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Helgi and Rolf Kraki — Starkad the Old — Orvar-Odd — Norna-Gest

Helgi and Rolf Kraki

The Danish king Halfdan, son of Frodi the Brave, lost his life at the hands of his brother, an ambitious man also named Frodi. The slain man left three children, a daughter Signy, eldest of the three, and the sons Helgi and Roar. Signy was already the wife of an earl named Sævil; Helgi and Roar, being still small boys, were by their foster father Regin given in charge of an old man named Vivil, who had his dwelling on an island. Frodi sought to find out, by questioning [216} witches and wizards, where the boys might be, but in vain. At last he was advised to search Vivil's island; he did so, but could not find the boys, Vivil having given them instructions that when he called his dogs Hopp and Ho they were to hide themselves deep in an earth house he had made. Afterward, not daring to keep them longer, Vivil sent them in disguise to Earl Sævil; there they were put to work as shepherds. Not even Signy recognized them till one day, as she and her husband rode to a banquet at the palace and the two shepherd boys followed in their retinue, it so happened that Roar's cap fell off and she knew him by his fair hair. At the banquet the brothers succeeded by Earl Sævil's aid in burning the house down over Frodi's head, whereupon they took the rule into their own hands. Roar won for himself a kingdom in Northumberland, and governed there; Helgi ruled over Denmark, but spent most of his time in warlike forays. Earl Sævil and Signy had a wicked son named Rok, who after the death of his father laid claim not only to his patrimony but also to an heirloom of the family, a ring which now belonged to Roar. Rok made a journey to Northumberland and was kindly received by Roar. Once when the two were out together in a boat, Rok asked for the ring. Roar refused to give it up but allowed Rok to look at it, who, when he got hold of it, threw it far out into the sea. To punish him Roar caused his foot to be cut off; but Rok soon recovered from his wound, summoned men from his own earldom, fell on Roar, and killed him. Rok meant to compel Ogn, Roar's wife, to marry himself, but [217] instead she sent messengers to Helgi to ask for aid. He was at once ready to avenge his brother; attacking Rok, he took him captive and caused his arms and legs to be broken asunder. Ogn gave birth to a son named Agnar. Before he was twelve years of age he was able to dive down and fetch up the ring; many had tried to do so by all manner of devices, but without success.

On one of his Viking forays Helgi came to the land of the Saxons. The queen of the land bore the name Olof. He thought so well of her that without delay he began paying court to her, but she rewarded him with nothing but scorn. In revenge he later led his forces against her, took her prisoner, and kept her by him for a time; in due course she gave birth to a daughter who was given the name Yrsa. On a subsequent foray Helgi happened to meet Yrsa, not knowing that she was his own daughter; he took her to wife, and she bore him a son, who was named Rolf. Better revenge than this queen Olof could not desire, and after some years she revealed the true relationship Yrsa now returned to her mother and was later married to king Adils in Uppsala. On learning the news Helgi journeyed to Uppsala for the purpose of carrying Yrsa away. Wishing to bring about a reconciliation between the two kings, she made a great banquet for Helgi; but Adils treacherously mustered an army in secret with which he attacked Helgi. After a brave defense Helgi was overpowered and killed.

Rolf, the son of Helgi and Yrsa, became king after [218} his father; he was an illustrious man, who gained signal renown in warfare and who assembled at his court in Leire the most celebrated warriors of the North. Helgi also left a daughter, Skuld, whom he had by an elfin woman; Skuld, who was by nature wicked and deceitful, wedded Hjorvard, one of Rolf's under-kings. Among Rolf's champions one of the most doughty was the Norwegian Bodvar Bjarki, who ever and anon took on the likeness of a bear. Another was Hjalti, who at first bore the name Hott, and who was a wretched being, the sport and butt of the other retainers till Bjarki took him in charge and got him to drink the blood of a ravening beast; thereafter he became a champion of champions and won the name of Hjalti the Proud. Still another of Rolf's men was Vogg. As a poor little boy he had come into the hall and stood staring at the king; on Rolf's asking what he was looking at, he answered that rumor had spoken falsehood in declaring that Rolf was so large a man, since he was in reality nothing but a kraki (a twisted sapling, a wretch). Rolf adopted the nickname Kraki and gave Vogg a gold ring. Vogg promised in return to kill any man who should slay Rolf, to which the king said with a laugh, "Vogg is pleased with very little." Rolf lived on the best of terms with his stepfather Adils; he lent certain of his own champions for a battle Adils fought on the ice of Lake Vänaren with the Norwegian king Ali the Uplander. Adils won the battle, and according to promise was to give Rolf by way of reward three of his most highly prized possessions, the helmet Hildegalt, the byrnie Finnsleif, and [219] the ring Sviagris; but he broke his promise, and Rolf, unwilling to let himself be cheated, went to Uppsala with twelve of his men to compel Adils to deliver up the treasures. Adils, receiving the visitor with seeming kindness, yet tried guilefully to take his life; he caused so much wood to be laid on the fire in the hall where Rolf and his men were sitting that their clothes were singed from their backs, and then he asked Rolf if it were true that he and his champions fled neither fire nor iron. Rolf replied:

"Let us mend the fire
On Adils' hearth;
He fears no fire
Who leaps over flames."

With these words he and his men threw their shields on the fire, sprang over it, each seized one of Adils' men, and hurled them into the flames. This done, they stormed out through the door; Yrsa in all haste gave Rolf a horn filled with gold, and Sviagris besides, and then he and his men rushed away over the Plains of Fyri. Adils at once took up the pursuit with a mighty host. Rolf, in imminent danger of being overtaken, saved himself by strewing the gold along the road and thus delayed the Swedes, who could not refrain from gathering it up Adils nevertheless was on the point of closing in on Rolf. Rolf now threw Sviagris on the ground; Adils halted, stooped down, and picked up the ring on his spear. Rolf said, "Now I have made the first of the Swedes bow down like a swine!" With these words they parted.

After this inroad Rolf and his champions remained [220} for a long time quietly at home. But his downfall was near at hand. His wicked sister Skuld egged her husband Hjorvard on to rebellion against his over-king and kinsman, and Hjorvard at length fell in with her purposes. Having begged Rolf for permission to defer the payment of tribute for the space of three years, they used the money during this time to gather a large number of retainers in secret. Thereupon they advanced with a huge army against Leire and pitched their tents outside the walls of the stronghold. It was the Yuletide, and the thoughts of Rolf and his men were bent on nothing but gayety and festival. The only man who surmised evil was Hjalti. Noticing that Hjorvard had in his train a suspicious number of men clad in byrnies, he made haste to warn the king. Rolf and his Berserks sprang to their feet, drank together for the last time, and sallied out to meet the enemy. Bodvar Bjarki alone was missing; but an immense bear kept close to the king's heels in the battle and crushed down all that came in his path. Hjalti at last found Bodvar and goaded him into taking part in the combat. The bear disappeared — it was Bodvar who had been fighting in the likeness of a bear — and from that time the greater loss of men fell on Rolf's side. Skuld, cunning in witchcraft, cast her magic arts into the balance, and finally Rolf and the eleven champions were laid low. Vogg alone survived. Saxo tells how Vogg kept his promise to kill the slayer of the king. Hjorvard desired the champion to enter his service, and Vogg was willing to do so; but as the king, intending to show him honour at a banquet, gave into his hand [221} a drawn sword, Vogg thrust the giver through with it, and himself fell at the hands of Hjorvard's men.

On Helgi and Rolf Kraki

Page 221, line 2 — Legends dealing with the Danish kings of the Skjoldung family are extant in various literary forms, of which the most important are the following:

A. Other than Norse. 1. The Anglo-Saxon heroic poems Beowulf and Widsith: Roar, son of Halfdan, and his brother's son Rolf, son of Helgi, hold rule contemporaneously and engage in warfare against a people whose boundaries adjoin those of Denmark to the south, the Heathobards; there are portents of approaching divisions within the royal house. These are without doubt historical personages who flourished about the year 500.

2. The Danish lay Bjarkamál, probably from about the year 900, which Axel Olrik has reconstructed principally on the basis of Saxo's Latin account in prose. It deals — in antiphonal strophes assigned by turn to Hjalti and to (Bodvar) Bjarki — with the last fight of Rolf's champions at Leire; it mentions only these two of Rolf's warriors by name. This "old" Bjarkamál, which forms the point of departure for new legendary creation, was widely known. We find echoes of it, for example, in Sighvat's hereditary lay in honor of Saint Olaf. It is most famous from its connection with the battle of Stiklestad, as told in the Sagas of the Kings: Thormod Kolbrunarskald before the battle chants the Bjarkamál for the king and his host. [349} 3. Danish legends in Saxo. Here the story of the childhood of Helgi and Roar is to be found in another passage than that detailed above, which is based on Norse sources (see under B below). Saxo identifies Helgi with Helgi Hundingsbane (as do various later scholars; cf. note to p. 165). He is acquainted with the legend of Yrsa, but gives her mother's name as Thora. He recounts Rolf's story at great length.

B. Norse. 1. The later Bjarkamál, probably dating from the twelfth century, of which only scattered strophes have been preserved.

2. The lost Skjoldunga Saga (ca. 1200) which we know from the Icelander Arngrim Jónsson's Latin summary of about the year 1600, and from Snorri's Edda.

3. Hrólfs Saga Kraka, the extant version of which dates from the fourteenth century but which builds upon ancient sources and which contains, among other things, a prose rendering of the "old" Bjarkamál. See, on all of these sources, Axel Olrik's admirable discussion in Danmarks heltedigtning I.

In our foregoing narrative the Norse sources have been followed, particularly Rolf's Saga (B 3). The story of Vogg (whom Saxo calls Viggo) and of the incursion upon Uppsala is taken from Snorri's Edda.

Rolf was one of the most famous kings of antiquity. His memory was honored by the drinking of his skoal at solemn ceremonies (Heimskringla I, 68); and Olaf the Saint once said that if he were to be likened to any one of the ancient pagan kings, it must be Rolf Kraki (Flateyjarbók II, 134). — From Rolf's history were drawn various kennings for gold, such as the "seed of the Plains of Fyri" and "Kraki's sowing."

The stories of Helgi, of Roar, and of Rolf Kraki have, as is well known, been given poetic treatment by Oehlenschläger in his Helge, Hroars Saga, and Hrolf Krake.

Starkad the Old

Next after Sigurd Fafnirsbane, the greatest champion of the heroic legends is Starkad, [1] to whom are attributed many supernatural qualities and deeds of prowess. His father's father is said also to have borne the name Starkad, with the surname of Aludreng; he lived at Alufoss (Aluforsar, Ulefoss), he owed his descent to Giants, he had eight arms, and he was capable of wielding four swords at one and the same time. The betrothed of the elder Starkad was named Ogn Alfisprengi; but once while Starkad was making a journey to the north across the Elivagar, she was carried off by Hergrim Sea-Troll. Hergrim's and Ogn's son was Grim, father of that Arngrim of Bolm [2] from whom Angantyr and Hervor were in their turn descended. On Starkad's return from his journey he challenged Hergrim to single combat and killed him; Ogn took her own life. Afterward Starkad carried off the fair Alfhild, daughter of king Alf of Alfheim; with her he had a daughter, Baugheid, who became the wife of Grim Hergrimsson. King Alf called on the god Thor to restore Alfhild. Thor killed Starkad and brought Alfhild back to her father's house. Not long thereafter she gave birth to a son named Storvirk, a handsome, dark-haired child, uncommonly large and [222} strong. As the years passed he became a great Viking and was admitted as a member of the bodyguard of the mighty king Harold of Agder. Harold made him a leader of the yeomanry and gave him in fee the beautiful island of Thruma or Tromey off the coasts of Agder. There Storvirk made his abode, and thence he undertook great Viking forays. On one of these expeditions he carried off the daughter of an earl of Halogaland, whom he wedded and with whom he had a son named Starkad, the younger Starkad concerning whom the following legends have been handed down. The earl's sons took their revenge by burning the house down over the heads of Storvirk and all his household. Starkad himself, who was still a small boy, escaped with his life and was put under the care of king Harold as a member of his retinue. Harold had a son named Vikar, who was a little older than Starkad.

At this time there ruled in Hordaland a mighty king named Herthjof, a son of the famous Fridthjof the Brave and Ingeborg the Fair. Herthjof found occasion to attack king Harold, killed him, and subjugated his kingdom, but carried Vikar and the sons of the foremost men of the realm away as hostages. Among Herthjof's men was one named Grani, also called Horsehair-Grani, who lived on the estate of Ask on the island of Fenring (Askey); this man seized Starkad as a prisoner of war and took the boy to his home, Starkad being at the time only three years of age. With Horsehair-Gram he remained nine years, during which period he grew tall and strong as a giant but spent all his time lying among the ashes of the hearth, doing [223} nothing whatsoever. King Herthjof occupied himself for the most part in warlike expeditions, as a result of which his own realm was often harried in turn; in order to prevent these inroads he built beacons on the mountains and appointed Vikar to take charge of them in Fenring. Vikar made use of the opportunity to visit Starkad, raised him up out of the ashes, provided him with weapons and clothing, and agreed with him on a means of taking vengeance on Herthjof. Getting hold of a ship, Vikar induced certain champions to become his followers; thirteen in number all told they fell on Herthjof, who defended himself in a fortified fastness but at last was made to bite the dust. Vikar now took the rule of Herthjof's realm into his own hand, seized his ships, sailed away to his own hereditary domains of Agder and Jæren and was hailed there as king. Thus he gained suzerainty over all of southern Norway. Afterward he did many mighty deeds, and Starkad turned out to be one of the greatest champions in his army. Vikar won a marked victory at Vänaren over a king named Sisar, who fell before the prowess of Starkad; next he conquered Herthjof's brother Geirthjof, king of the Uplands, and Fridthjof, king of Telemark, and placed their kingdoms in vassalage to himself. King Vikar gave Starkad a gift of a gold ring weighing three marks. Starkad in his turn gave Vikar the island of Thruma. Starkad remained fifteen summers with Vikar.

It once happened that Vikar, sailing from Agder to Hordaland, was forced to seek shelter against high winds between certain islands. He and his men be [224} sought the gods in the usual way by means of the so-called sacrificial chips, and the answer came to them that Odin might be appeased through the sacrifice of a man from the army, whom they were to choose by lot and to hang. The lot falling on Vikar, they were all so terrified that they determined to do nothing till the next day. In the middle of the night Horsehair-Grani came to his foster son Starkad, awakened him, and bade that he go with him. Rowing across to another wooded island, they went ashore and passed into the forest to a clearing where a large number of people were met in assembly; eleven men were sitting each on his chair, the twelfth chair being vacant. On it Horsehair-Gram seated himself and was hailed as Odin by all those assembled there. So it turned out to be Odin who all this time had fostered Starkad and borne him company; the eleven others were the eleven chief deities. Odin bade them sit in judgment on the fate of Starkad. Thor at once spoke, saying: "His father's mother Alfhild chose a Giant as the father of her son instead of Asa-Thor; therefore Starkad shall have neither son nor daughter, and his race shall die with him."

"Instead of it he shall live thrice as long as other men," said Odin.

"In each of those spans of life he shall do the deed of a dastard," said Thor.

"He shall possess the best of weapons and armour," declared Odin.

"He shall possess neither grounds nor lands," rejoined Thor.

"He shall have abundance of other possessions," said Odin.

"He shall never think he possesses enough," replied Thor.

"I shall make him victorious and ever ready for battle," [225} said Odin.

"In every combat he shall receive terrible wounds," answered Thor.

"I shall dower him with poetic gifts so that lays shall flow from his lips as easily as the words of common speech," said Odin.

"He shall not be able to recall the poems he has made," said Thor.

"The bravest and best men shall hold him in honour," said Odin.

"But all the common people shall hate him," said Thor.

All these sayings the judges confirmed in passing judgment, and the assembly came to an end. It is not certain whether Starkad had most cause to grieve or to rejoice at what had been granted to him. Odin, or Horsehair-Grani, and Starkad again rowed across to the island. "Now you must repay me for the aid I have given you," said Horsehair-Grani; "you must despatch Vikar to me, and I will help you to do the deed." Starkad promised to carry out the command and Odin gave into his hand a spear which, he said, would have the outward semblance of a reed; moreover he taught him the proper mode of going about the task. The next day the king's counselors came to an agreement that they should offer up a mock sacrifice. Starkad told them how they were to proceed. Near at hand stood a fir tree; beneath it there was a tall stump, and far down on the fir there hung a slender branch. Starkad mounted onto the stump, bent the branch downward, and fastened to it the entrails of a newly slaughtered calf. "Now the gallows are ready for you, O king," said Starkad, "and it does not look very perilous." Vikar, who thought as much, ascended the stump, and Starkad laid the noose about his neck. Starkad then [226} stepped down, thrust at the king with the reed, and quit his hold of the branch with the words, "Now I give you to Odin." The reed instantly turned into a spear that pierced the king's body, the stump toppled to earth, the entrails became a stout rope, the branch sprang upward lifting the king high in the air, and thus he lost his life. This was Starkad's first dastard's deed, which made him so hated of the commonalty that he had to flee from Hordaland. Deeply grieved at his own treachery, he fared to Uppsala, entered the service of the Yngling kings Alrek and Erik, and followed them to the wars. He grew moody and silent, and was compelled to listen to frequent reproaches from the twelve Berserks who served in the king's bodyguard.

When Alrek and Erik gave over their warfare, Starkad went out to do battle on his own account in the ship that Alrek had given him, manned with Norwegians and Swedes. He encountered many adventures. On one occasion he made common cause with the Norwegian Viking king Haki, who attacked king Hugleik in Uppsala, grandson of king Airek, and won from him the whole realm of Uppsala. In Hugleik's armies there were two mighty champions, Svipdag and Geigad; Geigad bore hard on Starkad and gave him a blow on the head from which he was never wholly healed. While Haki ruled peacefully over his realm in Uppsala, Starkad set forth on other Viking forays; he gained victories in Kurland and Samland, slew the Muscovy Berserk Visin (Wisinnus in Saxo), and afterward two other eastern champions, Tanni and Vasi. At length he suffered shipwreck on the coasts of Denmark [227} and so lost all his men. Alone he came to the court of king Frodi the Brave, was well received there, and entered into the service of the king. As a warrior among the hosts of Frodi, Starkad took part in a memorable victory over the Saxons, who had undertaken to free themselves from the overlordship of Denmark; he joined battle with the greatest champion among the Saxons, Hami by name, and killed him but was himself also on this occasion badly wounded. Frodi was at length treacherously slain by Sverting, king of the Germans; his son Ingjald (Ingellus), Starkad's foster son, became king in his stead. Ingjald gave himself up to all manner of effeminate and luxurious practices and neglected the pursuit of warfare; in consequence he was despised and hated, and Starkad found service at his court so insufferable that he sought a place in the retinue of the Swedish king Halfdan. But when Starkad was gone, matters went from bad to worse; Ingjald so far forgot himself as to wed the daughter of Sverting and to permit a goldsmith to pay court to his own sister Helga. Starkad, on learning of these things, hastened back to Denmark with the purpose of bringing the wastrel king to his senses and of restoring his fallen repute. He went in disguise to the goldsmith's house, where the king's daughter happened to be at the time; and, seeing with his own eyes what liberties the suitor was taking with her, he drove the man away in disgrace. Thinking that he had done enough for the nonce, he returned to Sweden. Helga took a higher view of her own position and soon found a worthier suitor in the person of a Norwegian prince [228} named Helgi, who had come in a splendidly fitted ship to ask her hand. Ingjald had nothing against their troth, demanding only that Helgi should make proof of his prowess by meeting in combat any rival suitor who might challenge him. At the spousal ale a challenge came from the doughty Angantyr, who for some time past had courted her in vain. Helgi took up the challenge and even offered to fight Angantyr and his eight brothers at one and the same time; but this promise was so daring that on the counsel of his betrothed he journeyed to Sweden to seek the aid of Starkad. Starkad gave willing consent and, asking Helgi to return to Denmark, he promised to follow in due season. Helgi set out on his journey, for which he used twelve days; Starkad started on the twelfth day, and yet he and Helgi passed together through the gates to Ingjald's court.

As the bridal ale was being drunk in the palace, Angantyr and his brothers heaped insult and contempt on the aged Starkad. When Helgi and Helga went to bed, Starkad stood guard outside their bower door. On the following morning the combat was to take place. Helgi wakened early, rose and dressed himself; but since daylight was not yet fully come, he lay down on the bed and fell asleep again. As the day dawned Starkad came in but did not have the heart to rouse Helgi; so he went off alone to meet the champions. He sat down on the slope of a hill facing the wind and took off his clothes for the purpose of hunting fleas, though both snow and hail were falling. Soon the nine brothers came up from behind and found Starkad [229} snowed under up to his neck. He sprang to his feet, and when they asked him whether he chose to fight them singly or all together, he declared he would meet them all at once. The battle began, and he was soon able to do away with six of his enemies; but the other three he found it hard to defeat. At last he killed them all; but he had himself received seventeen dangerous wounds, and his entrails were hanging from a gash in his body. His strength failing, he crept to a stone and leaned against it to rest; long afterward men pointed out the impress of his body on the surface of the rock. Several people passed the spot and offered to give him aid, but he turned them all away; for one was a king's bailiff who lived on the sorrows of other men, another had wedded a bondwoman and was in the service of her master for the purpose of redeeming her, and the third was herself a bondwoman who should have been at home caring for her child: all of these he held in such contempt that he would have nothing to do with them. At length a peasant came driving by in a cart; from this man he accepted aid, allowing him to bind up the wounds with willow withes. The peasant carried Starkad in his cart to Ingjald's court. There Starkad went inside and made an uproar at the door of Helgi's bridal chamber. Helgi in the meantime having learned what sort of reception Starkad would like, rushed on him and struck him a blow in the forehead. In this way Starkad was assured that Helgi was not afraid to risk his life in combat and that Helga might safely be left in his keeping.

Starkad now returned to Sweden; but rumors of [230} Ingjald's effeminacy brought him once more back to Denmark. He came in disguise to Ingjald's court bearing a large sack of coals on his back, and took a seat at the foot of the table. The German queen, Sverting's daughter, met him with the utmost contempt; but Ingjald, soon afterward returning home, at once recognized his foster father, and thereafter both he and the queen sought to make amends for her earlier insolence. But their efforts were of no avail. The luxuries of the table, the many alien customs, and the newfangled modes of living put Starkad in a great rage; he poured out his feelings in violent punitive lays, and at length egged Ingjald to such a pitch that he fell on Sverting's sons and killed them. In the warmest and most vigorous terms Starkad commended his deed to the favor of fortune.

Starkad has also been associated with a certain king Ragnvald (Regnaldus), among whose warriors he took part in a great battle in Zealand, from which for the first time of his life he sought safety in flight. But Starkad is known in chief and above all as a retainer of the famous Viking king Haki.

Haki's brother Hagbard, who also was an eminent king of Vikings, came on one of his expeditions to the court of king Sigar in Zealand and there fell in love with Sigar's beautiful daughter Signy. She loved him in turn; but an enmity that arose between him and her brothers made it impossible for him to pay court to her openly. In the garb of a woman he accordingly gained entrance to her bower; and Signy, who knew her father's mind toward her lover, gave him the solemn [231} promise that she would not survive him if death should be his portion. Hagbard being betrayed by a serving maid, Sigar's men came on him and in spite of his brave resistance took him captive. Hagbard was haled before the assembly and doomed to hang. When Signy learned what was in store for him, she determined to set fire to her bower and burn it down over the heads of herself and her maidservants, all of whom offered to go to their death with her. Hagbard, seeing his end draw near, craved assurance of her faith. He therefore begged the hangman first to hang his cloak up on the gallows. Those who were looking on from afar thought it was Hagbard himself, and so Signy kindled the fire in her home. When Hagbard saw the flames rising from Signy's chamber, he burst into paeans of praise for her constancy; soon he should be united with her, and he longed for death. So he ended his life. His brother Haki, intent on avenging his death, set sail with a fleet of ships; but Starkad, who had enjoyed the hospitality of king Sigar, would not go with him. For this reason Haki did not have the best of luck. He won a victory indeed and slew Sigar; but Sigar's son Sigvaldi drove him out of the island and destroyed a part of the army which he had left behind. Haki was afterward attacked at Uppsala by Jorund, king Hugleik's kinsman, and slain in battle.

Finally, Starkad is associated with the Norwegian king Ali the Bold, an ally of the mighty Sigurd Ring. Sigurd Ring was an under-king in Sweden subject to his father's brother, the Dane Harold Hilditonn. When Harold had become old and blind, it came to [232} his mind that he would rather die in battle than on a bed of sickness; he therefore sent a messenger to Sigurd Ring asking him to muster a strong force from the whole of his kingdom, Harold on his part undertaking to summon a force of his own, whereupon the two were to do battle against each other. There followed seven years of preparation for warfare. At the end of that time the two armies met at Bravalla in Östergotland; there the combat took place, doubtless the most famous battle in all the legendary history of the North. Harold Hilditonn had men from Denmark, Saxony, and the Slavic countries; Sigurd, from Sweden and Norway. Among Sigurd's warriors were Ali the Bold, Starkad, and many other champions. In Harold's army Ubbi the Frisian, the shield-maiden Vebjorg, and Haki fought most fiercely. Ubbi killed sixteen common soldiers and six champions before he fell pierced by the Telemark archers. Vebjorg, encountering Starkad, shore through his chin so that it hung down and he was able to hold it up only by biting his beard. She was later killed by Thorkel Thra. Starkad brought to earth many Danish champions and cut off the hand of the shield-maiden Visma, who bore Harold's standard. Afterward he engaged Haki, whom he found a hard nut to crack; he killed his enemy indeed, but in the combat he himself received grievous wounds, one in his throat through which a man might look into his body, one in the chest so that a lung hung from the gash, and one that shore off a finger. King Harold Hilditonn himself, sitting in his chariot of war, fought valiantly in spite of his [233} blindness; at last he fell beneath the stroke of a mace in the hands of his own servant Bruni, who was supposed to be Odin himself in disguise. The Danes then fled, and Sigurd Ring remained master of the field. Denmark he put under his own sway; Zealand and Fyn came beneath the rule of Ali the Bold. Some while later Sigurd Ring engaged in warfare against the Gjukungs, Sigurd Fafnirsbane being at the time still alive. Sigurd Ring sent against them his brothers-in-law, the sons of Gandalf of Alfheim, he himself being occupied in a campaign against Kurland and Kvænland. Starkad was a warrior in the army, and in the battle that now took place he encountered Sigurd Fafnirsbane in person. In him, however, Starkad found his master. Sigurd put him to flight, after striking him in the mouth so that two of his teeth were loosened.
Starkad continued to sojourn with Ali the Bold till the severe judgment passed on him by Thor brought him new misfortunes. Twelve Danish chiefs conspired against the life of Ali and persuaded Starkad for 120 gold marks to murder the king. He came on the king in his bath; at first he fell back before the sharp eyes of Ali, which no man had hitherto been able to endure; but Ali felt that his time had come and therefore, covering his eyes with his hands, made Starkad's task easier for him. Starkad thrust him through the body and so accomplished his third Bastard's deed. [3] But being at once seized with remorse [234} for his act, in his wrath he killed several of those who had misled him. Bent with sorrow he then wandered through the world with the money, the price of his treachery, bound about his neck; with his gains he meant to pay some one or other to wreak vengeance on him. He was so old and feeble that he walked by the aid of two crutches, and yet he bore two swords at his side. At last he met with a young man of high lineage named Hader, whom he persuaded by means of gold and eloquent speech to sever his head from his shoulders. Starkad said that if the youth found it possible to jump between the head and the trunk before the body sank to the ground, he should thereafter be invulnerable. Here his old-time malice, the unhappy gift of Thor, expressed itself again. Hader promptly hewed off his head but did not attempt the leap, knowing very well that if he tried he should be crushed beneath the weight of Starkad's gigantic body. So fierce a champion was Starkad that his head, even after being severed from the trunk, bit at the grass.

Starkad sang his own praises in many a lay, and in this respect he had better fortune than Thor's judgment allowed him. Though he forgot his own lays, others remembered them; and thus it came about that the men of antiquity knew most of his songs, notably his ballad of the Battle of Bravalla. [235}

  1. This is the correct form (see the note), not "Stærkodder."
  2. p 131.
  3. The first dastard's deed was the slaying of Vikar; of the second tradition has no record.

On Starkad the Old

Page 234, line 26 — Starkad is mentioned in a number of the ancient sources, both Danish and Norse; but in no one of them is there a connected account of his life such as we have narrated in the foregoing passage. The story of his sojourn with Horsehair-Grani, with Vikar, and with the kings of Uppsala is to be found in the unhistoric Gautrek's Saga, a saga of antiquity from the 14th [350} century; this saga contains the poem Vikarsbalk, which is attributed to Starkad (it was probably composed in the 12th century in the neighborhood of Bergen). Items of information as to Starkad's descent are given not only in Gautrek's Saga but also in the induction to Half's Saga. — Concerning Starkad's part in the battle between Hugleik and Haki there is a recital in Snorri's Ynglinga Saga, which here builds upon the no longer extant Skjoldunga Saga (from about the year 1200). The same work forms the basis for the account of his deeds in the Battle of Bravalla, which occurs in the so-called Sogubrot (Fornaldar Sogur I, 363 ff.). Finally we hear of his combat with Sigurd Fafnirsbane in Nornagests þáttr (note to p. 239). Various minor notices of Starkad and references to his battles are to be found scattered about in other pieces of Norse literature.

The chief source of the legends dealing with Starkad, however, is Saxo's History of Denmark, where Starkad's deeds bulk large, particularly in the sections having to do with Frodi and Ingjald. Here is his proper place, in the company of the original Heathobard kings Frodi and Ingjald, the enemies of the Danish Scyldings (in later Danish tradition incorporated in the royal succession); he was no doubt at first to be identified with that "old spear-champion" who, at the wedding of Ingjald with a Danish princess, incited men to a breach of the peace (as the story runs in the Anglo-Saxon heroic poem Beowulf). In harmony with this view, Sophus Bugge has explained the name Starkaðr or Storkuðr as *Stark-hoðr, that is, "the strong Heath(obard); still the word hoðr ("battle") was during prehistoric times frequently used in the composition of masculine names, and consequently the foregoing explanation is by no means certainly right. In Danish heroic literature of the 10th century Starkad holds a prominent place. We know in Saxo's Latin rendering the Lay of Ingjald (from ca. 950: Starkad eggs the effeminate Ingjald to action and to revenge for his father's death) and the Lay of Helga (somewhat later: on Starkad in the house of the goldsmith). Moreover, there existed in Denmark, about the year 1000, accounts in prose of Starkad's combat with Angantyr and his brothers. The more extensive elaboration of the legends of Starkad, however, has taken place on Norwegian soil, and the development has proceeded through the following works: 1) The Lay of Bravalla, composed, according to S. Bugge and Olrik, by a man from Telemark in the year 1066; 2) Starkad's Death Lay, from the closing years of the [351} 11th century, composed likewise probably by a man of Telemark, since the lay indicates a Telemark point of view (Starkad once comes off badly from an encounter with the smiths of Telemark); besides, Olrik has supposed 3) a Norwegian lay dealing with the youthful prowess of Starkad (the "Youthful Lay"). (As number 4 in the series of Norwegian Starkad poems we find the aforesaid Vikarsbalk which, in contradistinction to the three others, has been preserved in its original linguistic form.) It was in Norway, during the 11th and 12th centuries, that Starkad's life as a Viking and his dastard's deeds came to be a dominating interest in poetic invention. The Norwegian elaborations of the legends found their way in large measure into Saxo's History of Denmark, in which older Danish verse and story and later Norwegian legend have taken a place side by side. On the course of this development, reference may be made to Axel Olrik's exhaustive discussion in Danmarks heltedigtning II (Starkad the Elder and the later succession of the Skjoldungs).

Of peculiar details found in Saxo, the following are worthy of special mention: Saxo fixes Starkad's birthplace far to the east, which according to Olrik implies Jotunheim; it is to be remembered that Starkad, as presented in Norwegian legend, was of Giant race — Aludrengr, his father's surname, may possibly refer to what was originally a Water-Troll, a Water-Sprite (cf. Modem Norwegian åla, meaning a "deep channel in a stream") [1] — and it is therefore natural that Thor became his enemy. Furthermore Saxo localizes Haki's combat with Hugleik in Iceland.

In the Icelandic Skáldatal Starkad is mentioned as a skald. This is not surprising, since several Starkad lays have been attributed to him directly. In a similar way the Icelanders reckon Ragnar Lodbrok among the skalds by reason of the poem Krákumál (note to p. 251). From Starkad the metrical form Starkaðarlag has its name.

Among other reminiscences of Starkad of more recent date may be mentioned Starkad's tooth. It was one of the molars knocked from Starkad's mouth by Sigurd Fafnirsbane, and it weighed,

[1] In late Icelandic manuscripts of Hervarar Saga (from the 17th century) Starkad is said to have dwelt við Aluforsa. Herewith is probably indicated Ulefoss in Holla, Telemark (S. Bugge, Norsk Sagafortœlling og Sagaskrivning i Irland, Christiania, 1901-09, p. 127; cf. Norske Gaardsnavne VII, p. 172 f.). [352} according to Nornagests Þáttr, six pennyweight [1] — "it now hangs fastened to the bell rope in Lund." It was no doubt this same tooth of Starkad's, six inches in length, that the German knight Heinrich Æmeltorp is supposed to have carried with him in the year 1253 from Denmark to Germany and there to have exhibited as a curiosity (See Ryd Årbok). Furthermore, several local legends have been connected with Starkad. According to Saxo, he lies buried at Roljung (near Rönneå in the extreme south of Halland, north-east of Kullen), at the place where he slew Angantyr.

As to the birth of Vikar, Half's Saga has an account differing from that in Gautrek's Saga. Vikar's father had two wives, Signy and Geirhild, who agreed so ill that he found it impossible to keep more than one of them. The one who brewed the best beer against his homecoming from war he would permit to remain; the other he would put away. Signy called upon Freyja for aid; Geirhild called upon Odin. Odin spat in her brew, but demanded in recompense what was between her and the vat. She promised to fulfill his demand; the ale turned out to be excellent, and the king kept her, but said: "With my mind's eye I can already see your son swinging from a gallows, a sacrifice to Odin." Not long afterward she gave birth to Vikar.

The legend of Hagbard, which is loosely joined to the legends of Starkad, was in ancient times and still is commonly known throughout the North. From the north of Norway and down into Denmark many places are pointed out as the dwelling of Signy. Saxo, who gives a circumstantial version of the story, localizes the events in Zealand, where popular belief still finds the home of Sigar and Signy in the neighborhood of Sigersted. The Icelandic Landnámabók relates that Sigar was supposed to have lived at Steig on the island of Engeløy in Halogaland; according to another source (Flateyjarbók I, 25) he was a son of a daughter of Grjotgard, king of Mœre, and the son of a brother of Siggeir, the enemy of the Volsungs (p. 152). At Engeløy men still point out Signy's bower, her well, and the like. The legend has also been attached to Dragsmark in Bohuslen, to Sigersvoll at Lists, to Urnes in Sogn. The legend of Hagbard has supplied many items to the phraseology of poetry; thus the gallows in one passage is called "Sigar's horse," and in another passage "the cool

[1] In the Norwegian text: ører. —Translator's note. [353} steed of Signy's lover." On the relation between the ancient story of Hagbard and Signy and the ballad derived from it, see Axel Olrik, Folkelige Afhandlinger (1919), p. 96 ff.


Orvar-Odd has been mentioned before, in the discussion of the legends of Tyrfing. [1] His father's father, Ketil Hæng (ie, "milt salmon"), was a son of Hallbjorn Sea-Troll and a grandson of Ulf Uarge. Ketil grew to man's estate on his father's farm on the island of Rafnista (now Ramsta) in Naumdølafylke. As a lad he was little liked by his father; he lay continually by the hearth, poking the fire and doing nothing useful. At length he gained his father's respect by a successful combat with a dragon and by other deeds of prowess. On an expedition to Finmark he killed the king of the Finns, Gusi, and got possession of his three arrows, which had the virtue of always hitting the mark and of returning of their own accord to the hand that sent them forth. These arrows later passed from father to son in that family. His son Grim Loddinkinn lived at Rafnista after his father and likewise did many wonderful deeds. He was wedded to Lopthæna, a daughter of the chief, Harold of Viken. Their son Odd was born on the farm Berrjod in Jæren, where his parents had gone ashore on a voyage to Viken. At Berrjod Odd remained under the care of his father's friend Ingjald together with Ingjald's son Asmund, who became his best friend. At an early age Odd was an expert bowman. A prophetess once foretold that his foster father's horse, Faxi, was to bring about his death after the space of three hundred years. To make the prophecy void, Odd killed the horse and buried it in a valley near [236} Berrjod. Some time later he went with Asmund home to his father's house and got from his father the arrows of Gusi; the great feats he performed with them earned him the name of Orvar-Odd (Arrow-Odd). Odd now traveled far and wide in search of adventure. In Bjarmiland he and his companions took a mass of silver from a burial mound, but were hard pressed when the men of the land came over them with superior numbers. They were nevertheless saved by the valor of Odd, who with his mace made great havoc among the hostile ranks. After many combats with Giants and Vikings he at length came into conflict in Sweden with the Viking Hjalmar the Proud; the struggle ended with their becoming sworn brothers, whereupon they stood by each other loyally in many battles. The most remarkable of these was the battle of Samsey against the sons of Arngrim [2], where Hjalmar fell. Odd here killed eleven of the brothers with his mace. He had already lost his friend Asmund on an earlier expedition to Ireland. Odd avenged his death on the Irish and prepared to carry the king's daughter Olvor off by force. But she persuaded him to absent himself for a year; in return she was to give him a shirt that iron would not sunder, and that would afford protection against fire, hunger, and other evils. A year later Odd came back again, received the shirt, and took the king's daughter to wife for the space of three years; they got a daughter whom they named Ragnhild. After Hjalmar's death Odd journeyed far and wide to the west and to the south and far east into Russia as well. In the south he [237} allowed himself to be baptized and afterward wedded the princess Silkesif, to whose father he had lent aid. When he had grown old, he longed to see his father's estate once more, and so sailed with two ships to Rafnista, where his daughter Ragnhild's son was then living. On the return voyage he went ashore at Berrjod to visit his foster father's estate. There he came across an old skull of a horse. "Surely, that cannot be Faxi's skull!" said Odd, striking it with his sword. At that a serpent crept out and stung him to death. And thus the sibyl's prophecy was fulfilled.

  1. p 130 ff.
  2. See p 131 ff.

On Orvar-Odd

Page 237, line 11 — The stories of Ketil Hæng, Grim Loddinkinn, and Orvar-Odd are told in three sagas of antiquity (fornaldarsogur, cf. note to p. 147), highly romantic, and filled with monotonous accounts of combats with Giants and Vikings. Orvar-Odd's Saga, the oldest of these, was probably written down in the 13th century; the two others are no doubt from the early part of the 14th century. Ketil Hæng and Grim Loddinkinn, the ancestors of the Rafnista family, are mentioned in the Landnámabók and in Egil's Saga as historical personages. It is worth noting that the death of the Russian-Varangian ruler Oleg is told in the same manner as that of Orvar-Odd. Berrjod is situated not in Jæren but in Sokndal, Dalene. Of the horse Faxi a reminiscence is supposed to have survived down to recent times in "Faxatiorn" (Faxi's lake), mentioned in Arni Magnusson's correspondence with Torfæus, as edited by Kålund (Copenhagen, 1916), pp. 49, 293.

Orvar-Odd was reputed to have been twelve yards in height. To him also legend has thus attributed superhuman height, strength, and age. Similar tales are told of Starkad. Of Sigurd Fafnirsbane the Volsunga Saga relates that when he rode through the tallest field of rye, the highest ear reached only up to the ferrule of his sword. Such exaggerated stories of the legendary heroes of old are common to all peoples. Traces of superstitions of the same kind are to be found among the ancient Greeks and Romans. Even in our own day the belief is widespread that the champions of antiquity were much taller and stronger than the men of later times.


In the third year of the reign of Olaf Tryggvason a man came into the presence of the king and asked to be admitted to his bodyguard. He was uncommonly tall and strong and somewhat stricken in years. He said that his name was Gest and that he was the son of a Danish man named Thord of Thinghusbit, who once dwelt on the estate of Grøning in Denmark. Though he had not been baptized but only signed with the cross, the king gave him a seat among the guests. One day king Olaf was presented with a costly ring by one of his men; all the retinue admired it greatly, with the exception of Gest, who let it be understood that he had seen better gold before. What he said proved to be true; for he produced a piece of what was once a buckle of a saddle, and all those who saw it had to admit that the gold in it was of superior quality. On the king's asking him to tell how he got hold of the [238} ornament, Gest recounted many of the adventures he had passed through. He related how he had fared to the court of king Hjalprek in Frankland and there had entered the service of Sigurd Fafnirsbane; furthermore, how he had followed Sigurd in battles against the sons of Hunding [1] and against the sons of Gandalf. [2] The piece of ring Sigurd had given him once when Grani's chest harness had broken. After the death of Sigurd he had for some time attended the sons of Ragnar Lodbrok as they were about to set forth for Rome. Later he had sojourned with king Erik of Uppsala and with king Harold Fairhair. It was at the court of king Lodvi of Saxony that he had been signed with the cross. Finally he told how he had come by the name of Norna-Gest. While he still lay in the cradle, three wise women or Norns had come to his father's estate at Grøning and had foretold the child's destiny. The youngest of the Norns, deeming that the two others made rather light of her, determined to render void their promises of good fortune for the child; so she prophesied that his life was to last no longer than that of a candle standing lit beside the cradle. The eldest Norn at once quenched the candle and bade the mother hide it well. When Gest was grown to manhood, he got the candle in his own keeping; and now he showed it to the king. Gest afterward permitted himself, at the king's desire, to be baptized. When he had come to be three hundred years of age, the king asked him how much longer he wished to live. "Only [239} a short time," answered Gest. He then lighted his candle and made ready for death. When the candle had burned down, Gest's life was at an end.

  1. See p 171.
  2. See p 233.

On Norna-Gest

Page 239, line 3 — The story of Norna-Gest is narrated in Nornagests þáttr, which was written by an Icelander about the year 1300 and later incorporated as an episode of Olaf Tryggvason's Saga in the Flatey Book. It gives a brief summary of the narratives dealing with the life and death of Sigurd Fafnirsbane, [354} reciting in its course several of the ancient poems. The accounts of the prophecies of the Norns recall to mind the Greek myth of Meleager.


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