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FOURTH SECTION

HERO SAGAS

1. The Hero Saga. — The hero saga stands midway between myth and history, since it rests on the heathen conception of life, but also makes use of human experience, frequently even of real persons and events as the basis of a poetic presentation. The hero saga ought, therefore, to be regarded as neither pure mythology nor as pure history. It is free poetical composition which must be judged from a poetical standpoint, but from which we learn to a great extent our forefathers' whole view of life and their ideals. In Northern literature we find an unusually rich and extensive saga-poetry of popular origin. The sagas were not, as with our kindred farther south and with the Roman people, worked over into great art-poems, and the Northern poetry therefore often missed the clearness and coherence which the regulating hand of the poet can effect; but it has on the other hand far greater freshness and fullness. Svend Grundtvig justly expresses his surprise "that with our forefathers in the pagan age, a thousand years ago and more, at a period in many ways both crude and barbarous, there existed the intellectual life and mental power which could produce and develop poetic compositions so admirable and so comprehensive. In richness, power, and depth these do not yield to the ancient Greek, which may indeed surpass the Norse in art as well as in beauty and charm, but quite certainly are inferior in seriousness and moral purity." Since, moreover, this ancient poetry through its original elements has spread more widely than any other among all the Gothic-Germanic people, and since it has become a rich source of regeneration for the new poetry of the North in the nineteenth century, we cannot close our review of the faith of pagan times without first retelling some of the most widely known hero sagas.


THE VOLSUNGS

2. Sigurth's Forefathers. — Siggi was Odin's foster son and a noted king. He was slain by one whom he most trusted, and that was his queen's brother. Later his son Rerir took vengeance for his death.

Rerir's son Volsung had ten sons, among them Sigmund, and a daughter Signy, who was married to King Siggeir. In Volsung's hall stands the broad family-tree, whose branches overshadow the whole house. At Signy's bridal feast a strange old man steps forward and thrusts a mighty sword into the tree; the one who is able to draw it out is to have it. Siggeir tries it without avail, and only Sigmund has the needed strength. Since the former does not wish to give up the sword to his brother-in-law, he departs in ill humor, having first invited Volsung and his sons to a feast at his house. They make their appearance and, although they are warned by Signy, they refuse to flee. Volsung is slain, while his sons are chained to a prisoner's block out in the woods, where nine of them are eaten up by Siggeir's mother in a wolf's skin. Sigmund, on the other hand; is freed with Signy's help and remains many years hidden in the forest. Signy comes to him there in the form of a strange woman and becomes the mother of a son Sinfjotli, who, together with his father, burns King Siggeir in his house. Signy voluntarily seeks death in the flames when she has taken vengeance for her family. Sigmund, son of Volsung, after that returns to his native land, where he becomes a famous king. He marries Borghild, who with poison kills her stepson Sinfjotli, whose body the father bears away in his arms. He casts off Borghild and soon after marries Hjordis, daughter of King Eylimi, but is slain after the expiration of a short time by his enemy Lyngvi, Hunding's son.

Hjordis, after her husband's death, bears her famous son Sigurd and is taken under the protection of the Viking Alf, son of King Hjalprek, who marries her. Sigurd is brought up at the home of King Hjalprek and his sons, but the skillful smith Begin becomes his foster-father.

3. Hreithmar's Sons. — There was a man of the race of dwarfs who was called Hreithmar. He had three sons, Fafnir, Otr, and Regin. The second son, who in the form of an otter caught fish, was slain by Loki once, when the latter was on a journey with Hœnir and Odin. Hreithmar demanded in reparation the otter skin covered with gold. This Loki prepares at the house of the dwarf Andvari, who pronounces a curse on both the gold treasure and its owner. Since Hreithmar will not share the gold with his sans he is slain by Fafnir, who after that drives Begin away and in the form of a monstrous dragon lies down to brood over the treasure on the Gnita heath. Begin has meanwhile entered the service of King Hjalprek as a smith, and there he tells Sigurth the history of his family. He forges together the pieces of the sword of Sigmund, Volsung's son, for Sigurth and incites the latter to slay Fafnir. Sigurth promises this, but yet wishes to avenge first his father's death.


4. Sigurth Fafnir's Bane. — When Sigurth has taken vengeance on the sons of Hun-ding, he betakes himself, accompanied by Begin, to the Gnita heath. Begin conceals himself in the heather, while Sigurth succeeds in slaying the dragon. He had dug deep channels in the earth into which the monster's blood should run, for fear that otherwise he might be stifled by the poisonous fluid.



Fig. 21 – Sigard's Fatal Thrust.

Begin now hastens to him and bids him roast Fafnir's heart for himself. Sigurth does so, but when he wants to try with his fingers to see if the meat is done he gets a little of the heart's blood on his tongue, and he suddenly understands the voices of the birds. The chirping of the birds informs him that Regin has evil in his heart and advises him to slay him and to take possession of the whole treasure. Sigurth follows the advice, fells Regin, and takes the dragon's "terror helmet" and the treasure, which he loads upon his horse Grani, and then he rides farther (Fig. 21). Now he has earned his name, Sigurth, Fafnir's Bane. 1

On his way he comes to a mountain, surrounded by flaming fire, but Grani bears him unharmed through the flames. Within upon the mountain lies a sleeping form in full armor. When he turns the helmet back he sees that it is a woman. He cuts the coat of mail asunder and the sleeping woman awakes. It is the Valkyr Sigrdrifa, whom Odin has put to sleep. Sigurth and she are betrothed and he rides away.


5. The Gjukungs and the Nibelungs. — Down in the Rhine country was dwelling at that time King Gjuki. His wife was named Grimhild, and their children were Gunnar, Hogni, and Guttorm, and a daughter Guthrun. To these "Gjukungs" Sigurth came, established foster-brotherhood with the two elder sons, and after Grimhild had given him a potion to cause forgetfulness betrothed himself to Guthrun. Sometime after that Gunnar wished to sue for the Valkyr Brynhild, whose castle was surrounded by flames. Sigurth accompanied him on his journey, and when Gunnar's horse did not dare to go through the flames, Sigurth assumed Gunnar's form and forced Grani through the fire. The Valkyr, according to a decree of fate, was to marry the one who should accomplish the ride through the fire. Sigurth shared her couch, but a drawn sword lay between them. Brynhild became after that Gunnar's bride, while Sigurth married Guthrun.


6. Sigurth Slain. — It was not long before there was strife between the two women. Brynhild begrudged Guthrun the glorious hero as husband for whom she herself had conceived affection. When Guthrun one day imprudently boasted of her husband's superiority and was telling how he had deceived Brynhild, the latter burst out in wrath and injured pride and she then induced Gunnar and his brothers to slay Sigurth.

The more particular circumstances of the murder are variously told, but common to all the sources is the thrilling description of Guthrun's great grief and Brynhild's wild, revengeful satisfaction, which is, however, only pretense. Indeed, she confides in Gunnar that Sigurth has fully kept his faith with his foster-brothers but that she on account of her slighted affection has been most hostile of all toward the one she loves the most, and she now induces her husband to slay the hero treacherously. After that she kills herself.


The earliest history of the Volsungs is known only from Northern sources, but in general the Norse and the German versions of the Saga of the Volsungs (Eddic Songs and Volsunga Saga, and the German art-poem, the Nibelungenlied of the beginning of the thirteenth century) agree as far as we have described. With the Germans the hero is named Siegfried and his wife Kriemhild. But from that point the Nibelungenlied continues with the account of how Kriemhild takes vengeance upon her brothers for her husband's death, while the Norse tradition follows other lines.


7. Guthrun and the Buthlings. — After the slaying of Sigurth, Gunnar and his brothers took possession of Fafnir's treasure, which later was buried in the Rhine. Therefore the gold is called the "Mine's red flame." King Atli, son of Buthli and brother of Brynhild, was embittered at his sister's death, but concluded an agreement with the Gjukungs on condition that he receive Guthrun as his wife. After the wedding he invited his brothers-in-law to visit him, and then slew them in order to come into possession of the Rhine treasure. He had the heart cut from Hogni while living and had Gunnar cast into the garden of serpents. But Guthrun took vengeance for her brothers in a frightful way. She slew her two sons and had their skulls converted into drinking-cups, from which she made Atli take a drink mixed with his children's blood. She recklessly told him what she had done, and when he had become intoxicated at the feast she slew him in the night, after which she threw herself into the river, now that she had taken vengeance for her family.


8. Guthrun-Jonakr. — The later form of the saga has her rescued in King Jonakr's country. She marries the king and becomes the mother of Sorli, Hamdir, and Erp. These three brothers fall in battle against King Jormunrek (Ermanaric), who has had their sister Svanhild slain.

In the Nibelungenlied nothing is known of this later development of the saga. However, among the chief characters in the last part of the poem there are introduced Etzel and Dietrich of Bern (Attila and Theodoric of Verona), and the latter appears frequently in Danish folk-songs which sing of the Story of the Volsungs in close connection with German tradition.

Icelandic poetry has certainly preserved the oldest form of the Sigurd Saga, but it is of foreign origin, known to have grown up among the Franks in the course of the sixth century. Sigurd's origin is obscure. He is undoubtedly one of poetry's freely formed ideal figures — but in relation to actual historical events. In the, year 437 the Burgundian king Gundahari fell, with large numbers of his people, in a battle against an army of Huns which had marched on to Worms. In 453 Attila, king of the Huns, celebrated his wedding with a young woman named Hilda, but died suddenly during the feast. These two occurrences unite in forming the saga. Hilda is the sister of the Burgundian king, who takes vengeance upon Attila for her brother's death.


THE HELGI SAGAS

9. Helgi Hjorvarth's Son and Svafa. — In Norse poetry there appear besides the common Germanic hero Sigurth, Fafnir's Bane, two heroes of the name Helgi who have no parallels among the Germans. Helgi was a son of Hjorvarth in his marriage with Sigrlinn. He was taciturn and did not answer to any name. One time he was sitting upon a hill, when he saw nine Valkyrs come riding toward him. The most beautiful of them was Svafa, who bestowed on him the name Helgi and encouraged him to warlike deeds by giving him good weapons and promising him her love. Helgi now performed great exploits, after which he made love to Svafa at her father's house. She promised to be faithful to him, and they loved each other dearly.


10. Hethin. — It so happened at one time that Helgi was on an expedition, while Svafa remained at home with her father, although she was a Valkyr. At the same time Helgi's half-brother Hethin was living at home with King Hjorvarth in Norway. On Christmas Eve, Hethin was driving home alone from the wood and met on the way a witch who as riding on a wolf and had vipers for reins. She offered Hethin her company, but when he declined it she said, "You will have to pay for that at the Bragi cup!" In the evening they had to make vows, and the chosen boar1 was led forth. Hethin's mind was so bewildered that he made vows to win Svafa, his brother's loved one. When he had recovered his senses, he repented so sorely that he rode off on wild roads to the south until he met his brother.


11. Helgi's Death. — Helgi received his message with great calmness. "Surely no one could escape his destiny." He had a foreboding of his speedy death, for it was certainly his own fylgja his brother had met, in the form of the witch. We had at that time been challenged to a duel by Alf, son of Hrothmar, and it resulted as he feared. At Frekasteini the brilliant hero is mortally wounded, but in his death-hour he has Svafa sent for and begs her, if she will listen to his words, to forget her sorrow and to bestow her affection upon Hethin. Svafa answers that she will never, because her husband has died with shame and infamy, give her hand to another unknown prince. Hethin then quickly decides the matter; he asks her for a kiss, perhaps the only one and the last, for now he is going into battle and will not turn back before he has avenged Hnorvarth's son, the best hero under heaven.


12. Helgi, Hunding's Bane, and Sigrun. — In his marriage with Borghild, Sigmund, son of Volsung, had a son who was called Helgi. He soon gained for himself a famous hero's name, especially since he had slain King Hunding, after which event he was called Helgi, Hunding's Bane.3

There was living at that time a king named Hogni; his daughter was the Valkyr Sigrun, whom her father wished to be given in marriage to King Hothbrodd, son of Granmar. But Sigrun disdained this man and chose Helgi, Hunding's Bane, for her bridegroom. Helgi then went out into the battle with the sons of Granmar, who were aided by Sigrun's father and brothers. He conquered and slew them all with the exception of Dag, son of Hogni, who had to make a vow of loyalty to him. Sigrun wept much when Helgi brought her the news of her kinsmen's death, but still she was married to the hero. They lived in happy union on the Seva fields 4 and had many children.


13. Helgi's Death. — Helgi, however, did not live to be old. Dag offered sacrifice to Odin to gain vengeance for his father, and Odin lent him his spear. He then sought out his brother-in-law and slew him. When he brings his sister the death message, she is kindled with great wrath at his faithless conduct. Punishment for all the false oaths he has sworn to Helgi shall now overtake him: his ship shall not proceed, if the wind be ever so fair; his horse shall not run, even if foes pursue him hard; his sword shall not bite, unless it sings about his own head. "Only then would Helgi's death be avenged upon you, were you a wolf out in the forest, without goods and without joy, and with no food — only carcasses for nourishment."

Dag seeks to comfort her and offers heavy indemnity. Sigrun rejects everything, but becomes calmer when she remembers the fallen hero.


HELG. HU. 36
Thus had Helgi put in terror
all his foes, their kindred too,
as from the wolf impetuous run
goats from the mountain, full of fear.

37
Thus had Helgi surpassed the battle-chiefs
as nobly shaped ash does the thorn,
or the young stag dashed with dew,
that towers above all other beasts.


14. Helgi in the Tomb. — The conclusion of this second lay of Helgi, Hunding's Bane, tells about the meeting of Sigrun and Helgi in the tomb. Helgi rode to Valhalla after being entombed here below, and Odin invited him to deliberate with him about all things. At evening Sigrun's maid went to Helgi's tomb. There she saw the hero come riding at the head of many men, and it was some time before she could believe her own eyes: "Is it only deceit? I think I see Ragnarok or a ride of the dead. With sharp points you spur your steeds. Has leave to return been granted to the hero?" Helgi calms her and she hastens to Sigrun.


HELG. HU. 41
Go out, oh Sigrun, from Seva-fell,
if the people's prince you fain would find;
the marks of battle bleed; the chieftain begged of you
that the wound-drops you would stem.


Sigrun goes into the mound to Helgi and says:


42
Now I'm so glad at our meeting
like the ravenous hawks of Odin,
when they descry the slain, warm flesh,
or wet with dew, the break of day perceive.

43
First I will kiss thee, lifeless king,
ere the bloody mail thou lay'st aside;
thy hair, oh Helgi, is frost-bedecked,
the king is all moistened with death-dew.5


And the prince's hands are as cold as ice. She asks him then if she can do anything for him. Helgi answers:



44
Your fault alone, Sigrun, from Seva-fell
that Helgi is with sorrow's dew immersed,
thou, decked in gold, dost weep with bitter tears,
sun-bright, South's child ere thou dost go to sleep;
each one fell bloody on the prince's breast
cold, wet, and burning in, with sorrow filled.


45
Well shall we drink the costly mead
though we have lost our joy and lands;
now are the brides inclosed within the mound,
the wives of men, beside us now in death.


Then Sigrun prepares a couch in the tomb for Helgi and says:


46
For thee, oh Helgi, I've prepared a couch
untroubled quite, oh Ylfing's son;
and in thy arms I wish, oh, prince, to sleep,
as with the living prince I might.



To this Helgi answers:

47
Now nothing I say is unhoped for
late or early at Seva-fell,
since in the arms of me the lifeless one, thou'lt sleep,
white in the mound, oh Hogni's maid!

48
'Tis time for me to ride the reddened ways,
to cause the fallow steed to tread the airy track;
ere Salgofnir6 may wake the victor-throng?7


Helgi thereupon rides away with his men. The following evening Sigrun wanders about the tomb to wait for her dead husband. The maid is keeping watch and says:


49
Now were come if so he planned,
Sigmund's son from Odin's hall;
of the king's coming, I say, the hopes grow dim,
since upon ash-limbs the eagles sit,
all people hasten to the court of dreams.

50
Be not so thoughtless that thou far'st alone,
wife of a king, to the abode of death;
more mighty grow at night time all
ghost-like foes than in the shining day.


Helgi came not, and in the course of a long time Sigrun died from grief. The same pretty theme is treated in the Danish folk-song "Faestemanden i Graven,"8 or "Aage og Else."


VOLUND THE SMITH

15. Volund and his Brothers. — The sagas of Volund (Volundr, Valand, Velent, Wielant, etc.) are found among all the Germanic people and have in all probability wandered from them to the Romans. In the saga of Theodoric of Verona a section is found which recounts all of Volund's life. An ancient English poem gives a single episode of his history.9 The Old Norse poem Volundarkvitha likewise treats merely a single section, upon which Oehlenschlaeger has composed his "Vaulundurs Saga."

A Finnish king had three sons, Slagfith, Egil, and Volund. They went out upon skis and hunted game. One time they came to Ulvdaler,10 and built themselves houses there by a lake which was called Ulvjar.11 Early one morning they found on the shore three women who were spinning flax. They were Valkyrs, and their swan-garments lay beside them. The brothers took them home with them to be their wives: Egil took Olrun, Slagfith took Svanhvit, and Volund, Alvitr.


VKV. 4
Later they sat seven winters together
but in the eighth they pined throughout,
and in the ninth they needs must part;
the maidens longed for the dark wood —
Alvitr 12 young to practice war.


They were seized by their Valkyr-nature, which drove them irresistibly into battle. The brothers came home from the hunt, but found the rooms empty however much they sought:


VKV. 6
Eastward strode Egil for Olrun
and southward Slagfith for Swanwhite,
But Volund alone in Wolfdale sat.

VKV. 7
He set in red gold the precious stone,
wound all the rings with linden-bast:
thus did await his…..shining
wife, if to him she would come again.


16. Nithuth. — The Niara king Nithuth now hears that Volund is dwelling alone in the Wolf-Dales and has gold and costly things in abundance, which he fashions with great skill. The avaricious king now places himself in ambush at night-time in Volund's house. When Volund returns from the hunt he counts as usual the gold rings he has hanging on a fibre-cord under the roof, and one is missing — the one Nithuth has taken. Volund's first thought is that his wife perhaps has returned home, but since no one is to be seen he falls asleep. He is overcome and bound by the king and his men. Upon the queen's advice they cut the tendons of his ankles and set him as a cripple out on the island Saevarstath, where he must forge precious things for the king, and he may be visited by him alone. Then Volund sings:



VKV. 19
There shone Nithuth's sword at his girdle,
that which I whetted skillfully as I was able
(and I hardened it as most fitting seemed)
this shining sword, borne far from me for aye.

20
He sat, he slept not, unceasing beat his hammer,
his art he plied right speedily for Nithuth.


17. Revenge. — Nor was vengeance long delayed. The two sons of the avaricious king stole in upon Saevarstath to get gold for themselves, but Volund outwitted and slew them. Their skulls he covered with silver and sent them to Nithuth for drinking-cups; of their eyes he fashioned jewels for the queen, and of their teeth a breast-ornament for her daughter, Bothvild.

A short time afterwards Bothvild broke a costly ring which her father had given her. She dared not confess to him her misfortune and appealed to Volund to have the damage repaired. He received her kindly and promised to repair the ring; but after he had brought her to a seat and stupefied her with strong drink, he dishonored the king's daughter as a climax to his terrible revenge. At the same time his skill was put to a good test; he had made himself a feather cloak so as to fly away from the island:


VKV. 31
Laughing Volund rose in air,
weeping Bothvild passed from the isle.

The conclusion of the poem is incomplete and obscure. Volund's gifts occasion disturbance in the king's court. Neither the king nor the queen can sleep; they tremble in fever and distrust each other. It seems that Volund had flown hither to the castle and with scornful words described the trouble he had caused. Nithuth answered:

VKV. 39
You spoke no word which would grieve me worse,
will not, Volund, blame thee more;
no man is there so tall as to take thee from thy horse
nor yet so strong that he might shoot thee down,
there where you soar against the clouds.

40
Laughing Volund rose in air,
but joyless Nithuth sat there then.


The song ends with Nithuth having his daughter called, and she confirms the story of what has happened. — From other sources we know that the child of Volund and Bothvild was a son, Witige; he appears very commonly in our Danish folk-songs under the name of Vidrik, Verland's son.


THE HJATHNINGAR 13

18. The Peace of Frothi. — We have already mentioned the myth telling how the end of the Golden Age, occasioned by the struggle between the Aesir and the Vanir, was prepared in various ways: the three giant maids come to Asgarth, that is, the Valkyrs (or Norns) who give warning of the coming battle. This transition from the original peaceful condition of happiness and innocence to times of warfare is pictured in several mythical and semi-heroic poems in the works of Saxo and of Icelandic authors.

Saxo thus gives an account of the prosperous reign of "Peace-Frothi," when there was such complete peace in the country that one could lay gold upon the highway without its being stolen. About this "Peace of Frothi" the Eddic Song, Grottasongr, and also Snorri relate the following:

The Danish king Frothi visited King Fjolnir in Sweden and at his house he bought, on departing, two large, strong bondwomen, Fenja and Menja. At the same time there were found in Denmark two large hand-mills driven ashore. No one had the strength to turn them, although they could grind everything which one might desire. Whoever had stones in his possession put them into a mill which he called Grotti and brought it to King Frothi. He then set his strong bondwomen to grinding; they took no rest and he heard them continually singing at the mill. Menja quoth:


GROTT. 5
Wealth let ns grind for Frothi, let us grind most happy
mass of riches let us grind in fortune's mill.
He sat upon the riches, he slept upon the down,
let him awake to wish, then it is well ground.

6
Here shall no one hurt the other,
prepare his harm or plan his death,
or strike with the sharp sword,
though his brother find in bonds.


For all that the king would not give them the needful rest. "You must not sleep beyond the hour when the cuckoo's note . sounds over the hall." Fenja and Menja rebuked him for his folly; they told him that they were mighty and ancient giantesses who already had occasioned great discord in the world. Now they were grinding war and public calamity for the kingdom: "Frothi shall lose the throne of Hleithr ,14 but Yrsa's son 15 shall later take vengeance for the murder of Halfdan."


GROTT. 23
The maidens ground, applied their strength
were young in giant power;
the poles shook, the casing fell,
and then burst the heavy block asunder and in twain.


19. The Brising Ornament. — Odin loved Freyja. (She was his frithla, his 'beloved,' consequently is confused with Frigg.) One day she came to a stone where there lived four dwarfs who had prepared a very handsome necklace of gold. The goddess would have been glad to gain this, but the dwarfs demanded and insisted that her love should be the price; so the ornament was dearly bought before she could call it her own. Meanwhile the crafty Loki had learned of the matter and immediately imparted his knowledge to Odin. The latter commanded him to seize the ornament from Freyja and bring it to him; and this was done, but not without some difficulty. In order to get the necklace back Freyja had to promise to make discord between two kings who were so mighty that twelve kings served under them, and this conflict was to last forever. Then began the Hjathning-Storm, i.e. the Battle.

Hjathning Battle. — Hethin, king of Norway, carried away Hild, daughter of the Danish king Hogni, who at that time was on a warlike expedition. When the latter returned shortly after Hethin's plundering, he fitted out his fleet, pursued the thief, and overtook him. It was in vain that hid sought to effect a reconciliation between her father and her lover, although she offered her father in amends a costly necklace. The battle began; Hogin and Hethin slew each other, and there was great slaughter on both sides. Every night Hild with her enchantments awoke the fallen heroes to life again. The following morning the strife would begin anew, and so it was to continue until Ragnarok.

This Saga of the Hjathnings wandered in Viking times to England and the Netherlands, where it soon became very popular. From the Netherlands it became known in Germany, where at about the same time as the Nibelungenlied (about 1200) there was composed a great hero-poem, Gudrun,16 on the basis of this Northern theme.


BEOWULF

20. The Lay of Beowulf. — The sagas of Beowulf, according to the opinion of most scholars, had their home and origin in Sweden or Denmark. Now they are found only in an Anglo-Saxon art-poem dating from the beginning of the eighth century; but since the original foundation is Northern, we will relate briefly the chief points of the poem.

The Danish king Hrothgar had a splendid hall built for himself in which he wished to hold his feasts. But at this the troll Grendel became much embittered, and creeping at night into the king's hall seized thirty of the king's men. Since this recurred night after night, there were anxiety and despair in the whole realm. The report of Grendel's crime also reached the Geats, whose best man, Beowulf, at the head of chosen warriors resolved to hasten to the help of the Danish king. He was received with homage and exaltation and a great feast. In the evening he and his men remained behind in the hall alone, where Grendel as usual appeared and seized one of the Geats, whom he tore in sunder. Beowulf, however, drew his sword and after a frightful combat cut off the right arm of the troll and put him to flight.

21. Grendel's Mother. — The Danes rejoice. But the following night the troll's mother comes to avenge her son. She succeeds in dragging away Ζschere, King Hrothgar's best friend. Then Beowulf resolves, with the united Danes and Geats, to visit the troll in his own house. This is in a mighty swamp, which is so deep that Beowulf needs fully twenty-four hours to complete his wanderings. At the bottom he finds Grendel and his mother in a light and airy cave. A wild conflict immediately ensues between the mother and Beowulf, but his sword does not bite upon the invulnerable troll-woman. He then takes up a giant sword which is hanging in the cave and fells the monster. Hrothgar has meanwhile believed him dead and has marched away with his army. There is therefore great rejoicing when he returns as victor to the surface of the earth.

22. Now fifty years pass away. Beowulf has long since returned to his country and has become its king. Then in his old age a mighty dragon begins to ravage his land, and now he must once more equip himself for strife. He succeeds in felling the dragon, but soon afterwards he himself expires from his wounds.

Into the chief action of this poem there is strewn a number of war-adventures and battle-pictures which we shall here pass over.


Besides the individual saga-cycles briefly treated here, — those which have played an especially prominent role in popular belief and poetry, — there is found a rich variety of half-mythological, half-historical hero-sagas. To know these we must read the first nine books of Saxo, and also the Icelandic sagas. By way of example we may name the Danish Siklinge17 Saga (Hagbard and Signe); the tales about Skjold (and the Skjoldungar), Hrolf Kraki, and Ragnar Lothbrok; the Saga of Hervor and Hejthrek, that of Orvarodd; and finally the Sagas of Starkath or Staerkodder, who has been celebrated in the songs of all the people of the North.

_______________________

1 Icel. Fafnisbani, 'Slayer of Fafnir.'

2 See above.

3 Icel. Hundingsbani, 'Slayer of Hunding.'

4 Icel. Sefafjollum": Sefa, "affection."

5 "Blood."

6 Cock in Valhalla (Gering).

7 The Einherjar.

8 The Bridegroom in the Grave.

9 Lament of Deor.

10 Valleys of the Wolf (Wolfdale).

11 Wolf-Lake.

12 "The heavenly young maidens" is suggested for AIvitr.

13 Or the Hjathnings.

14 Now Lejre, in Zealand.

15 Hrolf-Kraki.

16 Or Kudrun.

17 Icel. Siklingar, the 'Siklings,' a royal race.


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