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St. Augustine Confessions and Beowulf

From the analysis of St. Augustine Confessions and Beowulf, it is clear that the two authors, St. Augustine and the poet respectively, differ on their views of death, which helps to paint a better picture of the world that each writer lived in. In Augustine’s writings, death plays a major role in life; it serves as the stepping stone to a greater existence in heaven. In Augustine’s world, Christianity and God both play an important role in how death is viewed. In the poets writings we see a different perspective, one in which the time you spend on earth is of great importance; very little thought is given to life after death.

Although God is mentioned and discussed throughout the writing, it is a very different perspective than the one shown by Augustine. In the writing of St. Augustine, the reader gets a small glimpse of what life was like in the Roman Empire in the forth century, and more particularly how death was viewed during this period. According to the Confessions, life, though valued, was just a time spent before God chose to bring your soul to heaven; contingent of course on the fact that you were a Christian.

“Yet in a moment, before we had reached the end of the first year of a friendship…. u took him from this world (Confessions, 75). ” “When all hope of saving him was lost, he was baptized as he lay unconscious (Confessions, 75). ” This passage about St. Augustine’s friend helps to illustrate that as death drew near in Augustine’s time, thoughts went to the after life in heaven. This hypothesis is furthered when Augustine writes about the death of his mother. “And so on the ninth day of her illness, when she was fifty-six and I was thirty-three, her pious and devoted soul was set free from the body (Confessions, 200).

Some might argue that the sorrow that Augustine describes at both the deaths of his friend and mother illustrates that death was not looked on as a passage to life in heaven, but as a very sorrowful and deplorable event. Though Augustine admits to feeling great sorrow at the death of those close to him, he goes on to point out that these feelings are merely of the imperfect body. When one lets go and listens to his soul he will see that all things begin and end with God.

For the senses of the body are sluggish, because they are senses of flesh and blood…They are limited by their own nature (Confessions, 80). ” Augustine is pointing out that though death is a sad event, it is the passage of the soul to god, once one gets passed the “sluggish senses of the body” they realize and grow content. We can see this in the passage “Our Life himself came down into this world and took away our death. He slew it with his own abounding life, and with thunder in his voice he called us from this world to return to him in heaven (Confessions, 82).

If you were a Christian in Augustine’s world, death was a passage that one should look to once it arrives, as the joyous return to heaven; not a loss but a great gain. It is clear that death played an important role in the world of St. Augustine. When we look at the world of the poet of Beowulf, we see a very different world. In the world of the poet, life is seen as very important; almost no thought is given to where the soul goes after dying. Making the most of ones life, while you are living, it seems is unparalleled in importance.

My father was a noble leader well known among nations…He lived through many winters, and was an old man when he departed from this world (Beowulf, 10). ” Beowulf speaks of his father’s long life and notoriety as if that is all that is left of him. There is no mention of his faith or the transcendence of his soul, as one would come to expect in the Confessions. “They set a golden banner high over his head; then they gave him to the sea and let the water carry him away. Their spirits were saddened, their hearts mournful.

Men on earth, even the wisest of counselors, do not know how to tell who truly received that cargo (Beowulf, 4). ” This passage clearly points to the insecurity and skepticism of life after death that existed in the world of the poet. This insecurity seems to be the reason that the characters of Beowulf spend all their lives trying to do great and noble deeds so as to be remembered always. Some might argue that the continual references to god as the almighty power and the decider of each person’s fate as a parallel to the beliefs of the Romans of St. Augustine’s time. and fight for my life, enemy against enemy; he whom death takes there must trust to the judgment of the Lord (Beowulf, 14). ”

However, this passage alone, though it does contend to a belief in god much the same as in Augustine’s work, loses much of its validity when the rest of the piece is considered. “At times they made sacrifices to idols in heathen temples, entreating the devil to help them relieve the distress of the people (Beowulf, 7). ” This passage is a clear indication that the faith in god held by the people of the poet’s time was much weaker and of a different sort than that of forth century Rome.

The uncertainty of death is strengthened by the desire of the people to have elaborate burials and great monuments built after their death so that they will never be forgotten. “After I have been burned on the fire, have the warriors raise a splendid mound at the promontory of the sea; it shall be a remembrance to my people towering high on Hronesness, so that afterwards the seafarers who drive ships far over the dusky sea will call it Beowulf’s barrow (Beowulf, 72). ” This vanity shown moments before his death contrasts sharply with the piety shown by St. Augustine’s mother just before her death.

She had no care whether her body was to be buried in a rich shroud or embalmed with spices, nor did she wish to have a special monument or a grave in her own country…All she wanted was that we should remember her at your altar, (Confessions, 204). ” This is a very strong example of how different the worlds of St. Augustine and the poet were. From the limited view of the life presented by the authors of the Confessions and Beowulf, it is easy to see that the worlds in which they lived were very different. The world of St. Augustine seems well ordered and compact with cities and government officials.

It seems to be a highly intellectual culture strongly influenced by religion and God. The world of the poet seems much different in nature than that of St. Augustine. The poet’s world seems to be much less organized and vast, with various kings as opposed to government officials. It seems to be populated with many roaming bands, and the people seem to be much less intellectually and religiously motivated. It seems they lived simple lives in a constant search for glory and notoriety. With such different cultures it is not difficult to concede that their respective views on death would be as diverse as the cultures themselves.

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