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THIS dialogic lay about the hostile half brothers may justly claim high rank among the small number of genuine “heroic” poems. In grandeur of theme, in extraordinary vigor and splendor of style, in heroic passion, it challenges comparison with such poems as Atlakvitha and Hamthismól; which it resembles also in its air of antiquity, in the epic-dramatic form, in the rugged mixture of fornyrthtslag and málaháttr and, alas! also in the sadly mutilated condition of the text. Fully one-third of the original poem seems lost, and a number of stanzas are no doubt corrupted. The total impression is much weakened by the connecting prose, which, in this case, to a large extent represents imperfectly remembered stanzas, with still an occasional rhythm, here and there an alliteration, or a striking phrase suggesting the noble original verse.
There are good reasons for thinking the lay a quasi-historical reminiscence from the time of Gothic greatness, transmitted possibly through some South Germanic song—partial reflection of the tremendous events of the migration period, perhaps the clash of Goth and Hun on the Catalaunian Fields (451), or some other vast battle of nations unrecorded in histories. The conflict is here located on the Dun-heath, whether that locality be the plains of the Danube or those of the Lugii Duni about the upper Oder. In the latter case, it is interesting to note, the Jassar Fells (stanza 27) would correspond to the Jesenik (German, Gesenke), the stretch of hill country which forms the broad gate between the high and impassable Sudeti and the Carpathian ranges. This, again, would permit the inference that the Goths were at that time still in their North European homes by the Vistula1 and the Baltic which, as we know from other sources, they right at p. 37 the end of the second century A.D. Ultimate derivation from a Gothic lay of these remote times is no more impossible than in the case of Hamthismól, the great figures of Ermanaric and Theodoric, and their relations with Attila forming the very basic layer of Germanic folk hero lore. At any rate there are a number of clear indications that the lay has as its background the vast plains and broad rivers of the east central portions of Europe. Geographic exactness is not to be expected at that distance of time. A clear argument for the very early spread of the story may be seen in the fact that no less than five persons connected with it occur in lines 116-119 of the Anglo-Saxon catalogue poem of Wīdsīth from the seventh century—a poem which also otherwise betrays considerable knowledge of very early Continental conditions.
No doubt the episode here celebrated is the original kernel of the composite Hervarar saga in which it is preserved. For the lay after stanza 11 (of this translation) we are dependent on seventeenth-century MSS of the saga.
On one of his expeditions the evil but wise son of Hervor, King Heithrek, abducts the daughter of the powerful Humli,2 King of the Huns. She gives birth to Hloth, who is brought up by his maternal grandfather, since Heithrek put his mother away in favor of another queen whose children by him are Angantýr and Hervor—a quasi reincarnation of her amazon grandmother. When Heithrek dies Angantýr succeeds him; but his half brother claims an equal share of the inheritance.
|13||Of yore, say they, Humli over Huns held sway;|
Gizur4 over Gauts;5 over Goths, Angantýr;
p. 38 Valdar over Danes, but over the Welsh,6 Kíar;7
and Alrek8 the Bold over English folk.
|2||Was Hloth9 born there in Hunnish folk-lands—|
10with dagger and broadsword and byrnie long,
with ring-decked helmet11 and sharp-hewing sword,
with horses well-broken, in the hallowed land.12
Now13 Hloth learned about the death of his father, and that his brother, Angantýr, had himself made king over all those lands which Heithrek had owned. Then King Humli advised Hloth to claim from Angantýr his share of the inheritance with fair words; as is said here:
|3||Rode Hloth from the East, King Heithrek’s first-born,|
to the halls where dwell the dauntless Goths—
to Árheimar14— to claim his heir-lands.
There was Angantýr drinking arvel for Heithrek.
|4||Before the high hall he found a hero standing,|
from far lands hailing, him he welcomed.15
|“Into high hall now go thou, hero,|
and bid Angantýr make answer to me.”
The warrior went in before the table of King Angantýr, and said:
|5||“Is Hloth come here, King Heithrek’s heir,|
thy bastard brother, thy brother he;
high the young hero his horse doth sit:
would he now, thane, with thee have speech.”
But when King Angantýr heard this, he threw down his trencher on the board and rose and clad himself in his byrnie. He took his white shield in hand, and grasped the sword Tyrfing with the other. Then there arose much din in the hall; as is here said:
|6||Rose outcry in hall; with the atheling stood up,|
(the Gothic king, his goodly warriors:16)
they all fain would hear what Hloth did say,
and eke what answer Angantýr made.
|7||“Hail to thee, Hloth, King Heithrek’s son|
and my own brother! On bench sit thou!
In his hall let us drink Heithrek’s arvel
[the father of us, the first of mankind]
in wine or in mead— whiche’er worthiest seemeth.”17
|8||“Not hither came we from Hunnish lands|
to share with you your wine and mead—
|* * *|
|9||“The half will I have of what Heithrek owned,|
of awl18 and of edge, of all the treasure,
of cow and of call, of quern harsh-grinding,
of thrall and of bond-maid, and those born of them,
|10||“the mighty forest which is Murkwood19 hight,|
the hallowed grave20 which in Gothland stands,
the shining stone which in Danpstead21 stands,
half of the war-weeds which Heithrek owned,
of lands and lieges and of lustrous arm-rings.”
|11||“Your shining shield will be shattered, brother,|
and by cold spears will be split many another,
[and many a man will meet his death ]
before Tyrfing in two I sunder,
or to thee, son of Humli,22 leave the half of it!
|12||“Will I give thee, brother, gleaming arm-rings,|
much wealth of gold, what most thou wishest—
twelve hundred thralls, twelve hundred steeds,
twelve hundred bond-men with bucklers weaponed.
|13||“To every man of you much will I give—|
other and better things than ere this he had:
to every man a maid will I give,
and give each maiden a golden necklace.
|14||“About thee a-sitting shall I silver heap,|
about thee a-going shall I gold-trinkets pour,23
p. 41 so that the rings will roll about thee;
shalt govern a third24 of Gothic lands.”
Gizur, called the Follower25 of the Grytings, King Heithrek’s faster father, was then in Angantýr’s company. He was exceeding old then. When he heard Angantýr’s offer he thought that too much was offered, and said:
|15||“Could no better be offered to a bond-woman’s son—|
to the son of a bond-woman, though born to a king.
The bastard son then sate on a hill
when the atheling the heirlooms shifted.”26
(Hloth is enraged and returns to Humli, who promises help for the summer after.)27
|16||“Shall we feast at our ease till over is winter,|
drink and hold converse, quaffing the mead,
and teach our warriors weapons to fashion,
which to battle bravely we shall bear forward.
|17||“Well shall we arm the warrior host,|
and help thee, Hloth, with hardy deeds;28
with twelve-year old draughts, and two-year old foals,29
thus shall the host of the Huns be gathered.”
That winter, King Humli and Hloth stayed at home; but when spring came they drew together so great a host that there p. 42 was a dearth of fighting men in Hunland. . . . And when this mighty host was gathered they rode through Murkwood. . . . As they came out of the forest they found many farms and level fields. In the fields there stood a fair castle. There ruled Hervor, Angantýr’s and Hloth’s sister, and with her, Ormar, her foster father. They warded the land against the Huns and had a great host. . . . One morning, about sunrise, Hervor stood on a tower above the castle gate. She saw so much dust southward toward the forest that it hid the sun for a long time. Then saw she a glow under the dust, as though from gold, of fair shields inlaid with gold, of gilded helmets and bright byrnies. Then understood she that this was the Hunnish host, and most numerous. She hurried down and called her trumpeter and bade him summon the host. Then said Hervor to them: “Take your weapons and make ready for battle; but thou, Ormar, ride out toward the Huns and affer them battle before the southern gate.”30
|18||“Assuredly shall I, with shield aloft,|
(to the Hunnish host hurriedly ride,
to summon them to the southern gate)32
there ’gainst the Goths to try the game of war.”
(And so he did and) then returned to the castle. Then was Hervor armed and all her host. . . . There was a great battle; but because the Huns had a much greater host, the battle turned against Hervor, and at length she fell, and round about her, many men. But when Ormar saw her fall he fled, and with him all they who still lived. He rode day and night as fast as he could, to King Angantýr in Árheimar, while the Huns took to harrying and burning the countryside. When he arrived he said:
|19||“From the south am I come, to say these tidings:|
burned is the far-famed forest Murkwood,
all Goth-land drenched with the gore of the fallen.
|20||“I know that Hervor, Heithrek’s daughter,|
and thy sister, by the sword has fallen.
Have Hunnish hosts hewed down the maiden
with many an other of your warriors.
|21|| * * *|
Was she readier for war than with wooer to dally,
or on bench to sit as wedded bride.”
When Angantýr heard this he stroked his beard and was silent for a long time. At last he said:
|22||“Wast unbrotherly dealt with, my brave sister!|
(Now have fallen the fighters who fared with you.)33
Full many the men when mead we drank,—
have I fewer followers when I fain would have more.
|23||“In all my host no hero see I,|
though I should beg him and buy him with rings,
who would raise the war-shield and ride for me
to the Hunnish host to harbinger war.
|GIZUR THE OLD said:|
|24||“Not a single silverling seek I of thee,|
nor of glistening gold guerdon crave I;
yet shall I ride and raise the war-shield,
and to Hunnish hosts herald battle.”
It was King Heithrek’s law, that if a hostile army was in the land and the king of the land challenged them to a pitched battle and appointed the battle field, then those vikings durst not harry before battle was tried between them. Gizur then armed himself with good weapons and leaped on his horse as p. 44 though he were a young man, and said to the king:34
|“To the Huns where shall I herald battle?”|
|25||“On the down of Dun-heath and in Dylgia35-vales|
(shall the battle be)36 ’neath the Iassar-fells’ brow,
where often Goths their glaives reddened,
and victory won warriors in sword-play.”
Then Gizur rode till he came upon the Hunnish army. When he was within earshot he called out with a loud voice and said:
|26|| * * *|
* * *
“Afraid are your hosts, fey is your leader—
You have angered Óthin: we offer you battle.
|27||“On the downs of Dun-heath and in Dylgia-vales|
I bid you battle, ’neath the Iassar-fells’ brow.
(May Óthin o’erawe Angantýr’s foes)37
and may this spear fly o’er you as I do bid it.”38
When Hloth had heard Gizur’s words he said:
|28||“Seize ye Gizur (the Grýtings’ follower),39|
Angantýr’s man, from Árheimar come!”
|29||(“No hurt nor harm to him shall be done,|
to hero who fares to herald us war.”
|“Will not Hunnish hornbows do harm to us ever,|
nor Hunnish wiles hinder our warriors.”)40
Gizur then gave the spurs to his horse and rode back to King Angantýr. . . . The king asked him whether he had encountered the Huns. Gizur said: I spoke with them and summoned them to combat
|“on the downs of Dun-heath and in Dylgia-vales.”|
Angantýr asked him how great an army the Huns had. Gizur said:
|“Huge was that host (of Hunnish warriors)|
|30||“Sixteen squadrons41 saw I foregathered;|
had each squadron fully five thousand men,
and each ‘thousand,’42 thirteen hundred,
and each ‘hundred,’ horse-men eight-score.”
Angantýr then got together an army to meet the Huns, who were twice his strength. The battle lasted eight days, with great slaughter which was made good, in the case of the Goths, by continual reinforcements; so that at last the Huns were forced to give ground. Angantýr stepped into the front ranks with the sword Tyrfing in hand, and slew both Hloth and Humli. Then the Huns took to flight, and the Goths slew so many that the rivers were dammed up and overflowed their banks and the valleys were filled with dead men and horses. Angantýr went about on the battlefield to search among the fallen. He found his brother Hloth. Then he said:
|31||“Untold arm-rings I offered thee, brother,|
a wealth of gold and what most thou didst wish.
As guerdon for strife now hast gotten neither,
nor lands nor lieges nor lustrous rings.
|32||“A baleful fate wrought it that, brother, I slew thee!|
Will that aye be told. Ill’s the norns’ doom.”
1 In Wīdsīth (ll. 119 f) we are told that the Goths defended their ancient home against the Huns “about the forest of the Vistula.”
2 In whom we may see the representative of the royal race of the Ostrogoths, the Amalunga, who for a time were subjects, or allies, of the Huns; and in Heithrek, Hardurík (Ardaricus), king of the Gepidæ, a tribe related to the Goths, who fought heroically against the Huns.
3 This stanza is held by some not to belong to the lay.
4 Pronounce Gitsur. Cf. the Prose after 14.
5 Old Norse Gautar, the inhabitants of the present Swedish provinces of East and West Gotland. Not to be confused with the Goths (Old Norse Gotar)—a name frequently used in a general and honorific, but here in a special, sense. The seats, at different times, of that noble and gifted race ranged from the Baltic to the Black Sea and thence to Spain.
6 Used, vaguely, of various west and south European nations.
7 This name is by some scholars held to be derived from Cæsar, in view especially of Wīdsīth, lines 76-78—mid Cāsere, sē the wimburga geweald āhte, Wiolena and Wilna and Wala rīces.
8 No such English king is known in legend or history. The name seems identical with that of Abbot Ælfric, the famous writer of the latter part of the tenth century; but unconsciously one thinks of Alfred the Great (849-901).
9 The hostile brothers no doubt correspond to the Hlithe and Incgenthēow of Wīdsīth (116). Leth was the third king of the Langobardians.
10 Thus Helgi “stands in arms” in earliest infancy; cf. the First Lay of Helgi. The prose preceding rationalizes this heroic trait as follows: “It was said, in former times, that a man was born ‘with weapons and horses,’ for the reason that the weapons lay ready when he was born—also livestock, such as oxen and horses, if they happened to be born then. All these were given at birth to men of rank, to honor them.”
11 I.e., helmets adorned with strips of plaited rings, as were used in the Viking period.
12 I.e., within the confines of royal residence and temple.
13 This prose link may possibly paraphrase the contents of a lost stanza or stanzas. Still, bearing in mind the abrupt transitions in ballad technique, we need not conclude this.
14 I.e., “River-Dwelling”; by some supposed to be by the Dniepr River, about which lay the lands of the Goths in the fourth century.
15 Very evidently, it is Hloth who comes from afar; but the text is ambiguous. To judge from similar passages in other poems, a half-stanza containing a question p. 39 of the warrior on guard, and one containing the beginning of Hloth’s speech, are missing.
16 The gap supplied after the suggestion of Heusler-Ranisch.
17 This stanza and the following half-stanza are found only in one seventeenth century MS. However, it expresses the substance rather better than the Prose.
18 Thus the text. Possibly, the awl is taken as representative of peaceful pursuits. “Edge,” pars pro toto for “sword.”
19 This great forest is mentioned also in the Lay of Atli, 8, and in the Plaint of Oddrún, 23, as separating the land of the Niflungs from that of the Huns.
20 Bugge (Norrœne Skrifter, etc., 362) suggests that the “hallowed grave” refers to a burial place where the departed Gothic kings were interred; and the “shining stone,” to a boulder in the high place of assembly of the Goths on which the newly chosen kings were acclaimed by the people.
21 I.e., “Stead by the Dniepr” (Latin Danaper), probably. It is mentioned also in Rígsthula, 49.
22 I.e., his daughter’s son.
23 Cf. the penalty paid by the gods for killing Otter, Reginsmól, 5.
24 Which is the usual share, according to Old Germanic law, of the son born out of wedlock.
25 Here equivalent to “armor-bearer”—as is, e.g., Hildebrand to Dietrich. The Grytings are probably identical with the Ostrogoths, by the Latin and Greek authors called Greothingi, Grouthingoi (Bugge, op. cit., p. 273). As the wicked adviser and instigator of strife, he may represent Óthin. His name may be a reminiscence of the East Germanic name Geiseric (Gizericus).
26 He sarcastically implies that Hloth would acknowledge himself to be a bastard, entitled to compensation—and no more—if he accepted anything but half of his inheritance. Hloth is likened to a shepherd on a hill, tending his flocks, when the kingdom was divided.
27 The wordy prose link of the original no doubt represents one or more stanzas now lost.
28 The half-line is uncertain.
29 I.e., down to the last available resources in men and supplies.
30 This passage must represent a series of stanzas; the last one evidently in direct speech, to which the following stanza is the answer.
31 The Wyrmhere of Wīdsīth, 119.
32 The missing half-stanza is supplied following the suggestions of Bugge and Heusler-Ranisch.
33 Freely supplied by the translator after the suggestion of the prose.
34 The last sentence of the prose no doubt paraphrases the lost portion of this stanza.
35 “Battle.” Name of a traditional field of battle?
36 Supplied for this corrupt half line.
37 Supplied freely by the translator for a hopelessly corrupt line.
38 Thus dedicating them to Óthin; cf. Voluspó, 16.
39 Supplied by all editors.
40 Both half-stanzas tentatively restored by the translator from the prose.
42 ”Hundreds” and “thousands” are here used as designations for smaller tactical units.