From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Wiglaf (Old English Wīġlāf pronunciation: [ˈwiːjlɑːf] is a character in the Anglo-Saxon epic poem Beowulf. He is the son of Weohstan, a Swede of the Wægmunding clan who had entered the service of Beowulf, king of the Geats. Wiglaf is called Scylfing as a metonym for Swede, as the Scylfings were the ruling Swedish clan. While in the service of the Scylfing Onela, king of the Swedes, Weohstan killed the rebel prince Eanmund and took his sword as a trophy;[1] Wiglaf later inherited it.[2] 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.


1908 depiction of Wiglaf speaking to the mortally wounded Beowulf after their battle with the dragon.

Wiglaf first appears in Beowulf at line 2602, as a member of the band of thanes who go with Beowulf to seek out the dragon that has attacked Geat-Land. This is the first time Wiglaf has gone to war at Beowulf's side.[3] He is called a "praise-worthy shield-warrior", a "prince of the Scylfings", and mæg ælfheres, "kinsman of Ælfhere."[4]

When Beowulf damages his sword wounding the dragon and is burned by the dragon's fire,[5] Wiglaf is the only man of Beowulf's band to overcome his fear of the dragon.[6] He rebukes the other thanes[7] and goes to Beowulf's aid[8] crying words of encouragement.[9]

Wiglaf does not retreat, though his shield is consumed by fire.[10] When Beowulf wounds the dragon a second time, striking so hard his sword shatters,[11] Wiglaf strikes at the open wound with his own sword, tearing at the dragon's throat so it can no longer breathe fire.[12] His hand is badly burned,[13] but his attack allows Beowulf to close and kill the dragon. The poet says of Wiglaf, "So should a man be, a thane at need!"[14]

At Beowulf's command, Wiglaf gathers treasure from the dragon's lair and piles it where Beowulf can see it.[15] The dying Beowulf tells Wiglaf to "watch his people's needs"[16] (by which he means that Wiglaf is to become the next king.) He tells Wiglaf to build him a funeral mound[17] and gives Wiglaf his rings, helm, and mail-shirt.[18] He says that Wiglaf is now "the last of the Wægmundings."[19]

The other eleven men that came with Beowulf[20] gather around the body, and Wiglaf condemns them for their failure of duty and declares that he will order them exiled.[21] He sends a messenger to tell the other Geats what has happened.[22] When the Geats have gathered, Wiglaf addresses them, mourning Beowulf's death and expressing dismay at the bleak future of the Geats without Beowulf to guard them.[23]

Wiglaf's last appearance is at line 3120, where he chooses seven thanes to help him push the dragon's corpse over the cliff into the sea, loot the lair, and lay the treasure on Beowulf's funeral pyre.[24]

Etymological significance[edit]

An apparent example of etymological refraction can be found within Beowulf through Wiglaf's name. When he first enters battle alongside his lord the poet structures the words of the poem in such a way that reflect greater significance of Wiglaf's name. The separation and reversal and elements of the name within the manuscript form of Beowulf suggest that the name Wiglaf signifies being the inheritor of strength or being one that is fulfilled through battle according to Dr. Patrick J. Gallacher and Dr. Helen Damico at the University of New Mexico.[25] Wiglaf is able to be divided in this way because it is a Germanic dithematic name. The elements combined are wig (fight, battle, war etc.) and laf (what or who is left). An alternate understanding of the name in the context of a typical dithematic name, where the two elements may be as independent in meaning as separate names, "laf" could be read as "one who remains, one who survives or endures".[26] Gallacher and Damico have acknowledged this alternative interpretation but feel that it is unnecessary to argue that one discernible element within a name submerges another as all interpretations are collectively useful in the pursuit of deep analysis.[27]

Cultural references[edit]

In the 1981 animated film Grendel Grendel Grendel, Wiglaf (voiced by Ernie Bourne) is portrayed as one of Hrothgar's thanes rather than an ally of Beowulf, and is killed by Grendel.

In the 2007 film Beowulf (directed by Robert Zemeckis), Wiglaf's role (played by Brendan Gleeson) is larger; he is present in the film from the first introduction of Beowulf and the Geats to the end when Beowulf vanquishes the dragon and dies. The film makes Wiglaf into a sidekick, the second-in-command and the best friend of the epic hero.

In the 2018 Harry Potter fan-made film Voldemort: Origins of the Heir, the descendant of Rowena Ravenclaw is named Wiglaf Sigurdsson.

Legendary titles
Preceded by
King of the Geats Succeeded by

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Lines 2612-5.
  2. ^ Lines 2620-4.
  3. ^ Lines 2625b-2627.
  4. ^ Lines 2603-4.
  5. ^ Lines 2585-95.
  6. ^ Lines 2599-2600.
  7. ^ Lines 2631-60.
  8. ^ Line 2661.
  9. ^ Lines 2663-8.
  10. ^ Lines 2675-7.
  11. ^ Lines 2677-82.
  12. ^ Lines 2699-2702.
  13. ^ Lines 2697-8.
  14. ^ Lines 2708-9.
  15. ^ Lines 2752-82.
  16. ^ Lines 2799-2800.
  17. ^ Lines 2802-8.
  18. ^ Lines 2809-12.
  19. ^ Lines 2813-4.
  20. ^ He took eleven thanes (line 2401) plus the man who knew where the dragon's lair was (line 2406) for a total of thirteen men, counting Beowulf.
  21. ^ Lines 2864-91.
  22. ^ Line 2892.
  23. ^ Lines 3077-3109.
  24. ^ Lines 3120-36.
  25. ^ Gallacher, Patrick J. (Jan 1, 1989). Hermeneutics and Medieval Culture. Albany, New York: SUNY Press. p. 112-113. ISBN 0887067433. Retrieved 5 October 2017.
  26. ^ "Wiglaf". Behind the Name. Retrieved 5 October 2017.
  27. ^ Gallacher, Patrick J. (Jan 1, 1989). Hermeneutics and Medieval Culture. Albany, New York: SUNY Press. p. 113. ISBN 0887067433. Retrieved 5 October 2017.