The two examples I can name off the top of my head are from The 13th Warrior when Buliwyf, dying from the mother's poison, fights his final battle and wins regardless, and in David Gemmell's Drenai Cycle when Druss fights his final defense of Dros Delnoch after being poisoned in an earlier duel, managing to die of his wounds rather than that poison.

I'm sure there are any number of other examples; I'm wondering what the first use of this particular version of the hero's last stand was (in fantasy or science fiction)?

Important note the hero in these cases is poisoned by the people he's fighting.

  • 2
    Sounds like an ancient Greek myth to me, but I can't think of an actual example. "Hamlet" is an earlyish example. Commented Aug 28, 2018 at 17:51
  • @ToddWilcox There's a Greek myth about guys who poisoned themselves before battle to make themselves more ruthless/fearless in the face of the enemy, can't find the name but that's not really what I'm after.
    – Ash
    Commented Aug 28, 2018 at 17:53
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    Is this specifically a speculative fiction trope? It seems like it's about something in fiction in general.
    – Adamant
    Commented Aug 28, 2018 at 18:00
  • 2
    But is it on topic? If it's not about science fiction and fantasy, but occasionally shows up there and elsewhere, it's not really about SF, is it? We wouldn't field questions about why the first girl or boy gets their partner, even if it shows up in paranormal YA a lot. Or about the origin of the wise, elderly mentor figure, or the comical stereotyped foreigner.
    – Adamant
    Commented Aug 28, 2018 at 18:04
  • 1
    @Ash - Maybe. Or maybe not. I mean, Hamlet is barely fantasy (just the plot device of the ghost) and not at all epic.
    – Adamant
    Commented Aug 28, 2018 at 18:11

3 Answers 3


We can at least go as far back as Hamlet (ca. 1602), as can been seen in this synopsis from Act V, scene ii:

Laertes tells Hamlet that he, too, has been slain, by his own poisoned sword, and that the king is to blame both for the poison on the sword and for the poison in the cup. Hamlet, in a fury, runs Claudius through with the poisoned sword and forces him to drink down the rest of the poisoned wine. Claudius dies crying out for help. Hamlet tells Horatio that he is dying and exchanges a last forgiveness with Laertes, who dies after absolving Hamlet.


A Greek mythic hero, Philocthetes (alternately Philoctetes) had suffered a poisoned wound during his exile on Lemnos (mentioned in the Iliad), which never healed. During the Trojan War, he was chosen by (deified) Herakles to fight Paris in single combat, with the promise that his wound would finally be healed by one of the sons of Esclapius; in one version, he did in fact kill Paris with arrows.

Later in the same tale, he was chosen as one of the warriors to hide inside the Trojan Horse.

  • The story of the Trojan war is a myth, not fantasy, as defined by our Meta.
    – Valorum
    Commented Sep 3, 2018 at 6:30
  • @Valorum Then Norse myth ought to be in the same category.
    – Zeiss Ikon
    Commented Sep 4, 2018 at 11:04

In Norse mythology, during Ragnarök, Thor kills the Midgard serpent, Jörmungandr, but is poisoned during the fight and only walks nine steps before collapsing. These legends date back prior to the 12th century.

  • The story of the Trojan war is a myth, not fantasy, as defined by our Meta
    – Valorum
    Commented Sep 4, 2018 at 11:15

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