What is the symbolism of the dragon in Beowulf?

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iandavidclark3 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The dragon in Beowulf could be said to symbolize several things, but many readers have noted that it likely symbolizes abstract ideas like greed, hoarding, and destruction. Indeed, the dragon is the opposite of the generous and kind Beowulf, who benevolently gives gifts to his loyal followers and rewards virtue and good actions. The dragon, on the other hand, greedily amasses gold and riches and refuses to share its vast store of wealth. Even worse, the dragon does not use this hoarded wealth in any constructive fashion. Rather, the dragon sits on its hoard and guards it jealously simply because it doesn't want others to have a share in its riches. In this way, it's easy to see how the dragon symbolizes negative qualities in opposition to Beowulf's just and benevolent reign.