"So should a man be, a thane in need!" the poet exclaims of Wiglaf. Wiglaf retrieves riches from the dragon's cave and places it where Beowulf may view it at Beowulf's instruction. When the hero demands to know its value, Wiglaf replies, "Not even my lord knows that."
Thus do they greet one another; thus ends their conversation. Wiglaf has been well trained by his master, Odda, and he shows himself to be a worthy opponent for Beowulf. He is also given a noble death - fighting against Grendel with his own sword!
Now let us return to the story...
The youthful Wiglaf resembles the young Beowulf encountered in the poem's early portions. He, too, is a man of strength, loyalty, and bravery. Beowulf takes his finest soldiers with him to battle the dragon. He orders them to stay on the barrow and battle the monster alone. Only when this attempt fails does Beowulf go to help them.
Wiglaf proves himself to be a worthy successor to Beowulf as king by fighting bravely in many battles against great enemies. He also serves Beowulf well by managing the kingdom while he is away from home. When Beowulf returns home after defeating the sea serpent, he finds that the people have elected Wiglaf as their new king.
Like Beowulf, Wiglaf is capable of loving kindness as well as courage. When the two men fight a terrible dragon together, it is Wiglaf who kills the beast with Beowulf's sword. After the death of the dragon, Wiglaf builds a monument for Beowulf in his own kingdom. This shows that he honors his former master even though they were rivals for power in the court of King Hrothgar.
However, only one of them will become king. Wiglaf is chosen by the people because he is a better leader than Beowulf.
Beowulf's entourage follows him to the barrow where the dragon awaits. Wiglaf is a youthful Geatish warrior who serves in Beowulf's entourage. When all of Beowulf's other thanes, or lords, desert him, Wiglaf remains steadfastly faithful to his king, encouraging and supporting him. Later, when it becomes apparent that Beowulf must fight the dragon alone, Wiglaf goes with him.
Wiglaf is one of the few characters in ancient English literature who is named after a real person. In fact, the name "Wiglaf" means "the quick-witted" or "the wise". Although the original form of the name is unknown, it has been suggested that it may have been composed of elements meaning "wolf" and "guardian". No matter what its origin might have been, the reader should know that this character is not only quick-witted but also brave and loyal as well.
In modern adaptations, Wiglaf usually serves as a companion to Beowulf. Like Beowulf, he is a noble from across the sea who has arrived in England to claim his throne. However, unlike Beowulf, who fights against his brother's wishes to protect him, Wiglaf fights alongside Beowulf until the end. No matter how great or difficult their circumstances might be, both Wiglaf and Beowulf remain loyal to each other until the very last moment of their lives.