Lines 3,058–3,182 Summary and Analysis
Wiglaf carries out Beowulf’s final instructions, explaining as he does so that Beowulf was worth far more than all of the gold and treasures, and that Beowulf should have left the dragon sleeping rather than risk the life that was so important to his people. Wiglaf leads seven of the noblest Geats past the treasure one last time to gather what they can of it in their arms to place on the funeral pyre with Beowulf. The dragon’s corpse is rolled off the cliff into the sea, never to be seen again, while wood is gathered for the pyre. Once the pyre is built and the Geatish king’s body placed upon it, surrounded by helmets and battle gear, the treasure is added. There is moaning and weeping as the pyre is ignited.
The Geats work for ten days on the tower near the sea to be used as Beowulf’s tomb. His ashes are sealed within it, along with the treasure. Twelve of the bravest Geats ride around the tower, telling the stories of Beowulf’s glory and of their own sorrow.
Discussion and Analysis
Beowulf, a lonely man, strives for glory during his life, and at his death is remembered as a worthy man. Yet, it is a young man whom he had commanded who tells the people how to carry out Beowulf’s final instructions. There is no wife, no child, no kinsman, no friend to do so. Beowulf led a successful life as far as his victories and the 50 years of his rule, but he led a solitary life, apparently not by choice since he mentions ruefully several times that he has neither son nor heir to whom he can leave his possessions.
While it is evident he led an exemplary life by Anglo-Saxon standards, and one to be emulated, modern standards lead the reader to believe his funeral and his passing were sad in more ways than one. Wiglaf uses the armor his father kept for him to defend a man he felt should not have risked his life to slay a dragon. But yet, Beowulf felt there was more glory in fame after death, and so, gave his life to kill the dragon. While Beowulf died as he chose, Wiglaf questions if this was a wise decision. His people are weeping, leaderless, and in danger of imminent attack as soon as their enemies hear of their leader’s death. Was their king’s decision made to save his people or for his own, solitary glory?