Last Updated February 9, 2023.
Wiglaf is the only Geat to stay at the barrow rather than flee to the woods. He remembers his king’s generosity and respects his leadership. Wiglaf prepares himself to go in and help Beowulf fight the dragon. First, though, the poet recapitulates the accomplishments of Wiglaf’s father, Weohstan. The sword that Wiglaf wields was won by his father in his defeat of Eanmund; Weohastan kept and appreciated the spoils for the rest of his life. Just as he inherited his father’s land, Wiglaf also inherited this gear and the duty to his king; the young man is ready to “perform his part.” This would be Wiglaf’s first armed conflict. He speaks to his fellow men, encouraging them to think of all Beowulf has done for them. Wiglaf attempts to shame the men for failing to defend their leader; he claims that he would rather die by his lord’s side than go home with his sword unused. Wiglaf proceeds to enter the barrow and speaks to Beowulf, trying to motivate him to remember the thirst for glory he felt in his youth.
The dragon is enraged that another human has entered his lair and strikes out again at Beowulf and now at Wiglaf. Beowulf, his passion for fighting reignited, hits the dragon with his sword, but the weapon snaps. The dragon bites Beowulf’s neck in what becomes the fatal blow. Wiglaf is burned but stabs the dragon in its abdomen, while Beowulf pulls out a dagger and stabs the dragon’s backside. Though the king has suffered a mortal wound, he and his kinsman manage to kill the treacherous dragon. Wiglaf tends to his lord’s injuries, but he has been poisoned by the dragon’s bite. As he takes his last breaths, Beowulf speaks to the young thane. He laments that he has no son to pass down his legacy and his weapons to, but he is proud of his accomplishments. Beowulf boasts that in his fifty years in power, no one dared to challenge him by attacking his land. The king orders his kinsman to go into the trove and bring back treasures for him to view, which he claims will ease his passing.
When Wiglaf returns to his king, Beowulf is bleeding out and near death. He views the treasure and thanks God for all of his achievements. Beowulf wants Wiglaf to have a monument built in his honor and named for him. He says Wiglaf is the last of their clan and that he will now go and join his ancestors as he expires. Wiglaf struggles watching his king die, unable to do anything to aid him in his last moments. The dragon has also died, and the poet comments on the beast’s majestic appearance but also the fact that it can no longer torment the Geats. The treasure gained in the dragon’s conquest comes at the cost of Beowulf’s life. When the other men see Wiglaf, trying to no avail to revive his king, they feel ashamed that they fled in fear. The poet remarks that all mortals’ fates are in the hands of God.
Wiglaf addresses the other men, publicly shaming them for failing to come to Beowulf’s aid. He boasts that he was enlivened in the fight with his king, and he will dispossess weak men of their land, titles, and holdings in recompense for their cowardice. The outcome of the battle between Beowulf and the dragon is reported to the rest of the people. Wiglaf worries that the Franks and the Frisians will soon strike once they hear of the strong king’s demise. He also anticipates...
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that the Swedes may not maintain their oath of peace, remembering a former attack on their king’s son. Wiglaf narrates a detailed account of the previous intense feuds between the Geats and Swedes to explain why the Swedes may now want to seek revenge. In a pivotal battle between the two peoples, the Swedish king, Ongentheow, fought the Geat named Wulf; though the king suffered a blow at Wulf’s hands, he was not killed. Ongenthow hit Wulf’s helmet and bloodied the Geat. It was Wulf’s brother, Eofor, who felled the Swedish leader, taking revenge for his strike on Wulf’s head. Wulf survives and both brothers are rewarded handsomely by Hygelac when they return to Geatland. Wiglaf anticipates that the Swedes will remember the death of their king and now that Beowulf is no longer their fierce ruler, the Swedes may try to avenge the loss of Ongentheow. The loss of the king has made Geatland vulnerable again.
The Geats enter the dragon’s lair to view their king’s body before he is placed on the funeral pyre. They are impressed because of the massive size of the dragon, imagining the fierce fight put up by their leader. The dragon’s shine has dulled in death, but it is huge, at fifty feet long. The treasure being guarded by the dragon has been bewitched and cannot be removed from the barrow unless God allows it. The poet reflects on the fact that, regardless of his heroism and accomplishments, no man, even Beowulf, can know when he will live his last day or fight his last battle. Wiglaf speaks to the others, lamenting that there was nothing they could have done to persuade Beowulf to approach his conflict with the dragon in any other way. He also recounts Beowulf’s last moments and his final requests. Wiglaf tells of showing the treasure to their king and his desires that he be remembered by a monument. Next, the young leader instructs others to gather wood and build the king’s funeral pyre. The men also gather treasure from the horde and throw the dragon’s body over a cliff.
At Beowulf’s funeral, the Geats say goodbye by burning the largest fire they’d ever seen. A Geat woman sings a painful lament full of anxiety about the future without their peerless king. The Geats proceed to build Beowulf’s memorial and commit the treasure to the earth. They mourn and chant, remembering their hero and giving thanks. His memory as a great king and leader of people will live on.