Beowulf battles three major foes throughout the course of the epic poem of the same name: Grendel, Grendel’s Mother, and the dragon. When Beowulf fights his first battle against Grendel, he is a young, haughty warrior who boasts of his prowess and former daredevil deeds. Not only does he promise to slay Grendel, but he also boasts that he will do so alone, and in hand-to-hand combat—without any weapons! Later, Beowulf sleeps in Hrothgar’s mead hall, awaiting the monster. Traditionally, Anglo-Saxon warriors slept in their armor, but Beowulf divests himself before going to bed, once again boasting his abilities in a manner that is both admirable and daring.
Fifty years later, a slumbering dragon awakes to find his treasure is missing. The dragon soars over Geatland, unleashing his fiery fury. The older, wiser Beowulf is now king, and takes his best men to accompany him to the dragon’s lair, insisting they wait outside as he goes in to battle the beast alone. Unlike his first battle, Beowulf is more cautious; he wears his armor and helmet and takes his sword with him. Beowulf receives a mortal wound while attacking the dragon, and one of the warriors, Wiglaf, comes to his aid. It is only with Wiglaf’s help that Beowulf is able to defeat the dragon.