Beowulf

What Does the Ending Mean?

Summary What Does the Ending Mean?

At the end of the poem, Beowulf goes to fight the dragon, anticipating that it will be his last battle. He succeeds in killing his opponent, but he is mortally wounded. His people give him a glorious funeral, but they have been left unprotected, and they foresee “enemies on the rampage, bodies in piles, / slavery and abasement” (ll. 3154-5). This ending crystallizes the poem’s argument that the ancient Northern warrior code was ultimately misguided. Even a truly great warrior-king, like Beowulf, can do nothing to protect his people in the end. In fact, the Geats are left especially vulnerable because their king killed so many enemies, the friends and relatives of whom can now be expected to seek revenge. Nevertheless, Beowulf’s death is presented as heroic. The dragon is a fabulous opponent, whose power and beauty is conveyed in elaborate poetic language, and the reader cannot help but be stirred by Beowulf’s courage in going to battle knowing that he is unlikely to survive. Beowulf’s final note is complex: its hero was a great man, yet his greatness has added up to little more than suffering for his people.