Why does Beowulf asks Wiglaf to build him a tomb and call it Beowulf's tower?

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At the end of the anonymous Old English epic Beowulf, the eponymous hero kills a dragon that has been attacking his people but dies from his wounds. Wiglaf is a kinsman of Beowulf who helped Beowulf in that final battle. While the other Geats were too scared to approach the dragon, Wiglaf showed great courage and even struck the dragon, helping Beowulf create an opening for the final blow. Because of this, Beowulf chooses Wiglaf as his successor and gives instructions concerning his funeral to Wiglaf.

The epic is a mixture of pagan and Christian materials. While Christians believe in an afterlife, the pagan stratum of the poem is based on an older tradition in which death either was complete oblivion or some sort of diminished existence as a shade or ghost. In this pagan tradition, what persists after death is fame; one lives on and contributes to the glory of one's family in so far as one is remembered. A monumental tomb contributes to this form of afterlife in memory rather than in a Christian heaven.

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Concerning your question about the epic poem Beowulf, epic heroes from Achilles to Beowulf are obsessed with being remembered.  They gain immortality, in a sense, by being remembered for their deeds.

Beowulf wants to be remembered.  The practical benefit to the tower might be to guide ships like a lighthouse, but really Beowulf wants to be remembered--he wants immortality.

As Beowulf says:


The brave Geats build me a tomb,

When the funeral flames have burned me, and build it

Here, at the water's edge, high

On this spit of land, so sailors can see

This tower, and remember my name, and call it

Beowulf's tower, and boats in the darkness

And mist, crossing the sea, will know it.  (823-830)


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