Old Norse Myths, Literature and Society

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Old Norse Myths, Literature and Society

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THE VIKING COLLECilON Studies in Nontiem civilization G~MraJ


Margaret Clunies ROii Matthew Driscoll Mats Malm

Volume 14


rz1 or( •

~ '-f 3 ,}e editor and publisher gratefully acknowledge

the financial support of a subsidy from ~ O ?Jhe Australian Academy of the Humanities, Canberra.

© The VJ.king Collection and the authors 2003 Printed by Special-Trykkeriet Viborg a-s ISBN 87-7838-794-9 ISSN 0108-8408


Introduction. By MARGARET CLUNIES Ross . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .


Archaeological and Historical Perspectives Myth and Reality: the Contribution of Archaeology. By JOHN HINES Material Metaphors - some Late Iron Age and Viking Examples. By FRANDS HERSCHEND . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Reminiscences of Old Norse Myths, Cults and Rituals in Old Russian Culture and Literature. By ELENA A. MELNIKOVA . .

19 40


Magic, Death and the Other in Medieval Scandinavia Cultures in Contact. By JOHN LINDOW . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 89 Encounters with VQlur. By JOHN MCKINNELL . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 110 Magic as Acquired Art and the Ethnographic Value of the Sagas. By STEPHEN MITCHELL . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 132 The Un/Grateful Dead - from Baldr to Blegif6tr. By VESTEINN 6LASON . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 153

Old Norse-Icelandic Literature as Mythography Interpretations of the Roman Pantheon in the Old Norse Hagiographical Sagas. By SIMONETTA BATTISTA . . . . . . . . . . . . . Origin Legends and Foundation Myths in Flateyjarb6k. By ELIZABETH ASHMAN ROWE . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . The Role of VQluspa in the Perception of RagnarQk in Old Norse-Icelandic Literature. By STEFANIE WORTH . . . . . . . . . The 'Conversion Verses' in Hallfreoar saga: Authentic Voice of a Reluctant Christian? By DIANA WHALEY . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

175 198 217 234

Myth and Ritual in Old Norse-Icelandic Traditions Myths as Sources for Rituals - Theoretical and Practical Implications. By JENS PETER SCHJ!/JDT . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 261 Two Old Icelandic Theories of Ritual. By MARGARET CLUNIES Ross 279

About the Authors . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 300

Index . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3()4.

Introduction Margaret Clunies Ross

Most of the thirteen essays in this volume were presented in an earlier form at the Eleventh International Saga Conference on Old Norse Myths, Literature and Society, held at the University of Sydney from 2-7 July 2000 (see Barnes and Clunies Ross 2000 for the versions presented there). I subsequently invited a small number of the conference participants, including two of the plenary lecturers, John Lindow and Vesteinn 6lason, whose papers do not appear in the preprints volume, to rework and enlarge their papers for this book, believing that the chosen selection represents not only some of the best work on Old Norse myth and related subjects among contemporary researchers, but gives the reader a good idea of current approaches to the subject from a variety of disciplinary and interdisciplinary perspectives. In addition to the essays by Lindow and 6lason, my own chapter on indigenous theories of ritual is new. As one of the main organizers of the saga conference, I was not in a position to present a paper myself, so I have availed myself of editorial privilege to include an essay, an earlier version of which I presented in February 2001 to the interdisciplinary research group at Lund University, 'Vagar till MidgArd - nordisk hedendom i lAngtidsperspektiv', whom I thank for the opportunity to lecture there and discuss issues of common interest in Scandinavian religion and mythology. At a time when the pre-Christian religion and mythology of Scandinavia are having a strong, though often not fully recognized influence upon the lives and beliefs of large numbers of people in the contemporary world, the scholarly study of the medieval evidence for that religion and those beliefs has not had the influence it might had have upon the popular imagination. In many cases, of course, stubborn ideological agendas shut the door to what scholarship can tell people about past beliefs and ideologies, and scholars tend to be cautious in what they say, qualifying certainty with ifs and buts. Those who make use of Norse myth and cult for reasons of national, political or ethnic identity, or see in it the basis for alternative religions (asatru and the like) usually find what they are looking for in the sources, or distort them until they fit their preconceptions. In a different, 7

Margaret C/unies Ross

though perhaps more acceptable fashion, the creators of fantasy literature and film also mine the medieval sources, directly or indirectly, and produce works of undoubted popular impact, like The Lord of the Rings in both its print and film versions. There are now a number of very accessible handbooks and guides to Norse mythology which set out what we know about the subject (and what we don't) in a form that is both clear and authoritative. The most recent and the best example of this genre is John Lindow's Handbook of Norse Mythology (2001). The present book has a different aim, but one which may also help to make the subject more accessible to a variety of inquirers, particularly those, whether students or scholars, who are looking for a holistic approach to the subject or one that problematizes the sorts of methodologies that can be applied to it. It attempts to show what kinds of evidence exist for Norse myth and attendant beliefs and what types of analytical methods can legitimately be applied to our sources. In juxtaposing essays by archaeologists, historians, historians of religion and literary scholars, it asks whether the methods characteristic of these various disciplines can be fruitfully combined, and, if so, to what extent this is possible. I think there is now a widespread recognition among specialists in these fields that we are often much too ignorant about discoveries and approaches in one another's areas. The contributors to the Eleventh International Saga Conference, who work in the various disciplines mentioned above, appreciated how useful it was to come together in conference and I think the reader of this book will benefit in a similar way. For me the process of editing the papers has taught me a lot and made me question some of my own assumptions as well as revealing certain areas of ignorance in which I should be better informed. The Viking Age and the first period of Christianity in Scandinavia saw a society on the cusp of literacy as a mode of communication. It is ttue that runic literacy predates the Viking Age, but the majority of runic inscriptions, nevertheless, come from either the late Viking Age or the centuries immediately after it. Recent research has demonstrated how much new information can be gleaned from runic monuments using a combination of historiographic, linguistic and literary skills (cf. Jesch 2001; Sawyer 2000). Likewise, the rich runic resources revealed from the excavation of the merchants' quarter at Bryggen in Bergen have forced us to rethink many of our assumptions not only about the uses of runes and the length of time they were used in this part of medieval Norway, but also about the kinds of texts 8


and genres of literature, particularly poetry, that were known to the twelfthand thirteenth-century inhabitants of Bergen (Knirk 1994; Lieswl 1968). Similarly revolutionary has been the unearthing of a corpus of birch bark letters from early medieval Novgorod (Poppe 1993). These finds indicate that, if we had more such survivals, we would gain a much broader picture of the various ways in which medieval Scandinavians and their neighbours communicated. Limited though they are, these discoveries show that a much larger section of the populace was involved in literate communication than the elite circles that we know about from surviving textual records in manuscript (Garrison 1999). One of the attractions of studying early medieval Scandinavian society, as well as one of its frustrations, is that we have both a great deal of archaeological material of Viking Age provenance and earlier, which can be dated with reasonable certainty, and many written texts in the vernacular, which purport to be transmitted from the Viking Age and possibly earlier, but which in their current form come down to us in manuscripts of either the late Middle Ages or, in not a few cases, in manuscripts and occasionally printed texts of the post-medieval period. Most of these written records, in addition, come from Iceland rather than from Norway, Sweden or Denmarlc, even though they often treat of subjects and actions based in mainland Scandinavia. The attraction is that we ought to be able to bring archaeological material to bear on what the written sources tell us about customs, beliefs and events of the Viking Age and later. The frustration is that we can never be sure that the written records are telling the 'truth' about the past in terms in which the societies of the past experienced it. This is because the great majority of these texts are either embedded in larger texts of much later date, as is the case with most skaldic poetry, or have been substantially reworked over time, to take account of changing ideologies, of which the most pervasive and arguably the most important is that of Christianity. In addition, as I mentioned above in connection with the chance survival of non-elite texts, the majority of the written sources that have survived from the Scandinavian Middle Ages have done so because someone was powerful or wealthy enough, or both, to commission them or write them himself, perhaps with assistance from clerics. There is an undoubted elite bias to the texts that have survived from the Scandinavian Middle Ages, except perhaps for some eddic poetry, even acknowledging the partially democratic ideology of the Icelandic saga, which is still, by modem stan9

Margaret Clunies Ross

dards, concerned with an elite, though one less narrowly defined that was the case in other parts of medieval Europe. None of this should surprise us, for the technology of writing in the Middle Ages was itself largely confined to the clergy and the upper classes of the laity and it was natural enough for them to record their interests and their mentality rather than that of people outside their own groups, except when the latter played a marginal part in their activities. Similarly, although, in principle, medieval Scandinavian archaeology is not confined to excavating elite sites, in practice a very great deal of the immense amount of new material that has been excavated in recent decades has come from high-status sites, including Viking Age and late Iron Age so-called manors, often with attached cult places and later churches, from trading places and early towns, and from the graves of merchants, smiths (as John Hines discusses in his essay) and members of the aristocracy or royalty (as discussed by Frands Herschend). The fact is that people of high status left more material signs of their existence behind them for the most part than the less affluent did, and that difference is reflected in the ground for modem archaeologists to excavate. In principle, therefore, there should be a good 'fit' between much archaeological and textual evidence for aspects of early Scandinavian mentality such as the beliefs and ideologies that caused people to bury their dead in certain ways or construct certain kinds of cult places and believe that certain deities were powerful within them. But here we come to yet another methodological problem when we look to the evidence of material culture to provide evidence for aspects of human culture that have no direct material manifestation. What sorts of questions can we ask of the tangible and visible remains of the archaeological record and how do these things relate to what we know of the intangible, invisible concepts and ideas that motivated early Scandinavians to construct material objects and place them in certain configurations in dwellings, graves and objects such as boats or sledges, as well as to compose poems, for example, on the burial places of royal dynasties, such as we have in Ynglingatal? At this juncture we must recognize that even when both the archaeological and textual records point strongly to consensus in the understanding of a particular phenomenon, such as the custom of burying high-ranking people in boats, in both cases we are interpreters of the cultural record and not simply its recorders. In recent decades a greater carefulness and self-awareness in the process of interpretation has marked the work of those who seek to understand both archaeological and textual records from medieval Scandinavia and a num10


ber of the papers in this book are concerned to explore interpretative methods that will offer legitimate advances in our understanding of the medieval records, whether material or textual (which are of course also material in one sense). The first three essays in the collection, by Hines, Herschend and Melnikova, look at various ways in which archaeology and history can help us understand Old Norse myth. John Hines starts from the assumption that myth and reality, by which he means the experience of everyday life and its structuring in early medieval Scandinavia, are related in some way. The question is, how? His essay provides a very useful overview of the various ways in which material and textual culture can 'talk' to one another in the hands of modem scholars and illuminate problems in the understanding of the nature and genesis of Old Norse myth. Frands Herschend comes at the same question from a different perspective, in which he first describes some late Iron Age and Viking Age ship burials (including the well-known Oseberg ship burial from south-western Norway) as installations, allowing us to see similarities between these medieval works of human expression that, through their spatial semiotic, bridge the mental and the material, and the installations of modem artists. His second move is to represent these medieval installations as 'material metaphors', showing, in his analysis, how the juxtaposition of various objects can be interpreted metaphorically to represent certain key ideas of early Scandinavian elites about life, death and the passages between the two. He goes on to compare what he argues to be the greater plasticity and subtlety of material metaphors over metaphors that were realised textually in the kennings of Old Norse skaldic poetry. While not all will agree with this last proposition, it raises in a very interesting way the question of the semiotic potential of archaeological sites considered as wholes. Elena Melnikova has done much in recent years to make Old Norse scholars aware of the significant comparative material from Old Russian culture which often makes sense of certain puzzling features in Old Norse literature and myth, not to speak of Scandinavian historical records. With the resumption of contact with Russian scholars of Old Norse after the end of the Soviet era, there has come a renewed awareness among those working in this field of the importance of the cultural miscegenation that took place in the Rus settlements of Eastern Europe in the Viking Age. Melnikova' s predominantly historical approach to mythic material has much in common with dominant themes in the essays of the next group of authors 11

Margaret Clunies Ross

in this book, Lindow, McKinnell, Mitchell and Vesteinn Olason. It is interesting that, in their different ways, these scholars urge us to interpret what we have tended to view as dehistoricized myths in the light of historical phenomena which would have been well known to Scandinavians at the time the texts under discussion were written. Several of these authors stress the importance of the Sarni people, as a known group within medieval Scandinavia but outside Christendom, as both historical prototypes of sorcerers and shamans (as Lindow argues Snorri Sturluson did in his euhemerization of OOinn and the ..£sir in Ynglinga saga) and as cultural scapegoats onto whom representations of erstwhile Scandinavian paganism could be projected. Both McKinnell and Mitchell interrogate a range of sources, including, in Mitchell's case, late medieval records of actual prosecutions for witchcraft, for evidence of what characterizes Scandinavian, and especially Icelandic, representations of and attitudes towards prophetesses (v(Jlur) and practitioners of witchcraft. Unlike the other three essays in this section, Vesteinn Olason 'sis concerned to explore what a variety of Icelandic texts, from Snorri Sturluson's myth of the god Baldr's death in Gylfaginning to a number of sagas of Icelanders, can tell us about medieval Icelandic attitudes to death and the dead. The many genres of Old Norse-Icelandic literature that developed in the Scandinavian Middle Ages allowed medieval authors to represent myth and develop mythography as a means towards the cultural definition of their own society and institutions in comparison with others they knew of. Three of the essays in the next group of chapters discuss the use of myth in learned and speculative literature. Simonetta Battista reviews the various ways in which Old Norse writers compare their own mythic pantheon to that of the classical world. They were not alone in doing this, of course, but Battista shows that their explanations were often much more elaborate than those to be found in Latin sources on which they built. Elizabeth Rowe analyses another kind of learned myth-making, one that invents progenitors for the kings of Norway and the Earls of Orkney from anthropomorphized natural elements, represented as the descendants of a giant named Fomj6tr. She examines the ways in which two versions of this myth signify in a large late medieval Icelandic compilation of mainly historical material, Aateyjarb6k. The importance of late compilations in the reworking and reinterpretation of traditional mythic material is also examined by Stefanie Wurth. She takes one of our key poetic mythological texts, the eddic poem VQluspa, and re-examines the way it depicts the con12


cept of RagnatQk, or the doom of the pagan gods, and then goes on to show how a version of the VQ/uspa text interpreted Ragnlll'Qk in the context of another late medieval Icelandic compilation, Hauksb6k, where it is juxtaposed with exotic prophetic literature, such as Merlfnusspa, the Icelandic version of Geoffrey of Monmouth's Prophetiae Merlini. 1be final essay in this section, by Diana Whaley, is centrally concerned with one of the most important questions involving Old Norse poetic texts that are said to date from the Viking Age, namely, their authenticity. She probes this vexed but crucial question apropos the skaldic stanzas attributed to the late tenth-century Icelandic poet HallfreOr v~Oask81d, the difficult poet who in these verses struggles to relinquish his old gods for the Christian deity at the behest of his evangelizing patron, King Olafr Tryggavson of Norway. 1be point is, as Whaley urges, that if we can be reasonably sure that HallfreOr's conversion verses are genuine, then we have authentic evidence of how a tenth-century Scandinavian convert to Christianity imagined and represented the mental processes necessary to the siooskipti or change in custom that later medieval writers said took place in Scandinavian society. It is encouraging that her authenticity tests yield a tentatively positive result. The final two essays in this collection, my own and that of the historian of religion, Jens Peter Schj~t. take on one of the most difficult and speculative areas of Old Norse mythographic studies, namely the possible representation of pre-Christian ritual in Old Norse texts. In this post-Frazerian age, the nexus between myth and ritual is by no means assumed to be straightforward and we no longer automatically suppose that the two were always interconnected. Nevertheless, both Schj~t and I take the view that rituals were undoubtedly performed in pre-Christian Scandinavia and had a more or less close connection with myth. One problem is to detect authentic signs of their one-time influence upon vernacular texts composed long after such rites had ceased to be practised. This is the question Schj~t addresses. In his essay he sets out a set of criteria to be applied to texts that are thought to have been influenced by the character and practice of ritual in earlier times. Another problem, which I take up, is the question of whether the medieval texts can reveal to us how medieval people themselves conceptualized ritual, what they considered to be its most important characteristics, how they represented it, and whether one can detect any theoretical stance on the part of medieval writers towards the nature and role of ritual, religious or otherwise, in early Norse society. I conclude by 13

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demonstrating that, because of ritual's very nature, indigenous theories of ritual had to be linked to historicized myths, and I examine two of these, that of the anonymous author of Fundinn Noregr (also treated by Rowe) and Snorri Sturluson in Ynglinga saga. My emphasis here upon the historical framework within which Snorri represents religious ritual as a tool of dynastic government sits well with John Lindow's historicizing interpretation of OOinn as modelled on a Sarni shaman earlier in the volume. Thus history, in terms that medieval people understood it, emerges from many of these essays as a stronger force in the medieval representation of preChristian myth and ritual than many scholars have previously reckoned. This book, as I stated earlier, looks at how far various new and old approaches, or combinations of disciplinary approaches, can go in understanding the puzzling but fascinating subject of Old Norse myth. It is a book particularly concerned with methodology, but, in setting out one's method, there is always an engagement with content, an assumption that content, whether in archaeological installation or textual representation, is primary to understanding. Although there are many difficulties involved in the study of Norse myths, there are also many rewards and, for all its complexity, the medieval evidence concerning the beliefs and practices of preChristian people in early Scandinavia remains probably the fullest record of any Western European society that has come down to us from the Middle Ages. It therefore requires our infonned attention, an attitude endorsed by the speaker of the last stanza of the eddic poem Havamal, who is generally understood to be the god OOinn: Heill, sa er qvaO, heill, sa er kann ! Ni6ti, sa er nam, Heilir, )>eirs hlyddo! 'Good luck to the one who spoke, good luck to the one who is knowledgeable! Let him who learnt [60inn's words], benefit from them, Good luck to those who listened!'



References Barnes, Geraldine and Margaret Clunies Ross eds. 2000. Old Norse Myths, literature and Society. Proceedings of the JJ'h international Saga Conference 2-7 July 2()()(), University of Sydney. Sydney: Centre for Medieval Studies, University of Sydney. Garrison, Mary. 1999. '"Send More Socks": On Mentality and the Preservation Context of Medieval Letters'. In New Approaches to Medieval Communication, ed. Marco Mostert, 69-100. Utrecht Studies in Medieval Literacy 1. Tumhout: Brepols. Jesch, Judith. 2001. Ships and Men in the late Viking Age: The Vocabulary of Runic Inscriptions and Skaldic Verse. Woodbridge: The Boyden Press. Knirk, James E. 1994. 'Leaming to Write with Runes in Medieval Norway'. In Medeltida skrift- och sprdkkultur. Nordisk medeltidsliteracy i ett diglossiskt och digrafiskt perspektiv II, ed. Inger Lindell, 169-212. Stockholm: Siillskapet Runica et Medi~valia. Medeltidsseminariet och Institutionen for nordiska sprAk vid Stockholms universitet. Liest111I, Aslak. 1968. 'Correspondence in Runes'. Mediaeval Scandinavia 1:17-27. Lindow, John. 2001. Handbook of Norse Mythology. Santa Barbara, California, Denver, Colorado and Oxford, England: ABC Clio. Poppe, A. 1993. 'Novgorod'. lexikon des Mittelalters 6:cols. 1306-11. Munich and Zurich: Artemis Verlag. Sawyer, Birgit. 2000. The Viking-Age Rune-Stones: Custom and Commemoration in Early Medieval Scandinavia. Oxford: Oxford University Press.


Archaeological and Historical Perspectives

Myth and Reality: the Contribution of Archaeology John Hines

Paradoxical though it might initially seem, the serious study of myth must also be a study of reality. Myth is not merely fiction and fantasy, the absolute antithesis of concrete fact. The understanding that myth is a type of allegory, a metaphorical narrative in which conceived general truths are represented by individual characters and episodes, has been either handed down or reinvented in adequately reflexive contexts in every age since classical antiquity. It is reasonable to assume that both the truth that is expressed in mythic form, and the way it is portrayed, will represent topics that were particularly significant in the myth's native circumstances. Thus (for a relatively simple example) the mythical motif of Va/hQll (Valhalla, the hall of the slain) and the einherjar (OOinn's chosen warriors) ought to reflect circumstances in which the idea of an afterlife was an important one for at least some part of society, while warfare and the use of a hall as a social focus were significant features of the life of that group. As myths are transmitted over time, through different historical and cultural circumstances from those in which they arose, they may gain increasing autonomy: they may take on a life of their own. Realities may then be influenced or governed by ideology inherited in the form of myth, so that life imitates art rather than the other way around. Even without any such determinative role, it would be wrong to assume that a myth is shorn of functional significance when it passes out of its original context. Its very survival could imply that it still has some role to play. On the strength of comparative literary analysis, it can in fact be argued that the allegorical mode characteristic of myth serves to maintain the mythographical tradition. Where the meaning and function of a tale remain essentially implicit, that tale is amenable to re-interpretation and thus adaptation to different circumstances. A corollary of this is that leading signifiers in such a tale for instance its characters, settings and images - and particularly the relationships between them, are inherently more likely to be identifiable with


John Hines features in the immediate historical context, as this is perhaps the easiest way to make a meaningful connexion between the myth as tale and its external circumstances. In medieval Scandinavian literature we encounter a wide range of kinds of myth. Without assuming any categorical position on how accurate a historical view they give, the historiographies of, for instance, ninth- to eleventh-century Iceland and Norwegian kingship in the same period can properly be described as historical myth. They serve to provide a historical explanation of crucial features of the twelfth- and thirteenth-century Icelandic and Norwegian worlds from which the records derive, and to embody and reinforce attitudes to both the past and the present in those same contexts. The tales of Vmland and the exploration of the Atlantic likewise provide a body of geographical myth, locating and defining the bounds of the Scandinavian North Atlantic zone, ethnographically as well as spatially. Conventionally at the centre of the view of Old Norse mythology, however, are the cosmology and theology that derive from preChristian Scandinavia and which were intimately associated with the preChristian Scandinavian 'pagan' religion. These reside in myths whose roots must lie in prehistoric Scandinavia, and which will have been transmitted - undergoing substantial changes, one must assume - through the threshold 'proto-historical' phase of the Viking Period into the historical Middle Ages. Archaeology - the study of the past as represented by its material remains - is the sole basis for writing prehistory, and thus the best source for locating the earliest detectable forms of these myths within a concrete culture-historical framework. Archaeology also makes its own special contribution to the study of historical periods. For early or otherwise remote historical contexts, there are, not surprisingly, likely to be substantial gaps in the documentary record that can be filled by archaeology. But irrespective of the quality and range of written evidence, archaeology can always broaden the range of cultural history by providing substantial insights into the material and technical circumstances of life. Archaeology is thus often better suited to yielding views of long-term continuities and processes of development in the past than are historical sources. It is hoped that the necessarily summary explorations that follow will nonetheless effectively make the case for how this perspective can yield significant insights into the functional and historical character of some central Norse mythological motifs.


Myth and Reality: the Contribution ofArchaeology

Artefact and text In the fullest recent general re-assessment of the relationship between material cultures and literacy in literate contexts, Anders Andren has proposed that three basic types of discursive context, or artefact-text relationship, can be identified: 'object-created', 'integrated' and 'text-created' (1998, 150-3). These three categories in fact represent stages in a progressive, evolutionary model of the growth to dominance of literacy in Western culture. This pragmatic Eurocentricity is no particular cause for complaint; but it needs to be noted, along with the salient riders that these three categories should also be understood, not as three sharply distinct states, but rather as the two ends and middle of a continuum of text-artefact relationships. That continuum itself need not exist only along a diachronic dimension. There can be a range from text-centred to object-centred practices in any given context. Andren's object-created relation is strongly linked to oral and consequently to early literate contexts. Andren notes the 'tremendous power of the word' in such circumstances (compare the power of nfiJ and lo/ in the skaldic and saga worlds), and a persistent characterization of poetry and songs as woven or crafted objects. There is also an emphatic and persistent reference to contemporary material culture in the literary and documentary sources in these circumstances, as indeed would seem to be corroborated by the very early skaldic shield- and house-Jays. In the 'integrated' context, meanwhile, text and artefact 'presuppose each other's existence'. The best example Andren gives of this is of inscriptions, which not only transform the character of the objects on which they are placed, but are themselves often monumentally and obtrusively material, depending for their function on their whole contextual situation within a large, physical world. He also assigns the phenomenon of texts substituting for material objects and physical actions to this category, for instance in legally binding rituals. Since, however, no example is given of reciprocal replacement of text by act or artefact, this would seem rather to reflect a threshold between the objectand the text-centred situations, not some sort of balanced integration between them. The third relation, text-created, gets, and perhaps needs, least explanatory introduction as it is so very much the character of our modem world. It is the situation in which we refer to text-books and written sources for primary information and authority on practically every subject - to an ex21

John Hines

treme that Andren does not trouble to discuss recent literary and linguistic theorists' attempts to declare the 'textuality' of (literally) everything (cf. Spiegel 1990). For examples of continuing archaeological relevance in this situation, which are indeed of considerable antiquity in some cases, Andren has to tum to the relatively esoteric zone of artistic iconography, whereby material images embody narratives, along with their potentially deep ideological significance. It should be clear from the critical comments in this synopsis of Andren's scheme that in my view the most revealing correlations between archaeology and literature can be found by looking at the first half of his continuum: from the object-centred, primarily oral, and in our historical case prehistoric contexts up to that watershed in the middle of the 'integrated' zone where the textual displaces the material. Let us start, then, with what should be an ideal example of that situation, by looking at a Danish rune-stone. First recorded found at the top of a bank near a bridge over the Arhus River at Bering, Hfc'!ming parish, Hjelmslev district, Skanderborg county in Jutland is a stone raised by a man called Toki (Fig. 1). There is a Christian cross in an unusually prominent place at the end of this inscription, which can be dated with reasonable confidence to the eleventh century (Rafn 1856, 203-4; von Friesen 1933, 134-6; Jacobsen and Moltke 1942, no. 58; cf. also ibid. nos. 91and314). The inscription reads:

tuki:smi1>r:ri1>:stin:ift:1>urkisl:ku1>mutaR:sun:is:hanum: kaf:kul:uk:frialsi (Toki smith raised [the] stone after l>orgils Gu6mundarson, who gave him gold and freedom.) This text opens with a simple clause (subject noun phrase, verb, direct object), followed by an adverbial phrase (preposition, proper noun), and a relative (adjectival) clause beginning with the relative pronoun is (Old Norse ester). In the opening noun phrase, the personal name Toki is paired with an attribute, smior. In basic semantic terms, this noun denotes an occupation: 'smith', 'craftsman' (what particular skill or skills Toki professed are not specified). The very fact of its inclusion in the inscription, however, forcefully and even rhetorically poses the question of its wider connotations: the extent to which it classifies Toki with a social identity rather than merely stating a fact about him, and the extent to which it is an assertion of a status of which the bearer can be proud. There is a neat, 22

My1h o.nd Reality: lht Con1rib1i:stin:1>ansi:ift: tufa: is: uarl>[: ]tu1>r:ustr: bur1>ur:sin: smil>r:asuil>aR (Tosti raised this stone after Tofi, who died in the east, ' his brother, AsviOr's smith), is syntactically ambiguous, in that one cannot tell whether the nominative smiOr is in apposition to the subject of the main clause, Tosti, or that of the subordinate clause, Tofi. It is nevertheless significant in testifying, around the same date as the Grensten and H"'rning stones, to the client status of a smith, in this case to the character AsviOr (cf. Jacobsen and Moltke 1942, col. 873-4, for a valiant attempt to link the phrase to Tosti as part of an enveloping formula). Yet the smith is still celebrated, despite his social dependency, whether he raised the stone or was commemorated by it; and in what is certainly the immediately post-Jelling phase, the very layout of all three of these inscriptions consists of a remarkable, if modestly reduced, appropriation of the epigraphical, symbolic and decorative archetype provided by the great Jelling stones. When we put these inscriptions in the context of Viking-period archaeology and Norse mythology, it becomes clear that this artisanal self-confidence was no minor detail of social history and change. At the beginning of the Christian Middle Ages, such was the reflex of a major and long-standing issue that had already been contested in a way that left a profound impression on both of those wider categories of record.


Myth and Reality: the ContribUJion of Archaeology

Craft-production and Viking culture It is no coincidence that material involving craft-production lies at the centre of a major archaeological and historical controversy over the definition and dating of the other end of the Viking Period - its inception - that has been keenly debated for some fifteen years now. The basis of this discussion has been the results of excavations in the Jutlandic North Sea coastal town of Ribe, where a major campaign began in 1970 (Bencard et al. 198190). There is a clear sequence of development in the eighth century here, starting in the first decade of the century dated by the construction of a well dendrochronologically assigned to AD 704 or just a few years after that. The site was divided into regular plots, which were subsequently maintained or respected through several decades' use, presumably seasonal, by a variety of craftsmen as workshop and market pitches. The presence of the characteristic North Sea trading-block coins known as sceattas in these layers indicates both a monetized economy at the site and its place within a series of early urban ports and trading sites that were founded around the Channel and North Sea - and into the Baltic - in the seventh and eighth centuries (Clarke and Ambrosiani 1995, 5-54). There are two aspects of the finds at early Ribe that have been argued to require us to revise our understanding of the beginnings of the Viking Period. Firstly, the upper workshop layers include mould fragments from the production of 'Berdal' brooches. This brooch-type occurs in the earliest west Norwegian ' Viking-period' graves in association with Insular metalwork - putatively Viking loot - which had thus, reasonably, been dated to c. 800 or later: after the Lindisfarne raid (AD 793). At Ribe, however, such brooches might have been produced almost any time in the second half certainly within the fmal quarter - of the eighth century, and the Norwegian graves may consequently be earlier in date. Along with other clear evidence of contact between Scandinavia and Britain before the year 793 (Myhre 1993), we could, consequently, have a less sharply defined beginning and chronological terminus post quern for the material-cultural complexes we regard as typical of the Viking Period. In interpreting the foundation of Ribe, meanwhile, Mogens Bencard himself and other Danish scholars have attached particular significance to the political (royal) authority implicit in the controlled and deliberate establishment of the site, which can be linked to further major strategic projects in this part of Denmark during the following twenty to thirty years, namely the Kanhave


John Hines

Canal on Sams111 and a rebuilding of the Dannevirke at the southern border of Jutland/Denmark (Bencard 1990, 159-62; Axboe 1995). The undisputed motive for royal powers to found and control early towns like this was to encourage and then profit from trade: providing a guaranteed market place, with security and protection, and taking toll of the activities there. Bencard properly stresses the point that this was not just a matter of local infrastructure, but that Ribe linked Jutland with an international exchange system. But it was still just a small gateway, and towns were to remain essentially marginal to economic and social life in Scandinavia itself until the end of the Viking Period. The coinage used at Ribe - and later Hedeby - scarcely circulated outside of the 'town', and a long-established exchange-system must simply have continued everywhere else. As a medium of exchange, coinage tends to neutralize the social relationships implicit in transactions, whereby, for instance, 'gifts' and friendship or marriage alliances sit comfortably together. There is ample evidence of the particular social value of both prestigious imported goods and specially skilled craftsman-producers within Scandinavia for centuries before the foundation of Ribe (Hedeager 1992; Lund Hansen 1987; Miiller-Wille 1977). In the two centuries leading up to the start of the Viking Period as historically defined (by the Lindisfame raid), however, there is evidence of particular stress within the Scandinavian economy. Some prestige items were still being imported from the west: for instance a range of glass vessels that Ulf Niisman has traced from places of production in south-eastern England and the Rhineland around the North Sea littoral to places of deposition predominantly in eastern Scandinavia (Niisman 1986). Precious metals, however, were evidently falling into short supply. Where previously large gold bracteates had been produced as iconographically decorated amulets, flimsy cut or stamped gold-foil figures known as guldgubber became the medium of only dimly understood religious expressions. Silver becomes rarer, increasingly alloyed with copper, or simply replaced by copper alloys. In the second half of the eighth century a significant new factor in the Scandinavian economy was opening up, as trading routes between eastern Scandinavia and the Moslem caliphate of Baghdad via the Russian rivers came into being, eventually supporting an influx of precious goods including silver, silk and glass beads in exchange for products such as furs and honey. With a date for the foundation of an 'urban' site at Staraja Ladoga as early as c. 760, it is tempting to speculate that a 26

Myth and Reality: the Conlribution ofArchaeology

favourable economic turn of events in the east such as this may have helped to trigger the sudden, violent inception of plundering for equivalent treasures in the west, but as yet it is impossible to see such material results in the east earlier than c. 800 (Franklin and Shephard 1996, 3-26; HArdh 1996). Yet the contrast between east and west still seems potentially significant. While it may have been a small and tentative step in that direction, the foundation of Ribe did not prove to be the opening stage of a process of assimilation of Scandinavia to north-western Europe. The population of Norway in particular could have been stimulated to exploit its existing connexions with western Europe in a far more drastic way. While Vikings certainly profited from plundering and slave-trading, there was no diminution in the vital importance of the craftsman-producer in Vi.king culture. The most infamous aspects of that culture required a supply of the best possible weapons, armour and ships. In the colonies in Britain and Ireland, the foundation and growth of Dublin and York reflect the economic - we might even call it 'commercial' - face of the Vi.king Scandinavian expansion, although of course extensive areas were also occupied for rural and coastal settlement, based on farming and fishing. It is important to recognize how crucial the economic element was to Vi.king culture. The range of the economic activities reflected in the material-cultural history of the Vi.kings - from rural to urban settlement, agricultural to virtually industrial production, and sheer commercial entrepreneurialism might, in modem terms, be regarded as pragmatically and healthily diversified. A comparison of how these were reflected in the archaeological and mythological records deriving from this period, however, implies that there was a serious and dynamic tension between various groups and activities in the Vi.king culture itself.

The tool cult The Viking Period in Scandinavian archaeology is marked by a considerable increase in the number of known graves furnished with artefacts as grave goods. That this practice was an ostentatious and assertive statement made by those responsible for the burials is clear enough, although precisely how we can translate or should re-articulate that statement in our own scholarly language is anything but an easy matter to determine. Despite this, however, and despite the fact that there was still considerable


John Hines

regional and chronological variation in burial practices within Vt.kingperiod Scandinavia, the burial record does provide us with concrete insights into the material character of Viking Scandinavian culture and some of its cultural values. It is, indeed, one of the clearest reflections of what mattered in that culture that so many men's graves include metalworking tools. These have been surveyed and studied as 'smiths' graves' (Miiller-Wille 1977). It is in fact an issue of some debate whether all can really be identified as the burials of men who worked as smiths (Straume 1986), but if some such burials represent the appropriation of the material attributes of the smith in a purely symbolic mode, that only underlines the cultural importance attached to this activity. Smiths' graves (sc. graves containing tools) are known in Scandinavia from several periods over half a millennium preceding the Viking Period, but there is a dramatic increase in frequency that may in fact have begun - interestingly, in view of the Ribe evidence just discussed - in the eighth century (Grieg 1922, 71-2; Arwidsson and Berg 1983, 22-3), before a further threefold increase in the Viking Period itself. Raw figures such as these may seem of doubtful significance in light of the generally higher frequency of furnished graves in the Viking Period, but it is clearly the case that it was in the Viking Period, and the Viking Period alone, that the deposition of metalworking tools in men's graves became common rather than exceptional. The increase in frequency is also accounted for overwhelmingly by deposits of tools appropriate to heavier, iron working rather than finer, non-ferrous metalwork. If these graves do represent metalworkers, they were blacksmiths rather than jewellers. About three-quarters of the c. 250 graves with tools of the Viking Period counted by Miiller-Wille contained just one or two tools (a hammer, tongs or file), but around fifty had a set of three to five tools and there is a small group of seven special burials with extensive tool-kits like the famous example from Bygland, Kviteseid municipality, Telemark, Norway (Blindheim 1963) (Fig. 2). Of special importance is the fact that these tools are often associated in graves with the weapons that are the normal status symbols of the Viking warrior - and which again could be placed in the graves as such symbols, whether or not the deceased buried there had actually used or been prepared to use them. In the case of Bygland, the impressive quantity of tools, including silver inlaid spearheads, may represent the products of the smith. The identity and status of the smith thus does not seem to have been alternative to that of the warrior. In Egils saga Skalla28

Myth and Reality: the Contribution ofArchaeology




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f) and 3 (Holm perg 2 fol) are quoted: 10 En j>Cir voru pindir skamt fra Parisius borg

Quorum memoranda et gloriosissima passio e regione urt>is Parisiorum in colic qui antea mons Mercurii, quoniam inibi idolum ipsius principaliter colebatur a Gailis. (Passio sanctissimi Dionysii. Migne 1851, 50''" '°) ' ... whose memorable and most glorious passion from the region of the city of Paris on the hill which was fonnerly called Mercurius 's mounlain, since there the same idol that was chiefly worshipped by the Gauls, is celebraled ...'

a fialli ~vi. er kallad var fordum Odins flail, ~viat likneski Odins var liar mest gbfgat. (Unger 1877, 1:32122 -24) 'And they were tortured not far from Paris, on the mounlain that was once called Oilinn's mountain, because there the statue of Ollinn was most venerated.'


The equivalence between Ollinn and Mercurius in Dionysius saga is also confirmed by the variant reading mons Merkurij in AM 235 fol (c. 1400).


Interpretations of the Roman Pantheon in the Old Norse Hagiographical Sagas Mercuriurn maxime paticbatur infcstum, Ioucm bruturn adque hebetem esse dicebat. (Dialogi Mar1ini, Halm 1866, 19617"11) 'He considered Mercurius extremely hostile, and he said that Jupiter was dull and sluggish.'

l>or callaj>i hann heimscan, en Ojlen deigan, en Freyio portcono. (Martin', Unger 1877, I :569"·16) 'He called l>6rr an idiot and 6oinn fainthearted, and Freyja a prostitute. '

Frequenter autem diabolus [... ] nam interdurn in Iouis personam, plerumque Mercuri, saepe etiam se Veneris ac Mineruae transfiguratum uultibus offerebat. (Vita Sancti Martini, Halm 1866, 131 7"11 ) 'But the devil frequently ... showed himself sometimes in the person of Jupiter, most often of Mercurius, but often with the appearance of Venus and Minerva.'

Optliga bra di()fullinn a sill: ymsurn lilcium [... ] stundum i l>ors lilci, stundum Odins, stundum Freyiu, en stundum i Friggiar liki edr annarra heidinna manna. (Martirr', Unger 1877, I :618""") 'The devil often assumed various shapes ... sometimes in the guise of 1>6rr, sometimes of 6oinn, sometimes of Freyja, and sometimes in the shape of Frigg or other heathen people.'

In the second example the sequence seems to be inverted, although the adjectives attributed to Mercurius and Jupiter do not make an intended equivalence immediately recognizable. It would be tempting to assume that heimskr translates the lexical couplet brutus atque hebes while deigr corresponds to infestus, but the translator seems to have ignored the first adjective and focused on the two attributes of Jupiter, which are redistributed between the two gods, since heimskr and deigr are more equivalent to brutus and hebes respectively. The equivalence between Mercurius and OOinn on the one hand and Jupiter and 1>6rr on the other is not so immediate in some other translations. For instance, in AgQtu saga meyju (Holm perg 2 fol) we have Jupiter equated with OOinn: Agatha respondit: Sit talis uxor tua: qualis tua dea Venus fuit: et tu sis talis qualis deus tuus Iouis extitit. (Passio sanctae Agathae, Mombrit.ius 1910, 1:38'6-") 'Agatha answered: "Your wife must be like your goddess Venus was, and you must be like your god Jupiter [was]."'

Heilog ma:r svaradi: Ver l>u sem gud !>inn Odinn, en kona l>in still: sem Freyia gydia !>in. (Unger 1877, I :231 .n) 'The holy virgin answered: "You be like your god 6oinn, and your wife like your goddess Freyja. "'


Simonetta Bat1is1a

The problems connected with converting the Roman Jupiter into Old Norse are evident if we compare versions A and C of Ceciliu saga, which are found in the manuscripts Holm perg 2 fol and AM 429 12:> (c. 1500), respectively: Locus igitur qui vocabatur Pagus quarto miliario ab urbe situs erat, in quo per templi ianuam transitus erat, ut omnis qui ingrederetur, si Iovi tura non poneret, puniretur. (Passio sanctae Caeciliae, Delehaye 1936, 2141-3 ) 'Four miles from the city was situated the place called Pagus, in which there was a passage through the temple door, so that all who entered could be punished if they did not lay out incense for Jove.' Holm perg 2 fol


Ba:r sa var fiorar milor fTa Romaborg, er ~iodgata Im fyrir framan dyr hia hofi l>ors, ok var hverr pindr, er eigi villdi biota l>or. (Unger 1877, I :2891..11) 'The village was four miles from Rome, where a main road went past the door of "6rr's temple, and everyone who did not want to sacrifice to "6rr was tonured.'

Stadr var kalladr Pagus, sa var fiorar milur fTa Romaborg, ~ la ~iodgata i gegnum Odens hof... (Unger 1877, I :289 n. 3) 'The place was called Pagus, four miles from Rome, where there was a main road through the temple of 6oinn ... '

The equivalence between Jupiter and OOinn occurs also in another passage of version C of Ceciliu saga: Almachius m~llti: Er eigi Odenn gud? (Unger 1877, I :28730) •Almachius said: "lsn 't 6oinn a god?'"

Almachius dixit: Ergo !obis Dei nomen non est? (Delehaye 1936, 21120-11 ) 'Almachius said: "lsn 't Jove the name of a god?""'

The two versions seem to represent two different traditions and therefore two alternative interpretations in the rendering of the Roman Jupiter. In the saga about Sophia'a three daughters, Fides, Spes et Caritas, 'Faith, Hope and Charity', a series of divinities is mentioned in a passage which represents an amplificatio compared to the Latin source found both in the Legenda Aurea and in the Speculum Historiale: l>er ... hafit illyrtlt OOin en lastat l>or ok Balldr, en skammat Frigg ok Freyiu ok Gefion i ordum. (Unger 1877, 1:37017•20) 186

Interpretations of the Roman Pantheon in the Old Norse Hagiographical Sagas

' You have spoken evil of OOinn, laid blame on l>Orr and Baldr, and verbally disgraced Frigg, Freyja and Gefjun'. Later on in the text l>Orr and OOinn are mentioned together as representing the whole pantheon, where the Latin source does not mention any specific divinity: blotit haleit ok itarlig g~ v6r synilig, ok dyrOk.it drotna vara J>or ok OOin. (Unger 1sn. 1:371 '.. 'Sacrifice to our sublime and glorious visible gods, and worship our lords l!>6rT and

Sacrificate Oominatoribus vrbis. (Douay 1624, 397b" "16) 'Sacrifice to the rulers of the town .'



This generic use is confirmed by the fact that the only deity that actually has a counterpart in the Latin text is Gefjun, corresponding to Diana. If we tum now to the goddesses, the two examples already quoted in which an identification is possible show the canonical correspondences of Venus with Freyja and Minerva with Frigg. Among the lesser deities, Diana and Vesta are both rendered as Gefjun, in Agnesar saga and Nikolaus saga respectively (both from Holm perg 2 fol): Symphronius Przfectus dixit: Vnum tibi e duobus elige, aut cum virginibus Deae Vesue sacrifica. .. (Vita S. Agnetis, Bollandus and Henschenius 1643, 352a""') •Symphronius the prefect said: "Choose one of two possibilities, either sacrifice to the goddess Vesta together with the virgins

Simphronius maellti: Nu sk.allt 1>u k.iosa um tvo kosti, annattveggia at biota Gefion gycliu vora med meyium odrum ... (Unger 1877, 1:17'..11) 'Symphronius said: "Now you must choose between two possibilities, either to sacrifice to our goddess Gefjun together with the other virgins ..."'

Przterea cum vsque ad tempus illud, serui Dei regio ilia simulacrum Dianae coluisset [... ] haec est impudica Diana. (Douay 1624, 530a'"3") 'Besides, since until that time that region of the servant of God had worshipped the idol of Diana ...this is the unchaste Diana.'

Sva er sagt, at allra biota mest var l>a magnat Gefionar blot [... ] !>at var en odyggva Gefion. (Unger 1877, 2:3011 •21) 'It is told that, of all the sacrificial feasts, the sacrifice to Gefjun was the one that was made the most of ... that was the wicked Gefjun.'



Simonetta Battista

Gefjun appears in most occurrences as the counterpart to Diana, as in both redactions of Pals saga for instance (2242, 25325 ). Peter Hallberg (1987, 124) has pointed out that 'Diana, or Artemis, was a goddess of fertility, and so was Gefjun. Moreover, according to Snorri Gefjun was a virgin, and Diana is seen as a symbol of virginity. Thus the equivalence Diana-Gefjun seems to be appropriate'. On the other hand, I think the equivalence VestaGefjun may be based on the fact that the cult of the Roman goddess was associated with her priestesses, the vestal virgins, an aspect which also corresponds to what Snorri says about Gefjun in Gylfaginning 22: Mn er mt£r ok henni jJjona jJier, er meyjar andast, 'she is a virgin, and she is attended by those who die virgins'. The most original interpretation of 6oinn as a counterpart to a Roman god is found in Sebastianus saga (AM 235 fol, c. 1400): Eda mundi cigi gud vera fyrr a himni, en Odin var konungr i Krit, ~a er hann 't holld sona sinna, sem ~ ydrar segia? Miok vii· laz ~ir. er l>or son hans l)tla elldingum styra, ~ann er ser sialfum styrdi eigi fra ohl)fum hlutum, ok fbdur siM let meida, en ani systur sina at eiginkonu. (Unger 1877, 2:2301..19) 'Or perhaps there was no god in heaven, before Ooinn was king of Crete, when he ate the flesh of his sons. as your books recount? They err a great deal who think that his son 1>6rr rules over lightning, he who could not restrain himself from wicked actions, and had his father injured and his own sister 10 wife.'

Numquid antequam Satumus Cretensibus imperaret, ct filiorum suorum carnes comederet, Deus in c11:lis non erat, aut Creta insula habebat Regem, et ca:li Deum non habebant? Valde errat qui putat louem filium eius, imperare fulminibus, homun· cionem in quo malitia et libido regnabat [...] quia sordidissima Juno quod et soror et coniunx fuerit gloriatur. (Acta S. Sebas· tiani, Bollandus and Henschenius 1643, 271 b"·ll) 'Perhaps before Satumus ruled the Cretans and ate his children's flesh there was no god in heaven, or the isle of Crete had a king, and heaven did not have a god? He errs who thinks that Satumus's son Jupiter rules over lightning, a linle man in whom malice and lust were dominant ... because the most unclean Juno boasted of being both sister and wife.·

Here the parental relationship between Satumus and Jupiter is privileged and kept in the translation, and so Satumus is rendered as 6oinn. 11 The non-coincidence of 6oinn's and Mercurius' genealogical tree has also been touched upon by other medieval authors, such as the Anglo-Saxon abbot lElfric and Saxo grammaticus. In his Gesta Danorum (6, 5, 4) Saxo observes that: 188

Interpretations of the Roman Pantheon in the Old Norse Hagiographical Sagas

Eos tamen, qui a nostris colebantur, non esse, quos Romanorum vetustissimi Iovem Mercuriumque dixere, vel quibus G~cia Latiumque plenum superstitionis obsequium exsolverunt, ex ipsa liquido feriarum appellatione colligitur. Ea enim, qure apud nostros Thor vel Othini dies dicitur, apud illos Iovis vel Mercurii feria nuncupatur. Si ergo Thor Iovem, Othinum Mercurium iuxta designatre interpretationis distinctionem accipimus, manente nostrorum assertione Iovem Mercurii filium exstitisse convincitur, apud quos Thor Othini genitus vulgari sententia perhibetur. Cum ergo Latini contrario opinionis tenore Mercurium love editum asseverent, restat, ut constante eorum affirmatione Thor alium quam Iovem, Othinum quoque Mercurio sentiamus exstitisse diversum. (Olrik and Rreder 1931, 15215•25) 'One gathers plainly from this very nomenclature of days that the persons who were honoured by our people were not the same as those the early Romans called Jupiter and Mercury, or those whom Greece and Italy accorded all the homage of superstition. What we call Thor's or Odin's day is termed by them Jove's or Mercury's day. If we accept that Thor is Jupiter and Odin Mercury, following the change of the days' designations, then it is clear proof that Jupiter was the son of Mercury, if we abide by the assertions of our countrymen, whose common belief is that Thor was the child of Odin. As the Romans hold to the opposite opinion that Mercury was born of Jupiter, it follows that if their claim is undisputed, we must realise that Thor and Jupiter, Odin and Mercury are different personages. (Ellis Davidson and Fisher 1979-80, 1, 171)

The same equivalence between Satumus and ar hittv j>eir eit hof fomt ok mikit ok var j>ar i likneski Giefivnar ok Satvmvs ok l vpiters [... ] j>a gerdv j>eir ellda .f(j. ein fyri OOni anan fyri J>or .ffj. fyri Gefion' (J6nsson and J6nsson 1892-1896, 241 1•8), 'they found lhere an old, large temple in which stood statues of Gefjun, Satumus and Jupiter ... !hey made three fires lhcre, one for 66inn, a second for 1>6rr, and a third for Gefjun'; see Wurth 1998, 78-79. 11


Simonetta Ba1tista

From the analysis of the names of the planetary weekdays we learn that Jupiter corresponds to J>Orr and Mercurius to ~inn. On the other hand, it is well known that J>Orr is ~inn's son, while Jupiter is Mercurius' father. By this exercise in eloquence - as Friis-Jensen (1993, 231-232) has described it - Saxo comes to the conclusion that the Roman gods are not the same as the Scandinavian ones. 12 The same objection about Jupiter's identification with J>Orr is found in ..Elfric's homily De fa/sis diis, where it is attributed to an error on the part of the Danes. 13 More confused passages, from which it is difficult to draw conclusions, are found for instance in Vitus saga (AM 180 b fol, c. 1500), where the same gods occur twice in a different sequence in the text: 14 hactenus llC$Cisti o fili deos esse inuictos louem et Herculem. Iunonem. Mineruam et Appollinem: quos diui principes: et uniuersus excollit orbis romanus? (Passio S. Viti, Mombritius 1910, 2:635'"'9) 'Up to now did you not know, oh son, that the invincible Jupiter, Hercules, Juno, Minerva and Apollo, whom the divine rulers and the whole Roman world adore, are gods?'

Veizt l>u eige odaudleg god vera Odenn, l>or olc Frey, Frigg ok Freyiu, er konungar gofga. (Unger 1877, 2:328'"") 'Do you not know that Ooinn, l>Orr and Freyr, Frigg and Freyja, whom the kings worship. are immortal gods?'

Vitus dixit: Si sanus vis fieri, abrenuntia Jovi, Herculi, Junoni, Minervz, Vestz,

Vitus mzlte: Neit t>u l>or ok Odne, Frigg ok Frey ok Freyiu. (Unger I8n, 2:3309-'")

" Karsten Friis-Jensen (pers. comm.) suggests that this passage should be read as an ironical comment by Saxo, to stress that the two pantheons actually are similar. 13 'Nu secgaO t>a Deniscan on heora gedwylde I 1>ae1 se Iouis waere, t>e hi l>6r !WaO, I Mercuries sunu, t>e hi OOon hataO: I ac hi nabbaO na riht, for t>am t>e we rzd&O on bocum, I ge on hzt>enum ge on Cristenum, t>zt se hetola Iouis I to soOan waere Saturnes sunu, I and t>a ~ ne magon beon awzgede I t>e t>a ealdan hzOenan be him awriton t>uss: I and eac on manira t>rowungum we gemetaO swa awriten'(Pope 1968, 684-5); 'Now the Danes in their error say that this Jupiter, whom they call l>Orr, was the son of Mercurius, whom they call Ooinn; but they are wrong, because we read in books, both heathen and Christian, that this hostile Jupiter was actually the son of Satwnus, and the books that the ancient heathens wrote about him in this way cannot be invalidated; and in addition we find it written thus in the passions of the manyrs.'

" No single Latin source for this saga has been identified, since the translation corresponds in pan to the version of the passio found in Mombritius 1910 and in pan to the one in Henschenius et al. 1698.


Interpretations of the Roman Pantheon in the Old Norse Hagiographical Sagas 'Vitus said: "Renounce I>6rr and 6oinn, Frigg. Freyr and Freyja."'

atque Apollini. (Passio S . Viti, Henschenius et al. 1698, 1023a',.") 'Vitus said: "If you want to remain sane, renounce Jupiter, Hercules, Juno, Minerva. Vesta and Apollo."'

According to Tveitane, Vitus saga is more than 200 years younger than a text like Clemens saga, and therefore dates from a time when the correspondences between the Roman and the Norse gods were no longer clear to the translator. However, in the two Old Norse quotations we find the same gods and goddesses. If we assume that the sequence in the Icelandic text follows the Latin, in the first case Jupiter corresponds to 6t\inn and Hercules to 1>6rr, while in the second it is the other way round. 15 In other sources we have seen both examples of the equivalence Jupiter = 1>6rr/60inn and Hercules = 1>6rr/6t\inn, and this may have given rise to some confusion on the part of the translator. In the first example Frigg and Freyja correspond to Juno and Minerva respectively, while in the second there is no one-to-one equivalence between the Roman and the Norse goddesses. The god Freyr could in both cases be the equivalent of Apollo, but it is more probable that his name appears as a counterpart to Freyja, and for the sake of alliteration. Actually there are no other examples to testify to the use of an Old Norse equivalent for the god Apollo in the texts that I have analysed. He is only referred to by the classical form of his name, for instance in Clemens saga: i musteri solar gops. es Apollo heiter (127 33•34). Freyr appears in Laurentius saga (Holm perg 2 fol) as the counterpart to Mars in a place-name:

' 5 This

is also confirmed by what we read in the saga a1 lhe beginning of the episode, where Hylas is conducted to the temple of I>6rr (Unger 1877. 2:329°0), corresponding to lhe Latin ad temp/um Jovis (Henschenius et al. 1698. 1022b6S). Concerning the negative response given by Jupiter/1>6rr to Hylas' prayer it is interesting to observe the touch of irony in the Old Norse translation, where 1>6rr is asleep and therefore does not react to the invocation. The Latin text is more neutral, while the saga seems to stress the god's impotence: Enn l>or svaf ok veitte honum onga hialp (330" 3) 'But 1>6rr was asleep and afforded him no help...'

sed nullum remedium impetrans (1022b"1023a') 'but. obtaining no assistance ...'


Simonet/a Ba11ista Sed ducantur ad templum Martis iterum: et

leidit j>a til Freys hofs olc hoggvit f>a [...)En f>eir leiddu Silltum pafa ok diakna hans Felicissimum ok Agapitum i Freys brecku hia hofmu. (Unger 1877. I :425"") 'Bring them to the temple of Freyr and decapitate them ... And they brought Pope Silttus and his deacons Felicissimus and Agapitus to Freyr's hill near his temple'.

sacrificent [... ] Sanctum uero Xistum episcopum et Felicissimum et Agapetum diacones dulterunt in cliuum Martis ante templum. (Passio S. Xisti, Mombritius 1910, 2:650''-65 I') 'But they are to be led for a second time to the temple of Mars: and sacrificed ... They brought Pope Silltus and his deacons Felicissimus and Agapetus to the hill of Mars in front of the temple.'

In some occurrences in the hagiographic translations all the names of the Roman divinities are kept in their Latin forms, as in Antonius saga (AM 234 fol): Liber~

raptum, terrarn; semiclaudum Vulcanum debilem, ignem; Junonem, aerem; Apollinem, solem; Dianam, lunam; Neptunum, maria; et libidinum principem Jovem ~therem interpretantes. (Unger 1877, 1:105 n. 2) 'interpreting the plunder of Libera as the earth; the halting, disabled Vulcan as fire; Juno as the air; Apollo as the sun; Diana, the moon; Neptunus, the seas; and the prince of lusts, Jove, as the ether.'

Libervm favl!vr, en iorl!ina Simiclavdivm, elld Wlkanvm, loptil! Jvnonem, sol Apollinem, IVngll Dianam, hafit NepIVnvm, Jovem hoRlingia allrar lostaSemi segit er himinloptil! sialft vera. (Unger 1877, 1:105"'°> 'You call Liberus father, Semiclaudius the earth, Vulcanus fire, Juno the air, Apollo the sun, Diana the moon, Neptunus the sea; you say that Jove, the prince of lusts, is the very ether.'

As we have seen from the texts under discussion, different translations show a wide range of different interpretations, and this is especially true in the case of the most ambiguous figure in the Scandinavian pantheon, that is to say, OOinn. The data found in the hagiographical texts - though they do not add any new element to our knowledge of Old Norse mythology - confirm the polyhedric image that other sources, both indigenous and foreign, give of the Scandinavian pantheon. To sum up, I have found examples of the following correspondences:


Interpretations of the Roman Pantheon in the Old Norse Hagiographica/ Sagas Mercurius: Ooino; Jupiter: Ooinn, l>Orr, Mars: Tyr, Ooinn, Freyr; Hercules: J>6rr, Ooinn; Satumus: Ooinn; Venus: Freyja, Frigg; Minerva: Freyja, Frigg; Juno: Frigg; Diana: Gefjun; Vesta: Gefjun.

Ooino: Mercuriu.s, Mars, Jupiter, Hercules, Saturnus; l'Orr: Jupiter, Hercules; iyr: Mars; Freyr: Mars; Freyja: Minerva, Venus; Frigg: Juno, Minerva, Venus; Gefjun: Vesta, Diana.

The hagiographic translations are quite late, from a period where paganism had officially been replaced by Christianity, so this process of interpretation and adaptation of the Roman pantheon is significant in itself. The interpretatio Norrrena which makes the Roman gods and goddesses into Nordic ones does not attach them any more closely to Norse mythology and does not imply the transposition of the correlated myths (Marchand 1975, 333), but in re-contextualizing the Scandinavian deities into an exotic frame the translators show the same concern for the pagan religion as for instance Snorri Sturluson does in his Edda: '[...]one of Snorri's aims was to give a comprehensive account of the language of skaldic poetry. However, this aim seems to have been coexistent with and sometimes subordinate to a desire to show how the language of early Icelandic poetry expressed the basic tenets of the pre-Christian Scandinavian religion and represented a serious attempt to understand the basic principles of the cosmos' (Clunies Ross (1987, 20). This operation is similar to the interpretatio christiana through which medieval Christian culture inherited the pagan literature of Greece and Rome (Clunies Ross 2000, 130). Different choices taken when translating the name of the same Roman deity could simply be seen as a sign of the fact that knowledge of the Scandinavian pantheon was no longer particularly immanent for the translators. Another consideration could be the issue of how much these authors and translators actually knew about the Roman pantheon in the first place. But the wide range of possible interpretations in the texts referred to can also reflect different traditions and the extent of the popularity one particular god or goddess enjoyed during a specific period. For instance, the fact that Mars is sometimes translated as 60inn (Pals saga in AM 645 4°) and Freyr (l.Aurentius saga), instead of the canonical 'fYr, can support the hypothesis that Tjr's cult was fading in the later period of paganism, while Freyr was 193

Simonena Battista

becoming more important. If 1>6rr in many ways was a Hercules, because of his strength and his role as the defender of the pagan world, he enjoyed on the other hand a much more pre-eminent status in the Scandinavian pantheon, a status that corresponds more to that of Jupiter. As for the goddesses, it seems that the borders between the different spheres of their influence were not very clearly defined. In the process of conversion from one frame of reference to the other, there can, in some cases, be a discrepancy between the role and function of the god and his hierarchic position in the pantheon. Sometimes the translator seems to choose a counterpart that reflects correspondence of status with the Roman original, while in other cases he privileges the functional role. This is especially evident in the case of Jupiter, the uncontrasted chief god among the Romans, whose counterpart in the Scandinavian pantheon shifts between OOinn and 1>6rr. This is perhaps due both to the non-coincidence of their functions and to the different status that OOinn and 1>6rr enjoyed in the course of time, among different social classes and in different areas of Scandinavia.

References Bollandus, Joannes and Godefridus Henschenius, eds. 1643. Acta Sanctorum Ianuarii. Vol. 2. Antwerp: Apud Ioannem Meursium. Clunies Ross, Margaret. 1987. SkOldskaparrruil: Snorri Sturluson's Ars Poetica and medieval theories of language. The VJ.king Collection 4. Odense: Odense University Press. - 2000. 'The conservation and reinterpretation of myth in medieval Icelandic writings.' In Old Icelandic Literature and Society, ed. Margaret Clunies Ross, 116-139. Cambridge Studies in Medieval Literature 42. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Degnbol, Helle et al. 1989. Ordbog over det Norr(Jne Prosasprog: Registre. Copenhagen: Den arnamagnreanske kommission. , Delehaye, Hippolyte, ed. 1936. Etude sur le Ugendier Romain: Les Saints de Novembre et de Decembre. Subsidia hagiographica 23. Brussels: Societe des Bollandistes. Diekamp, Franciscus, ed. 1913. Patres apostolici: texrum recensuit adnotarionibus criticis exegeticis historicis illustravit versionem latinam pro· 194

Interpretations of the Roman Pantheon in the Old Norse Hagiographical Sagas

legomena indices addidit Franciscus Xaverius Funk. 3rd. ed. Vol. 2. Tiibingen: In libraria Henrici Laupp. Douay 1624. Bibliotheca mundi seu Speculi Maioris Vincentii Burgundi prt£sulis Bellovacensis... Tomus quartus: Speculum Historiale. Douay: Ex Officina Typographica Baltazaris Belleri. [Repr. 1965. Graz: Akademische Druck- u. Verlagsanstalt]. Dumezil, Georges. 1959. Les dieux des Germains. Essai sur la formation de la religion scandinave. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France. Ellis Davidson, Hilda and Peter Fisher, trans. 1979-80. Saxo Grammaticus. The History of the Danes. 2 vols. Cambridge: D.S. Brewer. Friis-Jensen, Karsten. 1993. 'Nordisk hedenskab og europreisk latinhumanisme hos Saxo.' In Norden og Europa i vikingetid og tidlig middelalder, ed. Niels Lund, 212-232. Copenhagen: Museum Tusculanums Forlag. Gislason, Konnil), ed. 1860. Fire og fyrretyve for en stor Deel forhen utrykte Pr(Jver af oldnordisk Sprog og Literatur. Copenhagen: Den Gyldendalske Boghandling. Hallberg, Peter. 1987. 'Imagery in Religious Old Norse Prose Literature. An Outline.' Arkiv for nordiskfilologi 102: 120-170. Halm, Carolus, ed. 1866. Sulpicii Severi libri qui supersunt. Corpus scriptorum ecclesiasticorum Latinorum 1. Vienna: Apud C. Geroldi Filium Bibliopolam Academiae. Helgad6ttir, l>orbjorg. 1986-9. 'On the Sallust Translation in R6mverja saga'. Saga-Book of the Viking Society 22:263-77. Henschenius, Godefridus et al., eds. 1698. Acta Sanctorum lunii. Vol. 2. Antwerp: Apud Viduam & Heredes Henrici Thieullier. Hofmann, Dietrich. 1997. Die Legende von Sankt Clemens in den skandinavischen Liindern im Mittelalter. Beitriige zur Skandinavistik 13. Frankfurt am Main etc.: Peter Lang. Jensen, Hans Jfingeyrar, or possibly to the east of H11navatn, in SkagafjorOur. The manuscript was begun by the priest J6n 1>6rOarson in 1387; his hand starts on folio 4v, originally the verso of the frrst leaf of the manuscript, and continues to the next-to-last line of the, first column of 134v. 1 On these pages he copied Eirfks saga v£ofqrla, Olafs saga ' Tryggvasonar, and nearly all of Olafs saga helga. J6n 1>6r0arson left Iceland for Bergen, Norway, in the summer of 1388, and the work of continuing Aateyjarb6k fell to another priest, Magnus 1>6rhallsson, whose hand begins on the last line of the frrst column of folio 134v and goes on until the end of the manuscript (not counting the twenty three leaves that were added to the manuscript by l>orleifur Bjomsson in the second half of the fifteenth century). After finishing 6t{Ifs saga helga for J6n 1>6r0arson, Magnus copied Noregs konungatal, Sverris saga, Hakonar saga gamla, ' excerpts from the Olafs saga helga by Styrmir fr60i, Grrenlendinga pattr ' (also known as Einars pattr Sokkasonar), Helga PQttr ok U/fs, Jatvar6r0arson returned to Iceland. After the annal was well started, Magnus added three ' The years of J6n 1>6r0arson's work can be established from lhe postscript lhat Magnlls l>6rhallsson adds after the genealogies of Haraldr harfagri (Halld6rsson I 990b, 207-208).


Origin Legends and Foundation Myths in Flateyjarbok

leaves to the front of the manuscript, leaving the first one blank and beginning the two-column fonnat on the recto side of the next. On these pages ' he copied the poems Geisli, 0/afs rima Haraldssonar, and Hyndlulje(J, followed by an excerpt from a translation of Adam of Bremen's Historia hammaburgensis ecclesiae pontificum, the short narratives Pattrfra Sigur"i konungi s/efu and Hversu Noregr bygg"isk, and genealogies of Haraldr h8rfagri. Returning to the first leaf, he centred a brief foreword in the middle of the verso side. Magnus also illuminated nearly the entire manuscript. In the present study, I examine Hversu Nore gr bygg"isk and the genealogies and argue that they fonn a response by Magnus f.>6rhallsson to Eiriks saga vi"fQrla and Fundinn Noregr, two of the texts that J6n f.>6r0arson included in the first part of Flateyjarb6k. This argument depends on the assumption that for the continuation of the manuscript J6n Hfilconarson controlled the choice of kings' sagas but left Magnus free to select the other texts. It is possible that J6n may have asked that certain items written by his friends or referring to his family be included, but the other pieces are far more likely to have been familiar to the priest than to the landowner.2 I believe we can see a strategy - first of matching texts and then of competing genres - in which Magnus literally surrounds the earlier part of Flateyjarb6k with annals, chronicles, genealogies, and other historical records that recuperate proper linguistic and paternal relationships, all of which he uses to supplement (or even answer) J6n f.>6r0arson's typological history and stories in which King Olafr Tryggvason's Icelandic retainers are portrayed as his spiritual sons. Moreover, it seems possible that Magnus did not merely choose texts in reaction to J6n's editorial programme, but that he deliberately modified them to make them support his own agenda more strongly. The last of Magnus' s prefatory texts are additional prose supplements to ' 0/afs saga Tryggvasonar in the genres of mythography and genealogy. Like many of his other additions, Hversu Noregr bygg"isk ('How Norway was settled') and the IEttartQlur (genealogies) are preserved only in Flateyjarb6k. The fonner is a version of the origin legend that 'traces the ances2

An example of the work of a friend may be 6tafs r£tna Hara/dssonar, whose author, Einarr Gilsson, lived in Htinavatn in the later pan of his life; see Nordal 1944, I:xi. An example of a text about his family is Patrr fra Sigurt)i konungi s/efu. whose protagonist is the Norwegian hersir l>oricell klyppr. Genealogies found in copies of Vatnshyma, another manuscript written for J6n H6konarson, trace his family back to Einarr J>ve~ingr and his wife Gulmin. l>orkell ldyppr's Icelandic daughter (Nordal 1944, l:viii-ix; Halld6rsson I 990b, 198-199).


Elizabeth Ashman Rowe

try of certain ruling Norwegian families to the giant Fomj6tr and his sons, the latter of whom appear as anthropomorphic representations of three of the primal elements, fire, air, and water' (Clunies Ross 1983, 54).3 It also describes how one of Fomj6tr's descendants, a king named N6rr, gave his name to Norway, the country he conquered.' The other version of this story, which is believed to be the older of the two, is found in Fundinn Noregr, the title bestowed on the first three chapters of Orkneyinga saga (Vigfusson and Unger 1860, 1:219-221).s The terminus post quern for Hversu Noregr byggbisk could thus be as late as 1225-1230, if Finnbogi GuOmundsson is correct in attributing Fundinn Noregr to Snorri Sturluson.6 SigurOur Nordal 1944, I:xxv, suggests that Hversu Noregr byggt}isk serves as a kind of introduction to the IEttartQlur, which trace the ancestry of Haraldr Mrfagri back through Ooinn, Priam of Troy, Saturn, and Noah to Adam. The genealogies are followed by a list of Norwegian kings and a note about the death of King 61Mr Hakonarson. According to Nordal, Magnus compiled all this from sources of various ages and in places expanded it himself.7

' The extant versions of the legend do noc say that Fomj6tr was a giant, but his name is found in the first group of giant-pulur that are appended to Sk6ldskaparm41 in some manuscripts of Snorri Sturluson 's Edda. Clunies Ross 1983 provides a full discussion of the problem. • N61T's eponymous role is also mentioned in the Historia Norwegiae and Oddr Snorrason 's saga of Ohlfr Tryggvason. > Finnbogi GuOmundsson 1965, ix-xi, presents the competing positions: Finnur J6nsson held that Fundinn Noregr was derived from Hversu Noregr bygg6isk, which he believed to be from around 1200, but SigurOur Nordal, although assuming that the legend of N6rr was an elevenlhcentury creation lilce Ynglingatal and Haleygjatal, considered that Fundinn Noregr was the older of the two versions, a conclusion with which Finnbogi GuOmundsson was inclined to agree. Further evidence for this position is cited by Clunies Ross 1983, 55, in a study of the thematic and intellectual cohesion between Fundinn Noregr and Snorri's Edda. Her persuasive analysis of how giants could function as unproblematic dynastic progenitors allows me to focus the present discussion solely on this material in the context of Aateyjarb6k. 6 Gullmundsson 1965, xiv-xvi, argues that Fundinn Noregr was wrinen by Snorri Sturluson after he had written most of the first third of Heimslcringla. At this point he had been rejected by the Oddaverjar as a son-in-law (S6lveig Szmundard6Uir was instead married to Sturla Sighvatsson), so he had had the genealogy of this family on his mind, and the preface to Orkneyinga saga provided an opportunity to make use of this information, as the Ortcney earls also traced their ancestry back to the descendants of Fomj6tr. Clunies Ross 1983, 55 views this attribution as extremely suggestive but perhaps unprovable. 'See Faulkes 1978-9, 104, for a list of Magnus's sources.


Origin Legends and Foundation Myths in Flateyjarb6k

Apart from the foreword to the manuscript, Hversu Noregr bygg"isk and the AJttartQlur are the last texts Magnus added, and they offer multiple cormections to the rest of Aateyjarb6k. With its reference to the 'SkjQldungs, Bu6lungs, Bragnings, ...Ql)lings, VQlsungs or Niflungs, from whom the royal families come' (cf. VigfUsson and Unger 1860, 1:21), the beginning of Hversu Noregr bygg"isk recalls Freyja's request that Hyndla recount 6ttarr's legendary genealogy (Hyndlu/joo, st 11):8 Nu laattu foma nidia ta!&, Now count up ok vpp bomar iettir manna: And the children of huat er Skiolldunga huat er Skilfinga Who is of the SkjQldungs, (huat er Audlinga) huat er Ylfinga Who of the ... QOlings, huat er haulldborit huat er hersborit Who is descended from freeholder, mest manna val vnd Midgardi. The choicest of men (Vigfilsson and Unger 1860:1, 12)

the ancient kin the races of men: who of the Skilfmgs who of the Ylfings, who from a hersir, in Mi0gar6r?

The first sentence of Hversu Noregr bygg"isk also anticipates the AJttartelur, which include Haraldr's SkjQldung, Bu6lung, Bragning, Ql)ling, and Niflung ancestors (Vigfusson and, Unger 1860, 1:24-27). As the third in the series of texts supplementing Olafs, saga Tryggvasonar, Hversu Noregr bygg"isk also looks backwards to Or hamborgar historlu, and forward to Fundinn Noregr, which J6n 1>6r6arson interpolated into Olafs saga as part of Orkneyinga saga.9 The !Ettartelur are similarly relevant. They clarify the relationships of most of the names mentioned in Hyndluljoo, as well as

• 'Nv skal segia ~mi ti!, huersu Noregr bygdiz i fystu edr huersu konunga zttir bofuz j>ar edr i odrum londum. edr hui j)eir heita Sldolldungar Budlungar Bragningar Odlingar Vaulsungar edr Niflungar sem konunga zttimar eru af komnar' (Vigfusson and Unger 1860, 1:21: 'Now [I] shall tell an exemplum about how Norway was first settled and how the families of kings originated there or in olher lands and why they are called SkjQldungs, BuOlungs, Bragnings, QOlings, V9lsungs or Niflungs, from which the families of kings are descended'). 9 Bolh 6r hamborgar historfu (the excerpt from the translation of the Historia hammaburgensis ecclesiae pontificum) and Hversu Noregr bygg"islc recount how foreigners divide up Norway between them, but whereas the panitioning in the fonner is a low point in Norway's struggle to constitute itself as an independent country, the partitioning in the latter allows a reasonable hegemony for each of the conquerors and their descendants.


Elizabeth Ashman Rowe providing a synopsis of the legend of Halfdan gamli. 10 The genealogies of Haraldr hanagri anticipate 6tafs saga Tryggvasonar, which begins with an account of Haraldr's life. Even the regnal ,list can be thought of as a brief yet comprehensive contextualization of Olafs saga. However, the most interesting intertextual relationship is that between Hversu Noregr byggoisk and Eiriks saga vioft;rla, almost immediately adjacent to it. The former relates how N6rr's son l>nindr inherited the region that was named l>nindheimr after him, and the latter begins at this point: 'J>randr er nefndr konungr sa er fystr red firir prandha:ime' (Vigfilsson and Unger 1860: I, 29: 'J>randr was the name of the king who first ruled over l>nindheimr'). In order to understand Hversu Noregr byggoisk's own textual origins, I will examine its relationship with Fundinn Noregr before proceeding to the relationship with Eiriks saga. In their broadest outlines, the narratives of Fundinn Noregr and Hversu Noregr byggoisk are the same. The family rules Finnland and Kvenland, and Fomj6tr's descendant l>orri is associated in some way with sacrifices, which explains the origin of the practice of jJorrabl6t. l>orri has two sons, N6rr and G6rr, and a daughter, G6i. One day she disappears, and her brothers go in search of her. After conquering Norway on his way south, N6rr meets a king, Hr61fr fui Bjargi, who is part giant and the one responsible for G6i's abduction. In the end, Hr6lfr marries G6i and N6rr marries Hr6lfr's sister. The country is divided between N6rr and G6rr, with the mainland going to the former and the islands to the latter, who took possession of them as he sailed south to meet his brother. N6rr is the ancestor of the Norwegian ' land kings', G6rr the ancestor of the 'sea kings'. Within this shared framework, however, the two narratives differ in a number of ways. Some are minor differences in content (e.g., in Fundinn Noregr, Fomj6tr is the king of Finnland and Kvenland, but in Hversu Noregr byggoisk he is described only as a man and it is l>orri who is the king of Gotland, Kvenland, and Finnland) or are blind motifs in Hversu Noregr byggoisk that make sense in the fuller narrative of Fundinn Noregr (for example, in Hversu Noregr byggoisk we are told that the Kvenir's sacrificial rite is a month late, although no reason is given; in Fundinn Nore gr, we learn that the rite that occurred a month later is an extra one that was held to ask for G6i's return). Fundinn Noregr closes with the genealogy of 10

1lle allusion in HyndluljOd is in stanzas 14-15; the synopsis in the ..£rtart(llur is taken from Snorri's SJcaldskaparmal (J6nsson 1949, 232-235).


Origin legends and Foundation Myths in Flateyjarb6k

G6rr's son Heiti, the ancestor of the earls of Orkney; Hversu Noregr byggtJisk omits that one line of descent (presumably to avoid repeating it, as it is already in the manuscript) and supplies the genealogies of the other sons of G6rr and all the sons of N6rr. It thus appears that in some places Hversu Noregr byggtJisk abbreviates Fundinn Noregr but in other places expands upon it. For example, Fundinn Noregr explains briefly how Norway's original unity under N6rr disintegrated into the multiplicity of districts ruled by his descendants; Hversu Noregr byggtJisk omits the explanation and instead traces the genealogy of each descendant of N6rr who gave his name to a district of Norway. Other differences between the two narratives are more significant. In Fundinn Noregr, l>orri is described as devoted to the practice of holding sacrifices ('l>orri var blotmadr mikill', Vigfusson and Unger 1860, 1:219), whereas in Hversu Noregr byggtJisk he is described as an excellent king, and it is his people who make sacrifices to him. 11 In Fundinn Noregr, N6rr and Hr6lfr fight each other before coming to a settlement, whereas in Hversu Noregr byggtJisk G6i intervenes immediately and Hr6lfr swears fealty to N6rr. In Fundinn Noregr, the sons of G6rr fall out with the sons of N6rr and a civil war ensues, but no such thing happens in Hversu Noregr

byggtJisk. The effect of these changes in Hversu Noregr byggtJisk is twofold. For one thing, N6rr's family and family relationships are considerably deproblematized or culturally 'improved' - l>orri is no longer an active pagan, and his grandsons co-exist amicably instead of slaughtering one another like Thebans. For another thing, greater emphasis is laid on N6rr's role as the first king of Norway and precursor to Haraldr. In Fundinn Noregr, N6rr's encounter with King Hr6lfr fui Bjargi resembles the episodes in the mythoheroic sagas in which the protagonist and a worthy opponent test each other in a duel before deciding to become blood-brothers. In Hversu Noregr byggtJisk, however, N6rr is depicted as much more like a king than a wandering hero or roving viking; in fact, his meeting with Hr6lfr is rather like an idealized episode from the unification of Norway, in which a dis-


'[S>)orri var konungr agetr... hann blotudu K6nir Iii t>ess al snjofa genii ok va:ri skidferi gon. j>al er aar jleirra' (VigfUsson and Unger 1860, 1:21: 'l>orri was an excellent king... 1be Kvenir made sacrifices to him so that he would make it snow and it would be easy to ttavel on skis. This was their idea of good weather').


Elizabeth Ashman Rowe

trict king decides that discretion is the better part of valour and submits to Haraldr without a fight. As the prologue to Orkneyinga saga, Fundinn Noregr's function is to link the genealogy of the earls of Orkney to the legendary G6rr, the descendant of Kari ('gust of wind') Fomj6tsson. 12 Hversu Noregr byggrJisk seiz.es on the various implications of this linkage and builds on it to provide two interlocking origin legends. A 'horizontal'. onomastic legend explains how the districts of Norway got their names, and a 'vertical', social one explains the creation of the various ranks of Norwegian nobility. 1be latter depends on the linguistic theory presented in Fundinn Noregr, which asserts a unity between signifier and signified in order to identify Fomj6tr's sons with the primal elements. 13 In Hversu Noregr byggrJisk, it is name (i.e., title) and rank that are one. 14 Jarlar are created when N6rr's grandson Gu~brandr refuses to be called 'king' and gives himself the name 'earl' instead ('ok let gefa ser jarls nafn', Vigfilsson and Unger 1860, 1:23).is Three generations later, another Gu~brandr declines to take the name of either king or earl, and he gives himself the name hersir. The proliferation of N6rr's descendants and their acts of self-naming create a hierarchically organired society in which the king is literally the father of his people and each member of Meulengracht ~rensen 1993 argues that the story of G6i and Hr6lfr in Fundinn Noregr was developed in response to the foondation myth of the A!sir migration from Troy and was intended to justify the special swus of the earls of Orkney by means of an ancestry that was in some sense more Norwegian than that of the Norwegian royal dynasty it.self. See below for a discussion of the relationship between the version of this legend found in Hversu Noregr bygg"is/c and the version of the legend of the £sir migration from Troy found in Eirf/cs saga 12

vMf(Jrla. "The transparency or literal truth of language is argued in the first chapter of Gylfaginning; see Clunies Ross 1983 and 1987, 138-43 and 149-50. 14 The close relationship between linguistic and social structures is anolher characteristic of Snorri"s thinking. Clunies Ross 1987, 80-96, argues that the system Snorri uses in SkOJdsfca. parmal to classify kennings and heiti suggests that he considered the hierarchy of society to be implicit in language. 15 Despite its depiction of N6rr as an earlier Haraldr hmfagri. Hversu Nore gr bygg"isk does not follow Haraldr"s example here; the first chapter of 016/s saga Tryggvasonar describes how Haraldr created earls to serve as rulers for the districts that had previoosly been governed by kings: ' [S)umir [konungar) hofdu ein fylki tit forrada en sumir nokkuru meirr. alla t>a tok Haralldr konungr af lifui ... jarll sene hann j hucriu fylke landc at stioma ok log at dcma • (VigfUsson and Unger 1860, 1:39: 'Some kings had one district to rule, but some somewhat more. King Haraldr took the lives of all those... He set an earl in every district to govern and interpret the law').


Origin Legends and Foundation Myths in Flateyjarbok

the nobility has freely chosen his social station. The stability of such a society is thus doubly guaranteed: 'natural' family ties reinforce the feudal allegiance of the aristocracy to the king, who is also of the oldest branch of their lineage, and the identity between one's name and one's essential nature ensures that a man with the name of 'earl' can never be transfonned into a man with the name of 'king'.' 6 The Norway thus constituted in Hversu Noregr byggt'Jisk is a mythical kingdom indeed. Hversu Noregr byggt'Jisk's assertion of the identity between name and thing, together with the genealogies documenting the 'real' sons of the king of Norway, forms a myth of linguistic and social propriety that stands in absolute opposition to the metaphorical myths of spiritual genealogy ' that Jon l>6rtlarson added to Olafs saga Tryggvasonar, in which Icelanders of any degree can be transformed into the 'sons' of the king of Norway by coming to him for conversion and staying to serve him as a retainer (Rowe 1998). For example, Hromundar pattr ha/ta ends by recounting how Hr6mundr's son leaves Iceland to become the retainer of King 6lafr and eventually dies defending him at the Battle of SvQlOr. The chapter of 6tafs saga that follows the pattr begins by relating the death of 6lafr's infant son. The placement of the pattr within the matrix saga seems to underscore Hallsteinn's filial relationship with King 61afr and to suggest that the acquisition of an Icelandic retainer compensates for the loss of the biological child. The political implications and ideological function of J6n's and Magnus's myths are contraries as well. J6n's plEttir extend the spiritual relationships of Christianity to the political sphere and portray each subject's submission to his king as voluntary and affective. Magnus's legend of a single origin for kings, earls, and chieftains paradoxically erases every distinction but one between them, presenting them as all of royal blood. Both of these ideologies could have served J6n Hakonarson. As an Icelander, he could participate in the metaphoric relationship with the king that Jon l>6r0arson proffered, and as a descendant of a hersir, he could claim a literal one. Viewed as a response to J6n l>6r0arson's textual production, Hversu 6

A similar socio-linguistic theory is found in the mytho-heroic saga Porsteins saga Vikingssonar. This is perhaps not surprising in light of the fact that Porsteins saga, too, adapts the legend of Fomj6tr, providing an account of the descendants of Fomj6tr's son Logi and the origin of Hlllogaland that is missing from Fundinn Noregr and Hversu Noregr byggt}isk but that is a perfect imitation of their subject-matter. '


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Noregr byggt'Jisk thus corresponds to Fundinn Noregr but seems to speak to - indeed, to speak against - the f>a:ttir interpolated into 61afs saga Tryggvasonar. However, Magnus chose to copy Hversu Noregr byggt'Jist into the manuscript just before Eirlks saga vlt'JfQr/a, which J6n used to introduce 61afs saga. This placement juxtaposes Hversu Noregr byggt'Jisk with a foundation myth of quite another sort. As has just been described, Hversu Noregr byggt'Jisk is an adaptation of a text that finds in northern giants the origin of the kingdom of Norway. If the author of that text was not Snorri Sturluson himself, then it was someone who articulated ideas that are 'pervasive and important in the Edda' (Clunies Ross 1983, 55). Eirfks saga adapts a different origin legend of Snorri's, the tEsir migration from Troy that is recounted in Ynglinga saga. Eirlks saga presents a Christianized version of this theme, telling of the translatio of Christian culture from Greece to Norway in the earliest days of the monarchy. By an interesting coincidence, both of Snorri's dynastic origin legends wound up in J6n 1>6r0arson's part of Flateyjarb6k in one form or another, enabling Magnus to identify one legend and set its variant next to the other legend. Magnus may have got the idea for this from Eirfks saga itself, which grafts the two legends together. Insofar as Eirfkr is the son of J>randr, his saga invokes the legend of Fornj6tr, but insofar as he brings an eastern religion to the north, it rewrites the beginning of Heimskringla. The two origin legends share a number of structural components, some of which take similar forms in the two legends and some of which appear as opposites. The most important of these components are geographic information, a journey that precedes an act of c ultural foundation, the presence and loss of a brother during the journey, the role of the hero and his brother as invaders or defenders of another country, the thing of value gained during the journey, the act of cultural foundation, and the role of women. Geographic information plays a different role in Hversu Noregr byggt'Jisk than it does in Eirlks saga. In the second chapter of the latter, Ein'kr's geography lesson sets his and 61Mr's story (i.e., the story of the conversion of Norway) into the universal context of Christian cosmography. In Hversu Noregr byggt'Jisk, however, the geographic information is an integral part of the legend itself, which tells how the districts of Norway and the country as a whole got their names. In its main purpose - explaining the creation of the political landscape - the naming of the country and its districts is not descriptive, as is the naming of the world and its regions in Eiriks 206

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saga, but constitutive or perfonnative, for the geopolitical entities spring into being as they are named by the narrator. Moreover, the geographic information in Hversu Noregr byggoisk, limited as it is to Norway and the misty lands to the northeast of it, in effect depicts Norway as a miniature cosmos of its own. The important geopolitical entities are all internal, and as the author has changed G6rr's Fundinn Noregr journey to the Baltic and visit to his relatives in Denmark to a journey to the Polar Sea (Dumbshaf), Derunark is written out of the story, just as Rome has been erased from the map of Eiriks saga by having the throne of the Emperor in Mildigart!r be the seat of Christianity. Rather than locating Norway at the edge of the world, as the geographic infonnation in Eirlks saga does, the geographical infonnation in Hversu Noregr byggoisk resituates it at the centre. 1be next components - the journey, the presence and Joss of the brother, the role of the hero and his brother as invaders or defenders, the journey's reward, and the act of cultural foundation - can be discussed as a group. Here, too, they take opposite fonns in the two texts. Eirilcr, having sworn to find the earthly paradise, stops off in Denmark, acquires a blood-brother, and travels with him to Greece, where they are baptized and where they serve the king by successfully defending the country from invaders. They then continue east, but the Dane turns back at the sight of the dragon at the entrance to 6dainsakr. Eirilcr proceeds without him and enters paradise, converses with his guardian angel, and eventually returns to Norway with his new religion. N6rr and G6rr, however, travel in search of their missing sister. They part ways at once, with N6rr conquering the natives as he heads west from the Keel mountains and G6rr apparently travelling by sea. N6rr's victories stop at the water's edge, where he meets his brother; he then heads back inland and G6rr puts out to sea again. N6rr next conquers all of Norway before coming to HeiOmQrk, where he finds his sister and accepts the fealty of Hr6lfr, the king who abducted her. After marrying Hr6lfr's sister, N6rr travels to the seashore for a second time to meet his brother, who has arrived from Dumbshaf after taking possession of all the islands he passed on the way. They divide the kingdom between them, with N6rr getting the mainland from JQtunheimr to Alfheimr and G6rr getting all the islands that lay to the larboard of his ship as he sailed south. The legends thus differ in every respect: Ein1cr has his brother with him only for the first part of his journey, whereas N6rr and his brother travel separately yet meet periodically and end together; the two Eirilcrs succeed in defending the land to which they travel, whereas N6rr and his brother are sue-


Elizabeth Ashman Rowe

cessful conquerors; Eirikr finds the earthly paradise and returns to the land of his father with a new religion, whereas N6rr finds his sister and returns with a wife to the land he conquered. Eirikr serves the King of Greece and the King of Heaven and never becomes a king himself, whereas N6rr becomes a king whom other kings serve. He starts off from the ill-defined realms of the east and arrives in the kingdom of Norway. Eirikr's journey, in contrast, is a spiritual one that ends not with the return to l>nindheimr but with his corporeal assumption. He starts off from the kingdom of Norway and arrives in the kingdom of Heaven. Not surprisingly, Eirikr's and N6rr's acts of cultural foundation are also opposites. N6rr establishes the kingdom of Norway and founds its ruling dynasty, which in tum gives rise to the ranks of the aristocracy, whereas Eirikr lays the basis for the conversion of Norway and may thus be said to help found the church. Far from being the father of his country, he is so uninterested in perpetuating the dynasty that he disappears bodily. Indeed, for a narrative that is in many respects modelled on the f ornaldarsogur, Eirfks saga is notable for the absence of any women. Eirikr's mother is never mentioned, he has no sister for his blood-brother to marry, and the Greek king has no daughter to distract him from his mission. The contrast between the inescapable proliferation of noble Norwegians in Hversu Noregr byggessa bok er hana skrifade. at hann uill at huerr madr vite pat at ekki er traust trutt nema af gude. puiat I> at heidnir menn fai fra:gd mykla af sinum afreksverkum pa er pat mikill munr pa er j>eir enda j>etta hit stundliga lijf at j>eir hafa pa tekit sitt uerdkaup af ordlofui manna firir sinn frama en reigu pa von hegningar firir sin broth ok truleyse er j>eir kunnu reigi skapara sinn. en hinir sem gude hafa vnnat ok j>ar allt traust haft ok barizst frrir frelse heilagrar kristne hafa I> af hinum vitrazstum monnum freingit meira lof en pat at auk at mest er at pa er j>eir hafa fram geingit vm almenniligar dyr daudans sem ekki holld ma fordazst hafa j>eir tekit sitt verdkaup pat er at skilia eilijft riki med allzualdanda gude vtan enda sem j>essi }Eirekr sem nu var fra sagt. (Vigfilsson and Unger 1860: I, 35-36). 'The one who wrote this book set this exemplum in it first because he wishes each man to know that there is no true faith except in God, because although heathen men may get much fame from their deeds of valour, there is a great difference when they end the life of this world, since they have then taken their reward from men's praise for their accomplishments, but they have then the expectation of punishment for their violations and faithlessness when they knew not their Creator. But those who have loved God and had all faith and fought for the freedom of Holy Christianity have nevertheless received greater praise from the wisest men. And this, too, which is greatest, that when they have gone forward through the common door of death, which the flesh may not escape, they have taken their reward, that is to say, the eternal kingdom with Almighty God without end, like this Eirikr, as was just described.' Here again, it looks as though Magnus is attempting to give the lie to J6n, for Hversu Noregr byggoisk presents a history of Norwegian kings that is as depaganized as it can be. Descendants of Fornj6tr, the king and people of Norway are untainted by any connection with the }Esir, and although the Kvenir sacrifice to N6rr's father, N6rr does not bring the practice to his new kingdom. Rather than portraying N6rr as a 'good pagan', Hversu Noregr byggoisk avoids the question of his religion entirely. This strategic silence 209

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enables his history of conquest, colonization, and the forcible seizure of power to avoid being condemned as heathen deeds of valour. That N6rr's behaviour is intended to be understood as exemplary is signalled by the categorization of the text as a dami (like 1£Vinryr, an Old Norse term that translates the Latin exemplum): 'Nv skal segia d~mi til huersu Noregr bygdiz i fystu' (Vigfi1sson and Unger 1860, 1:21: 'Now [I] shall tell an exemplum about how Norway was first settled'). Just as Hversu Noregr byggoisk displaces l>nindr from the position of 'first king', so too does it replace Eirikr (and by implication 61Mr Tryggvason) with N6rr (and by implication Haraldr harfagri) as the model of kingly behaviour. It is tempting to wonder whether Magnus, with his apparent interest in genealogies, was the one who created Hversu Noregr byggoisk from Fundinn Noregr in order to have a foundation myth with which to counter Eiriks saga. But in that case, why would he have omitted the vow to fmd their sister that N6rr and G6rr swear at the beginning of their journey in Fundinn Noregr? This would have strengthened the parallelism with Eirfks saga, in which Eirikr's journey also begins with a vow to fmd something. The omission of G6rr's travels through the Baltic to Denmark is easier to understand, for to admit the existence of Denmark before the establishment of Norway would be to make a powerful concession, as superior age confers superior authority. Moreover, Magnus may have had no wish to portray the creation of Norway as being linked in any way - or even as being geographically proximate - to Denmark, so as to avoid any implication that the Danish claims to Norway had a historical foundation. If this chain of thought seems too far-fetched, perhaps we may attribute only the first sentence of Hversu Noregr byggoisk to Magnus. With its echoes of Hyndluljoo and the IEttartQlur and perhaps its use of dremi to pre-empt J6n's categorization of Eirfks saga as an 1£Vintjr, this sentence fits Hversu Noregr byggoisk's location in the manuscript as though it were made for it. The second sentence, 'Fomiotr bet madr' (Vigrusson and Unger 1860, 1:21: 'Fomj6tr was the name of a man'), is very similar to the first sentence of Fundinn Noregr ('Fomiotr hefir konungr h~itit' ['Fomj6tr was the name of a king'], Vigfi1sson and Unger 1860, I: 219) and was probably the original first sentence of Hversu Noregr byggoisk. As well as providing additional royal Norwegian genealogies, the /EttartQlur continue the exploration of some of the themes present in Hversu Noregr byggoisk. The euhemerization of OOinn in two of Haraldr's genealogies more or less supports the depaganization of the Norwegian 210

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dynasty, although of course the regnal list, with its references to St. 6lafr, eventually makes it difficult to escape the historical fact that the country was originally pagan. 17 Similarly, the synopsis of the legend of Halfdan gamli, which Magnus borrowed from Chapter 80 of Skflldskaparmal, does not mention 6oinn. '[O]k pa er [Haalfdan] tok konungdom gerdi hann blot mikit at midium vetri ok blotadi til pess at hann skylldi mega lifa .ccc. vetra... eon frettin sagdi honum sua at hann mundi lifa ecki meirr en einn mannzalldr. eon pat mundi vera .ccc. vetra ok at eingi mundi vtiginn madr i bans a:tt ok engi kona' (VigfUsson and Unger 1860, 1:24: 'And when [Hcilfdan] became king, he held a great sacrifice at midwinter and asked to live for three hundred years ... But he was told that he would live no more than one lifetime, but for three hundred years no man of low degree would be in his family, and no woman'). This excerpt also illustrates the theory of language in which names represent the essential qualities of the things they name., Closely following Snorri 's account of the first nine sons of Hcilfdan and Alfny Eymundard6ttir, Magnus's version reads 'het einn peingill. er kalladr var mannapeingill. Ra:sir Gramr Gylfi Hilmir Jofurr Tiggi SkyIi ok Harri. pessir .ix. er sagt at allir va:ri iafngamlir ok vrdu sua aga:tir at i ollum fra:dum eru peirra nofn hofd fyrir tignar naufn ok konunga nofn' (Vigtusson and Unger 1860:1, 24-25: 'One was named l>engill [prince), who was called l>engill-of-men, one was named Ra:sir [impeller, ruler], one was named Gramr [fierce one], one was named Hilmir [helmeter], one was named JQfurr [prince], one was named Tiggi [noble], one was named Skyli [i.e., skuli, protector], and one was named Harri [i.e., herra, lord]. These nine became so renowned that their names have been treated in all records as honorific titles, equivalent to the name of king' [translated after Faulkes 1987, 146-147)). The exclusion of women from Hcilfdan's descendants is a curious anticipation of the absence of women from Eiriks saga. At first glance, it also recalls the abduction of G6i, which is the motivation for N6rr's and G6rr's travels of conquest. However, the role of women in Hversu Noregr byggtJisk is quite different from both that in the legend of Halfdan and that £ttarta/a Hara/tis fra 6oni (VigfUsson and Unger 1860, 1:26) says that 6oinn Asakonungr was the grandson of King Burri, who ruled over Tyrkland. £11 Haralds fra Adam names 'Tror er ver kollum !>Or' (Vigfusson and Unger 1860: I, 27: 'Tror, whom we call t>6rr') as the grandson of Priam of Troy. For a study of the genealogies that trace human descent from the pagan gods, see Faulkes 1978-9. 17


Elizabeth Ashman Rowe

in Eirfks saga. Insofar as G6i has been abducted to be the wife of a king and her loss is compensated for by the king's sister, who in tum becomes N6rr's wife, Hversu Noregr byggiJisk is describing a traditional exogamous exchange of women between different families. Moreover, women are found elsewhere in N6rr's family; his father has sisters, and he himself numbers several women among his descendants. The inclusion of Skaldskaparmal' s account of HaJfdan is probably due to his place in the genealogies, rather than to any overt desire to provide a further response to Eirfks saga. However, the proximity of the two texts encourages comparison. A typological explanation might be that the legend of HaJfdan provides the 'pre-Christian' version of the Christian exclusion seen in Eirfks saga, especially as the sacrifice is not made to any heathen deity. However, as Magnus prefers to structure his histories in terms of genealogy rather than typology, it may be more appropriate to consider the issue as one of dynastic succession. That is, whereas in Eirfks saga, the absence of women is a symptom of Christian theology, in the legend of HaJfdan it may have come to represent a providential solution to a political problem. The legend of HaJfdan gains an interesting resonance in the context of the events that may have led to Magnus's being asked to work on Flateyjarb6k in the first place. Olafur Halld6rsson (1990a, 430-431) suggests that the manuscript was originally intended as a gift for the current king of Norway, Olafr Halconarson, who had ascended to the throne as an eleven-yearold boy when his father Halcon VI Magnusson died in 1380. Unfortunately, Olafr died in 1387, the very year that work on the manuscript began, and with him the Norwegian royal dynasty came to an end. His mother Margareta, the daughter of King Valdemar of Denmark, had been ruling Norway in her son's name, and now she became the ruler of Norway in her own right. Margareta had no claim on the Norwegian throne under the official law of succession, but the only other candidate was Duke Albrecht of Mecklenburg, whose maternal grandmother was the daughter of Halcon V of Norway, and Margareta was able to persuade the Norwegian RiksrAd to disqualify him because of his wars against King Magnus Eirlksson and King Magnus's son Halcon VI. The death of young Olafr and Margareta's consolidation of power must have been a sad blow to the Icelanders, who had no love for the Danes and who now saw the centre of government move even further from them than before. We may hypothesize that J6n Halconarson thought there was little point in giving a manuscript glorifying the reigns of the first two Norwegian Olafrs to Margareta, and so J6n 212

Origin legends and Foundation Myths in FlateyjarbOk

1>6r0arson left the project. Evidently J6n Hakonarson later decided to keep the manuscript for himself and had Magnus 1>6rhallsson expand it with two more kings' sagas. As Magnus copied the legend of Halfdan into the manuscript, he may have wished that the Norwegian dynasty had been granted six hundred years' worth of noble male descendants instead of only three. Just as Haraldr hmfagri is the ending point for the genealogies tracing his ancestry from HQl'.lr, Alfr hinn gamli, ~inn, Adam, and the rest, so is he also the starting point for the regnal list, which enumerates his descendants (not all of whom were kings) down to 618fr Hakonarson in 1387. The list then proceeds to name the kings of Norway in reverse order from 6tatr Hakonarson back to Haraldr. The lists of Haraldr's descendants and the kings of Norway reveal some of Magnus's personal biases. He does not draw any attention to 6lafr Tryggvason, whose name appears without comment between those of Halcon jarl and Hakon bl6tjarl hinn rfki. However, Magnus calls the Danish Sveinn Alfffuson, whom Knutr installed as king after the defeat of St. 6tatr, oforsynjukonungr ('a king not to be endured'). And to King Magnus Eirfksson, whom St. Birgitta knew as having the nickname smekk ('the ingratiating' or 'the caressing prince') and whom she eventually condemned in the strongest terms, he gives the cognomen gooi ("the good"). 18 Finally, we may note that Margareta's ascent to the throne as ruler in her own right does not qualify her to be named among the kings of Norway. Although this list was written down during her reign, Magnus excludes her from it, recapitulating Halfdan's genealogy and - in a manuscript with hundreds of pages devoted to the past rulers of Norway - relegating the information about the current sovereign to a single sentence in the postscript that follows the list. 19

"A similar bias appears in Magn6s"s annal, which is the only one to add to the notice of the death by drowning of King Magnus Eirfksson in 1375 'kom hans lik eins a land ok kalla menn hann helgann' (Vigfusson and Unger 1868:111, 569: 'his body thus washed ashore, and men call him holy'); cf. Storm 1888, 411. " 'Ari sidar enn fyrr segir huarl' Olarr konungr Hakonar son. sogdu Danir hann daudann enn Nordrnenn villdu ecki trua j>ui. l>a var tekin tiJ rikisstiomar yfir Noreg ok Darunoric drottning Margreta modir Olafs konungs enn donir Valldarnars Danakonungs eplir er hon Jet fanga Albrict' (Vigfllsson and Unger 1860, 1:28-29: 'The year after what has been previously said, King 616r0arson foregrounds questions of dynastic failure and female rule that were inescapable for Icelanders involved in the power plays and politics of the royal appointees controlling their countty. The gesture of recuperation of origins and real genealogy that forms the second generation of Flateyjarb6k would thus seem to be evoked by feelings of loss on the part of J6n Hakonarson, whose grandfather, Gizurr galli, was a retainer of Halcon V. Not only does 214

Origin Legends and Foundation Myths in Flateyjarbok

this layer of the manuscript memorialize the great Norwegian kings of more recent times, but it provides them with an origin legend that looks to neither European classical historiography nor Christian typology for its authorization. Such cultural recividism is all the more unusual for its defiance of late-fourteenth-century realities. While Magn6s was imagining a Norwegian monarchy gloriously independent of the rest of Scandinavia and the church, Margareta was forging Norway, Denmark, and Sweden into the Kalmar Union and working closely with Pope Urban to promote the canonization of her foster-mother's mother, Birgitta of Vadstena, and to ensure that the upper ranks of the ecclesiastical hierarchy in her realm were filled by men of her own choosing.

References Clunies Ross, Margaret. 1983. 'Snorri Sturluson's use of the Norse originlegend of the sons of Fomj6tr in his Edda'. Arkiv for nordisk filologi 98:47-66. - 1987. SkQldskaparmal: Snorri Sturluson's ars poetica and medieval theories of language. The Viking Collection 4. Odense: Odense University Press. Faulkes, Anthony. 1978-9. 'Descent from the gods'. Mediaeval Scandinavia 11 :92-125. - trans. 1987. Snorri Sturluson. Edda. London: Everyman. Gut!mundsson, Finnbogi, ed. 1965. Orkneyinga saga, Legenda de Sancto Magno, MagnU.ss saga skemmri, Magnuss saga lengri, Helga jJattr ok , , Ulfs. Islenzk fornrit 34. Reykjavik: Hit! islenzka fornritafelag. Halld6rsson, 6tafur. 1990a. 'Af uppruna Flateyjarb6kar'. In GrettisftErsla: , Safa ritgeroa eftir Olaf Halldorsson, gejio ut a sjotugsajmlEli hans, 18. apr{[ 1990, ed. Sigurgeir Steingrimsson, Steflin Karlsson, and Sverrir , T6masson, , . 427-431. Rit 38. Reykjavik: Stofnun Arna Magnussonar a Islandi. - 1990b. "A afmreli Flateyjarb6kar." In GrettisftErsla: Safn ritgeroa eftir , Olaf Halldorsson, gefio ut a sjotugsajm8!1i hans, 18. apr{[ 1990, ed. Sigurgeir Steingrimsson, Steflin , Karlsson, and Sverrir , T6masson, 196-214. Rit 38. Reykjavik: Stofnun Arna Magnussonar a Islandi. J6nsson, Gulini, ed. 1949. Edda Snorra Sturlusonar. NafnajJulur og Ska/data/. Reykjavik: fslendingasagnautgafan. 215

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Meulengracht SfJrensen, Preben. 1993. 'The Sea, the Aame, and the Wind. The Legendary Ancestors of the Earls of Orkney'. In The Viking Age in Caithness. Orkney and the North Atlantic, ed. Colleen E. Batey, Judith Jesch and Christopher D. Morris, 212-21. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. Rpt. in his Atforteelle Historien: Telling History. Studier i den gamle nordiske litteratur: Studies in Norse Literature, 221-30. Trieste: Edizioni Pamaso, 2001. Nordal, Sig~ur. Finnbogi Gu6mundsson, and Vilhjalmur Bjamar, eds. 1944-45. FlateyjarbOk. 4 vols. Akranes: Aateyjanltgafan. Rowe, Elizabeth Ashman. 1998. 'Cultural Paternity in the Aateyjarb6k 6tafs saga Tryggvasonar'. alvissmal 8:3-28. Storm, Gustav, ed. 1888. /slandske annaler indtil 1578. Christiania (Oslo): Det norske historiske kildeskriftfond. Vigfusson, Gu6brandur, and C. R. Unger, eds. 1860-8. FlateyjarbOk: En Samling af norske Konge-Sagaer med indskudte mindre Forteellinger om Begivenheder i og udenfor Norge samt Anna/er. 3 vols. Christiania (Oslo): P. T. Malling.


The Role of VQluspa in the Perception of RagnarQk in Old Norse-Icelandic Literature Stefanie Wiirth Translated by John Clifton-Everest

RagnarQk: content and sources Nordic descriptions of the end of the world of gods and men have come down to us in a range of literary sources. In the poetic sources, this eschatological period is termed ragnarQk, i.e. the fate or end (Old Norse rQk) of the gods (Old Norse regin, gen. pl. ragna). The designation ragnar¢kr, i.e. 'darkness, or twilight of the gods' is found only in Snorri's Edda and has not - if we except Richard Wagner - found acceptance. In surviving depictions of RagnarQk, ideas of nature combine with popular-mythological ideas concerning a huge catastrophe ending a period of time which is conceivable only with the aid of the imagination. The chief sources for our knowledge of events during RagnarQk are eddic poems: VQluspa, Baldrs draumar, Lokasenna and VQluspa in skamma. Apart from that we have the description of the end of the world in Snorri's Edda, composed later than the eddic poems and drawing essentially on them as its source. Finally the Gesta Danorum of Saxo Grammaticus contains allusions to the final stages of the world. To these may be added the use of individual RagnarQk motifs in skaldic poetry, as well as some original pictorial representations.1 None of these sources - with the exception of the skaldic poetry, which, as stated, supplies only individual motifs from the RagnarQk myth - can be shown to have originated in the pre-Christian era. And even if the dating of individual eddic poems is a matter of much controversy among researchers, there is no disagreement that the oldest surviving manuscript of the Poetic Edda, the Codex Regius, dates only from the thirteenth century, well after the conversion of Iceland and the other Scandinavian lands. For 1

For details of the sources cf. Martin 1972.


Stefanie Wurth

their accounts and analyses of the myth, most encyclopedias of religious history and other such descriptions follow Snorri's Edda, as it provides the most detailed and graphic account of RagnarQk. The course of dramatic events constituting the end of the world in Snorri's Edda can be broken down into three stages: - prehistory - the battle of the ..£sir with the giants - the new world Prehistory The god Baldr has a dream of his own death. When he tells the ..£sir of his dream, they take counsel and resolve to protect Baldr from all danger: 'ok FriG toe svardaga til t>ess, at eira skyldv Baldri elldr ok vatn, iarn ok allz konar malmr, steinar, iorpin, viOimir, sottimar, dyrin, fvglarnir, eftrit, onnarnir'(Finnur J6nsson 1931, 63).2 Then the gods amuse themselves putting Baldr's invulnerability to the test. Loki, envious of Baldr, assumes the shape of an old woman and asks the goddess Frigg whether indeed every living creature and every object has sworn the oath. Frigg answers: 'vex vipar teinvngr eiN firir vest.an Valhavll; sa er mistilteiN kallaOr, sa potti mer vngr at krefia eiOsins' (Finnur J6nsson 1931, 64).3 Thereupon Loki cuts down a branch of mistletoe, hands it to the blind HQOr, and challenges him to hurl it at Baldr. Baldr is thus killed by HQOr, 'ok hefir pat mest 6happ verit vNit meO gopvm ok monnvm', 'and that was the greatest misfortune committed among gods and men'. The sorrowing gods are neither able nor permitted to avenge Baldr's death, as they are in a sacred place. At Frigg's request, Henn60r, 6oinn's son, rides on 6oinn's horse Sleipnir to Hel, to procure from her Baldr's return. Hel declares that Baldr can only return on one condition: 'ef allir lvtir iheiminvm kykvir ok davpir grata hann' (Finnur J6nsson 1931, 67), 'if all things in the world both living and dead weep for him'. Since however one giantess - according to Snorri's Edda it is Loki in disguise - refuses to weep at Baldr's death, the attempt to procure the return of the god is frustrated. The ..£sir manage to ' 'And Frigg received solemn promises so that Baldr should not be harmed by fire and water, iron and all kinds of metal, stones, the earth, trees, diseases, animals, birds, poison and snakes'. ' 'West of Valhalla there grows the shoot of a tree called mistletoe. It seemed to me [too) young to demand the oath from. ·


The Role of VQluspa in the Perception of RagnarQk

capture Loki, who has transformed himself into a salmon. The giantess Skal'.li fastens a venomous snake over the head of the captive. In order to catch the dripping poison, Loki's wife Sigyn holds a bowl beneath it. But every time she empties the bowl venomous drops fall on Loki, whose agonised writhing is felt on earth as an earthquake. The fleeing of Loki finally initiates the true Ragnar9k. The battle between the IEsir and the giants

Cosmic omens mark the commencement of RagnarQk: a winter lasting three years, known as Fimbulvetr, is preceded by three other winters of countless internecine conflicts among men. Two wolves then consume the sun and the moon, the stars vanish from the sky, the earth quakes, mountains tumble and all bonds are severed. By this means, the shackled Fenriswolf is freed too, while the sea floods over the earth and the Midgard serpent rolls on to the land. The spirit-ship Naglfar breaks its mooring, and the sons of Muspell, a troop of giants, ride down from the riven heavens over the bridge BifrQst, formed from a rainbow. Upon the battlefield Vlgrfl'.lr the armies of the ..£sir and the giants meet. After Heimdallr has blown his horn, the battle commences, described as a series of single combats: 6oinn engages the Fenriswolf, which swallows him; whereupon Vfl'.larr climbs into the wolfs maw, holds its lower jaw upon the ground with his foot, and with his hand rips out its upper jaw, so that the wolf is killed - a scene possibly portrayed in pictorial representations.4 Thor does battle with the Midgard serpent, kills it, but then dies himself from the poisonous fumes exuded by the snake; Freyr fights with the giant Surtr, and dies; 'fYr and the hell-hound Garmr kill each other; Loki and Heimdallr, too, bring about each other's death. Finally Surtr casts fire upon the earth and bums it. The new world The end of RagnarQk is simultaneously the start of a new world: the earth springs up anew, green and fertile. The two ..£sir Baldr and HQl'.lr return

from Hel, and Vfl'.larr and Vali have survived, as have 1>6rr's sons Magni and M60i. As sons of Ol'.linn and 1>6rr, all the surviving gods belong to the second generation. Two humans have survived too, from whom a new race 'There have been tentative identifications of Yil!arr on the stone crosses at Gosforth, Cumberland, England, and Kut Andreas, Isle of Man, from c. 900, but these are uncenain.


Stefanie Wurth

of men springs. Finally the daughter of the sun takes upon herself the path of her mother. It is apparent from this summary that while much detailed information about Ragn&rQk has come down to us, the analysis of this information presents us with a range of problems. Snoni for instance, supplies a coherent narrative account from prehistory through to the emergence of the new world, but its value as a source for the history of religion is extremely controversial. Parallels to some - though by no means all - of the individual motifs in Snoni's account can be found in the other texts and pictorial sources mentioned at the start. But these same sources at times make statements that conflict with Snoni. For example, in the Icelandic sources the murdered god Baldr is the saviour who rules a new world, whereas in Saxo Grammaticus he is a Danish king, killed with a magic sword in a battle for the kingship with his opponent H6therus (Olrik and Rreder 1931, Book III). Apart from these contradictions, the greatest problem with the depiction of Ragn&rQk is probably that we cannot distinguish precisely to what extent we are dealing with Christian or pre-Christian Germanic ideas. Is the idea of the radiant god Baldr, who returns following the destruction of the world to rule a new, paradisical one, a notion that was firmly rooted in Germanic belief, or has the figure simply acquired a Christian interpretation in the course of the Middle Ages?5 An attempt was made by Axel Olrik ( 1922) to distinguish Christian from pre-Christian motifs and to track down the origins of the ideas of RagnarQk. But neither he nor later scholars found it possible to separate out an original, genuinely pre-Christian concept of RagnarQk. The only certainty is therefore that the Middle Ages showed a clear interest in depictions of Ragn&rQk, and this impelled medieval writers to develop the theme independently. Snoni's chief source for the portrayal of the Ragn&rQk myth was the eddic poem V(Jluspa, from which he incorporates in the form of direct quotation numerous strophes (35-8, 40-2, 46-7) from the battle between the gods and the giants. On the other hand, only Snoni preserves as a coherent narrative the prehistory of RagnarQk with the premonitory dream of Baldr. All other surviving sources for RagnarQk contain only allusions or partial motifs which do not permit us to determine whether in fact Ragn&rQk represents a systematic account rooted in the consciousness of the ordinary people - as is suggested by VQ/uspa, the first cohesive narrative - or if it 'On the myth of Baldr and the possibly Christian clements it contains. cf. Sluspa presents the course of events from Baldr's death to the creation of the new world in the form of a cosmic cycle, Snorri's Edda reveals no such clear link between the old and new orders of the world. Snorri knew the text of VQ/uspa very well - as evidenced by the more than forty strophes he quotes - yet he did not take up the allusions to the cyclical course of time, but rather followed in his description of the creation the pattern of the Christian Genesis much more closely than is the case with VQ/uspa. Since it has still not proved possible to decide whether or not VQ/uspa predates the conversion to Christianity, there has been much discussion in the scholarship of the Christian content of the poem (cf. Butt 1969; Rafnsson 1999). Is VQ/uspa in fact a Christian poem that makes use of preChristian myths, or is it an authentically pagan work into which Christian elements were later interpolated? A sort of compromise prevails at present: the anonymous author of VQ/uspa was probably not himself a Christian, but he made use of much Christian material, drawn primarily from the biblical Revelation, which would explain the problematic syncretism of the poem (cf. McKinnell 1993; Oronke 1997). Evidently, many uncertainties remain regarding the dating of the concepts of RagnarQk. And it is no less impossible to say with certainty when the individual elements, definitely deriving at least in part from the preChristian era, were fused together in a single myth, than it is to say which of the motifs were widely known. A key role is played in the dating by the 223

Stefanie WW-th

eddic VQluspa, which is generally assigned a vague date about the time of the transition to Christanity and interpreted as an instance of syncretic poetry. On the other hand it is certain that even after Christianization there was great interest in descriptions of RagnarQk in both Scandinavia and - as the pictorial representations show - in the British Isles. It is striking that the ideas of RagnarQk show a clear affinity to prophetic literature. VQluspa is a visionary, or prophetic poem, occupying first position in the Codex Regius and thus initiating the eddic cycle, but at the same time actually incorporating or anticipating it, since it spans the entire history of the world from its creation, through its fall, and into the new era. Apart from the prophecies of the Germanic vQlva, Hauksb6k also contains the Icelandic translation of the Prophetiae Merlini under the title Merlfnuspa. In this way the description of RagnarQk is firstly placed in the general context of world history, but then also in a specific context of contemporary history (cf. Wilrth 1998, 81-2).

The Codex Regius and Hauksb6k: prophecies in Old Norse literature On closer scrutiny the depictions of RagnarQk in the VQluspa of the Codex Regius and in that of Hauksb6k reveal considerable differences.7 While the description of RagnarQk in the Codex Regius fills twenty-two strophes, the Hauksb6k version makes do with fourteen. Part of this reduction can be explained by the fact that Baldr's death is not mentioned in the Hauksb6k version. This means on the one hand that this version of VQluspa fails to make the important connection between the death of Baldr and the battle between the ..£sir and the giants. On the other hand Baldr's death in Hauksb6k is not presented as a sacrifice made for the renewal of the world; rather, in an additional half-strophe the third divine power, previously mentioned, is introduced, itself displaying more strikingly Christian features than the Baldr-figure of the Codex Regius. 8 In this way the Christian 1

Dronke 1997, 27 lists lhese differences. 8 "l>ar k0mr inn dirnmi dreki fliugandi I naOr frann, neOan frA NiOafjollom; I berr ser i fioOrom - flygr vQll yfir -, / NfOhQggr, nai - nu mun hon Sjljeqvaz' (NeckeVKuhn 1983, 15, st. 66), 'There the darlt dragon will come flying, the glittering serpent, from below from NiOa mountains; Nfl!hQggr will carry corpses in his plumage - he will fly over the open plain; now she will sink.'


The Role ofVQluspa in the Perception of RagnarQk

connotation in the Hauksb6k version is more marked than in the Codex Regius, or rather, it has a different focus - it is not the pagan god Baldr who appears as a Christ-figure, but rather a new redeemer is brought in, unnamed but clearly Christian. Yet both versions of VQluspa have in common the presentation of RagnarQk in the fonn of a vision or prophecy. Ursula Dronke in particular (1997, 27-9) has drawn the attention of scholars to the parallels between VQluspa and ancient sibylline texts. She points out especially that VQluspa combines two different models of sibylline literature. This occurs when the 'ek', 'I', of the VQlva speaks with a 'hon', 'she', who originates from a spirit-world and to some extent represents merely the 'other side' of the VQlva (cf. Sveinsson 1962, 324). While the 'I' speaks primarily with didactic intent, corresponding to the Sibyl of the ancient oracle - something to which there is no parallel in Nordic literature - the spiritual 'she' speaks only prophetically. This differentiation, consistently maintained both in the Codex Regius and in Hauksb6k, was abandoned in the VQluspa strophes quoted by Snorri, so that there they are all uttered by the vQlva's 'I'. At first glance the VQluspa of the Codex Regius and that of Hauksb6k seem to stand in quite different contexts, such that they are scarcely comparable. In the Codex Regius, VQluspa appears entirely in the context of eddic poetry. And yet the Codex Regius is much more than a mere compilation arising from an antiquarian interest in native mythology. In the view of Heinz Klingenberg (1974) the Codex Regius clearly shows its contemporary context, that is, the upheavals of the Sturlung period and the anarchy following the end of the era of the free state. For this reason Klingenberg (1974, 132) also sees a direct relationship between VQluspa and the time of the manuscript's writing-down: 'Die Zeichen der Endzeit, von einem der gro8ten Dichter des europiiischen Mittelalters wohl vor dem Epochenjahr 1000 gesetzt, gewinnen nun am Ende der Sturlungenzeit eine beklemmende Aktualitat. ' 9 The themes in the accounts of RagnarQk do indeed show numerous parallels to the anarchical conditions prevailing in thirteenth-century Iceland: kin slayings, mutual annihilation of powerful families, moral decadence and a general lack of direction. On the other hand these things are charac• 'The signs of the Last Days. set down apparently in advance of the epochal year I 000 by one of the greatest writers of the European Middle Ages, acquire a shocking topicality here at the end of the Snulung-period.'


Stefanie Wiirth

teristic of every age of crisis. And even if some presentiment of the Last Days may arise in a period of crisis, only retrospect perceives this as a reality of that time. VQluspa accordingly only fits the end of the Sturlung period in retrospect, while the outcome of the virtual state of civil war obtaining at the time when the compilation surviving in the Codex Regius was made was quite unforeseeable. For even if the manuscript itself was written during the Sturlung period, it has been shown clearly to be merely a copy of an earlier compilation. No less problematic is the importance of the so-called millennial year 1000. On the one hand, just what eschatalogical significance actually attached to the year 1000 is a matter of great controversy today (Patrides and Wittreich 1984). On the other hand it is questionable whether the Icelanders were at all aware of this number for the year which seems so portentous to us. In the earliest Icelandic historical writings, historical texts from the twelfth century, years are rarely identified by an absolute number. Instead, events are dated according to the regnal years of foreign rulers or according to the offices of the native law-speakers, as in Ari l>orgilsson's Islendingabok. And it is doubtful just how far one should go in relating the representation of RagnarQk to a date that is millennial only from a Christian perspective. Since Iceland was not finally christianized until the year 1000, a Christian writer would hardly seize upon motifs from heathen mythology to describe an imminent end to the world. If on the other hand the author of VQluspa was not a Christian, then the year 1000, numbered according to a Christian chronology, would certainly be no millennial year for him, and certainly not one foreboding the end of the world. The accounts of RagnarQk describe the end of the world and its warning signs so generally, that anybody hearing it in a situation of crisis might see his own position reflected there. The depiction of the world's end is therefore clearly applicable to various historical contexts, and can constantly be adapted to new ideas and incorporated into new discourses (cf. Lombna:s 2001). In the version of VQ/uspa passed down in the Codex Regius the description of RagnarQk is plainly not related to a specific situation of crisis, but is placed in a general context of the history of the world, such that images from a native tradition serve to illustrate that world history. Given the non-specific character of the end of the world as it is described in the RagnarQk account of VQ/uspa, it is scarcely surprising that the poem fitted well into the context of Hauksb6k, written some fifty years after the Codex Regius. But while it remains in the Codex Regius a specif226

The Role ofVt;luspa in the Perception of Ragnart;k

ically Gennanic account of the end of the world, or at best a Scandinavian one, the context of Hauksb6k establishes a clear link to Norwegian-Icelandic history. Haukr Erlendsson, who commissioned the manuscript and himself wrote part of the texts, was a native Icelander who nevertheless spent the greater part of his life in Norway where he served as an official of the king and evidently enjoyed his confidence. All the texts in Hauksb6k, with its encyclopedic tendency, betray the historical interests of its patron and chief editor (Wilrth 1998, 153). In addition to VQluspa, Hauksb6k contains a further work of - in the broadest sense of the word - apocalyptic content in the Icelandic translation of the Prophetiae Merlini. Even though VQluspa and Merlinusspa are not adjacent items in the manuscript and therefore at first glance enjoy no obvious relationship, closer scrutiny nevertheless clearly reveals their affinity (cf. Rafnsson 1999). Firstly both are poems, such that from a purely fonnal point of view they occupy a special position among the otherwise prose texts. But over and above this, both are concerned with prophecies concerning a very long period of time. It is striking that in Hauksb6k the two parts of the Prophetiae Merlini are reversed. From this transposition results a correspondence between the chronology of the content of Merlfnusspd and that of VQluspa. Furthennore the prologue of the Latin prophecies is absent in the Icelandic translation. Instead, Merllnusspa commences with four strophes providing infonnation about the origins and author of the prophecies, by this means introducing the authority responsible for their content. The final strophes of Mer/(nusspa speak of the act of poetic creation in addition to giving instruction on the Christian interpretation of the work. By means of examples taken from the biblical dream of David, they demonstrate how the paraphrases of prophecy should be resolved. 10 Broadly speaking Mer/(nusspa follows its Latin original very closely, (Str. 93) 'her mvn ek lena lioO at semia I ok spasogv spillis bavga / l>o erv fleiri orO ens trooa mannz I hefi elc svmt af jleim samit i kvaeOi. (Str. 94) l>av erv onnvr lioO vpp fra jlersvm/ al viz eigi av& bendravgar I biO ek ~ioOir jlers viO !Jenna brag/ l>o at ek mynt hafa mal aO haeni jleim I er spar fyri spioll vm rakti I malm~ings hvatvl!r i morgvm stall. (Sir. 95) Uiti bragnar !>at jleir er bole lesa I hve at spiollvm se spamannz fariO I ok kvnni ~t kalldyrs viOvm/ hverr fyrOa se framsynna hattr mal al! rckia I ~v er menn vitvO. (Sir. 96) Lesi salma spioll lesi spamanna / lesi biartar jleir bc:ekr ok roOla I olc finni ~t at en froOi hair I hefir horsklega hagaO spasogv I sem fyrir hanvm fyrOar helgir. (Sir. 97) UirOi engi ~t vitlavsv I !>oil hann hoddskotvm heiti I giaefe vil!ar ella vatna ella veOrs mikils I eOa allzkonar orma el!a dyra I taknar el!li talj>rar skepnv I spiorraOanda spioll eOa costi. (Sir. 98) Segir Daniel dravma sina I 10


Stefanie Wiirth

though it employs images and metaphors which are taken from native poetry and lend to the Icelandic version of the Prophetiae Merlini the character of an eddic poem. This on the one hand moves Merlfnusspa closer to VQluspa in the formal sense; on the other hand VQluspa is associated by its content with Merl(nusspa . Since both poems are concerned in the widest sense with historical questions, it is understandable why they found a place in so sober-seeming a collection as Hauksb6k. That Hauksb6k is not simply an ingenuous compilation - in the way medieval encyclopedias are sometimes viewed even today - is evidenced by editorial interventions in the texts, which are consistently shortened in order to bring the historical statements more decisively into prominence (Wiirth 1998, 151-3). Merlfnusspa is incorporated into the Breta sQgur, the Icelandic translation of Geoffrey of Monmouth's Historia regum Britannie. Together with the immediately preceding Trojumanna saga, the Icelandic translation of the Excidium Troiae historie of Dares Phrygius. the Breta sQgur form a continuous account of history from its mythical beginnings up to the Norwegian king Hakon Haraldsson (reigned c. 920-960), who, raised by the English King ..£thelstan and therefore bearing the cognomen A0alsteinsf6stri, thus established the links between world history in the first instance, through British history, to Norwegian history.

The function of the accounts of RagnarQk Myths, as Margaret Clunies Ross has shown (1994, 15), in this way give expression to social and cultural needs. But it follows from that not only that for the interpretation of myths we must pay heed to the spiritual and material world in which they arose. The conclusion drawn by Margaret Clunies Ross can be extended to the wider use of the myths: the social and literary context of the surviving texts not only provides information concerning the role which a myth of possibly pagan origin continued to play in

marghattalla merltivm studda / lcvez hann drivglig sia dyr a iorOv I j>av er talcnvl!v tiggia R.ilci I t:Niv er a havl!ri hofvz sij>an. (Str. 99) Reier en dyri Davil! lconvngr I margfallda spa olc nutlir sva I fioll mvnv fagna olc en fril!i slcogr I en slczl!ar :ir slcella lofvm I olc dalir ymna dronni syngia. (Str. 100) Hirtiz havldar at hzl!a ~kr I neme skynseme ok sk.ili giorla I hvat taknal! man i tolv IJersi I eral! en lil!in oil spasaga I j>o erv morgvm myrk mal propheta (J6nsson 1892-6, 282-3).


The Role ofVQluspa in the Perception of RagnarQk

a Christian era. One can also see how myths were adapted and could give expression to new needs (similarly Lindow 1985, 53). Geoffrey of Monmouth's Prophetiae Merlini sees the start, first in England, followed by the British Isles generally, and finally in other European countries, of a tradition of political prophecy remarkable on the one hand for its obscure symbolism and on the other for its clear reference to historical events (Taylor 1967). The emergence of these political prophecies stands in a clear relationship to conflicts and crises afflicting these societies. The numerous Welsh prophecies, for instance, find an explanation in the interminable conflicts of the Welsh and the English, and later of the Welsh and the Normans (cf. Wallis Evans 1984, 278). Typical in the Welsh form of the prophecies is the figure of a saviour, of whom it is said that he will return following his death, liberate Wales from its bonds and take revenge on the English or Normans. There are more than eight persons who gained fame as 'redeemer-heroes' of this sort (Henken 1996, 23-5). Only very infrequently do the prophecies state from where the redeemer will return - the important thing is simply that he will come. The hero's coming is always accompanied by military action. It is not just his arrival which brings salvation, but his military skills too. The decisive battle is preceded by a cataclysmic period in which all norms and rules are abandoned. Only the redeemer-hero can establish a new order promising lasting peace and prosperity. Such saviour-figures are also to be found ,in medieval literature from Iceland and Norway. Apart from VQluspa, Olafs saga Tryggvasonar is especially worth mentioning in this context. 11 Both the Welsh and the Icelandic-Norwegian saviour-figures are intended to give expression to hope of a better future. But redemption can only take place once the old order has been completely abolished and human society has endured a catastrophic 'purging' by a destructive war. Notwithstanding his apparently revolutionary role, the saviour is by no means a subversive figure. Indeed, it is invariably much more a matter of confmning the prevailing power of the ruling dynasty and/or the Church. The figure of the saviour is after all a returning one, springing from a family already in a ruling position. While the figure of the redeemer seeks to mollify widespread dissatisfaction among the population by providing a person it can identify with, in the event the supposed saviour prevents any real change to the tenure of power. 11

Oldfs saga Tryggvasonar in Olafur Halld6rsson 1958-61.


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Only those who can adapt and are willing to follow the new ruler will survive the chaos and experience the promised time. This image serving to confirm the ruling power is conveyed very skilfully in VQluspd: it is implied that salvation (=Baldr) comes from the people's own past and their pre-Christian religion; but this 'Germanic', that is, non-Roman and therefore culturally non-alien, figure is ponrayed in accordance with Christian doctrine, so that in the last instance it is the dominant catholic theology which receives confirmation. It is hardly surprising therefore that these texts had so lively a reception in the Christian era. In the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries it could no longer be a matter of skilfully adapting pagan myths to facilitate conversion to the new faith; rather it must have been an entirely political phenomenon, that is to say the appropriation of the myth for a discourse regarding power. The dissatisfaction of people with contemporary conditions is taken up and interpreted as the chaos appropriate to the end of time. The destructive chaos is followed by a paradisical age, in which humans can participate too. Since however power in this new world is assumed by a god or a ruler who played a part in the rule of the old one, it is prudent to join his side now and fulfil his demands. The translator of Merlfnusspa was the Icelandic monk Gunnlaugr Leifsson. He lived and worked in the Benedictine monastery of l>ingeyrar, which produced a whole series of significant works and manuscripts of the Icelandic Middle Ages. 12 Among these there are two sagas of the Norwegian King 61atr Tryggvason, composed by Gunnlaugr and his contemporary Oddr and serving as the basis for later workings of this material. Oddr, whose saga of 61arr Tryggvason (J6nsson 1932) was also used by Gunnlaugr, stylized the Norwegian king as a redeemer-figure who saved the Norwegians, and especially the Icelanders, from the erroneous heathen faith. Though 6lafr Tryggvason was defeated in the battle of SvQlOr, rumour maintained that he was rescued in a miraculous fashion and became a monk in Greece. By implication, this story contains the promise that a king, who had already played the part of a redeemer while alive, will return. Just like the figure of 61atr Tryggvason, VQluspd may be interpreted from both a religious and a political perspective. Snorri Sturluson's royal genealogies postulate a direct descent of the ruling dynasties of Scandi12

On GuMlaugr cf. WUrth 1998, 205·6.


The Role ofVc>luspa in the Perception of Ragnar(>k navia from 60inn, and at the very least since that time the Germanic gods could also be viewed as examples of temporal rulers. Thus Vr;luspa too - as it survives for example in Hauksb6k - stands in a clearly historiographical context, for it is perfectly possible to interpret the poem not in a religiouseschatological, but rather a secular-political manner. The religious content of Vr;luspa must then be understood metaphorically: the poem promises not so much redemption following the end of the world, as that a 'redeemer' in the shape of a new ruler will restore order again following a great catastrophe. Since the genealogical link between &inn and the Norwegian royal house was generally known, Vr;luspa could be interpreted in such a way that the new ruler, whom Vr;luspa itself likewise describes as a descendant of &inn, is born of the same blood. Thus Vr;luspa argues for continuity of rule in Norway, and since Iceland had been subject to the Norwegian crown since 1262, there must have been lively interest in a stable government there too. On the other hand the Norwegian rulers must have had an interest in conveying a sense of security to their new subjects, by holding out to them the prospect of a saviour who would rescue them from possible situations of crisis. On closer scrutiny then, Vr;luspa, in the historiographical context of Hauksb6k, appears as a highly ambivalent text. For it foretells a catastrophe in the form of a war, and threatens drastic sanctions in the case of resistance to the government, while at the same time foretelling that even if the war ends with a defeat for the ruling powers, a renewal can only come from those same powers themselves. In this way, the Vr;luspa in Hauksb6k follows the same line of argument as the sagas about the Norwegian missionary-kings 618.frTryggvason and 61Mr the Saint, which depict the two rulers as future redeemers, while they go about their cruel work in the cause of Christianity. Prophetic literature thus serves the prevailing powers in the first instance; yet it certainly contains subversive elements too, which demonstrate how easily those powers could be shaken. With the figure of the redeemer an attempt is made to hold in check these elements threatening order; however, since the prophecies neither provide a guarantee of the return of the redeemer, nor predict the time of redemption, they are compelled for their effect to rely more on the threat implicit in their description of the chaos which will end the world than on the promise of redemption.


Stefanie Wwth

References Butt, Wolfgang. 1969. 'Zur Herkunft der Voluspa'. Paul und Braunes Beitriige zur Geschichte der deutschen Sprache und Literatur (West) 91 : 82-103 Clunies Ross, Margaret. 1994. Prolonged Echoes. Old Norse myths in medieval Northern society. Vol. I: The Myths. The Ytking Collection 7. Odense: Odense University Press. Dronke, Ursula, ed. 1997. The Poetic Edda. Vol. 2: Mythological Poems. Oxford: Clarendon Press. Halld6rsson, 61afur, ed. 1958-61. Olafs saga Tryggvasonar en mesta. 2 vols. Editiones Amamagnreanre, Series A, vols. 1-2. Copenhagen: Munksgaard. Helgason, J6n, ed. 1960. HauksbOk. The Arna-Mag111£an Manuscripts 371, 4"', 544, 4'0 , and 675, 4'°. Manuscripta lslandica 5. Copenhagen: Munksgaard. Henken, Elissa R. 1996. National Redeemer. Owain Glyndwr in Welsh Tradition. Cardiff: University of Wales Press. J6nsson, Eirikur and Finnur, eds. 1892-6. HauksbOk udgiven efter de Arnamag111£anske Juindskrifter no. 371, 544 og 675, 4to samt forskellige papirsluindskrifter af Det konge/ige nordiske Oldskriftselskab. Copenhagen: Thiele. J6nsson, Finnur ed. 1931. Edda Snorra Sturlusonar. Copenhagen: Gyldendal. J6nsson, Finnur ed. 1932. Saga Olafs Tryggvasonar af Oddr Snorrason munk. Copenhagen: G. E. C. Gad. Klingenberg, Heinz. 1974. Edda - Sammlung und Dichtung. Beitrlige zur nordischen Philologie 3. Basel & Stuttgart: Helbing & Lichtenhahn. Lindow, John. 1985. 'Mythology and Mythography'. In Old Norse - Icelandic Literature. A Critical Guide, ed. Carol J. Clover and John Lindow, 21-67. Islandica 45. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press. Lombnres, Andreas. 2001. 'De siste ting og de f111rste. Voluspa og litteratur(vitenskap)ens grenser. Edda: 129-144. Martin, John Stanley. 1972. RagnarQk. An Investigation into Old Norse Concepts of the Fate of the Gods. Melbourne Monographs in Germanic Studies 3. Assen: Van Gorcum. McKinnell, John. 1993. 'VQluspa'. In: Medieval Scandinavia. An Encyclo· 232

The Role of VQluspa in the Perception of Ragnar{>k

pedia, ed. Phillip Pulsiano and Kirsten Wolf, 713-15. New York & London: Garland Publishing, Inc. Neckel, Gustav and Hans Kuhn, eds. 1983. Edda. Die lieder des Codex Regius nebst verwandten Denkmiilern. 5th ed. Heidelberg: Carl Winter Universitiitsverlag. Nordal, SigurOur, ed. 1980. Voluspangbrandr's ship is wrecked (J6nsson 1912-15 A I, 13536, BI, 127-28), while on the Christian side Skapti 1>6roddsson praises the supreme might of Christ, the 'lord of monks' (mattr es munka drottins I



Setbergs, here inelegantly rendered 'flat, seat-like rock', could alternatively be construed

with Urtlar brunni, as by commentators including von See (1959. 85-87, repr. 1981, 393-95) and 6lason (2000). Louis-Jensen proposes taking it with Roms banda as a reference to the Capitol in Rome (2001). She also notes, citing Weber, that Ur6r as a nom-name is secondary to the noun urt)r ' fate', and that Urtlarbrunnr may historically contain the appellative rather than the name (2001, 80).


The 'Conversion Verses' in Hal/freoor saga mestr) and his role as powerful (rfkr) creator of the whole world (J6nsson 1912-15 A I, 314, B I, 291). EiHfr G~n'inarson, composer of a mighty Porsdrapa, also commemorated the victory of Christianity in the quatrain cited above, presenting it directly as a territorial takeover, and highlighting strength by means of word-play in ramr - rem0an. The emphasis on power or rule in the Conversion verses is fully in accord with this. The void attributed to Christ and God in verse 4 is a clear counterpart to the statement in verse 2 that the poet is content with 6oinn's void. Divine power also inspires fear. As we saw, the skald in verse 4 fearfully anticipates the wrath of the pagan gods while flinching equally from the anger of the 'son' (erum lei6rir arrives home, the joy of meeting again is great, but B~varr soon travels on and comes to Denmark. Here he seeks shelter with a farmer, who tells him of his son HQttr, who is kept as a prisoner on the royal estate. From then on, the story relates how B~varr comes to Lejre and immediately asserts himself, and how in various ways he makes HQttr into a great warrior. B~varr remains with King Hr61fr for the rest of his life, where, amongst other things, he fights in the form of a bear and finally dies the death of a hero. Viewed in isolation, there is not much that immediately leads our thoughts on to initiation in connection with B~varr's becoming one of Hr6lfr's retainers. But a closer analysis reveals that there are several features that can be perceived as typical elements of an initiation structure, when viewed in the light of what we already know about initiation, partly 272

Myths as Sources for Rituals - Theoretical and Practical

from the above description and partly from other narrative sequences in Norse source material. 15 Firstly, it is clear that BQOvarr is the son of a woman and a bear, or in any case a being who is half bear and who can immediately be characterized as a liminal agent. Besides, he was conceived while his father was on the threshold between life and death, and thus in a liminal situation. His descent from a bear runs true to form, since BQOvarr fights in the form of a bear in Hr6lfr's last battle (Chapter 50). Secondly, he drinks the blood of a being who is stronger than himself and in this way increases his strength a feature we meet several times in connection with initiation scenarios (e.g. in Saxo's account of Hadingus), and this feature recurs in connection with HQttr. It is therefore possible to ascertain that BQOvarr's birth and youth, before he arrives at Lejre, has prepared him for the life and position that he occupies for the rest of his life and which is irreversible: he is a warrior in the retinue of a king who clearly has a special affinity with OOinn (Chapters 39 and 46), and who first subjects his people to tests and by this means helps them, but later betrays them because they refuse his gifts. Another sequence of three links, which runs parallel with that of initiation, may be difficult to perceive immediately because the different phases are not clearly separated, but the sequence seems however to a certain extent to follow BQ6varr's patterns of physical movement: his staying at home with his mother naturally forms the initial phase; his journey to the cave where he receives his supernatural sword is the separation phase; and his stay with his brothers, which includes a battle and the acquisition of strength from Elgfr6l'li 16 and the thematization of sexuality in the encounter with l>6rir's wife,17 to which we will shortly return, is the liminal phase.

" Because of a lack of space, I will only refer to a series of anicles in which I have previously discussed topics from the fornaldarsogur and illustrared clear initiation patterns (Scbj0eir AsgarO. En i borginni var hQfflingi sa, er OOinn var kallaOr. l>ar var bl6tsta0r mi.kill. l>at var j>ar siOr, at t6lf hofgoOar varu a:ztir. Skyldu l>eir ra6a fyrir bl6tum ok d6mum manna f milli. l>at eru dfar kallaOir e6a dr6ttnar. l>eim skyldi pj6nostu veita ok lotning allt f6lk. (Chapter 2, A6albjarnarson 1941, 11) 'The land in Asia to the east of the Tanakvisl was called Asaland or Asaheim and the chief town in the land was called Asgarth. In the town there was that chieftain who was called OOinn. It was a great place for sacrificing. It was the custom there for twelve temple priests to be the most eminent. It was their duty to direct the sacrifices and to judge between men. They are called diar ('gods') or drottnar ('lords, chiefs or even kings'). All people must grant them their service and veneration.' Here, in contrast to the Prologue to his Edda, where the twelve chieftains are also mentioned, Snorri is concerned to explain, again in an euhemeristic context, how OOinn and his temple priests gained control over humans by ritual means. He represents them as combining legal and sacrifical roles in that enterprise. The narrative goes on to bring OOinn to Scandinavia and particularly to Sweden, where he hears that there is good land for the taking. Again, Snorri focuses on OOinn's role as the institutor of temples and sacrificial rites, this time at Sigtuna, where he is said to have established a large temple (mikit hof> and blood sacrifice according to the practice of the .iEsir, 'gerOi par mikit hof ok b16t eptir siOvenju Asanna. ' 16 It is against this 16 Snorri

is likely to have been aware of Sigtuna·s historical importance in the Viking Age as a seat of govenuncnt, trade and pagan cult. and, possibly, of the fac.t that the first indisputably Ouistian king in Sweden, 014fr EirOcsson skotkonungr, ruled at Sigtuna, though


Margaret Clunies Ross

background that all the other unique details of Ynglinga saga fall into place: its account of how OOinn made the Vanir deities blotgOorbjil