Ironic Heroism in Andreas

In her article on “Beowulf and Andreas,” Irina Dumitrescu highlights the irony of Andrew’s heroic depiction.[1] His valor as a courageous warrior and leader of men is praised throughout the poem to an extent that seems deliberately exaggerated, and sometimes even down right sarcastic, in light of his actions. For instance, we are introduced to Andrew as “the man of bold free-will,” whom God has decided to task with rescuing Matthew from captivity (116). However, when Andrew reveals what exactly his will is – to not undertake the rescue mission at all – it is anything but bold (or free for that matter, since God gives him no choice!). Much later on in the poem, when Andrew is imprisoned by the Mermedonians, the narrator emphasizes his brave stoicism in the face of suffering: “Peaceful at heart, the blameless man, regardful of courage, remained dauntless and long suffering in severe hardships” (142). When he is brutally scourged by his captors, “[h]is body, though exhausted by its wounds, paid no heed to the pain.” (143) Yet this sentence is immediately followed by a description of the “unhappy sound of weeping issuing forth from the man’s breast,” and his pleas with God not to let him be tormenting by such evil men (143). Clearly, Andrew’s body did in fact pay heed to the pay being inflicted on it, and he was anything but peaceful at heart in the face of his suffering.

This evidently mocking depiction is a very surprising way to see a saint portrayed in medieval literature. Perhaps even more surprising than Andrew’s sarcastically heroic portrayal in this poem is the fact that he calls into question the heroism of Christ himself, stating “How dejected you became, Possessor of victories, Lord Saviour, in the space of a day amidst the Jews, when you, the living God, Lord of things created of old, the Glory of kings, cried to the Father from the gallows and spoke thus: ‘Father of angels, I wish to ask you, Creator of light and life: why do you forsake me?” (146), referencing Matthew 27:46. Interestingly, the contrast between the titles that Andrew uses to refer to Christ – “Possessor of victories,” “Lord Saviour,” “the living God” – and Christ’s actions mirrors the contrast that the poet creates between his descriptions of Andrew and portrayal of his actions.

I must admit that I am not entirely sure how to interpret this depiction of St. Andrew and Christ as ironically unheroic heroes in this poem, as it is quite unlike anything I have encountered in a medieval text before. One thing I do think is significant is the persistence of Andrew’s faith after his initial moment of faithlessness. Despite his ongoing torture, and the clear physical toll it takes on him, he remains firm in his belief that God is with him as promised. It seems possible that the author is actually trying to critique the heroic ideals of unwavering courage and stoicism in the face of suffering by showing that what is really important is to persist and have faith, even if you courage wavers.

Group 7 (Gwyneth)

[1] Irina Dumitrescu, “Beowulf and Andreas: Intimate Relations,” in Dating Beowulf: Studies in Intimacy, ed. Daniel C. Remein and Erica Weaver (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2019), 258-9.

 

Sources:

Dumitrescu, Irina. ““Beowulf and Andreas: Intimate Relations.” In Dating Beowulf: Studies in Intimacy, edited by Daniel C. Remein and Erica Weaver, 257-278. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2019.

Andreas (Bradley trans.)

 

Image: The goofiest medieval depiction of St. Andrew I could find – from the crown of Hungary, 11th century (public domain image)

One thought on “Ironic Heroism in Andreas

  1. This might answer my question as to how the work as a whole is satire! We can understand the poem as a mock epic.

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