The Death of Beowulf: Why and How Did Beowulf Die

Updated on February 27, 2020

The Death of Beowulf


An analysis of the epic of Beowulf cannot be complete without analyzing Beowulf's Death.

There are many important aspects to the story, including the 8th century Germanic culture that is the historical setting and hubris, his tragic flaw. To fully understand the death of Beowulf, one must have a basic understanding of every aspect of the story.

Therefore, this page will begin by giving a very brief summary of the story of Beowulf, including the plot of the poem, and then examine Beowulf's death in the ending. Its purpose is to answer the following questions:

  1. How did Beowulf die?
  2. Why did Beowulf die?

Summary of the Story Beowulf

The Historical Setting

"Although the poem itself is English in language and origin, it deals not with native Englishmen but with their Germanic forebears"- Norton Anthology of English Language, p30

The epic Beowulf is an 8th century Germanic (or more appropriately Anglo-Saxon) epic poem by an unknown author, and preserved in writing by a Christian monk (or monks) around the 10th Century AD.

It is hailed as one of the greatest examples of Old English Literature, and one of the earliest such writings along with The Dream of the Rood. Old English, although the ancient precursor to the Modern English spoken through much of the world today, is almost entirely incomprehensible to Modern English.

Beowulf Plot Overview

Beowulf follows the titular protagonist, who is a brave geatish warrior (and who eventually becomes king of the Geats), as he is crossing the ocean to Denmark to aid his Tribe's friend and ally Hrothgar.

Hrothgar is the aging king of the Danes. His tribe possesses a large Mead hall, called the Hall of Heorot, that is under siege by a horrible monster. Neither the king nor his men are match for the beast, and they live in fear of its pillages at night. But Beowulf defends the mead hall with powerful strength,unrivaled bravery and excessive pride (known as hubris), and kills the beast and its mother after she seeks to avenge her child's death.

Beowulf is hailed as a hero and returns to Gotaland (located in the southern part of modern-day Sweden) shortly thereafter. He soon becomes king and rules valiantly for many years, until a dragon threatens his great city. He kills the beast but is fatally wounded in the process. His death is a testament to his hubris because he chose to fight the dragon alone to attain glory rather than enlist the help of others.

Comparison of Old English and Modern English

Old English
Modern English
Hwæt! wē Gār-Dena in ġeār-dagum
What! We of Gare-Danes (lit. Spear-Danes) in yore-days
Oft Scyld Scēfing sceaþena þrēatum
Oft did Scyld Scefing of scather threats (troops),
ofer hronrāde hȳran scolde,
over whale-road (kenning for "sea") hear should
Selected lines from Beowulf in the original Old English and translated into modern English.

How did Beowulf die

Beowulf's death

The death of Beowulf is the most important aspect of the story because it is the culmination of the themes and motifs that make the epic poem stand the test of time.

The thief

"There was a hidden passage unknown to men, but someone managed to enter by it and interfere with the heathen trove...that drove [the dragon] into rage, as the people of that country would soon discover" Beowulf, lines 2214-2220

A slave in Beowulf's kingdom entered the cave of a large dragon through a secret passage unknown to anyone else. The person, described in the text as a thief, takes a goblet from the cave that is protected by a dragon.

The dragon soon awakes to find out that some of his treasure is missing. Infuriated, It seeks vengeance. The dragon exits its cave in a burst a fire breath and arrogance. It notices footprints leading from the cave and toward the kingdom and begins to unleash its fury on the citizens below.

Beowulf and the dragon

"Then the wound dealt by the ground-burner ealier began to scald and swell; Beowulf discovered deadly poison suppurating inside of him" Norton, lines 2712-2714

The dragon that terrorizes the kingdom is an enormous and terrible creature. It strikes fear in even some of the most brave men.

As king, Beowulf is the ultimate protector of his people. He defends his kingdom as a great warrior king and slays the beast in an epic battle involving balls of fire and razor sharp talons.

He is, however, fatally wounded by the dragon during the battle. Beowulf is struck in the neck by the dragon's talons, which injects a fatal poison into the old king's veins.

Why did Beowulf die


The reason Beowulf died can be summed up in one word- hubris.

What caused Beowulf's hubris


"When it comes to fighting, I count myself as dangerous any day as Grendel. So it won't be a cutting edge I'll wield to mow him down, easily as I might." Norton, lines 677-680

The way that Beowulf saved the hall of Heorot and Hrothgar and his men, as mentioned above, was one such event that helped feed his inflated ego.

In a show of pure strength and bravery, Beowulf disarmed himself and killed Grendel barehanded, something that no other warrior in the land could do.

Neither Hrothgar nor any of his men were any match for the Grendel . In fact, the soldiers slept at night in constant fear that it would return to terrorize them.

Grendel's mother

"Beowulf, son of Ecgtheow, spoke: 'Wise sir, do not grieve. It is always better to avenge dear ones than to indulge in mourning'"- Norton, lines 1383-1385

Beowulf wasn't satisfied with just killing Grendel. He also killed Grendel's mother.

It is important to note that Grendel's mother didn't provoke the attack. Well, to be exact, she attacked Beowulf first, but Beowulf sought out the conflict.. Her son was killed and she sought revenge. She returned to the hall of heorot where her son was murdered and killed the first person she found.

Beowulf tasked himself with slaying the second beast to avenge the kingdom. This was driven, at least in part, by protecting Hrothgar's kingdom. However, Beowulf also did it for selfish motives. He desired everlasting glory and the personal immortality, something that was central to his 8th century Germanic culture.

Other feats

Breca and the swimming match

"[Breca and I] had been children together and we grew up daring ourselves to outdo each other, boasting and urging each other to risk our lives on the sea"- Norton, lines 535-538

Another important event to note is the swimming match with Breca, a friend of Beowulf's from his childhood. Breca and he challenged each other to a swimming match in full combat armor to see who was faster. Beowulf may have lost the competition, but he also was attacked by, and killed, nine sea monsters during the race. He referenced this in his verbal exchange, called Flyting, with Unfeth, one of Hrothgar's warriors.

The dragon

The dragon that Beowulf faced was a monster of epic proportions, not surprisingly. Its size was not explicitly mentioned in the text, but it was large enough to level an entire kingdom.

There was no reason why Beowulf had to fight the dragon alone. He did so because of his hubris. He was, after all, the great and unmatched warrior who defeated Grendel and his mother when no one else could.

Therefore, when the dragon threatened the kingdom that he was sworn by God to protect, Beowulf did just as he had always done. He sought to showcase his warrior strength in battle and attain continued glory.

Old Age

Beowulf was an aging king

"Beowulf spoke, made a formal boast for the last time: 'I risked my life often when I was young. Now I am old, but as king of the people I shall pursue this fight for the glory of winning'"- Norton, lines 2510-2514

A younger Beowulf might have had the ability to dispatch of the beast without harm. He consistently performed many feats of strength that defied typical human ability.

But Beowulf was growing old. He was already an adult when he saved Heorot from evil and reigned over his own kingdom for fifty years before the dragon threatened his kingdom's walls. So Beowulf must have been somewhere around 70 years old. He was no longer able to deliver on his prideful boasts.

Faced the dragon alone

Beowulf had an entire army at his disposal. Although they ran scared upon seeing the dragon, he did nothing to muster his forces. Furthermore, he was offered help from his loyal warrior Wiglaf but scoffed at accepting any help from others.

Any truly good warrior king would have accepted the help much like Hrothgar accepted Beowulf's help (Hrothgar's speech to Beowulf in the Hall of Heorot warns Beowulf about this). Beowulf, however, was too prideful to do the right thing and paid for his hubris with his life.


Beowulf death was caused by a poisonous wound from the dragon. But he really died because his past and his pride blinded him to the reality that he was an aging king who could no longer perform the same feats of strength and bravery, making him a tragic hero. He was blinded by his past and buried by his pride.

What was the most important factor contributing to Beowulf's death?

See results


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment
    • profile image


      9 months ago

      Beowulf didn't fight the dragon alone, he had other men but they left him

    • RyanBuda profile imageAUTHOR

      Ryan Buda 

      4 years ago from Windsor, Connecticut

      Thank you for the comments. I appreciate the feedback and have corrected some of my inaccuracies/oversimplifications.

    • alancaster149 profile image

      Alan R Lancaster 

      4 years ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire)

      Ryan, the individual that broke into the burial 'howe' or mound was a thrall (or slave) who sought to better his lot with the sale of stolen grave goods.

      Saying Beowulf went 'back to Sweden' is an over-simplification. Gotaland was a separate kingdom from that of the Svear (as was Halland and Skaane), eventually to be taken over by the Danes until the later Middle Ages - 15th Century - when the Swedes took it over. Beowulf's age was not the contributing factor to his death, although his age told against him. He foresaw his death in fighting the dragon, but as king his thoughts had to be for his underlings in the kingdom. He could have made the thrall take the treasure back, but the deed was done, the dragon roused from his long sleep.

      Ever see the animated version with Ray Winstone as the hero? (with the physique of Conan the Barabarian) The story's been jazzed up a bit by the Hollywood studio, but the gist of the saga is still there. (Turns out the dragon is his son by Grendel's mother).

      The written version was set down by a 10th Century monk from the Danelaw in England, much amended to reflect the Christian outlook, nevertheless the spirit and metre of the telling was maintained, including the raid on Finnsburh in reprisal for the Frisian attack on the Danes.


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
    ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)