Beowulf is one of the most famous and influential works of Old English literature. It tells the story of the hero Beowulf, who slays monsters and dragons in his quest for glory and honor. But who is Wiglaf, the loyal warrior who stands by Beowulf’s side in his final battle? Is he related to Beowulf, and what role does he play in the poem? In this article, we will explore the character of Wiglaf, his relationship to Beowulf, and his significance in the epic.
Wiglaf: A Distant Cousin and a Faithful Thane
Wiglaf is one of Beowulf’s kinsmen or thanes in the poem. Wiglaf doesn’t appear until later in the poem after Beowulf has become king of his homeland, Geatland. He is one of the many soldiers under the famous Beowulf’s command and is there when the dragon fights him.
According to Wikipedia, Wiglaf is the son of Weohstan, a Swede of the Wægmunding clan who had entered the service of Beowulf. Weohstan had killed a rebel prince named Eanmund and taken his sword as a trophy. Wiglaf later inherited this sword from his father.
Weohstan belonged to the clan of the Wægmundings, the same clan Beowulf’s father Ecgþeow belonged to; so Wiglaf is Beowulf’s distant cousin, and his only living relative at the time of Beowulf’s death.
Wiglaf is also called a prince of the Scylfings, a metonym for Swede, as the Scylfings were the ruling Swedish clan. This means that Wiglaf has both Swedish and Geatish ancestry, and is connected to both sides of the conflict that Beowulf tries to resolve in his earlier adventures.
Wiglaf: A Brave and Loyal Warrior
Wiglaf proves himself to be a brave and loyal warrior in the poem. He is the only one of Beowulf’s thanes who stays with him when he faces the dragon that has attacked Geatland. He rebukes the other thanes for their cowardice and goes to Beowulf’s aid, crying words of encouragement.
Wiglaf does not retreat, though his shield is consumed by fire. He strikes at the dragon’s open wound with his sword, tearing at its throat so it can no longer breathe fire. His hand is badly burned, but his attack allows Beowulf to close and kill the dragon.
The poet praises Wiglaf for his heroism, saying “So should a man be, a thane at need!” He also compares him to Aeschere, Hrothgar’s loyal counselor who was killed by Grendel’s mother.
Wiglaf: The Heir and Guardian of Beowulf’s Legacy
Wiglaf also plays an important role in preserving and honoring Beowulf’s legacy after his death. He gathers treasure from the dragon’s lair and piles it where Beowulf can see it. The dying Beowulf tells Wiglaf to watch his people’s needs, meaning that he appoints him as his successor. He also gives Wiglaf his rings, helm, and mail-shirt, symbols of his kingship and valor.
He says that Wiglaf is now “the last of the Wægmundings”, implying that he is the last survivor of their noble clan. He also asks Wiglaf to build him a funeral mound on a cliff by the sea, so that sailors can see it and remember him.
Wiglaf fulfills Beowulf’s wishes and oversees his funeral rites. He also condemns the other thanes for their failure of duty and declares that he will order them exiled. He sends a messenger to tell the other Geats what has happened, and warns them of possible attacks from their enemies.
Wiglaf thus represents the next generation of heroism and leadership in Geatland. He embodies the qualities that Beowulf valued and exemplified: courage, loyalty, generosity, wisdom, and honor. He also carries on Beowulf’s mission of protecting his people from evil and maintaining peace with their neighbors.
Wiglaf is a complex and significant character in Beowulf. He is not only related to Beowulf by blood, but also by loyalty and friendship. He is the only one who helps Beowulf in his final battle against the dragon, and he inherits his throne and treasure. He also honors Beowulf’s memory by building him a funeral mound and telling his deeds to others.
Wiglaf is a reflection of the young Beowulf in the first part of the poem, a warrior who is strong, fearless, valiant, and loyal. He also foreshadows the future of Geatland, a kingdom that will face new challenges and threats after Beowulf’s death. He is the last hope and the last hero of his people.