|Cover of Beowulf: A New Verse Translation
|Original author unknown
|West Saxon dialect of Old English
|W.W. Norton & Company
|Original: 700-1000 A.D. Beowulf: A New Verse Translation: 1999
Beowulf is the exciting story of a truly heroic figure who defeats three monsters and also successfully rules his people for over fifty years. The most famous part of the story of Beowulf is his fight against the monster, Grendel. The king of the Scyldings, Hrothgar, has built a wonderful hall for his thanes. They have happy parties there nightly. These parties and their merry noise annoy the monster, Grendel who lives in the marshes. Grendel then attacks the Hall, called Heriot, at night and carries off the sleeping Scylding warriors to eat them. As a result, Heriot is no longer used and its people are haunted by the specter of Grendel for twelve years.
Enter Beowulf. He has heard of the trial of the Scyldings and because Hrothgar had once helped his father, he has come to defeat the monster. The Scyldings are at first skeptical, but Hrothgar agrees to let him try. Beowulf makes the decision to fight the monster hand to hand, without sword or shield. This turns out to be the right choice, because Grendel's body would break any sword. Beowulf and his companions lie in wait within the Hall and Beowulf surprises Grendel when he comes. In the ensuing battle, Beowulf rips Grendel's arm off his shoulder and the monster escapes home, mortally wounded.
At this point, everyone celebrates, but the celebration is premature because Grendel has a mother and she wants revenge. At the end of the celebration, the mostly inebriated thanes go to sleep in the hall but Beowulf is given his own detached room. During the night Grendel's mother comes and carries off one of the Scylding thanes as well as Grendel's detched arm which is now hanging on the wall.
In the morning, Hrothgar asks Beowulf to save them from this new monster. They chase after the monster and the trail leads to a lake where they find the head of the missing thane and the bloody water where the beast enters the lake. This time Beowulf takes a sword, and, diving into the water, he chases the monster and cuts off her head. Then for good measure he finds Grendel's body and cuts off that head as well. Now Beowulf is truly a hero. He gets much treasure from Hrothgar which he duly shares with his men and goes home where he soon becomes King.
After fifty years as king, Beowulf's own kingdom is attacked by a dragon. Rather than let some younger man take on this challenge Beowulf, believing it is his responsibility, goes after it himself, taking eleven men with him. When they get to the Dragon's cave and he attacks, all of the men who came with Beowulf run for the trees. Only one, Wiglaf, goes back to help Beowulf. Together they kill the dragon, but Beowulf is mortally wounded. Wiglaf gives Beowulf his dying wish by showing him the treasure they have won from the dragon, and Beowulf makes Wiglaf his heir before he dies. Wiglaf then goes back and exiles all the cowards still hiding in the trees.
Beowulf's people bury him in a mound with all the treasure. They do not want to keep the treasure because they do not think it is right taking payment from their king whom they loved.
A brave and heroic warrior, Beowulf is also, in his maturity, a respected king. As a young man Beowulf is renowned for his strength and is able to defeat Grendel and Grendel’s mother. His heroism does not dissipate as he gets older, though, as when the dragon threatens his kingdom, Beowulf jumps swiftly to action.
Grendel is the first antagonist that Beowulf must defeat. Grendel is a grotesque outcast, but it is unclear what his true motives and alignment are. He is likely acting out of loneliness and jealousy because of his situation.
A strange unidentified creature similar to Grendel, his mother seeks revenge on Beowulf for the slaying of her son.
Hrothgor is the ruler of the Danish people. He is old and wise, and after receiving Beowulf's help in the first part of the poem, becomes the young man's mentor.
Unferth is essentially a foil for Beowulf. Unferth does not possess the bravery that Beowulf has, and challenges Beowulf's honour. Unferth partially redeems himself by giving Beowulf his sword during the fight against Grendel's mother, but that is really only so he doesn't have to fight the monster himself.
Brave like Beowulf, Wiglaf is the only one who does not desert the hero during the fight against the dragon at the close of the poem.
The final monster that Beowulf must overcome, sadly the hero meets his match against this monstrous foe. The dragon guards a vast treasure in a barrow, which, fittingly, is a grave.
Beowulf Chapter Summaries
The saga begins with an overview of King Hrothgar’s ancestry. Many years before the birth of Hrothgar, his great-grandfather, King Scyld, begins the Danish royal line. This powerful and influential king successfully defeats many nations in war, bringing them under his reign.
King Scyld has a son, Beowulf; also King Hrothgar’s grandfather. Beowulf finds fame among the nations his father ruled. He gives many gifts to these nations, ensuring their devotion to his own kingship when the time comes to take over the crown from his father. The unknown author of Beowulf knows that a generous king can win the popularity of the masses. They state, “By such deeds of honor shall a man prosper among all the peoples (lines 24-25).”
King Scyld eventually passes away, leaving the throne to Beowulf. He also leaves specific burial instructions for his successor. Following Scyld’s requests, King Beow orders his father’s body to be placed on a ship adorned with much treasure and accoutrements of war. After the completion of this task, the ship is set adrift on the open sea.
King Beowulf is beloved by his people and rules over them for many years. During his reign, he has a son, Healfdene the High. Healfdene, in turn, rules the Scyldings all of his life. He has four children: Heorogar, Hrothgar, Halga the Good, and a fourth child (name unknown) who is said to have been married to King Onela of Sweden.
Hrothgar grows up to become a noble warrior and, eventually, a kind and generous king. He builds a great political and social hall, called Heorot, where he and his men can discuss politics and have great celebrations. At Heorot, men attend meetings and, during parties, guests enjoy hearing scops (impromptu singers) sing about various issues, including the creation of man. Life is good. The king’s loyal followers live happy lives.
Then an evil demon, Grendel, an offspring of Cain is introduced. Wallowing in his own misery, Grendel wishes to interrupt the joy at Heorot hall. He begins to scheme and “work his wickedness (line 101).”
Grendel soon put his plan into action. One night, after beer-drinking and feasting, everyone in the hall goes to sleep. Grendel proceeds to attack the hall, killing thirty thanes (the king’s retainers) in their sleep.
The following morning, there is great sorrow among the king and his men. They are also surprised by the extent to which this stranger caused such damage. However, at this point, Grendel is not finished with the destruction of everyone and everything at Heorot. The following night, he comes back to the hall to wreak more havoc and murder.
But that is not all. King Hrothgar and his men fight Grendel for several more years. They are miserable. All of their time is taken up figuring out what to do about this menace in their lives. The king’s council often sit for hours considering the best way to defend themselves. Times are difficult. Grendel does not want peace, nor does he compensate for his many killings (customary in this society). His ceaseless violence keeps Hrothgar’s kingdom on their toes.
Meanwhile in Geat, Beowulf, son and thane of King Ecgtheow, hears of the horrible attacks by Grendel at Heorot. Beowulf decides to offer his assistance to the Danish king. He then choses fourteen of his bravest warriors to accompany him on his expedition.
When the time comes, the warriors pack the ship with many weapons and supplies, and then set sail. Beowulf and his well-equipped soldiers eventually arrive off the Danish coast where a coastguard troop approaches them.
To the Danish guard on horseback, Beowulf’s expedition looks peculiar—somewhat threatening. Considering the multitude of weaponry and troops aboard ship, this uneasy feeling comes as no surprise. Protected by chain mail, shields and weapons, the lone guard fears an attack by this force. He immediately demands to know their business exclaiming, “…haste would be best for you to make known your home and your nation (lines 256-257).”
Beowulf answers the coastguard captain. He tells them they came to help the king, to counsel him on how the Danes could defeat Grendel. After the explanation, the Dane judges the expedition as friendly, and then proceeds to escort the Geats to see King Hrothgar.
Beowulf and his men march down a cobbled road to the king’s hall where they are approached by King Hrothgar’s herald, Wulfgar the Wendel. In turn, Wulfgar—alone—goes to see the king about Beowulf’s request to see him. Desperate for help against this menace, Grendel, Wulfgar practically begs the king to see Beowulf.
King Hrothgar knows of Beowulf and of his Geat lineage very well. Impressed with Beowulf’s reputation for braveness and strength, the king tells the herald that Beowulf and his men are indeed welcome among his people, and invites the warrior in to speak with him.
Looking impressive in his shiny armor, Beowulf stands before King Hrothgar—not as just a lone warrior with a troop of fourteen, but as a representative of the Geats as a nation. “Those in my nation as the very best among the wise counselors, gave me advice to look for ways to help you, Lord Hrothgar,” Beowulf says (lines 415-417).
Beowulf contines to tell the king his plan to “cleanse Heorot” of Grendel (line 432). Since Grendel does not use conventional weapons—only his hands—Beowulf also informs the king that he will be fighting Grendel in hand-to-hand combat. In this manner, Beowulf thinks his father might take even more pride in his son’s expedition.
It is learned that Beowulf has come to help King Hrothgar to repay a debt incurred by his father, Ecgtheow. King Hrothgar tells Beowulf all about the time when he paid to settle a feud between his father and another party in Geat. Ecgtheow fled Geat to Denmark; he can not return unless damages were paid.
Hrothgar also speaks of his past extensive power as a young king. However, now he feels humiliated by Grendel’s unstoppable power, and also by the Danes’ inability to halt the ongoing threat.
After conversing, Hrothgar invites Beowulf and his men to a feast, and adjourn to the beer hall. They consume food and drink and listen to a scop sing. Like many party-goers in the hall before them, the Geats are happy and have a great time.
Threatened by Beowulf’s glorious reputation, Unferth, a thane of King Hrothgar’s, ridicules Beowulf for a lost swimming contest. This causes a debate about whether or not Beowulf held the ability and willingness to beat Grendel. Assuming Beowulf to be too weak, Unferth says, “…I expect still worse of an outcome (line 525).”
Beowulf defends himself. Despite losing the contest, he believes himself to be the stronger of the two competitors. He tells of a “sea-monster” that pulled him under the water where, eventually, after a long fight he killed it with his sword.
The debate continues. Beowulf explains to Unferth that he, in fact, killed nine creatures during this contest—and it was that fact that slowed him down during the race. “Never have I heard such stories told of your skill in battle, in furious sword-fights,” Beowulf says (lines 581-583).” In Beowulf’s view, Unferth has no reason to be boasting about himself or ridiculing anyone. Beowulf then places blame on Unferth for the toll Grendel has taken on Heorot, the king and his men. Beowulf goes on to tell Unferth that Grendel may have already been subdued if “your spirit were so fierce in battle as you suppose yourself (lines 593-594).”
Beowulf then vows to show Grendel the strength and courage of the Geats. The king now feels more confident than ever in Beowulf’s abilities. Hrothgar wishes Beowulf and his men good luck, and retires for the night. Never before has the king left the hall in the care of someone with such trust.
Beowulf and his men also retire for the night. All fall asleep except one: Beowulf. Awake, and waiting for Grendel, not one of his men doubt Beowulf’s capability to defeat this monster, and live to return to Geat. He also thinks of his history and when he was young. In an unusual display, he recalls the smell of flowers when he was a child, a stark contrast to the setting he is currently in.
Grendel attacks the hall that night. He forces himself into the hall searching for prey. Before Beowulf can engage in a fight with the monster, Grendel devours one sleeping warrior. Next, he comes for Beowulf. Beowulf leans up from his bed and places a tight grip on Grendel’s fingers. The creature has never experienced such pain before. With fingers broken, Grendel tries to flee, but Beowulf pursues. A great fight ensues until Grendel finally succumbes to his fatal wounds.
Beowulf's followers are all ready to fight, but their weapons are no match for Grendel, as even "the sharpest and hardest iron could not scratch at his skin." (801-802) At this point, Grendel's arm is torn off his body by Beowulf and he flees, wounded. Beowulf hangs the arm high in the hall as proof that he has defeated Grendel.
The warriors all return back to the battlefield and retrace Grendel's footsteps to ensure that he is indeed dead. "They gaped with no sense of sorrow, felt no regret for his suffering, went tracing his bloody footprints... doomed and already weary of his vanishing life"(841-846). They return back to Herot afterwards retelling Beowulf's tale while comparing it with that of Siegmund's battles. As morning slides past and is gone, everyone returns and begins to celebrate Grendel's defeat.
Hrothgar enters the hall staring at Grendel's arm thanking God that he has finally been defeated. Hrothgar then offers Beowulf and his men gifts, but Beowulf declines for he fought for honor and not for the treasures. With this, Unferth is left speechless because Beowulf has killed the great beast, Grendel, with not his weapons but with his bare hands.
The damage done to Heorot is swiftly repaired thanks to the combined effort of everyone there. Despite lots of damage being done in the attack, Heorot is transformed, enough so that even a feast can be held there. Hrothgar arrives for the feast and so too do a whole host of famous men from around the land. Everyone indulges in massive amounts of food and drink and the atmosphere of the feast is merry. The poet says that “the people had not yet learned to betray each other”. As a gesture of thank you for his heroic efforts, Beowulf is gifted a sword, armour, a golden battle flag and a new helmet. He is happy to receive the gift from Hrothgar, feeling that he has earned such a just reward, and that Hrothgar gifted the treasures in such a friendly way. That was not the extent of the gifts, however – Hrothgar also presents Beowulf with eight new horses, one with Hrothgar’s own saddle, adorned in gold and jewels.
Not to be left out, all of Beowulf’s men receive treasures form Hrothgar, and compensation is provided for the loss of the man killed by Grendel. If Beowulf had not been as heroic as he was, more men certainly would have been killed by Grendel.
Following the receipt of the gifts, there is a night of music and merriment in the hall. The King’s minstrel sings a song about Finn, a Frisian ruler of legend, and his sons. Finn was married to Hildeburh, who was the sister of the Scylding ruler Hnaef. Both Hnaef and Hildeburh’s son were killed in battle with the Frisians, but Hengest, second-in-command to Hnaef, was able to broker a truce with the Frisians.
This truce meant that Finn had to give to Hengest and the other Scyldings all of the same treasures he would give to his own people, and that, since they couldn’t return to Denmark in the winter, he had to provide housing for them as well.
At the insistence of Hildeburh, the body of Hnaef and her son were burned on the same pyre as she wept over their burning corpses.
As a result of the truce, the Scylding heroes went to live with the Frisian people. Because he was unable to return home, Hengest had no choice but to keep his pact with Finn throughout the winter. When spring arrived, Hengest could finally return home, but he still harboured vengeance towards Finn. This resulted in the Danish people killing Finn and taking Hildeburh with them on their return to Denmark.
The song is then over.
Queen Wealhtheow comes and sits near her husband and his nephew and advisor, Hrothulf. Unferth, who most people still respected for his intelligence and courage despite having somewhat of a tarnished reputation at this point, is sitting nearby.
Wealhtheow encourages her husband to drink and be merry, and that everyone should rejoice now that Heorot has been rid of the evil that is Grendel. She also tells Hrothgar that he should give the kingdom to Hrothulf when he dies, because Hrothulf will take care of their sons and remember the kindnesses Hrothgar has bestowed upon him.
Wealhtheow notices that Beowulf is sitting between her two sons, Hrethric and Hrothmund.
Wealhtheow thinks very highly of Beowulf, and favours him with several gifts: a cup of mead, some gold jewellery (which Beowulf later gives to his uncle, Hygelac, who dies in battle against the Frisians wearing the gift) and a suit of chainmail armour.
She speaks to Beowulf, telling him that she hopes the gifts will keep him safe, that she hopes he will be a good guidance to her sons, and that he will be immortalised in history because of his brave and heroic deeds. She prays for his success to continue, and reminds him that everyone here is a good friend and loyal to the king.
The feast continues, and eventually everyone returns to their homes, not knowing the danger that awaits them. They aim to be prepared, though, as the men all sleep with their weapons nearby.
The celebration feast was premature, as imminent danger lurks in the form of Grendel’s mother, who is seeking revenge for the death of her son. Like Grendel, she lives in the swamp, seemingly banished there by God since the time when Cain killed Abel.
She arrives at Heorot unceremoniously, causing the poor sleeping Danes to scramble to find their weapons to defeat her. Grendel’s Mother then tries to escape, taking one of Hrothgar’s closest friends and Grendel’s severed arm as she does.
Poor Hrothgar wonders if God will ever stop the seemingly endless misfortune that He is punishing Hrothgar with.
Beowulf, who had been sleeping elsewhere, is quickly summoned back to the chaos of Heorot. Initially unaware of the commotion, he untactfully asks Hrothgar if the man had slept well that night.
Hrothgar quickly informs Beowulf that not only is Grendel’s Mother now wreaking havoc, she has taken Hrothgar’s trusted advisor Aeschere. Hrothgar says that Grendel’s Mother will be eating Aeschere’s flesh, and that she lives in an awful swamp that no person or animal has ever ventured into. Hrothgar promises that he will reward Beowulf handsomely if he goes to the swamp and defeats Grendel’s Mother.
Beowulf attempts to comfort Hrothgar by saying that it is “better to avenge our friends than mourn them. We are all going to die someday, so it is better for us to achieve glory before that happens.”
Beowulf and his men vow to track down Grendel’s Mother and defeat her, and they all set off into the woods, Hrothgar in the lead. The journey is treacherous and at the end of it, the party finds Aeschere’s head washed up on the shore of a sea of bloody water. There are monsters everywhere, but the men are able to either scare them away by sounding their battle horn or by shooting th
em with arrows or spearing them to death.
Beowulf remains unafraid, but the same can not be said for Unferth, who lends Beowulf his sword so that he won't have to fight himself.
To reach Grendel’s Mother requires Beowulf to dive into and navigate the murky depths of the horrible sea. Before he does so, he reminds Hrothgar that if he is to die here, Hrothgar had promised to treat Beowulf as his son. This means that Hrothgar is to look after Beowulf’s men and send all treasures gifted to him to Hygelac. Beowulf also brandishes Unferth’s sword, proudly proclaiming that with Hrunting in his hand, he will “achieve glory or death.”
Beowulf then enters the water, and Grendel’s Mother is alarmed that someone has come to fight her. She tries to kill Beowulf by tearing him apart, but the armor that Beowulf is wearing is much too strong. Unfortunately, though, she does drag him down to the depths of her lair as she has such a firm grip on him that he is unable to fight back with his weapon.
Grendel’s Mother lives in a strange hall underwater that seems to be sealed from the water of the sea. There is even a fire burning inside. Now Beowulf has an opportunity to attack, and attack he does. He tries to slash at Grendel’s Mother with Hrunting, but the sword does no damage against her tough hide. Therefore, Beowulf defeats Grendel’s Mother in the same way he did with her son: with his bare hands. Grendel’s Mother tries to fight back with her claws and with a short sword of her own, but it is all no match for the strong armor that Beowulf is wearing.
The den is absolutely riddled with the armour and swords from the previous victims of Grendel’s Mother – including what was said to be the greatest blade ever forged, the Sword of Eotens. This sword, made by giants, is usually too heavy for ordinary men, but Beowulf is able to use it with ease. He slashes Grendel’s Mother’s neck, shattering the bones and killing her instantly. As if that wasn’t enough, he also hacks off the head of Grendel, whose body is lying nearby.
The rest of the men, who have been waiting on the shores, see that the waters are flowing with blood and assume that Beowulf is dead. The hero has been fighting for over nine hours at this point, and the men begin to leave, Hrothgar among them. The Geats wait for their leader to return.
The monster’s blood causes the Sword of Eotens to melt as if it is merely ice, showing the great power of God. Beowulf ignores the treasure that fills the lair, instead taking only the head of Grendel and the jewel-encrusted hilt of the melted sword.
The murky waters lighten now that the evil influence of Grendel’s mother is gone, and Beowulf returns to the shore. His men, who had been waiting for him, are glad that God has spared their leader. The help Beowulf take off his armour and four of them carry Grendel’s massive head back to the hall. Everyone is surprised to see Beowulf return.
Beowulf recounts to Hrothgar the perilous battle with Grendel’s Mother, and assures Hrothgar that the Danes are safe. He gifts Hrothgar the golden hilt of the melted sword, which becomes a symbol to the Danish princes that the evil that once plagued them is now defeated.
Hrothgar praises Beowulf, telling him that he was “born for glory” and that he knows that Beowulf “will be a great gift to your people for years to come” in contrast to the former King Heremod, who brought only suffering, because he was too proud and bloodthirsty.
Hrothgar shares his wisdom with Beowulf, saying that God shares his gifts with mortal men but it is important that these men do not forget that they are mortal.
Hrothgar continues sharing his wisdom, reminding Beowulf that once a man forget he is merely mortal and becomes greedy his heart is “struck by the demon’s arrow”. He forgets his customs and is ignorant to any signs of his downfall, but will always meet a tragic end, with is wealth spread out amongst a host of other people. Hrothgar warns Beowulf against becoming a man like that, because even though Beowulf is brave, death comes for everyone. Hrothgar also confides in Beowulf that despite ruling the Danish people for fifty years, protecting them from every threat, Grendel and his Mother destroyed his sense of security, and he is very glad Beowulf has defeated them.
Beowulf enjoys the rest of the feast and then retires to his bed. The next day he returns Hrunting to Unferth. Beowulf doesn’t tell Unferth that he used a better sword because he has a lot of honour. Beowulf and his warriors are now ready to leave.
Beowulf bids farewell to Hrothgar and promises that if he ever needs more help, Beowulf will be there, and that if ever Hrothgar’s sons come to Geatland, they will be welcome. Hrothgar says that he has never met someone so young who is so wise, and that the Geats could never find a better leader. The alliance between the two men is strong.
Hrothgar gifts Beowulf with a final twelve treasures and the two friends embrace, but Hrothgar has the feeling he will never see Beowulf again. Beowulf and his men leave, praising Hrothgar as a great leader as they go.
As the Geats leave the guards call out a farewell to them. The Geats load all of their many new treasures onto their ship, and Beowulf gifts the man guarding the ship a jewel-encrusted sword. The Geats swiftly return to Geatland, where the coast guard has been anticipating them.
The ship is unloaded and Beowulf and his men take the treasure to Hygelac’s grand home. Hygelac and his wife Hygd live there. Hygd is young but a good queen, unlike the old queen Modthyrth, who was ruthless and cruel. However, Modthyrth’s cruelness was tempered somewhat by her marriage to the great Prince Offa, a mighty warrior.
Beowulf is welcomed into Hygelac’s hall. Hygelac is glad that Beowulf has returned safely. Beowulf recounts the story of his time in Denmark to Hygelac in detail, and the men exchange gifts as token of their kinship.
A few years pass and Beowulf becomes king after Hygelac is killed in battle and Hygelac's heir, Heardred, is unsuitabled. Beowulf rules for fifty years and is beloved by his people. His reign is peaceful and prosperous until a new foe, a dragon, comes seeking vengeance after a man steals a golden goblet from the dragon's lair.
The man who stole the goblet did not intend to do a bad deed, he was merely a slave who had run away and thought that the dragon’s lair would make a good hiding place. Whilst examining the dragon’s treasure the man was frightened by the beast itself and ran away whilst still clutching the golden goblet.
The dragon’s treasure belonged to an ancient lord, the last of his race with only treasure left to him. Not willing to part with his treasure even in death, the dying king asked the earth to protect the treasure that had become the most important thing to him. The dragon that guarded this treasure found it and guarded it for over three hundred years. The beast was actually cursed to guard the treasure left in graves.
Unfortunately for the dragon, three hundred years of relative solitude was disturbed by the man who took the goblet, as after taking the goblet to his master, the slave’s master decided that he would come back to take more of the treasure for himself. This caused the dragon to leave its lair on a desperate and vengeful search for the missing treasure and those who stole it. The dragon brought suffering upon all of the people of the land, and soon enough would bring suffering on Beowulf himself.
The dragon leaves Geatland in ruins, returning each morning after a night of destruction to its lair. Unfortunately, Beowulf’s home, the throne-room of Geatland, is a victim of the dragon’s wanton destruction. Beowulf assumes that he is being punished by God, and does something completely unfamiliar to his character – he dwells on his sufferings.
The dragon keeps on destroying everything in Geatland, and eventually Beowulf is spurred into action against it. He knew that he and the dragon were “destined to end their lives together”, and decides that it would be a source of shame to go after the dragon with an entire army – he had already fought two other monsters and won, and had once swum through the ocean wearing thirty sets of armor (the spoils of the battle that killed Hygelac).
This in turn caused Queen Hygd to offer Beowulf the kingdom, as she thought he would be the best choice to keep Geatland safe (even over her own son, Heardred). However, Beowulf refused this position, and instead counselled Heardred until he grew up and was able to take over as king himself. Unfortunately, Heardred was killed by the Swedish, and Beowulf became king anyway. He knows that he is a formidable opponent.
Beowulf avenged Heardred’s death by killing the Swedish king Onela, and this means that up until this point his courage and intelligence has allowed him to survive any battle. Until, that is, Beowulf battled the dragon.
Taking only eleven men, Beowulf goes in search of the dragon. They meet the slave who took the golden goblet and discover the story of why the dragon is unleashing such fury upon Geatland. The slave joins Beowulf’s party, and the men find the dragon’s lair.
Beowulf gives a speech to his men about the battles he has been in, saying that he remembers them all. Beowulf is fated to die in this place.
Beowulf continues his speech by describing the many battles between the Geats and the Swedes in the past, and how his own family fought valiantly in those battles. He proclaims that he has never shied away from a fight, and he will fight the dragon just as he has fought so many battles before. He tells his men to stay outside the dragon’s cave and then goes in alone.
The battle between Beowulf and the dragon is ferocious. Outside the cave, Beowulf’s men mostly run away, hiding in the trees. Only Wiglaf remains steadfast.
Wiglaf remembered every good deed that Beowulf had done as king. Wiglaf, who is carrying a powerful ancient sword, charges into battle alongside Beowulf, and is able to injure the dragon with the weapon.
Wiglaf states that it would be dishonorable to desert their king and that they should die alongside him in battle. Beowulf is spurred on by Wiglaf’s words and brave deeds and tries to defeat the dragon with his own sword. Unfortunately, Beowulf’s sword breaks, supposedly because he is so strong they can’t support his strength. This gives the dragon opportunity to attack, and it bites Beowulf’s neck, mortally wounding him.
Wiglaf bravely fights on despite his own injuries, impaling his sword into the dragon’s stomach. This allows Beowulf an opportunity to strike the dragon’s side, killing it. Beowulf is quickly succumbing to his injuries, however, as the dragon’s poison is in his blood.
Wiglaf tends to his king’s wounds, but Beowulf knows he is dying. He tells Wiglaf that he would have given his armor to his son if he had had one, and that he knows he has ruled well as a king. He asks Wiglaf to show him the dragon’s treasure before he dies, as he wants to see it and reflect on his long and prosperous rule.
Wiglaf goes into the dragon’s lair which is full of every kind of treasure imaginable. Wiglaf brings an armful of treasure back to Beowulf, but poor Beowulf is nearly dead by the time Wiglaf returns.
Beowulf speaks his last words to Wiglaf, and gives him his armour and jewellery. He then dies.
Despite being upset over Beowulf’s death, Wiglaf is also relieved that the dragon is dead. The land is safe once again. The cowardly men who had hidden in the trees during the battle with the dragon ashamedly come forward. Wiglaf chastises them, saying that they will be forever shamed because of their actions this night.
The news of the battle is spread to the men camping nearby by a messenger. Initially, everyone is concerned that war will come to the land because Beowulf is dead, because the same thing has happened when previous kings have died. The Geats are surrounded by Ongentheow's men.
There is a short battle between the two groups of men. Ongentheow is defeated. The Geats are worried that the Swedes will seek vengeance for this, and Beowulf is no longer there to keep them safe.
They arrange to Beowulf's body on a funeral pyre. The body of the dragon lies next to the body of their fallen king.
Wiglaf orders a memorial built for the brave and selfless Beowulf. Then he and the men return to the dragon's lair and take both the treasure and Beowulf back home.
Beowulf's body is burned on a funeral pyre and the men sing songs about how great their former king was.