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Barron's Booknotes-Beowulf-Free Chapter Summary Synopsis
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VERSE 42

Hiding the treasure, the poet tells us, was a sign of man's greed. It went against the law of God. Eventually it led to Beowulf's death. The men who hid the treasure had cast a spell on it that was meant to last until the day of judgment. It was Beowulf's ill-fortune-and his fate-to fight the dragon and inherit his jewels.

NOTE:

No one knows when one is going to die. A thief steals a cup from a dragon, and this seemingly trivial act leads to Beowulf's downfall. His death makes us wonder whether all his acts of courage were motivated by greed, as much as by a desire for fame and glory. In his dying moments the dragon's treasure seems to be his main concern. To give Beowulf the benefit of the doubt, we should view him as an essentially honorable person-a man who wanted to perform good deeds-who was unable to resolve the conflict between pagan and Christian values that dominated his lifetime.

In Wiglaf's final speech, the poet attempts to sum up the events that led to Beowulf's death. We learn that Beowulf's followers tried to prevent him from fighting the dragon, but that "fate, and his will, were too strong." Beowulf's life was worth more than all the treasures he earned by his acts of courage. Unlike Efor and Wulf and most of the other warriors, Beowulf's life had a moral value that set him apart from other men.

Wiglaf orders the lumber for Beowulf's funeral pyre. With seven other Geat warriors he enters the dragon's cave and gathers the treasure-hoard. Then, after rolling the dragon's body into the ocean, they load the treasures onto a wagon and bring them to the pyre.


VERSE 43

The Geats carry out Beowulf's final wishes. They build a huge funeral pyre, surrounding it with helmets, shields, and mailshirts. It's a time of great sadness and mourning. An old woman leads the mourners in "a song of misery," predicting the decline of the Geat nation. The smoke from the funeral pyre rises toward heaven with the words of her song-a final link, some readers feel, between the spiritual and earthly forces that dominate the world.

The Geats are aware that with Beowulf's death their lives have changed for the worse; there's no one to replace him. They build a tower on the sand, a monument containing the hero's ashes and all the dragon's treasures. Though Beowulf had hoped that his people would profit from the dragon's hoard, all the gold and jewels are useless, buried in the earth forever. It's the poem's great irony that all the material rewards that one earns during one's life can never be enough to stem the tide of fate. Everything in life is uncertain, even for a hero.

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