Section Six: Beowulf and the Dragon

Beowulf’s peaceful rein is disrupted when a dragon begins to terrorize the Geats. The Dragon indiscriminately attacks the countryside. In many ways, the Dragon is reminiscent of Grendel attacking Heorot; he attacks the countryside, seeking vengeance against the Geats as a whole. In other ways, the Dragon is very different from Grendel. For centuries, the Dragon has been the guardian of a treasure that was hidden by the keeper of rings, the last surviving member of a now-extinct tribe.

While the keeper of rings does not play a significant role in the poem, he provides commentary about the nature of time that is relevant to other sections of the poem. He focuses on time, and even discusses the fact the treasure being hidden has no use for the people who collected the treasure because they have died. However, hiding the treasure is not a greed-motivated action. Instead, the keeper focuses on the fact that the treasure was taken from the earth, so they will return it to the earth. He discusses the idea that death will come to everyone, foreshadowing the imminent death of the poem’s hero.

The Dragon has done an able job of guarding the treasure for centuries, and Geatland has been peaceful despite the Dragon’s presence in the realm. However, a thief has stolen a cup from the treasure. Although the theft was a minimal one, this action means that the Dragon has failed in his duty of guarding the treasure. Therefore, the Dragon begins terrorizing the countryside to avenge this theft. While his actions precipitate the first real disturbance in Geatland since Beowulf became the king, one must consider the thief’s actions. Like the other presumed villains in the poem, the thief has mixed motives that make it difficult to define him as either good or bad. While he did steal from the Dragon’s treasure, he did not steal a significant amount of treasure. Instead, it appears that he stole enough to sustain himself. Moreover, the poet is careful to describe the fact that the thief is fleeing a cruel master, so that his theft seems even more...

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Essays About Beowulf