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From The Mediaeval Mind, A History of the Development of Thought and Emotion in the Middle Ages, by Henry Osborn Taylor in Two Volumes, Volume I., MacMillan Co., New York, 1911; pp. 138-168.





THERE were intellectual as well as emotional differences between the Celts and Teutons. A certain hard rationality and grasp of fact mark the mentality of the latter. On land or sea they view the situation, realize its opportunities, their own strength, and the opposing odds: with definite and persistent purpose they move, they fight, they labour. The quality of purposefulness becomes clearer as they emerge from the forest obscurity of their origins into the open light of history. To a definite goal of conquest and settlement Theodoric led the Ostrogoths from Moesia westward, and fought his way into Italy. With persistent purposefulness Clovis and his Merovingian successors intrigued and fought. Among Anglo-Saxon pirates the aim of plunder quickly grew to that of conquest. And in times which were to follow, there was purpose in every voyage and battle of the Vikings. The Teutons disclose more strength and persistency of desire than the Celts. Their feelings were slower, less impulsive; also less quickly diverted, more unswerving, even fiercer in their strength. The general characteristic of Teutonic emotion is its close connection with some motive grounded in rational purpose.

Caesar’s short sketch of the Germans1 gives the impression of barbarous peoples, numerous, brave, overweening. They had not reached the agricultural stage, but were devoted to war and hunting. There were no Druids among 139 them. Their bodies were inured to hardship. They lived in robust independence, and were subject to their chiefs only in war. Their fiercest folk, the Suevi, from boyhood would submit neither to labour nor discipline, that their strength and spirit might be unchecked. It was deemed shameful for youth to have to do with women before his twentieth year.

The Roman world knew more about these Germans by the year A.D. 99 when Tacitus composed his Germania. They had scarcely yet turned to agriculture. Respect for women appears clearly. These barbarians are most reluctant to give their maidens as hostages; they listen to their women’s voices and deem that there is something holy and prophetic in their nature. Upon marriage, oxen, a horse, and a shield and lance make up the husband’s morgengabe to his bride: she is to have part in her husband’s valour. Fornication and adultery are rare, the adulteress is ruthlessly punished; men and maidens marry late. The men of the tribe decide important matters, which, however, the chiefs have previously discussed apart. The people sit down armed; the priests proclaim silence; the king or war-leader is listened to, and the assembly is swayed by his persuasion and repute. They dissent with murmurs, or assent brandishing their spears. There is thus participation by the tribe, and yet deference to reputation. This description discloses Teutonic freedom as different from Celtic political unrestraint. Tacitus also speaks of the Germanic Comitatus, consisting of a chief and a band of youths drawn together by his repute, who fight by his side and are disgraced if they survive him dead upon the field. In time of peace they may seek another leader from a tribe at war; for the Germans are impatient of peace and toil, and slothful except when fighting or hunting. They had further traits and customs which are barbaric rather than specifically Teutonic: cruelty and faithlessness toward enemies, feuds, wergeld, drinking bouts, gambling, slavery, absence of testaments.

Between the time of Tacitus and the fifth century many changes came over the Teuton tribes. Early tribal names vanished, while a regrouping into larger and apparently 140 more mobile aggregates took place. The obscure revolutions occurring in Central Europe in the second, third, and fourth centuries do not indicate social progress, but rather retrogression from an almost agricultural state toward states of migratory unrest.2 We have already noted the fortunes of those tribes that helped to barbarize and disrupt the Roman Empire, and lost themselves among the Romance populations of Italy, Gaul, and Spain. We hare here concerned with those that preserved their native speech and qualities, and as Teuton peoples became contributories to the currents of mediaeval evolution.


When the excellent Apollinaris Sidonius, writing in the middle of the fifth century to a young friend about to enter the Roman naval service off the coasts of Gaul, characterized the Saxon pirates as the fiercest and most treacherous of foes, whose way is to dash upon their prey amid the tempest, and for whom shipwreck is a school, he spoke truly, and also illustrated the difference that lies in point of view.3 Fierce they were, and hardy seamen, likewise treacherous in Roman eyes, and insatiate plunderers. From the side of the sea they represented the barbarian disorder threatening the world. The Roman was scarcely interested in the fact that these men kept troth among themselves with energy and sacrifice of life. The Saxons, Angles, Jutes, whose homes ashore lay between the Weser and the Elbe and through Sleswig, Holstein, and Denmark, possessed interesting qualities before they landed in Britain, where under novel circumstances they were to develop their character and institutions with a rapidity that soon raised them above the condition of their kin who had stayed at home. Bands of them had touched Britain before the year 411, when the Roman legions were withdrawn. But it was only with the landing of Hengest and Horsa in 449 that they began to 141 come in conquering force. The Anglo-Saxon conquest of the island went on for two centuries. Information regarding it is of the scantiest; but the Britons seem to have been submerged or driven westward. There is at least no evidence of any friendly mingling of the races. The invaders accepted neither Christianity nor Roman culture from the conquered, and Britain became a heathen England.

While these Teuton peoples were driving through their conquest and also fighting fiercely with each other, their characters and institutions were becoming distinctively Anglo-Saxon. Under stress of ceaseless war, military leaders became hereditary kings, whose powers, at least in intervals of peace, were controlled by the Witan or Council of the Wise, and limited by the jurisdiction of the Hundred Court. Likewise the temporary ties of the Teutonic Comitatus became permanent in the body of king’s companions (thegns, thanes), whose influence was destined to supplant that of the eorls, the older nobility of blood. The Comitatus principle pervades Anglo-Saxon history as well as literature; it runs through the Beowulf epic; Anglo-Saxon Biblical versifiers transfer it to the followers of Abraham and the disciples of Christ; and every child knows the story of Lilla, faithful thegn, who flung himself between his Northumbrian king, Edwin, and the sword of the assassin — the latter sent by a West Saxon king and doubtless one of his faithful thegns. Their law consisted mainly in the graded wergeld for homicide, in an elaborate tariff of compensation for personal injuries, and in penalties for cattle-raiding. Beyond the matter of theft, property law was still unwritten custom, and contract law did not exist. The rules of procedure, for instance in the Hundred Court, were elaborate, as is usual in a primitive society where the substantial rights are simple, and the important thing is to induce the parties to submit to an adjudication. Similar Teutonic customs obtained elsewhere. But the course of their development in Saxon England displays an ever clearer recognition of fundamental principles of English law: justice is public; the parties immediately concerned must bring the case to court and there conduct it according to rules of procedure; the court of freemen hear and determine, 142 but do not extend the inquiry beyond the evidence adduced before them; to interpret and declare the law is the function of the court, not of the king and his officers.4

During these first centuries in England, the Anglo-Saxon endowment of character and faculty becomes clearly shown in events and expressed in literature. A battle-loving people whose joy in fight flashes from their “shield-play” and “sword-game” epithets, even as their fondness for seafaring is seen in such phrases as “wave-floater,” “foam-necked,” “like a swan” breasting the “swan-road” of the sea. But their sword-games and wave-floatings had purpose, a quality that became large and steady as generation after generation, unstopped by fortress, forest, or river, pushed on the conquest of England. When that conquest had been completed, and these Saxons were in turn hard pressed by their Danish kin more lately sailing from the north, their courage still could not be overborne. It is reflected in the overweening mood of Maldon, the poem which is also called The Death of Byrhtnoth. The cold grey scene lies in the north of England. The Viking invaders demand rings of gold; Byrhtnoth, the Alderman of the East Saxons, retorts scornfully. So the fight begins with arrows and spear throwings across the black water. The Saxons hold the ford. The Sea-wolves cannot force it. They call for leave to cross. In his overmood Byrhtnoth answers: “To you this is yielded: come straightway to us; God only wots who shall hold fast the place of battle.” In the bitter end when Byrhtnoth is killed, still speaks his thane: ‘Mind shall the harder be, heart the keener, mood the greater, as our might lessens. Here lies our Elder hewn to death. I am old; I will not go hence. I think to lay me down by the side of my lord.”

The spiritual gifts of the Anglo-Saxons are discernible in their language, which so adequately could render the Bible5 and the phraseology of the Seven Liberal Arts. 143 Its terms were somewhat more concrete and physical than the Latin, but readily lent themselves to figurative meanings. More palpably the poetry with its reflection upon life shows the endowment of the race. Marked is its elegiac mood. In an old poem is heard the voice of one who sails with hapless care the exile’s way, and must forego his dear lord’s gifts: in sleep he kissed him, and again lays hands and head upon those knees, as in times past. Then wakes the friendless man, and sees the ocean’s waves, the gulls spreading their wings, rime and snow falling. More impersonal is the heavy tone of a meditative fragment over the ruins, apparently, of a Roman city:

“Wondrous is this wall-stone,
  fates have broken it,
  have burst the stronghold,
  roofs are fallen,
  towers tottering,
  hoar gate-towers despoiled,
  shattered the battlements,
  riven, fallen.
 .            .            .            .            .

  Earth’s grasp holdeth
  the mighty workmen
  worn away, done for,
  in the hard grip of the grave.”

But the noblest presentation of character in pagan Anglo-Saxon poetry is afforded by the epic poem of Beowulf, which tells the story of a Geatic hero who sets out for Denmark to slay a monster, accomplishes the feat, is nobly rewarded by the Danish king, and returns to rule his people justly for fifty winters, when his valiant and beneficent life ends in a last victorious conflict with a hoard-guarding dragon. Here myth and tradition were not peculiarly Anglo-Saxon; but the finally recast and finished work, noble in diction, sentiment, and action, expresses the highest ethics of Anglo-Saxon heathendom. Beowulf does what he ought to do, heroically; and finds 144 satisfaction and reward. He does not seek his pleasure, though that comes with gold and mead-drinking; consciousness of deeds done bravely and the assurance of fame sweeten death at last.6

A century or more after the composition of this poem, there lived an Anglo-Saxon whose aims were spiritualized through Christianity, whose vigorous mind was broadened by such knowledge and philosophy as his epoch had gathered from antique sources, and whose energies were trained in generalship and the office of a king. He presents a life intrinsically good and true, manifesting itself in warfare against heathen barbarism and in endeavour to rule his people righteously and enlarge their knowledge. Many of the qualities and activities of Alfred had no place in the life of Beowulf. Yet the heathen hero and the Christian king were hewn from the same rock of Saxon manhood. Alfred’s life was established upon principles of right conduct generically the same as those of the poem. But Christianity, experience, contact with learned men, and education through books, had informed him of man’s spiritual nature, and taught him that human welfare depended on knowledge and intent and will. Accordingly, his beneficence does not stop with the armed safe-guarding of his realm, but seeks to compass the instruction of those who should have knowledge in order the better to guide the faith and conduct of the people. “He seems to me a very foolish man and inexcusable, who will not increase his knowledge the while that he is in this world, and always wish and will that he may come to the everlasting life where nothing shall be dark or unknown.”7


In spite of the general Teutonic traits and customs which the Germans east and west of the Rhine possessed in 145 common with the Anglo-Saxons, distinct qualities appear in the one and the other from the moment of our nearer acquaintance with their separate history and literature. So scanty, however, are the literary remains of German heathendom that recourse must be had to Christian productions to discover, for example, that with the Germans the sentiment of home and its dear relationships8 is as marked as the Anglo-Saxon’s elegiac meditative mood. Language bears its witness to the spiritual endowment of both peoples. The German dialects along the Rhine were rich in abstract nouns ending in ung and keit and schaft and tum.9

There remains one piece of untouched German heathenism, the Hildebrandslied, which dates from the end of the eighth century, and may possibly be the sole survivor of a collection of German poems made at Charlemagne’s command.10 It is a tale of single combat between father and son, the counterpart of which is found in the Persian, Irish, and Norse literatures. Such an incident might be diversely rendered; armies might watch their champions engage, or the combat might occur unwitnessed in some mountain gorge; it might be described pathetically or in warrior mood, and the heroes might fight in ignorance, or one of them know well, who was the man confronting him. In German, this story is a part of that huge mass of legend which grew up around the memory of the terrible Hun Attila, and transformed him to the Atli of Norse literature, and to the worthy King Etzel of the Nibelungenlied, at whose Court the flower of Burgundian chivalry went down in that fierce feud in which Etzel had little part. Among his vassal kings appears the mighty exile Dietrich of Bern, who in the Nibelungen reluctantly overcomes the last of the Burgundian heroes. This Dietrich is none other than Theodoric the Ostrogoth, transformed in legend and represented as driven from his kingdom of Italy by Odoacer, and for the time forced to take refuge with 146 Etzel; for the legend was not troubled by the fact that Attila was dead before Theodoric was born. Bern is he name given to Verona, and legend saw Theodoric’s castle in that most beautiful of Roman amphitheatres, where the traveller still may sit and mediate on many things. It is told also that Theodoric recovered his kingdom in the legendary Rabenschlacht fought by Ravenna’s walls. Old Hildebrand was his master-at-arms, who had fled with him. In the Nibelungen it is he that cuts down Kriemhild, Etzel’s queen, before the monarch’s eyes; or he could not endure that a woman’s hand had slain Gunther and Hagen, whom, exhausted at last, Dietrich’s strength had set before her helpless and bound. And now, after years of absence, he has recrossed the mountains with his king come to claim his kingdom, and before the armies he challenges the champion of the opposing host. Here the Old German poem, which is called the Hildebrandslied, takes up the story:

“Hildebrand spoke, the wiser man, and asked as to the other’s father — ‘Or tell me of what race art thou; ’twill be enough; every one in the realm is known to me.’

“Hadubrand spoke, Hildebrand’s son: ‘Our people, the old and knowing of them, tell me Hildebrand was my father’s name; mine is Hadubrand. Aforetime he fled to the east, from Otacher’s hate, fled with Dietrich and his knights. He left wife to mourn, and ungrown child. Dietrich’s need called him. He was always in the front; fighting was dear to him. I do not believe he is alive.’

“ ‘God forbid, from heaven above, that thou shouldst wage fight with so near kin.’ He took from his arm the ring given by the king, lord of the Huns. ‘Lo! I give it thee graciously.’

“Hadubrand spoke: ‘With spear alone a man receives gift, point against point. Too cunning art thou, old Hun. Beguiling me with words thou wouldst thrust me with thy spear. Thou art so old — thou hast a trick in store. Seafaring men have told me Hildebrand is dead.’

“Hildebrand spoke: ‘O mighty God, a drear fate happens. Sixty summers and winters, ever placed by men among the spearmen, I have so borne myself that bane got I never. Now shall my own child smite me with the sword, or I be his death.’ ”

There is a break here in the poem; but the uncontrolled son evidently taunted the father with cowardice. The old warrior cries:


“ ‘Be he the vilest of all the East people who now would refuse thee the fight thou hankerest after. Happen it and show which of us must give up his armour.’ ”

The end fails, but probably the son was slain.

Stubborn and grim appears the Old German character. Point to point shall foes exchange gifts. Such also was the way when a lord made reward; on the spear’s point presenting the arm-ring to him who had served, he accepting it in like fashion, each on his guard perhaps. The Hildesbrandslied exhibits other qualities of the German spirit, as its bluntness and lack of tact; even its clumsiness is evinced in the seventy lines of the poem, which although broken is not a fragment, but a short poem — a ballad graceless and shapeless because of its stiff unvarying lines.

In a later poem, which gives the story of Walter of Aquitaine, the same set and stubborn mood appears, although lightened by rough banter. This legend existed in Old German as well as Anglo-Saxon. In the tenth century, Ekkehart, a monk of St. Gall, freely altering and adding to the tale, made of it the small Latin epic which is extant.11 Monk as he was, he tells a spirited story in his rugged hexameters. He had studied classic authors to good purpose; and his poem of Walter fleeing with his love Hildegund from the Hunnish Court (for the all-pervasive Attila is here also) is vivid, diversified, well-constructed — qualities which may not have been in the story till he remodelled it. Its leading incidents still present German traits. Walter and Hildegund carry off a treasure in their flight; and it is to get this treasure that Gunther urges Hagen (for they are here too) to attack the fugitive. This is Teutonic. It was for plunder that Teuton tribes fought their bravest fights from the time of Alaric and Genseric to the Viking age, and the hoard has a great part in Teutonic story. In the Waltarius Gunther’s driving avarice, Walter’s 148 stubborn defence of his gold are Teutonic. The humour and the banter are more distinctly German, and nobly German is the relationship of trust and honour between Walter and the maiden who is fleeing with him. Yet the story does not revolve around the woman in it, but rather around the shrewdly got and bravely guarded treasure.

German traits obvious to the Hildebrandslied, and strong through the Latin of the Waltarius, evince themselves in the epic of the Niubelungenlied and in the Kudrun, often called its companion piece. The former holds the strength of German manhood and the power of German hate, with the edged energy of speech accompanying it. In the latter, German womanhood is at its best. Both poems, in their extant form, belong to the middle or latter part of the twelfth century, and are not unaffected by influences which were not native German.

The Nibelungenlied is but dimly reminiscent of any bygone love between Siegfried and Brunhilde, and carries within its own narrative a sufficient explanation of Brunhilde’s jealous anger and Siegfried’s death. Kriemhild is left to nurse the wrath which shall never cease to devise vengeance for her husband’s murderers. Years afterwards, Hagen warns Gunther, about to accept Etzel’s invitation, that Kriemhild is lancraeche (long vengeful). The course of that vengeance is told with power; for the constructive soul of a race contributed to this Volksepos. The actors in the tragedy are strikingly drawn and contrasted, and are lifted in true epic fashion above the common stature by intensity of feeling and the power of will to realize through unswerving action the promptings of their natures. The fatefulness of the tale is true to tragic reality, in which the far results of an ill deed involve the innocent with the guilty.

A comparison of the poem with the Hildebrandslied shows that the sense of the pathetic had deepened in the intervening centuries. There is scarcely any pathos in the earlier composition, although its subject is the fatal combat between father and son. But the Nibelungen, with a fiercer hate, can set forth the heroic pathos of the lot of one, who, struggling between fealties, is driven on to dishonour and to death. This is the pathos of the death of Rüdiger, who had 149 received the Burgundians in his castle on their way to Etzel’s Court, had exchanged gifts with them, and betrothed his daughter to the youngest of the three kings. He was as unsuspecting as Etzel of Kriemhild’s plot. But in the end Kriemhild forces him, on his fealty as liegeman, to outrage his heart and honour, and attack those whom he had sheltered and guided onward — to their death.

Not much love in this tale, only hate insatiable. But the greatness of hate may show the passional power of the hating soul. The centuries have raised to high relief the elemental Teutonic qualities of hate, greed, courage and devotion, and human personality has enlarged with the heightened power of will. The reader is affected with admiration and sympathy. First he is drawn to Siegfried’s bright morning courage, his noble masterfulness — his character appears touched with the ideals of chivalry.12 After his death the interest turns to Kriemhild planning for revenge. It may be that sympathy is repelled as her hate draws within its tide so much of guiltlessness and honour; and as the doomed Nibelungen heroes show themselves haughty, strong-handed, and stout-hearted to the end, he cheers them on, and most heartily that grim, consistent Hagen in whom the old German troth and treachery for troth’s sake are incarnate.

The Kudrun13 is a happier story, ending in weddings instead of death. There was no licentiousness or infidelity between man and wife in the Nibelungen, and through all its hate and horror no outrage is done to woman’s honour. That may be taken as the leading theme of the Kudrun. An ardent wooer, to be sure, may seize and carry off the heroine, and his father drag her by the hair on her refusal to wed his son; but her honour, and the honour of all women 150 in the poem, is respected and maintained. The ideal of womanhood is noble throughout: an old king thus bids farewell to his daughter on setting forth to be married: “You shall so wear your crown that I and your mother may never hear that any one hates you. Rich as you are, it would mar your fame to give any occasion for blame.”14

A mediaeval epic may tell of the fortunes of several generations, and the Kudrun devotes a number of books to the heroine’s ancestors, making a half-savage narrative, in which one feels a conflict between ancient barbarities and a newer and more courtly order. When the venturesome wooing and wedded fortune of Kudrun’s mother have been told, the poem turns to its chief heroine, who grows to stately maidenhood, and becomes betrothed to a young king, Herwig. A rejected wooer, the “Norman” Prince Hartmuth, by a sudden descent upon the land in the absence of its defenders, carries off Kudrun and her women by force of arms, and the king, her father, is killed in an abortive attempt to recapture her. In Hartmuth’s castle by the sea Kudrun spends bitter years waiting for her deliverance. His sister, Ortrun, is kind to her, but his mother, Gerlint, treats her shamefully. The maiden is steadfast. Between her and Hartmuth stands a double barrier: his father had killed hers; she was betrothed to Herwig. Hartmuth repels his wicked mother’s advice to force her to his will. In his absence on a foray Gerlint compels Kudrun to do unfitting tasks. Hartmuth, returning, asks her: “Kudrun, fair lady, how has it been with you while I and my knights were away?”

“Here I have been forced to serve, to your sin and my 151 shame,”15 answers Kudrun — a great answer, in its truth and self-control.

After an interval of kind treatment the old “she-wolf” Gerlint sets Kudrun with her faithful Hildeburg to washing clothes in the sea. It is winter; their garments are mean, their feet are naked. They see a boat approaching, in which are Kudrun’s brother Ortwin, and Herwig her betrothed, who had come before their host as spies. A recognition follows. Herwig is for carrying them off; Ortwin forbids it. “With open force they were taken; my hand shall not steal them back”; dear as Kudrun is, he can take her only nâch êren (as becomes his honour). When they have gone, Kudrun throws the clothes to be washed into the sea. “No more will I wash for Gerlint; two kings have kissed me and held me in their arms.”

Kudrun returns to the castle, which soon is stormed. She saves Hartmuth and his sister from the slaughter, an all sail home, where the thought is now of wedding festivals.

Kudrun is married to Herwig; at her advice Ortwin weds Ortrun, and then she thinks of Hartmuth’s plight, and asks her friend Hildeburg whether she will have him for a husband. Hildeburg consents. Kudrun commands that Hartmuth be brought, and bids him be seated by the side of her dear friend “who had washed clothes along with her!”

“Queen, you would reproach me with that. I grieved at the shame they put on you. It was kept from me.”

“I cannot let it pass. I must speak with you alone, Hartmuth.”

“God grant she means well with me,” thought he. She took him aside and spoke: “If you will do as I bid, you will part with your troubles.”

Hartmuth answered: “I know you are so noble that your behest can be only honourable and good. I can find nothing in my heart to keep me from doing your bidding gladly, Queen.”16 The high quality of speech between these two will rarely be outdone.

There is directness and troth in all these German poems. Troth is an ideal which must carry truth within it. The more thoughtful and reflecting German spirit will evince 152 loyalty to truth itself as an ideal. Wolfram’s poem of Parzival has this; and by virtue of this same ideal, Walter von der Vogelweide’s judgments upon life and emperors and popes are whole and steady, unveiling the sham, condemning the lie and defying the liar.17 In them dawns the spirit of Luther and the German Reformation, with its love of truth stronger than its love of art.


Chronologically these last illustrations of German traits belong to the mediaeval time; and in fact the Nibelungenlied and Kudrun, and much more Wolfram’s Parzival and Walter’s poems, are mediaeval, because to some extent affected by that interplay of influences which made the mediaeval genius.18 On the other hand, the almost contemporaneous Norse Sagas and the somewhat older Eddic poems exhibit Teutonic traits in their northern integrity. For the Norse period of free and independent growth continued long after the distinctive barbarism of other Teutons had become mediaevalized. There resulted under the strenuous conditions of Norse life that unique heightening of energy which is manifested in the deeds of the Viking age and reflected in Norse literature.19

This time of extreme activity opens in the eighth century, toward the end of which Viking ravagers began 153 to harry the British isles. St. Cuthbert’s holy island of Lindisfarne was sacked in 793, and similar raids multiplied with portentous rapidity. The coasts of Ireland and Great Britain, and the islands lying about them, were well plundered while the ninth century was young. In Ireland permanent conquests were made near Dublin, at Waterford, and Limerick. The second half of this century witnesses the great Danish Viking invasion of England. On the Continent the Vikings worried the skirts of the Carolingian colossus, and the Lowlands suffered before Charlemagne was in his grave. After his death the trouble began in earnest. Not only the coasts were ravaged, but the river towns trembled, on the Elbe, the Rhine, the Somme, the Seine, the Loire. Paris foiled or succumbed to more than one fierce siege. About the middle of the ninth century the Vikings began to winter where they had plundered in the summer.

The north was ruled by chiefs and petty kings until Harold Fairhair overcame the chiefs of Norway and made himself supreme about the year 870. But he established his power only after great sea-fights, and many of the conquered choosing exile rather than submission, took refuge in the Orkneys, the Faroes, and other islands. Harold pursued with his fleets, and forced them to further flight. It was this exodus from the islands and from Norway in the last years of the ninth century that gave Iceland the greater part of its population. Thither also came other bold spirits from the Norse holdings in Ireland.

While these events were happening in the west, the Scandinavians had not failed to push easterly. Some settled in Russia, by the gulf of Finland, others along the south shore of the Baltic between the Vistula and Oder. So their holdings in the tenth century encircled the north of Europe; for besides Sleswig, Denmark, and Scandinavia, they held the coast of Holland, also Normandy, where Rollo came in 912. Of insular domain, they held Iceland, parts of Scotland, and the islands north and west of it, some bits of Ireland, and much of England. Moreover, Scandinavians filled the Varangian corps of the Byzantine emperors, and old Runic inscriptions are found on marbles at Athens. Their narrow 154 barks traversed the eastern Mediterranean20 long before Norman Roger and Norman Robert conquered Sicily and southern Italy. Such reach of conquest shows them to have been moved by no passion for adventure. Their fierce valour was part of their great capacity for the strategy of war. As pirates, as invaders, as settlers, they dared and fought and fended for a purpose — to get what they wanted, and to hold it fast. When they had mastered the foe and conquered his land, they settled down, in England, Normandy and Sicily.

Such genius for fighting was in accord with shrewdness and industry in peace. The Vikings laboured, whether in Norway or in Iceland. In the Edda the freeman learns to break oxen, till the ground, timber houses, build barns, make carts and ploughs.21 So a tenth-century Viking king may be found in the field directing the cutting and stacking of his corn and the gathering of it into barns. They were also traders and even money-lenders. The Icelanders, whom we know so intimately from the Sagas, went regularly upon voyages of trade or piracy before settling down to farm and wife. Sharp of speech, efficient in affairs, and often adepts in the law, they eagerly took part in the meetings of the Althing and its settlement of suits. If such settlement was rejected, private war or the holmgang (an appointed single combat on a small island) was the regular recourse. But it was murder to kill in the night or without previous notice. Nothing should be said behind an enemy’s back that the speaker would not make good; and every man must keep his plighted word.

Much of the Norse wisdom consists in a shrewd wariness. Contempt for the chattering fool runs through the Edda.22 155 Let a man be chary of speech and in action unflinching. Eddic poetry is full of action; even its didactic pieces are dramatic. The Edda is as hard as steel. In the mythological pieces the action has the ruthlessness of the elements, while the stories of conduct show elemental passions working in elemental strength. The men and women are not rounded and complete; but certain disengaged motives are raised to the Titanic and thrown out with power. Neither present anguish, nor death surely foreseen, checks the course of vengeance for broken faith in those famous Eddic lays of Atli, of Sigurd and Sigrifa, Helgi and Sigrun, Brynhild and Gudrun, out of which the Volsunga Saga was subsequently put together, and to which the Nibelungenlied is kin. They seem to carry the same story, with change of names and incidents. Always the hero’s fate is netted by woman’s vengeance and the curse of the Hoard. But still the women feel most; the men strike, or are struck. Hard and cold grey, with hidden fire, was the temper of these people. Their love was not over-tender, and yet stronger than death: cries Brynhild’s ghost riding hellward, “Men and women will always be born to live in woe. We two, Sigurd and I, shall never part again.” And the power of such love speaks in the deed and word of Sigrun, who answers the ghostly call of slain Helgi from his barrow, and enters it to cast her arms about him there: “I am as glad to meet thee as are the greedy hawks of Odin when they scent the slain. I will kiss thee, my dead king, ere thou cast off thy bloody coat. Thy hair, my Helgi, is thick with rime, thy body is drenched with gory dew, dead-cold are thy hands.”

The characters which appear in large grey traits in the Edda, come nearer to us in the Icelandic Sagas. The Edda has something of a far, unearthly gloom; the Saga the light of day. Saga-folk are extraordinarily individual; men and women are portrayed, body and soul, with homely, telling 156 realism. Nevertheless, within a fuller round of human trait, Eddic qualities endure. There is the same clear purpose and the strong resolve, and still the deed keeps pace with the intent.23

The period which the Sagas would delineate commences when the Norse chiefs sail to Iceland with kith and kin and following to be rid of Harold Fairhair, and lasts for a century or more on through the time of King Olaf Tryggvason who, shield over head, sprang into the sea in the year 1000, and the life of that other Olaf, none too rightly called the Saint, who in 1030 perished in battle fighting against overwhelming odds. Following hard upon this heroic time comes the age of telling of it, telling of it at the midsummer Althing, telling of it at Yuletide feasts, and otherwise through the long winter nights in Iceland. These tellings are the Sagas in process of creation; for a Saga is essentially a tale told by word of mouth to listeners. Thus pass another hundred years of careful telling, memorizing, and retelling of these tales, kept close to the old incidents and deeds, yet ever with a higher truth intruding. They are 157 becoming true to reality itself, in concrete types, and not simply narratives of facts actually occurring — if indeed facts ever occur in any such unequivocal singleness of actuality and with such compelling singleness of meaning, that one man shall not read them in one way and another otherwise. And the more imaginative reading may be the truer.

This century of Saga-growth in memory and word of mouth came to an end, and men began to write them down. For still another hundred years (beginning about 1140) this process lasted. In its nature it was something of a remodelling. As oral tales to be listened to, the Sagas had come to these scribe-authors, and as such the latter wrote them down, yet with such modification as would be involved in writing out for mind and eye and ear that which the ear had heard and the memory retained. In some instances the scribe-author set himself the more ambitious task of casting certain tales together in a single, yet composite story. Such is the Njála, greatest of all Sagas; it may have been written about the year 1220.24

As representative of the Norse personality, the Sagas, 158 like all national literature, bear a twofold testimony: that of their own literary qualities, and that of the characters which they portray. In the first place, a Saga is absolute narrative: it relates deeds, incidents, and sayings, in the manner and order in which they would strike the eye and ear of the listener, did the matter pass before him. The narrator offers no analysis of motives; he inserts no reflections upon characters and situations. He does not even relate the incidents from the vantage-ground of a full knowledge of them, but from the point of view of each instant’s impression upon the participants or onlookers. The result is an objective and vivid presentation of the story. Next, the Sagas are economical of incident as well as language. That incident is told which the story needs for the presentation of the hero’s career; those circumstances are given which the incident needs in order that its significance may be perceived; such sayings of the actors are related as reveal most in fewest words. There is nothing more extraordinary in these stories than the significance of the small incident, and the extent of revelation carried by a terse remark.

For example, in the Gisli Saga, Gisli has gone out in the winter night to the house of his brother Thorkel, with whom he is on good terms, and there has slain Thorkel’s wife’s brother in his bed. In the darkness and confusion he escapes unrecognized, gets back to his own house and into bed, where he lies as if asleep. At daybreak the dead man’s friends come packing to Gisli’s farm:

“Now they come to the farm, Thorkel and Eyjolf, and go up to the shut-bed where Gisli and his wife slept; but Thorkel, Gisli’s brother, stepped up first on to the floor and stands at the side of the bed, and sees Gisli’s shoes lying all frozen and snowy. He kicked them under the foot-board, so that no other man should see them.”25

This little incident of the shoes not only shows how near was Gisli to detection and death, but also discloses the way in which Thorkel meant to act and did act toward his brother: to wit, shield him so long as it might be done without exposing himself.


Another illustration. The Njáls Saga opens with a sketch of the girl Hallgerda, so drawn that it presages most of the trouble in the story. There were two well-to-do brothers, Hauskuld and Hrut:

“It happened once that Hauskuld bade his friends to a feast, and his brother Hrut was there, and sat next to him. Hauskuld had a daughter named Hallgerda, who was playing on the floor with some other girls. She was fair of face and tall of growth, and her hair was as soft as silk; it was so long, too, that it came down to her waist. Hauskuld called out to her, ‘Come hither to me, daughter.’ So she went up to him, and he took her by the chin and kissed her; after that she went away. Then Hauskuld said to Hrut, ‘What dost thou think of this maiden? Is she not fair?’ Hurt held his peace. Hauskuld said the same thing to him a second time, and then Hrut answered, ‘Fair enough I this maid, and many will smart for it; but this I know not, whence thief’s eyes have come into our race.’ Then Hauskuld was wroth, and for a time the brothers saw little of each other.”26

The picture of Hallgerda will never leave the reader’s mind throughout the story, of which she is the evil genius. It is after she has caused the death of her first husband and is sought by a second, that she is sent for by her father to ask what her mind may be:

“Then they sent for Hallgerda, and she came thither, and two women with her. She had on a cloak of rich blue wool, and under it a scarlet kirtle, and a silver girdle round her waist; but her hair came down on both sides of her bosom, and she had turned the locks up under her girdle. She sat down between Hrut and her father, and she greeted them all with kind words, and spoke well and boldly, and asked what was the news. After that she ceased speaking.”

This is the woman that the girl has grown to be; and she is still at the beginning of her mischief. Such narrative art discloses both in the tale-teller and the audience an intelligence which sees the essential fact and is impatient of encumbrance. It is the same intelligence that made these Vikings so efficient in war, and in peace quick to seize cogent means.

Truthfulness is another quality of the Sagas. Indeed their respect for historical or biographical fact sometimes 160 hindered the evolution of a perfect story. They hesitated to omit or alter well-remembered incidents. Nevertheless a certain remodelling came, as generation after generation of narrators made the incidents more striking and the characters more marked, and, under the exigencies of story-telling, omitted details which, although actual, were irrelevant to the current of the story. The disadvantages from truthfulness were slight, compared with the admirable artistic qualities preserved by it. It kept the stories true to reality, excluding unreality, exaggeration, absurdity. Hence these Sagas are convincing: no reader can withhold belief. They contain no incredible incidents. On occasions they tell of portents, prescience, and second sight, but not so as to raise a smile. They relate a very few encounters with trolls — the hideous, unlaid, still embodied dead. But those accounts conform to the hard-wrung superstitions of a people not given to credulity. So they are real. The reality of Grettir’s night-wrestling with Glam, the troll, is hardly to be matched.27 Truthfulness likewise characterizes their heroes: no man lies about his deeds, and no man’s word is doubted.

While the Saga-folk include no cowards or men of petty manners, there is still great diversity of character among them. Some are lazy and some industrious, some quarrelsome and some good-natured, some dangerous, some forbearing, gloomy or cheerful, open-minded or biassed, shrewd or stupid, generous or avaricious. Such contrasts of character abound both in the Sagas of Icelandic life and those which handle the broader matter of history. One may note in the Heimskringla28 of the Kings of Norway the contrasted characters of the kings Olaf Tryggvason and St. Olaf. The latter appears as a hard-working, canny ruler, a lover of 161 order, a legislator and enforcer of the laws; in person, short, thick-set, carrying his head a little bent. A Viking had he been, and was a fighter, till he fell in his last great battle undaunted by odds.

But the other Olaf, Norway’s darling hero, is epic: tall, golden-haired, peerless from his boyhood, beloved and hated. His marvellous physical masteries are told, his cliff-climbing, his walking on the sweeping oars keeping three war-axes tossing in the air. He smote well with either hand and cast two spears at once. He was the gladdest and gamesomest of men, kind and lowly-hearted, eager in all matters, bountiful of gifts, glorious of attire, before all men for high heart in battle, and grimmest of all men in his wrath; marvellous great pains he laid upon his foes. “No man durst gainsay him, and all the land was christened wheresoever he came.” Five short years made up his reign. At the end, neither he was broken nor his power. But a plot, moved by the hatred of a spurned heathen queen, delivered him to unequal combat with his enemies, the Kings of Denmark and Sweden, and Eric the great Viking Earl.

Olaf is sailing home from Wendland. The hostile fleet crouches behind an island. Sundry of Olaf’s ships pass by. Then the kings spy a great ship sailing — that will be Olaf’s Long Worm they say; Eric says no. Anon come four ships, and a great dragon amid them — the Long Worm ? not yet. At last she comes, greatest and bravest of all, and Olaf in her, standing on the poop, with gilded shield and golden helm and a red kirtle over his mail coat. His men bade to sail on, and not fight so great a host; but Olaf said, “Never have I fled from battle.” So Olaf’s ships are lashed in line, at the centre the Long Worm, its prow forward of the others because of her greater length. Olaf would have it thus in spite of the “windy weather in the bows” predicted by her captain. The enemies’ ships close around them. Olaf’s grapplings are too much for the Danes; they draw back. Their places are taken by the ships of Sweden. They fare no better. At last Earl Eric lays fast his iron-beaks to Olaf’s ships; Danes and Swedes take courage and return. It is hand to hand now, the ships laid aboard of each other.


At last all of Olaf’s ships are cleared of men and cut adrift, save the Long Worm. There fight Olaf’s chosen, mad with battle. Einar, Olaf’s strong bowman, from the Worm aft in the main hold, shot at Earl Eric; one arrow pierced the tiller by his head, the second flew beneath his arm. Says the Earl to Finn, his bowman, “Shoot me yonder big man.” Finn shot, and the arrow struck full upon Einar’s bow as he was drawing it the third time, and it broke in the middle.

“What broke there so loud?” said Olaf.

“Norway, king, from thine hands,” answered Einar.

“No such crash as that,” said the king; “take my bow and shoot.”

But the foeman’s strength was overpowering. Olaf’s men were cut down amidships. They hardly held the poop and bow. Earl Eric leads the boarders. The ship is full of foes. Olaf will not be taken. He leaps overboard. About the ship swarm boats to seize him; but he threw his shield over his head and sank quickly in the sea.

The private Sagas construct in powerful lines the characters of the heroes from the stories of their lives. A great example is the Saga of Egil,29 whose father was a Norse chief who had sailed to Iceland, where Egil was born. As a child he was moody, intractable, and dangerous, and once killed an older lad who had got the better of him at ball playing. There was no great love between him and his father. When he was twelve years old his father used him roughly. He entered the great hall and walked up to his father’s steward and slew him. Then he went to his seat. After that, father and son said little to each other. The boy was bent on going cruising with his older brother, Thorolf. The father yields, and Egil goes a-harrying. Fierce is his course in Norway, where they come. On the sea his vessel bears him from deed to deed of blood and daring. His strength won him booty and reward; he won a friend too, Arinbjorn, and there was always troth between them.

Thorolf and Egil took service with King Athelstane, who was threatened with attack from the King of the Scots. 163 The brothers led the Vikings in Athelstane’s force. In the battle Thorolf loses his life; but Egil hears the shout when Thorolf falls. His furious valour wins the day for Athelstane. After the fight he buries his brother and sings staves over his grave.

“Then went Egil and those about him to seek King Athelstan, and at once went before the king, where he sat at the drinking. There was much noise of merriment. And when the king saw that Egil was come in, he bade the lower bench be cleared for them, and that Egil should sit in the high-seat facing the king. Egil sat down there, and cast his shield before his feet. He had his helm on his head, and laid his sword across his knees; and now and again he half drew it, and then clashed it back into the sheath. He sat upright, but with head bent forward. Egil was large-featured, broad of forehead, with large eye-brows, a nose not long but very thick, lips wide and long, chin exceeding broad, as was all about the jaws; thick-necked was he, and big-shouldered beyond other men, hard-featured, and grim when angry. He would not drink now, though the horn was borne to him, but alternately twitched his brows up and down. King Athelstan sat in the upper high-seat. He too laid his sword across his knees. When they had sat there for a time, then the king drew his sword from the sheath, and took from his arm a gold ring large and good, and placing it upon the sword-point he stood up, and went across the floor, and reached it over the fire to Egil. Egil stood up and drew his sword, and went across the floor. He stuck the sword-point within the round of the ring, and drew it to him; then he went back to his place. The king sate him again in his high-seat. But when Egil was set down, he drew the ring on his arm, and then his brows went back to their place. He now laid down sword and helm, took the horn that they bare to him, and drank it off. Then sang he:

‘Mailed monarch, god of battle,
Maketh the tinkling circlet
Hang, his own arm forsaking,
         On hawk-trod wrist of mine.
I bear on arm brand-wielding
Bracelet of red gold gladly.
War-falcon’s feeder meetly <
         Findeth such meed of praise.’

“Therearefter Egil drank his share, and talked with others. Presently the king caused to be borne in two chests; two men bare each. Both were full of silver. The king said: ‘These chests, Egil, thou shalt have, and, if thou comest to Iceland, shalt carry this money to thy father; as payment for a son I send it to 164 him: but some of the money thou shalt divide among such kinsmen of thyself and Thorolf as thou thinkest most honourable. But thou shalt take here payment for a brother with me, land or chattels, which thou wilt. And if thou wilt abide with me long, then will I give thee honour and dignity such as thyself mayst name.’

“Egil took the money, and thanked the king for his gifts and friendly words. Thenceforward Egil began to be cheerful; and then he sang:

‘In sorrow sadly drooping
Sank my brows close-knitted;
Then found I one who furrows
         Of forehead could smooth.
Fierce-frowning cliffs that shaded
My face a king hath lifted
With gleam of golden armlet:
         Gloom leaveth my eyes.’ ”

Like many of his kind in Iceland and Norway, this fierce man was a poet. Once he saved his life by a poem, and poems he had made as gifts. It was when the old Viking’s life was drawing to its close at his home in Iceland that he composed his most moving lay. His beautiful son was drowned. After the burial Egil rode home, went to his bed-closet, lay down and shut himself in, none daring to speak to him. There he lay, silent, for a day and a night. At last his daughter knocks and speaks; he opens. She enters and beguiles him with her devotion. After a while the old man takes food. And at last she prevails on him to make a poem on his son’s death, and assuage his grief. So the son begins, and at length rises clear and strong — perhaps the most heart-breaking of all old Norse poems.30

In the portrayal of contrasted characters no other Saga can equal the great Njála, a Saga large and complex, and doubtless composite; for it seems put together out of three stories, in all of which figured the just Njal, although he is the chief personage in only one of them. The story, with its multitude of personages and threefold subject-matter, lacks unity perhaps. Yet the different parts of the Saga 165 successively hold the attention. In the first part, the incomparable Gunnar is the hero; in the second, Njal and his sons engage our interest in their varied characters and common fate. These are great narratives. The third part is perhaps epigonic, excellent and yet an aftermath. Only a reading of this Saga can bring any realization of its power of narrative and character delineation. Its chief personages are clear as the day. Once can almost see the sunlight of Gunnar’s open brow, and certainly can feel his manly heart. The foil against which he is set off is his friend Njal, equally good, utterly different: unwarlike, wise in counsel, a great lawyer, truthful, just, shrewd and foreseeing. Hallgerda, of the long silken hair, is Gunnar’s wife; she has caused the deaths of two husbands already, and will yet prove Gunnar’s bane. Little time passes before she is the enemy of Njal’s high-minded spouse, Bergthora. Then Hallgerda beginning, Bergthora following quick, the two push on their quarrel, instigating in counter-vengeance alternate manslayings, each one a little nearer to the heart and honor of Gunnar and Njal. Yet their friendship is unshaken. For every killing the one atones with the other; and the same blood-money passes to and fro between them.

Gunnar’s friendship with the pacific Njal and his warlike sons endured till Gunnar’s death. That came from enmities first stirred by the thieving of Hallgerda’s thieving thrall. She had ordered it, and in shame Gunnar gave her a slap in the face, the sole act of irritation recorded of this generous, forbearing, peerless Viking, who once remarked: “I would like to know whether I am by so much the less brisk and bold than other men, because I think more of killing men than they?” At a meeting of the Althing he was badgered by his ill-wishers into entering his stallion for a horse-fight, a kind of contest usually ending in a man-fight. Skarphedinn, the most masterful of Njal’s sons, offered to handle Gunnar’s horse for him:

“Wilt thou that I drive thy horse, kinsman Gunnar?”

“I will not have that,” says Gunnar.

“It wouldn’t be amiss, though,” says Skarphedinn; “we are hot-headed on both sides.”

“Ye would say or do little,” says Gunnar, “before a 166 quarrel would spring up; but with me it will take longer, though it will be all the same in the end.”

Naturally the contest ends in trouble. Gunnar’s beaten and enraged opponent seizes his weapons, but is stopped by bystanders. “This crowd wearies me,” said Skarphedinn; “it is far more manly that men should fight it out with weapons.” Gunnar remained quiet, the best swordsman and bowman of them all. But his enemies fatuously pushed on the quarrel; once they rode over him working in the field. So at last he fought, and killed many of them. Then came the suits for slaying, at the Althing. Njal is Gunnar’s counsellor, and atonements are made: Gunnar is to go abroad for three winters, and unless he go, he may be slain by the kinsmen of those he has killed. Gunnar said nothing. Njal adjured him solemnly to go on that journey: “Thou wilt come back with great glory, and live to be an old man, and no man here will then tread on thy heel; but if thou dost not fare away, and so breakest thy atonement, then thou wilt be slain here in the land, and that is ill knowing for those who are thy friends.”

Gunnar said he had no mind to break the atonement, and rode home. A ship is made ready, and Gunnar’s gear is brought down. He rides around and bids farewell to his friends, thanking them for the help they had given him, and returns to his house. The next day he embraces the members of his household, leaps into the saddle, and rides away. But as he is riding down to the sea, his horse trips and throws him. He springs from the ground, and says with his face to the Lithe, his home: “Fair is the Lithe; so fair that it has never seemed to me so fair; the cornfields are white to harvest, and the home meed is mown; and now I will ride back home, and not fare abroad at all.”

So he turns back — to his fate. The following summer at the Althing, his enemies give notice of his outlawry. Njal rides to Gunnar’s home, tells him of it, and offers his sons’ aid, to come and dwell with him: “They will lay down their lives for thy life.”

“I will not,” says Gunnar, “that thy sons should be slain for my sake, and thou hast a right to look for other things from me.”


Njal rode to his home, while Gunnar’s enemies gathered and moved secretly to his house. His hound, struck down with an axe, gives a great howl and expires. Gunnar awoke in his hall, and said: Thou hast been sorely treated, Sam, my fosterling, and this warning is so meant that our two deaths will not be far apart.” Single-handed, the beset chieftain maintains himself within, killing two of his enemies and wounding eight. At last, wounded, and with his bowstring cut, he turns to his wife Hallgerda: “Give me two locks of thy hair, and do thou and my mother twist them into a bowstring for me.”

“Does aught lie on it?” she says.

“My life lies on it,” he said; “for they will never come to close quarters with me if I can keep them off with my bow.”

“Well,” she says, “now I will call to thy mind that slap on the face which thou gavest me; and I care never a whit whether thou holdest out a long while or a short.”

Then Gunnar sang a stave, and said, “Every one has something to boast of, and I will ask thee no more for this.” He fought on till spent with wounds, and at last they killed him.

Here the Njála may be left with its good men and true and its evil plotters, all so differently shown. It has still to tell the story and fate of Njal’s unbending sons, of Njal himself and his high-tempered dame, who will abide with her spouse in their burning house, which enemies have surrounded and set on fire to destroy those sons. Njal himself was offered safety if he would come out, but he would not.

Perhaps we have been beguiled by their unique literary qualities into dwelling overlong upon the Sagas. These Norse compositions belong to the Middle Ages only in time; for they were uninfluenced either by Christianity or the antique culture, the formative elements of mediaeval development. They are interesting in their aloofness, and also important for our mediaeval theme, because they were the ultimate as well as the most admirable expression of the native Teutonic genius as yet integral, but destined to have mighty part in the composite course of mediaeval growth. 168 More specifically they are the voice of that falcon race which came from the Norseland to stock England with fresh strains of Danish blood, to conquer Normandy, and give new courage to the Celtic-German-Frenchmen, and thence went on to bring its hardihood, war cunning, and keen statecraft to southern Italy and Sicily. In all these countries the Norse nature, supple and pliant, accepted the gifts of new experience, and in return imparted strength of purpose to peoples with whom the Norsemen mingled in marriage as well as war.

This chapter has shown Teutonic faculties still integral and unmodified by Latin Christian influence. Their participation in the processes of mediaeval development will be seen as Anglo-Saxons and Germans become converted to Latin Christianity, and apply themselves to the study of the profane Latinity, to which it opened the way.



1  B.G. iv. 1-3; vi. 21-28. For convenience I use the word Teuton as the general term and German as relating to the Teutons of the lands still known as German. But with reference to the times of Caesar and Tacitus the latter word must be taken generally.

2  These views are set forth brilliantly, but with exaggeration, by Fustel de Coulanges, in L’Invasion germanique, vol. ii. of his Institutions politiques, etc. (revised edition, Paris, 1891).

3  Apoll. Sid. Epist. viii. 6 (Migne, Pat. Lat. 58, col. 697)

4  See Pollock and Maitland, History of English Law; and Pollock, English Law before the Norman Conquest, Law Quarterly Review.

5  The ancient Anglo-Saxon version is Anglo-Saxon through and through. The considerable store of Latin (or Greek) words retained by the “authorized” English version (for example, Scripture, Testament, Genesis, Exodus, etc., prophet, evangelist, religion, conversion, adoption, temptation, redemption, salvation, and damnation) were all translated into sheer Anglo-Saxon. See Toller, Outlines of the History of the English Language (Macmillan & Co., 1900), pp. 90-101. Some hundreds of years before, Ulfilas’s fourth century Gothic translation had shown a Teutonic tongue capable of rendering the thought of the Pauline epistles.

6  See the “Beowulf” translated in Gummere’s Oldest English Epic (Macmillan & Co., 1909).

7  This is the closing sentence of Alfred’s Blossoms, culled from divers sources. Hereafter (Chapter IX.) when speaking of the introduction of antique and Christian culture there will be occasion to not more specifically what Alfred accomplished in his attempt to increase knowledge throughout his kingdom.

[Alfred’s Blossoms are more commonly known under the name of Blooms. — Elf.Ed.]

8  See e.g. in Otfried’s Evangelienbuch, post, Chapter IX.

9  For example: skidunga (Scheidung), saligheit (Seligkeit), fiantscaft (Feindschaft), heidantuom (Heidentum). By the eighth century the High German of the Bavarians and Alemanni began to separate from the Low German of the lower Rhine, spoken by Saxons and certain of the Franks. The greater part of the Frankish tribes, and the Thuringians, occupied intermediate sections of country and spoke dialects midway between Low German and High.

10  Text in Piper’s Die älteste Literatur (Deutsche National Lit.).

41  On the Waltari poem, see Ebert, Allemeine Gesch. Der Literatur des Mittelalters, Bd. iii. 264-276; also K. Strecker, “Probleme in der Walthariusforschung,” Neue Jahrbücher für klass. Altertumsgesch. und Deutsche Literatur, 2te Jahrgang (Leipzig, 1899), pp. 573-594, 629-645. The author is called Ekkehart I. (d. 973), being the first of the celebrated monks bearing that name at St. Gall. The poem is edited by Peiper (Berlin, 1873), and by Scheffel and Holder (Stuttgart, 1874); it is translated into German by the latter, by San Marte (Magdeburg, 1853), and by Althof (Leipzig, 1902).

12  The description of Siegfried’s love for Kriemhild is just touched by the chivalric love, which exists in Wolfram’s Parzival, in Gottfried’s Tristan, and of course in their French models. See post, Chapter XXIII. For example, as he first sees her who was to be to him “beide lieb und leit,” he becomes “bleich unde rôt”; and at her greeting, his spirit is lifted up: “dô wart im von dem gruoze vil wol gehoehét der muot.” And the scene is laid in May (Nibelungenlied, Aventiure V., stanzas 284, 285, 292, 295).

13  A convenient edition of the Kudrun is Pfeiffer’s in Deutsche Klassiker des Mittelalters (Leipzig, 1880). Under the name of Gudrun it is translated into modern German by Simrock, and into English by M. P. Nichols (Boston, 1899).

14  Kudrun, viii. 558. Whatever may have been the facts of German life in the Middle Ages, the literature shows respect for marriage and woman’s virtue. This remark applies not only to those works of the Middle High German tongue which are occupied with themes of Teutonic origin, but also to those — Wolfram’s Parzival, for example — whose foreign themes do not force the poet to magnify adulterous love. When, however, that is the theme of the story, the German writers, as in Gottfried’s Tristan, does not fail to do it justice.

Willmans, in his Leben und Dichtung Walthers von der Vogelweide (Bonn, 1882), note 1a on page 328, cites a number of passages from Middle High German works on the serious regard for marriage held by the Germans. Even the German minnesingers sometimes felt the contradiction between the broken marriage vow and the ennobling nature of chivalric love. See Willmans, ibid. p. 162 and note 7.

15  Kudrun, xx. 1013.

16  Kudrun, xxx. 1632 sqq.

17  As to the Parzival, and Walter’s poems, see post, Chapters XXIV, XXVI.

18  Ante, Chapter I.

19  It is not known when Teutons first entered Denmark and the Scandinavian peninsula. Although non-Teutonic populations may have preceded them, the archaeological remains do not point clearly to a succession of races, while they do indicate ages of stone, bronze, and iron (Sophus Müller, Nordische Altertumskunde). The bronze ages began in the Northlands a thousand years or more before Christ. In course of time, beautiful bronze weapons show what skill the race acquired in working metals not found in Scandinavia, but perhaps brought there in exchange for the amber of the Baltic shores. The use of iron (native to Scandinavia) begins about 500 B.C. A progressive facility in its treatment is evinced down to the Christian Era. Then a foreign influence appears — Rome. For Roman wares entered these countries where the legionaries never set foot, and native handicraft copied Roman models until the fourth century, when northern styles reassert themselves. The Scandinavians themselves were unaffected by Roman wares; but after the fifth century they began to profit from their intercourse with Anglo-Saxons and Irish.

20  It is said that some twenty-five thousand Arabian coins, mostly of the Viking periods, have been found in Sweden.

21  See Vigfusson and Powell, Corpus poeticum Boreale, i. 238.

22  There is much controversy as to the date (the Viking Age?) and place of origin (Norway, the Western Isles, or Iceland?) of the older Eddic poems; also as to the presence of Christian elements. The last are denied by Müllenhof (Deutsche Altertumskunde, Bd. v., 1891) and others; while Bugge finds them throughout the whole Viking mythology (Home of the Eddic Poems. London, D. Nutt, 1899), and Chr. Bang has endeavoured to prove that the Voluspa, the chief Eddic mythological poem was an imitation of the Christian Sibyl’s oracles (Christiania Videnskabsselskabs Forhanlinger, 1879, No. 9; Müllenhoff, o.c. Bd. v. p. 3 sqq.). Similar views are held in Vigfusson and Powell’s Corpus poeticum Boreale (i. ci.-cvii. And 427). These scholars find Celtic influences in the Eddic poems. The whole controversy is still far from settlement.

As for English translations of the Edda, that by B. Thorpe (Edda Sæmunder) is difficult to obtain. Those of the Corpus poeticum Boreale are literal; but the phraseology of the renderings of the mythological poems is shaped to the theory of Christian influence. A recent translation (1909) is that of Olive Bray (Viking Club), The Elder or Poetic Edda, Part I. The Mythological Poems.

23  The best account of the Sagas, in English, is the Prolegomena to Vigfusson’s edition of the Sturlunga Saga (Clarendon Press, 1878). Dasent’s Introduction to his translation of the Njáls Saga (Edinburgh, 1861) is instructive as to the conditions of life in Iceland in the early times. W. P. Ker’s Epic and Romance (Macmillan & Co., 1897) has elaborate literary criticism upon the Sagas. The following is Vigfusson’s: “The Saga proper is a kind of prose Epic. It has its fixed laws, its set phrases, its regular epithets and terms of expression, and though there is, as in all high literary form, an endless diversity of interest and style, yet there are also bounds which are never over-stepped, confining the Sagas as closely as the employment and restrictions of verse could do. It will be best to take as the type the smaller Icelandic Saga, from which indeed all the later forms of composition have sprung. This is, in its original form, the story of the life of an Icelandic gentleman, living some time in the tenth or eleventh centuries. It will tell first of his kin, going back to the settler from whom he sprung, then of his youth and early promise before he left his father’s house to set forth on that foreign career which was the fitting education of the young Northern chief. These wanderjahre passed in trading voyages and pirate cruises, or in the service of one of the Scandinavian kings, as poet or henchman, the hero returns to Iceland a proved man, and the main part of the story thus preluded begins. It recounts in fuller detail and in order of time his friendships and enmities, his exploits and renown, and finally his death; usually concluding with the revenge taken for him by his kinsmen, which fitly winds up the whole. This tale is told in an earnest, straightforward way, as by a man talking, in short simple sentences, changing when the interest grows into the historic present, with here and there an ‘aside’ of explanation put in. . . . The whole composition, grouped around a single man and a single place, is so well balanced and so naturally unfolded piece by piece, that the great art shown therein often at first escapes the reader.”

24  The Story of Burnt Njal (Njál’s Saga or Njála), trans. by Dasent (2 vols. Edinburgh, 1861). A prose narrative interspersed with occasional lyric verses is the form which the Icelandic Sagas have in common with the Irish. In view of the mutual intercourse and undoubted mingling of Norse and Celtic blood both in Ireland and Iceland, it is probable that the Norse Saga-form was taken from the Irish. But, except in the Laxdæla Saga (trans. by Mrs. Press in the Temple Classics, Dent, 1899), one seems to find no Celtic strain. The Sagas are the prose complement of the poetic Edda. Both are Norse absolutely: fruit of one spirit, part of one literature, a possession of one people. As to racial purity of blood in their authors and fashioners, or in the men of whom the tales are told, that is another matter. Who shall say that Celtic blood and inherited Celtic gifts of expression were not the leaven of this Norse literature? But whatever entered into it and helped to create it, became Norse just as vitally as, ages before, every foreign suggestion adopted by a certain gifted Mediterranean race was Hellenized, and became Greek. In Iceland, in the Orkneys, and the Faroes, Viking conditions, the Viking spirit, and Norse blood, dominated, assimilating, transforming and doubtless using whatever talents and capacities came within the vortex of Viking life.

It may be added that there is merely an accidental likeness between the Saga and the Cantafable. In the Saga the verses are the utterances of the heroes when specially moved. One may make a verse as a short death-song when his death is imminent, or as a gibe on an enemy, whom he is about to attack. In the Cantafable — Aucassin and Nicolette, for example — the verses are a lyric summary of the parts of the narrative following them, and are not spoken by the dramatis personae. The Cantafable (but not the Saga) perhaps may be traced back to such a work as Boëthius’s De consolatione, which at least is identical in form, or Capella’s De nuptiis Philologiae et Mercurii. The De planctu naturae of Alanus de Insulis (post, Chapter XXXII. 1) plainly shows such antecedents.

25  Story of Gisli the outlaw, trans. by Dasent, chap. ix. (Edinburgh, 1866).

26  The Story of Burnt Njal, chap. i., trans. by Dasent.

27  The Story of Grettir the Strong (Grettis Saga), chaps. 32-35, trans. by Magnusson and Morris (London, 1869). See also ibid. chaps. 65, 66. These accounts are analogous to the story of Beowulf’s fights with Grendal and his dam; but are more convincing.

28  The stories of the Kings of Norway, called the Round World (Heimskringla), by Snorri Sturluson, done into English by Magnusson and Morris (London, 1893). Snorri Sturluson (b. 1178, d. 1241) composed or put together the Heimskringla from earlier writings, chiefly those of Ari the Historian (b. 1067, d. 1148), “a man of truthfulness, wisdom, and good memory,” who wrote largely from oral accounts.

29  The Story of Egil Skallagrimson, trans. by W. C. Green (London, 1893).

30  These poems are in the Saga, and will be found translated in Mr. Green’s edition. They are also edited with prose translations in C. P. B., vol. i. pp. 266-280. With Egil one may compare the still more truculent, but very different Grettir, hero of the Grettis Saga. The Story of Grettir the Strong, trans. By Magnusson and Morris (2nd ed., London, 1869).


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