Beowulf's Last Battle

Beowulf's Last Battle
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  • 0:00 Beowulf's Last…
  • 0:50 The Slave and the Dragon
  • 1:28 Beowulf's Final Test
  • 2:29 Beowulf's Death and Legacy
  • 2:59 Analysis
  • 4:01 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Dori Starnes

Dori has taught college and high school English courses, and has Masters degrees in both literature and education.

Fifty years after killing the evil Grendel and his mother, the epic hero, Beowulf, faces his third and final monster, a dragon that has been attacking Geatland. But this last battle will be completely different from the ones before, and it spells the end for our epic hero.

Beowulf's Last Battle

Starting around line 2200 of the great epic poem Beowulf, we have the entrance of the last of the monsters that Beowulf must overcome as part of the epic hero cycle. But this battle is unlike the earlier battles Beowulf faced as a young warrior, and the outcome is very different than his earlier triumphs. This lesson will focus on the summary and analysis of Beowulf's last battle.

Beowulf, King of the Geats

It's been a long time since Beowulf and the Geats returned from Denmark fifty years earlier. A lot has happened, most notably the death of Hygelac and his son in battle. The throne passed from his cousin, Heardred, to Beowulf, and he has ruled wisely and well for a long, long time. There have been no major battles, and Beowulf's thanes rarely have to fight at all. But that peace and happiness crumbles when a dragon emerges from the hole he's been hiding in for three hundred years.

The Slave and the Dragon

A slave fleeing his master creeps into the hole and sees the dragon and the treasure. The slave's greed overcomes him, so he snatches up a cup. The dragon awakens and learns of the theft. It bursts out of its hole, desperate to find the slave and get its cup back. The dragon can't find the slave or the cup. So in fury, it flies over Geatland and burns everything. Even Beowulf's mighty mead hall falls to the dragon's flames. Beowulf knows he must fight the dragon. But fearing the flames, Beowulf gets a special shield made of iron. He and a few hand-picked thanes, led by the slave, who shows them the way, venture out to rid Geatland of the dragon.

Beowulf 's Final Test

At the edge of the cave, Beowulf tells his thanes that this will be his last battle. Bringing along his sword and the special shield, Beowulf enters the lair and tells his thanes to wait for him. He bellows a challenge, and the dragon awakens. Beowulf is immediately engulfed in flame. The shield keeps off the flame, but when Beowulf tries to strike the dragon, his sword melts. This battle is very different than the earlier ones, and Beowulf needs the help of his men. But ten of the eleven untested thanes flee in fright. Only Wiglaf stays loyal and rushes to help his king.

The dragon charges again and a wall of fire rains down on Wiglaf and Beowulf. Beowulf manages to wound the dragon, but the dragon's tusk slices Beowulf's neck. Immediately, Beowulf feels the poison on the tusk. Wiglaf stabs at the dragon and burns his hand. Finally, Beowulf manages to pull out a dagger and slices the dragon in two. The dragon has been defeated, and the last battle is finished. But the wound in the old king's neck begins to burn, and Beowulf knows his death is imminent.

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