How does Beowulf die?

Beowulf dies in his final battle when he is fatally wounded by the dragon's venomous bite.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

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.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

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.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

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.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

After ruling over the Geats for fifty years, Beowulf feels obligated to protect his people from a dangerous fire-breathing dragon, which has been terrorizing his nation ever since a thief stole a golden goblet from its hoard of treasure. Although Beowulf is past his prime, he accepts the challenge and travels to the dragon's lair with a group of warriors to kill the beast and save his people. Once Beowulf arrives at the dragon's lair, the dragon attacks by breathing fire, which consumes Beowulf's iron shield. The warriors who accompanied Beowulf scatter in fear at the sight of the dragon, and Beowulf is forced to fight alone.

Only Wiglaf is brave enough to enter the battle and come to Beowulf's aid. Unfortunately, Beowulf's sword fails him once again, and Wiglaf is forced to hide behind the king's shield to avoid the deadly flames. After Beowulf breaks his sword, Naegling, the dragon lands a fatal bite to Beowulf's neck. Wiglaf reacts by stabbing the dragon in its undercarriage, and Beowulf manages to wound the beast in its flank using his dagger. Beowulf and Wiglaf successfully defeat the dragon, but its venomous bite begins to fester and take hold of Beowulf. The great king collapses, but Wiglaf manages to bring Beowulf some of the dragon's treasure to comfort him before he passes away. Overall, Beowulf dies from the dragon's venomous bite during his final battle.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Beowulf dies after fighting a dragon.

In the third part of the story, Beowulf has aged since his adventures in Hrothgar's service, and become King of the Geats. However, a thief wakes a sleeping dragon (yet another one of many monsters in the story) who destroys Beowulf's hall and many of the Geat's buildings. The surprise and violence of this assault surprises Beowulf and leads him to believe that it is his fate to die with the dragon.

Beowulf confronts the dragon alone, but is mortally wounded in the battle. Only one of his men, Wiglaf, remains with him. Beowulf instructs Wiglaf on how to bury him, and to care for the Geats; he then states that he is going to join his ancestors:

earls in their glory: I after them go.
This word was the last which the wise old man
harbored in heart ere hot death-waves
of balefire he chose. From his bosom fled
his soul to seek the saints’ reward.
Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on
Soaring plane image

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial