What happens to the dragon's hoard?

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Stephen Holliday | College Teacher | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

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After Beowulf, with Wiglaf's aid, destroys the dragon, Beowulf is mortally wounded, but as he looks around at the treasure hoard, he says

Now I have given my old life/for this treasure hoard; fulfill henceforth/the people's needs; I may stay here no longer. . . . 

As the good king he is, Beowulf has given his life not only to protect his people from the dragon but also to provide his people with enough wealth to take care of them after he is gone.  At this point, we assume that the gold hoard will be taken out of the dragon's barrow and put to use.

Unfortunately, the distinguishing feature of Beowulf's death is that his loyal retainers, with the exception of Wiglaf, failed to come to his aid when Beowulf could have used their help.  Wiglaf decides that the treasure hoard, because it is tainted by the cowardice of the men who should have supported Beowulf, should become part of Beowulf's funeral pyre and barrow:

. . . these shall the fire eat,/the blaze enfold--nor shall an earl wear these|rings as reminders, nor a fair maiden/wrap her throat/in a ring adornment, . . .

The hoard, because it stands as a symbol of betrayal, is put into Beowulf's barrow where it lies for all time as "useless to men" as when it lay in the dragon's barrow.



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