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How does Beowulf die?

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lashay08 | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

Posted October 17, 2007 at 11:39 AM via web

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How does Beowulf die?

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angelcann | College Teacher | (Level 2) Adjunct Educator

Posted October 20, 2009 at 12:33 PM (Answer #1)

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Beowulf dies during battle with a dragon. In the second part of the poem, Beowulf has ruled over the Geats for fifty years, and he is a good leader. When the dragon attacks, it is worthy of note that he does not do so unprovoked. The dragon has been tasked with guarding a treasure hoard, and although the original owner of the treasure has long since died, the dragon continues to stand guard. When a cup is stolen from the treasure by a man who wants to win favor with his master, the dragon seeks revenge on Beowulf's people. Beowulf takes a large retinue of warriors to fight the dragon, but at the sight of the creature, all of Beowulf's vassals flee with the exception of Wiglaf, the youngest. Beowulf and Wiglaf fight the dragon together, and although they kill the dragon, Beowulf is fatally wounded. As he lays dying, Beowulf gives Wiglaf instructions for his burial and the disposal of the treasure.

Wiglaf's remaining by Beowulf's side reinforces the theme of loyalty in the poem. Beowulf is ultimately faithful to his lord, Hygelac, even while he is fighting in the service of Hrothgar, a rival lord. This loyalty is repaid when Wiglaf remains by his side, even while his other vassals flee.

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jilllessa | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Associate Educator

Posted October 17, 2007 at 12:45 PM (Answer #3)

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Beowulf does die during his battle with the dragon, but he is not shamed into the battle.  A slave stumbled into the dragon's lair and has stolen a cup from the dragon's treasure.  As a result, the dragon goes seeking the thief, murdering and burning everything as he goes.  Bewoulf realizes that he must fight the dragon for his people, even though he is old.  It is his job.  He has a shield made of iron to protect him from the dragon's breath.  He takes with him twelve of his men including Wiglaf, but at the crucial moment, eleven of his men run and hide; only Wiglaf goes on to help Beowulf.  He finds Beowulf being held by the neck in the Dragons mouth.  Beowulf's sword had failed him so Wiglaf attacked the dragon, taking his attention from Beowulf.  While Wiglaf's attack was not fatal, it gave Beowulf time to retrieve his knife and and stab the dragon as well.  Between the double attack, the dragon was killed. 

Wiglaf then helped Beowulf out of the dragon's hold and took him aside.  Beowulf was mortally wounded but Wiglaf helped the dying warrior see the Dragon's treasure before he died, and Beowulf made Wiglaf his successor.  Wiglaf then goes and castigates the traitorous thanes hiding in the woods and banishes them from the kingdom.  Finally Wiglaf builds a mound for Beowulf and mourns him.  The great treasure Beowulf won from the dragon is buried with him.  His men have not desire for it.

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sullymonster | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted October 17, 2007 at 11:48 AM (Answer #2)

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As an old man who has been king for many years, Beowulf's must deal with a dragon that is threatening his people.  Although he is at first reluctant to face the dragon, he is shamed into it by Wiglaf, a young relative.  Beowulf is killed by the dragon, who bites Beowulf in the neck and imbues him with poison.

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