Symbols in Beowulf

Symbols Examples in Beowulf:

Chapter XVII 1
"the Geat also sat there, brave Beowulf,..."   (Chapter XVII)

Beowulf’s position here symbolizes either his place in Hrothgar's line of succession, or that the poet indicates that Beowulf is now the children’s protector. The latter is more likely considering the established relationship and loyalty that Beowulf has shown Hrothgar and what Wealtheow shortly tells him.

"The mere subsided..."   (Chapter XXIII)

Beowulf has cleansed the water, permanently calming the mere. Supernatural beings like Grendel and his mother no longer inhabit this horrific place. The poet uses this detail to illustrate how humans, and by extension God, have triumphed over the supernatural world.

"the war-blade melted away just as ice dissolves..."   (Chapter XXIII)

Even though we shortly learn that Grendel's blood is so toxic that it melts the blade, this event is symbolic of the supernatural in the tale. The poet tells his audience that this blade, made by supernatural beings, has done its job and has no place in the human world.

"Now might our people look for warfare soon..."   (Chapter XL)

As Wiglaf predicted, the Geats understand that with Beowulf gone, they will be attacked by the Frisians, the Franks, the Merovingians, and there is no Geat leader great enough to stop the coming wars. The death of Beowulf symbolizes the fall of the Geat kingdom.

"They placed in the barrow collars, rings, and such wealth as the stalwart heroes had lately captured in the hoard, trusting the ground with the treasure of princes, and placing the gold in the earth, where it lies, forever useless to men, as it was in days of old...."   (Chapter XLIII)

Beowulf embarks on this dangerous journey to gain treasure for his people and vanquish the dragon that threatens them. This marks the pinnacle of Beowulf's story as this is the highest form of earthly valor that he can enact. The cursed treasure that is buried with him is symbolic of the vanity inherent in human desires. The dragon spends his life guarding treasure which has no use to him and Beowulf dies trying to obtain a treasure that has no use to his people. Much like fame, pride, and earthly glory which end in death, the desire for the treasure is a dead end. However, Beowulf's final act is not in vain. Because he used his quest for glory as a way to exemplify the valor of a warrior, his quest and death become symbols of honor for the Danes. Thus, Beowulf's people remember him as a a virtuous and noble leader who fulfilled his duty to them.