Saga of King Hrolf Kraki Interlaced human figures (6k), from St. Gall Cathedral Library, MS 1395, 8th century. • Like Gautrekssaga, Hrolfs saga kraka is one of the legendary sagas, or fornaldar sagas. • Hrolfssaga was written in prose in fourteenth- century Iceland, but represents events said to have taken place in the fifth- or sixth-century Denmark, during the late Völkerwanderung. • Hrolfssaga has close affinities to the Anglo-Saxon epic Beowulf, written in England sometime before the 10th century AD.
Beowulf • Beowulfdescribes the adventures of a great warrior of the sixth century and is the oldest surviving epic in English literature. • Beowulf exists in only one manuscript. This copy survived both the wholesale destruction of religious artifacts during the dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII and a disastrous fire which destroyed the library. • The poem still bears the scars of the fire. The manuscript is now housed in the British Library, London.
Beowulf The first page of the Beowulf manuscript. Damage by the fire can be seen in the upper left hand corner.
Beowulf • Beowulf and Hrolfssaga descend (probably) independently from a tradition of story-telling in England and Scandinavia, and reflect the shared oral traditions of these countries in the early medieval period. • Both epics recount events that take place in the Danish kingdom of the Skjoldungs (Old English Scyldinga). • Both epics describe a voyage from Gautland in Sweden to Denmark and the exploits of a great, bear-like hero – Bjarki and Beowulf.
Beowulf • Overly Simplified Plot of Beowulf: • Hrothgar son of Healfdan rules Denmark from a great hall called Heorot. • A sinister creature called Grendel comes from a nearby fen one night and attacks Hrothgar’s men while they are sleeping in the hall, killing 30 men, whom he carries off and devours. • Grendel returns in subsequent nights, killing and feasting on Hrothgar’s men; no one can stand against the monstrously strong beast.
Hrothgar the friend of Beowulf and king of Sjælland (Zealand) belonged to the royal house founded by Scyld Scefing. The royal house was known as the Scyldings. Hrothgar was the son of Healfdene and grandson of Beow. Hrothgar's capital was called Heorot, but the monster Grendel menaced his great hall, killing and devouring many of his thane. Heorot was the centre of the Beowulf's first adventure.
Beowulf • Beowulf of the tribe of the Geats in Southern Sweden hears of the monster Grendel and decides to slay the beast for his own glory. • Beowulf takes a select party of 14 men to Hrothgar’s hall, makes a grand entrance, boasts of previous adventures, makes friends and enemies. • Since Grendel fights with bare arms, Beowulf declares that he too will fight the demon without a weapon – in bear-like fashion?
Beowulf • Grendel attacks that night, killing one of Beowulf’s men, but Beowulf then seizes his arms and begins a desperate fight. • Beowulf manages to tear one of Grendel’s arms from his body, mortally wounding the demon. Grendel flees in agony back to his lair beneath a lake. • Beowulf has Grendel’s arm to prove his victory, and there is great rejoicing in Heorot.
Beowulf • A bard (Anglo-Saxon Scop) sings a poem praising Beowulf’s great deed, comparing him to the great Germanic hero Siegemund (Sigmund). • Sigmund and his adventures are recorded in the Norse epic, the Volsungasaga, and were later reworked by Richard Wagner in his Ring-Cycle operas. • The Sigmund legend was combined in the Volsungasagaand the German Nibelungenlied with material from the Völkerwanderung, Theoderic of Verona and Attila the Hun.
Beowulf • Beowulf is rewarded with precious treasures for his bravery in slaying Grendel. • The poem hints that King Hrothgar’s nephew, Hrothulf (Norse Hrolf Kraki) will one day betray his uncle and take his throne (meaning of the reference controversial). • While the men sleep, Grendel’s mother, uglier and meaner than her son, makes a surprise appearance, kills one of Hrothgar’s men in vengeance then leaves for her watery lair.
Beowulf • Beowulf vows to kill Grendel’s mother too, tracks her to a lake and dives in, finding a vaulted chamber beneath the lake. • He fights with Grendel’s mother, but his weapon is useless; eventually he sees a sword crafted by a giant, seizes it and slices off her head. • Beowulf locates the deceased Grendel and cuts off his head as a trophy. He returns to the surface of the lake with Grendel’s head. • Beowulf has successfully slain both Grendel and mother, and avenged the death of one of his men.
Beowulf • Back in Heorot there is great rejoicing and more celebration. • Beowulf announces his departure and is given more gifts from King Hrothgar and his wife. • Beowulf returns to Geatland, where, after many of his relatives have died, he is eventually made King of the Geats. • Beowulf rules Southern Sweden for 50 years as a very wise and powerful king.
Beowulf • Toward the end of Beowulf’s reign, a slave happens to find a dragon’s hoard in a cave by the sea; he steals a cup while the dragon sleeps – a motif used by J. R. R. Tolkien in The Hobbit (Tolkien was a well-known Beowulf scholar). • The dragon awakes, smells the man and notices the missing cup, and in a rage he flies over the land breathing fire on towns and villages. • Dragons usually wingless in Norse legends; original term related flying/fire-breathing beasts to lightning in the sky. Common mythical beast.
Beowulf • Old Beowulf still insists on single combat with the monster, takes a select band of warriors with him to act as “witnesses” of his heroism. • Beowulf advances against dragon in its lair, but his sword is useless and his shield is barely enough to protect him from the dragon’s fire. • All his men flee, except young Wiglaf, who rushes to Beowulf’s aid. Together they attack. • Wiglaf plunges his sword through the dragon’s belly and Beowulf draws his dagger and finishes off the beast.
Beowulf • Sadly, the dragon had managed to pierce Beowulf’s coat of mail with his teeth, biting him in the neck and shoulder. As the dragon’s poison takes effect, Beowulf realizes he is about to die. • He asks Wiglaf to show him the dragon’s treasure. He bestows a gold collar on the young hero and then expires. • Wiglaf mourns the dead Beowulf and rebukes the cowardly warriors who had fled earlier. • Wiglaf throws the dragon in the sea, burns Beowulf on a great pyre and buries the treasure.
Beowulf and The 13th Warrior • The primary addition of Michael Crichton (in Eaters of the Dead) is combining the character of Ibn Fadlan to a rationalized account of the Beowulf legend. • Ibn Fadlan was an Arab chronicler. In 921 AD, the Caliph of Baghdad sent him to the Bulgars of the Middle Volga. Ibn Fadlan wrote an account of his journeys with the embassy, called a Risala. • Ibn Fadlan's account is one of our principal sources for the history and culture of a number of tribes who populated Inner Asia.
Beowulf and The 13th Warrior • Ibn Fadlan’s account is of great value as a history, though at times inaccuracies and prejudices have slanted the account. • Ibn Fadlan’s description of the Volga Rus (Swedish Vikings who traded in Russia, south to the Black Sea) is one of the few outside accounts of these people. • Although Ibn Fadlan did not join a Viking warrior party, several of the scenes in the movie are taken from his account of the Rus:
The 13th Warrior and Ibn Fadlan • Tall and strong, blond or red-headed • Weapons include sword, battle-axe and knife • Viking hygiene • Sexual practices (not shown in the film…) • Cremation of a Chieftain • The “angel of death” • Intoxicating beverages • Sacrifice of slave girl with dead chieftain
Beowulf and The 13th Warrior • The book and film versions “rationalize” the fantasy elements of the epic: • Grendel is not a monster, but a stone-age bear-tribe • Grendel’s mother is a sorceress, or an iconic statue of a fertility goddess served by the sorceress • The dragon is a “fire-worm” or “glow-worm” (fire-snake, fire-serpent) composed of a dense cavalry formation carrying torches
Beowulf and The 13th Warrior • The film keeps the central plot elements, but rearranges them, placing them into different contexts or different sequences: • The “monster” takes the heads of the warriors as trophies, cannibalism practiced • “Grendel’s mother” found underground, beneath a lake – in a cave, with a connection to the sea • The hero is bitten in the shoulder by a serpent, dies of poison – here poisoned by the sorceress, dies after defeating his final enemy.
Beowulf and The 13th Warrior • The bear connection: • Both Beowulf and Bothvar Bjarki have important associations with bears – bears as their fetch? • A “berserkr” was a kind of warrior who fought in a state of frenzy without armor–meaning disputed: “bare-shirt” or “bear-shirt”– the latter more likely. • A berserkr then would adopt the mantle of a bear, a shamanistic ritual in which wearing a bear skin (shirt) imparts the strength and ferocity of a bear. • Evidence suggests that berserkrs belonged to a warrior cult worshipping Odin. Battle magic.
Beowulf and The 13th Warrior • A few scattered comments: • The landscape has mountains and fjords, obviously not Denmark but Norway (British Columbia). • Court intrigues mentioned in Beowulf are recast somewhat differently. • One of the warriors cites Havamal in the evening before the monsters attack. • Odd reversal: that the hero was concerned about having his story recorded in writing by a foreigner, since he came from a culture with a very well developed tradition of oral narration!
Beowulf and Hrolf Kraki Hrolf’s SagaSkjöldunga SagaGesta DanorumBeowulf Aðils Adillus Athislus Eadgils Böðvarr Bjarki Bodvarus Biarco Beowulf* Froði Frodo Frotho Froda Halfdan Halfdanus Haldanus Healfdene Helgi Helgo Helgo Halga Hroarr Roas Roe Hroðgar Hrolfr Kraki Rolfo Krake Roluo Krake Hroðulf Skjöldr Skioldus Skioldus Sculd Scefing Yrsa Yrsa Vrsa Yrse* *probable associations
Hrolfs saga kraka • Written down in Iceland around 400 years after Beowulf, it contains many of the same elements, which are also known from other sources. • Icelanders venerated their heathen past more and more openly than any other country in Scandinavia; they had a reputation as master poets and story tellers, and were often guests at royal courts in England and Norway. • Matter-of-fact style of Icelandic sagas is often at odds with the fabulous or mythical subject matter of Hrolfs saga.
Hrolfs saga kraka • This saga is a collection of smaller tales compiled around the central figure of King Hrolf Kraki in Denmark. • Like King Arthur or Charlemagne, Hrolf plays a relatively minor role in most of the adventures, compared with the exploits of his warriors and kinsmen. • The saga contains elements of European romance as well as elements of Norse mythology.
Hrolfs saga kraka • Transformation of oral poetry and history into written, literary prose. • Poetic form of the subject matter, Bjarkamal, a heroic lay from the mid 10th century, cited by Snorri in his Edda and by Saxo (translated into Latin) in his Danish History. • In Saint Olaf’s Saga, this poem was supposedly recited by King Olaf’s bard on the morning of the Battle of Stikelstad in 1030 AD (p. xiv). • Inspirational power of the poem tapped at a decisive moment in Norwegian history!
Hrolfs saga kraka • The saga can be divided into 5 separate tales: • (chapters 1-4) the legendary and divine ancestry of Hrolf Kraki. • (chapters 5-13) the adventures of Helgi and Hroar, Hrolf’s father and uncle; the adventures of his parents. • (chapters 14-16) Hrolf’s champion Svipdag • (chapters 16-24) the tale of Bjorn the Man-Bear • (chapters 24-34) Hrolf’s own struggles with his adversary, King Adils of Sweden.
History and Hrolfs saga kraka • Frodi, Halfdan, Helgi and others (probably) preserve the memory of Danish chieftains in the Migration Period, 5th to 6th century AD. • They belonged to the dynasty of the Skjoldungs, which was founded by Skjold (“Shield”) or Scyld Scefing in Beowulf. • According to the Saga of the Skjoldungs, Skjold was descended from Odinus or Othinus – divine origin such as for the Volsungs in Norway or (Freyr) the Ynglings in Sweden. • Euhemerism with Odin, or attribution to Dan.
History and Hrolfs saga kraka • Was there really a center of Danish power at Hleidargard (Hrolfs saga) or at Heorot (Beowulf)? • Danish historians since the late middle ages associated the village of Lejre on the island of Sjælland with the great hall mentioned in the sagas. • Archaeologists have found two great halls on the island, one dating to Viking times (850 AD) and one to the late Migration Age (660 AD).
Hrolfs saga kraka • A rambling tale of the early Norse world, from Denmark and Sweden to Norway and the far north, where Sami and Finns live. • Tales of cruelty, vengeance, rape, incest, betrayal and slaughter. Something for everyone. • Magical spells, witches and sorceresses, visitations by gods, transformations and mythical beings, elves, berserkrs and man-beasts. • A great and noble king, his loyal champions and their glorious exploits, culminating in a great battle between good and evil.
Hrolfs saga kraka 1 • The ancestry of Hrolf Kraki is portrayed in the opening chapters. • Two brothers, easy-going Halfdan and greedy Frodi, who was jealous and invaded Halfdan’s kingdom in Denmark. • Frodi burned everything and killed his brother, but his two nephews Helgi and Hroar escaped. • Brothers were hidden on an island with trusted freeman Vifil, who keeps them underground. • King Frodi is afraid of vengeance, calls on witches and wizards to locate the boys.
Hrolfs saga kraka 2 • Sorcerers think the boys are on the island; Vilfil feels the magic, tells the boys to hide in the underbrush if a search party comes. • Frodi’s men search the island twice, but find no sign of the boys. • Frodi decides to search personally the third time; Vifil warns the boys that calling to his dogs is a warning to hide underground. • King Frodi is displeased with Vifil, but cannot find the boys and leaves.
Hrolfs saga kraka 3 • Hroar is 12 and Helgi is 10 when they leave the island, calling themselves Ham and Hrani. • They go to stay with Jarl Saevil, a friend and in-law of their father’s, but do not reveal their identity and keep cloaks over their heads; people think them beggars, but tolerate them. • Once while riding unruly horses, their cloaks fall down and Signy, the Jarl’s wife, recognizes her lost brothers. • They all attend a feast at King Frodi’s hall, where he brings a seeress in to locate the boys.
Hrolfs saga kraka 3 • The seeress, named Heid, practices Seiðr, a shamanistic form of magic, to find the boys (see p. 6f.). • Signy throws a gold ring to the seeress, who loses her concentration and lies to the king to keep the ring. • The king threatens Heid, who continues with her trance. She knows where the boys are, but warns them and then flees herself from the hall (7). • The boys hide in the woods outside the hall, but are already plotting revenge on Frodi.
Hrolfs saga kraka 3 • Frodi commands a fruitless search, then decides to spend the night drinking, because the boys will be too concerned with flight to threaten him at the moment. • Regin, the boys’ foster-father, gets the men in the hall drunk, then rides to the woods and through a charade tells the hiding boys to attack the hall – he cannot say anything out loud because he has been forced to swear allegiance to the new king. • Jarl Saevil and his friends escaped the hall, then the boys set fire to it.
Hrolfs saga kraka 4 • King Frodi has an ominous dream, awakes to find his hall aflame. • Frodi offers a truce with the boys, saying “it goes against nature’s order that among us kinsmen each man should want to be the killer of the other” (10). • The boys do not trust him, prevent him escaping, and he and all his men are burned. • Sigrid, the mother of the boys Helgi and Hroar, chooses not to leave the hall and she is killed too.
Hrolfs saga kraka 5,6 • King Helgi rules Denmark, while King Hroar travels to England and marries Ogn. • Helgi hears of a warrior queen named Olof in Saxland (northern Germany) – beautiful, yet cruel and arrogant – and determines to marry her. • Helgi invades the country and “invites” Queen Olof to provide him a feast; she cannot refuse. • At the feast, Helgi makes a quick marriage proposal (12f.). That night, things do not go as Helgi had planned. Helgi leaves in disgrace.
Hrolfs saga kraka 7 • Helgi is outraged at his humiliation by Queen Olof and is determined to get vengeance. • He arrives secretly in Saxland with a large force, hides a treasure in the woods on the coast. • He pretends to be a beggar who has found the treasure, promises to deliver it to the greedy queen if she will come get it secretly. • The queen arrives alone and is captured by Helgi who now has no intention of marrying her honorably. He keeps her on his ship for many nights… and then lets her return home.
Hrolfs saga kraka 7 • Queen Olof gives birth to a daughter, Yrsa, whom she treats with neglect because she is Helgi’s child. The pretty girl is sent to herd animals when she is 12, and is not told of her true parentage because Queen Olof wants to hide her shame. • Helgi returns to Saxland out of curiosity when Yrsa is 13, is struck by the beauty of the young shepherdess, captures her, takes her home and marries her! (Queen Olof savors this odd turn of events, since it will shame Helgi).
Hrolfs saga kraka 7,8 • Meanwhile, Helgi’s brother Hroar appears, asks for a ring of their father’s, and departs with it on friendly terms. • Jarl Saevil dies and his evil son Hrok assumes control of his lands. Hrok goes to Helgi and demands the ring or a third of his lands. • Hrok then goes to Hroar, who will not part with the ring, but lets Hrok take a look at it. Hrok throws the ring into the sea. Enmity ensues. • Hrok invades Hroar’s lands, attacks and kills him.
Hrolfs saga kraka 8 • Evil Hrok then wants to marry Ogn, Hroar’s wife in England. • She manages to stall the wedding, because she is pregnant with dead Hroar’s child – she sends word to King Helgi that she is being forced to marry Hrok but will not do so because of her pregnancy. • Helgi plots to avenge his dead brother Hroar. • Hrok suspects nothing.
Hrolfs saga kraka 9 • Helgi defeats Hrok, but instead of killing him, he breaks his legs and arms and leaves him utterly ruined. • Queen Ogn gives birth to Hroar’s child, Agnar, who becomes a great warrior. He dives into the fjord where evil Hrok threw his father’s ring and pulls it up from the bottom. • Meanwhile, King Helgi continues his incestuous relationship with his daughter Yrsa and has a son with her named Hrolf.
Hrolfs saga kraka 10-11 • Amazon Queen Olof is displeased to hear that her daughter Yrsa and Helgi are so happy together; she travels to Yrsa and tells her the truth about her parentage (20). • Yrsa cannot live with the shame and leaves Helgi, who suffers grievously from the loss of his wife/daughter. • King Adils of Sweden travels to visit Olof and asks for Yrsa’s hand in marriage. She is not eager, but he carries her off and marries her. • King Helgi hears about the wedding and mopes.
Hrolfs saga kraka 11 • King Helgi is visited at Yuletide by a girl in rags who asks to sleep near his bed – he is repelled by her appearance but thinks it is his duty to offer hospitality. • Filthy elf-girl is released from spell by his generosity; she wants to leave but he wants to get married. They sleep together that night (22). • The elf-girl later brings their daughter back to the king, she is named Skuld = guilt or debt. She shows a vicious temperament.
Hrolfs saga kraka 12-14 • King Helgi brings an army to visit his daughter/ex-wife Yrsa now married to King Adils, who invites him to a feast. • King Adils has his berserkers ambush King Helgi after the feast – he fights valiantly but is slain. “Here ends the tale of King Helgi” (24). • King Adils becomes very boastful and arrogant after his victory, but Yrsa plots vengeance. • A young hero, Svipdag, decides to leave his dismal home in the mountains and make a name for himself. Wisdom and advice (25f.).
Hrolfs saga kraka 14 • Svipdag arrives in King Adils’s hall, behaves arrogantly; the king’s berserkrs take offense. • A challenge is issued and the next day Svipdag kills 4 of the berserkrs. Queen Yrsa is thrilled. • A further fight ensues, and the king is so disappointed in his berserkrs that he outlaws (exiles) them (28). • The berserkrs become Vikings and raid the king’s territory; Svipdag is sent to kill them. He wins the first battle, but they gather more forces for a second battle.