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Edda is an Old Norse term that has been attributed by modern scholars to the collective of two "creed"—is now widely accepted, though this acceptance may stem from its agreement with modern usage rather than historical accuracy.
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But in all probability the episode is due to a confusion of Signy's story with that of the German Chriemhild and Etzel. One point has still to be considered: the place of the Nibelungs in the story. The title of the first aventiure of the Nibelungen Lied also apparently uses the word of the Burgundians. Yet the treasure is always the Page 27 Nibelungs' hoard, which clearly means that they were the original owners; and when Hagen von Tronje tells the story later in the poem, he speaks of the Nibelungs correctly as the dwarfs from whom Siegfried won it. On this point, therefore, the German preserves the older tradition: the Norse Andvari, the river-dwarf, is the German Alberich the Nibelung.

In the Nibelungen Lied the winning of the treasure forms no part of the action: it is merely narrated by Hagen. This accounts for the shortening of the episode and the omission of the intermediate steps: the robbing of the dwarf, the curse, and the dragon-slaying. The description of Svanhild is a good example of the style of the romantic poems:. I dowered her with gold and goodly fabrics Page 28 when I married her into Gothland. That was the hardest of my griefs, when they trod Svanhild's fair hair into the dust beneath the horses' hoofs.

I. Study in the Original.

So died, as Snorri says, all who were of Giuking descent; and only Aslaug, daughter of Sigurd and Brynhild, survived. Heimskringla , a thirteenth century history of the royal races of Scandinavia, traces the descent of the Norse kings from her. This Ermanric story, which belongs to legendary history rather than myth, is in reality quite independent of the Volsung or Nibelung cycle. The connection is loose and inartistic, the legend being probably linked to Gudrun's name because she had become a favourite character and Icelandic narrators were unwilling to let her die.

The historic Ermanric was conquered by the Huns in ; the sixth century historian Jornandes is the earliest authority for the tradition that he was murdered by Sarus and Ammius in revenge for their sister's death by wild horses. Saxo also tells the story, with greater similarity of names. It seems hardly necessary to assume, with many scholars, the existence of two heroes of the name Ermanric, an historic and a mythical one. A simpler explanation is that a legendary story Page 29 became connected with the name of a real personage. The fairest, Svava, Eylimi's daughter, named him, and bidding him avenge his grandfather on Hrodmar a former wooer of Sigrlinn's, and her father's slayer , sent him to find a magic sword.

Helgi slew Hrodmar and married Svava, having escaped from the sea-giantess Hrimgerd through the protection of his Valkyrie bride and the wit of a faithful servant. His brother Hedin, through the spells of a troll-wife, swore to wed Helgi's bride. Repenting, he told his brother, who, dying in a fight with Hrodmar's son, charged Svava to marry Hedin. In Helgi Hundingsbane I. Helgi Hundingsbane II. But Helgi returned from the grave, awakened by Sigrun's weeping, and she went into the howe with him. This third Helgi legend does not survive in verse, the Kara-ljod having perished.

It is told in prose in the late saga of Hromund Gripsson, according to which Kara was a Valkyrie and swan-maid: while she was hovering over Helgi, he killed her accidentally in swinging his sword.

The Poetic Edda: General Introduction

There can be little doubt that these three are merely variants of the same story; the foundation is the same, though incidents and names differ. The three Helgis are one hero, and the three versions of his legend probably come from different localities. The collector could not but feel their identity, and the similarity was too fundamental to be overlooked; he therefore accounted for it by the old idea of re-birth, and thus linked the three together.

In each Helgi has an hereditary foe Hrodmar, Hunding, or Hadding ; in each his bride is a Valkyrie, who protects him and gives him victory; each ends in tragedy, though differently. The two variants in the Poetic Edda have evident marks of contamination with the Volsung cycle, and some points of superficial resemblance.

But there is no parallel to the essential features of the Volsung cycle, and such likenesses between the two stories as are not accidental are due to the influence of the more favoured legend; this is especially true Page 32 of the names. There is, of course, confusion over the Hunding episode; the saga is obliged to reconcile its conflicting authorities by making Helgi kill Hunding and some of his sons, and Sigurd kill the rest. If the theory stated below as to the original Helgi legend be correct, the feud with Hunding's race, as told in these poems, must be extraneous.

It must not be forgotten that, though he passes out of the Volsung story altogether in the later versions, both Scandinavian and German, he is in the main action in the earliest one that in Beowulf , where even Sigurd does not appear. The feud might easily have been transferred from him to Helgi as well as to Sigurd, for invention is limited as regards episodes, and a narrator who wishes to elaborate the story of a favourite hero is often forced to borrow adventures.

In the original story, Helgi's blood-feud was probably with the kindred of Sigrun or Svava.


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The origin of the Helgi legend must be sought outside of the Volsung cycle. Some writers are of opinion that the name should be Holgi, and there are two stories in which a hero Holgi appears. Page 33 With the legend of Thorgerd Holgabrud, told by Saxo, who identified it with that of Helgi Hundingsbane, it has nothing in common; and the connection which has been sought with the legend of Holger Danske is equally difficult to establish.

The essence of this latter story is the hero's disappearance into fairyland, and the expectation of his return sometime in the future: a motive which has been very fruitful in Irish romance, and in the traditions of Arthur, Tryggvason, and Barbarossa, among countless others.


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The essential feature of the story told in these poems is the motive familiar in that class of ballads of which the Douglas Tragedy is a type: the hero loves the daughter of his enemy's house, her kinsmen kill him, and she dies of grief. This is the story told in both the lays of Helgi Hundingsbane , complete in one, unfinished in the other. No single poem preserves all the incidents of the legend; some survive in one version, some in another, as usual in ballad literature. He spends his childhood disguised in his enemy's household, and on leaving it, sends a message to tell his foes whom they have fostered.

Page 34 They pursue him, and he is obliged, like Gude Wallace in the Scottish ballad, to disguise himself in a bondmaid's dress:.

Gods and Giants: The Poetic Edda

It is a hard fate for a warrior to grind the barley; the sword-hilt is better fitted for those hands than the mill-handle. Sigrun is present at the battle, in which, as in the English and Scottish ballads, Helgi slays all her kindred except one brother. He tells her the fortunes of the fight, and she chooses between lover and kinsmen:.

Thou couldst not hinder the battle: it was thy fate to be a cause of strife to heroes.

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Weep not, Sigrun, thou hast been Hild to us; heroes must meet their fate. The surviving brother, Dag, swears oaths of reconciliation to Helgi, but remembers the feud. The end comes, as in the Norse Sigmund tale, through Odin's interference: he lends his spear to Dag, who stabs Helgi in a grove, and rides home to tell his sister.

Sigrun is inconsolable, and curses the murderer with a rare power and directness: Page May the ship sail not that sails under thee, though a fair wind lie behind. May the horse run not that runs under thee, though thou art fleeing from thy foes. May the sword bite not that thou drawest, unless it sing round thine own head. If thou wert an outlaw in the woods, Helgi's death were avenged Never again while I live, by night or day, shall I sit happy at Sevafell, if I see not the light play on my hero's company, nor the gold-bitted War-breeze run thither with the warrior.

But Helgi returns from the grave, unable to rest because of Sigrun's weeping, and she goes down into the howe with him:. How shall I get thee help, my hero? Thou weepest bitter tears before thou goest to sleep, gold-decked, sunbright, Southern maid; each one falls on my breast, bloody, cold and wet, cruel, heavy with grief I will sleep in thy arms, my warrior, as if thou wert alive.

Like the wife in the English ballad of Earl Brand , and the heroine of the Danish Ribold and Guldborg , Svava refuses, but Hedin's last words seem to imply that he is to return and marry her after avenging Helgi. This would be contrary to all parallels, according to which Svava should die with Helgi. The alternative ending of the Helgi and Kara version is interesting as providing the possible source of another Scottish ballad dealing with the same type of story. In The Cruel Knight , as here, the hero slays his bride, who is of a hostile family, by mistake.

One passage of Helgi Hundingsbane II. The lover's return from the grave is the subject of Clerk Saunders the second part and several other Scottish ballads. The Song of the Mill.

The hero, Frodi, a mythical Page 37 Danish king, is the northern Croesus. His reign was marked by a world-peace, and the peace, the wealth, the liberality of Frodi became proverbial. The motive of his tale is again the curse that follows gold. Frodi possessed two magic quern-stones, from which the grinder could grind out whatever he wished; but he had no one strong enough to turn them until he bought in Sweden two bondmaids of giant-race, Menja and Fenja.

He set them to grind at the quern by day, and by night when all slept, and as they ground him gold, and peace, and prosperity, they sang:. May he sit on wealth, may he sleep on down, may he wake to delight; then the grinding were good. Here shall no man hurt another, prepare evil nor work death, nor hew with the keen sword though he find his brother's slayer bound. Bold were Hrungni and his father, and mightier Thiazi; Idi and Orni were our Page 38 ancestors, from them are we daughters of the mountain-giants sprung We maids wrought mighty deeds, we moved the mountains from their places, we rolled rocks over the court of the giants, so that the earth shook Now we are come to the king's house, meeting no mercy and held in bondage, mud beneath our feet and cold over our heads, we grind the Peace-maker.

It is dreary at Frodi's. As they sang of their wrongs by night, their mood changed, and instead of grinding peace and wealth, they ground war, fire and sword:. I see fire burn at the east of the citadel, the voice of war awakes, the signal is given.

Bibliography

A host will come hither in speed, and burn the hall over the king. A Norseman was rarely content to allow a fortunate ending to any hero, and a continuation of the story therefore makes the mill bring disaster on Mysing also. After slaying Frodi and burning his hall, he took the stones and the bondmaids on board his ship, and bade them grind salt.