Site Map
Norse Mythology: Legends of Gods and Heroes
Section › 7   Set    Search  Previous Next


Reservations   Contents    

Introductory Remarks — Wayland — The Hjadnings — The Legend of Tyrfing

2. Heroic Legends

Introductory remarks

According to views common during the Romantic period, the heroic legends were at once mythical and historical, and thus closely allied to the myths of the gods. More recent scholarship, which reckons only to a slight degree with domestic legendary traditions dating from a remote antiquity, has formed quite a different opinion. At the present time the heroic legends are studied not only according to their contents, according to their motives; considered as a complete whole, the heroic legend exists merely in and by means of the literary form it has assumed; consequently, for the proper investigation of the heroic legend a peculiar literary-historical method must be adopted, differing from the method used in the study of mythology, in that the literary forms dealing with the gods must be correlated with the fixed, distinctly local ceremonies having to do with the worship of the gods.

The heroic literature has for its subject human destinies which by their elevation above the commonplace have made a strong appeal to the poet. In their most compact form, where the chief interest gathers about strong-willed personalities moulded by the great moments of life, we come across the heroic legends in brief epic lays which can be traced back to the period of the national migrations and which in pre-Christian times ran their course among all of the Germanic tribes. Heroic lays of this type, in their more uncontaminated [124} ancient forms or in literary adaptations of Norse origin (dialogue verse without direct narration) provide the bulk of the heroic poetry of the Poetic Edda. During historic times in Norway and Iceland, this heroic poetry had a continued existence in the so-called "sagas of antiquity" (fornaldarsogur), saga-like stories which drew their themes from antiquity, from a prehistoric, pagan era. The legendary materials in these sagas frequently have their roots in prose adaptations of ancient heroic lays; [1] yet newer materials make their appearance during the Viking Age, and popular taste takes another direction. [2] These heroic sagas, which lack the firm outlines of the ancient heroic lays, are subjected to influences from all sorts of vagabond themes, for instance folk-tale themes, and at length we find an entire group of sagas of antiquity which must be regarded as nothing more than independent compositions dealing with arbitrarily invented personages whose lifetime is laid in the era of the petty kings anterior to the unification of Norway. [3]

Of the heroic legends as a whole it is to be said in general that, contrary to the practice of historians of a generation ago, they are not to be treated as historical sources. The poetic elements have gained the ascendancy over the historical elements and created [125} combinations of a kind that bids defiance to history and chronology alike. What may be authentic history in such poetic versions of the legends we can not discover so long as we have to rely solely on the legends themselves; we must seek the aid of veracious historical documents and the testimony of trustworthy foreign historians to get at the residuum of truth, as, for example, in the case of the legends dealing with Ragnar Lodbrok and his sons. As a rule the outcome of such a procedure is that the legends disclose no historical facts not already known through these foreign sources. In a number of the legends even this expedient is denied us, since history fails to confirm the events recited in the legends; this holds true, for instance, with the Helgi legends, for which reason it is difficult if not impossible to ascertain their origins. Other legends have made their way to the Northern nations from neighboring countries, for example, the legends of the Volsungs and the Gjukungs; but these also have suffered many changes in form in the fresh soil to which they were transplanted.

Among the heroic legends there are several that show a closer mutual relationship, and therefore are designated as a legendary cycle; still others are isolated, showing no connection with anything else. It has been further demonstrated that the legendary process tends in the course of time to draw together various originally distinct legends and thus to create new cycles. Among the great cycles, those of the Volsungs, the Niflungs, and the Gjukungs are most prominent. Among the independent legends, those dealing with [126} Wayland Smith, with Frodi and his handmaidens, and with the Battle of the Hjadnings emerge above the rest.

  1. Hervarar Saga, p 130 ff; Volsunga Saga, note to p 159.
  2. The adventures of the hero in love and war, as in Ragnar Lodbrok's Saga, p 245 ff, a typical saga from the Viking Age.
  3. Thus no doubt Fridthjofs Saga, p 256. Many of the "antique sagas" have given rise to popular ballads. On this subject reference may be made, once for all, to K. Liestøl, Norske trollvisor og norrøne sogor, Christiania 1915.


The legend of Wayland runs as follows: Once on a time there were three brothers, named Slagfinn, Egil, and Wayland; their father was king of the Finns. It so befell that they went out on their skis to hunt and came to a place called Wolf Dales, lying near a body of water called Wolf Lake; there they built themselves a house. One morning they chanced to see three beautiful women sitting on the shore weaving linen; beside them lay their swan cloaks, by which token the brothers knew them to be Valkyries. They carried the three women home and wedded them. Slagfinn took to wife Ladgunn Swanwhite; Wayland took Hervor Allwise; and Egil took Olrun. The first two were the daughters of king Lodvi, and the third a daughter of king Kiar of Valland. When they had lived together seven years, a longing for battle came over the Valkyries, and in the absence of the brothers they flew away. Egil and Slagfinn at once set out in search of their wives; Wayland remained alone at home in the Wolf Dales, busying himself in his smithy with the forging of objects of price. While he awaited the return of his wife, he sped the time in fixing precious stones in settings of gold and in fashioning magnificent rings. The fame of his handiwork reached the hearing of Nidud, the evil and greedy king of the Njarir. One night, in the waning of the moon, he [127} marched forth with an armed band and reached the house in the Wolf Dales while Wayland was away hunting. By this time Wayland had finished seven hundred rings, which he had left hanging all together on one rope; Nidud lifted one of them off, and lay in wait for the homecoming of Wayland. Wayland returned, sat down before the fire to roast bear's meat, and in the meantime counted his rings. Missing one of them, he thought that his wife must surely have come home; but while he sat pondering the matter, he fell asleep Awakened by the weight of heavy fetters on his hands and feet, he asked who had laid shackles on him. Nidud called out to learn how Wayland had dared to seize his treasures in the Wolf Dales, to which Wayland answered that all of his possessions were his by right. Nidud now carried Wayland off to his own court, took from him even his splendid sword, and gave the ring to his own daughter Bodvild. But Nidud's queen, fearing the vengeance of Wayland, spoke words of warning to her husband. "His eyes glitter like those of a serpent every time he sees the sword and catches sight of Bodvild's ring," she said; "sever his sinews and expose him on the island of Sævarstead." They did her bidding; having severed Wayland's sinews at the knees, they placed him on the island, where he was employed in forging for the king all manner of precious things, and where none but the king was permitted to visit him. Many a time Wayland bemoaned his fate; without sleeping a wink he plied his task at the smithy and never ceased to meditate on means of repaying Nidud for his treachery. [128}

At last fortune favored his designs. One day Nidud's two sons came out to the island and asked leave to look at his treasures. Opening a chest, he showed them many magnificent things; on the next day they were to return in secret, and he would give them all that he possessed. They came as they had promised, and no one in the palace knew of their coming. Wayland once more opened the chest; and while they stood looking down into it, he let the heavy lid fall in such a way as to cut off their heads. The bodies he hid beneath the floor, but the skulls he silvered over and sent them to Nidud for drinking vessels; the eyeballs he employed as jewels in ornaments for the queen; and from the teeth he fashioned brooches for Bodvild. Now after a time it so happened that Bodvild was unfortunate enough to crack the ring Nidud had given her. Not daring to let her father find out about her misadventure, she secretly sought out Wayland to have him mend it for her. He promised to do so. Since he treated her with great kindness, she suspected no evil when he offered her something to drink; the liquid being strong, she grew giddy and drowsy and so fell an easy prey to his purposes. Now Wayland donned a feather cloak and in this guise flew into Nidud's courtyard, where he settled to rest on the palings. He found Nidud sitting sleepless, brooding over the fate of his sons; divining that Wayland had caused their death, the king questioned him about them. Wayland then told how it all had come about, how the king's sons had been killed, how gems had been framed from their skulls, their eyes, and their [129} teeth, and how Bodvild had been dishonored. Wayland flew away laughing, and Nidud had to stand in helpless rage watching him escape. He called Bodvild to him and asked if it was true that she and Wayland had sat together on the island. "Yes, it is true," replied Bodvild; "we sat together one whole fearful hour — I had no power to resist him."

On Wayland

Page 129, line 7 — The narrative is drawn from the ancient Eddic poem Volundarkviða. Beyond this the Norse legends have nothing to say about Wayland. The lay is very brief and has several omissions by reason of the poetic form in which it is couched; to understand it, these lacunae must be supplied from other ancient traditions. Thus a comparison with the well-known folk tales about swan maidens [1] makes it clear that Wayland and his brothers got the Valkyries into their power by taking the swan cloaks and hiding them; after the passage of seven years the Valkyries must have found their swan cloaks again while the brothers were absent in the chase, must at once have assumed their disguises and have flown away. It is evident also that Wayland must have had his own feather coat ready for a long time, but that he was not willing to make use of it before he had taken vengeance on Nidud.

The legend of Wayland has likewise been widespread in other Germanic countries, in which, however, it has in part been associated with other legendary cycles. Wayland's name in German is Wieland (Weland, Welant), and prolix stories about him are to be found in the great saga named after Dietrich of Bern, which is an Old Norse translation of Low German legends having to do with the Niflungs and with king Dietrich of Bern. According to this legend Velent (Wayland) is a son of the Giant Vadi and a grandson of Vilkin; he has learned the smith's handicraft from the smith Mimir and from certain Dwarfs in the land of the Huns. The apprentice soon excelled his masters, and therefore they sought his life; so he killed them, took their treasures, and carried these off to Denmark, where his father had once lived. He sailed down the river Weser on a hollow log, but was driven ashore in Jutland, where he drew upon himself the enmity of king Nidung of Thjod (Ty), who proceeded against him as in the narrative recited above. Everything in the Dietrich's Saga, however, is detailed with a greater number of accessory circumstances than in [330} the ancient lay, but also with definite marks of later additions. According to the saga it is Wayland's brother Egil, also called Olrunar-Egil, who provides him with the feather coat. The son of Wayland and Bodvild was the famous Vidga (Witich, Vidrik), one of the most celebrated champions of king Dietrich of Bern. Vidrik Verlandsson likewise often appears in the old heroic ballads. The Anglo-Saxons in England also knew legends about Wayland. Thus we read in Deor's Lament, a short lyrical-epic poem preserved in the Exeter book dating from the eleventh century, but obviously much older: "Wayland lived in exile; he suffered affliction in a den teeming with serpents, [1] and was alone with his sorrow and his longing throughout the winter's cold. Many were his pains after Niðhad had robbed his sinews of their power. Beadohild grieved less for her brothers' death than for her own shame." In the Anglo-Saxon poem Waldhere, Widia, the son of Wayland, is called Nīðhādes mœg, that is, daughter's son to Nidud. In a document from the year 955 is mentioned Wēlandes smiððe, Wayland's smithy, and in a document from the year 903 reference is made to a place in the present Buckinghamshire called Wēlandes stocc (cf. Wayland's log, which in Dietrich's Saga is called stokkr). The Anglo-Saxons were in the habit of designating superior weapons and ornaments as "Wayland's handiwork" (Wēlondes geweorc), just as our own forefathers would say of an excellent smith, "He was a real Wayland at his craft" (Volundr at hagleik). To this day legends are current in England having to do with Wayland Smith, and Walter Scott made use of him in his famous novel Kenilworth. Even in France people would speak of weapons from Galans' (Wayland's) smithy.

The linguistic interpretation of the name Volundr, Anglo-Saxon Wēland, Wēlond, is uncertain; it appears impossible to explain it from vél, "art," "craft," "artifice." On the other hand, Sophus Bugge has probably found the correct meaning of Slagfiðr (=-finnr) in "the forging Finn" (from slag, "blow," "stroke of a hammer"). Nor are there any difficulties with the names Níðuðr and Boðvildr: from níð, "spite," "malice"; hoðr, "battle"; boð, "battle" (Anglo-Saxon beado); hildr, "battle," "Valkyrie." Lodvi (Hloðvér) has been understood to be equivalent to the name of the king of the Franks, Louis (Chlodewich); the interpretation of Kiarr, on the other hand, is still obscure. [331}

On this and related questions, see Sophus Bugge's article, Det oldnorske Kvad om Volund (Volundarkviða) og dets Forhold til engelske Sagn (Arkiv för nordisk filologi XXVI, pp. 33-77). He discusses among other matters also a pictorial treatment of the legend of Wayland on an old English whalebone casket. [Translator's note. — The relations between Old Norse and Anglo-Saxon heroic material are discussed by W. W. Lawrence and W. H. Schofield in Publications of the Modern Language Association of America, vol. xvii (1902), pp. 247-95.]

It should be added that the legend of Wayland shows a striking similarity to the ancient Greek myth of Daedalus, the inventor of the arts. Like Wayland, Daedalus is placed in durance for the purpose of forging treasures for a tyrant, and he makes his escape from prison by the same method, that of making wings and flying away. Even our forefathers were aware of the likeness; they designated the labyrinth which Daedalus built by the name of Volundarhús. In the lameness of Wayland has been noticed a defect corresponding to that which the Greeks and the Romans attributed to Vulcan.

  1. Cf. Helge Holmström, Studier över svanjungfrumotivet i Volundarkvida och annorstädes (Malmö, 1919).
  2. Cf. other interpretations of the Old English original. — Translator's note.

The Hjadnings

The legend of the Battle of the Hjadnings is recounted as follows in the Prose Edda: King Hogni had a daughter named Hild. Once on a time, when Hogni had gone to a meeting of kings, she was taken captive by king Hedin Hjarrandason. As soon as Hogni learned that his realm had been sacked and his daughter carried off, he set out at the head of his soldiery in pursuit of Hedin. He got news that Hedin had taken flight toward the north; but when Hogni reached Norway, he was told that Hedin had shaped his course over the western seas. Hogni set sail in the wake of his enemy and at length touched the Orkney Islands, where he encountered Hedin off the island of Haey. Hild went to her father and offered him terms of peace in Hedin's name; or, in case he refused, an alternative struggle for life or death. Hogni would not accept the proffer of conciliation. The two kings thereupon landed on the island and marshaled their warriors for battle. Once again Hedin made overtures of peace; calling out to his kinsman, he offered him by way of recompense a heap of gold. But Hogni answered: [130}

"It is too late; I have already drawn the sword Dainsleif, forged in the smithy of the Dwarfs; each time it is bared some man must lose his life; its stroke can never be arrested; and the wounds it makes are never healed."

"You boast of your sword," said Hedin; "but that does not mean that you shall boast of the victory; that sword is the best which does not fail its master at his need." Then they began the battle, to be known ever afterward as the Battle of the Hjadnings. During the whole day they fought on, and at night the kings went aboard their ships. In the course of the night Hild went out on the field of battle and by means of her magic roused into life all of the fallen warriors. The next day the kings marched up on land and began the struggle anew, and with them all those who had been slain the day before. Thus they continued their warfare day after day. All who fell and all weapons and shields that were left on the field turned to stone; but as each new morning broke, the slain rose up armed and ready for the fray. In this way the Battle of the Hjadnings is to go forward till the coming of the Twilight of the Gods.

On the Hjadnings

Page 130, line 22 — The designation Hjaðningar is derived from the masculine name Hedin. The legend was generally known, and many poetic paraphrases owe their origin to it; thus the byrnie was called "Hedin's sark," battle was called the "storm of the Hjadnings," etc. In the ancient Skaldic poem Ragnarsdrdpa, which according to Norse tradition was composed by Bragi Boddason in the ninth century, mention is made of the Battle of the Hjadnings in a manner that seems to agree in all important particulars with the form of the legend as it is detailed above after Snorri's Edda. — Notable deviations, on the other hand, are to be found in the much later work, Sorla þáttr (see p. 79), where the myth of the Necklace of the Brisings appears arbitrarily to have been connected with the Battle of the Hjadnings, as follows: Odin would consent to return the Necklace of the Brisings to Freyja only on the condition that she would cause two major kings with their armies to do battle against each other continuously until such time as a Christian dared to put an end to the strife. Not until after the period of Frodi the Peaceful did Freyja find an opportunity to fulfill the condition. Twenty-four years after the death of Frodi, a king of the Uplands named Sorli killed [332} the Danish king Halfdan, but later entered into a compact of sworn brotherhood with his son Hogni. When Sorli afterward fell in the course of a warlike enterprise, Hogni became mighty and famous, twenty other kings acknowledging his rule. Rumors of his fame reached the powerful Hedin Hjarrandason, king of Serkland (Africa), who likewise held sway over twenty kings. Once upon a time Hedin met in a forest a beautiful woman who pretended to be the Valkyrie Gondul and who egged him on to rivalry with Hogni. (Gondul was probably none other than Freyja herself). Hedin set sail for Denmark; and, after having vied with Hogni in all manner of feats of prowess, formed an alliance of sworn brotherhood with him. Not long afterward, Hogni having sallied forth to war, Hedin remained behind and once more encountered Gondul; she gave him a magic potion which bereft him wholly of his senses. He allowed her to entice him to put Hogni's queen to death and to sail away with Hogni's daughter Hild. Off the island of Racy he met with head winds; and Hogni, who had set out in pursuit, overhauled him. Here the battle began — the account of it runs practically as in Snorri's Edda, with the exception that Hild sits quietly looking on and attempting no magic interference. The battle lasted for one hundred and forty-three years, until king Olaf Tryggvason landed on the island. One of his men, Ivar Ljomi, went ashore during the night and met Hedin, who told him of his sorrowful fate and asked him to put an end to the struggle by killing him and Hogni and all of their warriors. Ivar Ljomi consented to do so and thus succeeded in putting a stop to the Battle of the Hjadnings.

Saxo recounts the legend in a third form, principally drawn from Norse sources but in part from Danish traditions, as follows: The young king Hedin (Hithinus) of Norway gave aid to Frodi the Peaceful in his warfare against the Huns. He and Hild (Hilda), daughter of king Hogni of Jutland, loved each other without the knowledge of her father. Hogni and Hedin set out together on a campaign; but when the war with the Huns was over, Hogni learned of the understanding between Hedin and Hild, and evil tongues even made their relations unlawful. Hogni, believing the reports, attacked Hedin but was defeated. Afterward Frodi sat in judgment between them; Hedin got a favorable decision and wedded Hild. Hogni notwithstanding continued to demand his daughter's return, and Frodi at length bade him determine the matter in single combat. Hogni being [333} the stronger, Hedin suffered defeat; but Hogni took pity on him and spared his life. Seven years later they met once again at Hedinsey, resumed their combat, and killed each other. But Hild, longing for her husband, woke the dead to life by means of incantations, and so the struggle continued without ceasing.

The narrative in Snorri's Edda represents the legend in its oldest and purest form. Yet Saxo, on the basis of Danish traditions, has no doubt preserved the more original localization, at Hiddensee (Hithinsø) near Rygen. Hogni and Hedin are mentioned together in the Anglo-Saxon poem Widsith, which enumerates Germanic tribes with their kings during the period of the great migration: "Hagena ruled over the Holm-Rugians and Heoden over the Glommas." The Holm-Rugians are the people whom Jordanes (6th century) mentions as the Ulmerigi living near the mouth of the Vistula, and the Glommas must be a neighboring people to the Rugians. It is thus evident that the legend of Hogni and Hedin originally belonged locally south of the Baltic, in regions lying near Hithinsø, and that the story must be very ancient. Further proof appears in the fact that something corresponding to the Hjadnings appears in Old English poems (Heodeningas). Not before the Viking Age can the Battle of the Hjadnings have been localized in the Orkneys (Háey, that is, the "high isle," now known as Hoy, the highest island in the group). This western theatre of events also is to be found in the popular ballad Hildinakvadet, which deals with the same happenings, and which during the eighteenth century was recorded in writing in Shetland; the language in it is Shetland-Norse, otherwise called "Norn" (that is, norrœna), which became extinct at the time mentioned. The ballad has been edited and published by Marius Hægstad (Hildinakvadet, Christiania, 1900). Dáinsleif means literally "Dais's remnant"; Dain is mentioned in the Voluspá as one of the Dwarfs. Otherwise dáinn means "one who is dead."

The latest and most exhaustive treatment of the legend is that of B. Symons, to be found in the introduction to his edition of the Middle High German poem Kudrun (2nd ed., Halle 1914). This poem has incorporated materials which at a comparatively late date were borrowed from Denmark.

The legend of Tyrfing

Another sword, a match for Dainsleif, bore the name Tyrfing. It was forged under durance by the Dwarfs Dulin and Dvalin for Svafrlami, the brave grandson of Odin. Svafrlami had surprised them outside of their rock and had made haste to cast spells over them to prevent their getting back into the stone. He then [131} threatened to take their lives unless they promised to forge for him a sword with hilt and handle of gold, a sword which would never rust, which would always bring victory, and which would cut iron as if it were so much cloth. The Dwarfs gave unwilling assent and finished the sword within the designated time; but when Dvalin had given it into the king's hand, and while he was still standing at the door opening into the rock, he said: "Your sword will take the life of a man each time it is unsheathed, and with it three dastard's deeds will be done; it will also bring death on yourself." Svafrlami struck at the Dwarf with the sword, but failed to touch him. After that day he kept the sword in his possession a long time and with it won many a victory in battle and in single combat.

On the island of Bolm dwelt a great Berserk named Arngrim, who fared fair and wide as a Viking. It so happened that in harrying the domains of Svafrlami he came face to face with Svafrlami himself. Svafrlami aimed a blow at Arngrim with Tyrfing, but succeeded only in striking his shield, from which he cut off a portion, while Tyrfing buried its point in the earth. In a moment Arngrim severed Svafrlami's hand from his body, laid hold of Tyrfing, and cleft Svafrlami's body in twain from head to foot. Thus a part of the prophecy of the Dwarf came to be fulfilled. Arngrim now took Svafrlami's fair daughter Eyfura captive, carried her off to Bolm, and made her his wife. They had twelve sons, all of them tall men, strong and warlike, who from their earliest years sped [132} the time in Viking forays, to their own increasing renown. The eldest, named Angantyr, was a head taller than his brothers and as strong as any two of them; the others bore the names Hervard, Hjorvard, Saeming, Rani, Brami, Barri, Reifnir, Tind, Bui, and the two named Hadding, who were twins. Angantyr fell heir to Tyrfing, Hervard had the sword Rotti, Sæming had Mistiltein. Now and again the Berserk rage came over them, and during such periods it chanced a time or two that they killed some of their own men; in order to prevent happenings of this sort, when they felt the Berserk rage taking hold of them they went ashore out of their ships and fought with boulders or with the timbers of the forest. No king ever crossed their purposes, to such a degree were they held in awe for their wildness and cruelty.

One evening at Yuletide the champions of Bolm sat making vows over their flowing bowls. Angantyr avowed his intention of possessing the fair Ingeborg, daughter of king Yngvi of Uppsala. The following summer the brothers journeyed to the court of Yngvi and at once marched into the hall; Angantyr recounted his vow and demanded an immediate answer. On hearing what was said, Hjalmar the Haughty promptly came forward. For a long while he had spent his winters in the retinue of Yngvi and had rendered him most important services. Reminding the king of all his services, he asked Yngvi rather to bestow Ingeborg on himself than on so evil a Berserk as Angantyr. Yngvi declared that Ingeborg herself must make the decision, and she chose Hjalmar; whereupon Angantyr [133} challenged him to single combat on the island of Samsey. Hjalmar promised to appear at the designated place the next summer, and so the brothers returned home. In the spring the sons of Arngrim first paid a visit to Earl Bjartmar, where Angantyr wedded Svava, the earl's daughter. At the time agreed on, both Hjalmar and the sons of Arngrim set sail for Samsey; in Hjalmar's company went his brother in arms, the mighty and famous Norseman Orvar-Odd (Arrow-Odd). Hjalmar elected to fight against Angantyr, and Orvar-Odd against the eleven other brothers. The combat now began, and Odd was fortunate enough to slay all of the eleven; but when he came to see what had befalled Hjalmar, he saw Angantyr lying dead at his enemy's feet, while Hjalmar himself was sitting on a hummock, pale as death. Odd asked how the battle had gone with him, to which he answered: "I have sixteen wounds, my byrnie is worn with the fray, and Tyrfing has pierced me beneath the heart; draw this ring from my finger and carry it to Ingeborg in token of my love." Thus his life ended. Odd laid all the Berserks fully armed in barrows, but Hjalmar's body he bore with him to Sweden. Ingeborg died of a broken heart and was buried in the same mound with Hjalmar.

Some time later Svava, wife of Angantyr, gave birth to a daughter whom they gave the name Hervor and who became the foster child of Bjartmar. She grew up to be tall and well-favored, but even at an early age she showed a vehement and headstrong character; she inclined more to the use of sword and [134} shield than to employments befitting a woman. When she was fully grown, she set out to visit her father's barrow in Samsey, meaning to reclaim Tyrfing from burial. Dressing in men's clothing, she took the name Hervard, joined a band of Vikings, and sailed to the coasts of Samsey. Here she went ashore alone, her companions being afraid of the spectres and evil spirits that were said to harbor there. She did in fact meet with many manifestations of devilry; the barrows appeared to be on fire; not a whit deterred, she strode straight through the flames to the barrows of the Berserks. There she called to Angantyr and his brothers with many incantations, thus compelling her father to answer her summons. Angantyr charged her with madness in rousing dead men in such a way from their repose; he refused to deliver Tyrfing up to her and even maintained that the sword was not in his keeping. Then she demanded it still more vehemently, asserting that the Æsir would grant him no further rest if he denied to his only child her rightful inheritance. "Beware of Tyrfing," Angantyr then answered; "it will destroy all your kindred; it is lying beneath my shoulders, swathed in fire; no maiden I know will dare take it in her hand."

"I fear not your fire," said Hervor. At length Tyrfing flew hurtling into her hand, and she gave many thanks for the gift. "I had rather possess Tyrfing," she continued, "than hold sway over all of Norway." Angantyr notwithstanding reiterated his foreboding prophecy; to which she answered that she cared not what fate might befall her sons. Then he spoke these words: [135}

Long shall you keep
Hjahnar's bane,
Long shall you bear it;
Wield it but warily,
Touch not its edges;
In the twain there is venom,
Worst of all evils
That men may suffer.

Daughter, farewell
In your hands rest
Twelve men's lives,
If you can believe me;
Power and hardihood,
All good things soever
That Arngrim's sons
Have left behind them.

Now she took her departure; but the Vikings had already fled in fear from that haunted place. She was therefore compelled to find other shipping to carry her thence; later she visited king Gudmund of Glæsisvoll, with whom she remained throughout the winter, still in the garb of a man. Gudmund being stricken in years, his son Hofund virtually governed the realm. Once while she was playing chess with Gudmund, and had laid Tyrfing aside, one of the men of the retinue drew it from its scabbard to admire its burnished edge; Hervor at once sprang up and drove the sword through his body, inasmuch as the blade demanded the blood of man once it was unsheathed. Despite this deed Hervor was permitted to depart unmolested; soon falling in with other Vikings, she made common cause with them for a time; when she had tired of their forays, she returned home to her mother's father, where she practised needlework and tapestry like other maidens. The fame of her beauty meanwhile spread far and wide. Hofund paid court to her and won her for his wife. They had two sons, Angantyr and Heidrek. Angantyr was gentle and winsome, and his father loved him most; Heidrek, who was the foster son of the wise champion Gissur, was malicious [136] of spirit and yet his mother loved him the most; both were tall, strong, and handsome men. Once on a time Hofund gave a great banquet, at which Heidrek and Gissur were not asked to be guests. Heidrek was offended; he nevertheless presented himself at the banquet, where he made such bad blood between two of the guests that one of them killed the other. Hofund, a most upright man, laid the ban of outlawry on Heidrek; whereupon Heidrek, with a mind to causing his father the utmost grief, drew Tyrfing, given him by his mother as a gift, and killed Angantyr. This was the first of the dastard's deeds destined to be done with Tyrfing. As Heidrek was taking his leave, Hofund sped his parting with certain wise counsels, which were to bring him good fortune if he would only follow them. They were as follows:

  1. He was never to give aid to any man who had played false to his rightful overlord;
  2. he was to leave no moment's peace to any man who had murdered his own sworn brother;
  3. he was not to permit his wife to visit her own kin too often, no matter how much she begged for leave;
  4. he was not to stay late with his mistress; [1]
  5. he was not to ride his best horse if he was in a hurry;
  6. he was never to act as foster father for the children of men holding higher rank than himself;
  7. he was never to greet a guest with a joke;
  8. he was never to lay Tyrfing down at his feet.

Heidrek, however, thinking Hofund's counsel to be devised with evil intent, averred that he would give no heed to it. He [137} soon allied himself with a band of Vikings, but not before he had taken occasion to redeem from death two miscreants, one of whom had played false to his overlord and the other of whom had brought about the death of his own sworn brother.

Heidrek before long became a captain of Vikings. Having offered his services to Harold, king of Reidgotaland, he promptly brought defeat on two earls who had been harrying the land. By way of reward he won Harold's fair daughter Helga and one half of the kingdom. Heidrek and Helga had a son, whom they named Angantyr; of equal years with him was a son whom Harold had begotten in old age, and whose name was Halfdan. In course of time a severe famine visited the realm; and when wise men invoked the decree of the gods, they received the answer that they were to offer the most highborn youth of the land in sacrificial atonement. Now each man sought to spare his own son. Harold declared that Angantyr was the nobler of birth, and Heidrek imputed the honor to Halfdan; finally they agreed to leave the decision to the upright Hofund. Heidrek visited his father in person, and Hofund told him that Angantyr held the higher rank, but at the same time taught him an artifice by which the execution of the judgment might be evaded. When Heidrek returned to Reidgotaland he signified his willingness to offer up his son as a sacrifice provided only that every second one of Harold's men would first swear absolute obedience and fealty to himself. They did according to his will, but Heidrek made use of the occasion to create dissension between [138} Harold and Halfdan, further contending that Odin would receive his due if the king, the king's son, and a number of his men were offered up as a sacrifice. No sooner said than done; the battle at once began, and Heidrek slew his own kinsman Halfdan with Tyrfing. That was the second of the dastard's deeds. The blood of Harold and Halfdan was sprinkled on the altar of the gods, and Heidrek dedicated to Odin all who had fallen on the battlefield. But queen Helga, no longer wishing to live, hanged herself in the vale of Disardal.

Heidrek now subjected the whole realm to his own rule and also harried many foreign countries. After gaining a victory over king Humli of the land of the Huns, Heidrek took the king's daughter Sifka captive, kept her by him for a time, and then sent her home to her father's house, where she gave birth to a son, who was called Lod. Not long afterward he took to wife the daughter of the king of Saxland, but soon drove her away because on one of her many visits to her father's court she had played him false. He continued to ponder on ways and means of acting contrary to his father's counsels; accordingly he paid a visit to the mighty king Rollaug of Holmgard in Russia and offered to take the king's son Herlaug under his charge. On Rollaug's giving his consent, Herlaug left the kingdom in Heidrek's company. Some time later, Heidrek paid a visit to Russia and brought with him his mistress Sifka and Herlaug. One day Heidrek went out hunting with Herlaug but returned home alone; under the pledge of secrecy he told Sifka that [139} he had by chance drawn Tyrfing from the scabbard and therefore had come under the necessity of piercing Herlaug's body with the sword. Sifka, unable to keep the secret, revealed it to Herlaug's mother. A great commotion ensued. Heidrek and his men were surprised, he himself was bound with chains, and in this action no one showed more zeal than the two miscreants he had once ransomed. Heidrek was about to be carried out into the forest and hanged, but he was saved by a band of his own men, whom he had had the foresight to place in ambush there. He returned to Reidgotaland, mustered a huge army, and swept with fire and sword through Rollaug's domains; meanwhile the news had come out that Herlaug had not been killed but was safe and sound at Heidrek's court. Rollaug made proffers of peace; Heidrek accepted the terms and later wedded Rollaug's daughter Hergerd, receiving by way of dowry a region called Vindland, contiguous to Reidgotaland. One evening as Heidrek, mounted on his best horse, was bringing Sifka home, who sat with him in the saddle, the horse stumbled just as they reached the banks of a river, and Sifka suffered a broken leg. Heidrek and Hergerd got a daughter, who was given the name of her father's mother Hervor; the child was put under the care of Earl Ormar. Heidrek now forsook his warlike enterprises and devoted himself to establishing law and justice in the land. He forbade all civil conflicts and chose twelve wise men to be judges in all matters of dispute. He offered sacrifice by preference to Frey, in whose honor he reared a boar that grew well-nigh [140} to the size of an ox, and so fair that each hair seemed as if made of gold. Every Yuletide Eve the king and his men swore oaths by the boar, laying one hand on his head and the other on the bristles of his neck. On one occasion the king made the vow that whatsoever a man might do amiss, he should still have the right to lay his cause before the twelve sages for equitable judgment, and he should be privileged to escape his due punishment if he could put riddles that the king would be unable to read.

In Reidgotaland there lived a mighty man named Gestumblindi. He had the misfortune to incur the displeasure of the king and was therefore summoned before the tribunal of the twelve sages. Fearing the worst of evils, he offered sacrifice to Odin for aid. One evening Odin actually appeared before him and promised to help him by going before Heidrek in his stead. Gestumblindi accordingly hid himself, while Odin assumed his likeness and presented himself before the king. Here he was asked if he would like to try his luck at riddling with the king, but Gestumblindi (Odin) showed no eagerness to make the venture. At length he made up his mind to the attempt, and essayed a multitude of riddles, the greater number having to do with nature and some few with divinity; but Heidrek read them all. The following are examples of his riddles:

From home I fared,
From home I journeyed,
On my way I saw roadways,
Roadways beneath me, [141}
Roadways above me,
Roadways on all sides.
Heidrek, king,
Rede me this riddle.

Good is your riddle,
Yet do I rede it:
Birds flew above you,
Fish swam beneath you,
A bridge was your roadway.

What was the drink
I drank yesterday?
Neither water nor wine,
Neither mead nor ale,
Nor was it food,
Yet I thirsted not.
Heidrek, king,
Rede now this riddle.

Good is your riddle,
Yet do I rede it
You walked in the sun,
You rested in shadow,
Dew fell in the dales;
There did you sup
On the dews of the night,
And so cooled your palate.

Who are the men
That ride to the moot,
At one in their counsels?
Troops are sent forth,
Now here, now there,
Wardens of home.
Heidrek, king,
Rede now this riddle. [142}

Good is your riddle,
Yet do I rede it:
Itrek and Andad [2]
Year in, year out,
Play blithe at chess;
In concord their troops
Lie couched in the casket;
On the board the chessmen do battle.

Four are walking,
Four hang downward,
Two point the way,
Two defend against dogs;
One brings up the rear
Ever and always,
Most often unclean.
Heidrek, king,
Rede now this riddle.

Good is your riddle,
Yet do I rede it:
That beast surely
To you is well known;
Four feet she has,
Fourfold is her udder,
Horns defend her,
The tail follows after.

Who are the twain
That ride to the moot?
They have three eyes together,
Ten are their feet,
But one tail only;
So they traverse all regions.
Heidrek, king,
Rede me this riddle. [143}

Good is your riddle,
Yet do I rede it
Odin sits mounted,
Riding on Sleipnir;
One eye has he,
But the horse has twain;
Odin has two legs,
The horse has eight;
The horse alone has a tail.

Finally Gestumblindi — Odin — put the same question with which he once stopped the mouth of Vafthrudnir:

Now tell me this only,
Since you deem yourself
Wiser than other kings:
What words did Odin
Whisper to Balder
Before on the pyre they laid him?

Then Heidrek spoke in anger:
Evil and malice,
All the world's infamy,
Prattle, buffoonery, nonsense!
No man knows your words
But yourself alone,
Wretched, malevolent spirit.

With these words he drew Tyrfing and was about to cut Odin down; but Odin took the shape of a falcon, and the sword struck only his tail, from which it shore off a part; this is the reason why the falcon has a stubbed tail. Odin said: "Because you broke your promise and drew your sword against me, the most miserable of your thralls shall be your death." And having spoken, he flew away. [144}

A short time afterward the king was murdered by nine thralls who had been freemen in their own land but had been taken prisoners of war by Heidrek. These thralls during the night broke into the king's bedchamber and slew him with Tyrfing. Thus the sword performed the third dastard's deed, and the curse was lifted from it. Angantyr, son of Heidrek, now became king. He set out at once in pursuit of the thralls and came on them as they sat fishing from a boat in the river Graf. As one of them was cutting off the head of a fish with Tyrfing, Angantyr heard him say jocosely: "The pike in the river of Graf must pay the penalty for the killing of Heidrek at the foot of the mountains of Harfada." That very night Angantyr put them to death and carried away Tyrfing. Having thus avenged the slaying of his father, he gave in honor of his own succession a great banquet in his palace of Danparstad in Arheim.

When his half brother Lod got wind of his father's death, he journeyed to Arheim, where Angantyr still was holding his festival, and sat down among the men who were drinking at the table. Angantyr invited him to a seat with himself, but Lod answered: "We have not come to fill our bellies but to demand our rightful inheritance; I lay claim to one half of all the possessions of Heidrek, one half of all that has a point and all that has an edge, of treasures, of cows and calves, of mills, of serving men, of thralls and their children, of the boundary forest Dark Wood, of the sacred grove in the land of the Goths, of the precious stone in Danparstad, one half of fortresses of [145} war, of lands and people, of gleaming gold rings." Angantyr replied: "Shields shall clash and spears cross each other in flight and many a man shall bite the grass before I divide Tyrfing with you, Humlung, [3] or give you a half of my inheritance; I will give you gold and fee, twelve hundred men, twelve hundred horses, twelve hundred armor-bearers; each man shall receive rich gifts; to each man will I give a maiden, to each maiden a necklace; I will surround you with silver when you sit down and heap gold about you when you arise, so that rings overflow on all sides; you shall hold sway over one third of the lands of the Goths." Heidrek's old foster father, Gissur Grytingalidi, who was still among the living, heard these words, and said: "The serving man's son might well be content with such gifts as these!" When this taunt fell on the ears of Lod, he was enraged and hastened home to his mother's father Humli; the two together mustered a mighty army against Angantyr. When their forces were ready they marched through the boundary forest Dark Wood to the uttermost plains of Gotaland, where Angantyr's sister and her foster father Ormar were stationed in defence of a frontier stronghold against the Huns. Early one morning Hervor became aware of a great cloud of dust; soon after, she saw the glittering of helmets and knew that it marked the army of the Huns. She chose to fight rather than to flee; defending herself bravely she fell in the ensuing battle, and many men with her. Ormar fled the field and rode day and night till he came to Arheim, [146} where he told Angantyr of the battle with the Huns and of Hervor's death. Angantyr's lips twitched with grief as he spoke the words: "In most unbrotherly wise were you betrayed, glorious sister." Then, looking about among his retainers, he spoke again: "We were once many as we sat about our flowing bowls; now that we should be many we are few; I see no man in my retinue who has the strength of will to ride forth against the Huns to offer them battle, even though I promise him a guerdon of rings." Then old Gissur lifted up his voice and said, "I will ride, nor ask for gold or fee." Donning his weeds of war he leaped into the saddle, brisk as any youth, pausing only to ask:

Where shall I bid
The Huns come to battle?

Angantyr answered:
Bid them come to Dylgja,
To the Heaths of Dun,
Bid them join battle
At the foot of Mount Josur;
There the Goths often
Gladly made war,
There gained victories,
Fair with renown.

Gissur did according to Angantyr's command, and summoned the Huns to battle on the Heaths of Dun. "Marked for death is your war lord," he said; "may Odin turn the flight of the spear after the bent of my words." Lod wished to take him captive; but Humli opposed such a course, and Gissur said, "We do not fear, Huns, your horn bows." Angantyr with his [147} army came to meet the Huns, who were twice the number of the Goths. Yet by day and by night warriors streamed to Angantyr's banner from all parts of his kingdom, and after a day's battle the Goths had the upper hand. Angantyr strode out from beneath the shelter of the stronghold of shields and with Tyrfing hewed down both men and horses. He exchanged buffets with his brother, and both Lod and Humli fell; so many of the Huns were stricken to earth that rivers were dammed in their course and whole valleys were filled with bodies of the slain. Angantyr came across his own brother lying dead. "I offered you chattels and riches," he said; "now you have nought, neither land nor gleaming rings. A curse rests on our kin; I have brought you down to death. Evil is the doom of the Norns."

  1. Or to tell her weighty secrets, it might be added on the witness of the following events in the saga.
  2. The white king and the black king.
  3. Daughter's son of Humli.

On the legend of Tyrfing

Page 147, line 16 — The legends of Tyrfing and the kindred of Arngrim form the contents of the Hervarar Saga, or Hervor's [334} Saga, a "saga of antiquity" belonging to the thirteenth century; it contains, however, a rich supply of poetic fragments which serve to carry the legends back to a much earlier period. These lays deal chiefly with the combat on the island of Samsey, with Heidrek's and Gestumblindi's riddling match, and with the strife between Angantyr and Lod. The saga has come down to us in various redactions, which differ not a little from one another, particularly as regards the homes of the persons concerned in the action. Of greatest importance are the two old manuscripts, the Hauksbók [H] and the Gammel kongelig samling 2845 [R], to which Sophus Bugge edited and published in Norrøne Skrifier of sagnhistorisk Indhold, 3dje hefte, 1873, in which, however, lacunae have to some degree had to be supplied by means of later paper manuscripts. The narrative as given above follows "H," the most complete manuscript; yet the story of Heidrek's boar has been drawn in part from "R." According to "H," Arngrim is son to a daughter of Starkad Aludreng (cf. p. 221), and Bolm is here localized in Halogaland (in reality it is a place in Småland, the island of Bohn in Lake Bolmen). According to "R," Sigrlami, king of Russia, gets Tyrfing from the Dwarfs, Sigrlami's descent from Odin not being mentioned in this source; Sigrlami gives the sword to Arngrim, his ranking captain, who is married to his daughter Eyfura. Of the combat on the island of Samsey there is an account also in Orvar-Odd's Saga (see p. 236). Saxo too knows this legend; in his version Arngrim fights against the Finns in order to win the friendship of Frodi the Peaceful; he succeeds in his purpose and weds Eyfura (Ofura), who is here presented as the daughter of Frodi. In another passage Saxo refers to a certain Gestumblindi (Gestiblindus) as king of the Goths, though without mentioning the riddling match. Arngrim, Eyfura, and their sons are mentioned also in the Eddic poem Hyndluljóð ("to the eastward in Bolm"). As late as the seventeenth century legends relating to the combat of the Vikings are said to have been current on the island of Samsø.

The saga may be divided in several sections, which group themselves about the fragmentary lays discussed above. The first section contains the narrative of the battle of Samsey and of Hervor's incantations at her father's barrow; both accounts are based on sundry verses. The next section contains the history of Heidrek, in which only the story of the riddling match is couched in verse. It forms a transition to the last section, on the [335} battle between Angantyr and Lod, which also rests on a series of verses (called by recent scholars the "Lay Of the Battle With the Huns"). Yet the entire group of legends seems not from the first to have formed a complete whole. The legends of the sons of Arngrim, of the battle of Samsey, and of the life of Hervor depict the Viking Age; the scene is the Baltic and its littoral; the events are not historical. On the other hand, the place names in the last section of the saga appear to point to times and localities totally different. Heidrek, we read, ruled over Reidgotaland, which in the verses goes by the name of Goðþjóð. The neighboring kingdom is Hunaland, from which it is separated by the frontier forest Dark Wood (Myrkviðr). When Lod sets forth to demand his patrimony, he rides toward the west to meet Angantyr; and when Hervor is preparing to defend her stronghold against the Huns, she looks for their coming from the south. Hunaland was thus thought of as lying to the south-east of Gotar land, and the Goths and Huns in question must have belonged to the time of the great migrations. Indications leading toward the south-east are also to be found in the name Danparstaðir, the first element of which word is the ancient name for the Dnieper River (Danapris), and likewise in the name Harfaðafjoll, which must be the Germanic name for the Carpathians. As to the details there is little unity among scholars. See on this matter Otto von Friesen's last article, Rökstenen (Stockholm, 1920), p. 108 ff., which lists much important older literature. O. von Friesen (who to a great extent follows Gudmund Schütte's article Anganty-kvadets Geografi in Arkiv för nordisk filologi XXI, p. 30 ff.) thinks of the Goths of the Hervarar Saga as living in the valley of the Vistula, and thus finds points of agreement with the Anglo-Saxon poem Widsith: the scup Widsith visits Wyrmhere (i.e., Ormar) while the army of the Rædas (cf. the name Reidgotaland) in the forests of the Vistula are defending their ancient domains against Atli's men (i.e., the Huns, seep. 184 ff.). According to von Friesen's view we have to do with a struggle between the Huns and a Gothic (Ostrogothic) kingdom north of the Carpathians not mentioned by the older historians. According to earlier scholars (Heinzel, Über die Hervarar-Sage, in Sitzungsberichte der Akademie der Wissenschaften in Wien; Philosophisch-historische Classe 114, 1887) we have to do with the Battle of the Catalaunian Plains. — The later narrators and scribes who dealt with the legend were apparently at a loss to fix the locality of [336} events dating from so remote a period. Many of the place names occurring in the last section of the saga were unfamiliar to them, and therefore they fixed upon wholly erroneous localities. At a relatively late period Reidgotaland was understood to be the main land of Denmark, for which reason one version of the saga says that Reidgotaland "now is called Jutland." Through this reasoning Danparstad also came to be looked for in Denmark, and from this name was thus formed "Danp," who in the Eddic poem Rígsþula and in Snorri is mentioned among the earliest Danish kings. According to certain German scholars (Heusler and Ranisch, Eddica minora, Dortmund 1903, p. VII ff.) the "Lay of the Battle with the Huns" dates from the time of the composition of the Eddic poems, while according to Finnur Jónsson (Litteratur-historie 2 II, 1, p. 142) it belongs to a materially later date.

The riddling match in the central section of the saga reminds very much of the Eddic poem Vafjþrúðnismál (p. 100), which no doubt served as a model; the decisive riddle is the same in both poems.

The saga thus consists of a series of mutually independent legends which have been unified by the aid of the Tyrfing motive; similar motives are employed in the Volsung Cycle, — the sword Gram and the treasure of Andvari. This unification is certainly older than the complete saga as we have it, since Tyrfing is to be found in all of the older poetic fragments employed in the composition of the saga. A fixed point for the dating of this agglutination of materials appears in the words of Hervor (in one of the verses) to the effect that she would rather possess Tyrfing than rule over "all Norway"; this phrase points to a period antedating the union of the Norwegian kingdoms into one. In this connection reference may be made once more to the riddle poem, which appears to presuppose Vafjþrúðnismál.


Many sources

Norse mythology, Norse stories, Peter Andreas Munch, Norse gods and heroes, P. A. Munch's Norse tales from the Eddas, etc, To top    Section     Set    Next

Norse mythology, Norse stories, Peter Andreas Munch, Norse gods and heroes, P. A. Munch's Norse tales from the Eddas, etc. User's Guide   ᴥ    Disclaimer 
© 2008–2019, Tormod Kinnes [Email]