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Here is a large part of a medieval Norse text that describes mermaids, mermen, and the awful kraken among other oddities.


1. The son states the purpose of the work, useful as he considers it to be both as a King's Mirror [handbook for rulers] and as a handbook for a wider audience.

First part. The merchant and the natural world

2. The dialogue between father (himself a kingsman) and son begins
3-4. The business and customs of the merchant
5. The sun and the winds
6-7. The sun's course
8. The marvels of Norway
9. Scepticism about the genuineness of marvels
10-11. Marvels of Ireland
12-15. Marvels of the Icelandic sea (eg. whales and Kraken) and of Iceland (eg. volcanoes, springs)
16-20. Marvels of Greenland, its waters, animals, products, climate, etc. [with the Merman and Mermaid]
21. Cold and hot zones of the earth
22-23. Navigation, winds and seasons

Second part. (1) The king and his court

24. The king and his court
25. The importance of courtesy () in the royal service
26. Advantages from serving in the king's household
27. Classes among the kingsmen (konungsmenn): hirdmenn, gestir, general officials and officials who serve the king abroad
28. Honoured position of kingsmen
29. The hirð, top layer of kingsmen
30. How to approach the king for a post in the hirð
31. Why not to wear a mantle in the king's presence
32-34. Rules of speech and conversation in the king's hall
35-36. Relation between the quality of crops and the moral standard of government
37. Duties, activities and entertainments of royal guardsmen
38. Weapons of offence and defence
39. Military engines
40-41. Proper manners and customs at the royal court

Second part. (2) Truth and justice

42. God's justice
43-4. Responsibilities and position of the king
45. The importance of leniency in the king's judgment
46-49. The importance of severity in the king's judgment, and the Fall of Lucifer
50-53. Further discussion of the relation between justice, peace and mercy
54. The king's prayer
55. The king's judicial business (again)
56. Speech of wisdom
57-58. The king's judicial business (again)
59-60. Mercy and severity of judgment
61-62. Capital punishment
63. God's judgment in the story of David and Saul
64-65. Judgments of Solomon (eg. with reference Shimei and Adonijah)
67. Solomon's broken promise to Joab
68. When to keep or break promises
69. Kingship, church and God
70. The authority of kings and bishops

The complete work, Konungs kuggsjá (Medieval Norwegian), or Speculum regale in Latin, has been translated into English and German.

Professor Laurence Marcellus Larson's English translation from 1917 is on the Internet. You can compare the text below - abstracts, quotations and renditions - with it as you like. Book data is near the bottom of the page.

Preliminary Matter

Look to the best people, not to most people. Sjå på dei beste, ikkje på dei fleste. - The King's Mirror

The title of the work means "King's mirror". In Latin it is Speculum regale, in modern Norwegian either Kongsspegelen (Nynorsk Norwegian) or Kongespeilet (Bokmål Norwegian). Larson informs: "It is believed that the title came into use in Europe in imitation of Hindu writers who wrote "Mirrors of Princes." (p. 7n)

The book reflects the cultural level attained at the Norwegian court after 110 years of civil war in Norway, where some two dozen rival kings and pretenders waged wars to claim the throne, and wiped out each others. That period was

utterly unfitting to record for posterity the crimes, killings, perjuries, parricides, desecration of holy places, the contempt for God, the plundering no less of the clergy than of the whole people, the abductions of women and other abominations which it would take long to enumerate,

in the opinion of the Norwegian Benedictine Theodoricus the Monk, who wrote a history of Norway in Latin around 1180. The civil warfare got a lot worse afterwards, and wiped out most of the old aristocracy. (WP, "Civil war era in Norway")

The last pretender to wage war against King Håkon Håkonsson was defeated in 1240, bringing more than 100 years of civil wars to an end. The King's Mirror was written around 1250, during his reign, and is a monumental, Norwegian educational text. It contains fantastic, naval stories about kraken, mermaids, and also stories from Sunnmøre and Ireland that are hard to believe.

A krake is a legendary sea monster of gargantuan size, said to have dwelt off the coasts of Norway and Iceland. "The sheer size and fearsome appearance attributed to the beasts have made them common ocean-dwelling monsters in various fictional works."

A mermaid is a sea woman with a human head and torso and the tail of a water animal such as a seal. [Wikipedia, sv. "Kraken" and "Mermaid"]

A Son Asks, a Father Answers

The oldest complete and extant manuscript of the King's Mirror is from 1275. The work deals with politics and morality. It is a dialogue between father and son, and was devised for the education of King Magnus Lagabøte, who was the son of King Håkon Håkonsson, or for the sons of Magnus. It is "for all", though, as its foreword tells.

The son asks, and is advised by his father about practical and moral matters, such as trade, fit conduct, strategy and tactics. The relationship between church and state is also dealt with. There is also advice on seafaring and trading. Example: "A merchant must often put his own life at stake . . . almost each time among alien nations."

There are seventy chapters: a prologue and two main parts. In the prologue, the father deals with merchants and kingsmen, mainly. Further, the second main part may perhaps be subdivided into two sections, one centered on court matters and one on meting out justice.

The unknown author may have been from Trondelag or Trondheim, and some think he must have been a prominent member of the Norwegian court. He had knowledge in theology and astronomy, and Norwegian and foreign literature. He knows the earth is round, and that there are people on the other side of it. And there is quite demanding advice in it, such as,

Bear in mind not to let one day pass where you have not learnt something useful, if you want to be called wise.

The King's Mirror is not unique. In medieval European texts there are many "Kingly Mirrors", including a Swedish one, called Konungastyrelsen (Um styrilse konunga ok höfdinga) from the 1330s. The King's Mirror and Konungastyrelsen are unrelated.

On this page the main effort is to hand over many good fruits of the Norwegian work.

Capsules from Larson's Foreword

What was true of Iceland was also true of Norway - the spirits were active, the arts flourished, and the North added her contribution to the treasures of European culture.

The poems and tales of those virile days, the eddas and sagas, are too familiar to need more than a mention in this connection. But the fact is not so commonly known that the medieval Northmen were thinkers and students as well as poets and romancers. They, too, were interested in the mysteries of the universe, in the problems of science, and in the intricate questions of social relationships. Their thinking on these matters was less slavish to venerable authority than what was usual among medieval writers.

The purpose of the King's Mirror is utilitarian and didactic. The author has before him a group of serious and important problems, which he proceeds to discuss. In his effort to make his language clear, definite, and intelligible, the author sometimes finds it necessary to repeat and restate his ideas.

Many of its chapters display rare workmanship.

My aim has been to reproduce the author's thought faithfully.

The importance of the King's Mirror as a source of information in the study of medieval thought was first brought to my attention by Professor Julius E. Olson of the University of Wisconsin.

Professor Larson then names three more helpful professors, and his wife, and ends his foreword by "L. M. L., University of Illinois, August, 1917".


Below you get gist of 72 pages by Dr Larson, in slightly more than a tenth of the length, and with some additions for perspective.

In the 1200s all the Norwegian colonies except those in Ireland, were made subject to the Norwegian crown: these were the Isle of Man, the Hebrides, the Orkneys, the Shetlands, the Faroes, Iceland, and Greenland.

In the first half of the 1200s the men and women of the North began to take an interest in the Arthurian romances and other tales that had found their way into Norway. Arthurian romances were in part made and spread by Norman bards on top of Celtic myth and other tales, and Normans were "warlike Scandinavians" who alarmed others much, say Icelandic story tellers and many historians.

Samples of what the historian Reginald Allen Brown (1924–89) writes about the goings of Normans are here: [Brown on Normans]

Professor Rolf Nordhagen (1894-1979) showed or proved some years ago that the rather tasty little and useful plant Conopodium majus grows wild along the Norwegian coast, and for most part is unknown in Denmark and Sweden. The same plant is found just where the vikings settled in Normandy and England. This "norse peanut" (the plant) indicates that the Northman settlers in Normandy were Norwegians, tells Nordhagen. His paper is termed Et avgjørende botanisk bevis på at Rollon kom fra Norge og at det var nordmenn som grunnla Normandie (A decisive botanical proof that Rollo came from Norway and that it was Norwegians that founded Normandy) The paper was published by Norge-Normandie foreningen, Oslo, 1979.

Icelandic sagas state much of the same about which Scandinavian settled in Normandy, and goes into detail in some of the medieval sagas, including the Orkney Saga. Norse and traditional French versions in the matter are linked together. Also worth noting is that the Danish chronicles by Saxo Grammaticus (1160 – c. 1220) never mention any Danish Rollo. Rollo's origin is disputed.

Back to the King's Mirror

In the 1200s a learned Norwegian writer undertook a task which was somewhat of the encyclopedic type. Some time during the reign of Hakon IV that Norseman wrote the Speculum Regale, or King's Mirror, which has been called "one of the chief ornaments of Old Norse literature." The King's Mirror is didactic, and was left unfinished for some unknown reason. The author appears to be an aged man.

Writes Dr Larson:

There is . . . reason to believe that the author of the King's Mirror was an independent thinker. (p. 8)

He came to his task with a well-stocked mind, with a vast fund of information gathered by travel and from the experiences of an active life. (p 9)

Many inaccuracies have crept into his quoted passages; in but very few instances does he give the correct wording of a citation. (p 9)

He had access to an Old Norse paraphrase of a part of the Old Testament (etc.). (cf. p 9n)

In one of his earlier chapters the author enumerates the chief subjects of a scientific character that ought to be studied by every one who wishes to be a successful merchant. These are the great luminaries of the sky, the motions and the paths of the heavenly bodies, the divisions of time and the changes that bring the seasons, the cardinal points of the compass, and the tides and currents of the ocean. I discussing these matters he is naturally led to a statement as to the shape of the earth. An astute mention: "If the earth is a globe, there is every reason to believe [that not] all cannot behold Christ coming in the clouds on the final day. (p 11-12)

The author of the King's Mirror believed in the Ptolemaic theory of a spherical form of the earth. In speaking of our planet he uses the term "earth-sphere". (p 13.)

The author . . . seems to believe that the earth is a sphere, that there are lands on the opposite side of the earth, and that these lands are inhabited. He also understands that the regions that lie beneath the midnight course of the sun in spring and summer must be thinly populated, as the sun's path on the opposite side of the earth during the season of lengthening days is constantly approaching nearer the pole. (p 14)

He believed in the encircling outer ocean. (p 14)

The author regards the polar zones as generally uninhabitable; still, he is sure that Greenland lies within the arctic zone; and yet, Greenland "has beautiful sunshine and is said to have a rather pleasant climate." (p 15)

The cold of Iceland he ascribes in great part to its position near Greenland: "for it is to be expected that severe cold would come thence, since Greenland is ice-clad beyond all other lands." (p 15-16)

Medieval scientists found the movements in the ocean a great mystery. Some ascribed the tides to the influence of the moon. Others believed that they were caused by the collision of the waters of two arms of the ocean. The author of the Speculum believes that the tides are due to the waxing and waning of the moon. (p 16-17)

He has heard that Gregory the Great believed that the volcanic eruptions in Sicily have their origins in the infernal regions. Our author is inclined to question, however, that there is anything supernatural about the eruptions of Mount Etna; but he is quite sure that the volcanic fires of Iceland rise from the places of pain. (p 17)

The author has a suspicion that earthquakes may be due to volcanic action, but sticks to handed-over explanations. The elder Pliny, who wrote his Natural History in the first century of the Christian era, seems to have held similar views: "I believe there can be no doubt that the winds are the cause of earthquakes." (p 17-18)

The author discusses the northern lights as one of the wonders of Greenland, and he speaks of whales as if they were limited to the seas about Iceland and Greenland . . . It is likely that the author merely wishes to emphasize the fact that the northern lights appear with greater frequency and in greater brilliance in Greenland than anywhere in Norway. (p 18-19)

Among the author's scientific notions very little that is really original can be found. (p 19)

Among the chapters devoted to scientific lore the author has introduced several which are ostensibly intended to serve the purpose of entertainment. In these chapters, which profess to deal with the marvels of Norway, Ireland, Iceland, Greenland, and the Arctic seas, he introduces his geographical data. (p 21)

He also gives a "description of the animal world of the northern seas to which there is no parallel in the earlier literature of the world." He enumerates twenty-one different species of whales and describes several of them with some fulness. He mentions and describes six varieties of seals and also gives a description of the walrus. The marvelous element is represented by detailed accounts of the "sea-hedges" (probably sea quakes) on the coasts of Greenland, the merman, the mermaid, and the kraken. But on the whole these chapters give evidence of careful, discriminating observation and a desire to give accurate knowledge. (p 21-22)

The account of the marvels of Ireland gives rise to certain problems . . . it must be remembered that Norway still had colonies as far south as the Isle of Man, and that Norsemen were still living in Ireland, though under English rule. When Hakon IV made his expedition into these regions in 1263, some of these Norwegian colonists in Ireland sought his aid in the hope that English rule might be overthrown. (p 22)

It has long been known that many of the tales of Irish wonders and miracles that are recounted in the Speculum Regale are also told in the Topographia Hibernica by Giraldus Cambrensis. The famous Welshman wrote his work several decades before the King's Mirror was composed; and it is not impossible that the author of the latter had access to the " Irish Topography." (p 22)

The author seems to have written largely from memory, and his memory is not always accurate. (p 26)

Having discussed the subjects which he considers of chief importance for the education of a merchant, the learned father proceeds to describe the king's "business". For the part which deals with the royal court, it is probable that no literary sources were used. The author evidently wrote from long experience. (p 26)

Northmen, though they lived far from the great centers of culture, were always in close touch with the rest of the world. In the earlier centuries the viking sailed his dreaded craft wherever there was wealth and plunder and civilized life. After him and often as his companion came the merchant who brought away new ideas along with other desirable wares. After a time Christianity was introduced from the southlands. As a result of such influences and still others, the life of courtesy in the Northern countries was reshaped. (p 27)

The impact of the crusader and the pilgrim and German influences began to be felt in Scandinavian lands, and the wide activities of the Hanseatic merchants. It is told in the King's Mirror that a new mode of dressing the hair and the beard had been introduced from Germany. It is significant that the routes usually followed by Norwegian pilgrims who sought the Eternal City [Rome] and the holy places in the Orient ran through German lands. As a rule the pilgrims traveled through Jutland, Holstein, and the Old Saxon territories and reached the Rhine at Mainz. (p 27-28)

Concerning the people of the Old Saxon or German lands an Icelandic scribe makes the following significant remark: "In that country the people are more polished and courteous than in most places and the Northmen imitate their customs quite generally." (p 28)

The cultural influences which followed in the wake of the returning crusaders were no doubt largely of Frankish origin. (p 28)

The author of the King's Mirror urges his son to learn Latin and French. (p 28)

One of the reasons why the son wishes to master the mercantile profession is that he desires to travel and learn the customs of other lands. (p 28-29)

It is likely that English culture found its way into the North along with the French. When King Sigurd sailed to the Orient in 1107, he spent the winter of 1107-1108 at the English court. (p 28n)

In the thirteenth century the Norwegian trade still seems to have been largely with England and the other parts of the British Isles. It is also important to remember that the Norwegian church was a daughter of the church of England, and that occasionally English churchmen were elevated to high office in the Norwegian establishment. (p 29)

Embassies also came quite frequently from the imperial court in Germany. It was during the reign of Hakon IV that the Hohenstaufens were waging their last fight with the papacy, and both sides in the conflict seemed anxious to secure the friendship of the great Norwegian king. (p 29-30)

Norwegian diplomacy was concerned even with the courts of the infidel: in 1262 an embassy was sent to the Mohammedan sultan of Tunis "with many falcons and those other things which were there hard to get. And when they got out the Soldan received them well, and they stayed there long that winter." (p 31)

Cardinal William of Sabina was a papal legate to crowning of King Hakon. The coronation ceremony was performed in Bergen, July 29, 1247. At the coronation banquet the cardinal made a speech in which he called particular attention to the polished manners of the Northmen. (p 31)

The crusades attracted the Norwegian warriors and they took a part in them almost from the beginning. (p 32)

The Faroese-born Sverre was a resourceful captain who warred and won the crown of Norway. [Sverre Sigurdsson (c. 1145/1151 - 1202) was king of Norway from 1184 to 1202. On his death bed, Sverre appointed his sole living son, Håkon, as his heir and successor and advised him to seek reconciliation with the Church.] King Sverre was a man with strong literary interests (p 38, 38n)

Among the Northmen of the 1200s learning was not confined to the clergy. (p 39)

The author's contention is that kingship is of otherworldly origin. (p 42) Norwegian kings of heathen times claimed to be descendants of gods, and at least one troll: King Rolv in Heidmark is presented as a descendant of a jotun (a "troll") called Svade (p 43). (The Orkneyingers' Saga, ch. 2) (p 43)

On most points the learned father preaches the conventional principles of the church with respect to right and wrong conduct. Besides, "Much depends on the example that a man leaves after him." (p 49, 50)

Private warfare was allowed almost everywhere in the middle ages. But on this point . . . the author urges moderation. "When you hear things in the speech of other men which offend you much, be sure to investigate with reasonable care whether the tales be true or false." (p 50-51)

He justifies punishment by arguing that it was better for the criminal to suffer a swift punishment in death than to suffer eternally in hell. (p 51)

The King's Mirror is a medieval document; it was in large part inspired by the course of events in Norway during the century of the civil wars; it records the scientific and political thought of a certain definite period in Norwegian history. (p 53)

In matters of science the author is less credulous than others who wrote on these subjects in his own century or earlier. (p 53)

It is probably in the field of education where this Northman is farthest in advance of his time. The King's Mirror teaches that merchants must also be educated: they must learn the art of reckoning and those facts of science that are of interest to navigators; they must study languages, Latin, French, and Norwegian; and they must become thoroughly acquainted with the laws of the land. But the author does not stop here: a merchant should also educate his children. "If children be given to you, let them not grow up without learning a trade; for we may expect a man to keep closer to knowledge and business when he comes of age, if he is trained in youth while under control." (p 53-54)

The author was at one time a prominent member of the royal retinue; he asserts in several places that such was the case. He knows the Latin language; he is well acquainted with sacred history; he has read a considerable number of medieval books. (p 55)

In the centuries following its composition the King's Mirror appears to have had wide currency in the North. (p 65-68)


The Work

1. Introduction: Name and Purpose of the Work

I saw a vast multitude walking wearily along the paths that slope downward from the highways of virtue into error and vice. Some were unable to find the bypaths that led back to the highways of virtue. The destruction of this multitude was due, it seemed to me, to various causes.

I thought it would be better to seek my father's counsel than to reach a decision which might displease him. He was a wise and kind man, and he was pleased when he heard that my errand was to learn right conduct. He promised to make known to me all the usages that are most properly observed by each craft that I might ask about. Finally he promised to show me the bypaths that those may take who wish to return from wrong roads to the highway.

I began by asking about the activities of merchants and their methods. Next I began to inquire into the customs of kings and other princes and of the men who follow and serve them. I closed by inquiring into the activities of the peasants and husbandmen who till the soil.

When my father had given wise and sufficient replies to all the questions that I had asked, certain wise and worthy men that were present, asked me to note down all our conversations and set them in a book, so that our discussions should not perish, but prove useful and enjoyable to many. I did as they advised and asked for. But whoever has clear and proper insight will realize that, if a book is to develop these subjects fully, it will have to be a much larger work than this one.

If anyone wishes to be informed as to proper conduct, courtesy, or comely and precise forms of speech, he will find and see these therein along with many illustrations and all manner of patterns, as in a bright mirror. In it one may read of the manners of kings as well as of other men.

A king, with his court and all his servants, ought to observe the most proper customs, so that in them his subjects may see good examples of proper conduct, uprightness, and all other courtly virtues. Besides, every king should observe first his own conduct and next that of the men who are subject to him. And he should reward all whose conduct is good . . .

The book is intended for everyone as a common possession. I believe that no man will be considered unwise or unmannerly who carefully observes everything that he finds in this work which is suited to his mode of living, no matter what his rank or title may be.

We ask all good men who hear this book to give it careful thought and study; and if there should be anything which seems necessary to the work but has not been included, whether concerning morals and conduct or discreet and proper forms of speech, let them insert it in proper form and connection. And if they find any matters which seem to impair the work or to have been discussed at too great length, let them discreetly remove all such and thus in kindness help our work to be appreciated in proper spirit.

2. ". . . The Beginning of Wisdom"

Son. I pray you to listen with patience to the questions that I have in mind to ask and kindly answer each one.

Father. I am pleased to have you come often to see me, for there are many subjects we ought to discuss. I shall be glad to hear what you wish to inquire about and to answer such questions as are discreetly asked.

Son. Now as I am the lawful heir to your worldly possessions, I should also like to share somewhat in the heritage of your wisdom as far as I am able to learn from you.

Father. It pleases me to hear you speak in this way, and I shall be glad to answer; for it is a great comfort to me that I shall leave much wealth for my own true son to enjoy after my day. I will show you the basis and the beginning of all wisdom, as a great and wise man once expressed it: One should fear the bear at all times for men's sake [- for those who have nothing better to do . . .].*

* NOTE. The "fear of the Lord" is replaced with "fear of the (figurative) bear". The bear is said to have the strength of twelve men and the wisdom of ten. Further, some possibly drugged norsemen fought "like bears", wearing bear skins. They went berserk, as it is called, and Samson did too, when the Spirit of the Lord fell on him, the Old Testament tells . . .

Son. This is indeed such counsel as one might expect from you. Still, it will surely be necessary to take up many things that pertain to the various crafts.

Father. Through the alphabet one learns to read books, and in the same way it is always better the more crafts are added to this art.

3. The Activities and Habits of a Merchant

Father. Although I have been a kingsman rather than a merchant, I have no fault to find with the calling of travelling abroad to observe the customs of other men.

Son. Please inform me as to the practices of such men that seem to be capable, true merchants.

Father. The man who is to be a trader will have to brave many perils, sometimes at sea and sometimes in heathen lands, but nearly always among alien peoples; and it must be his constant purpose to act discreetly wherever he happens to be. On the sea he must be alert and fearless.

When you are in a market town, or wherever you are, be polite and agreeable; then you [may] secure the friendship of [some] good men. Make it a habit to rise early in the morning. When church services are over, go out to look after your business affairs. Observe carefully how those who are reputed the best and most prominent merchants conduct their business. Also be careful to examine the wares that you buy before the purchase is finally made to make sure that they are sound and flawless. And whenever you make a purchase, call in a few trusty men to serve as witnesses as to how the bargain was made.

You should keep occupied with your business, if necessity demands it, till midday; after that you should eat your meal. Keep your table well provided and set with a white cloth, clean victuals, and good drinks. Serve enjoyable meals if you can afford it. After the meal you may either take a nap or stroll about a little while for pastime and to see what other good merchants are employed with, or whether any new wares have come to the borough which you ought to buy. On returning to your lodgings examine your wares, lest they suffer damage after coming into your hands. If they are found to be injured and you are about to dispose of them, do not conceal the flaws from the purchaser: show him what the defects are and make such a bargain as you can; then you cannot be called a deceiver. Also put a good price on your wares, though not too high, and yet very near what you see can be obtained; then you cannot be called a foister.

Whenever you have an hour to spare you should give thought to your studies, especially to the law books; for those who are the most learned have the best proofs for their knowledge. I regard no man perfect in knowledge unless he has thoroughly learned and mastered the customs of the place where he is sojourning. And learn languages widely used, first of all, and do not neglect your native tongue or speech.

4. The Same Subject Continued

Son. The good fortune is here to learn your counsels and to remember them after they are learned. If you think there are any other important matters that ought to be taken up here, I shall be glad to listen with attention.

Father. There are certain matters which should not be omitted. They can be stated in a few words. Train yourself to be as active as possible, though not so as to injure your health. Try rather to be friendly and genial at all times, of an even temper and never moody. Be upright and teach the right to every man who wishes to learn from you. Always associate with the best men. Guard your tongue carefully. Though you be angry speak few words and never in passion; for unless one is careful, he may utter words in wrath that he would later give gold to have unspoken. It is fit to keep one's tongue from foul or profane speech, tattling, or slanderous talk in any form. If children be given to you, let them not grow up without learning a trade; for we may expect a man to keep closer to knowledge and business when he comes of age, if he is trained in youth while under control.

Drinking, harlots, quarrelling, and throwing dice for stakes you must shun. For upon such foundations the greatest calamities are built. Few only are able to live long without blame or sin.

Observe carefully how the sky is lighted, the course of the heavenly bodies, the grouping of the hours, and the points of the horizon. Learn also how to mark the movements of the ocean and to discern how its turmoil ebbs and swells; for that is knowledge which all must possess who wish to trade abroad. Learn arithmetic thoroughly, for merchants have great need of that.

Be prompt to render enforced payments, for your own good. It is easier to be cautious beforehand than to crave pardon afterwards. If you can dispose of your wares at suitable prices, do not hold them long; for it is the wont of merchants to buy constantly and to sell rapidly.

Buy shares in good vessels or in none at all. Keep your ship attractive, for then capable men will join you and it will be well manned. Be sure to do your travelling while the season is [fit, if not] best. Keep reliable tackle on shipboard at all times, and never remain out at sea in late autumn, if you can avoid it. If you attend carefully to all these things, you may hope for success. If you wish to be counted a wise man, you ought never to let a day pass without learning something that will profit you. A man must regard it as great an honor to learn as to teach, if he wishes to be considered thoroughly informed.

Whenever you travel at sea, keep on board two or three hundred ells of wadmal of a sort suitable for mending sails, if that should be necessary, a large number of needles, and a supply of thread and cord. It may seem trivial to mention these things, but it is often necessary to have them on hand. Remember to carry such things with you on shipboard, whenever you sail on a trading voyage and the ship is your own. When you come to a market town where you expect to tarry, seek lodgings from the innkeeper who is reputed the most discreet and the most popular among both kingsmen and boroughmen. Always buy good clothes and eat good fare if your means permit. Never keep unruly or quarrelsome men as attendants or messmates. Though necessity may force you into strife, be not in a hurry to take revenge; first make sure that your effort will succeed and strike where it ought. Be sure to maintain your honour.

If your wealth takes on rapid growth, invest it. And be cautious in selecting partners. Watch with care over the property. Bring [your merchandise] faithfully to the place to which it was originally promised.

If you have much capital and it is invested in different places, it is not likely that you will suffer losses in all your wealth at one time: more likely it will be secure in some localities, though frequent losses be suffered. If the profits of trade bring a decided increase to your funds, draw out twothirds and invest them in good farm land, for such property is generally thought the most secure, whether the enjoyment of it falls to one's self or to one's kinsmen. Discontinue your own journeys at sea or as a trader in foreign fields as soon as your means have attained sufficient growth and you have studied foreign customs as much as you like. Keep all that you see in careful memory, the evil with the good; remember evil practices as a warning, and the good customs as useful to yourself and to others who may wish to learn from you.

5. The Sun and the Winds

Son. One must first try to determine what is most worth learning and afterwards to keep in mind all that he has heard. You urged me to learn the lights of the sky and the movements of the ocean. May I become somewhat better informed on these subjects: how the lights of the sky and the course of the heavenly bodies wax and wane; how the time of the day is told and the hours are grouped; but especially how the ocean moves. Sometimes the ocean appears so blithe and cheerful that one would like to sport with it through an entire season; but soon the life and property of those who have anything to do with it can be endangered. If you are disposed to explain, I shall listen gladly and attentively.

Father. I can give such an explanation as seems most reasonable. The sun brings light and warmth to all the earth. He eases griefs and turns a bright countenance toward his neighbours.

When strong winds have subsided, there will be fair sailing for you or any others who wish to travel to foreign shores or steer their ships over the perils of the ocean. Learn thoroughly when one may look for dangerous seasons and bad routes, or when times come when one may risk everything.

Even unwitting beasts observe the seasons, though by instinct. Even the fishes, in the spring after the roe has come, they lay the spawn and bring forth a vast multitude of young fishes and in this way increase their race, each after its kind and class. It shows great forethought for unintelligent creatures to provide so carefully, and to bring forth their offspring at the opening of spring, so that they may enjoy the calm weather of summer and search for food in peace and quiet along the wide shores; for thus they gather strength enough in summer.

As spring advances the birds soaring high into the air rejoice with beautiful songs. Soon they build nests and lead birdlings forth from them, each after its kind. Thus they increase their species and care for their young in the summer.

Unclean and repulsive beasts display insight and understanding in their ability to determine the proper time to increase their kind and to come out of their dens. Wild beasts that seek their food in woods or on the mountains know well how to discern the seasons; they bring forth their young when the grass is fresh.

The ant teaches kings how to build castles and fortresses; in the same way it teaches the merchants and the husbandmen with what industry and at what seasons they ought to pursue their callings. Observe carefully the activities of the ant, note many things and derive much profit from them.

6. The Tides and the Changes in the Course of the Sun

Son. The waxing of the sun, the moon, and the streams or tides of the ocean, how much and how rapidly these things wax and wane. These things especially touch the welfare of seafaring men, and it looks to me as if they would profit much from a knowledge of these matters, since it gives insight into the right conduct of their profession.

Father. The tide rises and ebbs [in ways you may study in an almanac] . . . As to how long an hour should be, there should be twentyfour hours in a night and a day. The moon, while it waxes, completes its course in 14 days and 18 hours, and in a like period it wanes until the course is complete and another comes. At this time the flood tide is highest and the ebb strongest. But when the moon has waxed to half, the flood tide is lowest and the ebb, too, is quite low. At full moon the flood tide is again very high and the ebb is strong. But when it has waned to half, both ebb and flood are quite low.

7. The Subject of the Sun's Course Continued

Son. You have said that in many places both snow and ice lie all through summer just as in winter, as is true of Iceland and particularly of Greenland. But I have heard that in the southlands there are no severe winters, while in summer the earth cannot endure the fervent heat of the sun and consequently yields neither grass nor grain; so that in the land of Jerusalem the heat of summer causes as great distress as the cold of winter with us. If you clear this up for me so that I can grasp it, I shall listen gladly and attentively.

Father. If you take a lighted candle and set it in a room, you may expect it to light up the entire interior, unless something should hinder. The earthcircle is round like a ball. Where the curved surface lies nearest the sun's path, there will the greatest heat be; and some of the lands that lie continuously under the unbroken rays cannot be inhabited. On the other hand, those lands which the sun approaches with slanting rays may readily be occupied. The lands nearest the sun are always hottest. Apulia and Jerusalem are hotter than our own country; but you must know that there are places where the heat is greater than in either of those, for some countries are uninhabitable on account of the heat.

Here with us in winter the day and the course of the sun are brief; in many places the sun is not to be seen during a large part of winter, for example in Halogaland. In the southlands, the sun is hotter there; the sun is more distant here, for it gives less heat.

8. Marvels of Norway

Son. Seafaring traders ought to . . . be able to determine what seas they are upon, whether they lie to the north or to the south. And now let us turn our conversation to matters of a lighter sort, for my mind is often as eager for amusement as for things of useful intent.

Father. You have thus far inquired into such matters only as seem very pertinent; you are therefore free to ask whatever you wish; for if the questions do not seem appropriate, we are at liberty to drop them as soon as we like.

Son. I have asked too little about Ireland, Iceland, and Greenland, and all the wonders of those lands, such as the various kinds of fish and the monsters that dash about in the ocean, or the boundless ice, what the Greenlanders call the "northern lights".

Father. Many a man is inclined to be suspicious and think everything fiction that he has not seen with his own eyes. I know my statements to be true, inasmuch as I have seen some of these things with my own eyes and have had daily opportunity to inquire about the others from men whom we know to be trustworthy and who have actually seen and examined them, and therefore know them. My reason for bringing up this objection is that a little book has recently come into our country. It is said to have been written in India and recounts the wonders of that country. Now it is the belief of most men who have heard the book read, that such wonders are impossible and mere falsehood. But if our own country were carefully searched, there would be found no fewer things here than are numbered in that book which would seem as wonderful to men of other lands who have not seen or heard anything like them. That little book has, however, been widely circulated, though it has always been questioned and charged with falsehood.

9. Popular Doubts about Marvels

Son. Do tell more about those matters that we might think strange in other lands, but which we know are surely genuine. There are many things in our own country, which, though not strange to us, would seem wonderful to other people.

But if I should express surprise at any of those tales that are told in that book, it [is that] that manikins are able to subdue great winged dragons which infest the mountains and desert places there and tame them so completely that men are able to ride them just as they please, like horses to be tamed and to do service.

Father. There is no need to compare the wonders that are described in the Indian book with those that we have in our own country. It must be possible to tame wild beasts and other animals, though they be fierce and difficult to manage. But it would seem a greater marvel to hear about men who are able to tame trees and boards, so that by fastening boards seven or eight ells long under his feet, a man, who is no fleeter than other men when he is barefooted or shod merely with shoes, is made able to pass the bird on the wing, or the fleetest greyhound that runs in the race, or the reindeer which leaps twice as fast as the hart.

For there is a large number of men who run so well on skis that they can strike down nine reindeer with a spear, or even more, in a single run. What skill and cleverness on the mountain side. In other places, where men are not trained to such arts, it would be difficult to find a man, no matter how swift, who would not lose all his fleetness if such pieces of wood as we have talked about were bound to his feet.

Here the sun shines as bright and fair and with as much warmth by night as by day through a large part of the summer.

In our own country, in More [Sunnmøre], there is a bog called the Bjarkudal [Bjørkedal] bog, which must also seem wonderful: for every sort of wood that is thrown into it and left there three winters loses its nature as wood and turns into stone. I have seen and handled many such stones of which the half that rose above the mire was wooden, while the part submerged in the bog was wholly petrified. As soon as a tree is thrown into the bog, it turns into stone.

10. Wonders of Ireland

Son. I am familiar with all these things, and I have seen them all. But about Iceland, Greenland, and Ireland, and the seas about those lands, I have heard rumors only.

Father. Those lands differ much in character and are not all of the same appearance. For the wonders of Iceland and Greenland consist in great frost and boundless ice, or in unusual display of flame and fire, or in large fishes and other sea monsters. And these countries are everywhere barren and unfruitful and consequently almost unfit for habitation. But Ireland comes near being the best land that is known to man, though the grape vine does not grow there.

The country lies where heat and cold are so well tempered that the weather is never hot or very cold. For all through the winter the animals find their feed in the open, and the inhabitants wear almost no clothes. And no venomous animal can exist there, either snake or toad. When such animals are brought in from other countries, they die. If you take a stick of wood which has come from Ireland and trace a circle around snakes and toads with it by scratching the soil with the stick, they will soon all lie dead within the circle.
    It is told of Ireland that the inhabitants of the country are by nature fierce and murderous and very immoral. But they have never slain any of the saints who are so numerous in the land, though they have dealt savagely with each other.

There is a lake in that country, Logechag. If you take a stick of the wood that some call holly but is called acrifolium in Latin and fix it in the lake so that part of it is in the earth, a part in the water, and a part rising above, the part in the earth will turn into iron, the part in the water into stone, while that which stands out above will remain as before. But if you set any other sort of wood in the lake, its nature will not change.

Again, there are two springs on a mountain called Blandina, which is almost a desert mountain. One of them has this property that if you take either a white sheep, cow, or horse, or a man with white hair, and wash any one of these with the water, the white will immediately turn to coal black. And such is the nature of the other spring in that place that if a man washes himself in its water, his hair will turn to a snowy white as if he were an aged man, no matter what its color be before, whether red or white or black.

There is also a lake in that country, called Loycha. In that lake there is what appears to be a little floating island; for it floats about in the lake, here and there approaching the shore sometimes so near that one may step out upon it; and this occurs most frequently on Sundays. And such is the property of this islet that if one who is ill steps out upon it and partakes of the herbs that grow there, he is healed at once, no matter what his ailment may be. Never more than one can come upon it at one time, though many may wish to do so; for as soon as one has landed, the island immediately floats away. Every seventh year, as soon as the one such island has joined the mainland, another appears, though no one knows where it comes.

There is another little island in that country, which the natives call Inhisgluer. There is a large village on this island and also a church; for the population is about large enough for a parish. But when people die there, they are set up around the church along the churchyard fence, and there they stand with their limbs all shriveled but their hair and nails unmarred. They never decay and birds never light on them.

There is another large lake which the natives call Logherne. In this lake there is a great abundance of salmon; and the fish is sent into all the country about in such quantities that all have plenty for table use.

It once happened in that country that a living creature was caught in the forest. No one could say definitely whether it was a man or some other animal; for no one could get a word from it. It had the human shape, however, the entire body was covered with hair as the beasts are, and down the back it had a long coarse mane like that of a horse, which fell to both sides and trailed along the ground when the creature stooped in walking.

11. A Look at the Irish

Son. I consider it fortunate that I had some curiosity to know about these matters.

Father. Certain things are told, of which we cannot be sure whether they are credible or merely the talk of men, though they are common rumor in that country.

Once there was a holy man named Kevinus in Ireland. He lived in a place called Glumelaga. At the time he lived almost as a hermit. It so happened that a young man was living with him, a kinsman of his who was his servant, and the saint loved the youth very much. But the lad fell ill before his eyes, and the malady grew so heavy and severe that death seemed imminent. It was in the spring time, in the month of March, when the man's illness was at the worst.
    The youth asked his kinsman Kevinus to give him an apple, saying that he would find relief from his illness if he got what he asked for. It seemed unlikely, however, that apples could be gotten in that season, as the buds had only just begun to swell and sprout forth leaves on the fruit trees. But because the holy Kevinus grieved sorely over the illness of his kinsman, and also because he was unable to procure what he had requested, he knelt down in prayer and implored God to send him somewhat of those things, so that his kinsman might find the relief that he yearned for.
    Having risen from prayer, he stepped outside and looked around. Near the house stood a willow of large growth. Kevinus looked up among the branches of the willow as if expecting to find help and comfort there; then he saw that apples had grown upon the willow, just as there would be on an apple tree in the proper season.
    He picked three apples and gave them to the youth, and after the lad had eaten of these, his illness began to leave him and he was cured of the malady.
    But the willow has ever since continued to keep the gift; every year it bears apples like an apple tree, Saint Kevinus' apples. Those who eat of them appear to get relief. But they are not sweet.

In that country there is also a place called Themar. All the people in the land believed that the king who resided at Themar would always render just decisions and never do otherwise. They held firmly to their belief that never could an unrighteous decision come from his throne. The king had a handsome and well built castle with a large and beautiful hall. There he was used to sit in judgement.
    But once it happened that certain lawsuits came before the king for decision in which his friends and acquaintances were interested on the one side,. The outcome was that the king shaped his decision more according to his own wish than to justice.
    As a result the judgement seat was overturned and the hall and the castle likewise, and thus it has been ever since. It is the loveliest place known in all that country.

It is told that when the holy Patricius [i.e., Patrick] preached Christianity in Ireland, there was one clan which opposed him more stubbornly than any other people. When he was preaching to them, they adopted the plan of howling at him like wolves. When he saw that he could do very little, he grew very wroth and prayed God to send some form of affliction upon them.
    Later all the members of that clan are changed into wolves for a period and roam through the woods feeding upon the same food as wolves; but they are worse than wolves, for in all their wiles they have the wit of men, though they are as eager to devour men as to destroy other creatures.

When hostile forces meet and are drawn up in two lines and both set up a terrifying battlecry, it happens that timid and youthful men who have never been in the host before are sometimes seized with such fear and terror that they lose their wits and run away into the forest.
    If these people live in the woods for twenty winters in this ways feathers will grow upon their bodies as on birds; these serve to protect them from frost and cold, but they have no large feathers to use in flight as birds have. But so great is their fleetness said to be that it is not possible for other men or even for greyhounds to come near them.

In the borough called Cloena there is a church. One Sunday while the populace was at church hearing mass, it happened that an anchor was dropped from the sky, and one of the flukes of the anchor got caught in the arch above the church door. The people all rushed out of the church and marveled much as their eyes followed the rope upward. They saw a ship with men on board floating before the anchor cable; and soon they saw a man leap overboard and dive down to the anchor as if to release it. The movements of his hands and feet and all his actions appeared like those of a man swimming in the water. When he came down to the anchor, he tried to loosen it, but the people iat once rushed up and tried to seize him.
    The bishop was present when this happened and forbade his people to hold the man; for, said he, it might prove fatal as when one is held under water. As soon as the man was released, he hurried back up to the ship; and when he was up the crew cut the rope and the ship sailed away out of sight. But the anchor has remained in the church since then as a testimony to this event.

Long time ago a clownish fellow lived in Ireland. His name was Klefsan. It is told there never was a man who, when he saw Klefsan, was not compelled to laugh at his amusing and absurd remarks, even if a man was heavy at heart. But Klefsan fell ill and died and was buried in the churchyard like other men. He lay long in the earth until other corpses were buried in the same churchyard, and graves were dug so near the place where Klefsan lay that his skull was unearthed, and was whole. They set it up on a high rock in the churchyard. Whoever comes to that place and sees that skull and looks into the opening where the mouth and tongue once were, at once begins to laugh, even though he were in a sorrowful mood before he caught sight of that skull.

12. The Marvels Of The Icelandic Seas: Whales; The Kraken

Son. Now let us have a talk about Iceland and the Icelandic seas.

Father. The whales vary much both in kind and size. There are small whales, such as the porpoise. The white whales are so named because of their snow white colour. The sort of whales called the "fish driver," drives the herring and all other kinds of fish in toward the land from the ocean outside. This is its duty and office as long as the fishermen keep the peace on the fishing grounds. It seemingly knows how to spare both ships and men. No one is permitted to catch or harm them, since they are of such great and constant service to men.

There are certain varieties that are fierce and savage toward men. One of these is called the "horse whale," and another the "red comb." They never grow tired of slaying men. They roam about in all the seas looking for ships, and when they find one they leap up, for in that way they are able to sink and destroy it the more quickly. These fishes are unfit for human food.

There is still another sort called the narwhal, which may not be eaten for fear of disease, for men fall ill and die if they eat of it. It rather tries to avoid fishermen. The whale is so fond and careful of its tusk that it allows nothing to come near it.

The humpback is large and very dangerous to ships. It has a habit of striking at the vessel with its fins and of lying and floating just in front of the prow where sailors travel. Though the ship turn aside, the whale will continue to keep in front, so there is no choice but to sail upon it; but if a ship does sail upon it, the whale will throw the vessel and destroy all on board.

The Greenland whale is very cleanly in choice of food; for people say that it subsists wholly on mist and rain and whatever falls into the sea from the air above. When one is caught and its entrails are examined, nothing is found in its abdomen, for the abdomen is empty and clean. It cannot readily open and close its mouth, for the whalebone which grows in it will rise and stand upright in the mouth when it is opened wide; and consequently whales of this type often perish because of their inability to close the mouth.

The kind of whale called the rorqual is the best of all for food. It is of a peaceful disposition and does not bother ships, though it may swim very close to them. This fish is of great size and length; it is one hundred and thirty ells. Because of its quiet and peaceful behavior it often falls a prey to whale fishers. It has been asserted that if one can get some of the sperm of this whale and be perfectly sure that it came from this sort and no other, it will be found a most effective remedy for eye troubles, leprosy, ague, headache, and for every other ill that afflicts mankind. Sperm from other whales also makes good medicine, though not so good as this sort.


There is a fish not yet mentioned which it is scarcely advisable to speak about on account of its size, which to most men will seem incredible. There are, moreover, but very few who can tell anything definite about it, inasmuch as it is rarely seen by men; for it almost never approaches the shore or appears where fishermen can see it, and I doubt that this sort of fish is very plentiful in the sea. In our language it is usually called the "kraken." I can say nothing definite as to its length in ells, for on those occasions when men have seen it, it has appeared more like an island than a fish. Nor have I heard that one has ever been caught or found dead. It seems likely that there are but two in all the ocean and that these beget no offspring, for I believe it is always the same ones that appear. Nor would it be well for other fishes if they were as numerous as the other whales, seeing that they are so immense and need so much food. It is said, that when these fishes want something to eat, they are in the habit of giving forth a violent belch, which brings up so much food that all sorts of fish in the neighborhood, both large and small, will rush up in the hope of getting nourishment and good fare. Meanwhile the monster keeps it mouth open, and inasmuch as its opening is about as wide as a sound or fjord, the fishes cannot help crowding in great numbers. But as soon as its mouth and belly are full, the monster closes its mouth and thus catches and shuts in all the fishes that just previously had rushed in eagerly to seek food."

13. The Wonders of Iceland

Son. What do you think of the extraordinary fire which rages constantly in that country? Does it rise out of some natural peculiarity of the land, or can it be that it has its origin in the spirit world? And what do you think about those terrifying earthquakes that can occur there, or those marvelous lakes, or the ice which covers all the higher levels?

Father. As to the ice that is found in Iceland, I am inclined to believe that it is a penalty which the land suffers . . .

Greenland is iceclad beyond all other lands. Since Iceland gets so much cold from that side and receives but little heat, it necessarily has an overabundance of ice on the mountain ridges.

The extraordinary fires which burn there possess a strange nature. I have heard that in Sicily there is an immense fire of unusual power which consumes both earth and wood. But men are more inclined to believe that there must be such places of torment in those fires in Iceland. The fire of Iceland will burn neither earth nor wood, though these be cast upon it; but it feeds upon stone and hard rock and draws vigor from these as other fires do from dry wood. And never is rock or stone so hard but that this fire will melt it like wax and then burn it like fat oil. It seems most likely that it is the fire of hell.

In Iceland there are springs which boil furiously all the time both winter and summer. At times the boiling is so violent that the heated water is thrown high into the air. But whatever is laid near the spring at the time of spouting, whether it be cloth or wood or anything else that the water may touch when it falls down again, will turn to stone.

But if the fire should have its origin in some peculiarity of the country, the most reasonable theory as to the formation of the land seems to be that there must be many veins, empty passages, and wide cavities in its foundations. At times it may happen that these passages and cavities will be so completely packed with air, either by the winds or by the power of the, roaring breakers, that the pressure of the blast cannot be confined, and this may be the origin of those great earthquakes that occur in that country.

Now we have merely tried to bring together and compare various opinions in order to determine what seems most reasonable. And in case it is as we have imagined, it is likely that the great earthquakes of that country originate in the power of those mighty fires that well through the bowels of the land.

14. The Volcanic Fires of Iceland

Son. Gregory has written in his Dialogues that there are places of torment in Sicily; but to me it seems more likely that those places are in Iceland. You also said that so vast are the fires in the bowels of the land that earthquakes arise out of their Violent movements. Now, one can ask many questions that reveal youth rather than wisdom.

Father. There are places of torment in Iceland even in places where there is no burning; for in that country the power of frost and ice is as boundless as that of fire. There are those springs of boiling water which we have mentioned earlier. There are also icecold streams which flow out of the glaciers with such violence that the earth and the neighboring mountains tremble; for when water flows with such a swift and furious current, mountains will shake because of its vast mass and overpowering strength. It seems evident to me that wherever such great violence appears and in such terrible forms, there surely must be places of torment. Those men who will not beware of evil deeds and unrighteousness, while they live on earth, may expect to suffer torment when they leave this world. We hear exactly the same things about the tortures of hell as those which one can see on the island called Iceland: for there are vast and boundless fire, overpowering frost and glaciers, boiling springs, and violent icecold streams.

15. Other Icelandic Wonders: Ore and Mineral: Springs

Father. There are a few other things which I may discuss, if you wish. In that country there is an abundance of the ore that iron is made of: it is called "swampore". It has happened at times that great deposits of this ore have been found, and men have prepared to go thither the next day to smelt it and make iron of it, only to find it gone, and none can tell what becomes of it. This is called the "oremarvel" in that country.

There is still another marvel. It is reported that in Iceland there are springs which men call alesprings. They are so called because the water that runs from them smells more like ale than water; and when one drinks of it, it does not fill as other water does, but is easily digested and goes into the system like ale. There are several springs in that country that are called alesprings; but one is the best and most famous of all; this one is found in the valley called Hiterdale. It is told about this spring, or the water flowing from it, that it tastes exactly like ale and is very abundant. It is also said that if drunk to excess, it goes into one's head. If a house is built over the spring it will turn aside from the building and break forth somewhere outside. It is further held that people may drink as much as they like at the spring; but if they carry the water away, it will soon lose its virtue and is then no better than other water, or not so good.

Now I cannot recall anything else in Iceland that is worth mentioning.

16. The Marvels of the Waters about Greenland: Monsters, Seals, and Walruses

Son. Now let us call to mind what is worth noting in the waters of Greenland or in the land itself and the wonders that are to be seen there.

Father. It is reported that the waters about Greenland are infested with monsters. People have stories to tell about them, so men must have seen or caught sight of them. It is reported that the monster called merman is found in the seas of Greenland

The Merman

It is reported that the monster called merman is found in the seas of Greenland. This monster is tall and of great size and rises straight out of the water. It appears to have shoulders, neck and head, eyes and mouth, and nose and chin like those of a human being; but above the eyes and the eyebrows it looks more like a man with a peaked helmet on his head. It has shoulders like a man's but no hands. Its body apparently grows narrower from the shoulders down, so that the lower down it has been observed, the more slender it has seemed to be. But no one has ever seen how the lower end is shaped, whether it terminates in a fin like a fish or is pointed like a pole. The form of this prodigy has, therefore, looked much like an icicle. No one has ever observed it closely enough to determine whether its body has scales like a fish or skin like a man. Whenever the monster has shown itself, men have always been sure that a storm would follow. They have also noted how it has turned when about to plunge into the waves and in what direction it has fallen; if it has turned toward the ship and has plunged in that direction, the sailors have felt sure that lives would be lost on that ship; but whenever it has turned away from the vessel and has plunged in that direction, they have felt confident that their lives would be spared, even though they should encounter rough waters and severe storms.

The mermaid

Another prodigy called mermaid has also been seen there. This appears to have the form of a woman from the waist upward, for it has large nipples on its breast like a woman, long hands and heavy hair, and its neck and head are formed in every respect like those of a human being. The monster is said to have large hands and its fingers are not parted but bound together by a web like that which joins the toes of water fowls. Below the waist line it has the shape of a fish with scales and tail and fins. It is said to have this in common with the one mentioned before, that it rarely appears except before violent storms. Its behavior is often somewhat like this: it will plunge into the waves and will always reappear with fish in its hands; if it then turns toward the ship, playing with the fishes or throwing them at the ship, the men have fears that they will suffer great loss of life. The monster is described as having a large and terrifying face, a sloping forehead and wide brows, a large mouth and wrinkled cheeks. But if it eats the fishes or throws them into the sea away from the ship, the crews have good hopes that their lives will be spared, even though they should meet severe storms.

"Sea hedges"

Now there is still another marvel in the seas of Greenland, the facts of which I do not know precisely. It is called "sea hedges," and it has the appearance as if all the waves and tempests of the ocean have been collected into three heaps, out of which three billows are formed. These hedge in the entire sea, so that no opening can be seen anywhere; they are higher than lofty mountains and resemble steep, overhanging cliffs. In a few cases only have the men been known to escape who were upon the seas when such a thing occurred. We have to speak cautiously about this matter, for very few who have escaped this peril and are able to give us tidings about it.

Ice and ice

As soon as one has passed over the deepest part of the ocean, he will encounter such masses of ice in the sea. Sometimes these ice fields are as flat as if they were frozen on the sea itself. They are about four or five ells [an ell is about 18 inches] thick and extend so far out from the land that it may mean a journey of four days or more to travel across them. It has frequently happened that men have been caught in the ice floes. Some of those who have been caught have perished; but others have got out again, and we have met some of these and have heard their accounts and tales.

There is also ice of a different shape which the Greenlanders call icebergs. In appearance these resemble high mountains rising out of the sea. In those waters - there are species of seals.


There still remains another species which the Greenlanders count among the whales. These are called walrus, The walrus has, in addition to the other small teeth, two large and long tusks, which are placed in the front part of the upper jaw and sometimes grow to a length of nearly an ell and a half. Its hide is thick and good to make ropes of; it can be cut into leather strips.

17. The Animal Life of Greenland and the Character of the Land in Those Regions

Son. I am curious to know why men should be so eager to fare there, where there are such great perils to beware of, and what one can look for in that country which can be turned to use or pleasure. What do the people who inhabit those lands live upon. I should also like to know whether you regard it as mainland or as an island.

Father. When people go to that country, one motive is fame and rivalry, for it is in the nature of man to seek and thus to win fame. A second motive is curiosity, for it is also in man's nature to wish to [explore] things. The third is desire for gain; for men seek wealth wherever they have heard that gain is to be gotten, though, on the other hand, there may be great dangers too.

But in Greenland whatever comes from other lands is high in price, for this land lies so distant from other countries that men seldom visit it.

In return for their wares the merchants bring back the following products: buckskin, or hides, sealskins, and rope of the kind that we talked about earlier which is called "leather rope and is cut from the walrus, and also the teeth of the walrus.

There are men among those who are counted the wealthiest and most prominent who have tried to sow grain as an experiment; but the great majority in that country do not know what bread is, having never seen it.

I believe that few know the size of the land. It evidently contains a number of such animals as are known to live on the mainland but rarely on islands. Hares and wolves are very plentiful and there are multitudes of reindeer. There are bears, too, in that region; they are white, and people think they are native to the country, for they differ very much in their habits from the black bears that roam the forests. These kill horses, cattle, and other beasts to feed upon; but the white bear of Greenland wanders most of the time about on the ice in the sea, hunting seals and whales and feeding upon them. It is also as skillful a swimmer as any seal or whale.

Only a small part of the land thaws out, while all the rest remains under the ice.

There is much marble in those parts that are inhabited; it is variously colored, both red and blue and streaked with green. There are also many large hawks in the land, which in other countries would be counted very precious, white falcons, and they are more numerous there than in any other country; but the natives do not know how to make any use of them.

18. The Products of Greenland

Son. What do the people who inhabit the land live on?

Father. Men can live on other food than bread. It is reported that the pasturage is good and that there are large and fine farms in Greenland. The farmers raise cattle and sheep in large numbers and make butter and cheese in great quantities. The people subsist chiefly on these foods and on beef; but they also eat the flesh of various kinds of game, such as reindeer, whales, seals, and bears. That is what men live on in that country.

19. The Climate of Greenland; the Northern Lights

Son. I gather from what you have said that the ocean is deep and also very salt and always in commotion; and I did not suppose that it could freeze readily there. But now, since the land is constantly frozen over in both winter and summer, I wish to ask you to tell me exactly how the climate is in Greenland: if the weather is always unpleasant. And what is that thing which the Greenlanders call the northern lights?

Father. I can at least tell you what men have conjectured, the most reasonable opinions.

All the land that lies between the hot and the cold belts can be occupied; but the lands differ somewhat, so that some are hotter than others.

You asked whether the sun shines in Greenland. The land has beautiful sunshine and is said to have a rather pleasant climate. When winter is on, the night is almost continuous; but when it is summer, there is almost constant day. When the sun rises highest it has sufficient strength, where the ground is free from ice, to warm the soil so that the earth yields good and fragrant grass.

As to those lights which the Greenlanders call the northern lights, I have no clear knowledge. Thoughtful men will form opinions and conjectures about it and will make such guesses as seem reasonable and likely to be true. But these northern lights have this peculiar nature, that the darker the night is, the brighter they seem. The light is very changeable. But as night declines and day approaches, the light begins to fade; and when daylight appears, it seems to vanish entirely.

I know of no other facts about Greenland that seem worth discussing or mentioning.

20. The Subject of the Northern Lights Continued

Son. It looks strange to me that you consider Greenland as having a good climate, even though it is full of ice and glaciers. It is hard for me to understand how.

Father. Wherever the earth is thawed under the ice, it always retains some heat down in the depths. In the same way the ocean under the ice retains some warmth in its depths.

As for the climate of Greenland, when storms come, they are more severe than in most other places, both with respect to keen winds and vast masses of ice and snow. In the meantime the weather is fair, though the cold is intense.

21. The Zones of Heat and Cold

Son. You said that both sides of the earth are cold, the southern as well as the northern. But I hear it said by all men who come from the regions to the south that the farther south one travels, the hotter the lands are. And during the summer the south wind is still warmer than other winds.

Father. If I have stated this correctly, it will be evident that the cold must be as severe in the southern parts as in the northern. I believe, however, that all the regions lying near the hot belt, whether on the south side or on the north, are also hot; but I believe those lands to be frigid which lie very far in either direction. You have stated that all men tell us that the farther south one travels, the greater the heat; but that, I believe, is due to the fact that you have never found any one who has traveled as far south of the hot belt as those lands which we have now talked of lie to the north. And if people live as near the cold belt on the southern side as the Greenlanders do on the northern, I firmly believe that the north wind blows as warm to them as the south wind to us. For they must look north to see the midday and the sun's whole course, just as we, who dwell north of the sun, must look to the south.

The sun rises higher in the north when its path declines in the south: and when its course begins to decline in the north, it begins to wax on the southern side.

You should also know that the change from day to night is due to the movements of the sun.

22. The Winds with Respect to Navigation

Son. Some time ago you said that whoever wishes to be a merchant ought to be prepared early in spring, and be careful not to remain out at sea too late in the autumn.

Father. The seas are not all alike, nor are they all of equal extent. Small seas have no great perils, and one may risk crossing them at almost any time; for one has to make sure of fair winds to last a day or two only, which is not difficult for men who understand the weather. And there are many lands where harbors are plentiful as soon as the shore is reached. If the circumstances are such that a man can wait for winds in a good haven or may confidently expect to find good harbors as soon as he has crossed, or if the sea is so narrow that he needs to provide for a journey of only a day or two, then he may venture to sail over such waters almost whenever he wishes.

But where travel is beset with greater perils, one needs to use great caution.

From the beginning of October the sea begins to grow very restless, and the tempests always increase in violence as autumn passes and winter approaches.

It is no longer advisable for men to travel overseas from shore to shore because of great perils: the days shorten; the nights grow darker; the sea becomes restless; the waves grow stronger and the surf is colder; showers increase and storms arise; the breakers swell; the sailors become exhausted, the lading is lost, and there is great and constant destruction of life. The better plan is to sail while summer is at its best, if there has been careful and wise forethought.

I consider it a more sensible plan for a man to remain quiet as long as much danger may be looked for, and to enjoy during the winter in proper style and in restful leisure what he laboured to win during the summer. First of all a man must have care for his own person; for he can have no further profit, if it fares so ill that he himself goes under.

23. The Proper Season for Navigation. End of the First Part

Father. Men may venture out upon almost any sea except the largest as early as the beginning of April. For at that time storms weaken, and quiet follows.

Keep carefully in mind all these things. First fix in your mind all the facts; and later you shall have a chance to ask further questions, if you should wish to do so.

24. Introduction to the Second Part: The King and His Court

Son. More is to be expected from those who take thought than from those who forget. I delight to learn while I have the opportunity.

Father. Just ask just as you like.

Son. It seems to me advisable to ask about those things that I am interested in, while I have sure opportunity to learn. And while there is opportunity we should learn what we do not know, for this reason especially, that we cannot be sure of a chance to inquire when it seems most needful to seek knowledge.

Now after having learned the trader's mode of living and how to travel in unknown lands, it might happen that I should want to visit the king's court, and therefore I should like to learn from you, while here at home, such manners as are most needful to know, when one is at court, though it is not sure that I shall have to use them.

Father. Customs at court are by no means of one sort only. Those who are higher in the service often differ much in manners and deportment. As a rule the men who observe the better customs are unfortunately fewer than those who are moderately courteous, or scarcely so much.

25. The Importance of Courtesy in the Royal Service

Son. It would be most profitable to learn what is best and most useful - more difficult to grasp than those subjects which are of but slight value or wholly worthless. Do point out the customs which seem good to you and which are surely needful to learn if one wishes to serve a king with honour, and which to shun and beware of. Good breeding counts [Added].

Father. If your fate should be to serve at court and you wish to be called courtly and polite, beware of what happens to those who come to court without manners and leave without refinement.

I shall explain to you why some return from there rude and unpolished. When a dull man fares to court, it is as when an ignorant fellow travels to Jerusalem, or a simpleton enters a good school. An ignorant man who has been to Jerusalem believes himself well informed and tells many things about his journey, though chiefly what seems worthless to a knowing man, or mere sport and foolery.

In the same way the simpleton who comes from school believes himself to be perfectly educated; he struts about and shows great disdain whenever he meets one who knows nothing. But when he meets one who is a real scholar, he himself knows nothing. So it is, too, when stupid men come to the king's court: they promptly seek out men of their own kind and learn from them such things as are most easily grasped and into which they had gotten some insight earlier; but this is mere folly and unwisdom. And when they return from court, they will display such manners and courtesy as they learned there. And yet, many who come from strange places, whether from other lands or courts, will behave in this way; but when those who have remained at home find that these men bring great tidings, they come to regard them at once as thoroughly informed, both as to customs and happenings, seeing that they have visited alien peoples and foreign lands; and this is most often the case with dull men.

Now if you aim at good breeding, beware lest you fall into such unwisdom.

26. The Advantages Derived from Service in the King's Household

Father. Some prefer being at court to living in the country (though in the king's service their labour is as burdensome, or more so) because, though they are of excellent kinship, they have little wealth and cannot engage in trade on account of their poverty. If they take up work in the country, they find many who have more wealth, though they are no higher in kinship, or scarcely so high. And when quarrels arise, the rich find protection in their wealth and thrust the poor aside, so that these can get no justice in their law suits. Consequently such men think it better to toil in security at court than without protection in the country.

Others may have committed manslaughter or have come into other difficulties which make it urgent for them to seek security in the king's power.

Some there are, too, who always find pleasure in being in a throng; they also feel more secure there, whatever may happen.

27. The Various Classes among the Kingsmen

Father. Observe that every man cannot become perfect in all courtly customs and manners just as soon as he sees the king and his men; for a man will have to be both quickwitted and quick to learn, who, if he lacks in breeding, is to learn perfect courtliness in a year's time. And there are many at court who have spent a large part of their lives there and have daily opportunities to see good deportment, and yet they never become either courtly or well-bred.

28. The Honoured Position of the Kingsmen

Son. Concerning the duties of those men of whom you spoke last: what profit can such men as have an abundance of wealth and kinsmen find in the king's service and in binding themselves to his service with the housecarle name as their only title?

Father. To be called a king's housecarle is not to be despised as a title of derision; but it is a name of great honour.

29. The Superior Order of Kingsmen: The Hird

Son. The multitude is fickle-minded and the one unfair toward the other.

Father. We must now speak about the title of hirdmen. Some bear that title rightfully, but to many it is a nickname. Hirdmen guard the king's life and person both night and day. They are, in a sense, stewards of the realm. And they can be made to suffer a well deserved but ignominious death.

30. How a Man Who Wishes to Apply for Admission to the Royal Household Service Should Approach the King

Father. But if you find that the king is in merry mood and has no business to take up of such importance that you may not very well state your errand, wait, nevertheless, till he has nearly finished his meal.

Wear your best clothes, and wear trousers of black fur. Be sure to have your hair and beard carefully trimmed according to the fashions of the court.

Now when you seem to be in proper state to appear before the king both as to dress and other matters, and if you come at a suitable time and have permission from the doorkeeper to enter, you must have your coming planned . . . Form the habit of holding your head up and your whole body erect, but do not walk too slowly.

When standing before the king, you should dispose of your hands in such a way that the thumb and forefinger of the right will grasp the left wrist; and then let your hands drop slowly before you as seems most comfortable.

While you are seeking to gain the king's favor, you will need above all to keep close to the best and most discreet men, and you should often be seen in the company of those who are dearest to the king. Pay all the necessary outlay out of your own means, however long this probation may last, unless you should sometime be invited by the king's order to his tables.

Walk uprightly and be heedful, lest evil befall you through lack of foresight.

31. Why One Should Not Wear a Mantle in the Royal Presence

Father. Many things look stupid to the multitude which are considered proper in the presence of kings and other great men.

Many are envious of a king; and if his enemy is rash and bold, he can indeed come before the king with hidden perils and murderous weapons, if he is allowed to wear his mantle; but he cannot easily accomplish this if he comes without his cloak. It is therefore evident that he was a wise man who first ordained the formality that a man should appear without a mantle before great lords and especially before kings. For that custom has since led to greater security.

32. Rules of Speech and Conversation in the King's Hall

Father. Keep carefully in mind, while in the king's presence, that you ought not to engage in conversation with other men and thus fail to pay heed to everything that the king says, lest it happen, if he addresses a remark to you, that you have to ask what he said. For it looks particularly bad in. Still, it can very often come to pass when one is in a lord's presence, that other men crowd about him and ask questions of many sorts.

Have friendly words ready for the one who breaks into a conversation between the king and you and reply in this wise: "Wait a moment, my good man, while I listen a while to what the king says; later I shall be pleased to talk with you . . ." If he still tries to have further words with you, speak no more to him then until the king has finished his remarks.

And if the king should happen to speak a few words to you which you did not catch, and you have to ask what he said, do not say "Eh?" or "What?" or make a fuss about it, but use only the word "Sire." But see to it that it happens in rare cases only that the king need to repeat his remarks to you more than once before you grasp them.

33. The Proper Uses of "You" and ''Thou"

Father. I do not see why you are searching into this matter . . .

34. The Same Subject Continued

Father. You must have care never to use the plural in expressions referring to yourself, lest you seem to regard yourself as on an equality with the one to whom you are speaking, if he is of higher rank than you are.

Beware when in the presence of princes, lest you become too verbose in your talk.

If you have a matter to present, whether it concerns yourself or others, present it clearly but with quick utterance and in the fewest possible words; if a man is clever and fluent in speech, he will find it easy to state his case in a few rapidly spoken words, so that the one who is to reply will grasp it readily.

If one is not an orator and is awkward in speech, the briefer the errand on his tongue, the better it is.

When a man makes an elaborate effort, he will surely seem the more unskillful the longer he talks.

Know this, too, that there are many who have spent a long time at court, and know but little or nothing about these things.

35. Concerning Failure of Crops and Dearth in Morals and Government

Son. Many remain a long time with the king and close to him in service, and still do not learn either what courtesy means or what courtly manners are. How can it be that a king who is well-bred and courteous and refined can be willing to keep men about his person to serve him, who refuse to live according to good manners. For I thought that in such a case the king would not care much for churlish men.

Father. Scarcity arises in many ways. Dearth may come upon the people who inhabit the land, or, what is worse, there may come failure in the morals, the intelligence, or the counsels of those who are to govern the land. For something can be done to help a country where there is famine, if capable men are in control and there is prosperity in the neighbouring lands. But if dearth comes upon the people or the morals of the nation, far greater misfortunes will arise.

For one cannot buy from other countries with money either morals or insight.

If the harvest fails on a peasant's farm that has always been good, he will plan to garner and store grass and chaff as carefully as he once garnered good and clean grain, or even more so, and in this way provide for his household as best he can, till times possibly improve. In this way, too, a king must act: he must rate the men of little wit as high as the wise were rated earlier while the kingdom stood highest in prosperity and morals. Something may also be gained through instruction; but the land must be maintained so that it may improve.

36. The Causes of Such Periods of Dearth and What Forms the Dearth May Take

Father. Some troubles originate in harmful characters. [Mod] I believe, however, that such misfortunes would rarely appear if the men who govern the realm were discreet and the king himself were wise.

If a king who has governed a kingdom should happen to die, and leave behind three or four sons . . . then that realm must be called a rudderless ship or a decayed estate; it may be regarded almost as a ruined kingdom. For the petty kings will each begin to survey his realm as to population and wealth; and when he recalls what his predecessor possessed, each will feel that he has too little. After that great wrath is blown out of them. Soon the love of kinship begins to decay. But when suspicion and evil rumors begin to appear, wicked men think that good times are at hand.

If it happens that one of these princes should wish to punish vices in his kingdom, the wicked take refuge in the service of some other master. But those who had to flee because of their evil conduct and lawbreaking soon begin to show hostility. They take revenge for their exile by carrying murder, rapine, and plundering into the kingdom. Nothing is now spared, and the morals of the nation go to ruin.

Great misfortunes will come upon the land. Some take their kinswomen or sisters-inlaw, while others seduce wives away from their husbands; and thus all forms of whoredom are committed.

Peasants and subjects or the unthinking mob seem to imagine that the king was appointed to be their opponent; And as soon as the foolish or the avaricious sees that he is held in high regard, even more than the wise with his even temper, and that his avarice and folly are turned to honour and advancement, he will become more grasping and will operate more widely in his greed, and he alone will be counted a worthy man who is grasping and knows how to detract unjustly from another's honour to his own profit.

In warfare the best men and those of the noblest kinship are destroyed.

And when such a time comes upon a nation, it will suffer loss in good morals and capable men, wealth and security, and every blessing.

37. The Duties, Activities, and Amusements of the Royal Guardsmen

Son. If the morals or laws of a kingdom are undermined by such troubles as you have described, the people who survive are likely to be both wicked and vicious.

Aa kingdom may be rendered worthless through loss of morals, population, and wealth. What great losses and damage may follow such events. Let no such times come. I ask you to point out the manners and customs which you think would be becoming to me, no matter what times might come.

Father. Be careful to join the service of the one who has obtained the power in the most legal manner and is most likely to observe the customs that rightful and well-bred kings have observed before his day.

This should be the first principle of all, never to let your heart be wanting . . . and next to love righteousness. [Abr] Be fair, upright, and temperate. Always keep in mind the day of death and guard carefully against vices.

Some have reached fame through good deeds. Some win fame by evil deeds, and descendants after their days have to bear the same dishonour. Those, however, are most numerous who drop away like cattle. Such is surely not the purpose of mankind. Man was created to enjoy the glories of both this and the other world, if he is to realize the purpose of his creation.

Take heed . . . These are things that you must especially avoid: perjury and false testimony, brothels, drinking bouts, except in the king's house or in decent gatherings, casting dice for silver, lust after bribes, and all other evil covetousness. Never get drunk, wherever you are [just in case]. Drunkenness should be avoided by everyone, and most of all by kingsmen and others reputed as worthy men. They ought to set good examples for all.

If you are a kingsman you must observe prudence in your address and habits, and do not forget this.

If the king should call you by name, be careful not to answer by "Eh?" or "Hm?" or "What?"

You may partake freely and quickly of both the food and the drink on the table according to your needs without suffering any discredit to your manners; but always take good heed not to get drunk.

Now if your comrades are planning to go from the king's apartments to some drinking bout or other merrymaking, and you too have the king's permission to seek diversion, you should prefer the forms of amusement which I shall now point out to you. Train your good steed; keep him clean and in good condition; keep him shod firmly and well.

But if you are some place where horses cannot be used for recreation, If you feel that it is important to be well trained in [certain] activities, go through the exercise twice a day, if it is convenient; but let no day pass, except holidays, without practicing [such] drill at least once; for it must be mastered to be of service.

There are certain sports that one can take up out of doors, if that is thought more diverting. For one thing, you may determine how far and how accurately you can throw a spear and do it effectively. It is also counted rare sport and pastime to take one's bow and go with other men to practice archery. Another pleasant and useful diversion is to practice throwing stone missiles. You may further train both hands alike to the use of weapons, if you find yourself gifted for it, inasmuch as those who are trained in that way are the most dangerous to their enemies.

Fight with proper and effective blows in battle such as you have already learned, that you may be able to match your opponent's skill in fighting.

It is well for men to be carefully trained; for one knows neither the time nor the hour when he shall have to make use of any particular kind of weapons. Collect many types of weapons while you still have no need of them; they are a good possession in times of necessity when one has to use them.

38. Weapons for Offense and Defense

Son. A man must prepare himself to meet his enemies in attack and defense.

Father. It seems needless to speak further about the equipment of men who fight on horseback.

39. Military Engines

Father. Weapons that are useful on ships or on horseback can also be used in attacking and defending castles; but there are many other kinds.

40. The Proper Manners and Customs of a Royal Court

Father. There are a number of things which a man should not fail to hear discussed and to reflect upon, if he is to attend on kings or other magnates. There are three things which one must observe with care: they are wisdom, good breeding, and courtesy. It is courtesy to be friendly, humble, ready to serve, to know how to behave properly while conversing or making merry with other men; to know precisely, when a man is conversing with women, whether they be young or older in years, of gentle or humble estate, how to select such expressions as are suited to their rank and are as proper for them to hear as for him to use.

In like manner when one speaks with men, whether they be young or old, gentle or humble, it is well to know how to employ fitting words and how to determine what expressions are proper for each one to take note of. Even when mere pleasantry is intended, it is well to choose fair and decent words.

It is also courtesy to know how to select one's clothes both as to colour and other considerations; and to know when to stand or sit [etc.].

It is also courtesy to refrain from sneers and contemptuous jests, to know clearly what churlishness is and to avoid it carefully.

It is good breeding to be agreeable with other men, and to be modest in demeanor; to walk a proper gait when on foot and to watch one's limbs carefully wherever one goes to make sure that each will move correctly and yet in a natural way.

It is good breeding, too, when one strolls about in a city among strangers, to keep silence and use few words, to shun turmoil and disgraceful tippling, to punish theft and robbery and all other foolish rioting.

It is also good breeding to avoid profanity, cursing, scolding - pernicious talk.

Be careful also never to appear as the advocate of stupid and dishonest men and especially not to support them in their impudence.

It is good breeding to shun dice, brothels and perjury, false testimony, and other lasciviousness or filthy behavior.

It shows good breeding to be cleanly in food and clothes; to take good care of the ships, horses, weapons, and buildings that one may possess; to be cautious and never rash and to be undismayed in times of stress; never to be ostentatious, domineering, or envious; and to shun arrogance and affectation in every form.

No one can attain to all these virtues unless he is also endowed with wisdom. These gifts will accompany wisdom: elegance in speech, eloquence, insight into proper conduct, and ability to discriminate between good manners and what passes for such in the sayings of foolish men, though they are in fact bad manners.

It is also wisdom to discern clearly what suits or what speeches delivered at court are based on reason and which ones are merely glib palaver and senseless verbosity.

It is also wisdom to have a clear appreciation, when decrees are rendered in the disputes of men, of how these are stated, so that not a word will be added or taken away, if one should need to know them at some later time.

It is also wisdom to know precisely what he may grant with propriety and in what matters he must be careful not to bind himself or those who come after him.

Finally, it is wisdom not to be strait-handed about things which one may just as well dispose of.

There is also great wisdom in moderation and righteousness. All forms of learning, insight, and good foresight which is necessary to courtesy and good breeding, to stewardship, government and the enforcement of law, - these, too, are akin to wisdom. And you will need to learn all this thoroughly, for the lives of men who have mastered this knowledge may bring great honour to themselves and profit to many others.

Wisdom has many forms; it springs from roots which have many branches. From these roots of wisdom rises the mightiest of all stems, which again divides into large boughs, many branches, and a multitude of twigs of different sizes, some small and some large.

41. The Same Subject Continued

Son. Those who have received only slender wands from the boughs of wisdom are more numerous than those who have received large branches. Therefore, do instruct me further in the art of choosing and laying hold on those branches which may prove useful to myself and others.

Father. These are the branches which are most useful: a rational outlook, a temperate mind, and the capacity to determine judiciously what one owes to every other man.

If you are angry with any man because of a law suit or some evil deed, take careful thought before seeking revenge, as to how important the matter really is and how great a retribution it is worth.

When you hear things in the speech of other men which offend you much, be sure to investigate with reasonable care whether the tales be true or false; but if they prove to be true and it is proper for you to seek revenge, take it with reason and moderation and never when heated or irritated.

Our mode of departure from this life is such that [solid] wealth cannot follow us out of the world. Yet, take heed that nothing is lost through your neglect or indifference.

You must keep your spirit calm and in good control when such events come to pass as may seem profitable to you and stir your heart to joy and gladness.

If high honours and dignities should come to you from a king or from other magnates, know how to receive them with modesty.

If you are awarded honours by great men, there are certain vices which you need especially to guard against: arrogant self-esteem, avarice that yearns for bribes, and forgetful neglect of the needs of men who are less capable than yourself.

42. A Discussion of How God Rewards Righteousness, Humility, and Fidelity, Illustrated by Examples Drawn from Sacred and Profane History

Father. Craton was a philosopher. It was also in his nature to speak little but truthfully (p. 242).

43. The Duties and the Exalted Position of the King

I see clearly that those who serve are in duty bound to strive after the best manners, knowledge, wisdom, and righteousness; but it would seem that those, who are chiefs and rulers and whom all others must serve, owe an even greater duty to seek both knowledge and insight; above all it must be their duty to love every form of righteousness,

Father. We may just as well talk about how the king has to order his government or his conduct as about other men. It surely is his bounden duty to seek knowledge and understanding, and he ought indeed to be well informed as to what has occurred in the past.

44. The Same Subject Continued


Every king, as you have said, ought, indeed, to be wise, well-informed, and above everything upright. He ought also to appear gracious and friendly toward all good men.

45. Concerning the Moderation Which a King Must Observe in His Judicial Sentences and Penalties, with Illustrations Drawn from the Story Of God's Judgment in the Case of Adam and Eve, in Which Case Truth and Justice Were Associated with Peace and Mercy

Son. A king must possess great constraint and an even greater sense of justice, if he is to find the true mean in meting out punishment so as to be neither too lenient nor too severe.

Father. Now the following examples . . . every king should keep them frequently before his eyes and seek guidance from them for the government of his kingdom.

Adam went forth to view the glories of Paradise. The serpent said to Eve: "Oho, my lady! The Lord does not wish you to become so wise that you know both good and evil; for He knows the difference between good and evil things, while you know good things only."

But when you have eaten of the apples of knowledge, you will become like God and will have knowledge of evil things as well as of good."

Then she took two of the apples of knowledge, ate one herself, and gave the other to Adam.

At midday God went forth to view the beauties of Paradise and Adam's stewardship; but as He did not see Adam in the wide fields, He called him, asking where he was.

A king ought to consider very carefully.

46. An Example of Righteous Severity in Judgment Drawn from the Story of God's Condemnation of Lucifer

47. A Further Discussion of Verdicts and Penalties with Illustrations from the Story of Lucifer's Rebellion and Downfall and of the Sin and Punishment of the First Man and Woman

Father. I do not care much to comment on my own remarks.

48. A Commentary on the Story of Lucifer

Father. The glosses to a speech are like the boughs and branches of a tree. First the roots send up a stem which again branches out into many limbs and boughs. And whatever limb you take, if you examine it with proper care, you will find it joined to the stem which originally sprang up from the roots; and all the boughs and branches draw nourishment from the roots from which the stem grows. [Cf. mind maps]

Who do you suppose it was that, standing by, heard Lucifer's boastful and treacherous words and quoted them afterwards?

Now if you investigate with care and precision everything that you hear told, you will not fall into error, no matter whether the comments that you hear be right or wrong.

Now gather from these things whatever you can that may give insight; but it does not seem necessary to discuss them further.

49. Instances in which God Has Allowed the Decision to Be Framed According to the Stern Demands of Truth and Justice

50. Other Instances in Which the Arguments of Peace and Mercy Have Had Greater Weight

Son. One will consequently need to ponder these things with careful attention and close thinking.

51. The Reasons for This Diversity in the Verdicts of God
52. The Same Subject Continued
53. Instances in Which God Has Modified His Sentences and the Reasons for Such Modifications

54. The King's Prayer

Father. A king ought to keep [excellent] examples frequently upon his lips and before his eyes, as may give insight for his own decisions . . . when he is sated with sleep.

"Let me suffer no greater temptations than my weakness can resist." The king should pray something like that.

55. A Further Discussion of the King's Business Especially His Judicial Duties

Father. Nevertheless, a king must be allowed to seek diversion now and then, so that his health and agility may be preserved. His chief business, however, is to maintain an intelligent government and to seek good solutions for all the difficult problems and demands which come before him.

When there is no official business brought before him, the king should meditate on the source of holy wisdom and study.

56. The Speech of Wisdom

Son. Do tell me something about this form of study, so that I may derive some insight from it. if possible.

Father. It ought not to cause displeasure to have one inquire closely into subjects which one is not likely to understand without some direction.

[Wisdom speaks:] Happy is he who shall live in my house. In my house are seven pillars. In each may be found the seven liberal arts of study. Furthermore, my house is hung with beauty and elegance, and splendor in every form. Among the humble I am a pleasant companion, but toward the proud I am stern and haughty. Happy is he who is found to be a sincere companion of mine; for I am constantly with my companions.

Every king should know thoroughly all the accounts that Wisdom has given of herself or wise men have written, and each day to ponder some part of those speeches, if the duties of his office leave him any time for that.

57. Difficult Duties of the King's Judicial Office with Illustrations

58. The Same Subject Continued

There are many such examples that could be brought up in this talk, if it were thought necessary. I is very important for those who are appointed to be judges to make sure whether the decisions are properly stated and the findings correct.

If the king had distorted a just decision he and his [kingdom] are punished [in time].

In the beyond the judge Stephen suffered a reprimand for having taken a gift from a friend; and he was condemned to die for having saved men from death, though many would regard that as a good rather than an evil deed.

59. When Judgements Should Be Severe and When They Should Be Merciful

Son. The more examples of this sort I hear, the more difficult seems the position of those who are appointed to judge.

Father. There are four things which he who goes into the judgement hall must leave outside and never allow to come into the judgement seat with him or even inside the door.

The first is avarice; the second, enmity; the third obstinacy; the fourth, friendship.

Being friendly to one side and very hostile to the other [may distort] a just decision.

Now for such reasons those four things must be excluded, lest any one of them should cause a righteous doom to be distorted.

If a man breaks the law and is ignorant and does not know that he is transgressing, and would not have done the deed had he known it to be contrary to law, his case calls for a lenient sentence.

Even in the ugliest cases one should investigate how the crime came about.

If a man can get no food and cannot get work, while hunger and his physical nature drive him beyond endurance, the judge should be lenient with him. Whenever necessity drives a man into crime and law-breaking, the judgement should be tempered.

If a king or any ruler who is a judge and has power to punish, takes life as a punishment, he should always do it with great reluctance. He must take heed lest he slay out of his own cruelty or in anger and hatred for the one who is to die. Let him slay him in just punishment and out of love for those who live after.

60. The Same Subject Continued

Son. David in sudden wrath ordered the man who came from the battle in which Saul fell, bringing the tidings that Saul was dead, to be slain immediately; and he did not order him to be kept for further inquiry.

Father. Punishment inflicted for the sake of love and justice is a holy deed and not murder.

61. Concerning Capital Punishment

Father. Moses commanded every man who took up arms with him to spare none, neither father nor brother nor other kinsmen, if they had been guilty of the deed that had called God's anger down upon them.

62. The Same Subject Continued

Son. Now I wish to ask you why David slew the man who brought the tidings that Saul had fallen, and whether he slew him justly or did it from sudden anger.

Father. The man said that he had lifted up weapons against Saul at the king's own request. When David heard this, he spoke thus: "A wretched creature you are . . . it is better for you to suffer a swift punishment here than to have this crime pursue you into everlasting hell." Thereupon David ordered him to be slain. The man had hoped to receive a joyous welcome and good gifts for his tidings.

63. The Judgements of God Illustrated by the Story of David and Saul

Son. God deprived Saul of his kingdom because he was too lenient in cases of homicide.

But after David had become king, he committed a crime which will scarcely seem less, for he committed adultery with the wife of Uriah his knight, a good and faithful man, and afterwards contrived his death, because he wanted his wife.

I do not know which is the worse crime, to kill an innocent man and violate his wife, or to let the guilty have their lives.

Father. In David's case God passed a more lenient judgement.

64. Illustrations from the Judgements of Solomon

Son. Once when two women came before King Solomon, quarreling about a child, the king ordered the child to be hewn in pieces and half given to each of them.

Father. The one who was the mother would not be willing to have the child divided.

Son. Would it not look to you like plain murder, if he had slain an innocent child, seeing that it was not for punishment?

Father. It would indeed have been murder.

65. Solomon's Decision in the Case of Shimei

66. Solomon's Judgement in the Case of Adonijar and His Followers

Son. Why did Solomon cause his brother Adonijah to be put to death for requesting Abishag to be his wife?

Father. David said, "Adonijail has taken the kingship to which God Himself appointed me, even before I had renounced it."

David said to Solomon: "Because I find that God has given you wisdom and understanding, I charge you to govern wisely and justly."

After David's death, Adonijah begged Bathsheba the queen to ask King Solomon to give him Abishag to wife. Abishag was a young virgin, the fairest maid in the kingdom and of the best and noblest family; she was brought to King David's bed to lie close to him and warm him and cherish him, in the hope that the king might draw warmth from her soft and blossoming form and from his desire for the fair virgin. For this reason Abishag won such great honour that she came to be regarded as the first queen and she ranked above all the other queens.

Queen Bathsheba undertook Adonijah's errand and afterwards went to seek an interview with her son King Solomon. "I have come to ask you to give your brother Adonijah Abishag to wife."

Solomon answered in great wrath: "What? Abishag is honoured by all as the first queen because of the care that she gave my father in his old age."

Then King Solomon said to Benaiah the captain: "Go and slay my brother Adonijah. Slay also Joab my kinsman."

Benaiah did as Solomon commanded and slew Adonijah, but Joab fled to God's tabernacle [sacred ground to Jews].

Solomon said: "Give my command to Benaiah to slay Joab wherever he be found."

Benaiah did as King Solomon commanded and slew Joab where he then stood.

67. Solomon Broke His Promise of Peace and Security to Joab

68. A Discussion of Promises: When They Must Be Kept and When They Should Be Withdrawn

Father. When a ruler is asked to grant a request that would debase or dishonour him, he must refuse it. And all do not deserve equally great gifts; one must consider how great a gift each one deserves and on what occasion a gift may be given.

69. Concerning the Kingship and the Church and the King's Responsibility to God

70. The Authority of Kings and Bishops. End of the Second Part

Father. The bishop shall have his rod of punishment in his mouth.

The bishop's sword bites . . . when it is wrongfully used, it injures him who smites with it.



The King's Mirror, Speculum regale, Kongespeilet, Kongsspegelen, Konungs skuggsjá, Mermaids, Kraken, Mermen, Norse Norrøn medieval text in paraphrase and quotation, Norwegian teaching literature, medieval text, translation of Laurence Marcellus Larson, Literature  

Brown, Reginald Allen. 1985. The Normans and the Norman Conquest. 2nd ed. Woodbridge, UK: The Boydell Press.

Larson, Laurence Marcellus, tr. 1917. The King's Mirror (Speculum regale Konungs skuggsjá). New York: American-Scandinavian Foundation.

The King's Mirror, Speculum regale, Kongespeilet, Kongsspegelen, Konungs skuggsjá, Mermaids, Kraken, Mermen, Norse Norrøn medieval text in paraphrase and quotation, Norwegian teaching literature, medieval text, translation of Laurence Marcellus Larson, To top    Section     Set    Next

The King's Mirror, Speculum regale, Kongespeilet, Kongsspegelen, Konungs skuggsjá, Mermaids, Kraken, Mermen, Norse Norrøn medieval text in paraphrase and quotation, Norwegian teaching literature, medieval text, translation of Laurence Marcellus Larson. User's Guide   ᴥ    Disclaimer 
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