How big was the dragon's head, anyway?
At the end of Beowulf
[ Warning: Spoilers ]
, the dragon attacks the hero and Wiglaf for the third time. Hot and grim in battle, but apparently not spewing as many flames as it had in the previous two attacks (because then the heroes had to crouch behind an iron shield), it rushes on Beowulf and seizes him around his neck with bitter teeth (literally " with bones," which we reasonably take as "with teeth" and some translators use "with tusks"). Blood wells out of Beowulf's wounds.
But Wiglaf and Beowulf work together to kill the dragon: Wiglaf stabs it in the belly, which reduces the fire, and Beowulf cuts or pierces it in the middle to finish it off.
Unfortunately, the dragon turns out to have had poison venom, and so Beowulf's wound swells and swells some more, and the poison enters into the king of Geats and eventually kills him.
So my question is: How big was the dragon's head, and how long were it's teeth? Because I'm having trouble picturing a 50-foot long dragon (we learn of this length when the Geats tip its body over the cliff ) that can get its teeth near someone's neck without just taking the head right off.
The largest Tyrannosauras rex ever found is 42 feet long. So this dragon is longer than a full-grown T. rex. Picture the head: how do you put a couple of teeth into Beowulf's neck and not--even by accident--just gobble him up? The teeth are the size of bananas: if they are touching his neck, his head is coming off.
So we can conclude that the dragon must have a much smaller head and much shorter teeth. I'm picturing something like a really large python, like the dead one in this video:
Pythons have short, needly little teeth for gripping rather than killing, so if the dragon had teeth like a python, it could latch on to Beowulf's neck without taking his head off. My guess is that the venom must have been delivered not by injection through a hollow fang (like snakes in the families Viperidae or Elapidae), but through abrasion of the skin allowing the entry of venomous saliva (as is done by the Colubridae, most of which have back fangs and often don't inject venom but just cut the skin with sharp teeth--which is why of all the colubrids--about 67% of all snake species--only the boomslang regular kills humans).
It's still difficult to picture a 50-foot long creature that can bite a neck and not sever a head, and it makes me wonder how clear a picture the poet had in mind when he was creating the scene.