing its king. Finn’s wife, Hnaf’s sister, learned what good faith was wroth to her husband: his honeyed words and treachery cost her two beloved lives, her son and her brother, both falling on spears guided by fate’s hand. How she wept!” (Raffel, Lines 1068-1075). Hnaf was the king of the Danes. Finn was the King of the Frisians,  a neighboring tribe of the Danes. Finn was married to Hnaf’s sister and they beared a son. During battle, Hnaf murdered Finn’s son, thereby prompting Finn to slay King Hnaf. This cost Finn’s wife the loss of her brother and her beloved son. These acts of kin-slaying can be compared to Grendel’s mother’s loss of her own son and Cain’s killing of his brother, Abel.

“Neither he nor you can match me – and I mean no boast, have announced no more than I know to be true. And there’s more: you murdered your brothers, your own close kin. Words and bright wit won’t help your soul; you’ll suffer hell’s fires, unferth, forever tormented.  (Raffel, Lines 585-590) Unferth was boasting that he was better than Beowulf. Beowulf then noted to Unferth that he is better than Unferth because he hasn’t murdered his kinsmen.

The origin of revenge started with Cain killing Abel. Had Cain not murdered Abel then there would be no justicifed reason for revenge.

 

Beowulf. T.S. Burton Raffel. Ed. Roberta Frank. London: England. Penguin Group. 2008.

 

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Hengist and Horsa: Descendents from Saxon Gods?

“The first two commanders are said to be Hengist and Horsa, being afterwards slain in battle by the Britions, was buried in the eastern parts of Kent, where a monument, bearing his name, is sitll in existence. They were the sons of Victgilsus, whose father was Vecta, son of Woden; from whose stock the royal race of many provinces deduce their orginal.” (http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/baisis/bede-book1.asp.) This can be noted as the earliest lieterary reference to these two historical brothers written in the year 673 by historiacl monk, Bede. It is written that Hengist and Horsa arrived in England in the year 449 to help the British king, Vortigen defeat the Picts and the Scotts. Horsa is noted as dying in battle in the year 455 while brother Hengist took reign to the Kentish Throne. (http://www.heritage-history.com/www/heritage.php?Dir=characters&FileName=hegist.php.)

There is no real evidence that these two men were ever really gods. However, Bede does write that the two were decendents of Woden (http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/baisis/bede-book1.asp.), which is the Anglo-Saxon name for the Norse god Odin who is the god of Death, poetry, and magic. Because Bede was a monk, christian, he may have thought that Woden was a real person instead of a God. the Anglo-Saxons would link their lineage back to gods like Wodin and Thunor. The men may have been seen as gods aslo, because they were strong warriors and there were two of them, much like Romeulus and Remiss. the people may have seen their strenth as god like strength, but were they really gods? Probably not, they were just great warriors.

In 356 AD the Saxons were first mentioned by Julian, a roman emperor, who mentioned them as allies of a rival emperor. The Angles on the other hand were first mentioned in the year 98 AD in Tacitus’ Germania, chapter 40 where he listed them among other Germanic tribes. The Angles migrated from a land called Angulus, “a land that lies between the province of the Jutes and the Saxons,”  and the Saxons came from northern Germany. Accorded to Bede, both the Angles and Saxons were invited to come into the country and help defend the Britons from the invading Picts.

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