Beowulf Questions and Answers

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In Beowulf, how does Wiglaf represent the ideal role of the warrior?

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Margaret Mccarney eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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In the Anglo-Saxon warrior culture depicted in Beowulf three interrelated values define the ideal warrior: loyalty, generosity, and bravery. These three are linked under the term comitatas. The warrior is expected to be loyal to his leader or king, to fight bravely on behalf of the king and his interests, and to receive in payment gifts such as gold. This tight code of honor keeps the tribe safe, as each person is bound by oaths of inter-dependency and mutual benefit.

In the early portions of the narrative, Beowulf displays these same qualities in fighting Grendel and his mother, on behalf of Hrothgar. He fought bravely and received reward. In his later years, Beowulf the aged king seeks to fight the dragon himself. As he lies dying, only Wiglaf is brave enough to enter battle with the dragon. Despite the danger the dragon presents, Wiglaf confronts and overcomes his fear and fights the dragon with skill and determination. As he does so, he speaks encouragement to the other thanes who have displayed less bravery, and therefore less loyalty, to their king.

As Beowulf lies dying, he proclaims Wiglaf the next king of the Geats, and Wiglaf begins the task of protecting the people by exiling the cowardly thanes who refused to fight the dragon. The poem ends with Wiglaf disposing of the dragon's body and building Beowulf's funeral pyre, while foretelling difficult days for the Geats now that their leader has died.

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Doug Stuva eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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In the anonymous Beowulf, Wiglaf represents the ideal Scandinavian warrior in a number of ways.

When all of the rest of Beowulf's men run from the dragon and desert him, Wiglaf stays to fight and help his king:

...Remembering

Everything his lord and cousin had given him,

Armor and gold and the great estates

Wexstan's family enjoyed, Wiglaf's

Mind was made up; he raised his yellow

Shield and drew his sword--an ancient

Weapon...

Wiglaf is loyal and brave, two traits expected of a warrior.

He performs well in battle:

...his soul did not melt, his sword was strong;

The dragon discovered his courage, and his weapon,

When the rush of battle brought them together.

At one point, he "dove through the dragon's deadly fumes."  He is loyal, brave, and fearless.  These are representative of an ideal warrior.

On the lighter side, at least for a postmodern reader, he can also give a great speech.  Only in an epic does a warrior take time to give a speech when his king is being burned alive by a dragon!

 

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