The First Nine Books of the Danish History of Saxo Grammaticus / Book VIII

STARKAD was the first to set in order in Danish speech the history of

the Swedish war, a conflict whereof he was himself a mighty pillar; the

said history being rather an oral than a written tradition. He set forth

and arranged the course of this war in the mother tongue according to

the fashion of our country; but I purpose to put it into Latin, and will

first recount the most illustrious princes on either side. For I have

felt no desire to include the multitude, which are even past exact

numbering. And my pen shall relate first those on the side of Harald,

and presently those who served under Ring.

Now the most famous of the captains that mustered to Harald are

acknowledged to have been Sweyn and Sambar (Sam?), Ambar and Elli; Rati

of Funen, Salgard and Roe (Hrothgar), whom his long beard distinguished

by a nickname. Besides these, Skalk the Scanian, and Alf the son of Agg;

to whom are joined Olwir the Broad, and Gnepie the Old. Besides these

there was Gardh, founder of the town Stang. To these are added the

kinsfolk or bound followers of Harald: Blend (Blaeng?), the dweller

in furthest Thule, (1) and Brand, whose surname was Crumb (Bitling?).

Allied with these were Thorguy, with Thorwig, Tatar (Teit), and Hialte.

These men voyaged to Leire with bodies armed for war; but they were also

mighty in excellence of wit, and their trained courage matched their

great stature; for they had skill in discharging arrows both from bow

and catapult, and at fighting their foe as they commonly did, man to

man; and also at readily stringing together verse in the speech of their

country: so zealously had they trained mind and body alike. Now out of

Leire came Hortar (Hjort) and Borrhy (Borgar or Borgny), and also Belgi

and Beigad, to whom were added Bari and Toli. Now out of the town of

Sle, under the captains Hetha (Heid) and Wisna, with Hakon Cut-cheek

came Tummi the Sailmaker. On these captains, who had the bodies of

women, nature bestowed the souls of men. Webiorg was also inspired with

the same spirit, and was attended by Bo (Bui) Bramason and Brat the

Jute, thirsting for war. In the same throng came Orm of England, Ubbe

the Frisian, Ari the One-eyed, and Alf Gotar. Next in the count came Dal

the Fat and Duk the Sclav; Wisna, a woman, filled with sternness, and

a skilled warrior, was guarded by a band of Sclavs: her chief followers

were Barri and Gnizli. But the rest of the same company had their bodies

covered by little shields, and used very long swords and targets of

skiey hue, which, in time of war, they either cast behind their backs or

gave over to the baggage-bearers; while they cast away all protection to

their breasts, and exposed their bodies to every peril, offering battle

with drawn swords. The most illustrious of these were Tolkar and Ymi.

After these, Toki of the province of Wohin was conspicuous together with

Otrit surnamed the Young. Hetha, guarded by a retinue of very active

men, brought an armed company to the war, the chiefs of whom were Grim

and Grenzli; next to whom are named Geir the Livonian, Hame also and

Hunger, Humbli and Biari, bravest of the princes. These men often fought

duels successfully, and won famous victories far and wide.

The maidens I have named, in fighting as well as courteous array, led

their land-forces to the battle-field. Thus the Danish army mustered

company by company. There were seven kings, equal in spirit but

differing in allegiance, some defending Harald, and some Ring. Moreover,

the following went to the side of Harald: Homi and Hosathul (Eysothul?),

Him…., Hastin and Hythin (Hedin) the Slight, also Dahar (Dag), named

Grenski, and Harald Olafsson also. From the province of Aland came Har

and Herlewar (Herleif), with Hothbrodd, surnamed the Furious; these

fought in the Danish camp. But from Imisland arrived Humnehy (?) and

Harald. They were joined by Haki and by Sigmund and Serker the sons of

Bemon, all coming from the North. All these were retainers of the king,

who befriended them most generously; for they were held in the highest

distinction by him, receiving swords adorned with gold, and the choicest

spoils of war. There came also…. the sons of Gandal the old, who were

in the intimate favour of Harald by reason of ancient allegiance. Thus

the sea was studded with the Danish fleet, and seemed to interpose a

bridge, uniting Zealand to Skaane. To those that wished to pass between

those provinces, the sea offered a short road on foot over the dense

mass of ships. But Harald would not have the Swedes unprepared in

their arrangements for war, and sent men to Ring to carry his public

declaration of hostilities, and notify the rupture of the mediating

peace. The same men were directed to prescribe the place of combat.

These then whom I have named were the fighters for Harald.

Now, on the side of Ring were numbered Ulf, Aggi (Aki?), Windar

(Eywind?), Egil the One-eyed; Gotar, Hildi, Guti Alfsson; Styr the

Stout, and (Tolo-) Stein, who lived by the Wienic Mere. To these were

joined Gerd the Glad and Gromer (Glum?) from Wermland. After these are

reckoned the dwellers north on the Elbe, Saxo the Splitter, Sali the

Goth; Thord the Stumbler, Throndar Big-nose; Grundi, Oddi, Grindir,

Tovi; Koll, Biarki, Hogni the Clever, Rokar the Swart. Now these scorned

fellowship with the common soldiers, and had formed themselves into

a separate rank apart from the rest of the company. Besides these

are numbered Hrani Hildisson and Lyuth Guthi (Hljot Godi), Svein the

Topshorn, (Soknarsoti?), Rethyr (Hreidar?) Hawk, and Rolf the Uxorious

(Woman-lover). Massed with these were Ring Adilsson and Harald who came

from Thotn district. Joined to these were Walstein of Wick, Thorolf the

Thick, Thengel the Tall, Hun, Solwe, Birwil the Pale, Borgar and Skumbar

(Skum). But from, Tellemark came the bravest of all, who had most

courage but least arrogance–Thorleif the Stubborn, Thorkill the Gute

(Gothlander), Grettir the Wicked and the Lover of Invasions. Next to

these came Hadd the Hard and Rolder (Hroald) Toe-joint.

From Norway we have the names of Thrand of Throndhjem, Thoke (Thore)

of More, Hrafn the White, Haf (war), Biarni, Blihar (Blig?) surnamed

Snub-nosed; Biorn from the district of Sogni; Findar (Finn) born in

the Firth; Bersi born in the town F(I)alu; Siward Boarhead, Erik the

Story-teller, Holmstein the White, Hrut Rawi (or Vafi, the Doubter),

Erling surnamed Snake. Now from the province of Jather came Odd the

Englishman, Alf the Far-wanderer, Enar the Paunched, and Ywar surnamed

Thriug. Now from Thule (Iceland) came Mar the Red, born and bred in the

district called Midfirth; Grombar the Aged, Gram Brundeluk (Bryndalk?)

Grim from the town of Skier (um) born in Skagafiord. Next came Berg the

Seer, accompanied by Bragi and Rafnkel.

Now the bravest of the Swedes were these: Arwakki, Keklu-Karl

(Kelke-Karl), Krok the Peasant, (from Akr), Gudfast and Gummi from

Gislamark. These were kindred of the god Frey, and most faithful

witnesses to the gods. Ingi (Yngwe) also, and Oly, Alver, Folki, all

sons of Elrik (Alrek), embraced the service of Ring; they were men ready

of hand, quick in counsel, and very close friends of Ring. They likewise

held the god Frey to be the founder of their race. Amongst these from

the town of Sigtun also came Sigmund, a champion advocate, versed in

making contracts of sale and purchase; besides him Frosti surnamed Bowl:

allied with him was Alf the Lofty (Proud?) from the district of Upsala;

this man was a swift spear-thrower, and used to go in the front of the


Ole had a body-guard in which were seven kings, very ready of hand and

of counsel; namely, Holti, Hendil, Holmar, Lewy (Leif), and Hame; with

these was enrolled Regnald the Russian, the grandson of Radbard; and

Siwald also furrowed the sea with eleven light ships. Lesy (Laesi), the

conqueror of the Pannonians (Huns), fitted with a sail his swift galley

ringed with gold. Thririkar (Erik Helsing) sailed in a ship whose prows

were twisted like a dragon. Also Thrygir (Tryggve) and Torwil sailed

and brought twelve ships jointly. In the entire fleet of Ring there were

2,500 ships.

The fleet of Gotland was waiting for the Swedish fleet in the harbour

named Garnum. So Ring led the land-force, while Ole was instructed

to command the fleet. Now the Goths were appointed a time and a place

between Wik and Werund for the conflict with the Swedes. Then was the

sea to be seen furrowed up with prows, and the canvas unfurled upon

the masts cut off the view over the ocean. The Danes had so far been

distressed with bad weather; but the Swedish fleet had a fair voyage,

and had reached the scene of battle earlier. Here Ring disembarked his

forces from his fleet, and then massed and prepared to draw up in line

both these and the army he had himself conducted overland. When these

forces were at first loosely drawn up over the open country, it was

found that one wing reached all the way to Werund. The multitude was

confused in its places and ranks; but the king rode round it, and posted

in the van all the smartest and most excellently-armed men, led by Ole,

Regnald, and Wivil; then he massed the rest of the army on the two wings

in a kind of curve. Ung, with the sons of Alrek, and Trig, he ordered

to protect the right wing, while the left was put under the command

of Laesi. Moreover, the wings and the masses were composed mainly of a

close squadron of Kurlanders and of Esthonians. Last stood the line of


Meantime the Danish fleet, favoured by kindly winds, sailed, without

stopping, for twelve days, and came to the town (stead) of Kalmar.

The wind-blown sails covering the waters were a marvel; and the canvas

stretched upon the yards blotted out the sight of the heavens. For the

fleet was augmented by the Sclavs and the Livonians and 7,000 Saxons.

But the Skanians, knowing the country, were appointed as guides and

scouts to those who were going over the dry land. So when the Danish

army came upon the Swedes, who stood awaiting them, Ring told his men to

stand quietly until Harald had drawn up his line of battle; bidding them

not to sound the signal before they saw the king settled in his chariot

beside the standards; for he said he should hope that an army would

soon come to grief which trusted in the leading of a blind man. Harald,

moreover, he said, had been seized in extreme age with the desire of

foreign empire, and was as witless as he was sightless; wealth could

not satisfy a man who, if he looked to his years, ought to be well-nigh

contented with a grave. The Swedes therefore were bound to fight for

their freedom, their country, and their children, while the enemy had

undertaken the war in rashness and arrogance. Moreover, on the other

side, there were very few Danes, but a mass of Saxons and other unmanly

peoples stood arrayed. Swedes and Norwegians should therefore consider,

how far the multitudes of the North had always surpassed the Germans

and the Sclavs. They should therefore despise an army which seemed to be

composed more of a mass of fickle offscourings than of a firm and stout


By this harangue of King Ring he kindled high the hearts of the

soldiers. Now Brun, being instructed to form the line on Harald’s

behalf, made the front in a wedge, posting Hetha on the right flank,

putting Hakon in command of the left, and making Wisna standard-bearer.

Harald stood up in his chariot and complained, in as loud a voice as he

could, that Ring was requiting his benefits with wrongs; that the man

who had got his kingdom by Harald’s own gift was now attacking him; so

that Ring neither pitied an old man nor spared an uncle, but set his own

ambitions before any regard for Harald’s kinship or kindness. So he bade

the Danes remember how they had always won glory by foreign conquest,

and how they were more wont to command their neighbours than to obey

them. He adjured them not to let such glory as theirs to be shaken by

the insolence of a conquered nation, nor to suffer the empire, which he

had won in the flower of his youth, to be taken from him in his outworn


Then the trumpets sounded, and both sides engaged in battle with all

their strength. The sky seemed to fall suddenly on the earth, fields and

woods to sink into the ground; all things were confounded, and old Chaos

come again; heaven and earth mingling in one tempestuous turmoil, and

the world rushing to universal ruin. For, when the spear-throwing began,

the intolerable clash of arms filled the air with an incredible thunder.

The steam of the wounds suddenly hung a mist over the sky, the daylight

was hidden under the hail of spears. The help of the slingers was of

great use in the battle. But when the missiles had all been flung from

hand or engines, they fought with swords or iron-shod maces; and it was

now at close quarters that most blood was spilt. Then the sweat streamed

down their weary bodies, and the clash of the swords could be heard


Starkad, who was the first to set forth the history of this war in the

telling, fought foremost in the fray, and relates that he overthrew the

nobles of Harald, Hun and Elli, Hort and Burgha, and cut off the right

hand of Wisna. He also relates that one Roa, with two others, Gnepie and

Gardar, fell wounded by him in the field. To these he adds the father of

Skalk, whose name is not given. He also declares that he cast Hakon, the

bravest of the Danes, to the earth, but received from him such a wound

in return that he had to leave the war with his lung protruding from

his chest, his neck cleft to the centre, and his hand deprived of one

finger; so that he long had a gaping wound, which seemed as if it would

never either scar over or be curable. The same man witnesses that the

maiden Weghbiorg (Webiorg) fought against the enemy and felled Soth

the champion. While she was threatening to slay more champions, she was

pierced through by an arrow from the bowstring of Thorkill, a native of

Tellemark. For the skilled archers of the Gotlanders strung their bows

so hard that the shafts pierced through even the shields; nothing proved

more murderous; for the arrow-points made their way through hauberk and

helmet as if they were men’s defenceless bodies.

Meanwhile Ubbe the Frisian, who was the readiest of Harald’s soldiers,

and of notable bodily stature, slew twenty-five picked champions,

besides eleven whom he had wounded in the field. All these were of

Swedish or Gothic blood. Then he attacked the vanguard and burst into

the thickest of the enemy, driving the Swedes struggling in a panic

every way with spear and sword. It had all but come to a flight, when

Hagder (Hadd), Rolder (Hroald), and Grettir attacked the champion,

emulating his valour, and resolving at their own risk to retrieve

the general ruin. But, fearing to assault him at close quarters, they

accomplished their end with arrows from afar; and thus Ubbe was riddled

by a shower of arrows, no one daring to fight him hand to hand. A

hundred and forty-four arrows had pierced the breast of the warrior

before his bodily strength failed and he bent his knee to the earth.

Then at last the Danes suffered a great defeat, owing to the Thronds

and the dwellers in the province of Dala. For the battle began afresh

by reason of the vast mass of the archers, and nothing damaged our men


But when Harald, being now blind with age, heard the lamentable murmur

of his men, he perceived that fortune had smiled on his enemies. So,

as he was riding in a chariot armed with scythes, he told Brun, who was

treacherously acting as charioteer, to find out in what manner Ring had

his line drawn up. Brun’s face relaxed into something of a smile, and he

answered that he was fighting with a line in the form of a wedge.

When the king heard this he began to be alarmed, and to ask in great

astonishment from whom Ring could have learnt this method of disposing

his line, especially as Odin was the discoverer and imparter of this

teaching, and none but himself had ever learnt from him this new pattern

of warfare. At this Brun was silent, and it came into the king’s mind

that here was Odin, and that the god whom he had once known so well

was now disguised in a changeful shape, in order either to give help or

withhold it. Presently he began to beseech him earnestly to grant the

final victory to the Danes, since he had helped them so graciously

before, and to fill up his last kindness to the measure of the first;

promising to dedicate to him as a gift the spirits of all who fell. But

Brun, utterly unmoved by his entreaties, suddenly jerked the king out of

the chariot, battered him to the earth, plucked the club from him as

he fell, whirled it upon his head, and slew him with his own weapon.

Countless corpses lay round the king’s chariot, and the horrid heap

overtopped the wheels; the pile of carcases rose as high as the pole.

For about 12,000 of the nobles of Ring fell upon the field. But on the

side of Harald about 30,000 nobles fell, not to name the slaughter of

the commons.

When Ring heard that Harald was dead, he gave the signal to his men to

break up their line and cease fighting. Then under cover of truce he

made treaty with the enemy, telling them that it was vain to prolong the

fray without their captain. Next he told the Swedes to look everywhere

among the confused piles of carcases for the body of Harald, that the

corpse of the king might not wrongfully lack its due rights. So the

populace set eagerly to the task of turning over the bodies of the

slain, and over this work half the day was spent. At last the body was

found with the club, and he thought that propitiation should be made to

the shade of Harald. So he harnessed the horse on which he rode to the

chariot of the king, decked it honourably with a golden saddle, and

hallowed it in his honour. Then he proclaimed his vows, and added his

prayer that Harald would ride on this and outstrip those who shared his

death in their journey to Tartarus; and that he would pray Pluto, the

lord of Orcus, to grant a calm abode there for friend and foe. Then he

raised a pyre, and bade the Danes fling on the gilded chariot of their

king as fuel to the fire. And while the flames were burning the body

cast upon them, he went round the mourning nobles and earnestly charged

them that they should freely give arms, gold, and every precious thing

to feed the pyre in honour of so great a king, who had deserved so nobly

of them all. He also ordered that the ashes of his body, when it was

quite burnt, should be transferred to an urn, taken to Leire, and there,

together with the horse and armour, receive a royal funeral. By paying

these due rites of honour to his uncle’s shade, he won the favour of the

Danes, and turned the hate of his enemies into goodwill. Then the Danes

besought him to appoint Hetha over the remainder of the realm; but, that

the fallen strength of the enemy might not suddenly rally, he severed

Skaane from the mass of Denmark, and put it separately under the

governorship of Ole, ordering that only Zealand and the other lands

of the realm should be subject to Hetha. Thus the changes of fortune

brought the empire of Denmark under the Swedish rule. So ended the

Bravic war.

But the Zealanders, who had had Harald for their captain, and still had

the picture of their former fortune hovering before their minds, thought

it shameful to obey the rule of a woman, and appealed to OLE not to

suffer men that had been used to serve under a famous king to be kept

under a woman’s yoke. They also promised to revolt to him if he would

take up arms to remove their ignominious lot. Ole, tempted as much by

the memory of his ancestral glory as by the homage of the soldiers, was

not slow to answer their entreaties. So he summoned Hetha, and forced

her by threats rather than by arms to quit every region under her

control except Jutland; and even Jutland he made a tributary state, so

as not to allow a woman the free control of a kingdom. He also begot a

son whom he named Omund. But he was given to cruelty, and showed himself

such an unrighteous king, that all who had found it a shameful thing to

be ruled by a queen now repented of their former scorn.

Twelve generals, whether moved by the disasters of their country, or

hating Ole for some other reason, began to plot against his life. Among

these were Hlenni, Atyl, Thott, and Withne, the last of whom was a Dane

by birth, though he held a government among the Sclavs. Moreover, not

trusting in their strength and their cunning to accomplish their deed,

they bribed Starkad to join them. He was prevailed to do the deed with

the sword; he undertook the bloody work, and resolved to attack the

king while at the bath. In he went while the king was washing, but was

straightway stricken by the keenness of his gaze and by the restless and

quivering glare of his eyes. His limbs were palsied with sudden dread;

he paused, stepped back, and stayed his hand and his purpose. Thus he

who had shattered the arms of so many captains and champions could not

bear the gaze of a single unarmed man. But Ole, who well knew about his

own countenance, covered his face, and asked him to come closer and tell

him what his message was; for old fellowship and long-tried friendship

made him the last to suspect treachery. But Starkad drew his sword,

leapt forward, thrust the king through, and struck him in the throat as

he tried to rise. One hundred and twenty marks of gold were kept for

his reward. Soon afterwards he was smitten with remorse and shame, and

lamented his crime so bitterly, that he could not refrain from tears

if it happened to be named. Thus his soul, when he came to his senses,

blushed for his abominable sin. Moreover, to atone for the crime he

had committed, he slew some of those who had inspired him to it, thus

avenging the act to which he had lent his hand.

Now the Danes made OMUND, the son of Ole, king, thinking that more heed

should be paid to his father’s birth than to his deserts. Omund, when he

had grown up, fell in nowise behind the exploits of his father; for he

made it his aim to equal or surpass the deeds of Ole.

At this time a considerable tribe of the Northmen (Norwegians) was

governed by Ring, and his daughter Esa’s great fame commended her to

Omund, who was looking out for a wife.

But his hopes of wooing her were lessened by the peculiar inclination of

Ring, who desired no son-in-law but one of tried valour; for he found

as much honour in arms as others think lies in wealth. Omund therefore,

wishing to become famous in that fashion, and to win the praise of

valour, endeavoured to gain his desire by force, and sailed to Norway

with a fleet, to make an attempt on the throne of Ring under plea of

hereditary right. Odd, the chief of Jather, who declared that Ring had

assuredly seized his inheritance, and lamented that he harried him with

continual wrongs, received Omund kindly. Ring, in the meantime, was on

a roving raid in Ireland, so that Omund attacked a province without a

defender. Sparing the goods of the common people, he gave the private

property of Ring over to be plundered, and slew his kinsfolk; Odd

also having joined his forces to Omund. Now, among all his divers and

manifold deeds, he could never bring himself to attack an inferior

force, remembering that he was the son of a most valiant father, and

that he was bound to fight armed with courage, and not with numbers.

Meanwhile Ring had returned from roving; and when Omund heard he was

back, he set to and built a vast ship, whence, as from a fortress, he

could rain his missiles on the enemy. To manage this ship he enlisted

Homod and Thole the rowers, the soils of Atyl the Skanian, one of whom

was instructed to act as steersman, while the other was to command at

the prow. Ring lacked neither skill nor dexterity to encounter them.

For he showed only a small part of his forces, and caused the enemy to

be attacked on the rear. Omund, when told of his strategy by Odd, sent

men to overpower those posted in ambush, telling Atyl the Skanian to

encounter Ring. The order was executed with more rashness than success;

and Atyl, with his power defeated and shattered, fled beaten to Skaane.

Then Omund recruited his forces with the help of Odd, and drew up his

fleet to fight on the open sea.

Atyl at this time had true visions of the Norwegian war in his dreams,

and started on his voyage in order to make up for his flight as quickly

as possible, and delighted Omund by joining him on the eve of battle.

Trusting in his help, Omund began to fight with equal confidence and

success. For, by fighting himself, he retrieved the victory which he had

lost when his servants were engaged. Ring, wounded to the death, gazed

at him with faint eyes, and, beckoning to him with his hand, as well

as he could–for his voice failed him–he besought him to be his

son-in-law, saying that he would gladly meet his end if he left his

daughter to such a husband. Before he could receive an answer he died.

Omund wept for his death, and gave Homod, whose trusty help he had

received in the war, in marriage to one of the daughters of Ring, taking

the other himself.

At the same time the amazon Rusla, whose prowess in warfare exceeded the

spirit of a woman, had many fights in Norway with her brother, Thrond,

for the sovereignty. She could not endure that Omund rule over the

Norwegians, and she had declared war against all the subjects of the

Danes. Omund, when he heard of this, commissioned his most active men

to suppress the rising. Rusla conquered them, and, waxing haughty on

her triumph, was seized with overweening hopes, and bent her mind upon

actually acquiring the sovereignty of Denmark. She began her attack on

the region of Halland, but was met by Homod and Thode, whom the king

had sent over. Beaten, she retreated to her fleet, of which only thirty

ships managed to escape, the rest being taken by the enemy. Thrond

encountered his sister as she was eluding the Danes, but was conquered

by her and stripped of his entire army; he fled over the Dovrefjeld

without a single companion. Thus she, who had first yielded before the

Danes, soon overcame her brother, and turned her flight into a victory.

When Omund heard of this, he went back to Norway with a great fleet,

first sending Homod and Thole by a short and secret way to rouse the

people of Tellemark against the rule of Rusla. The end was that she was

driven out of her kingdom by the commons, fled to the isles for safety,

and turned her back, without a blow, upon the Danes as they came up.

The king pursued her hotly, caught up her fleet on the sea, and utterly

destroyed it, the enemy suffered mightily, and he won a bloodless

victory and splendid spoils. But Rusla escaped with a very few ships,

and rowed ploughing the waves furiously; but, while she was avoiding the

Danes, she met her brother and was killed. So much more effectual

for harm are dangers unsurmised; and chance sometimes makes the less

alarming evil worse than that which threatens. The king gave Thrond a

governorship for slaying his sister, put the rest under tribute, and

returned home.

At this time Thorias (?) and Ber (Biorn), the most active of the

soldiers of Rusla, were roving in Ireland; but when they heard of the

death of their mistress, whom they had long ago sworn to avenge, they

hotly attacked Omund, and challenged him to a duel, which it used to be

accounted shameful for a king to refuse; for the fame of princes of

old was reckoned more by arms than by riches. So Homod and Thole came

forward, offering to meet in battle the men who had challenged the king.

Omund praised them warmly, but at first declined for very shame to allow

their help. At last, hard besought by his people, he brought himself

to try his fortune by the hand of another. We are told that Ber fell in

this combat, while Thorias left the battle severely wounded. The king,

having first cured him of his wounds, took him into his service, and

made him prince (earl) over Norway. Then he sent ambassadors to exact

the usual tribute from the Sclavs; these were killed, and he was even

attacked in Jutland by a Sclavish force; but he overcame seven kings

in a single combat, and ratified by conquest his accustomed right to


Meantime, Starkad, who was now worn out with extreme age, and who seemed

to be past military service and the calling of a champion, was loth to

lose his ancient glory through the fault of eld, and thought it would be

a noble thing if he could make a voluntary end, and hasten his death by

his own free will. Having so often fought nobly, he thought it would be

mean to die a bloodless death; and, wishing to enhance the glory of his

past life by the lustre of his end, he preferred to be slain by some

man of gallant birth rather than await the tardy shaft of nature. So

shameful was it thought that men devoted to war should die by disease.

His body was weak, and his eyes could not see clearly, so that he hated

to linger any more in life. In order to buy himself an executioner, he

wore hanging on his neck the gold which he had earned for the murder of

Ole; thinking there was no fitter way of atoning for the treason he had

done than to make the price of Ole’s death that of his own also, and to

spend on the loss of his own life what he had earned by the slaying of

another. This, he thought, would be the noblest use he could make of

that shameful price. So he girded him with two swords, and guided his

powerless steps leaning on two staves.

One of the common people, seeing him, thinking two swords superfluous

for the use of an old man, mockingly asked him to make him a present

of one of them. Starkad, holding out hopes of consent, bade him come

nearer, drew the sword from his side, and ran him through. This was

seen by a certain Hather, whose father Hlenne Starkad had once killed in

repentance for his own impious crime. Hatfier was hunting game with his

dogs, but now gave over the chase, and bade two of his companions

spur their horses hard and charge at the old man to frighten him. They

galloped forward, and tried to make off, but were stopped by the staves

of Starkad, and paid for it with their lives. Hather, terrified by the

sight, galloped up closer, and saw who the old man was, but without

being recognized by him in turn; and asked him if he would like to

exchange his sword for a carriage. Starkad replied that he used in old

days to chastise jeerers, and that the insolent had never insulted him

unpunished. But his sightless eyes could not recognize the features

of the youth; so he composed a song, wherein he should declare the

greatness of his anger, as follows:

“As the unreturning waters sweep down the channel; so, as the years run

by, the life of man flows on never to come back; fast gallops the cycle

of doom, child of old age who shall make an end of all. Old age smites

alike the eyes and the steps of men, robs the warrior of his speech and

soul, tarnishes his fame by slow degrees, and wipes out his deeds of

honour. It seizes his failing limbs, chokes his panting utterance, and

numbs his nimble wit. When a cough is taken, when the skin itches with

the scab, and the teeth are numb and hollow, and the stomach turns

squeamish,–then old age banishes the grace of youth, covers the

complexion with decay, and sows many a wrinkle in the dusky skin. Old

age crushes noble arts, brings down the memorials of men of old, and

scorches ancient glories up; shatters wealth, hungrily gnaws away the

worth and good of virtue, turns athwart and disorders all things.

“I myself have felt the hurtful power of injurious age, I, dim-sighted,

and hoarse in my tones and in my chest; and all helpful things have

turned to my hurt. Now my body is less nimble, and I prop it up, leaning

my faint limbs on the support of staves. Sightless I guide my steps with

two sticks, and follow the short path which the rod shows me, trusting

more in the leading of a stock than in my eyes. None takes any charge

of me, and no man in the ranks brings comfort to the veteran, unless,

perchance, Hather is here, and succours his shattered friend. Whomsoever

Hather once thinks worthy of his duteous love, that man he attends

continually with even zeal, constant to his purpose, and fearing to

break his early ties. He also often pays fit rewards to those that have

deserved well in war, and fosters their courage; he bestows dignities

on the brave, and honours his famous friends with gifts. Free with his

wealth, he is fain to increase with bounty the brightness of his name,

and to surpass many of the mighty. Nor is he less in war: his strength

is equal to his goodness; he is swift in the fray, slow to waver, ready

to give battle; and he cannot turn his back when the foe bears him hard.

But for me, if I remember right, fate appointed at my birth that wars

I should follow and in war I should die, that I should mix in broils,

watch in arms, and pass a life of bloodshed. I was a man of camps, and

rested not; hating peace, I grew old under thy standard, O War-god, in

utmost peril; conquering fear, I thought it comely to fight, shameful to

loiter, and noble to kill and kill again, to be for ever slaughtering!

Oft have I seen the stern kings meet in war, seen shield and helmet

bruised, and the fields redden with blood, and the cuirass broken by the

spear-point, and the corselets all around giving at the thrust of the

steel, and the wild beasts battening on the unburied soldier. Here, as

it chanced, one that attempted a mighty thing, a strong-handed warrior,

fighting against the press of the foe, smote through the mail that

covered my head, pierced my helmet, and plunged his blade into my crest.

This sword also hath often been driven by my right hand in war, and,

once unsheathed, hath cleft the skin and bitten into the skull.”

Hather, in answer, sang as follows:

“Whence comest thou, who art used to write the poems of thy land,

leaning thy wavering steps on a frail staff? Or whither dost thou speed,

who art the readiest bard of the Danish muse? All the glory of thy great

strength is faded and lost; the hue is banished from thy face, the joy

is gone out of thy soul; the voice has left thy throat, and is hoarse

and dull; thy body has lost its former stature; the decay of death

begins, and has wasted thy features and thy force. As a ship wearies,

buffeted by continual billows, even so old age, gendered by a long

course of years, brings forth bitter death; and the life falls when its

strength is done, and suffers the loss of its ancient lot. Famous old

man, who has told thee that thou mayst not duly follow the sports of

youth, or fling balls, or bite and eat the nut? I think it were better

for thee now to sell thy sword, and buy a carriage wherein to ride

often, or a horse easy on the bit, or at the same cost to purchase a

light cart. It will be more fitting for beasts of burden to carry weak

old men, when their steps fail them; the wheel, driving round and round,

serves for him whose foot totters feebly. But if perchance thou art loth

to sell the useless steel, thy sword, if it be not for sale, shall be

taken from thee and shall slay thee.”

Starkad answered: “Wretch, thy glib lips scatter idle words, unfit for

the ears of the good. Why seek the gifts to reward that guidance, which

thou shouldst have offered for naught? Surely I will walk afoot, and

will not basely give up my sword and buy the help of a stranger; nature

has given me the right of passage, and hath bidden me trust in my own

feet. Why mock and jeer with insolent speech at him whom thou shouldst

have offered to guide upon his way? Why give to dishonour my deeds of

old, which deserve the memorial of fame? Why requite my service with

reproach? Why pursue with jeers the old man mighty in battle, and put

to shame my unsurpassed honours and illustrious deeds, belittling my

glories and girding at my prowess? For what valour of thine dost thou

demand my sword, which thy strength does not deserve? It befits not the

right hand or the unwarlike side of a herdsman, who is wont to make his

peasant-music on the pipe, to see to the flock, to keep the herds in the

fields. Surely among the henchmen, close to the greasy pot, thou dippest

thy crust in the bubbles of the foaming pan, drenching a meagre slice

in the rich, oily fat, and stealthily, with thirsty finger, licking the

warm juice; more skilled to spread thy accustomed cloak on the ashes, to

sleep on the hearth, and slumber all day long, and go busily about the

work of the reeking kitchen, than to make the brave blood flow with

thy shafts in war. Men think thee a hater of the light and a lover of a

filthy hole, a wretched slave of thy belly, like a whelp who licks the

coarse grain, husk and all.

“By heaven, thou didst not try to rob me of my sword when thrice at

great peril I fought (for?) the son of Ole. For truly, in that array, my

hand either broke the sword or shattered the obstacle, so heavy was the

blow of the smiter. What of the day when I first taught them, to run

with wood-shod feet over the shore of the Kurlanders, and the path

bestrewn with countless points? For when I was going to the fields

studded with calthrops, I guarded their wounded feet with clogs below

them. After this I slew Hame, who fought me mightily; and soon, with the

captain Rin the son of Flebak, I crushed the Kurlanders, yea, or all the

tribes Esthonia breeds, and thy peoples, O Semgala! Then I attacked the

men of Tellemark, and took thence my head bloody with bruises, shattered

with mallets, and smitten with the welded weapons. Here first I learnt

how strong was the iron wrought on the anvil, or what valour the common

people had. Also it was my doing that the Teutons were punished, when,

in avenging my lord, I laid low over their cups thy sons, O Swerting,

who were guilty of the wicked slaughter of Frode.

“Not less was the deed when, for the sake of a beloved maiden, I slew

nine brethren in one fray;–witness the spot, which was consumed by the

bowels that left me, and brings not forth the grain anew on its scorched

sod. And soon, when Ker the captain made ready a war by sea, with a

noble army we beat his serried ships. Then I put Waske to death, and

punished the insolent smith by slashing his hinder parts; and with the

sword I slew Wisin, who from the snowy rocks blunted the spears. Then

I slew the four sons of Ler, and the champions of Permland; and then

having taken the chief of the Irish race, I rifled the wealth of Dublin;

and our courage shall ever remain manifest by the trophies of Bravalla.

Why do I linger? Countless are the deeds of my bravery, and when I

review the works of my hands I fail to number them to the full. The

whole is greater than I can tell. My work is too great for fame, and

speech serves not for my doings.”

So sang Starkad. At last, when he found by their talk that Hather was

the son of Hlenne, and saw that the youth was of illustrious birth,

he offered him his throat to smite, bidding him not to shrink from

punishing the slayer of his father. He promised him that if he did so he

should possess the gold which he had himself received from Hlenne. And

to enrage his heart more vehemently against him, he is said to have

harangued him as follows:

“Moreover, Hather, I robbed thee of thy father Hlenne; requite me this,

I pray, and strike down the old man who longs to die; aim at my throat

with the avenging steel. For my soul chooses the service of a noble

smiter, and shrinks to ask its doom at a coward’s hand. Righteously may

a man choose to forstall the ordinance of doom. What cannot be escaped

it will be lawful also to anticipate. The fresh tree must be fostered,

the old one hewn down. He is nature’s instrument who destroys what is

near its doom and strikes down what cannot stand. Death is best when

it is sought: and when the end is loved, life is wearisome. Let not the

troubles of age prolong a miserable lot.”

So saying, he took money from his pouch and gave it him. But Hather,

desiring as much to enjoy the gold as to accomplish vengeance for his

father, promised that he would comply with his prayer, and would not

refuse the reward. Starkad eagerly handed him the sword, and at once

stooped his neck beneath it, counselling him not to do the smiter’s work

timidly, or use the sword like a woman; and telling him that if, when

he had killed him, he could spring between the head and the trunk before

the corpse fell, he would be rendered proof against arms. It is not

known whether he said this in order to instruct his executioner or to

punish him, for perhaps, as he leapt, the bulk of the huge body would

have crushed him. So Hather smote sharply with the sword and hacked off

the head of the old man. When the severed head struck the ground, it is

said to have bitten the earth; thus the fury of the dying lips declared

the fierceness of the soul. But the smiter, thinking that the promise

hid some treachery, warily refrained from leaping. Had he done so

rashly, perhaps he would have been crushed by the corpse as it fell, and

have paid with his own life for the old man’s murder. But he would not

allow so great a champion to lie unsepulchred, and had his body buried

in the field that is commonly called Rolung.

Now Omund, as I have heard, died most tranquilly, while peace was

unbroken, leaving two sons and two daughters. The eldest of these,

SIWARD, came to the throne by right of birth, while his brother Budle

was still of tender years. At this time Gotar, King of the Swedes,

conceived boundless love for one of the daughters of Omund, because of

the report of her extraordinary beauty, and entrusted one Ebb, the son

of Sibb, with the commission of asking for the maiden. Ebb did his work

skilfully, and brought back the good news that the girl had consented.

Nothing was now lacking to Gotar’s wishes but the wedding; but, as he

feared to hold this among strangers, he demanded that his betrothed

should be sent to him in charge of Ebb, whom he had before used as


Ebb was crossing Halland with a very small escort, and went for a

night’s lodging to a country farm, where the dwellings of two brothers

faced one another on the two sides of a river. Now these men used to

receive folk hospitably and then murder them, but were skilful to

hide their brigandage under a show of generosity. For they had hung on

certain hidden chains, in a lofty part of the house, an oblong beam like

a press, and furnished it with a steel point; they used to lower this in

the night by letting down the fastenings, and cut off the heads of those

that lay below. Many had they beheaded in this way with the hanging

mass. So when Ebb and his men had been feasted abundantly, the servants

laid them out a bed near the hearth, so that by the swing of the

treacherous beam they might mow off their heads, which faced the fire.

When they departed, Ebb, suspecting the contrivance slung overhead, told

his men to feign slumber and shift their bodies, saying that it would be

very wholesome for them to change their place.

Now among these were some who despised the orders which the others

obeyed, and lay unmoved, each in the spot where he had chanced to lie

down. Then towards the mirk of night the heavy hanging machine was set

in motion by the doers of the treachery. Loosened from the knots of its

fastening, it fell violently on the ground, and slew those beneath it.

Thereupon those who had the charge of committing the crime brought in

a light, that they might learn clearly what had happened, and saw that

Ebb, on whose especial account they had undertaken the affair, had

wisely been equal to the danger. He straightway set on them and punished

them with death; and also, after losing his men in the mutual slaughter,

he happened to find a vessel, crossed a river full of blocks of ice,

and announced to Gotar the result, not so much of his mission as of his


Gotar judged that this affair had been inspired by Siward, and prepared

to avenge his wrongs by arms. Siward, defeated by him in Halland,

retreated into Jutland, the enemy having taken his sister. Here he

conquered the common people of the Sclavs, who ventured to fight without

a leader; and he won as much honour from this victory as he had got

disgrace by his flight. But a little afterwards, the men whom he had

subdued when they were ungeneraled, found a general and defeated Siward

in Funen. Several times he fought them in Jutland, but with ill-success.

The result was that he lost both Skaane and Jutland, and only retained

the middle of his realm without the head, like the fragments of some

body that had been consumed away. His son Jarmerik (Eormunrec), with his

child-sisters, fell into the hands of the enemy; one of these was sold

to the Germans, the other to the Norwegians; for in old time marriages

were matters of purchase. Thus the kingdom of the Danes, which had been

enlarged with such valour, made famous by such ancestral honours, and

enriched by so many conquests, fell, all by the sloth of one man, from

the most illustrious fortune and prosperity into such disgrace that it

paid the tribute which it used to exact. But Siward, too often defeated

and guilty of shameful flights, could not endure, after that glorious

past, to hold the troubled helm of state any longer in this shameful

condition of his land; and, fearing that living longer might strip him

of his last shred of glory, he hastened to win an honourable death in

battle. For his soul could not forget his calamity, it was fain to cast

off its sickness, and was racked with weariness of life. So much did

he abhor the light of life in his longing to wipe out his shame. So he

mustered his army for battle, and openly declared war with one Simon,

who was governor of Skaane under Gotar. This war he pursued with

stubborn rashness; he slew Simon, and ended his own life amid a great

slaughter of his foes. Yet his country could not be freed from the

burden of the tribute.

Jarmerik, meantime, with his foster-brother of the same age as himself,

Gunn, was living in prison, in charge of Ismar, the King of the Sclavs.

At last he was taken out and put to agriculture, doing the work of a

peasant. So actively did he manage this matter that he was transferred

and made master of the royal slaves. As he likewise did this business

most uprightly, he was enrolled in the band of the king’s retainers.

Here he bore himself most pleasantly as courtiers use, and was soon

taken into the number of the king’s friends and obtained the first place

in his intimacy; thus, on the strength of a series of great services,

he passed from the lowest estate to the most distinguished height of

honour. Also, loth to live a slack and enfeebled youth, he trained

himself to the pursuits of war, enriching his natural gifts by

diligence. All men loved Jarmerik, and only the queen mistrusted the

young man’s temper. A sudden report told them that the king’s brother

had died. Ismar, wishing to give his body a splendid funeral, prepared a

banquet of royal bounty to increase the splendour of the obsequies.

But Jarmerik, who used at other times to look after the household

affairs together with the queen, began to cast about for means of

escape; for a chance seemed to be offered by the absence of the king.

For he saw that even in the lap of riches he would be the wretched

thrall of a king, and that he would draw, as it were, his very breath

on sufferance and at the gift of another. Moreover, though he held the

highest offices with the king, he thought that freedom was better than

delights, and burned with a mighty desire to visit his country and learn

his lineage. But, knowing that the queen had provided sufficient guards

to see that no prisoner escaped, he saw that he must approach by craft

where he could not arrive by force. So he plaited one of those baskets

of rushes and withies, shaped like a man, with which countrymen used to

scare the birds from the corn, and put a live dog in it; then he took

off his own clothes, and dressed it in them, to give a more plausible

likeness to a human being. Then he broke into the private treasury of

the king, took out the money, and hid himself in places of which he

alone knew.

Meantime Gunn, whom he had told to conceal the absence of his friend,

took the basket into the palace and stirred up the dog to bark; and when

the queen asked what this was, he answered that Jarmerik was out of

his mind and howling. She, beholding the effigy, was deceived by the

likeness, and ordered that the madman should be cast out of the house.

Then Gunn took the effigy out and put it to bed, as though it were his

distraught friend. But towards night he plied the watch bountifully with

wine and festal mirth, cut off their heads as they slept, and set them

at their groins, in order to make their slaying more shameful. The

queen, roused by the din, and wishing to learn the reason of it, hastily

rushed to the doors. But while she unwarily put forth her head, the

sword of Gunn suddenly pierced her through. Feeling a mortal wound, she

sank, turned her eyes on her murderer, and said, “Had it been granted

me to live unscathed, no screen or treachery should have let thee leave

this land unpunished.” A flood of such threats against her slayer poured

from her dying lips.

Then Jarmerik, with Gunn, the partner of his noble deed, secretly set

fire to the tent wherein the king was celebrating with a banquet the

obsequies of his brother; all the company were overcome with liquor. The

fire filled the tent and spread all about; and some of them, shaking

off the torpor of drink, took horse and pursued those who had endangered

them. But the young men fled at first on the beasts they had taken;

and at last, when these were exhausted with their long gallop, took to

flight on foot. They were all but caught, when a river saved them. For

they crossed a bridge, of which, in order to delay the pursuer, they

first cut the timbers down to the middle, thus making it not only

unequal to a burden, but ready to come down; then they retreated into a

dense morass.

The Sclavs pressed on them hard and, not forseeing the danger, unwarily

put the weight of their horses on the bridge; the flooring sank, and

they were shaken off and flung into the river. But, as they swam up

to the bank, they were met by Gunn and Jarmerik, and either drowned or

slain. Thus the young men showed great cunning, and did a deed beyond

their years, being more like sagacious old men than runaway slaves, and

successfully achieving their shrewd design. When they reached the strand

they seized a vessel chance threw in their way, and made for the deep.

The barbarians who pursued them, tried, when they saw them sailing off,

to bring them back by shouting promises after them that they should be

kings if they returned; “for, by the public statute of the ancients,

the succession was appointed to the slayers of the kings.” As they

retreated, their ears were long deafened by the Sclavs obstinately

shouting their treacherous promises.

At this time BUDLE, the brother of Siward, was Regent over the Danes,

who forced him to make over the kingdom to JARMERIK when he came; so

that Budle fell from a king into a common man. At the same time Gotar

charged Sibb with debauching his sister, and slew him. Sibb’s kindred,

much angered by his death, came wailing to Jarmerik, and promised to

attack Gotar with him, in order to avenge their kinsman. They kept

their promise well, for Jarmerik, having overthrown Gotar by their help,

gained Sweden. Thus, holding the sovereignty of both nations, he was

encouraged by his increased power to attack the Sclavs, forty of whom he

took and hung with a wolf tied to each of them. This kind of punishment

was assigned of old to those who slew their own kindred; but he chose

to inflict it upon enemies, that all might see plainly, just from their

fellowship with ruthless beasts, how grasping they had shown themselves

towards the Danes.

When Jarmerik had conquered the country, he posted garrisons in all the

fitting places, and departing thence, he made a slaughter of the Sembs

and the Kurlanders, and many nations of the East. The Sclavs, thinking

that this employment of the king gave them a chance of revolting, killed

the governors whom he had appointed, and ravaged Denmark. Jarmerik,

on his way back from roving, chanced to intercept their fleet, and

destroyed it, a deed which added honour to his roll of conquests. He

also put their nobles to death in a way that one would weep to see;

namely, by first passing thongs through their legs, and then tying them

to the hoofs of savage bulls; then hounds set on them and dragged them

into miry swamps. This deed took the edge off the valour of the Sclavs,

and they obeyed the authority of the king in fear and trembling.

Jarmerik, enriched with great spoils, wished to provide a safe

storehouse for his booty, and built on a lofty hill a treasure-house of

marvellous handiwork. Gathering sods, he raised a mound, laying a mass

of rocks for the foundation, and girt the lower part with a rampart, the

centre with rooms, and the top with battlements. All round he posted a

line of sentries without a break. Four huge gates gave free access on

the four sides; and into this lordly mansion he heaped all his splendid

riches. Having thus settled his affairs at home, he again turned his

ambition abroad. He began to voyage, and speedily fought a naval battle

with four brothers whom he met on the high seas, Hellespontines by race,

and veteran rovers. After this battle had lasted three days, he ceased

fighting, having bargained for their sister and half the tribute which

they had imposed on those they had conquered.

After this, Bikk, the son of the King of the Livonians, escaped from

the captivity in which he lay under these said brothers, and went to

Jarmerik. But he did not forget his wrongs, Jarmerik having long before

deprived him of his own brothers. He was received kindly by the king, in

all whose secret counsels he soon came to have a notable voice; and, as

soon as he found the king pliable to his advice in all things, he led

him, when his counsel was asked, into the most abominable acts, and

drove him to commit crimes and infamies. Thus he sought some device to

injure the king by a feint of loyalty, and tried above all to steel him

against his nearest of blood; attempting to accomplish the revenge of

his brother by guile, since he could not by force. So it came to pass

that the king embraced filthy vices instead of virtues, and made himself

generally hated by the cruel deeds which he committed at the instance of

his treacherous adviser. Even the Sclavs began to rise against him; and,

as a means of quelling them, he captured their leaders, passed a rope

through their shanks, and delivered them to be torn asunder by horses

pulling different ways. So perished their chief men, punished for their

stubbornness of spirit by having their bodies rent apart. This kept the

Sclavs duly obedient in unbroken and steady subjugation.

Meantime, the sons of Jarmerik’s sister, who had all been born and bred

in Germany, took up arms, on the strength of their grandsire’s title,

against their uncle, contending that they had as good a right to the

throne as he. The king demolished their strongholds in Germany with

engines, blockaded or took several towns, and returned home with a

bloodless victory. The Hellespontines came to meet him, proffering their

sister for the promised marriage. After this had been celebrated, at

Bikk’s prompting he again went to Germany, took his nephews in war, and

incontinently hanged them. He also got together the chief men under the

pretence of a banquet and had them put to death in the same fashion.

Meantime, the king appointed Broder, his son by another marriage, to

have charge over his stepmother, a duty which he fulfilled with full

vigilance and integrity. But Bikk accused this man to his father of

incest; and, to conceal the falsehood of the charge, suborned witnesses

against him. When the plea of the accusation had been fully declared,

Broder could not bring any support for his defence, and his father

bade his friends pass sentence upon the convicted man, thinking it less

impious to commit the punishment proper for his son to the judgment of

others. All thought that he deserved outlawry except Bikk, who did not

shrink from giving a more terrible vote against his life, and declaring

that the perpetrator of an infamous seduction ought to be punished with

hanging. But lest any should think that this punishment was due to the

cruelty of his father, Bikk judged that, when he had been put in the

noose, the servants should hold him up on a beam put beneath him, so

that, when weariness made them take their hands from the burden, they

might be as good as guilty of the young man’s death, and by their own

fault exonerate the king from an unnatural murder. He also pretended

that, unless the accused were punished, he would plot against his

father’s life. The adulteress Swanhild, he said, ought to suffer a

shameful end, trampled under the hoofs of beasts.

The king yielded to Bikk; and, when his son was to be hanged, he made

the bystanders hold him up by means of a plank, that he might not

be choked. Thus his throat was only a little squeezed, the knot was

harmless, and it was but a punishment in show. But the king had the

queen tied very tight on the ground, and delivered her to be crushed

under the hoofs of horses. The story goes that she was so beautiful,

that even the beasts shrank from mangling limbs so lovely with their

filthy feet. The king, divining that this proclaimed the innocence of

his wife, began to repent of his error, and hastened to release the

slandered lady. But meantime Bikk rushed up, declaring that when she was

on her back she held off the beasts by awful charms, and could only be

crushed if she lay on her face; for he knew that her beauty saved her.

When the body of the queen was placed in this manner, the herd of beasts

was driven upon it, and trod it down deep with their multitude of feet.

Such was the end of Swanhild.

Meantime, the favourite dog of Broder came creeping to the king making

a sort of moan, and seemed to bewail its master’s punishment; and his

hawk, when it was brought in, began to pluck out its breast-feathers

with its beak. The king took its nakedness as an omen of his

bereavement, to frustrate which he quickly sent men to take his son down

from the noose: for he divined by the featherless bird that he would be

childless unless he took good heed. Thus Broder was freed from death,

and Bikk, fearing he would pay the penalty of an informer, went and told

the men of the Hellespont that Swanhild had been abominably slain by

her husband. When they set sail to avenge their sister, he came back to

Jarmerik, and told him that the Hellespontines were preparing war.

The king thought that it would be safer to fight with walls than in the

field, and retreated into the stronghold which he had built. To stand

the siege, he filled its inner parts with stores, and its battlements

with men-at-arms. Targets and shields flashing with gold were hung round

and adorned the topmost circle of the building.

It happened that the Hellespontines, before sharing their booty, accused

a great band of their men of embezzling, and put them to death. Having

now destroyed so large a part of their forces by internecine slaughter,

they thought that their strength was not equal to storming the palace,

and consulted a sorceress named Gudrun. She brought it to pass that the

defenders of the king’s side were suddenly blinded and turned their arms

against one another. When the Hellespontines saw this, they brought up

a shield-mantlet, and seized the approaches of the gates. Then they tore

up the posts, burst into the building, and hewed down the blinded ranks

of the enemy. In this uproar Odin appeared, and, making for the thick

of the ranks of the fighters, restored by his divine power to the Danes

that vision which they had lost by sleights; for he ever cherished them

with fatherly love. He instructed them to shower stones to batter the

Hellespontines, who used spells to harden their bodies against weapons.

Thus both companies slew one another and perished. Jarmerik lost both

feet and both hands, and his trunk was rolled among the dead. BRODER,

little fit for it, followed him as king.

The next king was SIWALD. His son SNIO took vigorously to roving in his

father’s old age, and not only preserved the fortunes of his country,

but even restored them, lessened as they were, to their former estate.

Likewise, when he came to the sovereignty, he crushed the insolence

of the champions Eskil and Alkil, and by this conquest reunited to his

country Skaane, which had been severed from the general jurisdiction of

Denmark. At last he conceived a passion for the daughter of the King

of the Goths; it was returned, and he sent secret messengers to seek a

chance of meeting her. These men were intercepted by the father of the

damsel and hanged: thus paying dearly for their rash mission. Snio,

wishing to avenge their death, invaded Gothland. Its king met him with

his forces, and the aforesaid champions challenged him to send strong

men to fight. Snio laid down as condition of the duel, that each of the

two kings should either lose his own empire or gain that of the other,

according to the fortune of the champions, and that the kingdom of the

conquered should be staked as the prize of the victory. The result was

that the King of the Goths was beaten by reason of the ill-success of

his defenders, and had to quit his kingdom for the Danes. Snio, learning

that this king’s daughter had been taken away at the instance of her

father to wed the King of the Swedes, sent a man clad in ragged attire,

who used to ask alms on the public roads, to try her mind. And while he

lay, as beggars do, by the threshold, he chanced to see the queen, and

whined in a weak voice, “Snio loves thee.” She feigned not to have heard

the sound that stole on her ears, and neither looked nor stepped back,

but went on to the palace, then returned straightway, and said in a low

whisper, which scarcely reached his ears, “I love him who loves me”; and

having said this she walked away.

The beggar rejoiced that she had returned a word of love, and, as he sat

on the next day at the gate, when the queen came up, he said, briefly

as ever, “Wishes should have a tryst.” Again she shrewdly caught his

cunning speech, and passed on, dissembling wholly. A little later

she passed by her questioner, and said that she would shortly go to

Bocheror; for this was the spot to which she meant to flee. And when the

beggar heard this, he insisted, with his wonted shrewd questions, upon

being told a fitting time for the tryst. The woman was as cunning as

he, and as little clear of speech, and named as quickly as she could the

beginning of the winter.

Her train, who had caught a flying word of this love-message, took her

great cleverness for the raving of utter folly. And when Snio had been

told all this by the beggar, he contrived to carry the queen off in

a vessel; for she got away under pretence of bathing, and took her

husband’s treasures. After this there were constant wars between Snio

and the King of Sweden, whereof the issue was doubtful and the victory

changeful; the one king seeking to regain his lawful, the other to keep

his unlawful love.

At this time the yield of crops was ruined by most inclement weather,

and a mighty dearth of corn befell. Victuals began to be scarce, and

the commons were distressed with famine, so that the king, anxiously

pondering how to relieve the hardness of the times, and seeing that the

thirsty spent somewhat more than the hungry, introduced thrift among the

people. He abolished drinking-bouts, and decreed that no drink should be

prepared from gram, thinking that the bitter famine should be got rid

of by prohibiting needless drinking, and that plentiful food could be

levied as a loan on thirst.

Then a certain wanton slave of his belly, lamenting the prohibition

against drink, adopted a deep kind of knavery, and found a new way to

indulge his desires. He broke the public law of temperance by his own

excess, contriving to get at what he loved by a device both cunning

and absurd. For he sipped the forbidden liquor drop by drop, and so

satisfied his longing to be tipsy. When he was summoned for this by the

king, he declared that there was no stricter observer of sobriety than

he, inasmuch as he mortified his longing to quaff deep by this device

for moderate drinking. He persisted in the fault with which he was

taxed, saying that he only sucked. At last he was also menaced with

threats, and forbidden not only to drink, but even to sip; yet he could

not check his habits. For in order to enjoy the unlawful thing in

a lawful way, and not to have his throat subject to the command of

another, he sopped morsels of bread in liquor, and fed on the pieces

thus soaked with drink; tasting slowly, so as to prolong the desired

debauch, and attaining, though in no unlawful manner, the forbidden

measure of satiety.

Thus his stubborn and frantic intemperance risked his life, all for

luxury; and, undeterred even by the threats of the king, he fortified

his rash appetite to despise every peril. A second time he was summoned

by the king on the charge of disobeying his regulation. Yet he did not

even theft cease to defend his act, but maintained that he had in no

wise contravened the royal decree, and that the temperance prescribed

by the ordinance had been in no way violated by that which allured

him; especially as the thrift ordered in the law of plain living was so

described, that it was apparently forbidden to drink liquor, but not to

eat it. Then the king called heaven to witness, and swore by the general

good, that if he ventured on any such thing hereafter he would punish

him with death. But the man thought that death was not so bad as

temperance, and that it was easier to quit life than luxury; and

he again boiled the grain in water, and then fermented the liquor;

whereupon, despairing of any further plea to excuse his appetite, he

openly indulged in drink, and turned to his cups again unabashed. Giving

up cunning for effrontery, he chose rather to await the punishment of

the king than to turn sober. Therefore, when the king asked him why he

had so often made free to use the forbidden thing, he said:

“O king, this craving is begotten, not so much of my thirst, as of my

goodwill towards thee! For I remembered that the funeral rites of a king

must be paid with a drinking-bout. Therefore, led by good judgment more

than the desire to swill, I have, by mixing the forbidden liquid, taken

care that the feast whereat thy obsequies are performed should not, by

reason of the scarcity of corn, lack the due and customary drinking. Now

I do not doubt that thou wilt perish of famine before the rest, and

be the first to need a tomb; for thou hast passed this strange law of

thrift in fear that thou wilt be thyself the first to lack food. Thou

art thinking for thyself, and not for others, when thou bringest thyself

to start such strange miserly ways.”

This witty quibbling turned the anger of the king into shame; and when

he saw that his ordinance for the general good came home in mockery to

himself, he thought no more of the public profit, but revoked the edict,

relaxing his purpose sooner than anger his subjects.

Whether it was that the soil had too little rain, or that it was too

hard baked, the crops, as I have said, were slack, and the fields gave

but little produce; so that the land lacked victual, and was worn with

a weary famine. The stock of food began to fail, and no help was left

to stave off hunger. Then, at the proposal of Agg and of Ebb, it

was provided by a decree of the people that the old men and the tiny

children should be slain; that all who were too young to bear arms

should be taken out of the land, and only the strong should be

vouchsafed their own country; that none but able-bodied soldiers and

husbandmen should continue to abide under their own roofs and in the

houses of their fathers. When Agg and Ebb brought news of this to their

mother Gambaruk, she saw that the authors of this infamous decree had

found safety in crime. Condemning the decision of the assembly, she said

that it was wrong to relieve distress by murder of kindred, and declared

that a plan both more honourable and more desirable for the good of

their souls and bodies would be, to preserve respect towards their

parents and children, and choose by lot men who should quit the country.

And if the lot fell on old men and weak, then the stronger should offer

to go into exile in their place, and should of their own free will

undertake to bear the burden of it for the feeble. But those men who

had the heart to save their lives by crime and impiety, and to prosecute

their parents and their children by so abominable a decree, did not

deserve life; for they would be doing a work of cruelty and not of love.

Finally, all those whose own lives were dearer to them than the love

of their parents or their children, deserved but ill of their country.

These words were reported to the assembly, and assented to by the vote

of the majority. So the fortunes of all were staked upon the lot and

those upon whom it fell were doomed to be banished. Thus those who had

been loth to obey necessity of their own accord had now to accept the

award of chance. So they sailed first to Bleking, and then, sailing past

Moring, they came to anchor at Gothland; where, according to Paulus,

they are said to have been prompted by the goddess Frigg to take the

name of the Longobardi (Lombards), whose nation they afterwards founded.

In the end they landed at Rugen, and, abandoning their ships, began to

march overland. They crossed and wasted a great portion of the world;

and at last, finding an abode in Italy, changed the ancient name of the

nation for their own.

Meanwhile, the land of the Danes, where the tillers laboured less and

less, and all traces of the furrows were covered with overgrowth, began

to look like a forest. Almost stripped of its pleasant native turf, it

bristled with the dense unshapely woods that grew up. Traces of this are

yet seen in the aspect of its fields. What were once acres fertile in

grain are now seen to be dotted with trunks of trees; and where of old

the tillers turned the earth up deep and scattered the huge clods there

has now sprung up a forest covering the fields, which still bear the

tracks of ancient tillage. Had not these lands remained untilled and

desolate with long overgrowth, the tenacious roots of trees could never

have shared the soil of one and the same land with the furrows made by

the plough. Moreover, the mounds which men laboriously built up of old

on the level ground for the burial of the dead are now covered by a mass

of woodland. Many piles of stones are also to be seen interspersed among

the forest glades. These were once scattered over the whole country, but

the peasants carefully gathered the boulders and piled them into a heap

that they might not prevent furrows being cut in all directions; for

they would sooner sacrifice a little of the land than find the whole of

it stubborn. From this work, done by the toil of the peasants for

the easier working of the fields, it is judged that the population in

ancient times was greater than the present one, which is satisfied with

small fields, and keeps its agriculture within narrower limits than

those of the ancient tillage. Thus the present generation is amazed to

behold that it has exchanged a soil which could once produce grain for

one only fit to grow acorns, and the plough-handle and the cornstalks

for a landscape studded with trees. Let this account of Snio, which I

have put together as truly as I could, suffice.

Snio was succeeded by BIORN; and after him HARALD became sovereign.

Harald’s son GORM won no mean place of honour among the ancient generals

of the Danes by his record of doughty deeds. For he ventured into fresh

fields, preferring to practise his inherited valour, not in war, but in

searching the secrets of nature; and, just as other kings are stirred by

warlike ardour, so his heart thirsted to look into marvels; either what

he could experience himself, or what were merely matters of report. And

being desirous to go and see all things foreign and extraordinary, he

thought that he must above all test a report which he had heard from the

men of Thule concerning the abode of a certain Geirrod. For they boasted

past belief of the mighty piles of treasure in that country, but said

that the way was beset with peril, and hardly passable by mortal man.

For those who had tried it declared that it was needful to sail over the

ocean that goes round the lands, to leave the sun and stars behind, to

journey down into chaos, and at last to pass into a land where no light

was and where darkness reigned eternally.

But the warrior trampled down in his soul all fear of the dangers that

beset him. Not that he desired booty, but glory; for he hoped for a

great increase of renown if he ventured on a wholly unattempted quest.

Three hundred men announced that they had the same desire as the king;

and he resolved that Thorkill, who had brought the news, should be

chosen to guide them on the journey, as he knew the ground and was

versed in the approaches to that country. Thorkill did not refuse the

task, and advised that, to meet the extraordinary fury of the sea they

had to cross, strongly-made vessels should be built, fitted with many

knotted cords and close-set nails, filled with great store of provision,

and covered above with ox-hides to protect the inner spaces of the ships

from the spray of the waves breaking in. Then they sailed off in only

three galleys, each containing a hundred chosen men.

Now when they had come to Halogaland (Helgeland), they lost their

favouring breezes, and were driven and tossed divers ways over the seas

in perilous voyage. At last, in extreme want of food, and lacking even

bread, they staved off hunger with a little pottage. Some days passed,

and they heard the thunder of a storm brawling in the distance, as if

it were deluging the rocks. By this perceiving that land was near, they

bade a youth of great nimbleness climb to the masthead and look out; and

he reported that a precipitous island was in sight. All were overjoyed,

and gazed with thirsty eyes at the country at which he pointed, eagerly

awaiting the refuge of the promised shore. At last they managed to reach

it, and made their way out over the heights that blocked their way,

along very steep paths, into the higher ground. Then Thorkill told them

to take no more of the herds that were running about in numbers on the

coast, than would serve once to appease their hunger. If they disobeyed,

the guardian gods of the spot would not let them depart. But the

seamen, more anxious to go on filling their bellies than to obey orders,

postponed counsels of safety to the temptations of gluttony, and loaded

the now emptied holds of their ships with the carcases of slaughtered

cattle. These beasts were very easy to capture, because they gathered in

amazement at the unwonted sight of men, their fears being made bold.

On the following night monsters dashed down upon the shore, filled the

forest with clamour, and beleaguered and beset the ships. One of them,

huger than the rest, strode over the waters, armed with a mighty club.

Coming close up to them, he bellowed out that they should never

sail away till they had atoned for the crime they had committed in

slaughtering the flock, and had made good the losses of the herd of the

gods by giving up one man for each of their ships. Thorkill yielded

to these threats; and, in order to preserve the safety of all by

imperilling a few, singled out three men by lot and gave them up.

This done, a favouring wind took them, and they sailed to further

Permland. It is a region of eternal cold, covered with very deep snows,

and not sensible to the force even of the summer heats; full of pathless

forests, not fertile in grain and haunted by beasts uncommon elsewhere.

Its many rivers pour onwards in a hissing, foaming flood, because of the

reefs imbedded in their channels.

Here Thorkill drew up his ships ashore, and bade them pitch their tents

on the beach, declaring that they had come to a spot whence the passage

to Geirrod would be short. Moreover, he forbade them to exchange any

speech with those that came up to them, declaring that nothing enabled

the monsters to injure strangers so much as uncivil words on their part:

it would be therefore safer for his companions to keep silence; none

but he, who had seen all the manners and customs of this nation before,

could speak safely. As twilight approached, a man of extraordinary

bigness greeted the sailors by their names, and came among them. All

were aghast, but Thorkill told them to greet his arrival cheerfully,

telling them that this was Gudmund, the brother of Geirrod, and the most

faithful guardian in perils of all men who landed in that spot. When the

man asked why all the rest thus kept silence, he answered that they were

very unskilled in his language, and were ashamed to use a speech they

did not know. Then Gudmund invited them to be his guests, and took them

up in carriages. As they went forward, they saw a river which could

be crossed by a bridge of gold. They wished to go over it, but Gudmund

restrained them, telling them that by this channel nature had divided

the world of men from the world of monsters, and that no mortal track

might go further. Then they reached the dwelling of their guide; and

here Thorkill took his companions apart and warned them to behave like

men of good counsel amidst the divers temptations chance might throw in

their way; to abstain from the food of the stranger, and nourish their

bodies only on their own; and to seek a seat apart from the natives,

and have no contact with any of them as they lay at meat. For if they

partook of that food they would lose recollection of all things, and

must live for ever in filthy intercourse amongst ghastly hordes of

monsters. Likewise he told them that they must keep their hands off the

servants and the cups of the people.

Round the table stood twelve noble sons of Gudmund, and as many

daughters of notable beauty. When Gudmund saw that the king barely

tasted what his servants brought, he reproached him with repulsing his

kindness, and complained that it was a slight on the host. But Thorkill

was not at a loss for a fitting excuse. He reminded him that men who

took unaccustomed food often suffered from it seriously, and that the

king was not ungrateful for the service rendered by another, but was

merely taking care of his health, when he refreshed himself as he was

wont, and furnished his supper with his own viands. An act, therefore,

that was only done in the healthy desire to escape some bane, ought

in no wise to be put down to scorn. Now when Gudmund saw that the

temperance of his guest had baffled his treacherous preparations,

he determined to sap their chastity, if he could not weaken their

abstinence, and eagerly strained every nerve of his wit to enfeeble

their self-control. For he offered the king his daughter in marriage,

and promised the rest that they should have whatever women of his

household they desired. Most of them inclined to his offer: but Thorkill

by his healthy admonitions prevented them, as he had done before, from

falling into temptation.

With wonderful management Thorkill divided his heed between the

suspicious host and the delighted guests. Four of the Danes, to whom

lust was more than their salvation, accepted the offer; the

infection maddened them, distraught their wits, and blotted out their

recollection: for they are said never to have been in their right mind

after this. If these men had kept themselves within the rightful

bounds of temperance, they would have equalled the glories of Hercules,

surpassed with their spirit the bravery of giants, and been ennobled for

ever by their wondrous services to their country.

Gudmund, stubborn to his purpose, and still spreading his nets, extolled

the delights of his garden, and tried to lure the king thither to gather

fruits, desiring to break down his constant wariness by the lust of the

eye and the baits of the palate. The king, as before, was strengthened

against these treacheries by Thorkill, and rejected this feint of kindly

service; he excused himself from accepting it on the plea that he must

hasten on his journey. Gudmund perceived that Thorkill was shrewder

than he at every point; so, despairing to accomplish his treachery,

he carried them all across the further side of the river, and let them

finish their journey.

They went on; and saw, not far off, a gloomy, neglected town, looking

more like a cloud exhaling vapour. Stakes interspersed among the

battlements showed the severed heads of warriors and dogs of great

ferocity were seen watching before the doors to guard the entrance.

Thorkill threw them a horn smeared with fat to lick, and so, at slight

cost, appeased their most furious rage. High up the gates lay open

to enter, and they climbed to their level with ladders, entering

with difficulty. Inside the town was crowded with murky and misshapen

phantoms, and it was hard to say whether their shrieking figures were

more ghastly to the eye or to the ear; everything was foul, and the

reeking mire afflicted the nostrils of the visitors with its unbearable

stench. Then they found the rocky dwelling which Geirrod was rumoured to

inhabit for his palace. They resolved to visit its narrow and horrible

ledge, but stayed their steps and halted in panic at the very entrance.

Then Thorkill, seeing that they were of two minds, dispelled their

hesitation to enter by manful encouragement, counselling them, to

restrain themselves, and not to touch any piece of gear in the house

they were about to enter, albeit it seemed delightful to have or

pleasant to behold; to keep their hearts as far from all covetousness as

from fear; neither to desire what was pleasant to take, nor dread

what was awful to look upon, though they should find themselves amidst

abundance of both these things. If they did, their greedy hands would

suddenly be bound fast, unable to tear themselves away from the thing

they touched, and knotted up with it as by inextricable bonds. Moreover,

they should enter in order, four by four.

Broder and Buchi (Buk?) were the first to show courage to attempt to

enter the vile palace; Thorkill with the king followed them, and the

rest advanced behind these in ordered ranks.

Inside, the house was seen to be ruinous throughout, and filled with

a violent and abominable reek. And it also teemed with everything that

could disgust the eye or the mind: the door-posts were begrimed with the

soot of ages, the wall was plastered with filth, the roof was made up of

spear-heads, the flooring was covered with snakes and bespattered with

all manner of uncleanliness. Such an unwonted sight struck terror into

the strangers, and, over all, the acrid and incessant stench assailed

their afflicted nostrils. Also bloodless phantasmal monsters huddled

on the iron seats, and the places for sitting were railed off by leaden

trellises; and hideous doorkeepers stood at watch on the thresholds.

Some of these, armed with clubs lashed together, yelled, while others

played a gruesome game, tossing a goat’s hide from one to the other with

mutual motion of goatish backs.

Here Thorkill again warned the men, and forbade them to stretch forth

their covetous hands rashly to the forbidden things. Going on through

the breach in the crag, they beheld an old man with his body pierced

through, sitting not far off, on a lofty seat facing the side of the

rock that had been rent away. Moreover, three women, whose bodies were

covered with tumours, and who seemed to have lost the strength of their

back-bones, filled adjoining seats. Thorkill’s companions were very

curious; and he, who well knew the reason of the matter, told them that

long ago the god Thor had been provoked by the insolence of the giants

to drive red-hot irons through the vitals of Geirrod, who strove with

him, and that the iron had slid further, torn up the mountain, and

battered through its side; while the women had been stricken by the

might of his thunderbolts, and had been punished (so he declared) for

their attempt on the same deity, by having their bodies broken.

As the men were about to depart thence, there were disclosed to them

seven butts hooped round with belts of gold; and from these hung

circlets of silver entwined with them in manifold links. Near these was

found the tusk of a strange beast, tipped at both ends with gold. Close

by was a vast stag-horn, laboriously decked with choice and flashing

gems, and this also did not lack chasing. Hard by was to be seen a very

heavy bracelet. One man was kindled with an inordinate desire for this

bracelet, and laid covetous hands upon the gold, not knowing that the

glorious metal covered deadly mischief, and that a fatal bane lay

hid under the shining spoil. A second also, unable to restrain his

covetousness, reached out his quivering hands to the horn. A third,

matching the confidence of the others, and having no control over his

fingers, ventured to shoulder the tusk. The spoil seemed alike lovely to

look upon and desirable to enjoy, for all that met the eye was fair and

tempting to behold. But the bracelet suddenly took the form of a snake,

and attacked him who was carrying it with its poisoned tooth; the horn

lengthened out into a serpent, and took the life of the man who bore it;

the tusk wrought itself into a sword, and plunged into the vitals of its


The rest dreaded the fate of perishing with their friends, and thought

that the guiltless would be destroyed like the guilty; they durst not

hope that even innocence would be safe. Then the side-door of another

room showed them a narrow alcove: and a privy chamber with a yet richer

treasure was revealed, wherein arms were laid out too great for those of

human stature. Among these were seen a royal mantle, a handsome hat, and

a belt marvellously wrought. Thorkill, struck with amazement at these

things, gave rein to his covetousness, and cast off all his purposed

self-restraint. He who so oft had trained others could not so much as

conquer his own cravings. For he laid his hand upon the mantle, and

his rash example tempted the rest to join in his enterprise of plunder.

Thereupon the recess shook from its lowest foundations, and began

suddenly to reel and totter. Straightway the women raised a shriek that

the wicked robbers were being endured too long. Then they, who were

before supposed to be half-dead or lifeless phantoms, seemed to obey the

cries of the women, and, leaping suddenly up from their seats, attacked

the strangers with furious onset. The other creatures bellowed hoarsely.

But Broder and Buchi fell to their old and familiar arts, and attacked

the witches, who ran at them, with a shower of spears from every side;

and with the missiles from their bows and slings they crushed the

array of monsters. There could be no stronger or more successful way

to repulse them; but only twenty men out of all the king’s company

were rescued by the intervention of this archery; the rest were torn in

pieces by the monsters. The survivors returned to the river, and were

ferried over by Gudmund, who entertained them at his house. Long and

often as he besought them, he could not keep them back; so at last he

gave them presents and let them go.

Buchi relaxed his watch upon himself; his self-control became unstrung,

and he forsook the virtue in which he hitherto rejoiced. For he

conceived an incurable love for one of the daughters of Gudmund, and

embraced her; but he obtained a bride to his undoing, for soon his brain

suddenly began to whirl, and he lost his recollection. Thus the hero who

had subdued all the monsters and overcome all the perils was mastered by

passion for one girl; his soul strayed far from temperance, and he lay

under a wretched sensual yoke. For the sake of respect, he started to

accompany the departing king; but as he was about to ford the river

in his carriage, his wheels sank deep, he was caught up in the violent

eddies and destroyed.

The king bewailed his friend’s disaster and departed hastening on his

voyage. This was at first prosperous, but afterwards he was tossed by

bad weather; his men perished of hunger, and but few survived, so that

he began to feel awe in his heart, and fell to making vows to heaven,

thinking the gods alone could help him in his extreme need. At last the

others besought sundry powers among the gods, and thought they ought to

sacrifice to the majesty of divers deities; but the king, offering both

vows and peace-offerings to Utgarda-Loki, obtained that fair season of

weather for which he prayed.

Coming home, and feeling that he had passed through all these seas and

toils, he thought it was time for his spirit, wearied with calamities,

to withdraw from his labours. So he took a queen from Sweden, and

exchanged his old pursuits for meditative leisure. His life was

prolonged in the utmost peace and quietness; but when he had almost come

to the end of his days, certain men persuaded him by likely arguments

that souls were immortal; so that he was constantly turning over in his

mind the questions, to what abode he was to fare when the breath left

his limbs, or what reward was earned by zealous adoration of the gods.

While he was thus inclined, certain men who wished ill to Thorkill

came and told Gorm that it was needful to consult the gods, and that

assurance about so great a matter must be sought of the oracles of

heaven, since it was too deep for human wit and hard for mortals to


Therefore, they said, Utgarda-Loki must be appeased, and no man

would accomplish this more fitly than Thorkill. Others, again, laid

information against him as guilty of treachery and an enemy of the

king’s life. Thorkill, seeing himself doomed to extreme peril, demanded

that his accusers should share his journey. Then they who had aspersed

an innocent man saw that the peril they had designed against the life of

another had recoiled upon themselves, and tried to take back their plan.

But vainly did they pester the ears of the king; he forced them to sail

under the command of Thorkill, and even upbraided them with cowardice.

Thus, when a mischief is designed against another, it is commonly sure

to strike home to its author. And when these men saw that they were

constrained, and could not possibly avoid the peril, they covered their

ship with ox-hides, and filled it with abundant store of provision.

In this ship they sailed away, and came to a sunless land, which knew

not the stars, was void of daylight, and seemed to overshadow them with

eternal night. Long they sailed under this strange sky; at last their

timber fell short, and they lacked fuel; and, having no place to boil

their meat in, they staved off their hunger with raw viands. But most of

those who ate contracted extreme disease, being glutted with undigested

food. For the unusual diet first made a faintness steal gradually

upon their stomachs; then the infection spread further, and the malady

reached the vital parts. Thus there was danger in either extreme, which

made it hurtful not to eat, and perilous to indulge; for it was found

both unsafe to feed and bad for them to abstain. Then, when they were

beginning to be in utter despair, a gleam of unexpected help relieved

them, even as the string breaks most easily when it is stretched

tightest. For suddenly the weary men saw the twinkle of a fire at no

great distance, and conceived a hope of prolonging their lives. Thorkill

thought this fire a heaven-sent relief, and resolved to go and take some

of it.

To be surer of getting back to his friends, Thorkill fastened a jewel

upon the mast-head, to mark it by the gleam. When he got to the shore,

his eyes fell on a cavern in a close defile, to which a narrow way led.

Telling his companions to await him outside, he went in, and saw two

men, swart and very huge, with horny noses, feeding their fire with any

chance-given fuel. Moreover, the entrance was hideous, the door-posts

were decayed, the walls grimy with mould, the roof filthy, and the floor

swarming with snakes; all of which disgusted the eye as much as the

mind. Then one of the giants greeted him, and said that he had begun a

most difficult venture in his burning desire to visit a strange god, and

his attempt to explore with curious search an untrodden region beyond

the world. Yet he promised to tell Thorkill the paths of the journey he

proposed to make, if he would deliver three true judgments in the

form of as many sayings. Then said Thorkill: “In good truth, I do not

remember ever to have seen a household with more uncomely noses; nor

have I ever come to a spot where I had less mind to live.” Also he said:

“That, I think, is my best foot which can get out of this foremost.”

The giant was pleased with the shrewdness of Thorkill, and praised his

sayings, telling him that he must first travel to a grassless land which

was veiled in deep darkness; but he must first voyage for four days,

rowing incessantly, before he could reach his goal. There he could visit

Utgarda-Loki, who had chosen hideous and grisly caves for his filthy

dwelling. Thorkill was much aghast at being bidden to go on a voyage so

long and hazardous; but his doubtful hopes prevailed over his present

fears, and he asked for some live fuel. Then said the giant: “If thou

needest fire, thou must deliver three more judgments in like sayings.”

Then said Thorkill: “Good counsel is to be obeyed, though a mean fellow

gave it.” Likewise: “I have gone so far in rashness, that if I can get

back I shall owe my safety to none but my own legs.” And again: “Were I

free to retreat this moment, I would take good care never to come back.”

Thereupon Thorkill took the fire along to his companions; and finding a

kindly wind, landed on the fourth day at the appointed harbour. With

his crew he entered a land where an aspect of unbroken night checked the

vicissitude of light and darkness. He could hardly see before him,

but beheld a rock of enormous size. Wishing to explore it, he told his

companions, who were standing posted at the door, to strike a fire

from flints as a timely safeguard against demons, and kindle it in the

entrance. Then he made others bear a light before him, and stooped his

body through the narrow jaws of the cavern, where he beheld a number of

iron seats among a swarm of gliding serpents. Next there met his eye a

sluggish mass of water gently flowing over a sandy bottom. He crossed

this, and approached a cavern which sloped somewhat more steeply.

Again, after this, a foul and gloomy room was disclosed to the visitors,

wherein they saw Utgarda-Loki, laden hand and foot with enormous chains.

Each of his reeking hairs was as large and stiff as a spear of cornel.

Thorkill (his companions lending a hand), in order that his deeds might

gain more credit, plucked one of these from the chin of Utgarda-Loki,

who suffered it. Straightway such a noisome smell reached the

bystanders, that they could not breathe without stopping their noses

with their mantles. They could scarcely make their way out, and were

bespattered by the snakes which darted at them on every side.

Only five of Thorkill’s company embarked with their captain: the poison

killed the rest. The demons hung furiously over them, and cast their

poisonous slaver from every side upon the men below them. But the

sailors sheltered themselves with their hides, and cast back the venom

that fell upon them. One man by chance at this point wished to peep out;

the poison touched his head, which was taken off his neck as if it had

been severed with a sword. Another put his eyes out of their shelter,

and when he brought them back under it they were blinded. Another thrust

forth his hand while unfolding his covering, and, when he withdrew his

arm, it was withered by the virulence of the same slaver. They besought

their deities to be kinder to them; vainly, until Thorkill prayed to

the god of the universe, and poured forth unto him libations as well

as prayers; and thus, presently finding the sky even as before and the

elements clear, he made a fair voyage.

And now they seemed to behold another world, and the way towards the

life of man. At last Thorkill landed in Germany, which had then been

admitted to Christianity; and among its people he began to learn how

to worship God. His band of men were almost destroyed, because of

the dreadful air they had breathed, and he returned to his country

accompanied by two men only, who had escaped the worst. But the corrupt

matter which smeared his face so disguised his person and original

features that not even his friends knew him. But when he wiped off the

filth, he made himself recognizable by those who saw him, and inspired

the king with the greatest eagerness to hear about his quest. But the

detraction of his rivals was not yet silenced; and some pretended that

the king would die suddenly if he learnt Thorkill’s tidings. The king

was the more disposed to credit this saying, because he was already

credulous by reason of a dream which falsely prophesied the same thing.

Men were therefore hired by the king’s command to slay Thorkill in the

night. But somehow he got wind of it, left his bed unknown to all, and

put a heavy log in his place. By this he baffled the treacherous device

of the king, for the hirelings smote only the stock.

On the morrow Thorkill went up to the king as he sat at meat, and said:

“I forgive thy cruelty and pardon thy error, in that thou hast decreed

punishment, and not thanks, to him who brings good tidings of his

errand. For thy sake I have devoted my life to all these afflictions,

and battered it in all these perils; I hoped that thou wouldst requite

my services with much gratitude; and behold! I have found thee, and thee

alone, punish my valour sharpliest. But I forbear all vengeance, and

am satisfied with the shame within thy heart–if, after all, any shame

visits the thankless–as expiation for this wrongdoing towards me. I

have a right to surmise that thou art worse than all demons in fury,

and all beasts in cruelty, if, after escaping the snares of all these

monsters, I have failed to be safe from thine.”

The king desired to learn everything from Thorkill’s own lips; and,

thinking it hard to escape destiny, bade him relate what had happened

in due order. He listened eagerly to his recital of everything, till

at last, when his own god was named, he could not endure him to

be unfavourably judged. For he could not bear to hear Utgarda-Loki

reproached with filthiness, and so resented his shameful misfortunes,

that his very life could not brook such words, and he yielded it up in

the midst of Thorkill’s narrative. Thus, whilst he was so zealous in the

worship of a false god, he came to find where the true prison of sorrows

really was. Moreover, the reek of the hair, which Thorkill plucked from

the locks of the giant to testify to the greatness of his own deeds, was

exhaled upon the bystanders, so that many perished of it.

After the death of Gorm, GOTRIK his son came to the throne. He was

notable not only for prowess but for generosity, and none can say

whether his courage or his compassion was the greater. He so chastened

his harshness with mercy, that he seemed to counterweigh the one with

the other. At this time Gaut, the King of Norway, was visited by Ber

(Biorn?) and Ref, men of Thule. Gaut treated Ref with attention and

friendship, and presented him with a heavy bracelet.

One of the courtiers, when he saw this, praised the greatness of the

gift over-zealously, and declared that no one was equal to King Gaut in

kindliness. But Ref, though he owed thanks for the benefit, could not

approve the inflated words of this extravagant praiser, and said that

Gotrik was more generous than Gaut. Wishing to crush the empty boast of

the flatterer, he chose rather to bear witness to the generosity of

the absent than tickle with lies the vanity of his benefactor who was

present. For another thing, he thought it somewhat more desirable to be

charged with ingratitude than to support with his assent such idle and

boastful praise, and also to move the king by the solemn truth than

to beguile him with lying flatteries. But Ulf persisted not only in

stubbornly repeating his praises of the king, but in bringing them to

the proof; and proposed their gainsayer a wager.

With his consent Ref went to Denmark, and found Gotrik seated in state,

and dealing out the pay to his soldiers. When the king asked him who

he was, he said that his name was “Fox-cub” The answer filled some with

mirth and some with marvel, and Gotrik said, “Yea, and it is fitting

that a fox should catch his prey in his mouth.” And thereupon he drew

a bracelet from his arm, called the man to him, and put it between his

lips. Straightway Ref put it upon his arm, which he displayed to them

all adorned with gold, but the other arm he kept hidden as lacking

ornament; for which shrewdness he received a gift equal to the first

from that hand of matchless generosity. At this he was overjoyed, not so

much because the reward was great, as because he had won his contention.

And when the king learnt from him about the wager he had laid, he

rejoiced that he had been lavish to him more by accident than of set

purpose, and declared that he got more pleasure from the giving than the

receiver from the gift. So Ref returned to Norway and slew his opponent,

who refused to pay the wager. Then he took the daughter of Gaut captive,

and brought her to Gotrik for his own.

Gotrik, who is also called Godefride, carried his arms against

foreigners, and increased his strength and glory by his successful

generalship. Among his memorable deeds were the terms of tribute

he imposed upon the Saxons; namely, that whenever a change of kings

occurred among the Danes, their princes should devote a hundred

snow-white horses to the new king on his accession. But if the Saxons

should receive a new chief upon a change in the succession, this chief

was likewise to pay the aforesaid tribute obediently, and bow at

the outset of his power to the sovereign majesty of Denmark; thereby

acknowledging the supremacy of our nation, and solemnly confessing his

own subjection. Nor was it enough for Gotrik to subjugate Germany: he

appointed Ref on a mission to try the strength of Sweden. The Swedes

feared to slay him with open violence, but ventured to act like bandits,

and killed him, as he slept, with the blow of a stone. For, hanging a

millstone above him, they cut its fastenings, and let it drop upon his

neck as he lay beneath. To expiate this crime it was decreed that each

of the ringleaders should pay twelve golden talents, while each of

the common people should pay Gotrik one ounce. Men called this “the

Fox-cub’s tribute”. (Refsgild).

Meanwhile it befell that Karl, King of the Franks, crushed Germany in

war, and forced it not only to embrace the worship of Christianity, but

also to obey his authority. When Gotrik heard of this, he attacked the

nations bordering on the Elbe, and attempted to regain under his sway as

of old the realm of Saxony, which eagerly accepted the yoke of Karl, and

preferred the Roman to the Danish arms. Karl had at this time withdrawn

his victorious camp beyond the Rhine, and therefore forbore to engage

the stranger enemy, being prevented by the intervening river. But when

he was intending to cross once more to subdue the power of Gotrik, he

was summoned by Leo the Pope of the Romans to defend the city.

Obeying this command, Karl intrusted his son Pepin with the conduct of

the war against Gotrik; so that while he himself was working against a

distant foe, Pepin might manage the conflict he had undertaken with his

neighbour. For Karl was distracted by two anxieties, and had to furnish

sufficient out of a scanty band to meet both of them. Meanwhile Gotrik

won a glorious victory over the Saxons. Then gathering new strength, and

mustering a larger body of forces, he resolved to avenge the wrong he

had suffered in losing his sovereignty, not only upon the Saxons, but

upon the whole people of Germany. He began by subduing Friesland with

his fleet.

This province lies very low, and whenever the fury of the ocean bursts

the dykes that bar its waves, it is wont to receive the whole mass of

the deluge over its open plains. On this country Gotrik imposed a kind

of tribute, which was not so much harsh as strange. I will briefly

relate its terms and the manner of it. First, a building was arranged,

two hundred and forty feet in length, and divided into twelve spaces;

each of these stretching over an interval of twenty feet, and thus

making together, when the whole room was exhausted, the aforesaid total.

Now at the upper end of this building sat the king’s treasurer, and in a

line with him at its further end was displayed a round shield. When the

Frisians came to pay tribute, they used to cast their coins one by one

into the hollow of this shield; but only those coins which struck the

ear of the distant toll-gatherer with a distinct clang were chosen by

him, as he counted, to be reckoned among the royal tribute. The result

was that the collector only reckoned that money towards the treasury of

which his distant ear caught the sound as it fell. But that of which the

sound was duller, and which fell out of his earshot, was received indeed

into the treasury, but did not count as any increase to the sum paid.

Now many coins that were cast in struck with no audible loudness

whatever on the collector’s ear, so that men who came to pay their

appointed toll sometimes squandered much of their money in useless

tribute. Karl is said to have freed them afterwards from the burden of

this tax. After Gotrik had crossed Friesland, and Karl had now come back

from Rome, Gotrik determined to swoop down upon the further districts of

Germany, but was treacherously attacked by one of his own servants, and

perished at home by the sword of a traitor. When Karl heard this, he

leapt up overjoyed, declaring that nothing more delightful had ever

fallen to his lot than this happy chance.


     (1)  Furthest Thule–The names of Icelanders have thus crept

     into the account of a battle fought before the discovery of