Beowulf

The Dragon

The dragon is a mighty and glamorous opponent, an appropriate match for Beowulf. The dragon is so well suited to bring about Beowulf’s downfall, in fact, that some readers have seen it as a symbolic representation of death itself: the unique, personal end that awaits every person. Hrothgar prepares us to view the dragon in this way when he warns Beowulf that for every warrior an unbeatable foe lies in wait, even if it is only old age. However, the dragon also symbolizes the specific fate that lies in wait for the Geats, and for pagan society generally. The dragon is “driven […] to guard heathen gold, / through age-long vigils, though to little avail” (ll.2275-7). Like Beowulf, the dragon uses its strength to accrue a huge mound of treasure, but in the end all the treasure does is bring about its death. The treasure also brings about Beowulf’s death. Possibly the poem’s Christian narrator sees greed for treasure as a kind of spiritual death, suffered by pagans who value treasure over Heaven. The dragon hoards his treasure in a “barrow,” that is, a grave.