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Title: Epic and Romance - Essays on Medieval Literature
Author: Ker, W. P.
Language: English
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Essays on Medieval Literature



Fellow of All Souls College, Oxford
Professor of English Literature in University College

MacMillan and Co., Limited
St. Martin's Street, London
First Edition (8vo) 1896
Second Edition (Eversley Series) 1908
Reprinted (Crown 8vo) 1922, 1926, 1931

Printed in Great Britain
By R. & R. Clark, Limited, Edinburgh


These essays are intended as a general description of some of the
principal forms of narrative literature in the Middle Ages, and as a
review of some of the more interesting works in each period. It is
hardly necessary to say that the conclusion is one "in which nothing
is concluded," and that whole tracts of literature have been barely
touched on--the English metrical romances, the Middle High German
poems, the ballads, Northern and Southern--which would require to be
considered in any systematic treatment of this part of history.

Many serious difficulties have been evaded (in _Finnesburh_, more
particularly), and many things have been taken for granted, too
easily. My apology must be that there seemed to be certain results
available for criticism, apart from the more strict and scientific
procedure which is required to solve the more difficult problems of
_Beowulf_, or of the old Northern or the old French poetry. It is
hoped that something may be gained by a less minute and exacting
consideration of the whole field, and by an attempt to bring the more
distant and dissociated parts of the subject into relation with one
another, in one view.

Some of these notes have been already used, in a course of three
lectures at the Royal Institution, in March 1892, on "the Progress of
Romance in the Middle Ages," and in lectures given at University
College and elsewhere. The plot of the Dutch romance of _Walewein_ was
discussed in a paper submitted to the Folk-Lore Society two years ago,
and published in the journal of the Society (_Folk-Lore_, vol. v. p.

I am greatly indebted to my friend Mr. Paget Toynbee for his help in
reading the proofs.

I cannot put out on this venture without acknowledgment of my
obligation to two scholars, who have had nothing to do with my
employment of all that I have borrowed from them, the Oxford editors
of the Old Northern Poetry, Dr. Gudbrand Vigfusson and Mr. York
Powell. I have still to learn what Mr. York Powell thinks of these
discourses. What Gudbrand Vigfusson would have thought I cannot guess,
but I am glad to remember the wise goodwill which he was always ready
to give, with so much else from the resources of his learning and his
judgment, to those who applied to him for advice.

W. P. KER.

LONDON, _4th November 1896_.


This book is now reprinted without addition or change, except in a few
small details. If it had to be written over again, many things, no
doubt, would be expressed in a different way. For example, after some
time happily spent in reading the Danish and other ballads, I am
inclined to make rather less of the interval between the ballads and
the earlier heroic poems, and I have learned (especially from Dr. Axel
Olrik) that the Danish ballads do not belong originally to simple
rustic people, but to the Danish gentry in the Middle Ages. Also the
comparison of Sturla's Icelandic and Norwegian histories, though it
still seems to me right in the main, is driven a little too far; it
hardly does enough justice to the beauty of the _Life of Hacon_
(_Hákonar Saga_), especially in the part dealing with the rivalry of
the King and his father-in-law Duke Skule. The critical problems with
regard to the writings of Sturla are more difficult than I imagined,
and I am glad to have this opportunity of referring, with admiration,
to the work of my friend Dr. Björn Magnússon Olsen on the _Sturlunga
Saga_ (in _Safn til Sögu Islands_, iii. pp. 193-510, Copenhagen,
1897). Though I am unable to go further into that debatable ground, I
must not pass over Dr. Olsen's argument showing that the life of the
original Sturla of Hvamm (_v. inf._ pp. 253-256) was written by Snorri
himself; the story of the alarm and pursuit (p. 255) came from the
recollections of Gudny, Snorri's mother.

In the _Chansons de Geste_ a great discovery has been made since my
essay was written; the _Chançun de Willame_, an earlier and ruder
version of the epic of _Aliscans_, has been printed by the unknown
possessor of the manuscript, and generously given to a number of
students who have good reason to be grateful to him for his
liberality. There are some notes on the poem in _Romania_ (vols.
xxxii. and xxxiv.) by M. Paul Meyer and Mr. Raymond Weeks, and it has
been used by Mr. Andrew Lang in illustration of Homer and his age. It
is the sort of thing that the Greeks willingly let die; a rough
draught of an epic poem, in many ways more barbarous than the other
extant _chansons de geste_, but full of vigour, and notable (like _le
Roi Gormond_, another of the older epics) for its refrain and other
lyrical passages, very like the manner of the ballads. The _Chançun de
Willame_, it may be observed, is not very different from _Aliscans_
with regard to Rainouart, the humorous gigantic helper of William of
Orange. One would not have been surprised if it had been otherwise, if
Rainouart had been first introduced by the later composer, with a view
to "comic relief" or some such additional variety for his tale. But it
is not so; Rainouart, it appears, has a good right to his place by
the side of William. The grotesque element in French epic is found
very early, _e.g._ in the _Pilgrimage of Charlemagne_, and is not to
be reckoned among the signs of decadence.

There ought to be a reference, on p. 298 below, to M. Joseph Bédier's
papers in the _Revue Historique_ (xcv. and xcvii.) on _Raoul de
Cambrai_. M. Bédier's _Légendes épiques_, not yet published at this
time of writing, will soon be in the hands of his expectant readers.

I am deeply indebted to many friends--first of all to York Powell--for
innumerable good things spoken and written about these studies. My
reviewers, in spite of all differences of opinion, have put me under
strong obligations to them for their fairness and consideration.
Particularly, I have to offer my most sincere acknowledgments to Dr.
Andreas Heusler of Berlin for the honour he has done my book in his
_Lied und Epos_ (1905), and not less for the help that he has given,
in this and other of his writings, towards the better understanding of
the old poems and their history.

W. P. K.

OXFORD, _25th Jan. 1908_.






Epic and Romance: the two great orders of medieval narrative         3

_Epic_, of the "heroic age," preceding _Romance_ of the "age
of chivalry"                                                         4

The heroic age represented in three kinds of literature--Teutonic
Epic, French Epic, and the Icelandic Sagas                           6

Conditions of Life in an "heroic age"                                7

Homer and the Northern poets                                         9

Homeric passages in _Beowulf_                                       10
  and in the _Song of Maldon_                                       11

Progress of poetry in the heroic age                                13

Growth of Epic, distinct in character, but generally incomplete,
among the Teutonic nations                                          14



The complex nature of Epic                                          16

No kind or aspect of life that may not be included                  16

This freedom due to the dramatic quality of true (_e.g._
Homeric) Epic                                                       17
  as explained by Aristotle                                         17

Epic does not require a magnificent ideal subject                   18
  such as those of the artificial epic (_Aeneid_, _Gerusalemme
  Liberata_, _Paradise Lost_)                                       18

The _Iliad_ unlike these poems in its treatment of "ideal"
motives (patriotism, etc.)                                          19

True Epic begins with a dramatic plot and characters                20

The Epic of the Northern heroic age is sound in its dramatic
conception                                                          20
  and does not depend on impersonal ideals (with exceptions,
  in the _Chansons de geste_)                                       21

The German heroes in history and epic (Ermanaric, Attila,
Theodoric)                                                          21

Relations of Epic to historical fact                                22

The epic poet is free in the conduct of his story                   23
  but his story and personages must belong to his own
  people                                                            26

Nature of Epic brought out by contrast with secondary narrative
poems, where the subject is not national                            27

This secondary kind of poem may be excellent, but is always
different in character from native Epic                             28

Disputes of academic critics about the "Epic Poem"                  30

Tasso's defence of Romance. Pedantic attempts to restrict
the compass of Epic                                                 30

Bossu on Phaeacia                                                   31

Epic, as the most comprehensive kind of poetry, includes
Romance as one of its elements                                      32
  but needs a strong dramatic imagination to keep Romance
  under control                                                     33



Mythology not required in the greatest scenes in Homer              35

Myths and popular fancies may be a hindrance to the epic
poet, but he is compelled to make some use of them                  36

He criticises and selects, and allows the characters of the gods
to be modified in relation to the human characters                  37

Early humanism and reflexion on myth--two processes: (1)
rejection of the grosser myths; (2) refinement of myth
through poetry                                                      40

Two ways of refining myth in poetry--(1) by turning it into
mere fancy, and the more ludicrous things into comedy;
(2) by finding an imaginative or an ethical meaning in it           40

Instances in Icelandic literature--_Lokasenna_                      41

Snorri Sturluson, his ironical method in the _Edda_                 42

The old gods rescued from clerical persecution                      43

Imaginative treatment of the graver myths--the death of
Balder; the Doom of the Gods                                        43

Difficulties in the attainment of poetical self-command             44

Medieval confusion and distraction                                  45

Premature "culture"                                                 46

Depreciation of native work in comparison with ancient
literature and with theology                                        47

An Icelandic gentleman's library                                    47

The whalebone casket                                                48

Epic not wholly stifled by "useful knowledge"                       49



Early failure of Epic among the Continental Germans                 50

Old English Epic invaded by Romance (Lives of Saints, etc.)         50

Old Northern (Icelandic) poetry full of romantic mythology          51

French Epic and Romance contrasted                                  51

Feudalism in the old French Epic (_Chansons de Geste_) not
unlike the prefeudal "heroic age"                                   52

But the _Chansons de Geste_ are in many ways "romantic"             53

Comparison of the English _Song of Byrhtnoth_ (_Maldon_, A.D.
991) with the _Chanson de Roland_                                   54

Severity and restraint of _Byrhtnoth_                               55

Mystery and pathos of _Roland_                                      56

Iceland and the German heroic age                                   57

The Icelandic paradox--old-fashioned politics together with
clear understanding                                                 58

Icelandic prose literature--its subject, the anarchy of the
heroic age; its methods, clear and positive                         59

The Icelandic histories, in prose, complete the development
of the early Teutonic Epic poetry                                   60





Early German poetry                                                 65

One of the first things certain about it is that it knew the
meaning of tragic situations                                        66

The _Death of Ermanaric_ in Jordanes                                66

The story of _Alboin_ in Paulus Diaconus                            66

Tragic plots in the extant poems                                    69

The _Death of Ermanaric_ in the "Poetic Edda" (_Hamðismál_)         70

Some of the Northern poems show the tragic conception
modified by romantic motives, yet without loss of the
tragic purport--_Helgi and Sigrun_                                  72

Similar harmony of motives in the _Waking of Angantyr_              73

Whatever may be wanting, the heroic poetry had no want of
tragic plots--the "fables" are sound                                74

Value of the abstract plot (Aristotle)                              74



List of extant poems and fragments in one or other of
the older Teutonic languages (German, English, and
Northern) in unrhymed alliterative verse                            76

Small amount of the extant poetry                                   78

Supplemented in various ways                                        79

1. THE WESTERN GROUP (German and English)                           79

Amount of story contained in the several poems, and scale
of treatment                                                        79

_Hildebrand_, a short story                                         80

_Finnesburh_, (1) the Lambeth fragment (Hickes); and (2)
the abstract of the story in _Beowulf_                              81

_Finnesburh_, a story of (1) wrong and (2) vengeance, like the
story of the death of Attila, or of the betrayal of Roland          82

Uncertainty as to the compass of the _Finnesburh_ poem
(Lambeth) in its original complete form                             84

_Waldere_, two fragments: the story of Walter of Aquitaine
preserved in the Latin _Waltharius_                                 84

Plot of _Waltharius_                                                84

Place of the _Waldere_ fragments in the story, and probable
compass of the whole poem                                           86

Scale of _Maldon_                                                   88
  and of _Beowulf_                                                  89

General resemblance in the themes of these poems--unity of
action                                                              89

Development of style, and not neglect of unity nor multiplication
of contents, accounts for the difference of length
between earlier and later poems                                     91

Progress of Epic in England--unlike the history of Icelandic
poetry                                                              92

2. THE NORTHERN GROUP                                               93

The contents of the so-called "Elder Edda" (_i.e._ _Codex
Regius_ 2365, 4to _Havn_.)                                          93
  to what extent _Epic_                                             93

Notes on the contents of the poems, to show their scale; the
_Lay of Weland_                                                     94

Different plan in the _Lays of Thor_, _Þrymskviða_ and _Hymiskviða_ 95

The _Helgi_ Poems--complications of the text                        95

Three separate stories--_Helgi Hundingsbane and Sigrun_             95

_Helgi Hiorvardsson and Swava_                                      98

_Helgi and Kara_ (lost)                                             99

The story of the Volsungs--the long _Lay of Brynhild_              100
  contains the whole story in abstract                             100
  giving the chief place to the character of _Brynhild_            101

The _Hell-ride of Brynhild_                                        102

The fragmentary _Lay of Brynhild_ (_Brot af Sigurðarkviðu_)        103

Poems on the death of Attila--the _Lay of Attila_ (_Atlakviða_),
and the Greenland _Poem of Attila_ (_Atlamál_)                     105

Proportions of the story                                           105

A third version of the story in the _Lament of Oddrun_
(_Oddrúnargrátr_)                                                  107

The _Death of Ermanaric_ (_Hamðismál_)                             109

The Northern idylls of the heroines (Oddrun, Gudrun)--the
_Old Lay of Gudrun_, or Gudrun's story to Theodoric                109

The _Lay of Gudrun_ (_Guðrúnarkviða_)--Gudrun's sorrow for
Sigurd                                                             111

The refrain                                                        111

Gudrun's _Chain of Woe_ (_Tregrof Guðrúnar_)                       111

The _Ordeal of Gudrun_, an episodic lay                            111

Poems in dialogue, without narrative--
  (1) Dialogues in the common epic measure--_Balder's
      Doom_, Dialogues of _Sigurd_, _Angantyr_--explanations in
      prose, between the dialogues                                 112
  (2) Dialogues in the gnomic or elegiac measure:
      (_a_) vituperative debates--_Lokasenna_,
        _Harbarzlióð_ (in irregular verse), _Atli and Rimgerd_     112
      (_b_) Dialogues implying action--_The Wooing of Frey_
        (_Skírnismál_)                                             114

_Svipdag and Menglad_ (_Grógaldr_, _Fiölsvinnsmál_)                114

The _Volsung_ dialogues                                            115

The Western and Northern poems compared, with respect
to their scale                                                     116

The old English poems (_Beowulf_, _Waldere_), in scale, midway
between the Northern poems and Homer                               117

Many of the Teutonic epic remains may look like the "short
lays" of the agglutinative epic theory; but this is illusion       117

Two kinds of story in Teutonic Epic--(1) episodic, _i.e._
representing a single action (_Hildebrand_, etc.); (2) summary,
_i.e._ giving the whole of a long story in abstract,
with details of one part of it (_Weland_, etc.)                    118

The second class is unfit for agglutination                        119

Also the first, when it is looked into                             121

The Teutonic Lays are too individual to be conveniently
fused into larger masses of narrative                              122



Many of the old epic lays are on the scale of popular ballads      123

Their style is different                                           124

As may be proved where later ballads have taken up the epic
subjects                                                           125

The Danish ballads of _Ungen Sveidal_ (_Svipdag and Menglad_)      126
  and of _Sivard_ (_Sigurd and Brynhild_)                          127

The early epic poetry, unlike the ballads, was ambitious and
capable of progress                                                129



Rhetorical art of the alliterative verse                           133

English and Norse                                                  134

Different besetting temptations in England and the North           136

English tameness; Norse emphasis and false wit (the Scaldic
poetry)                                                            137

Narrative poetry undeveloped in the North; unable to compete
with the lyrical forms                                             137

Lyrical element in Norse narrative                                 138

_Volospá_, the greatest of all the Northern poems                  139

False heroics; _Krákumál_ (_Death-Song of Ragnar Lodbrok_)         140

A fresh start, in prose, with no rhetorical encumbrances           141



Various renderings of the same story due (1) to accidents of
tradition and impersonal causes; (2) to calculation and
selection of motives by poets, and intentional modification
of traditional matter                                              144

The three versions of the death of Gunnar and Hogni
compared--_Atlakviða_, _Atlamál_, _Oddrúnargrátr_                  147

Agreement of the three poems in ignoring the German theory
of Kriemhild's revenge                                             149

The incidents of the death of Hogni clear in _Atlakviða_,
apparently confused and ill recollected in the other two
poems                                                              150

But it turns out that these two poems had each a view of its
own which made it impossible to use the original story             152

_Atlamál_, the work of a critical author, making his selection
of incidents from heroic tradition                                 153
  the largest epic work in Northern poetry, and the last of
  its school                                                       155

The "Poetic Edda," a collection of deliberate experiments
in poetry and not of casual popular variants                       156



_Beowulf_ claims to be a single complete work                      158

Want of unity: a story and a sequel                                159

More unity in _Beowulf_ than in some Greek epics. The first
2200 lines form a complete story, not ill composed                 160

Homeric method of episodes and allusions in _Beowulf_              162
  and _Waldere_                                                    163

Triviality of the main plot in both parts of _Beowulf_--tragic
significance in some of the allusions                              165

The characters in _Beowulf_ abstract types                         165

The adventures and sentiments commonplace, especially in
the fight with the dragon                                          168

Adventure of Grendel not pure fantasy                              169

Grendel's mother more romantic                                     172

_Beowulf_ is able to give epic dignity to a commonplace set of
romantic adventures                                                173





The close of Teutonic Epic--in Germany the old forms were
lost, but not the old stories, in the later Middle Ages            179

England kept the alliterative verse through the Middle
Ages                                                               180

Heroic themes in Danish ballads, and elsewhere                     181

Place of Iceland in the heroic tradition--a new heroic literature
in prose                                                           182



The Sagas are not pure fiction                                     184

Difficulty of giving form to genealogical details                  185

Miscellaneous incidents                                            186

Literary value of the historical basis--the characters well
known and recognisable                                             187

The coherent Sagas--the tragic motive                              189

Plan of _Njála_                                                    190
  of _Laxdæla_                                                     191
  of _Egils Saga_                                                  192

_Vápnfirðinga Saga_, a story of two generations                    193

_Víga-Glúms Saga_, a biography without tragedy                     193

_Reykdæla Saga_                                                    194

_Grettis Saga_ and _Gísla Saga_ clearly worked out                 195

Passages of romance in these histories                             196

_Hrafnkels Saga Freysgoða_, a tragic idyll, well proportioned      198

Great differences of scale among the Sagas--analogies with
the heroic poems                                                   198



Unheroic matters of fact in the Sagas                              200

Heroic characters                                                  201

Heroic rhetoric                                                    203

Danger of exaggeration--Kjartan in _Laxdæla_                       204

The heroic ideal not made too explicit or formal                   206



Tragic contradictions in the Sagas--_Gisli_, _Njal_                207

Fantasy                                                            208

_Laxdæla_, a reduction of the story of Sigurd and Brynhild to
the terms of common life                                           209

Compare Ibsen's _Warriors in Helgeland_                            209

The Sagas are a late stage in the progress of heroic literature    210

The Northern rationalism                                           212

Self-restraint and irony                                           213

The elegiac mood infrequent                                        215

The story of Howard of Icefirth--ironical pathos                   216

The conventional Viking                                            218

The harmonies of _Njála_                                           219
  and of _Laxdæla_                                                 222

The two speeches of Gudrun                                         223



The Sagas not bound by solemn conventions                          225

Comic humours                                                      226

Bjorn and his wife in _Njála_                                      228

_Bandamanna Saga_: "The Confederates," a comedy                    229

Satirical criticism of the "heroic age"                            231

Tragic incidents in _Bandamanna Saga_                              233

Neither the comedy nor tragedy of the Sagas is monotonous
or abstract                                                        234



Organic unity of the best Sagas                                    235

Method of representing occurrences as they appear at the
time                                                               236

Instance from _Þorgils Saga_                                       238

Another method--the death of Kjartan as it appeared to a
churl                                                              240

Psychology (not analytical)                                        244

Impartiality--justice to the hero's adversaries (_Færeyinga
Saga_)                                                             245



Form of Saga used for contemporary history in the thirteenth
century                                                            246

The historians, Ari (1067-1148) and Snorri (1178-1241)             248

The _Life of King Sverre_, by Abbot Karl Jónsson                   249

Sturla (_c._ 1214-1284), his history of Iceland in his own time
(_Islendinga_ or _Sturlunga Saga_)                                 249

The matter ready to his hand                                       250

Biographies incorporated in _Sturlunga_: Thorgils and Haflidi      252

_Sturlu Saga_                                                      253

The midnight raid (A.D. 1171)                                      254

Lives of Bishop Gudmund, Hrafn, and Aron                           256

Sturla's own work (_Islendinga Saga_)                              257

The burning of Flugumyri                                           259

Traces of the heroic manner                                        264

The character of this history brought out by contrast with
Sturla's other work, the _Life of King Hacon of Norway_            267

Norwegian and Icelandic politics in the thirteenth century         267

Norway more fortunate than Iceland--the history less
interesting                                                        267

Sturla and Joinville contemporaries                                269

Their methods of narrative compared                                270



Romantic interpolations in the Sagas--the ornamental
version of _Fóstbræðra Saga_                                       275

The secondary romantic Sagas--_Frithiof_                           277

French romance imported (_Strengleikar_, _Tristram's Saga_,
etc.)                                                              278

Romantic Sagas made out of heroic poems (_Volsunga Saga_,
etc.)                                                              279
  and out of authentic Sagas by repetition of common forms
  and motives                                                      280

Romantic conventions in the original Sagas                         280

_Laxdæla_ and _Gunnlaug's Saga_--_Thorstein the White_             281

_Thorstein Staffsmitten_                                           282

Sagas turned into rhyming romances (_Rímur_)                       283
  and into ballads in the Faroes                                   284




Lateness of the extant versions                                    287

Competition of Epic and Romance in the twelfth century             288

Widespread influence of the _Chansons de geste_--a contrast to
the Sagas                                                          289

Narrative style                                                    290

No obscurities of diction                                          291

The "heroic age" imperfectly represented                           292
  but not ignored                                                  293

_Roland_--heroic idealism--France and Christendom                  293

William of Orange--_Aliscans_                                      296

Rainouart--exaggeration of heroism                                 296

Another class of stories in the _Chansons de geste_, more like
the Sagas                                                          297

_Raoul de Cambrai_                                                 298

Barbarism of style                                                 299

_Garin le Loherain_--style clarified                               300

Problems of character--Fromont                                     301

The story of the death of Begon                                    302
  unlike contemporary work of the Romantic School                  304

The lament for Begon                                               307

_Raoul_ and _Garin_ contrasted with _Roland_                       308

Comedy in French Epic--"humours" in _Garin_                        310
   in the _Coronemenz Looïs_, etc.                                 311

Romantic additions to heroic cycles--_la Prise d'Orange_           313

_Huon de Bordeaux_--the original story grave and tragic            314
  converted to Romance                                             314



Romance an element in Epic and Tragedy apart from all
"romantic schools"                                                 321

The literary movements of the twelfth century                      322

A new beginning                                                    323

The Romantic School unromantic in its methods                      324

Professional Romance                                               325

Characteristics of the school--courteous sentiment                 328

Decorative passages--descriptions--pedantry                        329

Instances from _Roman de Troie_                                    330
  and from _Ider_, etc.                                            331

Romantic adventures--the "matter of Rome" and the
"matter of Britain"                                                334

Blending of classical and Celtic influences--_e.g._ in Benoit's
_Medea_                                                            334

Methods of narrative--simple, as in the _Lay of Guingamor_;
overloaded, as in _Walewein_                                       337

_Guingamor_                                                        338

_Walewein_, a popular tale disguised as a chivalrous romance       340

The different versions of _Libeaux Desconus_--one of them is
sophisticated                                                      343

_Tristram_--the Anglo-Norman poems comparatively simple
and ingenuous                                                      344

French Romance and Provençal Lyric                                 345

Ovid in the Middle Ages--the _Art of Love_                         346

The Heroines                                                       347

Benoit's _Medea_ again                                             348

Chrestien of Troyes, his place at the beginning of modern
literature                                                         349

'Enlightenment' in the Romantic School                             350

The sophists of Romance--the rhetoric of sentiment and
passion                                                            351

The progress of Romance from medieval to modern literature         352

Chrestien of Troyes, his inconsistencies--nature and convention    352

Departure from conventional romance; Chrestien's _Enid_            355

Chrestien's _Cliges_--"sensibility"                                357

_Flamenca_, a Provençal story of the thirteenth century--the
author a follower of Chrestien                                     359

His acquaintance with romantic literature                          360
  and rejection of the "machinery" of adventures                   360

_Flamenca_, an appropriation of Ovid--disappearance of
romantic mythology                                                 361

The _Lady of Vergi_, a short tragic story without false rhetoric   362

Use of medieval themes by the great poets of the fourteenth
century                                                            363

Boccaccio and Chaucer--the _Teseide_ and the _Knight's Tale_       364

Variety of Chaucer's methods                                       364

Want of art in the _Man of Law's Tale_                             365

The abstract point of honour (_Clerk's Tale_, _Franklin's Tale_)   366

Pathos in the _Legend of Good Women_                               366

Romantic method perfect in the _Knight's Tale_                     366

_Anelida_, the abstract form of romance                            367

In _Troilus and Criseyde_ the form of medieval romance is
filled out with strong dramatic imagination                        367

Romance obtains the freedom of Epic, without the old local
and national limitations of Epic                                   368

Conclusion                                                         370


Note A--Rhetoric of the Alliterative Poetry                        373

Note B--Kjartan and Olaf Tryggvason                                375

Note C--Eyjolf Karsson                                             381

Note D--Two Catalogues of Romances                                 384

INDEX                                                              391





The title of Epic, or of "heroic poem," is claimed by historians for a
number of works belonging to the earlier Middle Ages, and to the
medieval origins of modern literature. "Epic" is a term freely applied
to the old school of Germanic narrative poetry, which in different
dialects is represented by the poems of Hildebrand, of Beowulf, of
Sigurd and Brynhild. "Epic" is the name for the body of old French
poems which is headed by the _Chanson de Roland_. The rank of Epic is
assigned by many to the _Nibelungenlied_, not to speak of other Middle
High German poems on themes of German tradition. The title of prose
Epic has been claimed for the Sagas of Iceland.

By an equally common consent the name Romance is given to a number of
kinds of medieval narrative by which the Epic is succeeded and
displaced; most notably in France, but also in other countries which
were led, mainly by the example and influence of France, to give up
their own "epic" forms and subjects in favour of new manners.

This literary classification corresponds in general history to the
difference between the earlier "heroic" age and the age of chivalry.
The "epics" of Hildebrand and Beowulf belong, if not wholly to German
heathendom, at any rate to the earlier and prefeudal stage of German
civilisation. The French epics, in their extant form, belong for the
most part in spirit, if not always in date, to an order of things
unmodified by the great changes of the twelfth century. While among
the products of the twelfth century one of the most remarkable is the
new school of French romance, the brilliant and frequently
vainglorious exponent of the modern ideas of that age, and of all its
chivalrous and courtly fashions of thought and sentiment. The
difference of the two orders of literature is as plain as the
difference in the art of war between the two sides of the battle of
Hastings, which indeed is another form of the same thing; for the
victory of the Norman knights over the English axemen has more than a
fanciful or superficial analogy to the victory of the new literature
of chivalry over the older forms of heroic narrative. The history of
those two orders of literature, of the earlier Epic kinds, followed by
the various types of medieval Romance, is parallel to the general
political history of the earlier and the later Middle Ages, and may do
something to illustrate the general progress of the nations. The
passage from the earlier "heroic" civilisation to the age of chivalry
was not made without some contemporary record of the "form and
pressure" of the times in the changing fashions of literature, and in
successive experiments of the imagination.

Whatever Epic may mean, it implies some weight and solidity; Romance
means nothing, if it does not convey some notion of mystery and
fantasy. A general distinction of this kind, whatever names may be
used to render it, can be shown, in medieval literature, to hold good
of the two large groups of narrative belonging to the earlier and the
later Middle Ages respectively. Beowulf might stand for the one side,
Lancelot or Gawain for the other. It is a difference not confined to
literature. The two groups are distinguished from one another, as the
respectable piratical gentleman of the North Sea coast in the ninth or
tenth century differs from one of the companions of St. Louis. The
latter has something fantastic in his ideas which the other has not.
The Crusader may indeed be natural and brutal enough in most of his
ways, but he has lost the sobriety and simplicity of the earlier type
of rover. If nothing else, his way of fighting--the undisciplined
cavalry charge--would convict him of extravagance as compared with men
of business, like the settlers of Iceland for example.

The two great kinds of narrative literature in the Middle Ages might
be distinguished by their favourite incidents and commonplaces of
adventure. No kind of adventure is so common or better told in the
earlier heroic manner than the defence of a narrow place against odds.
Such are the stories of Hamther and Sorli in the hall of Ermanaric, of
the Niblung kings in the hall of Attila, of the Fight of Finnesburh,
of Walter at the Wasgenstein, of Byrhtnoth at Maldon, of Roland in the
Pyrenees. Such are some of the finest passages in the Icelandic Sagas:
the death of Gunnar, the burning of Njal's house, the burning of
Flugumyri (an authentic record), the last fight of Kjartan in
Svinadal, and of Grettir at Drangey. The story of Cynewulf and
Cyneheard in the English Chronicle may well have come from a poem in
which an attack and defence of this sort were narrated.

The favourite adventure of medieval romance is something different,--a
knight riding alone through a forest; another knight; a shock of
lances; a fight on foot with swords, "racing, tracing, and foining
like two wild boars"; then, perhaps, recognition--the two knights
belong to the same household and are engaged in the same quest.

     Et Guivrez vers lui esperone,
     De rien nule ne l'areisone,
     Ne Erec ne li sona mot.

     _Erec_, l. 5007.

This collision of blind forces, this tournament at random, takes the
place, in the French romances, of the older kind of combat. In the
older kind the parties have always good reasons of their own for
fighting; they do not go into it with the same sort of readiness as
the wandering champions of romance.

The change of temper and fashion represented by the appearance and the
vogue of the medieval French romances is a change involving the whole
world, and going far beyond the compass of literature and literary
history. It meant the final surrender of the old ideas, independent of
Christendom, which had been enough for the Germanic nations in their
earlier days; it was the close of their heroic age. What the "heroic
age" of the modern nations really was, may be learned from what is
left of their heroic literature, especially from three groups or
classes,--the old Teutonic alliterative poems on native subjects; the
French _Chansons de Geste_; and the Icelandic Sagas.

All these three orders, whatever their faults may be, do something to
represent a society which is "heroic" as the Greeks in Homer are
heroic. There can be no mistake about the likeness. To compare the
imaginations and the phrases of any of these barbarous works with the
poetry of Homer may be futile, but their contents may be compared
without reference to their poetical qualities; and there is no
question that the life depicted has many things in common with Homeric
life, and agrees with Homer in ignorance of the peculiar ideas of
medieval chivalry.

The form of society in an heroic age is aristocratic and magnificent.
At the same time, this aristocracy differs from that of later and more
specialised forms of civilisation. It does not make an insuperable
difference between gentle and simple. There is not the extreme
division of labour that produces the contempt of the lord for the
villain. The nobles have not yet discovered for themselves any form of
occupation or mode of thought in virtue of which they are widely
severed from the commons, nor have they invented any such ideal of
life or conventional system of conduct as involves an ignorance or
depreciation of the common pursuits of those below them. They have no
such elaborate theory of conduct as is found in the chivalrous society
of the Middle Ages. The great man is the man who is best at the things
with which every one is familiar. The epic hero may despise the
churlish man, may, like Odysseus in the _Iliad_ (ii. 198), show little
sympathy or patience with the bellowings of the multitude, but he may
not ostentatiously refuse all community of ideas with simple people.
His magnificence is not defended by scruples about everything low. It
would not have mattered to Odysseus if he had been seen travelling in
a cart, like Lancelot; though for Lancelot it was a great misfortune
and anxiety. The art and pursuits of a gentleman in the heroic age are
different from those of the churl, but not so far different as to keep
them in different spheres. There is a community of prosaic interests.
The great man is a good judge of cattle; he sails his own ship.

A gentleman adventurer on board his own ship, following out his own
ideas, carrying his men with him by his own power of mind and temper,
and not by means of any system of naval discipline to which he as well
as they must be subordinate; surpassing his men in skill, knowledge,
and ambition, but taking part with them and allowing them to take part
in the enterprise, is a good representative of the heroic age. This
relation between captain and men may be found, accidentally and
exceptionally, in later and more sophisticated forms of society. In
the heroic age a relation between a great man and his followers
similar to that between an Elizabethan captain and his crew is found
to be the most important and fundamental relation in society. In later
times it is only by a special favour of circumstances, as for example
by the isolation of shipboard from all larger monarchies, that the
heroic relation between the leader and the followers can be repeated.
As society becomes more complex and conventional, this relation
ceases. The homeliness of conversation between Odysseus and his
vassals, or between Njal and Thord Freedman's son, is discouraged by
the rules of courtly behaviour as gentlefolk become more idle and
ostentatious, and their vassals more sordid and dependent. The secrets
also of political intrigue and dexterity made a difference between
noble and villain, in later and more complex medieval politics, such
as is unknown in the earlier days and the more homely forms of
Society. An heroic age may be full of all kinds of nonsense and
superstition, but its motives of action are mainly positive and
sensible,--cattle, sheep, piracy, abduction, merchandise, recovery of
stolen goods, revenge. The narrative poetry of an heroic age, whatever
dignity it may obtain either by its dramatic force of imagination, or
by the aid of its mythology, will keep its hold upon such common
matters, simply because it cannot do without the essential practical
interests, and has nothing to put in their place, if kings and chiefs
are to be represented at all. The heroic age cannot dress up ideas or
sentiments to play the part of characters. If its characters are not
men they are nothing, not even thoughts or allegories; they cannot go
on talking unless they have something to do; and so the whole business
of life comes bodily into the epic poem.

How much the matter of the Northern heroic literature resembles the
Homeric, may be felt and recognised at every turn in a survey of the
ground. In both there are the _ashen spears_; there are the _shepherds
of the people_; the retainers bound by loyalty to the prince who gives
them meat and drink; the great hall with its minstrelsy, its boasting
and bickering; the battles which are a number of single combats, while
"physiology supplies the author with images"[1] for the same; the
heroic rule of conduct ([Greek: iomen])[2]; the eminence of the hero,
and at the same time his community of occupation and interest with
those who are less distinguished.

[Footnote 1: Johnson on the Epic Poem (_Life of Milton_).]

[Footnote 2: _Il._ xii. 328.]

There are other resemblances also, but some of these are miraculous,
and perhaps irrelevant. By what magic is it that the cry of Odysseus,
wounded and hard bestead in his retreat before the Trojans, comes over
us like the three blasts of the horn of Roland?

     Thrice he shouted, as loud as the head of a man will bear;
     and three times Menelaus heard the sound thereof, and
     quickly he turned and spake to Ajax: "Ajax, there is come
     about me the cry of Odysseus slow to yield; and it is like
     as though the Trojans had come hard upon him by himself
     alone, closing him round in the battle."[3]

[Footnote 3: _Il._ xi. 462.]

It is reported as a discovery made by Mephistopheles in Thessaly, in
the classical _Walpurgisnacht_, that the company there was very much
like his old acquaintances on the Brocken. A similar discovery, in
regard to more honourable personages and other scenes, may be made by
other Gothic travellers in a "south-eastward" journey to heroic
Greece. The classical reader of the Northern heroics may be frequently
disgusted by their failures; he may also be bribed, if not to applaud,
at least to continue his study, by the glimmerings and "shadowy
recollections," the affinities and correspondences between the Homeric
and the Northern heroic world.

Beowulf and his companions sail across the sea to Denmark on an errand
of deliverance,--to cleanse the land of monsters. They are welcomed by
Hrothgar, king of the Danes, and by his gentle queen, in a house less
fortunate than the house of Alcinous, for it is exposed to the attacks
of the lumpish ogre that Beowulf has to kill, but recalling in its
splendour, in the manner of its entertainment, and the bearing of its
gracious lord and lady, the house where Odysseus told his story.
Beowulf, like Odysseus, is assailed by an envious person with
discourteous words. Hunferth, the Danish courtier, is irritated by
Beowulf's presence; "he could not endure that any one should be
counted worthier than himself"; he speaks enviously, a biting
speech--[Greek: thymodakês gar mythos]--and is answered in the tone of
Odysseus to Euryalus.[4] Beowulf has a story to tell of his former
perils among the creatures of the sea. It is differently introduced
from that of Odysseus, and has not the same importance, but it
increases the likeness between the two adventurers.

[Footnote 4: _Od._ viii. 165.]

In the shadowy halls of the Danish king a minstrel sings of the
famous deeds of men, and his song is given as an interlude in the main
action. It is a poem on that same tragedy of Finnesburh, which is the
theme of a separate poem in the Old English heroic cycle; so Demodocus
took his subjects from the heroic cycle of Achaea. The leisure of the
Danish king's house is filled in the same manner as the leisure of
Phaeacia. In spite of the difference of the climate, it is impossible
to mistake the likeness between the Greek and the Northern conceptions
of a dignified and reasonable way of life. The magnificence of the
Homeric great man is like the magnificence of the Northern lord, in so
far as both are equally marked off from the pusillanimity and
cheapness of popular morality on the one hand, and from the
ostentation of Oriental or chivalrous society on the other. The
likeness here is not purely in the historical details, but much more
in the spirit that informs the poetry.

If this part of _Beowulf_ is a Northern _Odyssey_, there is nothing in
the whole range of English literature so like a scene from the _Iliad_
as the narrative of Maldon. It is a battle in which the separate deeds
of the fighters are described, with not quite so much anatomy as in
Homer. The fighting about the body of Byrhtnoth is described as
strongly, as "the Fighting at the Wall" in the twelfth book of the
_Iliad_, and essentially in the same way, with the interchange of
blows clearly noted, together with the speeches and thoughts of the
combatants. Even the most heroic speech in Homer, even the power of
Sarpedon's address to Glaucus in the twelfth book of the _Iliad_,
cannot discredit, by comparison, the heroism and the sublimity of the
speech of the "old companion" at the end of _Maldon_. The language is
simple, but it is not less adequate in its own way than the
simplicity of Sarpedon's argument. It states, perhaps more clearly and
absolutely than anything in Greek, the Northern principle of
resistance to all odds, and defiance of ruin. In the North the
individual spirit asserts itself more absolutely against the bodily
enemies than in Greece; the defiance is made wholly independent of any
vestige of prudent consideration; the contradiction, "Thought the
harder, Heart the keener, Mood the more, as our Might lessens," is
stated in the most extreme terms. This does not destroy the
resemblance between the Greek and the Northern ideal, or between the
respective forms of representation.

The creed of Maldon is that of Achilles:[5] "Xanthus, what need is
there to prophesy of death? Well do I know that it is my doom to
perish here, far from my father and mother; but for all that I will
not turn back, until I give the Trojans their fill of war." The
difference is that in the English case the strain is greater, the
irony deeper, the antithesis between the spirit and the body more

[Footnote 5: _Il._ xix. 420.]

Where the centre of life is a great man's house, and where the most
brilliant society is that which is gathered at his feast, where
competitive boasting, story-telling, and minstrelsy are the principal
intellectual amusements, it is inevitable that these should find their
way into a kind of literature which has no foundation except
experience and tradition. Where fighting is more important than
anything else in active life, and at the same time is carried on
without organisation or skilled combinations, it is inevitable that it
should be described as it is in the _Iliad_, the _Song of Maldon_ and
_Song of Roland_, and the Icelandic Sagas, as a series of personal
encounters, in which every stroke is remembered. From this early
aristocratic form of society, there is derived in one age the
narrative of life at Ithaca or of the navigation of Odysseus, in
another the representation of the household of Njal or of Olaf the
Peacock, and of the rovings of Olaf Tryggvason and other captains.
There is an affinity between these histories in virtue of something
over and above the likeness in the conditions of things they describe.
There is a community of literary sense as well as of historical
conditions, in the record of Achilles and Kjartan Olafsson, of
Odysseus and Njal.

The circumstances of an heroic age may be found in numberless times
and places, in the history of the world. Among its accompaniments will
be generally found some sort of literary record of sentiments and
imaginations; but to find an heroic literature of the highest order is
not so easy. Many nations instead of an _Iliad_ or an _Odyssey_ have
had to make shift with conventional repetitions of the praise of
chieftains, without any story; many have had to accept from their
story-tellers all sorts of monstrous adventures in place of the
humanities of debate and argument. Epic literature is not common; it
is brought to perfection by a slow process through many generations.
The growth of Epic out of the older and commoner forms of poetry,
hymns, dirges, or panegyrics, is a progress towards intellectual and
imaginative freedom. Few nations have attained, at the close of their
heroic age, to a form of poetical art in which men are represented
freely in action and conversation. The labour and meditation of all
the world has not discovered, for the purposes of narrative, any
essential modification of the procedure of Homer. Those who are
considered reformers and discoverers in later times--Chaucer,
Cervantes, Fielding--are discoverers merely of the old devices of
dramatic narration which were understood by Homer and described after
him by Aristotle.

The growth of Epic, in the beginning of the history of the modern
nations, has been generally thwarted and stunted. It cannot be said of
many of the languages of the North and West of Europe that in them the
epic form has come fully to its own, or has realised its proper
nature. Many of them, however, have at least made a beginning. The
history of the older German literature, and of old French, is the
history of a great number of experiments in Epic; of attempts, that
is, to represent great actions in narrative, with the personages well
defined. These experiments are begun in the right way. They are not
merely barbarous nor fantastic. They are different also from such
traditional legends and romances as may survive among simple people
long after the day of their old glories and their old kings. The poems
of _Beowulf_ and _Waldere_, of _Roland_ and _William of Orange_, are
intelligible and reasonable works, determined in the main by the same
essential principles of narrative art, and of dramatic conversation
within the narrative, as are observed in the practice of Homer.
Further, these are poems in which, as in the Homeric poems, the ideas
of their time are conveyed and expressed in a noble manner: they are
high-spirited poems. They have got themselves clear of the confusion
and extravagance of early civilisation, and have hit upon a way of
telling a story clearly and in proportion, and with dignity. They are
epic in virtue of their superiority to the more fantastic motives of
interest, and in virtue of their study of human character. They are
heroic in the nobility of their temper and their style. If at any time
they indulge in heroic commonplaces of sentiment, they do so without
insincerity or affectation, as the expression of the general temper or
opinion of their own time. They are not separated widely from the
matters of which they treat; they are not antiquarian revivals of past
forms, nor traditional vestiges of things utterly remote and separate
from the actual world. What art they may possess is different from the
"rude sweetness" of popular ballads, and from the unconscious grace of
popular tales. They have in different degrees and manners the form of
epic poetry, in their own right. There are recognisable qualities that
serve to distinguish even a fragment of heroic poetry from the ballads
and romances of a lower order, however near these latter forms may
approach at times to the epic dignity.



It is the nature of epic poetry to be at ease in regard to its subject
matter, to be free from the strain and excitement of weaker and more
abstract forms of poetry in dealing with heroic subjects. The heroic
ideal of epic is not attained by a process of abstraction and
separation from the meannesses of familiar things. The magnificence
and aristocratic dignity of epic is conformable to the practical and
ethical standards of the heroic age; that is to say, it tolerates a
number of things that may be found mean and trivial by academicians.
Epic poetry is one of the complex and comprehensive kinds of
literature, in which most of the other kinds may be included--romance,
history, comedy; _tragical_, _comical_, _historical_, _pastoral_ are
terms not sufficiently various to denote the variety of the _Iliad_
and the _Odyssey_.

The "common life" of the Homeric poems may appeal to modern pedantic
theorists, and be used by them in support of Euripidean or
Wordsworthian receipts for literature. But the comprehensiveness of
the greater kinds of poetry, of Homer and Shakespeare, is a different
thing from the premeditated and self-assertive realism of the authors
who take viciously to common life by way of protest against the
romantic extreme. It has its origin, not in a critical theory about
the proper matter of literature, but in dramatic imagination. In an
epic poem where the characters are vividly imagined, it follows
naturally that their various moods and problems involve a variety of
scenery and properties, and so the whole business of life comes into
the story.

The success of epic poetry depends on the author's power of imagining
and representing characters. A kind of success and a kind of
magnificence may be attained in stories, professing to be epic, in
which there is no dramatic virtue, in which every new scene and new
adventure merely goes to accumulate, in immortal verse, the proofs of
the hero's nullity and insignificance. This is not the epic poetry of
the heroic ages.

Aristotle, in his discussion of tragedy, chose to lay stress upon the
plot, the story. On the other hand, to complete the paradox, in the
epic he makes the characters all-important, not the story. Without the
tragic plot or fable, the tragedy becomes a series of moral essays or
monologues; the life of the drama is derived from the original idea of
the fable which is its subject. Without dramatic representation of the
characters, epic is mere history or romance; the variety and life of
epic are to be found in the drama that springs up at every encounter
of the personages.

"Homer is the only poet who knows the right proportions of epic
narrative; when to narrate, and when to let the characters speak for
themselves. Other poets for the most part tell their story straight
on, with scanty passages of drama and far between. Homer, with little
prelude, leaves the stage to his personages, men and women, all with
characters of their own."[6]

[Footnote 6: [Greek: Homêros de alla te polla axios epaineisthai kai
dê kai hoti monos tôn poiêtôn ouk agnoei ho dei poiein auton. auton
gar dei ton poiêtên elachista legein: ou gar esti kata tauta mimêtês.
hoi men oun alloi autoi men di' holou agônizontai, mimountai de oliga
kai oligakis: ho de oliga phroimiasamenos euthys eisagei andra ê
gynaika ê allo ti êthos kai ouden' aêthê all' echonta êthê.]--ARIST.
_Poet._ 1460 a 5.]

Aristotle wrote with very little consideration for the people who were
to come after him, and gives little countenance to such theories of
epic as have at various times been prevalent among the critics, in
which the dignity of the subject is insisted on. He does not imagine
it the chief duty of an epic poet to choose a lofty argument for
historical rhetoric. He does not say a word about the national or the
ecumenical importance of the themes of the epic poet. His analysis of
the plot of the _Odyssey_, but for the reference to Poseidon, might
have been the description of a modern realistic story.

"A man is abroad for many years, persecuted by Poseidon and alone;
meantime the suitors of his wife are wasting his estate and plotting
against his son; after many perils by sea he returns to his own
country and discovers himself to his friends. He falls on his enemies
and destroys them, and so comes to his own again."

The _Iliad_ has more likeness than the _Odyssey_ to the common pattern
of later sophisticated epics. But the war of Troy is not the subject
of the _Iliad_ in the same way as the siege of Jerusalem is the
subject of Tasso's poem. The story of the _Aeneid_ can hardly be told
in the simplest form without some reference to the destiny of Rome, or
the story of _Paradise Lost_ without the feud of heaven and hell. But
in the _Iliad_, the assistance of the Olympians, or even the presence
of the whole of Greece, is not in the same degree essential to the
plot of the story of Achilles. In the form of Aristotle's summary of
the _Odyssey_, reduced to "the cool element of prose," the _Iliad_
may be proved to be something quite different from the common fashion
of literary epics. It might go in something like this way:--

"A certain man taking part in a siege is slighted by the general, and
in his resentment withdraws from the war, though his own side is in
great need of his help. His dearest friend having been killed by the
enemy, he comes back into the action and takes vengeance for his
friend, and allows himself to be reconciled."

It is the debate among the characters, and not the onset of Hera and
Athena in the chariot of Heaven, that gives its greatest power to the
_Iliad_. The _Iliad_, with its "machines," its catalogue of the
forces, its funeral games, has contributed more than the _Odyssey_ to
the common pattern of manufactured epics. But the essence of the poem
is not to be found among the Olympians. Achilles refusing the embassy
or yielding to Priam has no need of the Olympian background. The poem
is in a great degree independent of "machines"; its life is in the
drama of the characters. The source of all its variety is the
imagination by which the characters are distinguished; the liveliness
and variety of the characters bring with them all the other kinds of

It is impossible for the author who knows his personages intimately to
keep to any one exclusive mode of sentiment or one kind of scene. He
cannot be merely tragical and heroic, or merely comical and pastoral;
these are points of view to which those authors are confined who are
possessed by one kind of sentiment or sensibility, and who wish to
find expression for their own prevailing mood. The author who is
interested primarily in his characters will not allow them to be
obliterated by the story or by its diffused impersonal sentiment. The
action of an heroic poem must be "of a certain magnitude," but the
accessories need not be all heroic and magnificent; the heroes do not
derive their magnificence from the scenery, the properties, and the
author's rhetoric, but contrariwise: the dramatic force and
self-consistency of the _dramatis personae_ give poetic value to any
accessories of scenery or sentiment which may be required by the
action. They are not figures "animating" a landscape; what the
landscape means for the poet's audience is determined by the character
of his personages.

All the variety of epic is explained by Aristotle's remark on Homer.
Where the characters are true, and dramatically represented, there can
be no monotony.

In the different kinds of Northern epic literature--German, English,
French, and Norse--belonging to the Northern heroic ages, there will
be found in different degrees this epic quality of drama. Whatever
magnificence they may possess comes mainly from the dramatic strength
of the heroes, and in a much less degree from the historic dignity or
importance of the issues of the story, or from its mythological

The place of history in the heroic poems belonging to an heroic age is
sometimes misconceived. Early epic poetry may be concerned with great
historic events. It does not necessarily emphasise--by preference it
does not emphasise--the historic importance or the historic results of
the events with which it deals. Heroic poetry implies an heroic age,
an age of pride and courage, in which there is not any extreme
organisation of politics to hinder the individual talent and its
achievements, nor on the other hand too much isolation of the hero
through the absence of any national or popular consciousness. There
must be some unity of sentiment, some common standard of appreciation,
among the people to whom the heroes belong, if they are to escape
oblivion. But this common sentiment must not be such as to make the
idea of the community and its life predominant over the individual
genius of its members. In such a case there may be a Roman history,
but not anything approaching the nature of the Homeric poems.

In some epic poems belonging to an heroic age, and not to a time of
self-conscious and reflective literature, there may be found general
conceptions that seem to resemble those of the _Aeneid_ rather than
those of the _Iliad_. In many of the old French _Chansons de Geste_,
the war against the infidels is made the general subject of the story,
and the general idea of the Holy War is expressed as fully as by
Tasso. Here, however, the circumstances are exceptional. The French
epic with all its Homeric analogies is not as sincere as Homer. It is
exposed to the touch of influences from another world, and though many
of the French poems, or great part of many of them, may tell of heroes
who would be content with the simple and positive rules of the heroic
life, this is not allowed them. They are brought within the sphere of
other ideas, of another civilisation, and lose their independence.

Most of the old German heroic poetry is clearly to be traced, as far
as its subjects are concerned, to the most exciting periods in early
German history, between the fourth and the sixth centuries. The names
that seem to have been most commonly known to the poets are the names
that are most important to the historian--Ermanaric, Attila,
Theodoric. In the wars of the great migration the spirit of each of
the German families was quickened, and at the same time the spirit of
the whole of Germany, so that each part sympathised with all the rest,
and the fame of the heroes went abroad beyond the limits of their own
kindred. Ermanaric, Attila, and Theodoric, Sigfred the Frank, and
Gundahari the Burgundian, are heroes over all the region occupied by
all forms of Teutonic language. But although the most important period
of early German history may be said to have produced the old German
heroic poetry, by giving a number of heroes to the poets, at the same
time that the imagination was stirred to appreciate great things and
make the most of them, still the result is nothing like the patriotic
epic in twelve books, the _Aeneid_ or the _Lusiad_, which chooses, of
set purpose, the theme of the national glory. Nor is it like those old
French epics in which there often appears a contradiction between the
story of individual heroes, pursuing their own fortunes, and the idea
of a common cause to which their own fortunes ought to be, but are not
always, subordinate. The great historical names which appear in the
old German heroic poetry are seldom found there in anything like their
historical character, and not once in their chief historical aspect as
adversaries of the Roman Empire. Ermanaric, Attila, and Theodoric are
all brought into the same Niblung story, a story widely known in
different forms, though it was never adequately written out. The true
history of the war between the Burgundians and the Huns in the fifth
century is forgotten. In place of it, there is associated with the
life and death of Gundahari the Burgundian king a story which may have
been vastly older, and may have passed through many different forms
before it became the story of the Niblung treasure, of Sigfred and
Brynhild. This, which has made free with so many great historical
names, the name of Attila, the name of Theodoric, has little to do
with history. In this heroic story coming out of the heroic age, there
is not much that can be traced to historical as distinct from mythical
tradition. The tragedy of the death of Attila, as told in the
_Atlakviða_ and the _Atlamál_, may indeed owe something to the facts
recorded by historians, and something more to vaguer historical
tradition of the vengeance of Rosamund on Alboin the Lombard. But, in
the main, the story of the Niblungs is independent of history, in
respect of its matter; in its meaning and effect as a poetical story
it is absolutely free from history. It is a drama of personal
encounters and rivalries. This also, like the story of Achilles, is
fit for a stage in which the characters are left free to declare
themselves in their own way, unhampered by any burden of history, any
purpose or moral apart from the events that are played out in the
dramatic clashing of one will against another.

It is not vanity in an historian to look for the historical origin of
the tale of Troy or of the vengeance of Gudrun; but no result in
either case can greatly affect the intrinsic relations of the various
elements within the poems. The relations of Achilles to his
surroundings in the _Iliad_, of Attila and Ermanaric to theirs, are
freely conceived by the several poets, and are intelligible at once,
without reference to anything outside the poems. To require of the
poetry of an heroic age that it shall recognise the historical meaning
and importance of the events in which it originates, and the persons
whose names it uses, is entirely to mistake the nature of it. Its
nature is to find or make some drama played by kings and heroes, and
to let the historical framework take care of itself. The connexion of
epic poetry with history is real, and it is a fitting subject for
historical inquiry, but it lies behind the scene. The epic poem is cut
loose and set free from history, and goes on a way of its own.

Epic magnificence and the dignity of heroic poetry may thus be only
indirectly derived from such greatness or magnificence as is known to
true prosaic history. The heroes, even if they can be identified as
historical, may retain in epic nothing of their historical character,
except such qualities as fit them for great actions. Their conduct in
epic poetry may be very far unlike their actual demeanour in true
history; their greatest works may be thrust into a corner of the epic,
or barely alluded to, or left out altogether. Their greatness in epic
may be quite a different kind of greatness from that of their true
history and where there are many poems belonging to the same cycle
there may be the greatest discrepancy among the views taken of the
same hero by different authors, and all the views may be alike remote
from the prosaic or scientific view. There is no constant or
self-consistent opinion about the character of Charles the Emperor in
old French poetry: there is one view in the _Chanson de Roland_,
another in the _Pèlerinage_, another in the _Coronemenz Looïs_: none
of the opinions is anything like an elaborate or detailed historical
judgment. Attila, though he loses his political importance and most of
his historical acquisitions in the Teutonic heroic poems in which he
appears, may retain in some of them his ruthlessness and strength; at
other times he may be a wise and peaceful king. All that is constant,
or common, in the different poetical reports of him, is that he was
great. What touches the mind of the poet out of the depths of the past
is nothing but the tradition, undefined, of something lordly. This
vagueness of tradition does not imply that tradition is impotent or
barren; only that it leaves all the execution, the growth of detail,
to the freedom of the poet. He is bound to the past, in one way; it is
laid upon him to tell the stories of the great men of his own race.
But in those stories, as they come to him, what is most lively is not
a set and established series of incidents, true or false, but
something to which the standards of truth and falsehood are scarcely
applicable; something stirring him up to admiration, a compulsion or
influence upon him requiring him to make the story again in his own
way; not to interpret history, but to make a drama of his own, filled
somehow with passion and strength of mind. It does not matter in what
particular form it may be represented, so long as in some form or
other the power of the national glory is allowed to pass into his

This vagueness and generality in the relation of heroic poetry to the
historical events and persons of an heroic age is of course quite a
different thing from vagueness in the poetry itself. Gunther and
Attila, Roland and Charlemagne, in poetry, are very vaguely connected
with their antitypes in history; but that does not prevent them from
being characterised minutely, if it should agree with the poet's taste
or lie within his powers to have it so. The strange thing is that this
vague relation should be so necessary to heroic poetry; that it should
be impossible at any stage of literature or in any way by taking
thought to make up for the want of it.

The place of Gunther the Burgundian, Sigfred the Frank, and Attila the
Hun, in the poetical stories of the Niblung treasure may be in one
sense accidental. The fables of the treasure with a curse upon it, the
killing of the dragon, the sleeping princess, the wavering flame, are
not limited to this particular course of tradition, and, further, the
traditional motives of the Niblung story have varied enormously not
only in different countries, but in one and the same language at the
same time. The story is never told alike by two narrators; what is
common and essential in it is nothing palpable or fixed, but goes from
poet to poet "like a shadow from dream to dream." And the historical
names are apparently unessential; yet they remain. To look for the
details of the Niblung story in the sober history of the Goths and
Huns, Burgundians and Franks, is like the vanity confessed by the
author of the _Roman de Rou_, when he went on a sentimental journey to
Broceliande, and was disappointed to find there only the common
daylight and nothing of the Faerie. Nevertheless it is the historical
names, and the vague associations about them, that give to the Niblung
story, not indeed the whole of its plot, but its temper, its pride and
glory, its heroic and epic character.

Heroic poetry is not, as a rule, greatly indebted to historical fact
for its material. The epic poet does not keep record of the great
victories or the great disasters. He cannot, however, live without the
ideas and sentiments of heroism that spring up naturally in periods
like those of the Teutonic migrations. In this sense the historic
Gunther and Attila are necessary to the Niblung story. The wars and
fightings of generation on generation went to create the heroism, the
loftiness of spirit, expressed in the Teutonic epic verse. The plots
of the stories may be commonplace, the common property of all popular
tales. The temper is such as is not found everywhere, but only in
historical periods of great energy. The names of Ermanaric and Attila
correspond to hardly anything of literal history in the heroic poems;
but they are the sign of conquests and great exploits that have gone
to form character, though their details are forgotten.

It may be difficult to appreciate and understand in detail this vague
relation of epic poetry to the national life and to the renown of the
national heroes, but the general fact is not less positive or less
capable of verification than the date of the battle of Châlons, or the
series of the Gothic vowels. All that is needed to prove this is to
compare the poetry of a national cycle with the poetry that comes in
its place when the national cycle is deserted for other heroes.

The secondary or adopted themes may be treated with so much of the
manner of the original poetry as to keep little of their foreign
character. The rhetoric, the poetical habit, of the original epic may
be retained. As in the Saxon poem on the Gospel history, the
_Hêliand_, the twelve disciples may be represented as Thanes owing
loyalty to their Prince, in common poetic terms befitting the men of
Beowulf or Byrhtnoth. As in the French poems on Alexander the Great,
Alexander may become a feudal king, and take over completely all that
belongs to such a rank. There may be no consciousness of any need for
a new vocabulary or a new mode of expression to fit the foreign
themes. In France, it is true, there is a general distinction of form
between the _Chansons de Geste_ and the romances; though to this there
are exceptions, themes not French, and themes not purely heroic, being
represented in the epic form. In the early Teutonic poetry there is no
distinction of versification, vocabulary, or rhetoric between the
original and the secondary narrative poems; the alliterative verse
belongs to both kinds equally. Nor is it always the case that subjects
derived from books or from abroad are handled with less firmness than
the original and traditional plots. Though sometimes a prevailing
affection for imported stories, for Celtic or Oriental legend, may be
accompanied by a relaxation in the style, the superiority of national
to foreign subjects is not always proved by greater strength or
eloquence. Can it be said that the Anglo-Saxon _Judith_, for instance,
is less heroic, less strong and sound, than the somewhat damaged and
motley accoutrements of Beowulf?

The difference is this, that the more original and native kind of epic
has immediate association with all that the people know about
themselves, with all their customs, all that part of their experience
which no one can account for or refer to any particular source. A poem
like _Beowulf_ can play directly on a thousand chords of association;
the range of its appeal to the minds of an audience is almost
unlimited; on no side is the poet debarred from freedom of movement,
if only he remember first of all what is due to the hero. He has all
the life of his people to strengthen him.

A poem like the _Hêliand_ is under an obligation to a literary
original, and cannot escape from this restriction. It makes what use
it can of the native associations, but with whatever perseverance the
author may try to bend his story into harmony with the laws of his own
country, there is an untranslated residue of foreign ideas.

Whatever the defects or excesses of _Beowulf_ may be, the characters
are not distressed by any such unsolved contradiction as in the Saxon
_Hêliand_, or in the old English _Exodus_, or _Andreas_, or the other
poems taken from the Bible or the lives of saints. They have not, like
the personages of the second order of poems, been translated from one
realm of ideas to another, and made to take up burdens and offices
not their own. They have grown naturally in the mind of a poet, out of
the poet's knowledge of human nature, and the traditional ethical
judgments of which he is possessed.

The comparative freedom of _Beowulf_ in its relation to historical
tradition and traditional ethics, and the comparative limitation of
the _Hêliand_, are not in themselves conditions of either advantage or
inferiority. They simply mark the difference between two types of
narrative poem. To be free and comprehensive in relation to history,
to summarise and represent in epic characters the traditional
experience of an heroic age, is not the proper virtue of every kind of
poetry, though it is proper to the Homeric kind. The freedom that
belongs to the _Iliad_ and the _Odyssey_ is also shared by many a
dismal and interminable poem of the Middle Ages. That foreign or
literary subjects impose certain limitations, and interfere with the
direct use of matter of experience in poetry, is nothing against them.
The Anglo-Saxon _Judith_, which is thus restricted as compared with
_Beowulf_, may be more like Milton for these restrictions, if it be
less like Homer. Exemption from them is not a privilege, except that
it gives room for the attainment of a certain kind of excellence, the
Homeric kind; as, on the other hand, it excludes the possibility of
the literary art of Virgil or Milton.

The relation of epic poetry to its heroic age is not to be found in
the observance of any strict historical duty. It lies rather in the
epic capacity for bringing together all manner of lively passages from
the general experience of the age, in a story about famous heroic
characters. The plot of the story gives unity and harmony to the
composition, while the variety of its matter is permitted and
justified by the dramatic variety of the characters and their

By its comprehensiveness and the variety of its substance, which are
the signs and products of its dramatic imagination, epic poetry of the
heroic age is distinguished from the more abstract kinds of narrative,
such as the artificial epic, and from all kinds of imagination or
fancy that are limited in their scope.

In times when "the Epic Poem" was a more attractive, if not more
perilous theme of debate than it now is, there was a strong
controversy about the proper place and the proper kind of miraculous
details to be admitted. The question was debated by Tasso in his
critical writings, against the strict and pedantic imitators of
classical models, and with a strong partiality for Ariosto against
Trissino. Tasso made less of a distinction between romance and epic
than was agreeable to some of his successors in criticism; and the
controversy went on for generations, always more or less concerned
with the great Italian heroic poems, _Orlando_ and _Jerusalem_. Some
record of it will be found in Dr. Hurd's _Letters on Chivalry and
Romance_ (1762). If the controversy has any interest now, it must be
because it provided the most extreme statements of abstract literary
principles, which on account of their thoroughness are interesting.
From the documents it can be ascertained how near some of the critics
came to that worship of the Faultless Hero with which Dryden in his
heroic plays occasionally conformed, while he guarded himself against
misinterpretation in his prefaces.

The epic poetry of the more austere critics was devised according to
the strictest principles of dignity and sublimity, with a precise
exclusion of everything "Gothic" and romantic. Davenant's Preface to
_Gondibert_--"the Author's Preface to his much Honour'd friend, Mr
Hobs"--may show how the canon of epic was understood by poets who took
things seriously; "for I will yield to their opinion, who permit not
_Ariosto_, no, not _Du Bartas_, in this eminent rank of the
_Heroicks_; rather than to make way by their admission for _Dante_,
_Marino_, and others."

It is somewhat difficult to find a common measure for these names, but
it is clear that what is most distasteful to the writer, in theory at
any rate, is variety. Epic is the most solemn, stately, and frigid of
all kinds of composition. This was the result attained by the perverse
following of precepts supposed to be classical. The critics of the
seventeenth and eighteenth centuries were generally right in
distinguishing between Epic and Romance, and generally wrong in
separating the one kind from the other as opposite and mutually
exclusive forms, instead of seeing with Tasso, in his critical
discourses, that romance may be included in epic. Against the manifold
perils of the Gothic fantasy they set up the image of the Abstract
Hero, and recited the formulas of the decorous and symmetrical
abstract heroic poem. They were occasionally troubled by the "Gothic"
elements in Homer, of which their adversaries were not slow to take

One of the most orthodox of all the formalists, who for some reason
came to be very much quoted in England, Bossu, in his discourse on the
Epic Poem, had serious difficulties with the adventures of Ulysses,
and his stories told in Phaeacia. The episodes of Circe, of the
Sirens, and of Polyphemus, are _machines_; they are also not quite
easy to understand. "They are necessary to the action, and yet they
are not humanly probable." But see how Homer gets over the difficulty
and brings back these _machines_ to the region of human probability.
"Homère les fait adroitement rentrer dans la Vraisemblance humaine par
la simplicité de ceux devant qui il fait faire ses récits fabuleux. Il
dit assez plaisamment que les Phéaques habitoient dans une Isle
éloignée des lieux où demeurent les hommes qui ont de l'esprit.
[Greek: heisen d' en Scheriê hekas andrôn alphêstaôn]. Ulysses les
avoit connus avant que de se faire connoître à eux: et aiant observé
qu'ils avoient toutes les qualités de ces fainéans qui n'admirent rien
avec plus de plaisir que les aventures Romanesques: il les satisfait
par ces récits accommodez à leur humeur. Mais le Poëte n'y a pas
oublié les Lecteurs raisonnables. Il leur a donné en ces Fables tout
le plaisir que l'on peut tirer des véritez Morales, si agréablement
déguisées sous ces miraculeuses allégories. C'est ainsi qu'il a réduit
ces Machines dans la vérité et dans la Vraisemblance Poëtique."[7]

[Footnote 7: _Traité du Poëme Épique_, par le R.P. Le Bossu, Chanoine
Régulier de Sainte Geneviève; MDCLXXV (t. ii. p. 166).]

Although the world has fallen away from the severity of this critic,
there is still a meaning at the bottom of his theory of machines. He
has at any rate called attention to one of the most interesting parts
of Epic, and has found the right word for the episodes of the
Phaeacian story of Odysseus. Romance is the word for them, and Romance
is at the same time one of the constituent parts and one of the
enemies of epic poetry. That it was dangerous was seen by the
academical critics. They provided against it, generally, by treating
it with contempt and proscribing it, as was done by those French
critics who were offended by Ariosto and perplexed by much of the
Gothic machinery of Tasso. They did not readily admit that epic poetry
is as complex as the plays of Shakespeare, and as incongruous as these
in its composition, if the different constituents be taken out
separately in the laboratory and then compared.

Romance by itself is a kind of literature that does not allow the full
exercise of dramatic imagination; a limited and abstract form, as
compared with the fulness and variety of Epic; though episodes of
romance, and romantic moods and digressions, may have their place,
along with all other human things, in the epic scheme.

The difference between the greater and the lesser kinds of narrative
literature is vital and essential, whatever names may be assigned to
them. In the one kind, of which Aristotle knew no other examples than
the _Iliad_ and the _Odyssey_, the personages are made individual
through their dramatic conduct and their speeches in varying
circumstances; in the other kind, in place of the moods and sentiments
of a multitude of different people entering into the story and working
it out, there is the sentiment of the author in his own person; there
is one voice, the voice of the story-teller, and his theory of the
characters is made to do duty for the characters themselves. There may
be every poetic grace, except that of dramatic variety; and wherever,
in narrative, the independence of the characters is merged in the
sequence of adventures, or in the beauty of the landscape, or in the
effusion of poetic sentiment, the narrative falls below the highest
order, though the art be the art of Ovid or of Spenser.

The romance of Odysseus is indeed "brought into conformity with poetic
verisimilitude," but in a different way from that of Bossu _On the
Epic Poem_. It is not because the Phaeacians are romantic in their
tastes, but because it belongs to Odysseus, that the Phaeacian night's
entertainment has its place in the _Odyssey_. The _Odyssey_ is the
story of his home-coming, his recovery of his own. The great action
of the drama of Odysseus is in his dealings with Penelope, Eumaeus,
Telemachus, the suitors. The Phaeacian story is indeed episodic; the
interest of those adventures is different from that of the meeting
with Penelope. Nevertheless it is all kept in harmony with the
stronger part of the poem. It is not pure fantasy and "Faerie," like
the voyage of Maelduin or the vigil in the castle of Busirane.
Odysseus in the house of Alcinous is not different from Odysseus of
the return to Ithaca. The story is not pure romance, it is a dramatic
monologue; and the character of the speaker has more part than the
wonders of the story in the silence that falls on the listeners when
the story comes to an end.

In all early literature it is hard to keep the story within limits, to
observe the proportion of the _Odyssey_ between strong drama and
romance. The history of the early heroic literature of the Teutonic
tongues, and of the epics of old France, comes to an end in the
victory of various romantic schools, and of various restricted and
one-sided forms of narrative. From within and without, from the
resources of native mythology and superstition and from the
fascination of Welsh and Arabian stories, there came the temptation to
forget the study of character, and to part with an inheritance of
tragic fables, for the sake of vanities, wonders, and splendours among
which character and the tragic motives lost their pre-eminent interest
and their old authority over poets and audience.



Between the dramatic qualities of epic poetry and the myths and
fancies of popular tradition there must inevitably be a conflict and a
discrepancy. The greatest scenes of the _Iliad_ and the _Odyssey_ have
little to do with myth. Where the characters are most vividly realised
there is no room for the lighter kinds of fable; the epic "machines"
are superfluous. Where all the character of Achilles is displayed in
the interview with Priam, all his generosity, all his passion and
unreason, the imagination refuses to be led away by anything else from
looking on and listening. The presence of Hermes, Priam's guide, is
forgotten. Olympus cannot stand against the spell of words like those
of Priam and Achilles; it vanishes like a parched scroll. In the great
scene in the other poem where the disguised Odysseus talks with
Penelope, but will not make himself known to her for fear of spoiling
his plot, there is just as little opportunity for any intervention of
the Olympians. "Odysseus pitied his wife as she wept, but his eyes
were firm as horn or steel, unwavering in his eyelids, and with art he
concealed his tears.[8]"

[Footnote 8:

                [Greek: autar' Odysseus
     thymôi men gooôsan heên eleaire gynaika,
     ophthalmoi d' hôs ei kera hestasan êe sidêros
     atremas en blepharoisi; dolôi d' ho ge dakrya keuthen.]

     _Od._ xix. 209.]

In passages like these the epic poet gets clear away from the cumbrous
inheritance of traditional fancies and stories. In other places he is
inevitably less strong and self-sustained; he has to speak of the gods
of the nation, or to work into his large composition some popular and
improbable histories. The result in Homer is something like the result
in Shakespeare, when he has a more than usually childish or
old-fashioned fable to work upon. A story like that of the _Three
Caskets_ or the _Pound of Flesh_ is perfectly consistent with itself
in its original popular form. It is inconsistent with the form of
elaborate drama, and with the lives of people who have souls of their
own, like Portia or Shylock. Hence in the drama which uses the popular
story as its ground-plan, the story is never entirely reduced into
conformity with the spirit of the chief characters. The caskets and
the pound of flesh, in despite of all the author's pains with them,
are imperfectly harmonised; the primitive and barbarous imagination in
them retains an inconvenient power of asserting its discordance with
the principal parts of the drama. Their unreason is of no great
consequence, yet it is something; it is not quite kept out of sight.

The epic poet, at an earlier stage of literature than Shakespeare, is
even more exposed to this difficulty. Shakespeare was free to take his
plots where he chose, and took these old wives' tales at his own risk.
The epic poet has matter of this sort forced upon him. In his
treatment of it, it will be found that ingenuity does not fail him,
and that the transition from the unreasonable or old-fashioned part of
his work to the modern and dramatic part is cunningly worked out. "He
gets over the unreason by the grace and skill of his handling,"[9]
says Aristotle of a critical point in the "machinery" of the
_Odyssey_, where Odysseus is carried ashore on Ithaca in his sleep.
There is a continual play in the _Iliad_ and _Odyssey_ between the
wonders of mythology and the spirit of the drama. In this, as in other
things, the Homeric poems observe the mean: the extremes may be found
in the heroic literature of other nations; the extreme of marvellous
fable in the old Irish heroic legends, for example; the extreme of
plainness and "soothfastness" in the old English lay of _Maldon_. In
some medieval compositions, as in _Huon of Bordeaux_, the two extremes
are brought together clumsily and without harmony. In other medieval
works again it is possible to find something like the Homeric
proportion--the drama of strong characters, taking up and transforming
the fanciful products of an earlier world, the inventions of minds not
deeply or especially interested in character.

[Footnote 9:

     [Greek: nun de tois allois agathois aphanizei hêdunôn to atopon.]

     ARISTOT. _Poet._ 1460 b.]

The defining and shaping of myths in epic poetry is a process that
cannot go on in a wholly simple and unreflecting society. On the
contrary, this process means that the earlier stages of religious
legend have been succeeded by a time of criticism and selection. It is
hard on the old stories of the gods when men come to appreciate the
characters of Achilles and Odysseus. The old stories are not all of
equal value and authority; they cannot all be made to fit in with the
human story; they have to be tested, and some have to be rejected as
inconvenient. The character of the gods is modified under the
influence of the chief actors in the drama. Agamemnon, Diomede,
Odysseus, Ajax, and Achilles set the standard by which the gods are
judged. The Homeric view of the gods is already more than half-way to
the view of a modern poet. The gods lose their old tyranny and their
right to the steam of sacrifice as they gain their new poetical
empire, from which they need not fear to be banished; not, at any
rate, for any theological reasons.

In Shakespearean drama, where each man is himself, with his own
character and his own fortune to make, there is small scope for any
obvious Divine interposition in the scene. The story of human actions
and characters, the more fully it is developed, leaves the less
opportunity for the gods to interfere in it. Something of this sort
was felt by certain medieval historians; they found it necessary to
begin with an apologetic preface explaining the long-suffering of God,
who has given freedom to the will of man to do good or evil. It was
felt to be on the verge of impiety to think of men as left to
themselves and doing what they pleased. Those who listen to a story
might be tempted to think of the people in it as self-sufficient and
independent powers, trespassing on the domain of Providence. A pious
exculpation was required to clear the author of blame.[10]

[Footnote 10: "In the events of this history may be proved the great
long-suffering of God Almighty towards us every day; and the freedom
of will which He has given to every man, that each may do what he
will, good or evil."--_Hrafns Saga_, Prologue (_Sturlunga Saga_
Oxford, 1878, II. p. 275).

"As all good things are the work of God, so valour is made by Him and
placed in the heart of stout champions, and freedom therewithal to use
it as they will, for good or evil."--_Fóstbræðra Saga_ (1852), p. 12:
one of the sophistical additions to the story: see below p. 275.

The moral is different in the following passage:--

"And inasmuch as the Providence of God hath ordained, and it is His
pleasure, that the seven planets should have influence on the world,
and bear dominion over man's nature, giving him divers inclinations to
sin and naughtiness of life: nevertheless the Universal Creator has
not taken from him the free will, which, as it is well governed, may
subdue and abolish these temptations by virtuous living, if men will
use discretion."--_Tirant lo Blanch_ (1460), c. i.]

In the _Iliad_ this scrupulous conscience has less need to deliver
itself. The gods are not far away; the heroes are not left alone. But
the poet has already done much to reduce the immediate power of the
gods, not by excluding them from the action, certainly, nor by any
attenuation of their characters into allegory, but by magnifying and
developing the characters of men. In many occasional references it
would seem that an approach was being made to that condition of mind,
at ease concerning the gods, so common in the North, in Norway and
Iceland, in the last days of heathendom. There is the great speech of
Hector to Polydamas--"we defy augury"[11]--there is the speech of
Apollo himself to Aeneas[12] about those who stand up for their own
side, putting trust in their own strength. But passages like these do
not touch closely on the relations of gods and men as they are
depicted in the story. As so depicted, the gods are not shadowy or
feeble abstractions and personifications; yet they are not of the
first value to the poem, they do not set the tone of it.

[Footnote 11: _Il._ xii. 241.]

[Footnote 12: _Il._ xvii. 227.]

They are subsidiary, like some other of the most beautiful things in
the poem; like the similes of clouds and winds, like the pictures on
the Shield. They are there because the whole world is included in epic
poetry; the heroes, strong in themselves as they could be if they were
left alone in the common day, acquire an additional strength and
beauty from their fellowship with the gods. Achilles talking with the
Embassy is great; he is great in another way when he stands at the
trench with the flame of Athena on his head. These two scenes belong
to two different kinds of imagination. It is because the first is
there that the second takes effect. It is the hero that gives meaning
and glory to the light of the goddess. It is of some importance that
it is Achilles, and not another, that here is crowned with the light
of heaven and made terrible to his enemies.

There is a double way of escape for young nations from their outgrown
fables and mythologies. They start with enormous, monstrous, and
inhuman beliefs and stories. Either they may work their way out of
them, by gradual rejection of the grosser ingredients, to something
more or less positive and rational; or else they may take up the myths
and transmute them into poetry.

The two processes are not independent of one another. Both are found
together in the greater artists of early times, in Homer most notably;
and also in artists less than Homer; in the poem of _Beowulf_, in the
stories of Sigfred and Brynhild.

There are further, under the second mode, two chief ways of operation
by which the fables of the gods may be brought into poetry.

It is possible to take them in a light-hearted way and weave them into
poetical stories, without much substance or solemnity; enhancing the
beauty that may be inherent in any part of the national legend, and
either rejecting the scandalous chronicle of Olympus or Asgard
altogether, or giving it over to the comic graces of levity and irony,
as in the Phaeacian story of Ares and Aphrodite, wherein the Phaeacian
poet digressed from his tales of war in the spirit of Ariosto, and
with an equally accomplished and elusive defiance of censure.[13]

[Footnote 13: The censure is not wanting:--

"L'on doit considérer que ce n'est ni le Poëte, ni son Héros, ni un
honnête homme qui fait ce récit: mais que les Phéaques, peuples mols
et effeminez, se le font chanter pendant leur festin."--BOSSU, _op.
cit._ p. 152.]

There is another way in which poetry may find room for fable.

It may treat the myths of the gods as material for the religious or
the ethical imagination, and out of them create ideal characters,
analogous in poetry to the ideal divine or heroic figures of painting
and sculpture. This is the kind of imagination in virtue of which
modern poets are best able to appropriate the classical mythology; but
this modern imagination is already familiar to Homer, and that not
only in direct description, as in the description of the majesty of
Zeus, but also, more subtly, in passages where the character of the
divinity is suggested by comparison with one of the human personages,
as when Nausicaa is compared to Artemis,[14] a comparison that
redounds not less to the honour of the goddess than of Nausicaa.

[Footnote 14: _Od._ vi. 151.]

In Icelandic literature there are many instances of the trouble
arising from inconsiderate stories of the gods, in the minds of people
who had got beyond the more barbarous kind of mythology. They took the
boldest and most conclusive way out of the difficulty; they made the
barbarous stories into comedy. The _Lokasenna_, a poem whose author
has been called the Aristophanes of the Western Islands, is a dramatic
piece in which Loki, the Northern Satan, appearing in the house of the
gods, is allowed to bring his railing accusations against them and
remind them of their doings in the "old days." One of his victims
tells him to "let bygones be bygones." The gods are the subject of
many stories that are here raked up against them, stories of another
order of belief and of civilisation than those in which Odin appears
as the wise and sleepless counsellor. This poem implies a great amount
of independence in the author of it. It is not a satire on the gods;
it is pure comedy; that is, it belongs to a type of literature which
has risen above prejudices and which has an air of levity because it
is pure sport--or pure art--and therefore is freed from bondage to
the matter which it handles. This kind of invention is one that tests
the wit of its audience. A serious-minded heathen of an older school
would no doubt have been shocked by the levity of the author's manner.
Not much otherwise would the poem have affected a serious adversary of
heathendom, or any one whose education had been entirely outside of
the circle of heathen or mythological tradition. An Englishman of the
tenth century, familiar with the heroic poetry of his own tongue,
would have thought it indecent. If chance had brought such an one to
hear this _Lokasenna_ recited at some entertainment in a great house
of the Western Islands, he might very well have conceived the same
opinion of his company and their tastes in literature as is ascribed
by Bossu to Ulysses among the Phaeacians.

This genius for comedy is shown in other Icelandic poems. As soon as
the monstrosities of the old traditions were felt to be monstrous,
they were overcome (as Mr. Carlyle has shown) by an appreciation of
the fun of them, and so they ceased to be burdensome. It is something
of this sort that has preserved old myths, for amusement, in popular
tales all over the world. The Icelandic poets went further, however,
than most people in their elaborate artistic treatment of their myths.
There is with them more art and more self-consciousness, and they give
a satisfactory and final poetical shape to these things, extracting
pure comedy from them.

The perfection of this ironical method is to be found in the _Edda_, a
handbook of the Art of Poetry, written in the thirteenth century by a
man of liberal genius, for whom the Æsir were friends of the
imagination, without any prejudice to the claims of the Church or of
his religion. In the view of Snorri Sturluson, the old gods are exempt
from any touch of controversy. Belief has nothing to do with them;
they are free. It may be remembered that some of the greatest English
writers of the seventeenth century have come short of this security of
view, and have not scrupled to repeat the calumny of the missionaries
and the disputants against the ancient gods, that Jupiter and Apollo
were angels of the bottomless pit, given over to their own devices for
a season, and masking as Olympians.

In this freedom from embarrassing and irrelevant considerations in
dealing with myth, the author of the _Edda_ follows in his prose the
spirit of mythological poems three centuries older, in which, even
before the change of faith in the North, the gods were welcomed
without fear as sharing in many humorous adventures.

And at the same time, along with this detached and ironical way of
thinking there is to be found in the Northern poetry the other, more
reverent mode of shaping the inherited fancies; the mode of Pindar,
rejecting the vain things fabled about the gods, and holding fast to
the more honourable things. The humours of Thor in the fishing for the
serpent and the winning of the hammer may be fairly likened to the
humours of Hermes in the Greek hymn. The _Lokasenna_ has some likeness
to the Homeric description of the brawls in heaven. But in the poems
that refer to the death of Balder and the sorrow of the gods there is
another tone; and the greatest of them all, the _Sibyl's Prophecy_, is
comparable, not indeed in volume of sound, but in loftiness of
imagination, to the poems in which Pindar has taken up the myths of
most inexhaustible value and significance--the Happy Islands, the
Birth of Athena.

The poet who lives in anything like an heroic or Homeric age has it in
his power to mingle the elements of mythology and of human
story--Phaeacia and Ithaca--in any proportion he pleases. As a matter
of fact, all varieties of proportion are to be found in medieval
documents. At the one extreme is the mythological romance and fantasy
of Celtic epic, and at the other extreme the plain narrative of human
encounters, in the old English battle poetry or the Icelandic family
histories. As far as one can judge from the extant poems, the old
English and old German poetry did not make such brilliant romance out
of mythological legend as was produced by the Northern poets. These
alone, and not the poets of England or Saxony, seem to have
appropriated for literature, in an Homeric way, the histories of the
gods. Myth is not wanting in old English or German poetry, but it does
not show itself in the same clear and delightful manner as in the
Northern poems of Thor, or in the wooing of Frey.

Thus in different places there are different modes in which an
inheritance of mythical ideas may be appreciated and used. It may
become a treasury for self-possessed and sure-handed artists, as in
Greece, and so be preserved long after it has ceased to be adequate to
all the intellectual desires. It may, by the fascination of its
wealth, detain the minds of poets in its enchanted ground, and prevent
them from ever working their way through from myth to dramatic
imagination, as in Ireland.

The early literature, and therewith the intellectual character and
aptitudes, of a nation may be judged by their literary use of
mythology. They may neglect it, like the Romans; they may neglect all
things for the sake of it, like the Celts; they may harmonise it, as
the Greeks did, in a system of imaginative creations where the
harmony is such that myth need never be felt as an encumbrance or an
absurdity, however high or far the reason may go beyond it in any
direction of art or science.

At the beginning of modern literature there are to be found the
attempts of Irish and Welsh, of English and Germans, Danes and
Northmen, to give shape to myth, and make it available for literature.
Together with that, and as part of the same process, there is found
the beginning of historical literature in an heroic or epic form. The
results are various; but one thing may be taken as certain, that
progress in literature is most assured when the mythology is so far
under control as to leave room for the drama of epic characters; for
epic, as distinguished from romance.

Now the fortunes of these people were such as to make this
self-command exceedingly difficult for them, and to let in an enormous
extraneous force, encouraging the native mythopoetic tendencies, and
unfavourable to the growth of epic. They had to come to an
understanding with themselves about their own heathen traditions, to
bring the extravagances of them into some order, so as to let the epic
heroes have free play. But they were not left to themselves in this
labour of bringing mythology within bounds; even before they had
fairly escaped from barbarism, before they had made a fair beginning
of civilisation and of reflective literature on their own account,
they were drawn within the Empire, into Christendom. Before their
imaginations had fully wakened out of the primeval dream, the
cosmogonies and theogonies, gross and monstrous, of their national
infancy, they were asked to have an opinion about the classical
mythology, as represented by the Latin poets; they were made
acquainted with the miracles of the lives of saints.

More than all this, even, their minds were charmed away from the
labour of epic invention, by the spell of the preacher. The task of
representing characters--Waldere or Theodoric or Attila--was forgotten
in the lyrical rapture of devotion, in effusion of pathos. The
fascination of religious symbolism crept over minds that had hardly
yet begun to see and understand things as they are; and in all their
reading the "moral," "anagogical," and "tropological" significations
prevailed against the literal sense.

One part of medieval history is concerned with the progress of the
Teutonic nations, in so far as they were left to themselves, and in so
far as their civilisation is home-made. The _Germania_ of Tacitus, for
instance, is used by historians to interpret the later development of
Teutonic institutions. But this inquiry involves a good deal of
abstraction and an artificial limitation of view. In reality, the
people of Germania were never left to themselves at all, were never
beyond the influence of Southern ideas; and the history of the
influence of Southern ideas on the Northern races takes up a larger
field than the isolated history of the North. Nothing in the world is
more fantastic. The logic of Aristotle and the art of Virgil are
recommended to people whose chief men, barons and earls, are commonly
in their tastes and acquirements not very different from the suitors
in the _Odyssey_. Gentlemen much interested in raids and forays, and
the profits of such business, are confronted with a literature into
which the labours of all past centuries have been distilled. In a
society that in its native elements is closely analogous to Homer's
Achaeans, men are found engaged in the study of Boethius _On the
Consolation of Philosophy_, a book that sums up the whole course of
Greek philosophical speculation. Ulysses quoting Aristotle is an
anachronism; but King Alfred's translation of Boethius is almost as
much of a paradox. It is not easy to remain unmoved at the thought of
the medieval industry bestowed on authors like Martianus Capella _de
Nuptiis Philologiae_, or Macrobius _de Somnio Scipionis_. What is to
be said of the solemnity with which, in their pursuit of authoritative
doctrine, they applied themselves to extract the spiritual meaning of
Ovid's _Metamorphoses_, and appropriate the didactic system of the
_Art of Love_?

In medieval literature, whatever there is of the Homeric kind has an
utterly different relation to popular standards of appreciation from
that of the Homeric poems in Greece. Here and there some care may be
taken, as by Charlemagne and Alfred, to preserve the national heroic
poetry. But such regard for it is rare; and even where it is found, it
comes far short of the honour paid to Homer by Alexander. English Epic
is not first, but one of the least, among the intellectual and
literary interests of King Alfred. Heroic literature is only one
thread in the weft of medieval literature.

There are some curious documents illustrative of its comparative
value, and of the variety and complexity of medieval literature.

Hauk Erlendsson, an Icelander of distinction in the fourteenth
century, made a collection of treatises in one volume for his own
amusement and behoof. It contains the _Volospá_, the most famous of
all the Northern mythical poems, the Sibyl's song of the doom of the
gods; it contains also the _Landnámabók_, the history of the
colonisation of Iceland; _Kristni Saga_, the history of the conversion
to Christianity; the history of _Eric the Red_, and _Fóstbræðra Saga_,
the story of the two sworn brethren, Thorgeir and Thormod the poet.
Besides these records of the history and the family traditions of
Iceland and Greenland, there are some mythical stories of later date,
dealing with old mythical themes, such as the life of Ragnar Lodbrok.
In one of them, the _Heidreks Saga_, are embedded some of the most
memorable verses, after _Volospá_, in the old style of Northern
poetry--the poem of the _Waking of Angantyr_. The other contents of
the book are as follows: geographical, physical, and theological
pieces; extracts from St. Augustine; the _History of the Cross_; the
_Description of Jerusalem_; the _Debate of Body and Soul_;
_Algorismus_ (by Hauk himself, who was an arithmetician); a version of
the _Brut_ and of _Merlin's Prophecy_; _Lucidarium_, the most popular
medieval handbook of popular science. This is the collection, to which
all the ends of the earth have contributed, and it is in strange and
far-fetched company like this that the Northern documents are found.
In Greece, whatever early transactions there may have been with the
wisdom of Egypt or Phoenicia, there is no such medley as this.

Another illustration of the literary chaos is presented, even more
vividly than in the contents of Hauk's book, by the whalebone casket
in the British Museum. Weland the smith (whom Alfred introduced into
his _Boethius_) is here put side by side with the Adoration of the
Magi; on another side are Romulus and Remus; on another, Titus at
Jerusalem; on the lid of the casket is the defence of a house by one
who is shooting arrows at his assailants; his name is written over
him, and his name is _Ægili_,--Egil the master-bowman, as Weland is
the master-smith, of the Northern mythology. Round the two companion
pictures, Weland on the left and the Three Kings on the right, side by
side, there go wandering runes, with some old English verses about
the "whale," or walrus, from which the ivory for these engravings was
obtained. The artist plainly had no more suspicion than the author of
_Lycidas_ that there was anything incorrect or unnatural in his
combinations. It is under these conditions that the heroic poetry of
Germania has been preserved; never as anything more than an accident
among an infinity of miscellaneous notions, the ruins of ancient
empires, out of which the commonplaces of European literature and
popular philosophy have been gradually collected.

The fate of epic poetry was the same as that of the primitive German
forms of society. In both there was a progress towards independent
perfection, an evolution of the possibilities inherent in them,
independent of foreign influences. But both in Teutonic society, and
in the poetry belonging to it and reflecting it, this independent
course of life is thwarted and interfered with. Instead of independent
strong Teutonic national powers, there are the more or less Romanised
and blended nationalities possessing the lands that had been conquered
by Goths and Burgundians, Lombards and Franks; instead of Germania,
the Holy Roman Empire; instead of Epic, Romance; not the old-fashioned
romance of native mythology, not the natural spontaneous romance of
the Irish legends or the Icelandic stories of gods and giants, but the
composite far-fetched romance of the age of chivalry, imported from
all countries and literatures to satisfy the medieval appetite for
novel and wonderful things.

Nevertheless, the stronger kind of poetry had still something to show,
before all things were overgrown with imported legend, and before the
strong enunciation of the older manner was put out of fashion by the
medieval clerks and rhetoricians.



The Teutonic heroic poetry was menaced on all hands from the earliest
times; it was turned aside from the national heroes by saints and
missionaries, and charmed out of its sterner moods by the spell of
wistful and regretful meditation. In continental Germany it appears to
have been early vanquished. In England, where the epic poetry was
further developed than on the Continent, it was not less exposed to
the rivalry of the ideas and subjects that belonged to the Church.

The Anglo-Saxon histories of St. Andrew and St. Helen are as full of
romantic passages as those poems of the fourteenth century in which
the old alliterative verse is revived to tell the tale of Troy or of
the _Mort Arthur_. The national subjects themselves are not proof
against the ideas of the Church; even in the fragments of _Waldere_
they are to be found; and the poem of _Beowulf_ has been filled, like
so much of the old English poetry, with the melancholy of the
preacher, and the sense of the vanity of earthly things. But the
influence of fantasy and pathos could not dissolve the strength of
epic beyond recovery, or not until it had done something to show what
it was worth. Not all the subjects are treated in the romantic manner
of Cynewulf and his imitators. The poem of _Maldon_, written at the
very end of the tenth century, is firm and unaffected in its style,
and of its style there can be no question that it is heroic.

The old Norse poetry was beyond the influence of most of the
tendencies and examples that corrupted the heroic poetry of the
Germans, and changed the course of poetry in England. It was not till
the day of its glory was past that it took to subjects like those of
Cynewulf and his imitators. But it was hindered in other ways from
representing the lives of heroes in a consistent epic form. If it knew
less of the miracles of saints, it knew more of the old mythology; and
though it was not, like English and German poetry, taken captive by
the preachers, it was stirred and thrilled by the beauty of its own
stories in a way that inclined to the lyrical rather than the epic
tone. Yet here also there are passages of graver epic, where the tone
is more assured and the composition more stately.

The relation of the French epics to French romance is on the one side
a relation of antagonism, in which the older form gives way to the
newer, because "the newer song is sweeter in the ears of men." The
_Chanson de Geste_ is driven out by poems that differ from it in
almost every possible respect; in the character of their original
subject-matter, in their verse, their rhetoric, and all their gear of
commonplaces, and all the devices of their art. But from another point
of view there may be detected in the _Chansons de Geste_ no small
amount of the very qualities that were fatal to them, when the
elements were compounded anew in the poems of _Erec_ and _Lancelot_.

The French epics have many points of likeness with the Teutonic
poetry of _Beowulf_ or _Finnesburh_, or of the Norse heroic songs.
They are epic in substance, having historical traditions at the back
of them, and owing the materials of their picture to no deliberate
study of authorities. They differ from _Beowulf_ in this respect,
among others, that they are the poems of feudal society, not of the
simpler and earlier communities. The difference ought not to be
exaggerated. As far as heroic poetry is concerned, the difference lies
chiefly in the larger frame of the story. The kingdom of France in the
French epics is wider than the kingdom of Hrothgar or Hygelac. The
scale is nearer that of the _Iliad_ than of the _Odyssey_. The
"Catalogue of the Armies sent into the Field" is longer, the mass of
fighting-men is more considerable, than in the epic of the older
school. There is also, frequently, a much fuller sense of the national
greatness and the importance of the defence of the land against its
enemies, a consciousness of the dignity of the general history, unlike
the carelessness with which the Teutonic poets fling themselves into
the story of individual lives, and disregard the historical
background. Generally, however, the Teutonic freedom and rebellious
spirit is found as unmistakably in the _Chansons de Geste_ as in the
alliterative poems. Feudalism appears in heroic poetry, and indeed in
prosaic history, as a more elaborate form of that anarchy which is the
necessary condition of an heroic age. It does not deprive the poet of
his old subjects, his family enmities, and his adventures of private
war. Feudalism did not invent, neither did it take away, the virtue of
loyalty that has so large a place in all true epic, along with its
counterpart of defiance and rebellion, no less essential to the story.
It intensified the poetical value of both motives, but they are older
than the _Iliad_. It provided new examples of the "wrath" of injured
or insulted barons; it glorified to the utmost, it honoured as
martyrs, those who died fighting for their lord.[15]

[Footnote 15:

     Lor autres mors ont toz en terre mis:
     Crois font sor aus, qu'il erent droit martir:
     Por lor seignor orent esté ocis.

     _Garin le Loherain_, tom. ii. p. 88.]

In all this it did nothing to change the essence of heroic poetry. The
details were changed, the scene was enlarged, and so was the number of
the combatants. But the details of feudalism that make a difference
between Beowulf, or the men of Attila, and the epic paladins of
Charlemagne in the French poems of the eleventh and twelfth centuries,
need not obscure the essential resemblance between one heroic period
and another.

On the other hand, it is plain from the beginning that French epic had
to keep its ground with some difficulty against the challenge of
romantic skirmishers. In one of the earliest of the poems about
Charlemagne, the Emperor and his paladins are taken to the East by a
poet whom Bossu would hardly have counted "honest." In the poem of
_Huon of Bordeaux_, much later, the story of Oberon and the magic horn
has been added to the plot of a feudal tragedy, which in itself is
compact and free from extravagance. Between those extreme cases there
are countless examples of the mingling of the graver epic with more or
less incongruous strains. Sometimes there is magic, sometimes the
appearance of a Paynim giant, often the repetition of long prayers
with allusions to the lives of saints and martyrs, and throughout
there is the constant presence of ideas derived from homilies and the
common teaching of the Church. In some of these respects the French
epics are in the same case as the old English poems which, like
_Beowulf_, show the mingling of a softer mood with the stronger; of
new conventions with old. In some respects they show a further
encroachment of the alien spirit.

The English poem of _Maldon_ has some considerable likeness in the
matter of its story, and not a little in its ideal of courage, with
the _Song of Roland_. A comparison of the two poems, in those respects
in which they are commensurable, will show the English poem to be
wanting in certain elements of mystery that are potent in the other.

The _Song of Maldon_ and the _Song of Roncesvalles_ both narrate the
history of a lost battle, of a realm defended against its enemies by a
captain whose pride and self-reliance lead to disaster, by refusing to
take fair advantage of the enemy and put forth all his available
strength. Byrhtnoth, fighting the Northmen on the shore of the Essex
river, allows them of his own free will to cross the ford and come to
close quarters. "He gave ground too much to the adversary; he called
across the cold river and the warriors listened: 'Now is space granted
to you; come speedily hither and fight; God alone can tell who will
hold the place of battle.' Then the wolves of blood, the rovers, waded
west over Panta."

This unnecessary magnanimity has for the battle of Maldon the effect
of Roland's refusal to sound the horn at the battle of Roncesvalles;
it is the tragic error or transgression of limit that brings down the
crash and ruin at the end of the day.

In both poems there is a like spirit of indomitable resistance. The
close of the battle of Maldon finds the loyal companions of Byrhtnoth
fighting round his body, abandoned by the cowards who have run away,
but themselves convinced of their absolute strength to resist to the

     Byrhtwold spoke and grasped his shield--he was an old
     companion--he shook his ashen spear, and taught courage to
     them that fought:--

     "Thought shall be the harder, heart the keener, mood shall
     be the more, as our might lessens. Here our prince lies low,
     they have hewn him to death! Grief and sorrow for ever on
     the man that leaves this war-play! I am old of years, but
     hence I will not go; I think to lay me down by the side of
     my lord, by the side of the man I cherished."

The story of Roncesvalles tells of an agony equally hopeless and
equally secure from every touch of fear.

The _Song of Maldon_ is a strange poem to have been written in the
reign of Ethelred the Unready. But for a few phrases it might, as far
as the matter is concerned, have been written before the conversion of
England, and although it is a battle in defence of the country, and
not a mere incident of private war, the motive chiefly used is not
patriotism, but private loyalty to the captain. Roland is full of the
spirit of militant Christendom, and there is no more constant thought
in the poem than that of the glory of France. The virtue of the
English heroes is the old Teutonic virtue. The events of the battle
are told plainly and clearly; nothing adventitious is brought in to
disturb the effect of the plain story; the poetical value lies in the
contrast between the grey landscape (which is barely indicated), the
severe and restrained description of the fighters, on the one hand,
and on the other the sublimity of the spirit expressed in the last
words of the "old companion." In the narrative of events there are no
extraneous beauties to break the overwhelming strength of the
eloquence in which the meaning of the whole thing is concentrated.
With Roland at Roncesvalles the case is different. He is not shown in
the grey light of the Essex battlefield. The background is more
majestic. There is a mysterious half-lyrical refrain throughout the
tale of the battle: "high are the mountains and dark the valleys"
about the combatants in the pass; they are not left to themselves like
the warriors of the poem of _Maldon_. It is romance, rather than epic
or tragedy, which in this way recognises the impersonal power of the
scene; the strength of the hills under which the fight goes on. In the
first part of the _Odyssey_ the spell of the mystery of the sea is all
about the story of Odysseus; in the later and more dramatic part the
hero loses this, and all the strength is concentrated in his own
character. In the story of Roland there is a vastness and vagueness
throughout, coming partly from the numbers of the hosts engaged,
partly from the author's sense of the mystery of the Pyrenean valleys,
and, in a very large measure, from the heavenly aid accorded to the
champion of Christendom. The earth trembles, there is darkness over
all the realm of France even to the Mount St. Michael:

     C'est la dulur pur la mort de Rollant.

St. Gabriel descends to take from the hand of Roland the glove that he
offers with his last confession; and the three great angels of the
Lord are there to carry his soul to Paradise.

There is nothing like this in the English poem. The battle is fought
in the light of an ordinary day; there is nothing to greet the eyes of
Byrhtnoth and his men except the faces of their enemies.

It is not hard to find in old English poetry descriptions less austere
than that of _Maldon_; there may be found in the French _Chansons de
Geste_ great spaces in which there is little of the majestic light and
darkness of Roncesvalles. But it is hard to escape the conviction that
the poem of _Maldon_, late as it is, has uttered the spirit and
essence of the Northern heroic literature in its reserved and simple
story, and its invincible profession of heroic faith; while the poem
of Roncesvalles is equally representative of the French epic spirit,
and of the French poems in which the ideas common to every heroic age
are expressed with all the circumstances of the feudal society of
Christendom, immediately before the intellectual and literary
revolutions of the twelfth century. The French epics are full of omens
of the coming victory of romance, though they have not yet given way.
They still retain, in spite of their anticipations of the Kingdom of
the Grail, an alliance in spirit with the older Teutonic poetry, and
with those Icelandic histories that are the highest literary
expression of the Northern spirit in its independence of feudalism.

The heroic age of the ancient Germans may be said to culminate, and
end, in Iceland in the thirteenth century. The Icelandic _Sagas_--the
prose histories of the fortunes of the great Icelandic houses--are the
last and also the finest expression and record of the spirit and the
ideas belonging properly to the Germanic race in its own right, and
not derived from Rome or Christendom. Those of the German nations who
stayed longest at home had by several centuries the advantage of the
Goths and Franks, and had time to complete their native education
before going into foreign subjects. The English were less exposed to
Southern influences than the continental Germans; the Scandinavian
nations less than the Angles and Saxons. In Norway particularly, the
common German ideas were developed in a way that produced a code of
honour, a consciousness of duty, and a strength of will, such as had
been unknown in the German nations who were earlier called upon to
match themselves against Rome. Iceland was colonised by a picked lot
of Norwegians; by precisely those Norwegians who had this strength of
will in its highest degree.

Political progress in the Middle Ages was by way of monarchy; but
strong monarchy was contrary to the traditions of Germania, and in
Norway, a country of great extent and great difficulties of
communication, the ambition of Harold Fairhair was resisted by numbers
of chieftains who had their own local following and their own family
dignity to maintain, in their firths and dales. Those men found Norway
intolerable through the tyranny of King Harold, and it was by them
that Iceland was colonised through the earlier colonies in the
west--in Scotland, in Ireland, in Shetland and the other islands.

The ideas that took the Northern colonists to Iceland were the ideas
of Germania,--the love of an independent life, the ideal of the
old-fashioned Northern gentleman, who was accustomed to consideration
and respect from the freemen, his neighbours, who had authority by his
birth and fortune to look after the affairs of his countryside, who
would not make himself the tenant, vassal, or steward of any king. In
the new country these ideas were intensified and defined. The ideal of
the Icelandic Commonwealth was something more than a vague motive, it
was present to the minds of the first settlers in a clear and definite
form. The most singular thing in the heroic age of Iceland is that the
heroes knew what they were about. The heroic age of Iceland begins in
a commonwealth founded by a social contract. The society that is
established there is an association of individuals coming to an
agreement with one another to invent a set of laws and observe them.
Thus while Iceland on the one hand is a reactionary state, founded by
men who were turning their backs on the only possible means of
political progress, cutting themselves off from the world, and
adhering obstinately to forms of life with no future before them, on
the other hand this reactionary commonwealth, this fanatical
representative of early Germanic use and wont, is possessed of a
clearness of self-consciousness, a hard and positive clearness of
understanding, such as is to be found nowhere else in the Middle Ages
and very rarely at all in any polity.

The prose literature of Iceland displays the same two contradictory
characters throughout. The actions described, and the customs, are
those of an early heroic age, with rather more than the common amount
of enmity and vengeance, and an unequalled power of resistance and
rebellion in the individual wills of the personages. The record of all
this anarchy is a prose history, rational and unaffected, seeing all
things in a dry light; a kind of literature that has not much to learn
from any humanism or rationalism, in regard to its own proper subjects
at any rate.

The people of Iceland were not cut off from the ordinary European
learning and its commonplaces. They read the same books as were read
in England or Germany. They read St. Gregory _de Cura Pastorali_, they
read _Ovidius Epistolarum_, and all the other popular books of the
Middle Ages. In time those books and the world to which they belonged
were able to obtain a victory over the purity of the Northern
tradition and manners, but not until the Northern tradition had
exhausted itself, and the Icelandic polity began to break up. The
literature of the maturity of Iceland just before the fall of the
Commonwealth is a literature belonging wholly and purely to Iceland,
in a style unmodified by Latin syntax and derived from the colloquial
idiom. The matter is the same in kind as the common matter of heroic
poetry. The history represents the lives of adventurers, the rivalries
and private wars of men who are not ignorant of right and honour, but
who acknowledge little authority over them, and are given to choose
their right and wrong for themselves, and abide the consequences. This
common matter is presented in a form which may be judged on its own
merits, and there is no need to ask concessions from any one in
respect of the hard or unfavourable conditions under which this
literature was produced. One at least of the Icelandic Sagas is one of
the great prose works of the world--the story of Njal and his sons.

The most perfect heroic literature of the Northern nations is to be
found in the country where the heroic polity and society had most room
and leisure; and in Iceland the heroic ideals of life had conditions
more favourable than are to be discovered anywhere else in history.
Iceland was a world divided from the rest, outside the orbit of all
the states of Europe; what went on there had little more than an ideal
relation to the course of the great world; it had no influence on
Europe, it was kept separate as much as might be from the European
storms and revolutions. What went on in Iceland was the progress in
seclusion of the old Germanic life--a life that in the rest of the
world had been blended and immersed in other floods and currents.
Iceland had no need of the great movements of European history.

They had a humanism of their own, a rationalism of their own, gained
quite apart from the great European tumults, and gained prematurely,
in comparison with the rest of Europe. Without the labour of the
Middle Ages, without the storm and stress of the reform of learning,
they had the faculty of seeing things clearly and judging their values
reasonably, without superstition. They had to pay the penalty of their
opposition to the forces of the world; there was no cohesion in their
society, and when once the balance of power in the island was
disturbed, the Commonwealth broke up. But before that, they
accomplished what had been ineffectually tried by the poet of
_Beowulf_, the poet of _Roland_; they found an adequate form of heroic
narrative. Also in their use of this instrument they were led at last
to a kind of work that has been made nowhere else in the world, for
nowhere else does the form of heroic narrative come to be adapted to
contemporary events, as it was in Iceland, by historians who were
themselves partakers in the actions they described. Epic, if the Sagas
are epic, here coincides with autobiography. In the _Sturlunga Saga_,
written by Sturla, Snorri's nephew, the methods of heroic literature
are applied by an eye-witness to the events of his own time, and there
is no discrepancy or incongruity between form and matter. The age
itself takes voice and speaks in it; there is no interval between
actors and author. This work is the end of the heroic age, both in
politics and in literature. After the loss of Icelandic freedom there
is no more left of Germania, and the _Sturlunga Saga_ which tells the
story of the last days of freedom is the last word of the Teutonic
heroic age. It is not a decrepit or imitative or secondary thing; it
is a masterpiece; and with this true history, this adaptation of an
heroic style to contemporary realities, the sequence of German heroic
tradition comes to an end.





Of the heroic poetry in the Teutonic alliterative verse, the history
must be largely conjectural. The early stages of it are known merely
through casual references like those of Tacitus. We know that to the
mind of the Emperor Julian, the songs of the Germans resembled the
croaking of noisy birds; but this criticism is not satisfactory,
though it is interesting. The heroes of the old time before Ermanaric
and Attila were not without their poets, but of what sort the poems
were in which their praises were sung, we can only vaguely guess. Even
of the poems that actually remain it is difficult to ascertain the
history and the conditions of their production. The variety of styles
discoverable in the extant documents is enough to prevent the easy
conclusion that the German poetry of the first century was already a
fixed type, repeated by successive generations of poets down to the
extinction of alliterative verse as a living form.

After the sixth century things become a little clearer, and it is
possible to speak with more certainty. One thing at any rate of the
highest importance may be regarded as beyond a doubt. The passages in
which Jordanes tells of Suanihilda trampled to death by the horses of
Ermanaric, and of the vengeance taken by her brothers Sarus and
Ammius, are enough to prove that the subjects of heroic poetry had
already in the sixth century, if not earlier, formed themselves
compactly in the imagination. If Jordanes knew a Gothic poem on
Ermanaric and the brothers of Suanihilda, that was doubtless very
different from the Northern poem of Sorli and Hamther, which is a
later version of the same story. But even if the existence of a Gothic
ballad of Swanhild were doubted,--and the balance of probabilities is
against the doubter,--it follows indisputably from the evidence that
in the time of Jordanes people were accustomed to select and dwell
upon dramatic incidents in what was accepted as history; the
appreciation of tragedy was there, the talent to understand a tragic
situation, to shape a tragic plot, to bring out the essential matter
in relief and get rid of irrelevant particulars.

In this respect at any rate, and it is one of the most important,
there is continuity in the ancient poetry, onward from this early
date. The stories of Alboin in the Lombard history of Paulus Diaconus,
the meaning of which for the history of poetry is explained so
admirably in the Introduction to _Corpus Poeticum Boreale_, by Dr.
Vigfusson and Mr. York Powell, are further and more vivid
illustrations of the same thing. In the story of the youth of Alboin,
and the story of his death, there is matter of the same amount as
would suffice for one of the short epics of the kind we know,--a poem
of the same length as the Northern lay of the death of Ermanaric, of
the same compass as _Waltharius_,--or, to take another standard of
measurement, matter for a single tragedy with the unities preserved.
Further, there is in both of them exactly that resolute comprehension
and exposition of tragic meaning which is the virtue of the short
epics. The tragic contradiction in them could not be outdone by Victor
Hugo. It is no wonder that the story of Rosamond and Albovine king of
the Lombards became a favourite with dramatists of different schools,
from the first essays of the modern drama in the _Rosmunda_ of
Rucellai, passing by the common way of the novels of Bandello to the
Elizabethan stage. The earlier story of Alboin's youth, if less
valuable for emphatic tragedy, being without the baleful figure of a
Rosamond or a Clytemnestra, is even more perfect as an example of
tragic complication. Here again is the old sorrow of Priam; the slayer
of the son face to face with the slain man's father, and not in
enmity. In beauty of original conception the story is not finer than
that of Priam and Achilles; and it is impossible to compare the
stories in any other respect than that of the abstract plot. But in
one quality of the plot the Lombard drama excels or exceeds the story
of the last book of the _Iliad_. The contradiction is strained with a
greater tension; the point of honour is more nearly absolute. This
does not make it a better story, but it proves that the man who told
the story could understand the requirements of a tragic plot, could
imagine clearly a strong dramatic situation, could refrain from
wasting or obliterating the outline of a great story.

The Lombards and the Gepidae were at war. Alboin, son of the Lombard
king Audoin, and Thurismund, son of the Gepid king Thurisvend, met in
battle, and Alboin killed Thurismund. After the battle, the Lombards
asked King Audoin to knight his son. But Audoin answered that he would
not break the Lombard custom, according to which it was necessary for
the young man to receive arms first from the king of some other
people. Alboin when he heard this set out with forty of the Lombards,
and went to Thurisvend, whose son he had killed, to ask this honour
from him. Thurisvend welcomed him, and set him down at his right hand
in the place where his son used to sit.

Then follows the critical point of the action. The contradiction is
extreme; the reconciliation also, the solution of the case, is
perfect. Things are stretched to the breaking-point before the release
comes; nothing is spared that can possibly aggravate the hatred
between the two sides, which is kept from breaking out purely by the
honour of the king. The man from whom an infinite debt of vengeance is
owing, comes of his own will to throw himself on the generosity of his
adversary. This, to begin with, is hardly fair to simple-minded people
like the Gepid warriors; they may fairly think that their king is
going too far in his reading of the law of honour:

     And it came to pass while the servants were serving at the
     tables, that Thurisvend, remembering how his son had been
     lately slain, and calling to mind his death, and beholding
     his slayer there beside him in his very seat, began to draw
     deep sighs, for he could not withhold himself any longer,
     and at last his grief burst forth in words. "Very pleasant
     to me," quoth he, "is the seat, but sad enough it is to see
     him that is sitting therein."[16]

[Footnote 16: _C.P.B._, Introduction, p. lii.]

By his confession of his thoughts the king gives an opening to those
who are waiting for it, and it is taken at once. Insult and rejoinder
break out, and it is within a hair's breadth of the irretrievable
plunge that the king speaks his mind. He is lord in that house, and
his voice allays the tumult; he takes the weapons of his son
Thurismund, and gives them to Alboin and sends him back in peace and
safety to his father's kingdom. It is a great story, even in a prose
abstract, and the strength of its tragic problem is invincible. It is
with strength like that, with a knowledge not too elaborate or minute,
but sound and clear, of some of the possibilities of mental conflict
and tragic contradiction, that heroic poetry first reveals itself
among the Germans. It is this that gives strength to the story of the
combat between Hildebrand and his son, of the flight of Walter and
Hildegund, of the death of Brynhild, of Attila and Gudrun. Some of the
heroic poems and plots are more simple than these. The battle of
Maldon is a fair fight without any such distressful circumstances as
in the case of Hildebrand or of Walter of Aquitaine. The adventures of
Beowulf are simple, also; there is suspense when he waits the attack
of the monster, but there is nothing of the deadly crossing of
passions that there is in other stories. Even in _Maldon_, however,
there is the tragic error; the fall and defeat of the English is
brought about by the over-confidence and over-generosity of Byrhtnoth,
in allowing the enemy to come to close quarters. In _Beowulf_, though
the adventures of the hero are simple, other less simple stories are
referred to by the way. One of these is a counterpart to the story of
the youth of Alboin and the magnanimity of Thurisvend. One of the most
famous of all the old subjects of heroic poetry was the vengeance of
Ingeld for the death of his father, King Froda. The form of this story
in _Beowulf_ agrees with that of Saxo Grammaticus in preserving the
same kind of opposition as in the story of Alboin, only in this case
there is a different solution. Here a deadly feud has been put to rest
by a marriage, and the daughter of Froda's slayer is married to
Froda's son. But as in the Lombard history and in so many of the
stories of Iceland, this reconciliation is felt to be intolerable and
spurious; the need of vengeance is real, and it finds a spokesman in
an old warrior, who cannot forget his dead lord, nor endure the sight
of the new bride's kinsmen going free and wearing the spoils of their
victory. So Ingeld has to choose between his wife, wedded to him out
of his enemy's house, and his father, whom that enemy has killed. And
so everywhere in the remains, not too voluminous, of the literature of
the heroic age, one encounters this sort of tragic scheme. One of
those ancient plots, abstracted and written out fair by Saxo, is the
plot of _Hamlet_.

There is not one of the old Northern heroic poems, as distinct from
the didactic and mythological pieces, that is without this tragic
contradiction; sometimes expressed with the extreme of severity, as in
the lay of the death of Ermanaric; sometimes with lyrical
effusiveness, as in the lament of Gudrun; sometimes with a mystery
upon it from the under-world and the kingdom of the dead, as in the
poems of Helgi, and of the daughter of Angantyr.

The poem of the death of Ermanaric is a version of the story told by
Jordanes, which since his time had come to be attached to the cycle of
the Niblungs.

Swanhild, the daughter of Sigurd and Gudrun, was wedded to Ermanaric,
king of the Goths. The king's counsellor wrought on his mind with
calumnies against the queen, and he ordered her to be trampled to
death under horses' feet, and so she died, though the horses were
afraid of the brightness of her eyes and held back until her eyes were
covered. Gudrun stirred up her sons, Sorli and Hamther, to go and
avenge their sister. As they set out, they quarrelled with their
base-born brother Erp, and killed him,--the tragic error in this
history, for it was the want of a third man that ruined them, and Erp
would have helped them if they had let him. In the hall of the Goths
they defy their enemy and hew down his men; no iron will bite in their
armour; they cut off the hands and feet of Ermanaric. Then, as happens
so often in old stories, they go too far, and a last insult alters the
balance against them, as Odysseus alters it at the leave-taking with
Polyphemus. The last gibe at Ermanaric stirs him as he lies, and he
calls on the remnant of the Goths to stone the men that neither sword
nor spear nor arrow will bring down. And that was the end of them.

     "We have fought a good fight; we stand on slain Goths that
     have had their fill of war. We have gotten a good report,
     though we die to-day or to-morrow. No man can live over the
     evening, when the word of the Fates has gone forth."

     There fell Sorli at the gable of the hall, and Hamther was
     brought low at the end of the house.

Among the Norse poems it is this one, the _Hamðismál_, that comes
nearest to the severity of the English _Maldon_ poem. It is wilder and
more cruel, but the end attains to simplicity.

The gap in _Codex Regius_, the "Elder" or "Poetic Edda," has destroyed
the poems midway between the beginning and end of the tragedy of
Sigfred and Brynhild, and among them the poem of their last meeting.
There is nothing but the prose paraphrase to tell what that was, but
the poor substitute brings out all the more clearly the strength of
the original conception, the tragic problem.

After the gap in the manuscript there are various poems of Brynhild
and Gudrun, in which different views of the story are taken, and in
all of them the tragic contradiction is extreme: in Brynhild's
vengeance on Sigurd, in Gudrun's lament for her husband slain by her
brothers, and in the later fortunes of Gudrun. In some of these poems
the tragedy becomes lyrical, and two kinds of imagination, epic and
elegiac, are found in harmony.

The story of Helgi and Sigrun displays this rivalry of moods--a tragic
story, carried beyond the tragic stress into the mournful quiet of the

Helgi is called upon by Sigrun to help her against Hodbrodd, and save
her from a hateful marriage. Helgi kills Hodbrodd, and wins Sigrun;
but he has also killed Sigrun's father Hogni and her elder brother.
The younger brother Dag takes an oath to put away enmity, but breaks
his oath and kills Helgi.

It is a story like all the others in which there is a conflict of
duties, between friendship and the duty of vengeance, a plot of the
same kind as that of Froda and Ingeld. Sigrun's brother is tried in
the same way as Ingeld in the story told by Saxo and mentioned in
_Beowulf_. But it does not end with the death of Helgi. Sigrun looks
for Helgi to come back in the hour of the "Assembly of Dreams," and
Helgi comes and calls her, and she follows him:--

     "Thy hair is thick with rime, thou art wet with the dew of
     death, thy hands are cold and dank."

     "It is thine own doing, Sigrun from Sevafell, that Helgi is
     drenched with deadly dew; thou weepest cruel tears, thou
     gold-dight, sunbright lady of the South, before thou goest
     to sleep; every one of them falls with blood, wet and chill,
     upon my breast. Yet precious are the draughts that are
     poured for us, though we have lost both love and land, and
     no man shall sing a song of lamentation though he see the
     wounds on my breast, for kings' daughters have come among
     the dead."

     "I have made thee a bed, Helgi, a painless bed, thou son of
     the Wolfings. I shall sleep in thine arms, O king, as I
     should if thou wert alive."

This is something different from epic or tragedy, but it does not
interfere with the tragedy of which it is the end.

The poem of the _Waking of Angantyr_ is so filled with mystery and
terror that it is hard to find in it anything else. After the
_Volospá_ it is the most wonderful of all the Northern poems.

Hervor, daughter of Angantyr, is left alone to avenge her father and
her eleven brothers, killed by Arrow Odd before her birth. In her
father's grave is the sword of the Dwarfs that never is drawn in vain,
and she comes to his grave to find it. The island where he lies is
full of death-fires, and the dead are astir, but Hervor goes on. She
calls on her father and her brothers to help her:

     "Awake, Angantyr! It is Hervor that bids thee awake. Give me
     the sword of the Dwarfs! Hervard! Hiorvard! Rani! Angantyr!
     I bid you all awake!"

Her father answers from the grave; he will not give up the sword, for
the forgers of it when it was taken from them put a curse on those who
wear it. But Hervor will not leave him until he has yielded to her
prayers, and at last she receives the sword from her father's

[Footnote 17: This poem has been followed by M. Leconte de Lisle in
_L'Épée d'Angantyr (Poèmes Barbares)_. It was among the first of the
Northern poems to be translated into English, in Hickes's _Thesaurus_
(1705), i. p. 193. It is also included in Percy's _Five Pieces of
Runic Poetry_ (1763).]

Although the poem of Hervor lies in this way "between the worlds" of
Life and Death,--the phrase is Hervor's own,--although the action is
so strange and so strangely encompassed with unearthly fire and
darkness, its root is not set in the dim borderland where the dialogue
is carried on. The root is tragic, and not fantastic, nor is there any
excess, nor anything strained beyond the limit of tragedy, in the
passion of Hervor.

Definite imagination of a tragic plot, and sure comprehension of the
value of dramatic problems, are not enough in themselves to make a
perfect poem. They may go along with various degrees of imperfection
in particular respects; faults of diction, either tenuity or
extravagance of phrasing may accompany this central imaginative power.
Strength of plot is partly independent of style; it bears translation,
it can be explained, it is something that can be abstracted from the
body of a poem and still make itself impressive. The dramatic value of
the story of the death of Alboin is recognisable even when it is
stated in the most general terms, as a mere formula; the story of
_Waltharius_ retains its life, even in the Latin hexameters; the plot
of _Hamlet_ is interesting, even in Saxo; the story of the Niblungs,
even in the mechanical prose paraphrase. This gift of shaping a plot
and letting it explain itself without encumbrances is not to be
mistaken for the whole secret of the highest kind of poetry. But, if
not the whole, it is the spring of the whole. All the other gifts may
be there, but without this, though all but the highest kind of epic or
tragic art may be attainable, the very highest will not be attained.

Aristotle may be referred to again. As he found it convenient in his
description of epic to insist on its dramatic nature, in his
description of tragedy it pleased him to lay emphasis on that part of
the work which is common to tragedy and epic--the story, the plot. It
may be remarked how well the barbarous poetry conforms to the pattern
laid down in Aristotle's description. The old German epic, in
_Hildebrand_, _Waldere_, _Finnesburh_, _Byrhtnoth_, besides all the
Northern lays of Sigurd, Brynhild, and Gudrun, is dramatic in its
method, letting the persons speak for themselves as much as may be. So
far it complies with Aristotle's delineation of epic. And further, all
this dramatic bent may be seen clearly to have its origin in the mere
story,--in the dramatic situation, in fables that might be acted by
puppets or in a dumb show, and yet be tragical. No analytic or
psychological interest in varieties of character--in [Greek:
êthê]--could have uttered the passion of Brynhild or of Gudrun.
Aristotle knew that psychological analysis and moral rhetoric were not
the authors of Clytemnestra or Oedipus. The barbarian poets are on a
much lower and more archaic level than the poets with whom Aristotle
is concerned, but here, where comparison is not meaningless nor
valueless, their imaginations are seen to work in the same sound and
productive way as the minds of Aeschylus or Sophocles, letting the
seed--the story in its abstract form, the mere plot--develop itself
and spring naturally into the fuller presentation of the characters
that are implied in it. It is another kind of art that studies
character in detail, one by one, and then sets them playing at chance
medley, and trusts to luck that the result will be entertaining.

That Aristotle is confirmed by these barbarian auxiliaries is of no
great importance to Aristotle, but it is worth arguing that the
barbarous German imagination at an earlier stage, relatively, than the
Homeric, is found already possessed of something like the sanity of
judgment, the discrimination of essentials from accidents, which is
commonly indicated by the term classical. Compared with Homer these
German songs are prentice work; but they are begun in the right way,
and therefore to compare them with a masterpiece in which the same way
is carried out to its end is not unjustifiable.



The following are the extant poems on native heroic themes, written in
one or other of the dialects of the Teutonic group, and in unrhymed
alliterative measures.

(1) _Continental._--The _Lay of Hildebrand_ (_c._ A.D. 800), a Low
German poem, copied by High German clerks, is the only remnant of the
heroic poetry of the continental Germans in which, together with the
national metre, there is a national theme.

(2) _English._--The poems of this order in old English are _Beowulf_,
_Finnesburh_, _Waldere_, and _Byrhtnoth_, or the _Lay of Maldon_.
Besides these there are poems on historical themes preserved in the
Chronicle, of which _Brunanburh_ is the most important, and two
dramatic lyrics, _Widsith_ and _Deor_, in which there are many
allusions to the mythical and heroic cycles.

(3) _Scandinavian and Icelandic._--The largest number of heroic poems
in alliterative verse is found in the old Northern language, and in
manuscripts written in Iceland. The poems themselves may have come
from other places in which the old language of Norway was spoken, some
of them perhaps from Norway itself, many of them probably from those
islands round Britain to which a multitude of Norwegian settlers were
attracted,--Shetland, the Orkneys, the Western Islands of

[Footnote 18: Cf. G. Vigfusson, Prolegomena to _Sturlunga_ (Oxford,
1878); (_Corpus Poeticum Boreale_ (_ibid._ 1883); _Grimm Centenary
Papers_ 1886); Sophus Bugge, _Helgedigtene_ (1896; trans. Schofield,

The principal collection is that of the manuscript in the King's
Library at Copenhagen (2365, 4'o) generally referred to as _Codex
Regius_ (R); it is this book, discovered in the seventeenth century,
that has received the inaccurate but convenient names of _Elder Edda_,
or _Poetic Edda_, or _Edda of Sæmund the Wise_, by a series of
miscalculations fully described in the preface to the _Corpus Poeticum
Boreale_. Properly, the name _Edda_ belongs only to the prose treatise
by Snorri Sturluson.

The chief contents of _Codex Regius_ are a series of independent poems
on the Volsung story, beginning with the tragedies of _Helgi and
Swava_ and _Helgi and Sigrun_ (originally unconnected with the Volsung
legend), and going on in the order of events.

The series is broken by a gap in which the poems dealing with some of
the most important parts of the story have been lost. The matter of
their contents is known from the prose paraphrase called _Volsunga
Saga_. Before the Volsung series comes a number of poems chiefly
mythological: the _Sibyl's Prophecy_, (Volospá); _the Wooing of Frey_,
or the _Errand of Skirnir_; the _Flyting of Thor and Woden_
(Harbarzlióð); _Thor's Fishing for the Midgarth Serpent_ (Hymiskviða);
the _Railing of Loki_ (Lokasenna); the _Winning of Thor's Hammer_
(Þrymskviða); the _Lay of Weland_. There are also some didactic poems,
chief among them being the gnomic miscellany under the title
_Hávamál_; while besides this there are others, like _Vafþrúðnismál_,
treating of mythical subjects in a more or less didactic and
mechanical way. There are a number of prose passages introducing or
linking the poems. The confusion in some parts of the book is great.

_Codex Regius_ is not the only source; other mythic and heroic poems
are found in other manuscripts. The famous poem of the _Doom of
Balder_ (Gray's "Descent of Odin"); the poem of the _Rescue of
Menglad_, the enchanted princess; the verses preserved in the
_Heiðreks Saga_, belonging to the story of Angantyr; besides the poem
of the _Magic Mill_ (Grottasöngr) and the _Song of the Dart_ (Gray's
"Fatal Sisters"). There are many fragmentary verses, among them some
from the _Biarkamál_, a poem with some curious points of likeness to
the English _Lay of Finnesburh_. A Swedish inscription has preserved
four verses of an old poem on Theodoric.

Thus there is some variety in the original documents now extant out of
the host of poems that have been lost. One conclusion at least is
irresistible--that, in guessing at the amount of epic poetry of this
order which has been lost, one is justified in making a liberal
estimate. Fragments are all that we possess. The extant poems have
escaped the deadliest risks; the fire at Copenhagen in 1728, the
bombardment in 1807, the fire in the Cotton Library in 1731, in which
_Beowulf_ was scorched but not burned. The manuscripts of _Finnesburh_
and _Maldon_ have been mislaid; but for the transcripts taken in time
by Hickes and Hearne they would have been as little known as the songs
that the Sirens sang. The poor remnants of _Waldere_ were found by
Stephens in two scraps of bookbinders' parchment.

When it is seen what hazards have been escaped by those bits of
wreckage, and at the same time how distinct in character the several
poems are, it is plain that one may use some freedom in thinking of
the amount of this old poetry that has perished.

The loss is partly made good in different ways: in the Latin of the
historians, Jordanes, Paulus Diaconus, and most of all in the
paraphrases, prose and verse, by Saxo Grammaticus; in Ekkehard's Latin
poem of _Waltharius_ (_c._ A.D. 930); in the _Volsunga Saga_, which
has kept the matter of the lost poems of _Codex Regius_ and something
of their spirit; in the _Thidreks Saga_, a prose story made up by a
Norwegian in the thirteenth century from current North German ballads
of the Niblungs; in the German poems of the twelfth and thirteenth
centuries, which, in a later form of the language and in rhyming
verse, have preserved at any rate some matters of tradition, some
plots of stories, if little of the peculiar manner and imagination of
the older poetry.

The casual references to Teutonic heroic subjects in a vast number of
authors have been brought together in a monumental work, _die deutsche
Heldensage_, by Wilhelm Grimm (1829).


_Hildebrand_, _Finnesburh_, _Waldere_, _Beowulf_, _Byrhtnoth_

The Western group of poems includes all those that are not
Scandinavian; there is only one among them which is not English, the
poem of _Hildebrand_. They do not afford any very copious material for
inferences as to the whole course and progress of poetry in the
regions to which they belong. A comparison of the fragmentary
_Hildebrand_ with the fragments of _Waldere_ shows a remarkable
difference in compass and fulness; but, at the same time, the
vocabulary and phrases of _Hildebrand_ declare that poem unmistakably
to belong to the same family as the more elaborate _Waldere_.
_Finnesburh_, the fragmentary poem of the lost Lambeth MS., seems
almost as far removed as _Hildebrand_ from the more expansive and
leisurely method of _Waldere_; while _Waldere_, _Beowulf_, and the
poem of _Maldon_ resemble one another in their greater ease and
fluency, as compared with the brevity and abruptness of _Hildebrand_
or _Finnesburh_. The documents, as far as they go, bear out the view
that in the Western German tongues, or at any rate in England, there
was a development of heroic poetry tending to a greater amplitude of
narration. This progress falls a long way short of the fulness of
Homer, not to speak of the extreme diffuseness of some of the French
_Chansons de Geste_. It is such, however, as to distinguish the
English poems, _Waldere_, _Beowulf_, and _Byrhtnoth_, very obviously
from the poem of _Hildebrand_. While, at the same time, the brevity of
_Hildebrand_ is not like the brevity of the Northern poems.
_Hildebrand_ is a poem capable of expansion. It is easy enough to see
in what manner its outlines might be filled up and brought into the
proportions of _Waldere_ or _Beowulf_. In the Northern poems, on the
other hand, there is a lyrical conciseness, and a broken emphatic
manner of exposition, which from first to last prevented any such
increase of volume as seems to have taken place in the old English
poetry; though there are some poems, the _Atlamál_ particularly, which
indicate that some of the Northern poets wished to go to work on a
larger scale than was generally allowed them by their traditions.

In the Northern group there is a great variety in respect of the
amount of incident that goes to a single poem; some poems deal with a
single adventure, while others give an abstract of a whole heroic
history. In the Western poems this variety is not to be found. There
is a difference in this respect between _Hildebrand_ and _Waldere_,
and still more, at least on the surface, between _Hildebrand_ and
_Beowulf_; but nothing like the difference between the _Lay of the
Hammer_ (Þrymskviða), which is an episode of Thor, and the _Lay of
Weland_ or the _Lay of Brynhild_, which give in a summary way a whole
history from beginning to end.

_Hildebrand_ tells of the encounter of father and son, Hildebrand and
Hadubrand, with a few references to the past of Hildebrand and his
relations to Odoacer and Theodoric. It is one adventure, a tragedy in
one scene.

_Finnesburh_, being incomplete at the beginning and end, is not good
evidence. What remains of it presents a single adventure, the fight in
the hall between Danes and Frisians. There is another version of the
story of _Finnesburh_, which, as reported in _Beowulf_ (ll. 1068-1154)
gives a good deal more of the story than is given in the separate
_Finnesburh Lay_. This episode in _Beowulf_, where a poem of
_Finnesburh_ is chanted by the Danish minstrel, is not to be taken as
contributing another independent poem to the scanty stock; the
minstrel's story is reported, not quoted at full length. It has been
reduced by the poet of _Beowulf_, so as not to take up too large a
place of its own in the composition. Such as it is, it may very well
count as direct evidence of the way in which epic poems were produced
and set before an audience; and it may prove that it was possible for
an old English epic to deal with almost the whole of a tragic history
in one sitting. In this case the tragedy is far less complex than the
tale of the Niblungs, whatever interpretation may be given to the
obscure allusions in which it is preserved.

Finn, son of Folcwalda, king of the Frisians, entertained Hnæf the
Dane, along with the Danish warriors, in the castle of Finnesburh.
There, for reasons of his own, he attacked the Danes; who kept the
hall against him, losing their own leader Hnæf, but making a great
slaughter of the Frisians.

The _Beowulf_ episode takes up the story at this point.

Hnæf was slain in the place of blood. His sister Hildeburg, Finn's
wife, had to mourn for brother and son.

Hengest succeeded Hnæf in command of the Danes and still kept the hall
against the Frisians. Finn was compelled to make terms with the Danes.
Hengest and his men were to live among the Frisians with a place of
their own, and share alike with Finn's household in all the gifts of
the king. Finn bound himself by an oath that Hengest and his men
should be free of blame and reproach, and that he would hold any
Frisian guilty who should cast it up against the Danes that they had
followed their lord's slayer.[19] Then, after the oaths, was held the
funeral of the Danish and the Frisian prince, brother and son of
Hildeburg the queen.

[Footnote 19: Compare _Cynewulf and Cyneheard_ in the Chronicle (A.D.
755); also the outbreak of enmity, through recollection of old wrongs,
in the stories of Alboin, and of the vengeance for Froda (_supra_, pp.

Then they went home to Friesland, where Hengest stayed with Finn
through the winter. With the spring he set out, meaning vengeance; but
he dissembled and rendered homage, and accepted the sword the lord
gives his liegeman. Death came upon Finn in his house; for the Danes
came back and slew him, and the hall was made red with the Frisian
blood. The Danes took Hildeburg and the treasure of Finn and carried
the queen and the treasure to Denmark.

The whole story, with the exception of the original grievance or
grudge of the Frisian king, which is not explained, and the first
battle, which is taken as understood, is given in _Beowulf_ as the
contents of one poem, delivered in one evening by a harper. It is more
complicated than the story of _Hildebrand_, more even than _Waldere_;
and more than either of the two chief sections of _Beowulf_ taken
singly--"Beowulf in Denmark" and the "Fight with the Dragon." It is
far less than the plot of the long _Lay of Brynhild_, in which the
whole Niblung history is contained. In its distribution of the action,
it corresponds very closely to the story of the death of the Niblungs
as given by the _Atlakviða_ and the _Atlamál_. The discrepancies
between these latter poems need not be taken into account here. In
each of them and in the _Finnesburh_ story there is a double climax;
first the wrong, then the vengeance. _Finnesburh_ might also be
compared, as far as the arrangement goes, with the _Song of Roland_;
the first part gives the treacherous attack and the death of the hero;
then comes a pause between the two centres of interest, followed in
the second part by expiation of the wrong.

The story of _Finnesburh_ is obscure in many respects; the tradition
of it has failed to preserve the motive for Finn's attack on his
wife's brother, without which the story loses half its value.
Something remains, nevertheless, and it is possible to recognise in
this episode a greater regard for unity and symmetry of narrative than
is to be found in _Beowulf_ taken as a whole.

The Lambeth poem of _Finnesburh_ most probably confined itself to the
battle in the hall. There is no absolute proof of this, apart from the
intensity of its tone, in the extant fragment, which would agree best
with a short story limited, like _Hildebrand_, to one adventure. It
has all the appearance of a short lay, a single episode. Such a poem
might end with the truce of Finn and Hengest, and an anticipation of
the Danes' vengeance:

     It is marvel an the red blood run not, as the rain does in
     the street.

Yet the stress of this adventure is not greater than that of Roland,
which does not end at Roncesvalles; it may be that the _Finnesburh_
poem went on to some of the later events, as told in the _Finnesburh_
abridgment in _Beowulf_.

The story of Walter of Aquitaine as represented by the two fragments
of old English verse is not greatly inconsistent with the same story
in its Latin form of _Waltharius_. The Latin verses of _Waltharius_
tell the story of the flight of Walter and Hildegund from the house of
Attila, and of the treacherous attack on Walter by Gunther, king of
the Franks, against the advice, but with the unwilling consent, of
Hagen, his liegeman and Walter's friend. Hagen, Hildegund, and Walter
were hostages with Attila from the Franks, Burgundians, and
Aquitanians. They grew up together at the Court of Attila till
Gunther, son of Gibicho, became king of the Franks and refused tribute
to the Huns. Then Hagen escaped and went home. Walter and Hildegund
were lovers, and they, too, thought of flight, and escaped into the
forests, westward, with a great load of treasure, and some fowling and
fishing gear for the journey.

After they had crossed the Rhine, they were discovered by Hagen; and
Gunther, with twelve of the Franks, went after them to take the
Hunnish treasure: Hagen followed reluctantly. The pursuers came up
with Walter as he was asleep in a hold among the hills, a narrow green
place with overhanging cliffs all round, and a narrow path leading up
to it. Hildegund awakened Walter, and he went and looked down at his
adversaries. Walter offered terms, through the mediation of Hagen, but
Gunther would have none of them, and the fight began. The Latin poem
describes with great spirit how one after another the Franks went up
against Walter: Camelo (ll. 664-685), Scaramundus (686-724),
Werinhardus the bowman (725-755), Ekevrid the Saxon (756-780), who
went out jeering at Walter; Hadavartus (781-845), Patavrid (846-913),
Hagen's sister's son, whose story is embellished with a diatribe on
avarice; Gerwicus (914-940), fighting to avenge his companions and
restore their honour--

     Is furit ut caesos mundet vindicta sodales;

but he, too, fell--

     Exitiumque dolens, pulsabat calcibus arvum.

Then there was a breathing-space, before Randolf, the eighth of them,
made trial of Walter's defence (962-981). After him came Eleuther,
whose other name was Helmnod, with a harpoon and a line, and the line
was held by Trogus, Tanastus, and the king; Hagen still keeping aloof,
though he had seen his nephew killed. The harpoon failed; three
Frankish warriors were added to the slain; the king and Hagen were
left (l. 1060).

Gunther tried to draw Hagen into the fight. Hagen refused at first,
but gave way at last, on account of the slaying of his nephew. He
advised a retreat for the night, and an attack on Walter when he
should have left the fastness. And so the day ended.

Walter and Hildegund took turns to watch, Hildegund singing to awaken
Walter when his turn came. They left their hold in the morning; but
they had not gone a mile when Hildegund, looking behind, saw two men
coming down a hill after them. These were Gunther and Hagen, and they
had come for Walter's life. Walter sent Hildegund with the horse and
its burden into the wood for safety, while he took his stand on rising
ground. Gunther jeered at him as he came up; Walter made no answer to
him, but reproached Hagen, his old friend. Hagen defended himself by
reason of the vengeance due for his nephew; and so they fought, with
more words of scorn. Hagen lost his eye, and Gunther his leg, and
Walter's right hand was cut off by Hagen; and "this was their sharing
of the rings of Attila!"--

     Sic, sic, armillas partiti sunt Avarenses (l. 1404).

Walter and Hildegund were king and queen of Aquitaine, but of his
later wars and victories the tale has no more to tell.

Of the two old English fragments of this story the first contains part
of a speech of Hildegund[20] encouraging Walter.

[Footnote 20: Hildegyth, her English name, is unfortunately not
preserved in either of the fragmentary leaves. It is found (Hildigið)
in the _Liber Vitae_ (Sweet, _Oldest English Texts_, p. 155).]

Its place appears to be in the pause of the fight, when the Frankish
champions have been killed, and Gunther and Hagen are alone. The
speech is rhetorical: "Thou hast the sword Mimming, the work of
Weland, that fails not them that wield it. Be of good courage, captain
of Attila; never didst thou draw back to thy hold for all the strokes
of the foeman; nay, my heart was afraid because of thy rashness. Thou
shalt break the boast of Gunther; he came on without a cause, he
refused the offered gifts; he shall return home empty-handed, if he
return at all." That is the purport of it.

The second fragment is a debate between Gunther and Walter. It begins
with the close of a speech of Gunther (Guðhere) in which there are
allusions to other parts of the heroic cycle, such as are common in

The allusion here is to one of the adventures of Widia, Weland's son;
how he delivered Theodoric from captivity, and of Theodoric's
gratitude. The connexion is obscure, but the reference is of great
value as proving the resemblance of narrative method in _Waldere_ and
_Beowulf_, not to speak of the likeness to the Homeric way of quoting
old stories. Waldere answers, and this is the substance of his
argument: "Lo, now, Lord of the Burgundians, it was thy thought that
Hagena's hand should end my fighting. Come then and win my corselet,
my father's heirloom, from the shoulders weary of war."[21]

[Footnote 21: The resemblance to Hildebrand, l. 58, is pointed out by
Sophus Bugge: "Doh maht du nu aodlihho, ibu dir din ellen taoc, In sus
heremo man hrusti giwinnan." (Hildebrand speaks): "Easily now mayest
thou win the spoils of so old a man, if thy strength avail thee." It
is remarkable as evidence of the strong conventional character of the
Teutonic poetry, and of the community of the different nations in the
poetical convention, that two short passages like _Hildebrand_ and
_Waldere_ should present so many points of likeness to other poems, in
details of style. Thus the two lines quoted from _Hildebrand_ as a
parallel to _Waldere_ contain also the equivalent of the Anglo-Saxon
phrase, _Þonne his ellen deah_, a familiar part of the Teutonic

The fragment closes with a pious utterance of submission to heaven, by
which the poem is shown to be of the same order as _Beowulf_ in this
respect also, as well as others, that it is affected by a turn for
edification, and cannot stand as anything like a pure example of the
older kind of heroic poetry. The phrasing here is that of the
Anglo-Saxon secondary poems; the common religious phrasing that came
into vogue and supplemented the old heathen poetical catch-words.

The style of _Waldere_ makes it probable that the action of the story
was not hurried unduly. If the author kept the same proportion
throughout, his poem may have been almost as long as _Waltharius_. It
is probable that the fight among the rocks was described in detail;
the _Maldon_ poem may show how such a subject could be managed in old
English verse, and how the matter of _Waltharius_ may have been
expressed in _Waldere_. Roughly speaking, there is about as much
fighting in the three hundred and twenty-five lines of _Maldon_ as in
double the number of hexameters in _Waltharius_; but the _Maldon_ poem
is more concise than the extant fragments of _Waldere_. _Waldere_ may
easily have taken up more than a thousand lines.

The Latin and the English poems are not in absolute agreement. The
English poet knew that Guðhere, Guntharius, was Burgundian, not Frank;
and an expression in the speech of Hildegyth suggests that the fight
in the narrow pass was not so exact a succession of single combats as
in _Waltharius_.

The poem of _Maldon_ is more nearly related in its style to _Waldere_
and _Beowulf_ than to the _Finnesburh_ fragment. The story of the
battle has considerable likeness to the story of the fight at
Finnesburh. The details, however, are given in a fuller and more
capable way, at greater length.

_Beowulf_ has been commonly regarded as exceptional, on account of its
length and complexity, among the remains of the old Teutonic poetry.
This view is hardly consistent with a right reading of _Waldere_, or
of _Maldon_ either, for that matter. It is not easy to make any great
distinction between _Beowulf_ and _Waldere_ in respect of the
proportions of the story. The main action of _Beowulf_ is comparable
in extent with the action of _Waltharius_. The later adventure of
_Beowulf_ has the character of a sequel, which extends the poem, to
the detriment of its proportions, but without adding any new element
of complexity to the epic form. Almost all the points in which the
manner of _Beowulf_ differs from that of _Finnesburh_ may be found in
_Waldere_ also, and are common to _Waldere_ and _Beowulf_ in
distinction from _Hildebrand_ and _Finnesburh_. The two poems, the
poem of _Beowulf_ and the fragments of _Waldere_, seem to be alike in
the proportion they allow to dramatic argument, and in their manner of
alluding to heroic matters outside of their own proper stories, not to
speak of their affinities of ethical tone and sentiment.

The time of the whole action of _Beowulf_ is long. The poem, however,
falls naturally into two main divisions--_Beowulf in Denmark_, and the
_Death of Beowulf_. If it is permissible to consider these for the
present as two separate stories, then it may be affirmed that in none
of the stories preserved in the old poetic form of England and the
German Continent is there any great length or complexity.
_Hildebrand_, a combat; _Finnesburh_, a defence of a house; _Waldere_,
a champion beset by his enemies; _Beowulf in Denmark_, the hero as a
deliverer from pests; _Beowulf's Death_ in one action; _Maldon_ the
last battle of an English captain; these are the themes, and they are
all simple. There is more complexity in the story of _Finnesburh_, as
reported in _Beowulf_, than in all the rest; but even that story
appears to have observed as much as possible the unity of action. The
epic singer at the court of the Dane appears to have begun, not with
the narrative of the first contest, but immediately after that,
assuming that part of the story as known, in order to concentrate
attention on the vengeance, on the penalty exacted from Finn the
Frisian for his treachery to his guests.

Some of the themes may have less in them than others, but there is no
such variety of scale among them as will be found in the Northern
poems. There seems to be a general agreement of taste among the
Western German poets and audiences, English and Saxon, as to the right
compass of an heroic lay. When the subject was a foreign one, as in
the _Hêliand_, in the poems of _Genesis_ and _Exodus_, in _Andreas_,
or _Elene_, there might be room for the complexity and variety of the
foreign model. The poem of _Judith_ may be considered as a happy
instance in which the foreign document has of itself, by a
pre-established harmony, conformed to an old German fashion. In the
original story of _Judith_ the unities are observed in the very degree
that was suited to the ways of the Anglo-Saxon poetry. It is hazardous
to speak generally of a body of poetry so imperfectly represented in
extant literature, but it is at any rate permissible to say that the
extant heroic poems, saved out of the wreck of the Western Teutonic
poetry, show a strong regard for unity of action, in every case except
that of _Beowulf_; while in that case there are two stories--a story
and a sequel--each observing a unity within its own limit.

Considered apart from the Northern poems, the poems of England and
Germany give indication of a progress in style from a more archaic and
repressed, to a more developed and more prolix kind of narrative. The
difference is considerable between _Hildebrand_ and _Waldere_,
between _Finnesburh_ and _Beowulf_.

It is the change and development in style, rather than any increase in
the complexity of the themes, that accounts for the difference in
scale between the shorter and the longer poems.

For the natural history of poetical forms this point is of the highest
importance. The Teutonic poetry shows that epic may be developed out
of short lays through a gradual increase of ambition and of eloquence
in the poets who deal with common themes. There is no question here of
the process of agglutination and contamination whereby a number of
short lays are supposed to be compounded into an epic poem. Of that
process it may be possible to find traces in _Beowulf_ and elsewhere.
But quite apart from that, there is the process by which an archaic
stiff manner is replaced by greater freedom, without any loss of unity
in the plot. The story of Walter of Aquitaine is as simple as the
story of Hildebrand. The difference between _Hildebrand_ and _Waldere_
is the difference between an archaic and an accomplished mode of
narrative, and this difference is made by a change in spirit and
imagination, not by a process of agglutination. To make the epic of
_Waldere_ it was not necessary to cobble together a number of older
lays on separate episodes. It was possible to keep the original plan
of the old story in its simplest irreducible form, and still give it
the force and magnificence of a lofty and eloquent style. It was for
the attainment of this pitch of style that the heroic poetry laboured
in _Waldere_ and _Beowulf_, with at least enough success to make these
poems distinct from the rest in this group.

With all the differences among them, the continental and English
poems, _Hildebrand_, _Waldere_, and the rest, form a group by
themselves, with certain specific qualities of style distinguishing
them from the Scandinavian heroic poetry. The history of the
Scandinavian poetry is the converse of the English development. Epic
poetry in the North becomes more and more hopeless as time goes on,
and with some exceptions tends further and further away from the
original type which was common to all the Germans, and from which
those common forms and phrases have been derived that are found in the
"Poetic Edda" as well as in _Beowulf_ or the _Hêliand_.

In England before the old poetry died out altogether there was
attained a certain magnitude and fulness of narrative by which the
English poems are distinguished, and in virtue of which they may claim
the title _epic_ in no transferred or distorted sense of the term. In
the North a different course is taken. There seems indeed, in the
_Atlamál_ especially, a poem of exceptional compass and weight among
those of the North, to have been something like the Western desire for
a larger scale of narrative poem. But the rhetorical expansion of the
older forms into an equable and deliberate narrative was counteracted
by the still stronger affection for lyrical modes of speech, for
impassioned, abrupt, and heightened utterance. No epic solidity or
composure could be obtained in the fiery Northern verse; the poets
could not bring themselves into the frame of mind required for long
recitals; they had no patience for the intervals necessary, in epic as
in dramatic poetry, between the critical moments. They would have
everything equally full of energy, everything must be emphatic and
telling. But with all this, the Northern heroic poems are in some of
their elements strongly allied to the more equable and duller poems
of the West; there is a strong element of epic in their lyrical
dialogues and monologues, and in their composition and arrangement of


In comparing the English and the Northern poems, it should be borne in
mind that the documents of the Northern poetry are hardly sufficient
evidence of the condition of Northern epic at its best. The English
documents are fragmentary, indeed, but at least they belong to a time
in which the heroic poetry was attractive and well appreciated; as is
proved by the wonderful freshness of the _Maldon_ poem, late though it
is. The Northern poems seem to have lost their vogue and freshness
before they came to be collected and written down. They were
imperfectly remembered and reported; the text of them is broken and
confused, and the gaps are made up with prose explanations. The
fortunate preservation of a second copy of _Volospá_, in Hauk's book,
has further multiplied labours and perplexities by a palpable
demonstration of the vanity of copiers, and of the casual way in which
the strophes of a poem might be shuffled at random in different texts;
while the chief manuscript of the poems itself has in some cases
double and incongruous versions of the same passage.[22]

[Footnote 22: Cf. _C.P.B._, i. p. 375, for double versions of part of
_Hamðismál_, and of the _Lay of Helgi_. On pp. 377-379, parts of the
two texts of _Volospá_--R and H--are printed side by side for

The _Codex Regius_ contains a number of poems that can only be called
_epic_ in the widest and loosest sense of the term, and some that are
not _epic_ in any sense at all. The gnomic verses, the mythological
summaries, may be passed over for the present; whatever illustrations
they afford of early beliefs and ideas, they have no evidence to give
concerning the proportions of stories. Other poems in the collection
come under the denomination of epic only by a rather liberal extension
of the term to include poems which are no more epic than dramatic, and
just as much the one as the other, like the poems of _Frey's Wooing_
and of the earlier exploits of Sigurd, which tell their story
altogether by means of dialogue, without any narrative passages at
all. The links and explanations are supplied, in prose, in the
manuscript. Further, among the poems which come nearer to the English
form of narrative poetry there is the very greatest variety of scale.
The amount of story told in the Northern poems may vary indefinitely
within the widest limits. Some poems contain little more than an idyll
of a single scene; others may give an abstract of a whole history, as
the whole Volsung story is summarised, for instance, in the _Prophecy
of Gripir_.

Some of the poems are found in such a confused and fragmentary form,
with interruptions and interpolations, that, although it is possible
to make out the story, it is hardly possible to give any confident
judgment about the original proportions of the poems. This is
particularly the case with the poems in which the hero bears the name
of Helgi. The difficulties of these were partly appreciated, but not
solved, by the original editor.

The differences of scale may be illustrated by the following summary
description, which aims at little more than a rough measurement of the
stories, for purposes of comparison with _Beowulf_ and _Waldere_.

The _Lay of Weland_ gives a whole mythical history. How Weland and his
brother met with the swan-maidens, how the swan-brides left them in
the ninth year, how Weland Smith was taken prisoner by King Nidad, and
hamstrung, and set to work for the king; and of the vengeance of
Weland. There are one hundred and fifty-nine lines, but in the text
there are many defective places. The _Lay_ is a ballad history,
beginning at the beginning, and ending, not with the end of the life
of Weland, nor with the adventures of his son Widia, but with the
escape of Weland from the king, his enemy, after he had killed the
king's sons and put shame on the king's daughter Bodvild.

In plan, the _Lay of Weland_ is quite different from the lays of the
adventures of Thor, the _Þrymskviða_ and the _Hymiskviða_, the songs
of the Hammer and the Cauldron. These are chapters, episodes, in the
history of Thor, not summaries of the whole matter, such as is the
poem of _Weland_.

The stories of Helgi Hundingsbane, and of his namesakes, as has been
already remarked, are given in a more than usually complicated and
tangled form.

At first everything is simple enough. A poem of the life of Helgi
begins in a way that promises a mode of narrative fuller and less
abrupt than the _Lay of Weland_. It tells of the birth of Helgi, son
of Sigmund; of the coming of the Norns to make fast the threads of his
destiny; of the gladness and the good hopes with which his birth was
welcomed. Then the _Lay of Helgi_ tells, very briefly, how he slew
King Hunding, how the sons of Hunding made claims for recompense. "But
the prince would make no payment of amends; he bade them look for no
payment, but for the strong storm, for the grey spears, and for the
rage of Odin."[23] And the sons of Hunding were slain as their father
had been.

[Footnote 23: Cf. _Maldon_, l. 45 _sq._, "Hearest thou what this
people answer? They will pay you, for tribute, spears, the deadly
point, the old swords, the weapons of war that profit you not," etc.]

Then the main interest begins, the story of Helgi and Sigrun.

"A light shone forth from the Mountains of Flame, and lightnings
followed." There appeared to Helgi, in the air, a company of armed
maidens riding across the field of heaven; "their armour was stained
with blood, and light went forth from their spears." Sigrun from among
the other "ladies of the South" answered Helgi, and called on him for
help; her father Hogni had betrothed her, against her will, to
Hodbrodd, son of Granmar. Helgi summoned his men to save her from this
loathed wedding. The battle in which Helgi slew his enemies and won
the lady of the air is told very shortly, while disproportionate
length is given to an interlude of vituperative dialogue between two
heroes, Sinfiotli, Helgi's brother, and Gudmund, son of Granmar, the
warden of the enemy's coast; this passage of _Vetus Comoedia_ takes up
fifty lines, while only six are given to the battle, and thirteen to
the meeting of Helgi and Sigrun afterwards. Here ends the poem which
is described in _Codex Regius_ as the _Lay of Helgi_ (_Helgakviða_).
The story is continued in the next section in a disorderly way, by
means of ill-connected quotations. The original editor, whether
rightly or wrongly, is quite certain that the _Lay of Helgi_, which
ends with the victory of Helgi over the unamiable bridegroom, is a
different poem from that which he proceeds to quote as the _Old Lay of
the Volsungs_, in which the same story is told. In this second version
there is at least one interpolation from a third; a stanza from a poem
in the "dialogue measure," which is not the measure in which the rest
of the story is told. It is uncertain what application was meant to
be given to the title _Old Lay of the Volsungs_, and whether the
editor included under that title the whole of his second version of
Helgi and Sigrun. For instance, he gives another version of the
railing verses of Sinfiotli, which he may or may not have regarded as
forming an essential part of his _Old Volsung Lay_. He distinguishes
it at any rate from the other "Flyting," which he definitely and by
name ascribes to _Helgakviða_.

It is in this second version of the story of Helgi that the tragedy is
worked out. Helgi slays the father of Sigrun in his battle against the
bridegroom's kindred: Sigrun's brother takes vengeance. The space is
scant enough for all that is told in it; scant, that is to say, in
comparison with the space of the story of Beowulf; though whether the
poem loses, as poetry, by this compression is another matter.

It is here, in connexion with the second version, that the tragedy is
followed by the verses of the grief of Sigrun, and the return of Helgi
from the dead; the passage of mystery, the musical close, in which the
tragic idea is changed into something less distinct than tragedy, yet
without detriment to the main action.

Whatever may be the critical solution of the textual problems of these
_Lays_, it is impossible to get out of the text any form of narrative
that shall resemble the English mode. Even where the story of Helgi is
slowest, it is quicker, more abrupt, and more lyrical even than the
_Lay of Finnesburh_, which is the quickest in movement of the English

The story of Helgi and Sigrun is intelligible, and though incomplete,
not yet so maimed as to have lost its proportions altogether. Along
with it, however, in the manuscript there are other, even more
difficult fragments of poems about another Helgi, son of Hiorvard,
and his love for another Valkyria, Swava. And yet again there are
traces of a third Helgi, with a history of his own. The editors of
_Corpus Poeticum Boreale_ have accepted the view of the three Helgis
that is indicated by the prose passages of the manuscript here;
namely, that the different stories are really of the same persons born
anew, "to go through the same life-story, though with varying
incidents."[24] "Helgi and Swava, it is said, were born again," is the
note in the manuscript. "There was a king named Hogni, and his
daughter was Sigrun. She was a Valkyria and rode over air and sea;
_she was Swava born again_." And, after the close of the story of
Sigrun, "it was a belief in the old days that men were born again, but
that is now reckoned old wives' fables. Helgi and Sigrun, it is
reported, were born anew, and then he was Helgi Haddingjaskati, and
she Kara, Halfdan's daughter, as is told in the songs of Kara, and she
was a Valkyria."

[Footnote 24: _C.P.B._, i. p. 130.]

It is still possible to regard the "old wives' fable" (which is a
common element in Celtic legend and elsewhere) as something
unessential in the poems of Helgi; as a popular explanation intended
to reconcile different myths attaching to the name. However that may
be, the poems of _Helgi and Swava_ are so fragmentary and confused,
and so much has to be eked out with prose, that it is impossible to
say what the complete form and scale of the poetical story may have
been, and even difficult to be certain that it was ever anything else
than fragments. As they stand, the remains are like those of the story
of Angantyr; prominent passages quoted by a chronicler, who gives the
less important part of the story in prose, either because he has
forgotten the rest of the poem, or because the poem was made in that
way to begin with.

Of the poem of _Kara_, mentioned in the manuscript, there is nothing
left except what can be restored by a conjectural transference of some
verses, given under the name of Helgi and Sigrun, to this third
mysterious plot. The conjectures are supported by the reference to the
third story in the manuscript, and by the fact that certain passages
which do not fit in well to the story of Helgi and Sigrun, where they
are placed by the collector, correspond with prose passages in the
late Icelandic romance of _Hromund Greipsson_,[25] in which Kara is

[Footnote 25: _C.P.B._, Introduction, p. lxxviii.]

The story of Helgi and Swava is one that covers a large period of
time, though the actual remnants of the story are small. It is a
tragedy of the early Elizabethan type described by Sir Philip Sidney,
which begins with the wooing of the hero's father and mother. The hero
is dumb and nameless from his birth, until the Valkyria, Swava, meets
him and gives him his name, Helgi; and tells him of a magic sword in
an island, that will bring him victory.

The tragedy is brought about by a witch who drives Hedin, the brother
of Helgi, to make a foolish boast, an oath on the Boar's head (like
the vows of the Heron or the Peacock, and the _gabs_ of the Paladins
of France) that he will wed his brother's bride. Hedin confesses his
vanity to Helgi, and is forgiven, Helgi saying, "Who knows but the
oath may be fulfilled? I am on my way to meet a challenge."

Helgi is wounded mortally, and sends a message to Swava to come to
him, and prays her after his death to take Hedin for her lord. The
poem ends with two short energetic speeches: of Swava refusing to have
any love but Helgi's; and of Hedin bidding farewell to Swava as he
goes to make amends, and avenge his brother.

These fragments, though their evidence tells little regarding epic
scale or proportions, are, at least, illustrations of the nature of
the stories chosen for epic narrative. The character of Hedin, his
folly and magnanimity, is in strong contrast to that of Dag, the
brother of Sigrun, who makes mischief in the other poem. The character
of Swava is a fainter repetition of Sigrun.

Nothing very definite can be made out of any of the Helgi poems with
regard to the conventions of scale in narrative; except that the
collector of the poems was himself in difficulties in this part of his
work, and that he knew he had no complete poem to offer his readers,
except perhaps the _Helgakviða_.

The poem named by the Oxford editors "The Long Lay of Brunhild" (i. p.
293) is headed in the manuscript "Qviða Sigurþar," _Lay of Sigurd_,
and referred to, in the prose gloss of _Codex Regius_, as "The Short
Lay of Sigurd."[26] This is one of the most important of the Northern
heroic lays, in every respect; and, among other reasons, as an example
of definite artistic calculation and study, a finished piece of work.
It shows the difference between the Northern and the Western standards
of epic measurement. The poem is one that gives the whole of the
tragedy in no longer space than is used in the poem of _Maldon_ for
the adventures of a few hours of battle. There are 288 lines, not all

[Footnote 26: The "Long Lay of Sigurd" has disappeared. Cf. Heusler,
_Die Lieder der Lücke im Codex Regius der Edda_, 1902.]

There are many various modes of representation in the poem. The
beginning tells the earlier story of Sigurd and Brynhild in twenty

     It was in the days of old that Sigurd, the young Volsung,
     the slayer of Fafni, came to the house of Giuki. He took the
     troth-plight of two brothers; the doughty heroes gave oaths
     one to another. They offered him the maid Gudrun, Giuki's
     daughter, and store of treasure; they drank and took counsel
     together many a day, Child Sigurd and the sons of Giuki;
     until they went to woo Brynhild, and Sigurd the Volsung rode
     in their company; he was to win her if he could get her. The
     Southern hero laid a naked sword, a falchion graven, between
     them twain; nor did the Hunnish king ever kiss her, neither
     take her into his arms; he handed the young maiden over to
     Giuki's son.

     She knew no guilt in her life, nor was any evil found in her
     when she died, no blame in deed or thought. The grim Fates
     came between.[27]

[Footnote 27: From _C.P.B._, i. pp. 293, 294, with some

"It was the Fates that worked them ill." This sententious close of the
prologue introduces the main story, chiefly dramatic in form, in which
Brynhild persuades Gunnar to plan the death of Sigurd, and Gunnar
persuades Hogni. It is love for Sigurd, and jealousy of Gudrun, that
form the motive of Brynhild. Gunnar's conduct is barely intelligible;
there is no explanation of his compliance with Brynhild, except the
mere strength of her importunity. Hogni is reluctant, and remembers
the oaths sworn to Sigurd. Gothorm, their younger brother, is made
their instrument,--he was "outside the oaths." The slaying of Sigurd
by Gothorm, and Sigurd's dying stroke that cuts his slayer in two, are
told in the brief manner of the prologue to the poem; likewise the
grief of Gudrun. Then comes Sigurd's speech to Gudrun before his

The principal part of the poem, from line 118 to the end, is filled by
the storm in the mind of Brynhild: her laughter at the grief of
Gudrun, her confession of her own sorrows, and her preparation for
death; the expostulations of Gunnar, the bitter speech of
Hogni,--"Let no man stay her from her long journey"; the stroke of the
sword with which Brynhild gives herself the death-wound; her dying
prophecy. In this last speech of Brynhild, with all its vehemence,
there is manifest care on the part of the author to bring out clearly
his knowledge of the later fortunes of Gudrun and Gunnar. The prophecy
includes the birth of Swanhild, the marriage of Attila and Gudrun, the
death of Gunnar at the hands of Attila, by reason of the love between
Gudrun and Oddrun; the vengeance of Gudrun on Attila, the third
marriage of Gudrun, the death of Swanhild among the Goths. With all
this, and carrying all this burden of history, there is the passion of
Brynhild, not wholly obscured or quenched by the rhetorical ingenuity
of the poet. For it is plain that the poet was an artist capable of
more than one thing at a time. He was stirred by the tragic personage
of Brynhild; he was also pleased, intellectually and dispassionately,
with his design of grouping together in one composition all the events
of the tragic history.

The poem is followed by the short separate Lay (forty-four lines) of
the _Hell-ride of Brynhild_, which looks as if it might have been
composed by the same or another poet, to supply some of the history
wanting at the beginning of the _Lay of Brynhild_. Brynhild, riding
Hell-ward with Sigurd, from the funeral pile where she and Sigurd had
been laid by the Giuking lords, is encountered by a giantess who
forbids her to pass through her "rock-built courts," and cries shame
upon her for her guilt. Brynhild answers with the story of her evil
fate, how she was a Valkyria, punished by Odin for disobedience, set
in the ring of flame, to be released by none but the slayer of Fafni;
how she had been beguiled in Gunnar's wooing, and how Gudrun cast it
in her teeth. This supplies the motive for the anger of Brynhild
against Sigurd, not clearly expressed in the _Lay_, and also for
Gunnar's compliance with her jealous appeal, and Hogni's consent to
the death of Sigurd. While, in the same manner as in the _Lay_, the
formalism and pedantry of the historical poet are burnt up in the
passion of the heroine. "Sorrow is the portion of the life of all men
and women born: we two, I and Sigurd, shall be parted no more for
ever." The latter part of the _Lay_, the long monologue of Brynhild,
is in form like the _Lamentation of Oddrun_ and the idyll of Gudrun
and Theodoric; though, unlike those poems, it has a fuller narrative
introduction: the monologue does not begin until the situation has
been explained.

On the same subject, but in strong contrast with the _Lay of
Brynhild_, is the poem that has lost its beginning in the great gap in
_Codex Regius_. It is commonly referred to in the editions as the
_Fragmentary Lay of Sigurd_ ("Brot af Sigurðarkviðu"); in the Oxford
edition it is styled the "Fragment of a short Brunhild Lay." There are
seventy-six lines (incomplete) beginning with the colloquy of Gunnar
and Hogni. Here also the character of Brynhild is the inspiration of
the poet. But there does not seem to have been in his mind anything
like the historical anxiety of the other poet to account for every
incident, or at least to show that, if he wished, he could account for
every incident, in the whole story. It is much stronger in expression,
and the conception of Brynhild is more dramatic and more imaginative,
though less eloquent, than in the longer poem. The phrasing is short
and emphatic:--

     Gudrun, Giuki's daughter, stood without, and this was the
     first word she spoke: "Where is Sigurd, the king of men,
     that my brothers are riding in the van?" Hogni made answer
     to her words: "We have hewn Sigurd asunder with the sword;
     ever the grey horse droops his head over the dead king."

     Then spake Brynhild, Budli's daughter: "Have great joy of
     your weapons and hands. Sigurd would have ruled everything
     as he chose, if he had kept his life a little longer. It was
     not meet that he should so rule over the host of the Goths
     and the heritage of Giuki, who begat five sons that
     delighted in war and in the havoc of battle."

     Brynhild laughed, the whole house rang: "Have long joy of
     your hands and weapons, since ye have slain the valiant

[Footnote 28: From _C.P.B._, i. p. 307, with some changes.]

The mood of Brynhild is altered later, and she "weeps at that she had
laughed at." She wakens before the day, chilled by evil dreams. "It
was cold in the hall, and cold in the bed," and she had seen in her
sleep the end of the Niblungs, and woke, and reproached Gunnar with
the treason to his friend.

It is difficult to estimate the original full compass of this
fragmentary poem, but the scale of its narrative and its drama can be
pretty clearly understood from what remains. It is a poem with nothing
superfluous in it. The death of Sigurd does not seem to have been
given in any detail, except for the commentary spoken by the eagle and
the raven, prophetic of the doom of the Niblungs. The mystery of
Brynhild's character is curiously recognised by a sort of informal
chorus. It is said that "they were stricken silent as she spoke, and
none could understand her bearing, that she should weep to speak of
that for which she had besought them laughing." It is one of the
simplest forms in narrative; but in this case the simplicity of the
rhetoric goes along with some variety and subtlety of dramatic
imagination. The character of the heroine is rightly imagined and
strongly rendered, and her change of mind is impressive, as the
author plainly meant it to be.

The _Lay of Attila_ (_Atlakviða_) and the Greenland poem of _Attila_
(_Atlamál_) are two poems which have a common subject and the same
amount of story: how Attila sent for Gunnar and Hogni, the brothers of
Gudrun, and had them put to death, and how Gudrun took vengeance on

In the _Atlakviða_ there are 174 lines, and some broken places; in
_Atlamál_ there are 384 lines; its narrative is more copious than in
most of the Norse Lays. There are some curious discrepancies in the
matter of the two poems, but these hardly affect the scale of the
story. The difference between them in this respect is fairly
represented by the difference in the number of their lines. The scenes
of the history are kept in similar proportions in both poems.

The story of Gudrun's vengeance has been seen (p. 83) to correspond,
as far as the amount of action is concerned, pretty closely with the
story of Hengest and Finn. The epic unity is preserved; and, as in the
_Finnesburh_ story, there is a distribution of interest between the
_wrong_ and the _vengeance_,--(1) the death of Hnæf, the death of
Gunnar and Hogni; (2) the vengeance of Hengest, the vengeance of
Gudrun, with an interval of dissimulation in each case.

The plot of the death of Attila, under all its manifold variations, is
never without a certain natural fitness for consistent and
well-proportioned narrative.

None of the Northern poems take any account of the theory that the
murder of Sigfred was avenged by his wife upon her brothers. That
theory belongs to the _Nibelungenlied_; in some form or other it was
known to Saxo; it is found in the Danish ballad of _Grimild's
Revenge_, a translation or adaptation from the German. That other
conception of the story may be more full of tragic meaning; the
Northern versions, which agree in making Attila the slayer of the
Niblung kings, have the advantage of greater concentration. The motive
of Attila, which is different in each of the poems on this subject, is
in no case equal to the tragic motive of Kriemhild in the
_Nibelungen_. On the other hand, the present interest of the story is
not distracted by reference to the long previous history of Sigfred; a
new start is made when the Niblungs are invited to Attila's Court. The
situation is intelligible at once, without any long preliminary

In the _Lay of Attila_ the hoard of the Niblungs comes into the story;
its fatal significance is recognised; it is the "metal of discord"
that is left in the Rhine for ever. But the situation can be
understood without any long preliminary history of the Niblung
treasure and its fate. Just as the story of _Waldere_ explains itself
at once,--a man defending his bride and his worldly wealth against a
number of enemies, in a place where he is able to take them one by
one, as they come on,--so the story of _Attila_ can begin without long
preliminaries; though the previous history is to be found, in
tradition, in common stories, if any one cares to ask for it. The plot
is intelligible in a moment: the brothers inveigled away and killed by
their sister's husband (for reasons of his own, as to which the
versions do not agree); their sister's vengeance by the sacrifice of
her own children and the death of her husband.

In the _Atlamál_ there is very much less recognition of the previous
history than in _Atlakviða_. The story begins at once with the
invitation to the Niblung brothers and with their sister's warning.
Attila's motive is not emphasised; he has a grudge against them on
account of the death of Brynhild his sister, but his motive is not
very necessary for the story, as the story is managed here. The
present scene and the present passion are not complicated with too
much reference to the former history of the personages. This mode of
procedure will be found to have given some trouble to the author, but
the result at any rate is a complete and rounded work.

There is great difference of treatment between _Atlakviða_ and the
Greenland poem _Atlamál_, a difference which is worth some further
consideration.[29] There is, however, no very great difference of
scale; at any rate, the difference between them becomes unimportant
when they are compared with _Beowulf_. Even the more prolix of the
two, which in some respects is the fullest and most elaborate of the
Northern heroic poems, yet comes short of the English scale. _Atlamál_
takes up very little more than the space of the English poem of
_Maldon_, which is a simple narrative of a battle, with nothing like
the tragic complexity and variety of the story of the vengeance of

[Footnote 29: See pp. 150-156 below.]

There is yet another version of the death of Gunnar the Giuking to
compare with the two poems of _Attila_--the _Lament of Oddrun_
(_Oddrúnargrátr_), which precedes the _Atlakviða_ in the manuscript.
The form of this, as well as the plot of it, is wonderfully different
from either of the other two poems. This is one of the epic or tragic
idylls in which a passage of heroic legend is told dramatically by one
who had a share in it. Here the death of Gunnar is told by Oddrun his
mistress, the sister of Attila.

This form of indirect narration, by giving so great a dramatic value
to the person of the narrator, before the beginning of her story, of
course tends to depreciate or to exclude the vivid dramatic scenes
that are common everywhere else in the Northern poems. The character
of the speaker leaves too little independence to the other characters.
But in none of the poems is the tragic plot more strongly drawn out
than in the seventy lines of Oddrun's story to Borgny.

The father of Oddrun, Brynhild, and Attila had destined Oddrun to be
the bride of Gunnar, but it was Brynhild that he married. Then came
the anger of Brynhild against Sigurd, the death of Sigurd, the death
of Brynhild that is renowned over all the world. Gunnar sought the
hand of Oddrun from her brother Attila, but Attila would not accept
the price of the bride from the son of Giuki. The love of Oddrun was
given to Gunnar. "I gave my love to Gunnar as Brynhild should have
loved him. We could not withstand our love: I kept troth with Gunnar."
The lovers were betrayed to Attila, who would not believe the
accusation against his sister; "yet no man should pledge his honour
for the innocence of another, when it is a matter of love." At last he
was persuaded, and laid a plot to take vengeance on the Niblungs;
Gudrun knew nothing of what was intended.

The death of Gunnar and Hogni is told in five-and-twenty lines:--

     There was din of the hoofs of gold when the sons of Giuki
     rode into the Court. The heart was cut out of the body of
     Hogni; his brother they set in the pit of snakes. The wise
     king smote on his harp, for he thought that I should come to
     his help. Howbeit I was gone to the banquet at the house of
     Geirmund. From Hlessey I heard how the strings rang loud. I
     called to my handmaidens to rise and go; I sought to save
     the life of the prince; we sailed across the sound, till we
     saw the halls of Attila. But the accursed serpent crept to
     the heart of Gunnar, so that I might not save the life of
     the king.

     Full oft I wonder how I keep my life after him, for I
     thought I loved him like myself.

     Thou hast sat and listened while I have told thee many evils
     of my lot and theirs. The life of a man is as his thoughts

     The Lamentation of Oddrun is finished.

The _Hamðismál_, the poem of the death of Ermanaric, is one that, in
its proportions, is not unlike the _Atlakviða_: the plot has been
already described (pp. 70-71). The poem of 130 lines as it stands has
suffered a good deal. This also is like the story of Hengest and the
story of Gudrun in the way the action is proportioned. It began with
the slaying of Swanhild, the wrong to Gudrun--this part is lost. It
goes on to the speech of Gudrun to her sons, Sorli and Hamther, and
their expedition to the hall of the Goth; it ends with their death. In
this case, also, the action must have begun at once and intelligibly,
as soon as the motive of the Gothic treachery and cruelty was
explained, or even without that explanation, in the more immediate
sense of the treachery and cruelty, in the story of Swanhild trampled
to death, and of the news brought to Gudrun. Here, also, there is much
less expansion of the story than in the English poems; everything is
surcharged with meaning.

The _Old Lay of Gudrun_ (_Guðrúnarkviða in forna_), or the tale of
Gudrun to Theodoric, an idyll like the story of Oddrun, goes quickly
over the event of the killing of Sigurd, and the return of Grani,
masterless. Unlike the _Lament of Oddrun_, this monologue of Gudrun
introduces dramatic passages. The meeting of Gudrun and her brother is
not merely told by Gudrun in indirect narration; the speeches of Hogni
and Gudrun are reported directly, as they might have been in a poem of
the form of _Atlakviða_, or the _Lay of Sigurd_, or any other in
which the poet tells the story himself, without the introduction of an
imaginary narrator. The main part of the poem is an account of the way
in which Gudrun's mother, Grimhild, compelled her, by a potion of
forgetfulness, to lose the thought of Sigurd and of all her woes, and
consent to become the wife of Attila. This part is well prefaced by
the quiet account of the life of Gudrun in her widowhood, before
Grimhild began her schemes; how Gudrun lived in the house of Half,
with Thora, daughter of Hakon, in Denmark, and how the ladies spent
their time at the tapestry frame, working pictures of the heroes, the
ships of Sigmund, the ranks of Hunnish warriors.

In the manuscript there are found at the end of the _Old Lay of
Gudrun_, as if they were part of it, some verses which have been
separated from it by the editors (_C.P.B._, i. 347) as a "Fragment of
an Atli Lay." They came from a poem of which the design, at any rate,
was the same as that of the _Old Lay_, and Gudrun is the speaker. She
tells how, after the death of Gunnar and Hogni, she was wakened by
Atli, to listen to his evil dreams, foreboding his doom, and how she
interpreted them in a way to comfort him and put him off his guard.

In English poetry there are instances of stories introduced
dramatically, long before the pilgrimage to Canterbury. In _Beowulf_
there are various episodes where a story is told by one of the persons
engaged. Besides the poem of Hengest chanted in Heorot, there is
Beowulf's own narrative of his adventures, after his return to his own
people in the kingdom of the Gauts, and passages still nearer in form
to the _Lament of Oddrun_ and the _Confession of Gudrun_ are the last
speech of Beowulf before his death (2426-2537), and the long speech of
Wiglaf (2900-3027) telling of the enmity of the Gauts and the Swedes.
But those are not filled with dramatic pathos to the same degree as
these Northern _Heroides_, the monologues of Oddrun and Gudrun.

The _Lay of Gudrun_ (_Gudrúnarkviða_) which comes in the manuscript
immediately before the _Lay of Sigurd_, is a pure heroic idyll. Unlike
most of its companions, it leaves the details of the Volsung story
very much in neglect, and brings all its force to bear on the
representation of the grief of the queen, contrasted with the stormy
passion of Brynhild. It is rightly honoured for its pathetic
imagination of the dumb grief of Gudrun, broken up and dissolved when
her sister draws away the covering from the face of Sigurd. "But fire
was kindled in the eyes of Brynhild, daughter of Budli, when she
looked upon his wounds."

The refrain of the poem increases its resemblance to the form of a
Greek idyll. The verse is that of narrative poetry; the refrain is not
purely lyrical and does not come in at regular intervals.

The _Tregrof Guðrúnar_, or _Chain of Woe_, restored by the Oxford
editors out of the most confused part of the original text, is pure
lamentation, spoken by Gudrun before her death, recounting all her
sorrows: the bright hair of Swanhild trampled in the mire; Sigurd
slain in his bed, despoiled of victory; Gunnar in the court of the
serpents; the heart of Hogni cut out of his living body--"Saddle thy
white steed and come to me, Sigurd; remember what we promised to one
another, that thou wouldst come from Hell to seek me, and I would come
to thee from the living world."

The short poem entitled _Qviða Guðrúnar_ in the manuscript, the
_Ordeal of Gudrun_ in the English edition, has a simple plot. The
subject is the calumny which was brought against Gudrun by Herkja, the
cast-off mistress of Attila (that "she had seen Gudrun and Theodoric
together") and the ordeal of water by which Gudrun proved her
innocence, while the falsehood was brought home to Herkja, the
bondwoman. The theme is slighter than all the rest, and this poem, at
least, might be reckoned not unfit to be taken up as a single scene in
a long epic.

Some of the Northern poems in the epic measure are almost wholly made
up of dialogue. The story of _Balder's Doom_ is a dialogue between
Odin and the witch whom he raises from the dead. The earlier part of
the story of Sigurd in the "Elder Edda" is almost all dialogue, even
where the narrative measure is employed.

There is hardly any mere narrative in the poems remaining of the cycle
of Angantyr. In several other cases, the writer has only given,
perhaps has only remembered clearly, the dramatic part of the poems in
which he was interested; the intervals of the story he fills up with
prose. It is difficult to tell where this want of narrative connexion
in the poetry is original, and where it is due to forgetfulness or
ignorance; where the prose of the manuscripts is to be taken as
standing in the place of lost narrative verses, and where it fills a
gap that was never intended to be filled with verse, but was always
left to the reciter, to be supplied in his own way by passages of
story-telling, between his chantings of the poetic dialogue of Hervor
and the Shepherd, for instance, or of Hervor and Angantyr.

The poems just mentioned are composed in narrative measure. There are
also other dialogue poems in a measure different from this, and
peculiarly adapted to dialogues, the measure of the gnomic _Hávamál_
and of the didactic mythological poems, _Vafþrúðnismál_, _Alvíssmál_,
_Grímnismál_. These pieces are some distance removed from epic or
ballad poetry. But there are others in this gnomic measure which it
is not easy to keep far apart from such dialogue poems as _Balder's
Doom_, though their verse is different. By their peculiar verse they
are distinguished from the English and Saxon heroic poetry; but they
retain, for all their peculiar metre and their want of direct
narrative, some of the characteristics of Teutonic epic.

The _Lokasenna_ has a plot, and represents dramatically an incident in
the history of the gods. The chief business is Loki's shameless
rehearsal of accusations against the gods, and their helpless
rejoinders. It is a masque of the gods, and not a ballad like the
_Winning of Thor's Hammer_. It is not, however, a mere string of
"flytings" without a plot; there is some plot and action. It is the
absence of Thor that gives Loki courage to browbeat the gods; the
return of Thor at the end of the poem avenges the gods on their

In the strange poem of the _Railing of Thor and Harbard_, and in a
very rough and irregular kind of verse, there is a similar kind of

The _Contention of Atli and Rimgerd the Giantess_ is a short comic
dialogue, interposed among the fragments of the poem of Helgi
Hiorvard's son, and marked off from them by its use of the dialogue
verse, as well as by its episodic plot.

Helgi Hiorvard's son had killed the giant Hati, and the giant's
daughter comes at night where Helgi's ships are moored in the firth,
and stands on a rock over them, challenging Helgi and his men. Atli,
keeping watch on deck, answers the giantess, and there is an exchange
of gibes in the old style between them. Helgi is awakened and joins in
the argument. It is good comedy of its kind, and there is poetry in
the giantess's description of the company of armed maidens of the air
whom she has seen keeping guard over Helgi's ships--"three nines of
maids, but one rode foremost, a white maid, enhelmed. Their rearing
horses shook dew from their manes into the deep dales, and hail upon
the lofty woods; thence come fair seasons among men. But the whole
sight was hateful to me" (_C.P.B._, i. p. 154).

The giantess is kept there by the gibes of Atli till the daybreak.
"Look eastward, now, Rimgerd!" And the giantess is turned into stone,
a great harbour mark, to be laughed at.

In some other poems there is much more action, and much more need for
an interpreter to act as chorus in the intervals between the
dialogues. The story of the wooing of Gerd is in this form: how Frey
sat in the seat of Odin and saw a fair maid in Jotunheim, and got
great sickness of thought, till his swain Skirnir found the cause of
his languishing, and went to woo Gerd for him in Gymi's Garth. Another
love-story, and a story not unlike that of Frey and Gerd, is contained
in two poems _Grógaldr_ and _Fiölsvinnsmál_, that tell of the winning
of Menglad by her destined lover.

These two latter poems are not in _Codex Regius_, and it was only
gradually that their relation to one another was worked out, chiefly
by means of the Danish ballad which contains the story of both
together in the right order.

In the first, Svipdag the hero comes to his mother's grave to call on
her for counsel. He has been laid under a mysterious charge, to go on
a quest which he cannot understand, "to find out Menglad," and Menglad
he has never heard of, and does not know where she is to be found.

The second poem, also in dialogue, and in the dialogue measure, gives
the coming of Svipdag to the mysterious castle, and his debate with
the giant who keeps the gate. For Menglad is the princess whose story
is told everywhere, and under a thousand names,--the lady of a strange
country, kept under a spell in a witch's castle till the deliverer
comes. The wooing of Gerd out of Jotunheim is another version of the
same story, which in different forms is one of the oldest and most
universal everywhere,--the fairy story of the princess beyond the sea.

The second dialogue is very much encumbered by the pedantries of the
giant who keeps the gate; it ends, however, in the recognition of
Svipdag and Menglad. Menglad says: "Long have I sat waiting for thee,
many a day; but now is that befallen that I have sought for, and thou
art come to my bower. Great was the sorrow of my waiting; great was
thine, waiting for the gladness of love. Now it is very truth for us:
the days of our life shall not be sundered."

The same form is used in the older poems of Sigurd, those that come
before the hiatus of the great manuscript, and have been gathered
together in the Oxford edition under the title of the _Old Play of the
Wolsungs_. They touch briefly on all the chief points of the story of
the Niblung hoard, from the capture and ransom of Andvari to the
winning of the warrior maiden Sigrdrifa by Sigurd.

All these last-mentioned dialogue poems, in spite of their lyric or
elegiac measure, are like the narrative poems in their dependence upon
traditional, mythic, or heroic stories, from which they choose their
themes. They are not like the lyrical heroic poems of _Widsith_ and
_Deor_ in Anglo-Saxon literature, which survey a large tract of heroic
legend from a point of vantage. Something of this sort is done by some
of the Norse dialogue poems, _Vafþrúðnismál_, etc., but in the poems
of Frey and Gerd, of Svipdag and Menglad, and of the Niblung
treasure, though this reflective and comparative method occasionally
makes itself evident, the interest is that of the story. They have a
story to represent, just as much as the narrative poems, though they
are debarred from the use of narrative.

       *       *       *       *       *

It must be confessed that there is an easily detected ambiguity in the
use of the term epic in application to the poems, whether German,
English, or Northern, here reviewed. That they are heroic poems cannot
be questioned, but that they are epic in any save the most general
sense of the term is not quite clear. They may be epic in character,
in a general way, but how many of them have a claim to the title in
its eminent and special sense? Most of them are short poems; most of
them seem to be wanting in the breadth of treatment, in the amplitude
of substance, that are proper to epic poetry.

_Beowulf_, it may be admitted, is epic in the sense that distinguishes
between the longer narrative poem and the shorter ballad. The
fragments of _Waldere_ are the fragments of a poem that is not cramped
for room, and that moves easily and with sufficient eloquence in the
representation of action. The narrative of the _Maldon_ poem is not
pinched nor meagre in its proportions. Hardly any of the other poems,
however, can be compared with these in this respect. These are the
most liberal in scale of all the old Teutonic poems; the largest epic
works of which we know anything directly. These are the fullest in
composition, the least abstract or elliptical; and they still want
something of the scale of the _Iliad_. The poem of _Maldon_, for
instance, corresponds not to the _Iliad_, but to the action of a
single book, such as the twelfth, with which it has been already
compared. If the story of the English _Waldere_, when complete, was
not more elaborate than the extant Latin _Waltharius_, it must have
come far short of the proportions of Homer. It is a story for a single
recitation, like the story of Finnesburh in _Beowulf_. The poem of
_Beowulf_ may have more in it than the story of Walter and Hildegund,
but this advantage would seem to be gained at the expense of the unity
of the poem. It is lengthened out by a sequel, by the addition of a
new adventure which requires the poet to make a new start. In the poem
of _Hildebrand_ there is a single tragedy contained in a single scene.
It is briefly rendered, in a style evidently more primitive, less
expansive and eloquent, than the style of _Beowulf_ or _Waldere_. Even
if it had been given in a fuller form, the story would still have been
essentially a short one; it could not well have been longer than the
poem of _Sohrab and Rustum_, where the theme is almost the same, while
the scale is that of the classical epic.

If the old English epic poetry falls short of the Homeric magnitude,
it almost equally exceeds the scale of the Northern heroic poems. If
_Beowulf_ and _Waldere_ seem inadequate in size, the defect will not
be made good out of the Northern lays of _Helgi_ or _Sigfred_.

The Northern poems are exceedingly varied in their plan and
disposition, but none of them is long, and many of them are in the
form of _dramatic lyric_, with no place for pure narrative at all;
such are the poems of _Frey's Wooing_, of _Svipdag and Menglad_, and
others, in which there is a definite plot worked out by means of lyric
dialogue. None of them is of anything like the same scale as
_Beowulf_, which is a complex epic poem, or _Byrhtnoth_, which is an
episodic poem liberally dealt with and of considerable length.

The Teutonic poetry presents itself, at a first view, as the
complement of Homer. Here are to be found many of the things that are
wanting at the beginning of Greek literary history. Here are single
epic lays, or clusters of them, in every form. Here, in place of the
two great poems, rounded and complete, there is the nebulous expanse
of heroic tradition, the outline of an heroic cycle, together with a
number of episodic poems taking their origin from one point or another
of the cycle, according as the different parts of the story happen to
catch the imagination of a poet. Instead of the Homeric scale of epic
there are a number of brief epic tragedies, the plots of which are
chosen from the multitude of stories current in tradition.

Among these shorter epic poems, if such they may be called, there are
to be distinguished great varieties of procedure in regard to the
amount of action represented in the poem.

There is one class of poem that represents a single action with some
detail; there is another that represents a long and complex story in a
summary and allusive way. The first kind may be called _episodic_ in
the sense that it takes up about the same quantity of story as might
make an act in a play; or perhaps, with a little straining of the
term, as much as might serve for one play in a trilogy.

The second kind is not episodic; it does not seem fitted for a place
in a larger composition. It is a kind of short and summary epic,
taking as large a province of history as the _Iliad_ or the _Odyssey_.

_Hildebrand_, the _Fight at Finnesburh_, _Waldere_, _Byrhtnoth_, the
_Winning of the Hammer_, _Thor's Fishing_, the _Death of the Niblungs_
(in any of the Northern versions), the _Death of Ermanaric_, might all
be fairly regarded as belonging to the first kind of story; while the
_Lay of Weland_ and the _Lay of Brynhild_ cover a much larger extent
of story, though not of actual space, than any of those.

It is not quite easy to find a common measure for these and for the
Homeric poems. One can tell perhaps from Mr. Arnold's poem of _Sohrab
and Rustum_ how much is wanting to the _Lay of Hildebrand_, and on
what scale the story of Hildebrand might have been told if it had been
told in the Homeric instead of the archaic German manner. The story of
Walter of Aquitaine in the Latin hexameters of _Waltharius_ takes up
1456 lines. Although the author of this Latin poem is something short
of Homer, "a little overparted" by the comparison, still his work is
designed on the scale of classical epic, and gives approximately the
right extent of the story in classical form. But while those stories
are comparatively short, even in their most expanded forms, the story
of Weland and the story of Helgi each contains as much as would
suffice for the plot of an _Odyssey_, or more. The _Lay of Brynhild_
is not an episodic poem of the vengeance and the passion of Brynhild,
though that is the principal theme. It begins in a summary manner with
Sigurd's coming to the house of the Niblungs, the wedding of Sigurd
and Gudrun, the wooing of Brynhild for Gunnar; all these earlier
matters are taken up and touched on before the story comes to the
searchings of heart when the kings are persuaded to kill Sigurd. Then
the death of Sigurd is told of, and the rest of the poem is filled
with the tragedy of Brynhild and Gudrun; the future history of Gudrun
is spoken of prophetically by Brynhild before she throws herself on
the funeral pile. Plainly this cannot be considered in the same sense
"episodic" as the poem of Thor's fishing for the Midgarth snake. The
poems of Thor's fishing and the recovery of the hammer are distinctly
fragments of a legendary cycle. The _Lay of Brynhild_ makes an
attempt to complete the whole Volsung story from beginning to end,
while giving special importance to one particular incident of it,--the
passion of Brynhild after the death of Sigurd. The poems of _Attila_
and the _Lay of the Death of Ermanaric_ are more restricted.

It remains true that the great story of the Niblung tragedy was never
told at length in the poetical measure used for episodes of it, and
for the summary form of the _Lay of Brynhild_. It should be
remembered, however, that a poem of the scale of the _Nibelungenlied_,
taking up the whole matter, must go as far beyond the Homeric limit as
the _Lay of Brynhild_ falls short of it. From one point of view the
shorter episodic poems are more Homeric in their plots than either the
summary epics which cover the whole ground, as the _Lay of Brynhild_
attempts to cover it, or the longer works in prose that begin at the
beginning and go on to the end, like the _Volsunga Saga_. The _Iliad_
and the _Odyssey_ are themselves episodic poems; neither of them has
the reach of the _Nibelungenlied_. It should not be forgotten, either,
that Aristotle found the _Iliad_ and the _Odyssey_ rather long. The
Teutonic poems are not to be despised because they have a narrower
orbit than the _Iliad_. Those among them that contain matter enough
for a single tragedy, and there are few that have not as much as this
in them, may be considered not to fall far short of the standard fixed
by Aristotle for the right amount of action to be contained in an
heroic poem. They are too hurried, they are wanting in the classical
breadth and ease of narrative; but at any rate they are
comprehensible, they observe an epic unity. They do not, like certain
of the endless French poetical histories, remind one of the picture
of incomprehensible bulk in Aristotle's _Poetics_, the animal 10,000
stadia long.

Thus, though it is natural at first to imagine that in the old
Teutonic poetry one is possessed of such separate lays or ballads as
might be the original materials of a larger epic, an epic of the
Homeric scale, this impression will hardly remain long after a closer
criticism of the workmanship of the poems. Very few of them correspond
in the amount of their story to the episodes of the Homeric poems.
Many of them contain in a short space the matter of stories more
complicated, more tragical, than the story of Achilles. Most of them
by their unity and self-consistency make it difficult to think of them
as absorbed in a longer epic. This is the case not only with those
that take in a whole history, like the _Lay of Brynhild_, but also
with those whose plot is comparatively simple, like _Hildebrand_ or
_Waldere_. It is possible to think of the story of Walter and
Hildegund as forming part of a larger story of the fortunes of the
Huns. It has this subordinate place in the _Thidreks Saga_. But it is
not easy to believe that in such a case it preserves its value.
_Thidreks Saga_ is not an epic, though it is made by an agglutination
of ballads. In like manner the tragedy of _Hildebrand_ gains by its
isolation from the stories of the other chiefs, Theodoric and Odoacer.
The stories of Walter and of Hildebrand, like the story of Hamlet the
Dane, are too strong in themselves to form part of a larger
composition, without detriment to its unity and harmony. They might be
brought in allusively and in a subordinate way, like the story of
Thebes and other stories in the _Iliad_; but that is not the same
thing as making an epic poem out of separate lays. So that on all
grounds the first impression of the Teutonic epic poetry has to be
modified. If ever epic poetry was made by a conglomeration of
ballads, it must have had other kinds of material than this. Some of
the poems are episodic; others are rather to be described as
abridgments of epic than as separate epic scenes. But neither in the
one case nor in the other is there to be found the kind of poetry that
is required by the hypothesis of composite epic. There are short epics
that might conceivably have served as the framework, or the
ground-plan, of a more elaborate work, containing, like the _Lay of
Helgi_ or the _Lay of Brynhild_, incidents enough and hints of
character enough for a history fully worked out, as large as the
Homeric poems. If it should be asked why there is so little evidence
of any Teutonic attempt to weave together separate lays into an epic
work, the answer might be, first, that the separate lays we know are
too much separate and individual, too strong in themselves, to be
satisfactorily cobbled into a more expansive fabric; and, secondly,
that it has not yet been proved that epic poems can be made by process
of cobbling. The need of a comprehensive epic of the Niblungs was not
imperative. Neither was there any demand in Athens, in the time of
Sophocles and Euripides, for a comprehensive work--a _Thebaid_, a
_Roman de Thèbes_--to include the plots of all the tragedies of the
house of Cadmus. It was not a poet, but a prose journeyman, who did
this sort of work in the North, and it was not till the old school of
poetry had passed away that the composite prose history of the
Volsungs and Niblungs, of Sigmund and Sinfiotli, Sigurd, Brynhild,
Gudrun, and Atli, was put together out of the old poems. The old lays,
Northern and Western, whatever their value, have all strong individual
characters of their own, and do not easily submit to be regarded as
merely the unused materials, waiting for an epic composer who never
was born.



The ballads of a later age have many points of likeness to such poems
as _Hildebrand_, _Finnesburh_, _Maldon_, and the poems of the Northern
collection. The two orders of poetry are, however, not to be
confounded. Their affinity indeed is clear. But the older poems in
alliterative verse have a character not possessed by the ballads which
followed them, and which often repeated the same stories in the later
Middle Ages. Even the simplest of the older poems, which is the _Lay
of Hildebrand_, is distinguished by evident signs of dignity from even
the most ambitious of the rhyming ballads in any of the tongues. Its
rhetoric is of a different order.

This is not a question of preferences, but of distinction of kinds.
The claim of an epic or heroic rank for the older poems need not be
forced into a denial of all the other excellences of the rhyming

_Ballad_, as the term is commonly used, implies a certain degree of
simplicity, and an absence of high poetical ambition. Ballads are for
the market-place and the "blind crowder," or for the rustic chorus
that sings the ballad burden. The wonderful poetical beauty of some of
the popular ballads of Scotland and Denmark, not to speak of other
lands, is a kind of beauty that is never attained by the great
poetical artists; an unconscious grace. The ballads of the Scottish
Border, from their first invention to the publication of the _Border
Minstrelsy_, lie far away from the great streams of poetical
inspiration. They have little or nothing to do with the triumphs of
the poets; the "progress of poesy" leaves them untouched; they learn
neither from Milton nor from Pope, but keep a life of their own that
has its sources far remote in the past, in quite another tradition of
art than that to which the great authors and their works belong.

The Teutonic epic poems, the Northern poems at any rate, are ballads
in respect of their management of the plots. The scale of them is not
to be distinguished from the scale of a ballad: the ballads have the
same way of indicating and alluding to things and events without
direct narrative, without continuity, going rapidly from critical
point to point, in their survey of the fable.

But there is this great difference, that the style of the earlier
epics is ambitious and self-conscious, an aristocratic and
accomplished style. The ballads of _Clerk Saunders_ or _Sir Patrick
Spens_ tell about things that have been generally forgotten, in the
great houses of the country, by the great people who have other things
to think about, and, if they take to literature, other models of
style. The lay of the fight at Finnesburh, the lays of the death of
Attila, were in their time the poems of the king's or the earl's hall;
they were at the height of literary accomplishment in their
generation, and their style displays the consciousness of rank. The
ballads never had anything like the honour that was given to the older

The difference between epic and ballad style comes out most obviously
when, as frequently has happened, in Denmark, Iceland, and the
Faroes, the poems of the old school have been translated from their
epic verse into the "eights and sixes" or some other favourite measure
of the common ballads. This has been the case, for instance, with the
poem of Thor's Hammer, and the poem of the journey of Svipdag in
search of Menglad. In other cases, as in that of the return of Helgi
from the dead, it is less certain, though it is probable, that there
is a direct relation between the two kinds of poetry, between the old
Northern poem of Helgi and the Danish ballad of Sir Aage which has the
same story to tell; but a comparison of the two styles, in a case like
this, is none the less possible and justifiable.

The poems in the older form and diction, however remote they may be
from modern fashions, assert themselves unmistakably to be of an
aristocratic and not a popular tradition. The ballads have many things
in common with the other poems, but they have lost the grand style,
and the pride and solemnity of language. One thing they have retained
almost invariably. Ballad poetry may be trusted to preserve the sense
of the tragic situation. If some ballads are less strong than others
in their rendering of a traditional story, their failure is not
peculiar to that kind of composition. Not every ballad-singer, and not
every tragic poet, has the same success in the development of his
fable. As a rule, however, it holds good that the ballads are sound in
their conception of a story; if some are constitutionally weak or
unshapely, and others have suffered from the infirmity of reciters and
transcribers, these accidents are not to be counted against the class
of poetry to which they belong. Yet, however well the ballads may give
the story, they cannot give it with the power of epic; and that this
power belongs to the older kind of verse, the verse of the _Lay of
Brynhild_, may be proved with all the demonstration that this kind of
argument allows. It is open to any one to say that the grand style is
less attractive than the charm of the ballad burdens, that the airy
music of the ballads is more appealing and more mysterious than all
the eloquence of heroic poetry; but that does not touch the question.
The rhetoric of the older poems merely claims to be acknowledged for
what it is worth.

The Danish ballad of _Ungen Sveidal_, "Child Sveidal,"[30] does not
spoil the ancient story which had been given in the older language and
older verse of _Svipdag and Menglad_. But there are different ways of
describing how the adventurer comes to the dark tower to rescue the
unknown maiden. The ballad uses the common ballad forms, the common
easy rhymes and assonances:--

     Out they cast their anchor
       All on the white sea sand,
     And who was that but the Child Sveidal
       Was first upon the land?

     His heart is sore with deadly pain
       For her that he never saw,
     His name is the Child Sveidal;
       So the story goes.

[Footnote 30: Grundtvig, _Danmarks gamle Folkeviser_, No. 70. See
above, p. 114.]

This sort of story need not be despised, and it is peculiarly valuable
when it appears in the middle of one of the least refreshing seasons
of literature, like this ballad in the age of the Lutheran Reformation
in Denmark. In such an age and among theological tracts and
controversies, the simple ballad measures may bring relief from
oppression and desolation; and call for thanks to the Danish ladies by
whose care this ballad and so many others were written down. But
gratitude need not conceal the truth, that the style of the ballad is
unlike the style of an heroic poem. The older poem from which _Child
Sveidal_ is derived may have left many poetical opportunities
unemployed; it comes short in many things, and makes up for them by
mythological irrelevances. But it is composed in a style of which it
is impossible to mistake the gravity; it has all the advantage of
established forms that have been tested and are able to bear the
weight of the poetical matter. There is a vast difference between the
simplicity of the ballad and the stately measure and rhetorical pomp
of the original:--

     Svipdag is my name; Sunbright was my Father's name;
       The winds have driven me far, along cold ways;
     No one can gainsay the word of Fate,
       Though it be spoken to his own destruction.

The difference is as great as the difference between the ballad of the
_Marriage of Gawayne_ and the same story as told in the _Canterbury
Tales_; or the difference between Homer's way of describing the
recovery of lifted cattle and the ballad of _Jamie Telfer of the Fair

It happens fortunately that one of the Danish ballads, _Sivard og
Brynild_, which tells of the death of Sigurd (_Danmarks gamle
Folkeviser_, No. 3), is one of the best of the ballads, in all the
virtues of that style, so that a comparison with the _Lay of
Brynhild_, one of the best poems of the old collection, is not unfair
to either of them.

The ballad of _Sivard_, like the _Lay of Brynhild_, includes much more
than an episode; it is a complete tragic poem, indicating all the
chief points of the story. The tragic idea is different from that of
any of the other versions of the Volsung story, but quite as distinct
and strong as any.


     (_O the King's Sons of Denmark!_)

     Sivard has a horse that is fleet, and he has stolen Brynild
     from the Mountain of Glass, all by the light of day. From
     the Mountain of Glass he has stolen proud Brynild, and given
     her to Hagen, his brother-in-arms. Brynild and Signild went
     to the river shore to wash their silken gowns. "Signild, my
     sister, where got you the golden rings on your hand?"--"The
     gold rings on my hand I got from Sivard, my own true love;
     they are his pledge of troth: and you are given to Hagen."
     When Brynild heard this she went into the upper room and lay
     there sick: there she lay sick and Hagen came to her. "Tell
     me, maiden Brynild, my own true love, what is there in the
     world to heal you; tell me, and I will bring it, though it
     cost all the world's red gold."--"Nothing in the world you
     can bring me, unless you bring me, into my hands, the head
     of Sivard."--"And how shall I bring to your hands the head
     of Sivard? There is not the sword in all the world that will
     bite upon him: no sword but his own, and that I cannot
     get."--"Go to his room, and bid him lend you his sword, for
     his honour, and say, 'I have vowed an adventure for the sake
     of my true love.' When first he hands you over his sword, I
     pray you remember me, in the Lord God's name." It is Hagen
     that has swept his mantle round him, and goes into the upper
     room to Sivard. "Here you sit, Sivard, my foster-brother;
     will you lend me your good sword for your honour? for I have
     vowed a vow for the sake of my love."--"And if I lend you my
     good sword Adelbring, you will never come in battle where it
     will fail you. My good sword Adelbring you may have, indeed,
     but keep you well from the tears of blood that are under the
     hilt, keep you from the tears of blood that are so red.[31]
     If they run down upon your fingers, it will be your death."

     Hagen got the sword, and it was his own sworn brother he
     slew there in the room. He took up the bloody head under his
     cloak of furs and brought it to proud Brynild. "Here you
     have the head for which you sought; for the sake of you I
     have slain my brother to my undoing."--"Take away the head
     and let me not see it; nor will I pledge you my troth to
     make you glad."--"Never will I pledge troth to you, and
     nought is the gladness; for the sake of you I have slain my
     brother; sorrow is on me, sore and great." It was Hagen drew
     his sword and took the proud Brynild and hewed her asunder.
     He set the sword against a stone, and the point was deadly
     in the King's son's heart. He set the sword in the black
     earth, and the point was death in the King's son's heart.
     Ill was the day that maiden was born. For her were spilt the
     lives of two King's sons. (_O the King's Sons of Denmark!_)

[Footnote 31: Compare the warning of Angantyr to Hervor when he gives
her the sword Tyrfing--"Keep the sword sheathed, the slayer of
Hialmar; touch not the edges, there is venom upon them"--and the magic
sword Skofnung in _Kormaks Saga_.]

This is a consistent tragic story, and it is well told. It has the
peculiar virtue of the ballad, to make things impressive by the sudden
manner in which they are spoken of and passed by; in this abrupt mode
of narrative the ballads, as has been noted already, are not much
different from the earlier poems. The _Lay of Brynhild_ is not much
more diffuse than the ballad of _Sivard_ in what relates to the
slaying of the hero. Both are alike distinct from the method of Homer;
compared with Homer both the lays and the ballads are hurried in their
action, over-emphatic, cramped in a narrow space. But when the style
and temper are considered, apart from the incidents of the story, then
it will appear that the lay belongs to a totally different order of
literature from the ballad. The ballad tells of things dimly
discerned by the poet; king's sons and daughters are no more to him
than they are to the story-tellers of the market-place--forms of a
shadowy grandeur, different from ordinary people, swayed by strange
motives, not irrationally, nor altogether in a way beyond the
calculation of simple audiences, yet in ways for which there is no
adequate mode of explanation known to the reciter. The ballad keeps
instinctively a right outline for its tragic story, but to develop the
characters is beyond its power. In the epic _Lay of Brynhild_, on the
other hand, the poet is concerned with passions which he feels himself
able to comprehend and to set forth dramatically; so that, while the
story of the poem is not very much larger in scale than that of the
ballad, the dramatic speeches are greatly elaborated. Brynhild in the
lay is not a mere tragic symbol, as in the ballad, but a tragic
character. The ballad has the seed of tragedy in it, but in the lay
the seed has sprung up in the dramatic eloquence of Brynhild's
utterances before her death. The ballad is tragical, but in an
abstract manner. The plot of the slighted woman and her vengeance,
with the remorse of Hagen, is all true, and not exaggerated in motive.
But while the motives are appreciated, it is not in the power of the
poet to develop the exposition of them, to make them dramatically
characteristic, as well as right in their general nature. It is just
this dramatic ideal which is the ambition and inspiration of the other
poet; the character of Brynhild has taken possession of his
imagination, and requires to be expressed in characteristic speech. A
whole poetical world is open to the poet of Brynhild, and to the other
poets of the Northern heroic cycle. They have taken the first day's
journey into the empire of Homer and Shakespeare; the forms of poetry
that they employ are varied and developed by them so as to express as
fully as possible the poetical conception of different individual
characters. It is not easy to leave them without the impression that
their poetry was capable of infinitely greater progress in this
direction; that some at least of the poets of the North were "bearers
of the torch" in their generation, not less than the poets of Provence
or France who came after them and led the imagination of Christendom
into another way. That is, it is possible to think of the poets of
Sigurd and Brynhild as holding among the Northern nations of the tenth
or eleventh century the place that is held in every generation by some
set of authors who, for the time, are at the head of intellectual and
literary adventure, who hold authority, from Odin or the Muses, to
teach their contemporaries one particular kind of song, till the time
comes when their vogue is exhausted, and they are succeeded by other
masters and other schools. This commission has been held by various
kinds of author since the beginning of history, and manifold are the
lessons that have been recommended to the world by their authority;
now epic, now courtly and idealist lyric, romantic drama, pedantic
tragedy, funeral orations, analytical novels. They are not all
amusing, and not all their prices are more than the rate of an old
song. But they all have a value as trophies, as monuments of what was
most important in their time, of the things in which the generations,
wise and foolish, have put their trust and their whole soul. The
ballads have not this kind of importance; the ballad poets are remote
from the lists where the great champions overthrow one another, where
poet takes the crown from poet. The ballads, by their very nature, are
secluded and apart from the great literary enterprises; it is the
beauty of them that they are exempt from the proclamations and the
arguments, the shouting and the tumult, the dust and heat, that
accompany the great literary triumphs and make epochs for the
historians, as in the day of _Cléopatre_, or the day of _Hernani_. The
ballad has no weight of responsibility upon it; it does not carry the
intellectual light of its century; its authors are easily satisfied.
In the various examples of the Teutonic alliterative poetry there is
recognisable the effort and anxiety of poets who are not content with
old forms, who have a poetical vocation to go on and find out new
forms, who are on the search for the "one grace above the rest," by
which all the chief poets are led. The remains of this poetry are so
many experiments, which, in whatever respects they may have failed,
yet show the work and energy of authors who are proud of their art, as
well as the dignity of men who are familiar with greatness and great
actions: in both which respects they differ from the ballad poets. The
spell of the popular story, the popular ballad, is not quite the same
as theirs. Theirs is more commanding; they are nearer to the strenuous
life of the world than are the simple people who remember, over their
fires of peat, the ancient stories of the wanderings of kings' sons.
They have outgrown the stage of life for which the fables and old
wives' tales are all-sufficient; they have begun to make a difference
between fable and characters; they have entered on a way by which the
highest poetical victories are attainable. The poetry of the old lays
of the Volsungs, as compared with popular ballads and tales, is
"weighty and philosophical"--full of the results of reflection on
character. Nor have they with all this lost the inexplicable magic of
popular poetry, as the poems of Helgi and Sigrun, and of the daughter
of Angantyr, and others, may easily prove.



The style of the poems, in what concerns their verse and diction, is
not less distinctly noble than their spirit and temper. The
alliterative verse, wherever it is found, declares itself as belonging
to an elaborate poetical tradition. The alliterative line is
rhetorically capable of a great amount of emphasis; it lends itself as
readily as the "drumming decasyllabon" of the Elizabethan style to
pompous declamation. Parallelism of phrases, the favourite rhetorical
device, especially with the old English poets, is incompatible with
tenuity of style; while the weight of the verse, as a rule, prevents
the richness of phrasing from becoming too extravagant and

[Footnote 32: Examples in Appendix, Note A.]

The style of alliterative verse is not monotonous. Without reckoning
the forms that deviate from the common epic measure, such as the
Northern lyrical staves, there may be found in it as many varieties of
style as in English blank verse from the days of _Gorboduc_ onward.

In its oldest common form it may be supposed that the verse was not
distinctly epic or lyric; lyric rather than epic, lyric with such
amount of epic as is proper for psalms of triumph, or for the praise
of a king, the kind of verse that might be used for any sort of
_carmina_, such as for marking authorship and ownership on a sword or
a horn, for epitaphs or spells, or for vituperative epigrams.

In England and the Continent the verse was early adapted for
continuous history. The lyrical and gnomic usages were not abandoned.
The poems of _Widsith_ and _Deor's Lament_ show how the allusive and
lyrical manner of referring to heroic legend was kept up in England.
The general tendency, however, seems to have favoured a different kind
of poetry. The common form of old English verse is fitted for
narrative. The ideal of the poets is one that would have the sense
"variously drawn out from one verse to another." When the verse is
lyrical in tone, as in the _Dream of the Rood_, or the _Wanderer_, the
lyrical passion is commonly that of mourning or regret, and the
expression is elegiac and diffuse, not abrupt or varied. The verse,
whether narrative or elegiac, runs in rhythmical periods; the sense is
not "concluded in the couplet." The lines are mortised into one
another; by preference, the sentences begin in the middle of a line.
The parallelism of the old poetry, and its wealth of paraphrase,
encourage deliberation in the sentences, though they are often
interrupted by a short sentence, generally introduced to point a

The old Norse poetry, with many likenesses to the old English, had a
different taste in rhetorical syntax. Instead of the long-drawn
phrases of the English poetry, and an arrangement of sentences by
which the metrical limits of the line were generally disguised, the
Norse alliterative poetry adopted a mode of speech that allowed the
line to ring out clearly, and gave full force to the natural emphasis
of the rhythm.

These two opposite rhetorical tendencies are illustrated also by the
several variations upon the common rhythm that found favour in one
region and the other. Where an English or a German alliterative poet
wishes to vary from the common metre, he uses the lengthened line, an
expansion of the simple line, which, from its volume, is less suitable
for pointed expression, and more capable of pathos or solemnity, than
the ordinary form of verse. The long line of the Saxon and English
poets is not used in the Norse poetry; there the favourite verse,
where the ordinary narrative line is discarded, is in the form of
gnomic couplets, in which, as in the classical elegiac measure, a full
line is succeeded by a truncated or broken rhythm, and with the same
effect of clinching the meaning of the first line as is commonly given
by the Greek or Latin pentameter. Of this favourite Northern measure
there are only one or two casual and sporadic instances in English
poetry; in the short dramatic lyric of the _Exeter Book_, interpreted
so ingeniously by Mr. Bradley and Mr. Gollancz, and in the gnomic
verses of the same collection.

This difference of taste goes very far to explain the difference
between English and Norse epic; to appreciate the difference of style
is to understand the history of the early poetry. It was natural that
the more equable form of the English and the Continental German
narrative poetry should prove itself fit for extended and continuous
epic narrative; it was inevitable that the Norse intolerance of tame
expression, and of everything unimpassioned or unemphatic, should
prevent the growth of any of the larger and slower kinds of poetry.

The triumphs of alliterative poetry in the first or English kind are
the long swelling passages of tragic monologue, of which the greatest
is in the Saxon _Genesis_,--the speech of Satan after the fall from
heaven. The best of the Northern poetry is all but lyrical; the poem
of the Sibyl, the poems of Sigrun, Gudrun, Hervor.

The nature of the two forms of poetry is revealed in their respective
manners of going wrong. The decline of the old English poetry is shown
by an increase of diffuseness and insipidity. The old Norse poetry was
attacked by an evil of a different sort, the malady of false wit and
over-decoration. The English poetry, when it loses strength and
self-control, is prone to monotonous lamentation; the Norse poetry is
tempted to overload itself with conceits.

In the one there is excess of sentiment, in the other the contrary
vice of frigidity, and a premeditated and ostentatious use of
figurative expressions.

The poem of _Beowulf_ has known the insidious approach and temptation
of diffuse poetic melancholy. The Northern poems are corrupted by the
vanity of metaphor. To evade the right term for everything has been
the aim of many poetic schools; it has seldom been attained more
effectually than in the poetry of the Norwegian tongue.

Periphrastic epithets are part of the original and common stock of the
Teutonic poetry. They form a large part of the vocabulary of common
phrases which bear witness to the affinity existing among the remains
of this poetry in all the dialects.[33]

[Footnote 33: Compare the index to Sievers's edition of the _Hêliand_
for illustrations of this community of poetical diction in old Saxon,
English, Norse, and High German; and J. Grimm, _Andreas und Elene_
(1840), pp. xxv.-xliv.]

But this common device was differently applied in the end, by the two
literatures, English and Icelandic, in which the old forms of verse
held their ground longest against the rhyming forms. The tendency in
England was to make use of the well-worn epithets, to ply the
_Gradus_: the duller kind of Anglo-Saxon poetry is put together as
Latin verses are made in school,--an old-fashioned metaphor is all the
more esteemed for its age. The poets, and presumably their hearers,
are best content with familiar phrases. In Iceland, on the other hand,
there was an impatience of the old vocabulary, and a curiosity and
search for new figures, that in the complexity and absurdity of its
results is not approached by any school of "false wit" in the whole
range of literature.

Already in the older forms of Northern poetry it is plain that there
is a tendency to lyrical emphasis which is unfavourable to the chances
of long narrative in verse. Very early, also, there are symptoms of
the familiar literary plague, the corruption of metaphor. Both these
tendencies have for their result the new school of poetry peculiar to
the North and the courts of the Northern kings and earls,--the Court
poetry, or poetry of the Scalds, which in its rise and progress
involved the failure of true epic. The German and English epic failed
by exhaustion in the competition with Latin and Romance literature,
though not without something to boast of before it went under. The
Northern epic failed, because of the premature development of lyrical
forms, first of all within itself, and then in the independent and
rival modes of the Scaldic poetry.

The Scaldic poetry, though later in kind than the poems of _Codex
Regius_, is at least as old as the tenth century;[34] the latest of
the epic poems, _Atlamál_ (the Greenland poem of Attila), and others,
show marks of the influence of Court poetry, and are considerably
later in date than the earliest of the Scalds.

[Footnote 34: See _Bidrag til den ældste Skaldedigtnings Historie_, by
Dr. Sophus Bugge (1894).]

The Court poetry is lyric, not epic. The aim of the Court poets was
not the narrative or the dramatic presentation of the greater heroic
legends; it was the elaborate decoration of commonplace themes, such
as the praise of a king, by every possible artifice of rhyme and
alliteration, of hard and exact construction of verse, and, above all,
of far-sought metaphorical allusions. In this kind of work, in the
praise of kings alive or dead, the poet was compelled to betake
himself to mythology and mythical history, like the learned poets of
other nations with their mythology of Olympus. In the mythology of
Asgard were contained the stores of precious names and epithets by
means of which the poems might be made to glitter and blaze.[35] It
was for the sake of poets like these that Snorri wrote his _Edda_, and
explained the mythical references available for the modern poetry of
his time, though fortunately his spirit and talent were not limited to
this didactic end, nor to the pedantries and deadly brilliance of
fashionable verse. By the time of Snorri the older kind of poetry had
become very much what Chaucer was to the Elizabethan sonneteers, or
Spenser to the contemporaries of Pope. It was regarded with some
amount of honour, and some condescension, but it had ceased to be the
right kind of poetry for a "courtly maker."

[Footnote 35: Compare _C.P.B._, ii. 447, Excursus on the Figures and
Metaphors of old Northern Poetry.]

The Northern poetry appears to have run through some of the same
stages as the poetry of Greece, though with insufficient results in
most of them. The epic poetry is incomplete, with all its nobility.
The best things of the old poetry are dramatic--lyrical monologues,
like the song of the Sibyl, and Gudrun's story to Theodoric, or
dialogues like those of Helgi and Sigrun, Hervor and Angantyr. Before
any adequate large rendering had been accorded to those tragic
histories, the Northern poetry, in its impatience of length, had
discovered the idyllic mode of expression and the dramatic monologue,
in which there was no excuse for weakness and tameness, and, on the
contrary, great temptation to excess in emphatic and figurative
language. Instead of taking a larger scene and a more complex and
longer story, the poets seem to have been drawn more and more to cut
short the story and to intensify the lyrical passion of their dialogue
or monologue. Almost as if they had known the horror of infinite
flatness that is all about the literature of the Middle Ages, as if
there had fallen upon them, in that Aleïan plain, the shadow of the
enormous beast out of Aristotle's _Poetics_, they chose to renounce
all superfluity, and throw away the makeshift wedges and supports by
which an epic is held up. In this way they did great things, and
_Volospá_ (the _Sibyl's Prophecy_) is their reward. To write out in
full the story of the Volsungs and Niblungs was left to the prose
compilers of the _Volsunga Saga_, and to the Austrian poet of the

The _Volospá_ is as far removed from the courtly odes and their manner
and ingenuity as the _Marriage Hymn_ of Catullus from the _Coma
Berenices_. The _Volospá_, however, has this in common with the
mechanical odes, that equally with these it stands apart from epic,
that equally with these it fuses epic material into an alien form. The
sublimity of this great poem of the _Doom_ is not like the majesty or
strength of epic. The voice is not the voice of a teller of stories.
And it is here, not in true epic verse, that the Northern poetry
attains its height.

It is no ignoble form of poetry that is represented by the _Sibyl's
Song_ and the _Lament of Gudrun_. But it was not enough for the
ambition of the poets. They preferred the composition of correct and
elaborate poems in honour of great men, with much expenditure of
mythology and without passion;[36] one of the forms of poetry which
may be truly said to leave nothing to be desired, the most artificial
and mechanical poetry in the world, except possibly the
closely-related kinds in the traditional elaborate verse of Ireland or
of Wales.

[Footnote 36: These may be found in the second volume of the _Corpus
Poeticum Boreale_.]

It was still possible to use this modern and difficult rhetoric,
occasionally, for subjects like those of the freer epic; to choose a
subject from heroic tradition and render it in the fashionable style.
The _Death-Song of Ragnar Lodbrok_[37] is the chief of those secondary
dramatic idylls. It is marked off by difference of verse, for one
thing, from the _Hamðismál_ and the _Atlakviða_; and, besides this, it
has the characteristic of imitative and conventional heroic
literature--the unpersuasive and unconvincing force of the heroic
romance, the rhetoric of Almanzor. The end of the poem is fine, but it
does not ring quite true:--

     The gods will welcome me; there is nothing to bewail in
     death. I am ready to go; they are calling me home, the
     maidens whom Odin has sent to call me. With gladness will I
     drink the ale, set high among the gods. The hours of life
     are gone over; laughing will I die.

[Footnote 37: _C.P.B._, ii. 339.]

It is not like the end of the sons of Gudrun; it is not of the same
kind as the last words of Sorli, which are simpler, and infinitely
more imaginative and true:--

     We have fought; if we die to-day, if we die to-morrow, there
     is little to choose. No man may speak when once the Fates
     have spoken (_Hamðismál_, s.f.).

It is natural that the _Song of Ragnar Lodbrok_ should be appreciated
by modern authors. It is one of the documents responsible for the
conventional Valkyria and Valhalla of the Romantic School, and for
other stage properties, no longer new. The poem itself is in spirit
rather more nearly related to the work of Tegnér or Oehlenschläger
than to the _Volospá_. It is a secondary and literary version, a
"romantic" version of ideas and images belonging to a past time, and
studied by an antiquarian poet with an eye for historical

[Footnote 38: Translated in Percy's _Runic Poetry_ (1763), p. 27, and
often since.]

The progress of epic was not at an end in the rise of the new Court
poetry that sounded sweeter in the ears of mortals than the old poems
of _Sigurd_ and _Brynhild_. The conceits and the hard correctness of
the Scalds did not satisfy all the curiosity or the imaginative
appetite of their patrons. There still remained a desire for epic, or
at least for a larger and freer kind of historical discourse. This was
satisfied by the prose histories of the great men of Iceland, of the
kings of Norway and the lords of the Isles; histories the nearest to
true epic of all that have ever been spoken without verse. That the
chief of all the masters of this art should have been Snorri
Sturluson, the exponent and practitioner of the mystery of the Court
poets, is among the pleasantest of historical paradoxes.

The development of the Court poetry to all extremes of "false wit,"
and of glaring pretence and artificiality of style, makes the contrast
all the more vivid between its brocaded stiffness and the ease and
freedom of the Sagas. But even apart from the Court poetry, it is
clear that there was little chance for any development of the Northern
heroic poetry into an Homeric fulness of detail. In the Norse poetry,
as in Greek, the primitive forms of heroic dirges or hymns give place
to narrative poetry; and that again is succeeded by a new kind of
lyric, in which the ancient themes of the _Lament_ and the _Song of
Praise_ are adorned with the new ideas and the new diction of poets
who have come to study novelty, and have entered, though with far
other arms and accoutrements, on the same course as the Greek lyric
authors of dithyrambs and panegyrical odes. In this progress of poetry
from the unknown older songs, like those of which Tacitus speaks, to
the epic form as it is preserved in the "Elder Edda," and from the
epic form to the lyrical form of the Scalds, the second stage is
incomplete; the epic form is uncertain and half-developed. The rise of
the Court poetry is the most obvious explanation of this failure. The
Court poetry, with all its faults, is a completed form which had its
day of glory, and even rather more than its share of good fortune. It
is the characteristic and successful kind of poetry in Iceland and
Norway, just as other kinds of elaborate lyric were cultivated, to the
depreciation of epic, in Provence and in Italy. It was to the Court
poet that the prizes were given; the epic form was put out of favour,
generations before the fragments of it were gathered together and
preserved by the collector from whose books they have descended to the
extant manuscripts and the editions of the "Elder Edda."

But at the same time it may be represented that the Court poetry was
as much effect as cause of the depreciation of epic. The lyrical
strain declared itself in the Northern epic poetry too strongly for
any such epic work as either _Beowulf_ or the _Hêliand_. The bent was
given too early, and there was no recovery possible. The Court poetry,
in its rhetorical brilliance and its allusive phrases, as well as in
the hardness and correctness of its verse, is carrying out to
completion certain tastes and principles whose influence is manifest
throughout the other orders of old Northern poetry; and there is no
need to go to the Court poetry to explain the difference between the
history of Northern and of English alliterative verse, though it is by
means of the Court poetry that this difference may be brought into the
strongest light. The contrast between the English liking for
continuous discourse and the Norse liking for abrupt emphasis is
already to be discerned in the oldest literary documents of the two




     Due (1) to accidents of tradition and impersonal causes:
         (2) to calculation and selection of motives by the poets,
               and intentional modification of traditional matter.

_Beowulf_, as the poem stands, is quite a different sort of thing from
the poems in the Copenhagen manuscript. It is given out by its scribes
in all the glory of a large poem, handsomely furnished with a prelude,
a conclusion, and divisions into several books. It has the look of a
substantial epic poem. It was evidently regarded as something
considerable, as a work of eminent virtue and respectability. The
Northern poems, treasured and highly valued as they evidently were,
belong to a different fashion. In the _Beowulf_ of the existing
manuscript the fluctuation and variation of the older epic tradition
has been controlled by editors who have done their best to establish a
text of the poem. The book has an appearance of authority. There is
little of this in the Icelandic manuscript. The Northern poems have
evidently been taken as they were found. Imperfections of tradition,
which in _Beowulf_ would have been glossed over by an editorial
process, are here left staring at the reader. The English poem
pretends to be a literary work of importance--a book, in short; while
the Icelandic verses are plainly gathered from all quarters, and in
such a condition as to defy the best intentions of the editor, who did
his best to understand what he heard, but had no consistent policy of
improvement or alteration, to correct the accidental errors and
discrepancies of the oral communications.

Further, and apart from the accidents of this particular book, there
is in the poems, even when they are best preserved, a character of
fluctuation and uncertainty, belonging to an older and less literary
fashion of poetry than that of _Beowulf_.

_Beowulf_ has been regarded by some as a composite epic poem made out
of older and shorter poems. _Codex Regius_ shows that this hypothesis
is dealing with an undoubted _vera causa_ when it talks of short lays
on heroic subjects, and of the variations of treatment to be found in
different lays on one and the same theme, and of the possibilities of

Thus, in considering the story of Beowulf's descent under water, and
the difficulties and contradictions of that story as it stands, Ten
Brink has been led to suppose that the present text is made up of two
independent versions, run together by an editor in a hazardous way
without regard to the differences in points of detail, which still
remain to the annoyance of the careful reader.

There is no great risk in the assumption that there were different
versions of the fight with Grendel's mother, which may have been
carelessly put together into one version in spite of their
contradictions. In the _Codex Regius_ there are three different
versions of the death of the Niblungs, the _Atlakviða_, _Atlamál_,
and the _Lament of Oddrun_. The _Lament of Oddrun_ is vitally
different from the other two poems, and these differ from one another,
with regard to the motive of Atli's feud with Gunnar. It is possible
for the human mind to imagine an editor, a literary man, capable of
blending the poems in order to make a larger book. This would be
something like the process which Ten Brink has suspected in the
composition of this part of _Beowulf_. It is one thing, however, to
detect the possibility of such misdemeanours; and quite another thing
to suppose that it is by methods such as these that the bulk of the
larger epic is swollen beyond the size of common lays or ballads. It
is impossible, at any rate, by any reduction or analysis of _Beowulf_,
to get rid of its stateliness of narrative; it would be impossible by
any fusion or aggregation of the Eddic lays to get rid of their
essential brevity. No accumulation of lays can alter the style from
its trick of detached and abrupt suggestions to the slower and more
equable mode.

That there was a growth of epic among the Teutonic nations is what is
proved by all the documents. This growth was of the same general kind
as the progress of any of the great forms of literature--the Drama,
the Novel. Successive generations of men, speaking the same or similar
forms of language, made poetical experiments in a common
subject-manner, trying different ways of putting things, and changing
their forms of poetry according to local and personal variations of
taste; so that the same story might be told over and over again, in
different times, with different circumstances.

In one region the taste might be all for compression, for increase of
the tension, for suppression of the tamer intervals in the story. In
another it might run to greater length and ease, and favour a gradual
explication of the plot.

The "Elder Edda" shows that contamination was possible. It shows that
there might be frequent independent variations on the same theme, and
that, apart from any editorial work, these versions might occasionally
be shuffled and jumbled by mere accidents of recollection.

Thus there is nothing contrary to the evidence in the theory that a
redactor of _Beowulf_ may have had before him different versions of
different parts of the poem, corresponding to one another, more or
less, as _Atlamál_ corresponds to the _Atlakviða_. This hypothesis,
however, does not account for the difference in form between the
English and the Northern poems. No handling of the _Atlamál_ or the
_Atlakviða_ could produce anything like the appearance of _Beowulf_.
The contaminating editor may be useful as an hypothesis in certain
particular cases. But the heroic poetry got on very well without him,
generally speaking. It grew by a free and natural growth into a
variety of forms, through the ambitions and experiments of poets.

Variety is evident in the poems that lie outside the Northern group;
_Finnesburh_ is of a different order from _Waldere_. It is in the
Northern collection, however, that the variety is most evident. There
the independent versions of the same story are brought together, side
by side. The experiments of the old school are ranged there; and the
fact that experiments were made, that the old school was not satisfied
with its conventions, is perhaps the most legitimate inference, and
one of the most significant, to be made by a reader of the poems.

Variations on similar themes are found in all popular poetry; here
again the poems of the _Edda_ present themselves as akin to ballads.
Here again they are distinguished from ballads by their greater degree
of ambition and self-consciousness. For it will not do to dismiss the
Northern poems on the Volsung story as a mere set of popular
variations on common themes. The more carefully they are examined, the
less will be the part assigned to chance and imperfect recollection in
producing the variety of the poems. The variation, where there are
different presentations of the same subject, is not produced by
accident or the casual and faulty repetition of a conventional type of
poem, but by a poetical ambition for new forms. _Codex Regius_ is an
imperfect monument of a time of poetical energy in which old forms
were displaced by new, and old subjects refashioned by successive
poets. As in the Athenian or the English drama the story of Oedipus or
of Lear might be taken up by one playwright after another, so in the
North the Northern stories were made to pass through changes in the
minds of different poets.

The analogy to the Greek and the English drama need not be forced.
Without any straining of comparisons, it may be argued that the
relation of the _Atlamál_ and _Atlakviða_ is like the relation of
Euripides to Aeschylus, and not so much like the variations of ballad
tradition, in this respect, that the _Atlamál_ is a careful,
deliberate, and somewhat conceited attempt to do better in a new way
what has been done before by an older poet. The idylls of the
heroines, Brynhild, Gudrun, Oddrun, are not random and unskilled
variations; they are considerate and studied poems, expressing new
conceptions and imaginations.

It is true that this poetry is still, in many respects, in the
condition of popular poetry and popular traditional stories. The
difference of plot in some versions of the same subject appears to be
due to the ordinary causes that produce the variants of popular
tales,--defective memory, accidental loss of one point in the story,
and change of emphasis in another. To causes such as these, to the
common impersonal accidents of tradition, may perhaps be referred one
of the strangest of all the alterations in the bearing of a story--the
variation of plot in the tradition of the Niblungs.

In the "Elder Edda" the death of the Niblungs is laid to the charge of
Attila; their sister Gudrun does her best to save them; when she fails
in this, she takes vengeance for them on her husband.

In the German tradition, as in the version known to Saxo in the
_Nibelungenlied_, in the Danish ballad of _Grimild's Revenge_ (which
is borrowed from the German), the lines are laid quite differently.
There it is their sister who brings about the death of the kings; it
is the wife of Sigfred, of Sigfred whom they have killed, that exacts
vengeance from her brothers Gunther and Hagene. Attila is here put
aside. Gudrun's slaughter of her children is unrecorded; there is no
motive for it when all her anger is turned against her brothers. This
shifting of the centre of a story is not easy to explain. But,
whatever the explanation may be, it seems probable that it lies
somewhere within the range of popular tradition, that the change is
due to some of the common causes of the transformation of stories, and
not to a definite and calculated poetical modification. The tragical
complications are so many in the story of the Niblungs that there
could not fail to be variations in the traditional interpretation of
motives, even without the assistance of the poets and their new
readings of character.

In some of the literary documents there may be found two kinds of
variation from an original form of story,--variation due to those
popular and indefinite causes, the variation of failing memory, on the
one hand; and on the other, variation due to the ambition or conceit
of an author with ideas of his own.

A comparison of the _Atlakviða_, the _Atlamál_, and the _Lamentation
of Oddrun_ may at first suggest that we have here to deal with just
such variants as are common wherever stories are handed on by oral
tradition. Further consideration will more and more reduce the part
allotted to oral maltreatment, and increase the part of intentional
and artistic modification, in the variations of story to be found in
these poems.

All three poems are agreed in their ignorance of the variation which
makes the wife of Sigfred into the avenger of his death. In all three
it is Attila who brings about the death of the brothers of Gudrun.

It seems to have been a constant part of the traditional story, as
known to the authors of these three poems, that Attila, when he had
the brothers of Gudrun in his power, gave order to cut out the heart
of Hogni, and thereafter to throw Gunnar into the serpents' den.

The _Atlakviða_ presents an intelligible explanation of this; the
other two poems leave this part of the action rather vague.

In the _Atlakviða_ the motive of Attila's original hatred is left at
first unexplained, but comes out in the circumstances of the death of
the Niblungs. When the Burgundian kings are seized and bound, they are
called upon to buy themselves off with gold. It is understood in
Gunnar's reply, that the gold of the Niblung treasure is what is
sought for. He asks that the heart of Hogni may be brought to him.
They bring him, instead, the heart of Hialli, which Gunnar detects at
once as the heart of a coward. Then at last the heart of Hogni is cut
out and brought to Gunnar; and then he defies the Huns, and keeps his

     Now is the hoard of the Niblungs all in my keeping alone,
     for Hogni is dead: there was doubt while we two lived, but
     now there is doubt no more. Rhine shall bear rule over the
     gold of jealousy, the eager river over the Niblung's
     heritage; the goodly rings shall gleam in the whirling
     water, they shall not pass to the children of the Huns.

Gunnar was thrown among the snakes, and there he harped upon his harp
before his death came on him. The end of Gunnar is not told
explicitly; the story goes on to the vengeance of Gudrun.

In the _Oddrúnargrátr_ there is another motive for Attila's enmity to
Gunnar: not the gold of the Niblungs, but the love that was between
Gunnar and Oddrun (Oddrun was the sister of Attila and Brynhild). The
death of Brynhild is alluded to, but that is not the chief motive. The
gold of the Niblungs is not mentioned. Still, however, the death of
Hogni precedes the death of Gunnar,--"They cut out the heart of Hogni,
and his brother they set in the serpents' close." Gunnar played upon
his harp among the serpents, and for a long time escaped them; but the
old serpent came out at last and crawled to his heart. It is implied
that the sound of his music is a charm for the serpents; but another
motive is given by Oddrun, as she tells the story: Gunnar played on
his harp for Oddrun, to be heard by her, so that she could come to
help him. But she came too late.

It might be inferred from this poem that the original story of the
death of Hogni has been imperfectly recollected by the poet who
touches lightly on it and gives no explanation here. It is fairer to
suppose that it was passed over because it was irrelevant. The poet
had chosen for his idyll the love of Gunnar and Oddrun, a part of the
story which is elsewhere referred to among these poems, namely in the
_Long Lay of Brynhild_ (l. 58). By his choice of this, and his
rendering of it in dramatic monologue, he debarred himself from any
emphatic use of the motive for Hogni's death. It cannot be inferred
from his explanation of Gunnar's harp-playing that the common
explanation was unknown to him. On the contrary, it is implied here,
just as much as in _Atlakviða_, that the serpents are kept from him by
the music, until the old sleepless one gives him his death. But the
poet, while he keeps this incident of the traditional version, is not
particularly interested in it, except as it affords him a new occasion
to return to his main theme of the love story. Gunnar's music is a
message to Oddrun. This is an imaginative and dramatic adaptation of
old material, not a mere lapse of memory, not a mere loss of the
traditional bearings of the story.

The third of these poems, the _Atlamál_, is in some respects the most
remarkable of them all. In its plot it has more than the others, at
the first reading, the appearance of a faulty recollection; for, while
it makes a good deal of play with the circumstances of the death of
Hogni, it misses, or appears to miss, the point of the story; the
motive of Gunnar, which is evident and satisfactory in the
_Atlakviða_, is here suppressed or dropped. The gold of the Niblungs
is not in the story at all; the motive of Attila appears to be anger
at the death of his sister Brynhild, Gunnar's wife, but his motive is
not much dwelt on. It is as if the author had forgotten the run of
events, like a blundering minstrel.

On the other hand, the poem in its style is further from all the
manners of popular poetry, more affected and rhetorical, than any of
the other pieces in the book. It is written in the _málaháttr_, a
variety of the common epic measure, with a monotonous cadence; the
sort of measure that commends itself to an ambitious and rhetorical
poet with a fancy for correctness and regularity. The poem has its
origin in an admiration for the character of Gudrun, and a desire to
bring out more fully than in the older poems the tragic thoughts and
passion of the heroine. Gudrun's anxiety for her brothers' safety, and
her warning message to them not to come to the Court of the Huns, had
been part of the old story. In the _Atlakviða_ she sends them a token,
a ring with a wolf's hair twisted round it, which is noticed by Hogni
but not accepted by Gunnar. In the _Atlamál_ something more is made of
this; her message here is written in runes, and these are falsified on
the way by Attila's messenger, so that the warning is at first unread.
But the confusion of the runes is detected by the wife of Hogni, and
so the story opens with suspense and forebodings of the doom. The
death of Hogni and Gunnar is explained in a new way, and always with
the passion of Gudrun as the chief theme. In this story the fight of
the Niblungs and the Huns is begun outside the doors of the hall.
Gudrun hears the alarm and rushes out with a welcome to her
brothers,--"that was their last greeting,"--and a cry of lamentation
over their neglect of her runes. Then she tries to make peace, and
when she fails in that, takes up a sword and fights for her brothers.
It is out of rage and spite against Gudrun, and in order to tame her
spirit, that Attila has the heart of Hogni cut out of him, and sends
Gunnar to the serpents.

All this change in the story is the result of meditation and not of
forgetfulness. Right or wrong, the poet has devised his story in his
own way, and his motives are easily discovered. He felt that the
vengeance of Gudrun required to be more carefully and fully explained.
Her traditional character was not quite consistent with the horrors of
her revenge. In the _Atlamál_ the character of Gudrun is so conceived
as to explain her revenge,--the killing of her children follows close
upon her fury in the battle, and the cruelty of Attila is here a
direct challenge to Gudrun, not, as in the _Atlakviða_, a mere
incident in Attila's search for the Niblung treasure. The cruelty of
the death of Hogni in the _Atlakviða_ is purely a matter of business;
it is not of Attila's choosing, and apparently he favours the attempt
to save Hogni by the sacrifice of Hialli the feeble man. In the
_Atlamál_ it is to save Hogni from Attila that Hialli the cook is
chased into a corner and held under the knife. This comic interlude is
one of the liveliest passages of the poem. It serves to increase the
strength of Hogni. Hogni begs them to let the creature go,--"Why
should we have to put up with his squalling?" It may be observed that
in this way the poet gets out of a difficulty. It is not in his design
to have the coward's heart offered to Gunnar; he has dropped that part
of the story entirely. Gunnar is not asked to give up the treasure,
and has no reason to protect his secret by asking for the death of his
brother; and there would be no point in keeping the incident for the
benefit of Attila. That Gunnar should first detect the imposture, and
should then recognise the heart of his brother, is a fine piece of
heroic imagination of a primitive kind. It would have been wholly
inept and spiritless to transfer this from Gunnar to Attila. The poet
of _Atlamál_ shows that he understands what he is about. The more his
work is scrutinised, the more evident becomes the sobriety of his
judgment. His dexterity in the disposing of his incidents is proved in
every particular. While a first reading of the poem and a first
comparison with the story of _Atlakviða_ may suggest the blundering
and irresponsible ways of popular reciters, a very little attention
will serve to bring out the difference and to justify this poet. He is
not an improviser; his temptations are of another sort. He is the poet
of a second generation, one of those who make up by energy of
intelligence for their want of original and spontaneous imagination.
It is not that he is cold or dull; but there is something wanting in
the translation of his thoughts into speech. His metres are hammered
out; the precision of his verse is out of keeping with the fury of his
tragic purport. The faults are the faults of overstudy, the faults of
correctness and maturity.

The significance of the _Atlamál_ is considerable in the history of
the Northern poetry. It may stand for the furthest mark in one
particular direction; the epic poetry of the North never got further
than this. If _Beowulf_ or _Waldere_ may perhaps represent the highest
accomplishment of epic in old English verse, the _Atlamál_ has, at
least, as good a claim in the other language. The _Atlamál_ is not the
finest of the old poems. That place belongs, without any question, to
the _Volospá_, the Sibyl's Song of the judgment; and among the others
there are many that surpass the _Atlamál_ in beauty. But the _Atlamál_
is complete; it is a work of some compass, diligently planned and
elaborated. Further, although it has many of the marks of the new
rhetoric, these do not change its character as a narrative poem. It
is a narrative poem, not a poem of lyrical allusions, not an heroic
ode. It is at once the largest and the most harmonious in construction
of all the poems. It proves that the change of the Northern poetry,
from narrative to the courtly lyric, was a change not made without
fair opportunity to the older school to show what it was worth. The
variety of the three poems of Attila, ending in the careful rhetoric
of the _Atlamál_, is proof sufficient of the labour bestowed by
different poets in their use of the epic inheritance. Great part of
the history of the North is misread, unless account is taken of the
artistic study, the invention, the ingenuity, that went to the making
of those poems. This variety is not the confusion of barbarous
tradition, or the shifts and experiments of improvisers. The prosody
and the rhetorical furniture of the poems might prevent that
misinterpretation. It might be prevented also by an observation of the
way the matter is dealt with, even apart from the details of the
language and the style. The proof from these two quarters, from the
matter and from the style, is not easily impugned.

So the first impression is discredited, and so it appears that the
"Elder Edda," for all its appearance of disorder, haste, and hazard,
really contains a number of specimens of art, not merely a heap of
casual and rudimentary variants. The poems of the Icelandic manuscript
assert themselves as individual and separate works. They are not the
mere makings of an epic, the mere materials ready to the hand of an
editor. It still remains true that they are defective, but it is true
also that they are the work of artists, and of a number of artists
with different aims and ideals. The earliest of them is long past the
stage of popular improvisation, and the latest has the qualities of a
school that has learned more art than is good for it.

The defect of the Northern epic is that it allowed itself to be too
soon restricted in its scope. It became too minute, too emphatic, too
intolerant of the comfortable dilutions, the level intervals, between
the critical moments.[39] It was too much affected by the vanities of
the rival Scaldic poetry; it was overcome by rhetoric. But it cannot
be said that it went out tamely.

[Footnote 39: There is a natural affinity to Gray's poetry in the
Icelandic poetry that he translated--compressed, emphatic, incapable
of laxity.]



The poem of _Beowulf_ has been sorely tried; critics have long been at
work on the body of it, to discover how it is made. It gives many
openings for theories of agglutination and adulteration. Many things
in it are plainly incongruous. The pedigree of Grendel is not
authentic; the Christian sentiments and morals are not in keeping with
the heroic or the mythical substance of the poem; the conduct of the
narrative is not always clear or easy to follow. These difficulties
and contradictions have to be explained; the composition of the poem
has to be analysed; what is old has to be separated from what is new
and adventitious; and the various senses and degrees of "old" and
"new" have to be determined, in the criticism of the poem. With all
this, however, the poem continues to possess at least an apparent and
external unity. It is an extant book, whatever the history of its
composition may have been; the book of the adventures of Beowulf,
written out fair by two scribes in the tenth century; an epic poem,
with a prologue at the beginning, and a judgment pronounced on the
life of the hero at the end; a single book, considered as such by its
transcribers, and making a claim to be so considered.

Before any process of disintegration is begun, this claim should be
taken into account; the poem deserves to be appreciated as it stands.
Whatever may be the secrets of its authorship, it exists as a single
continuous narrative poem; and whatever its faults may be, it holds a
position by itself, and a place of some honour, as the one extant poem
of considerable length in the group to which it belongs. It has a
meaning and value apart from the questions of its origin and its mode
of production. Its present value as a poem is not affected by proofs
or arguments regarding the way in which it may have been patched or
edited. The patchwork theory has no power to make new faults in the
poem; it can only point out what faults exist, and draw inferences
from them. It does not take away from any dignity the book may possess
in its present form, that it has been subjected to the same kind of
examination as the _Iliad_. The poem may be reviewed as it stands, in
order to find out what sort of thing passed for heroic poetry with the
English at the time the present copy of the poem was written. However
the result was obtained, _Beowulf_ is, at any rate, the specimen by
which the Teutonic epic poetry must be judged. It is the largest
monument extant. There is nothing beyond it, in that kind, in respect
of size and completeness. If the old Teutonic epic is judged to have
failed, it must be because _Beowulf_ is a failure.

Taking the most cursory view of the story of _Beowulf_, it is easy to
recognise that the unity of the plot is not like the unity of the
_Iliad_ or the _Odyssey_. One is inclined at first to reckon _Beowulf_
along with those epics of which Aristotle speaks, the _Heracleids_ and
_Theseids_, the authors of which "imagined that because Heracles was
one person the story of his life could not fail to have unity."[40]

[Footnote 40: _Poet._ 1451 a.]

It is impossible to reduce the poem of _Beowulf_ to the scale of
Aristotle's _Odyssey_ without revealing the faults of structure in the
English poem:--

     A man in want of work goes abroad to the house of a certain
     king troubled by Harpies, and having accomplished the
     purification of the house returns home with honour. Long
     afterwards, having become king in his own country, he kills
     a dragon, but is at the same time choked by the venom of it.
     His people lament for him and build his tomb.

Aristotle made a summary of the Homeric poem, because he wished to
show how simple its construction really was, apart from the episodes.
It is impossible, by any process of reduction and simplification, to
get rid of the duality in _Beowulf_. It has many episodes, quite
consistent with a general unity of action, but there is something more
than episodes, there is a sequel. It is as if to the _Odyssey_ there
had been added some later books telling in full of the old age of
Odysseus, far from the sea, and his death at the hands of his son
Telegonus. The adventure with the dragon is separate from the earlier
adventures. It is only connected with them because the same person is
involved in both.

It is plain from Aristotle's words that the _Iliad_ and the _Odyssey_
were in this, as in all respects, above and beyond the other Greek
epics known to Aristotle. Homer had not to wait for _Beowulf_ to serve
as a foil to his excellence. That was provided in the other epic poems
of Greece, in the cycle of Troy, in the epic stories of Theseus and
Heracles. It seems probable that the poem of _Beowulf_ may be at least
as well knit as the _Little Iliad_, the Greek cyclic poem of which
Aristotle names the principal incidents, contrasting its variety with
the simplicity of the _Iliad_ and _Odyssey_.[41]

[Footnote 41: [Greek: toigaroun ek men Iliados kai Odysseias mia
tragôidia poieitai hekateras ê duo monai, ek de Kypriôn pollai kai tês
mikras Iliados pleon oktô, hoion hoplôn krisis, Philoktêtês,
Neoptolemos, Eurypylos, ptôcheia, Lakainai, Iliou persis, kai apoplous
kai Sinôn kai Trôiades] (1459 b).]

Indeed it is clear that the plan of _Beowulf_ might easily have been
much worse, that is, more lax and diffuse, than it is. This meagre
amount of praise will be allowed by the most grudging critics, if they
will only think of the masses of French epic, and imagine the extent
to which a French company of poets might have prolonged the narrative
of the hero's life--the _Enfances_, the _Chevalerie_--before reaching
the _Death of Beowulf_.

At line 2200 in _Beowulf_ comes the long interval of time, the fifty
years between the adventure at Heorot and the fight between Beowulf
and the dragon. Two thousand lines are given to the first story, a
thousand to the _Death of Beowulf_. Two thousand lines are occupied
with the narrative of Beowulf's expedition, his voyage to Denmark, his
fight with Grendel and Grendel's mother, his return to the land of the
Gauts and his report of the whole matter to King Hygelac. In this part
of the poem, taken by itself, there is no defect of unity. The action
is one, with different parts all easily and naturally included between
the first voyage and the return. It is amplified and complicated with
details, but none of these introduce any new main interests. _Beowulf_
is not like the _Heracleids_ and _Theseids_. It transgresses the
limits of the Homeric unity, by adding a sequel; but for all that it
is not a mere string of adventures, like the bad epic in Horace's _Art
of Poetry_, or the innocent plays described by Sir Philip Sidney and
Cervantes. A third of the whole poem is detached, a separate
adventure. The first two-thirds taken by themselves form a complete
poem, with a single action; while, in the orthodox epic manner,
various allusions and explanations are introduced regarding the past
history of the personages involved, and the history of other people
famous in tradition. The adventure at Heorot, taken by itself, would
pass the scrutiny of Aristotle or Horace, as far as concerns the lines
of its composition.

There is variety in it, but the variety is kept in order and not
allowed to interfere or compete with the main story. The past history
is disclosed, and the subordinate novels are interpolated, as in the
_Odyssey_, in the course of an evening's conversation in hall, or in
some other interval in the action. In the introduction of accessory
matter, standing in different degrees of relevance to the main plot,
the practice of _Beowulf_ is not essentially different from that of
classical epic.

In the _Iliad_ we are allowed to catch something of the story of the
old time before Agamemnon,--the war of Thebes, Lycurgus, Jason,
Heracles,--and even of things less widely notable, less of a concern
to the world than the voyage of Argo, such as, for instance, the
business of Nestor in his youth. In _Beowulf_, in a similar way, the
inexhaustible world outside the story is partly represented by means
of allusions and digressions. The tragedy of Finnesburh is sung by the
harper, and his song is reported at some length, not merely referred
to in passing. The stories of Thrytho, of Heremod, of Sigemund the
Wælsing and Fitela his son (Sigmund and Sinfiotli), are introduced
like the stories of Lycurgus or of Jason in Homer. They are
illustrations of the action, taken from other cycles. The fortunes of
the Danish and Gautish kings, the fall of Hygelac, the feuds with
Sweden, these matters come into closer relation with the story. They
are not so much illustrations taken in from without, as points of
attachment between the history of _Beowulf_ and the untold history all
round it, the history of the persons concerned, along with Beowulf
himself, in the vicissitudes of the Danish and Gautish kingdoms.

In the fragments of _Waldere_, also, there are allusions to other
stories. In _Waldere_ there has been lost a poem much longer and
fuller than the _Lay of Hildebrand_, or any of the poems of the "Elder
Edda"--a poem more like _Beowulf_ than any of those now extant. The
references to Weland, to Widia Weland's son, to Hama and Theodoric,
are of the same sort as the references in _Beowulf_ to the story of
Froda and Ingeld, or the references in the _Iliad_ to the adventures
of Tydeus.

In the episodic passages of _Beowulf_ there are, curiously, the same
degrees of relevance as in the _Iliad_ and _Odyssey_.

Some of them are necessary to the proper fulness of the story, though
not essential parts of the plot. Such are the references to Beowulf's
swimming-match; and such, in the _Odyssey_, is the tale told to

The allusions to the wars of Hygelac have the same value as the
references in the _Iliad_ and the _Odyssey_ to such portions of the
tale of Troy, and of the return of the Greek lords, as are not
immediately connected with the anger of Achilles, or the return of
Odysseus. The tale of _Finnesburh_ in _Beowulf_ is purely an
interlude, as much as the ballad of _Ares and Aphrodite_ in the

Many of the references to other legends in the _Iliad_ are
illustrative and comparative, like the passages about Heremod or
Thrytho in _Beowulf_. "Ares suffered when Otus and Ephialtes kept him
in a brazen vat, Hera suffered and Hades suffered, and were shot with
the arrows of the son of Amphitryon" (_Il._ v. 385). The long
parenthetical story of Heracles in a speech of Agamemnon (_Il._ xx.
98) has the same irrelevance of association, and has incurred the same
critical suspicions, as the contrast of Hygd and Thrytho, a fairly
long passage out of a wholly different story, introduced in _Beowulf_
on the very slightest of suggestions.

Thus in _Beowulf_ and in the Homeric poems there are episodes that are
strictly relevant and consistent, filling up the epic plan, opening
out the perspective of the story; also episodes that without being
strictly relevant are rightly proportioned and subordinated, like the
interlude of Finnesburh, decoration added to the structure, but not
overloading it, nor interfering with the design; and, thirdly,
episodes that seem to be irrelevant, and may possibly be
interpolations. All these kinds have the effect of increasing the mass
as well as the variety of the work, and they give to _Beowulf_ the
character of a poem which, in dealing with one action out of an heroic
cycle, is able, by the way, to hint at and partially represent a great
number of other stories.

It is not in the episodes alone that _Beowulf_ has an advantage over
the shorter and more summary poems. The frequent episodes are only
part of the general liberality of the narrative.

The narrative is far more cramped than in _Homer_; but when compared
with the short method of the Northern poems, not to speak of the
ballads, it comes out as itself Homeric by contrast. It succeeds in
representing pretty fully and continuously, not by mere allusions and
implications, certain portions of heroic life and action.

The principal actions in _Beowulf_ are curiously trivial, taken by
themselves. All around them are the rumours of great heroic and tragic
events, and the scene and the personages are heroic and magnificent.
But the plot in itself has no very great poetical value; as compared
with the tragic themes of the Niblung legend, with the tale of
Finnesburh, or even with the historical seriousness of the _Maldon_
poem, it lacks weight. The largest of the extant poems of this school
has the least important subject-matter; while things essentially and
in the abstract more important, like the tragedy of Froda and Ingeld,
are thrust away into the corners of the poem.

In the killing of a monster like Grendel, or in the killing of a
dragon, there is nothing particularly interesting; no complication to
make a fit subject for epic. _Beowulf_ is defective from the first in
respect of plot.

The story of Grendel and his mother is one that has been told in
myriads of ways; there is nothing commoner, except dragons. The
killing of dragons and other monsters is the regular occupation of the
heroes of old wives' tales; and it is difficult to give individuality
or epic dignity to commonplaces of this sort. This, however, is
accomplished in the poem of _Beowulf_. Nothing can make the story of
Grendel dramatic like the story of Waldere or of Finnesburh. But the
poet has, at any rate, in connexion with this simple theme, given a
rendering, consistent, adequate, and well-proportioned, of certain
aspects of life and certain representative characters in an heroic

The characters in _Beowulf_ are not much more than types; not much
more clearly individual than the persons of a comedy of Terence. In
the shorter Northern poems there are the characters of Brynhild and
Gudrun; there is nothing in _Beowulf_ to compare with them, although
in _Beowulf_ the personages are consistent with themselves, and

Hrothgar is the generous king whose qualities were in Northern history
transferred to his nephew Hrothulf (Hrolf Kraki), the type of peaceful
strength, a man of war living quietly in the intervals of war.

Beowulf is like him in magnanimity, but his character is less uniform.
He is not one of the more cruel adventurers, like Starkad in the myth,
or some of the men of the Icelandic Sagas. But he is an adventurer
with something strange and not altogether safe in his disposition. His
youth was like that of the lubberly younger sons in the fairy stories.
"They said that he was slack." Though he does not swagger like a
Berserk, nor "gab" like the Paladins of Charlemagne, he is ready on
provocation to boast of what he has done. The pathetic sentiment of
his farewell to Hrothgar is possibly to be ascribed, in the details of
its rhetoric, to the common affection of Anglo-Saxon poetry for the
elegiac mood; but the softer passages are not out of keeping with the
wilder moments of _Beowulf_, and they add greatly to the interest of
his character. He is more variable, more dramatic, than the king and
queen of the Danes, or any of the secondary personages.

Wealhtheo, the queen, represents the poetical idea of a noble lady.
There is nothing complex or strongly dramatic in her character.

Hunferth, the envious man, brought in as a foil to Beowulf, is not
caricatured or exaggerated. His sourness is that of a critic and a
politician, disinclined to accept newcomers on their own valuation. He
is not a figure of envy in a moral allegory.

In the latter part of the poem it is impossible to find in the
character of Wiglaf more than the general and abstract qualities of
the "loyal servitor."

Yet all those abstract and typical characters are introduced in such a
way as to complete and fill up the picture. The general impression is
one of variety and complexity, though the elements of it are simple

With a plot like that of _Beowulf_ it might seem that there was danger
of a lapse from the more serious kind of heroic composition into a
more trivial kind. Certainly there is nothing in the plain story to
give much help to the author; nothing in Grendel to fascinate or tempt
a poet with a story made to his hand.

The plot of _Beowulf_ is not more serious than that of a thousand
easy-going romances of chivalry, and of fairy tales beyond all number.

The strength of what may be called an epic tradition is shown in the
superiority of _Beowulf_ to the temptations of cheap romantic
commonplace. Beowulf, the hero, is, after all, something different
from the giant-killer of popular stories, the dragon-slayer of the
romantic schools. It is the virtue and the triumph of the poet of
_Beowulf_ that when all is done the characters of the poem remain
distinct in the memory, that the thoughts and sentiments of the poem
are remembered as significant, in a way that is not the way of the
common romance. Although the incidents that take up the principal part
of the scene of _Beowulf_ are among the commonest in popular stories,
it is impossible to mistake the poem for one of the ordinary tales of
terror and wonder. The essential part of the poem is the drama of
characters; though the plot happens to be such that the characters are
never made to undergo a tragic ordeal like that of so many of the
other Teutonic stories. It is not incorrect to say of the poem of
_Beowulf_ that the main story is really less important to the
imagination than the accessories by which the characters are defined
and distinguished. It is the defect of the poem this should be so.
There is a constitutional weakness in it.

Although the two stories of _Beowulf_ are both commonplace, there is a
difference between the story of Grendel and the story of the dragon.

The story of the dragon is more of a commonplace than the other.
Almost every one of any distinction, and many quite ordinary people in
certain periods of history have killed dragons; from Hercules and
Bellerophon to Gawain, who, on different occasions, narrowly escaped
the fate of Beowulf; from Harald Hardrada (who killed two at least) to
More of More Hall who killed the dragon of Wantley.

The latter part of _Beowulf_ is a tissue of commonplaces of every
kind: the dragon and its treasure; the devastation of the land; the
hero against the dragon; the defection of his companions; the loyalty
of one of them; the fight with the dragon; the dragon killed, and the
hero dying from the flame and the venom of it; these are commonplaces
of the story, and in addition to these there are commonplaces of
sentiment, the old theme of this transitory life that "fareth as a
fantasy," the lament for the glory passed away; and the equally common
theme of loyalty and treason in contrast. Everything is commonplace,
while everything is also magnificent in its way, and set forth in the
right epic style, with elegiac passages here and there. Everything is
commonplace except the allusions to matters of historical tradition,
such as the death of Ongentheow, the death of Hygelac. With these
exceptions, there is nothing in the latter part of _Beowulf_ that
might not have been taken at almost any time from the common stock of
fables and appropriate sentiments, familiar to every maker or hearer
of poetry from the days of the English conquest of Britain, and long
before that. It is not to be denied that the commonplaces here are
handled with some discretion; though commonplace, they are not mean or

[Footnote 42: It has been shown recently by Dr. Edward Sievers that
Beowulf's dragon corresponds in many points to the dragon killed by
Frotho, father of Haldanus, in Saxo, Book II. The dragon is not wholly
commonplace, but has some particular distinctive traits. See _Berichte
der Königl. Sächs. Gesellschaft der Wissenschaften_, 6 Juli 1895.]

The story of Grendel and his mother is also common, but not as common
as the dragon. The function of this story is considerably different
from the other, and the class to which it belongs is differently
distributed in literature. Both are stories of the killing of
monsters, both belong naturally to legends of heroes like Theseus or
Hercules. But for literature there is this difference between them,
that dragons belong more appropriately to the more fantastic kinds of
narrative, while stories of the deliverance of a house from a
pestilent goblin are much more capable of sober treatment and
verisimilitude. Dragons are more easily distinguished and set aside as
fabulous monsters than is the family of Grendel. Thus the story of
Grendel is much better fitted than the dragon story for a composition
like _Beowulf_, which includes a considerable amount of the detail of
common experience and ordinary life. Dragons are easily scared from
the neighbourhood of sober experience; they have to be looked for in
the mountains and caverns of romance or fable. Whereas Grendel remains
a possibility in the middle of common life, long after the last dragon
has been disposed of.

The people who tell fairy stories like the _Well of the World's End_,
the _Knight of the Red Shield_, the _Castle East o' the Sun and West
o' the Moon_, have no belief, have neither belief nor disbelief, in
the adventures of them. But the same people have other stories of
which they take a different view, stories of wonderful things more
near to their own experience. Many a man to whom the _Well of the
World's End_ is an idea, a fancy, has in his mind a story like that of
Grendel which he believes, which makes him afraid. The bogle that
comes to a house at night and throttles the goodman is a creature more
hardy than the dragon, and more persevering. Stories like that of
Beowulf and Grendel are to be found along with other popular stories
in collections; but they are to be distinguished from them. There are
popular heroes of tradition to this day who are called to do for
lonely houses the service done by Beowulf for the house of Hrothgar.

Peer Gynt (not Ibsen's Peer Gynt, who is sophisticated, but the
original Peter) is a lonely deer-stalker on the fells, who is asked by
his neighbour to come and keep his house for him, which is infested
with trolls. Peer Gynt clears them out,[43] and goes back to his
deer-stalking. The story is plainly one that touches the facts of life
more nearly than stories of _Shortshanks_ or the _Blue Belt_. The
trolls are a possibility.

[Footnote 43: Asbjörnsen, _Norske Huldre-Eventyr og Folkesagn_. _At
renske Huset_ is the phrase--"to cleanse the house." Cf. _Heorot is
gefælsod_, "Heorot is cleansed," in _Beowulf_.]

The story of Uistean Mor mac Ghille Phadrig is another of the same
sort.[44] It is not, like the _Battle of the Birds_ or _Conal Gulban_,
a thing of pure fantasy. It is a story that may pass for true when the
others have lost everything but their pure imaginative value as
stories. Here, again, in the West Highlands, the champion is called
upon like Beowulf and Peer Gynt to save his neighbours from a warlock.
And it is matter of history that Bishop Gudmund Arason of Hólar in
Iceland had to suppress a creature with a seal's head, Selkolla, that
played the game of Grendel.[45]

[Footnote 44: J.F. Campbell, _Tales of the West Highlands_, ii. p. 99.
The reference to this story in _Catriona_ (p. 174) will be

[Footnote 45: _Biskupa Sögur_, i. p. 604.]

There are people, no doubt, for whom Peer Gynt and the trolls, Uistean
Mor and the warlock, even Selkolla that Bishop Gudmund killed, are as
impossible as the dragon in the end of the poem of _Beowulf_. But it
is certain that stories like those of Grendel are commonly believed in
many places where dragons are extinct. The story of Beowulf and
Grendel is not wildly fantastic or improbable; it agrees with the
conditions of real life, as they have been commonly understood at all
times except those of peculiar enlightenment and rationalism. It is
not to be compared with the Phaeacian stories of the adventures of
Odysseus. Those stories in the _Odyssey_ are plainly and intentionally
in a different order of imagination from the story of the killing of
the suitors. They are pure romance, and if any hearer of the _Odyssey_
in ancient times was led to go in search of the island of Calypso, he
might come back with the same confession as the seeker for the wonders
of Broceliande,--_fol i alai_. But there are other wonderful things in
the _Iliad_ and the _Odyssey_ which are equally improbable to the
modern rationalist and sceptic; yet by no means of the same kind of
wonder as Calypso or the Sirens. Probably few of the earliest hearers
of the _Odyssey_ thought of the Sirens or of Calypso as anywhere near
them, while many of them must have had their grandmothers' testimony
for things like the portents before the death of the suitors. Grendel
in the poem of _Beowulf_ is in the same order of existence as these
portents. If they are superstitions, they are among the most
persistent; and they are superstitions, rather than creatures of
romance. The fight with Grendel is not of the same kind of adventure
as Sigurd at the hedge of flame, or Svipdag at the enchanted castle.
And the episode of Grendel's mother is further from matter of fact
than the story of Grendel himself. The description of the desolate
water is justly recognised as one of the masterpieces of the old
English poetry; it deserves all that has been said of it as a passage
of romance in the middle of epic. Beowulf's descent under the water,
his fight with the warlock's mother, the darkness of that "sea
dingle," the light of the mysterious sword, all this, if less
admirably worked out than the first description of the dolorous mere,
is quite as far from Heorot and the report of the table-talk of
Hrothgar, Beowulf, and Hunferth. It is also a different sort of thing
from the fight with Grendel. There is more of supernatural incident,
more romantic ornament, less of that concentration in the struggle
which makes the fight with Grendel almost as good in its way as its
Icelandic counterpart, the wrestling of Grettir and Glam.

The story of _Beowulf_, which in the fight with Grendel has analogies
with the plainer kind of goblin story, rather alters its tone in the
fight with Grendel's mother. There are parallels in _Grettis Saga_,
and elsewhere, to encounters like this, with a hag or ogress under
water; stories of this sort have been found no less credible than
stories of haunting warlocks like Grendel. But this second story is
not told in the same way as the first. It has more of the fashion and
temper of mythical fable or romance, and less of matter of fact. More
particularly, the old sword, the sword of light, in the possession of
Grendel's dam in her house under the water, makes one think of other
legends of mysterious swords, like that of Helgi, and the "glaives of
light" that are in the keeping of divers "gyre carlines" in the _West
Highland Tales_. Further, the whole scheme is a common one in popular
stories, especially in Celtic stories of giants; after the giant is
killed his mother comes to avenge him.

Nevertheless, the controlling power in the story of _Beowulf_ is not
that of any kind of romance or fantastic invention; neither the
original fantasy of popular stories nor the literary embellishments of
romantic schools of poetry. There are things in _Beowulf_ that may be
compared to things in the fairy tales; and, again, there are passages
of high value for their use of the motive of pure awe and mystery. But
the poem is made what it is by the power with which the characters are
kept in right relation to their circumstances. The hero is not lost or
carried away in his adventures. The introduction, the arrival in
Heorot, and the conclusion, the return of Beowulf to his own country,
are quite unlike the manner of pure romance; and these are the parts
of the work by which it is most accurately to be judged.

The adventure of Grendel is put in its right proportion when it is
related by Beowulf to Hygelac. The repetition of the story, in a
shorter form, and in the mouth of the hero himself, gives strength and
body to a theme that was in danger of appearing trivial and fantastic.
The popular story-teller has done his work when he has told the
adventures of the giant-killer; the epic poet has failed, if he has
done no more than this.

The character and personage of Beowulf must be brought out and
impressed on the audience; it is the poet's hero that they are bound
to admire. He appeals to them, not directly, but with unmistakable
force and emphasis, to say that they have beheld ("as may unworthiness
define") the nature of the hero, and to give him their praises.

The beauty and the strength of the poem of _Beowulf_, as of all true
epic, depend mainly upon its comprehensive power, its inclusion of
various aspects, its faculty of changing the mood of the story. The
fight with Grendel is an adventure of one sort, grim, unrelieved,
touching close upon the springs of mortal terror, the recollection or
the apprehension of real adversaries possibly to be met with in the
darkness. The fight with Grendel's mother touches on other motives;
the terror is further away from human habitations, and it is
accompanied with a charm and a beauty, the beauty of the Gorgon, such
as is absent from the first adventure. It would have loosened the
tension and broken the unity of the scene, if any such irrelevances
had been admitted into the story of the fight with Grendel. The fight
with Grendel's mother is fought under other conditions; the stress is
not the same; the hero goes out to conquer, he is beset by no such
apprehension as in the case of the night attack. The poet is at this
point free to make use of a new set of motives, and here it is rather
the scene than the action that is made vivid to the mind. But after
this excursion the story comes back to its heroic beginning; and the
conversation of Beowulf with his hosts in Denmark, and the report that
he gives to his kin in Gautland, are enough to reduce to its right
episodic dimensions the fantasy of the adventure under the sea. In the
latter part of the poem there is still another distribution of
interest. The conversation of the personages is still to be found
occasionally carried on in the steady tones of people who have lives
of their own, and belong to a world where the tunes are not all in one
key. At the same time, it cannot be denied that the story of the
_Death of Beowulf_ is inclined to monotony. The epic variety and
independence are obliterated by the too obviously pathetic intention.
The character of this part of the poem is that of a late school of
heroic poetry attempting, and with some success, to extract the spirit
of an older kind of poetry, and to represent in one scene an heroic
ideal or example, with emphasis and with concentration of all the
available matter. But while the end of the poem may lose in some
things by comparison with the stronger earlier parts, it is not so
wholly lost in the charms of pathetic meditation as to forget the
martial tone and the more resolute air altogether. There was a danger
that Beowulf should be transformed into a sort of Amadis, a mirror of
the earlier chivalry; with a loyal servitor attending upon his death,
and uttering the rhetorical panegyric of an abstract ideal. But this
danger is avoided, at least in part. Beowulf is still, in his death, a
sharer in the fortunes of the Northern houses; he keeps his history.
The fight with the dragon is shot through with reminiscences of the
Gautish wars: Wiglaf speaks his sorrow for the champion of the Gauts;
the virtues of Beowulf are not those of a fictitious paragon king, but
of a man who would be missed in the day when the enemies of the Gauts
should come upon them.

The epic keeps its hold upon what went before, and on what is to come.
Its construction is solid, not flat. It is exposed to the attractions
of all kinds of subordinate and partial literature,--the fairy story,
the conventional romance, the pathetic legend,--and it escapes them
all by taking them all up as moments, as episodes and points of view,
governed by the conception, or the comprehension, of some of the
possibilities of human character in a certain form of society. It does
not impose any one view on the reader; it gives what it is the proper
task of the higher kind of fiction to give--the play of life in
different moods and under different aspects.





The epic poetry of the Germans came to an end in different ways and at
different seasons among the several nations of that stock. In England
and the Continent it had to compete with the new romantic subjects and
new forms of verse. In Germany the rhyming measures prevailed very
early, but the themes of German tradition were not surrendered at the
same time. The rhyming verse of Germany, foreign in its origin,
continued to be applied for centuries in the rendering of German myths
and heroic stories, sometimes in a style with more or less pretence to
courtliness, as in the _Nibelungenlied_ and _Kudrun_; sometimes in
open parade of the travelling minstrel's "public manners" and simple
appetites. England had exactly the opposite fortune in regard to verse
and subject-matter. In England the alliterative verse survived the
changes of inflexion and pronunciation for more than five hundred
years after _Maldon_, and uttered its last words in a poem written
like the _Song of Byrhtnoth_ on a contemporary battle,--the poem of
_Scottish Field_.[46]

[Footnote 46: Ed. Robson, Chetham Society, 1855, from the Lyme MS.;
ed. Furnivall and Hales, _Percy Folio Manuscript_, 1867.]

     There was girding forth of guns, with many great stones;
     Archers uttered out their arrows and eagerly they shotten;
     They proched us with spears and put many over;
     That the blood outbrast at their broken harness.
     There was swinging out of swords, and swapping of heads,
     We blanked them with bills through all their bright armour,
     That all the dale dinned of the derf strokes.

But while this poem of Flodden corresponds in its subject to the poem
of _Maldon_, there is no such likeness between any other late
alliterative poem and the older poems of the older language. The
alliterative verse is applied in the fourteenth and fifteenth
centuries to every kind of subject except those of Germanic tradition.
England, however, has the advantage over Germany, that while Germany
lost the old verse, England did not lose the English heroic subjects,
though, as it happens, the story of King Horn and the story of
Havelock the Dane are not told in the verse that was used for King
Arthur and Gawain, for the tale of Troy and the wars of Alexander. The
recent discovery of a fragment of the _Song of Wade_ is an admonition
to be cautious in making the extant works of Middle English literature
into a standard for all that has ceased to exist. But no new
discovery, even of a Middle English alliterative poem of Beowulf or of
Walter of Aquitaine, would alter the fact that the alliterative
measure of English poetry in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries,
like the ancient themes of the German rhyming poems, is a survival in
an age when the chief honours go to other kinds of poetry. The author
of _Piers Plowman_ is a notable writer, and so are the poets of
_Gawain_, and of the _Mort Arthure_, and of the _Destruction of Troy_;
but Chaucer and not Langland is the poetical master of that age. The
poems of the _Nibelungen_ and of _Kudrun_ are rightly honoured, but it
was to the author of _Parzival_, and to the courtly lyrics of Walther
von der Vogelweide, that the higher rank was given in the age of the
Hohenstaufen, and the common fame is justified by history, so often as
history chooses to have any concern with such things.

In the lands of the old Northern speech the old heroic poetry was
displaced by the new Court poetry of the Scalds. The heroic subjects
were not, however, allowed to pass out of memory. The new poetry could
not do without them, and required, and obtained, its heroic dictionary
in the _Edda_. The old subjects hold their own, or something of their
own, with every change of fashion. They were made into prose stories,
when prose was in favour; they were the subjects of _Rímur_, rhyming
Icelandic romances, when that form came later into vogue.[47] In
Denmark they were paraphrased, many of them, by Saxo in his _History_;
many of them became the subjects of ballads, in Denmark, Norway,
Sweden, and the Faroes.

[Footnote 47: See below, p. 283.]

In this way some of the inheritance of the old German world was saved
in different countries and languages, for the most part in ballads and
chapbooks, apart from the main roads of literature. But these
heirlooms were not the whole stock of the heroic age. After the
failure and decline of the old poetry there remained an unexhausted
piece of ground; and the great imaginative triumph of the Teutonic
heroic age was won in Iceland with the creation of a new epic
tradition, a new form applied to new subjects.

Iceland did something more than merely preserve the forms of an
antiquated life whose day was over. It was something more than an
island of refuge for muddled and blundering souls that had found the
career of the great world too much for them. The ideas of an
old-fashioned society migrated to Iceland, but they did not remain
there unmodified. The paradox of the history of Iceland is that the
unsuccessful old ideas were there maintained by a community of people
who were intensely self-conscious and exceptionally clear in mind.
Their political ideas were too primitive for the common life of
medieval Christendom. The material life of Iceland in the Middle Ages
was barbarous when compared with the life of London or Paris, not to
speak of Provence or Italy, in the same centuries. At the same time,
the modes of thought in Iceland, as is proved by its historical
literature, were distinguished by their freedom from extravagances,--from
the extravagance of medieval enthusiasm as well as from the
superstitions of barbarism. The life of an heroic age--that is, of an
older stage of civilisation than the common European medieval
form--was interpreted and represented by the men of that age
themselves with a clearness of understanding that appears to be quite
unaffected by the common medieval fallacies and "idolisms." This clear
self-consciousness is the distinction of Icelandic civilisation and
literature. It is not vanity or conceit. It does not make the
Icelandic writers anxious about their own fame or merits. It is simply
clear intelligence, applied under a dry light to subjects that in
themselves are primitive, such as never before or since have been
represented in the same way. The life is their own life; the record is
that of a dispassionate observer.

While the life represented in the Sagas is more primitive, less
civilised, than the life of the great Southern nations in the Middle
Ages, the record of that life is by a still greater interval in
advance of all the common modes of narrative then known to the more
fortunate or more luxurious parts of Europe. The conventional form of
the Saga has none of the common medieval restrictions of view. It is
accepted at once by modern readers without deduction or apology on the
score of antique fashion, because it is in essentials the form with
which modern readers are acquainted in modern story-telling; and more
especially because the language is unaffected and idiomatic, not
"quaint" in any way, and because the conversations are like the talk
of living people. The Sagas are stories of characters who speak for
themselves, and who are interesting on their own merits. There are
good and bad Sagas, and the good ones are not all equally good
throughout. The mistakes and misuses of the inferior parts of the
literature do not, however, detract from the sufficiency of the common
form, as represented at its best. The invention of the common form of
the Saga is an achievement which deserves to be judged by the best in
its kind. That kind was not exempt, any more than the Elizabethan
drama or the modern novel, from the impertinences and superfluities of
trivial authors. Further, there were certain conditions and
circumstances about its origin that sometimes hindered in one way,
while they gave help in another. The Saga is a compromise between
opposite temptations, and the compromise is not always equitable.



It is no small part of the force of the Sagas, and at the same time a
difficulty and an embarrassment, that they have so much of reality
behind them. The element of history in them, and their close relation
to the lives of those for whom they were made, have given them a
substance and solidity beyond anything else in the imaginative stories
of the Middle Ages. It may be that this advantage is gained rather
unfairly. The art of the Sagas, which is so modern in many things, and
so different from the medieval conventions in its selection of matter
and its development of the plot, is largely indebted to circumstances
outside of art. In its rudiments it was always held close to the real
and material interests of the people; it was not like some other arts
which in their beginning are fanciful, or dependent on myth or legend
for their subject-matter, as in the medieval schools of painting or
sculpture generally, or in the medieval drama. Its imaginative methods
were formed through essays in the representation of actual life; its
first artists were impelled by historical motives, and by personal and
local interests. The art of the Sagas was from the first "immersed in
matter"; it had from the first all the advantage that is given by
interests stronger and more substantial than those of mere
literature; and, conversely, all the hindrance that such irrelevant
interests provide, when "mere literature" attempts to disengage itself
and govern its own course.

The local history, the pedigrees of notable families, are felt as a
hindrance, in a greater or less degree, by all readers of the Sagas;
as a preliminary obstacle to clear comprehension. The Sagas differ in
value, according to their use and arrangement of these matters, in
relation to a central or imaginative conception of the main story and
the characters engaged in it. The best Sagas are not always those that
give the least of their space to historical matters, to the
genealogies and family memoirs. From these the original life of the
Sagas is drawn, and when it is cut off from these the Saga withers
into a conventional and insipid romance. Some of the best Sagas are
among those which make most of the history and, like _Njála_ and
_Laxdæla_, act out their tragedies in a commanding way that carries
along with it the whole crowd of minor personages, yet so that their
minor and particular existences do not interfere with the story, but
help it and give it substantiality. The tragedy of _Njal_, or of the
_Lovers of Gudrun_, may be read and judged, if one chooses, in
abstraction from the common background of Icelandic history, and in
forgetfulness of its bearing upon the common fortunes of the people of
the land; but these Sagas are not rightly understood if they are taken
only and exclusively in isolation. The tragedies gain a very distinct
additional quality from the recurrence of personages familiar to the
reader from other Sagas. The relation of the Sagas to actual past
events, and to the whole range of Icelandic family tradition, was the
initial difficulty in forming an adequate method of story-telling; the
particulars were too many, and also too real. But the reality of them
was, at the same time, the initial impulse of the Sagas; and the best
of the Sagas have found a way of saving the particulars of the family
and local histories, without injury to the imaginative and poetical
order of their narratives.

The Sagas, with all the differences between them, have common
features, but among these is not to be reckoned an equal consideration
for the unity of action. The original matter of the oral traditions of
Iceland, out of which the written Sagas were formed, was naturally
very much made up of separate anecdotes, loosely strung together by
associations with a district or a family. Some of the stories, no
doubt, must have had by nature a greater unity and completeness than
the rest:--history in the rough has very often the outlines of tragedy
in it; it presents its authors with dramatic contrasts ready made
(Richard II. and Bolingbroke, Lewis XI. and Charles the Bold,
Elizabeth and Mary Queen of Scots); it provides real heroes. But there
are many interesting things which are not well proportioned, and which
have no respect for the unities; the hero is worth talking about
whether his story is symmetrical or not. The simplest form of heroic
narrative is that which puts together a number of adventures, such as
may easily be detached and repeated separately, adventures like that
of David and Goliath, Wallace with his fishing-rod, or Bruce in the
robbers' house. Many of the Sagas are mere loose strings of
adventures, of short stories, or idylls, which may easily be detached
and remembered out of connexion with the rest of the series. In the
case of many of these it is almost indifferent at what point they may
be introduced in the Saga; they merely add some particulars without
advancing the plot, if there be any plot. There are all varieties of
texture in the Sagas, from the extreme laxity of those that look like
mere collections of the anecdotes of a countryside (_Eyrbyggja_), to
the definite structure of those in which all the particulars
contribute to the main action (_Hrafnkels Saga_, _Bandamanna_, _Gísla

The loose assemblage of stories current in Iceland before the Sagas
were composed in writing must, of course, have been capable of all
kinds of variation. The written Sagas gave a check to oral variations
and rearrangements; but many of them in extant alternative versions
keep the traces of the original story-teller's freedom of selection,
while all the Sagas together in a body acknowledge themselves
practically as a selection from traditional report. Each one, the most
complete as well as the most disorderly, is taken out of a mass of
traditional knowledge relating to certain recognisable persons, of
whom any one may be chosen for a time as the centre of interest, and
any one may become a subordinate character in some one else's
adventures. One Saga plays into the others, and introduces people
incidentally who may be the heroes of other stories. As a result of
this selective practice of the Sagas, it sometimes happens that an
important or an interesting part of the record may be dropped by one
Saga and picked up casually by another. Thus in the written Sagas, one
of the best stories of the two Foster-brothers (or rather "Brothers by
oath," _fratres jurati_) Thorgeir and Thormod the poet, is preserved
not by their own proper history, _Fóstbræðra Saga_, but in the story
of Grettir the Strong; how they and Grettir lived a winter through in
the same house without quarrelling, and how their courage was
estimated by their host.[48]

[Footnote 48: "Is it true, Thorgils, that you have entertained those
three men this winter, that are held to be the most regardless and
overbearing, and all of them outlaws, and you have handled them so
that none has hurt another?" Yes, it was true, said Thorgils. Skapti
said: "That is something for a man to be proud of; but what do you
think of the three, and how are they each of them in courage?"
Thorgils said: "They are all three bold men to the full; yet two of
them, I think, may tell what fear is like. It is not in the same way
with both; for Thormod fears God, and Grettir is so afraid of the dark
that after dark he would never stir, if he had his own way; but I do
not know that Thorgeir, my kinsman, is afraid of anything."--"You have
read them well," says Skapti; and so their talk ended (_Grettis Saga_,
c. 51).]

This solidarity and interconnexion of the Sagas needs no explanation.
It could not be otherwise in a country like Iceland; a community of
neighbours (in spite of distances and difficulties of travelling)
where there was nothing much to think about or to know except other
people's affairs. The effect in the written Sagas is to give them
something like the system of the _Comédie Humaine_. There are new
characters in each, but the old characters reappear. Sometimes there
are discrepancies; the characters are not always treated from the same
point of view. On the whole, however, there is agreement. The
character of Gudmund the Great, for example, is well drawn, with zest,
and some irony, in his own Saga (_Ljósvetninga_); he is the prosperous
man, the "rich glutton," fond of praise and of influence, but not as
sound as he looks, and not invulnerable. His many appearances in other
Sagas all go to strengthen this impression of the full-blown great man
and his ambiguous greatness. So also Snorri the Priest, whose rise and
progress are related in _Eyrbyggja_, appears in many other Sagas, and
is recognised whenever he appears with the same certainty and the same
sort of interest as attaches to the name of Rastignac, when that
politician is introduced in stories not properly his own. Each
separate mention of Snorri the Priest finds its place along with all
the rest; he is never unequal to himself.

It is in the short story, the episodic chapter, that the art of
Icelandic narrative first defines itself. This is the original unity;
it is here, in a limited, easily comprehensible subject-matter, that
the lines are first clearly drawn. The Sagas that are least regular
and connected are made up of definite and well-shaped single blocks.
Many of the Sagas are much improved by being taken to pieces and
regarded, not as continuous histories, but as collections of separate
short stories. _Eyrbyggja_, _Vatnsdæla_, and _Ljósvetninga_ are
collections of this sort--"Tales of the Hall." There is a sort of
unity in each of them, but the place of Snorri in _Eyrbyggja_, of
Ingimund in _Vatnsdæla_, and of Gudmund the Great in the history of
the House of Ljósavatn, is not that of a tragic or epic hero who
compels the episodes to take their right subordinate rank in a larger
story. These Sagas break up into separate chapters, losing thereby
none of the minor interests of story-telling, but doing without the
greater tragic or heroic interest of the fables that have one
predominant motive.

Of more coherent forms of construction there are several different
examples among the Sagas. In each of these cases it is the tragic
conception, the tragic idea, of the kind long familiar to the Teutonic
nations, that governs the separate passages of the traditional

Tragic situations are to be found all through the Icelandic
literature, only they are not always enough to make a tragedy. There
is Nemesis in the end of Gudmund the Great, when his murdered enemy
haunts him; but this is not enough to make his Saga an organic thing.
The tragic problem of Alboin recurs, as was pointed out by the editors
of _Corpus Poeticum Boreale_, in the prelude to _Vatnsdæla Saga_; but
it stands by itself as one of the separate chapters in that history,
which contains the plots of other tragedies also, without adopting any
one of them as its single and overruling motive. These are instances
of the way in which tragic imagination, or at any rate the knowledge
and partial appreciation of tragic plots, may come short of
fulfilment, and may be employed in a comparatively futile and wasteful
form of literature. In the greater works, where the idea is fully
realised, there is no one formal type. The Icelandic Sagas have
different forms of success in the greater works, as well as different
degrees of approximation to success in the more desultory and
miscellaneous histories.

_Njála_, which is the greatest of all the Sagas, does not make its
effect by any reduction of the weight or number of its details. It
carries an even greater burden of particulars than _Eyrbyggja_; it has
taken up into itself the whole history of the south country of Iceland
in the heroic age.

The unity of _Njála_ is certainly not the unity of a restricted or
emaciated heroic play. Yet with all its complexity it belongs to quite
a different order of work from _Eyrbyggja_.

It falls into three divisions, each of these a story by itself, with
all three combining to form one story, apart from which they are
incomplete. The first, the story of Gunnar, which is a tragedy by
itself, is a necessary part of the whole composition; for it is also
the story of the wisdom of Njal and the dignity of Bergthora, without
which the second part would be insipid, and the great act of the
burning of Njal's house would lose its depth and significance. The
third part is the payment of a debt to Njal, Bergthora, and
Skarphedinn, for whom vengeance is required; but it is also due even
more to Flosi their adversary. The essence of the tragic situation
lies in this, that the good man is in the wrong, and his adversary in
the right. The third part is required to restore the balance, in order
that the original wrong, Skarphedinn's slaughter of the priest of
Whiteness, should not be thought to be avoided in the death of its
author. _Njála_ is a work of large scale and liberal design; the
beauty of all which, in the story, is that it allows time for the
characters to assert themselves and claim their own, as they could not
do in a shorter story, where they would be whirled along by the plot.
The vengeance and reconciliation in the third part of _Njála_ are
brought about by something more than a summary poetical justice of
fines and punishments for misdeeds. It is a more leisurely, as well as
a more poetical justice, that allows the characters to assert
themselves for what they really are; the son of Lambi "filthy still,"
and Flosi the Burner not less true in temper than Njal himself.

_Njála_ and _Laxdæla_ are examples of two different ways in which
inconvenient or distracting particulars of history or tradition might
be reduced to serve the ends of imagination and the heroic design.
_Njála_ keeps up, more or less, throughout, a continuous history of a
number of people of importance, but always with a regard for the
principal plot of the story. In _Laxdæla_ there is, on the other hand,
a gradual approach to the tragedy of Kjartan, Bolli, and Gudrun; an
historical prologue of the founding of Laxdale, and the lives of
Kjartan's father and grandfather, before the chief part of the story
begins. In _Njála_ the main story opens as soon as Njal appears; of
prologue there is little more than is needed to prepare for the
mischief of Hallgerda, who is the cause of the strain between the two
houses of Lithend and Bergthorsknoll, and thereby the touchstone of
the generosity of Njal. In _Laxdæla_, although the prologue is not
irrelevant, there is a long delay before the principal personages are
brought together. There is no mistake about the story when once it
begins, and no question about the unity of the interest; Gudrun and
Fate may divide it between them, if it be divisible. It is purely the
stronger quality of this part of the book, in comparison with the
earlier, that saves _Laxdæla_ from the defects of its construction; by
the energy of the story of Kjartan, the early story of Laxdale is
thrown back and left behind as a mere prelude, in spite of its length.

The story of Egil Skallagrimsson, the longest of the biographical
Sagas, shows exactly the opposite proportions to those of _Laxdæla_.
The life of Egil is prefaced by the history of his grandfather,
father, and uncle, Kveldulf, Skallagrim (Grim the Bald), and Thorolf.
Unhappily for the general effect of the book, the life of Egil is told
with less strength and coherence than the fate of his uncle. The most
commanding and most tragic part of _Egla_ is that which represents
Skallagrim and Thorolf in their relations to the tyranny of Harald the
king; how Thorolf's loyalty was ill paid, and how Skallagrim his
brother went in defiance to speak to King Harald. This, though it is
only a prelude to the story of Egil, is one of the finest imaginative
passages in the whole literature. The Saga has here been able to
express, in a dramatic and imaginative form, that conflict of
principles between the new monarchy and the old liberty which led to
the Icelandic migration. The whole political situation, it might be
said the whole early history of Iceland and Norway, is here summed up
and personified in the conflict of will between the three characters.
Thorolf, Harald the king, and Skallagrim play the drama of the
Norwegian monarchy, and the founding of the Icelandic Commonwealth.
After this compact and splendid piece of work the adventures of Egil
Skallagrimsson appear rather ineffectual and erratic, in spite of some
brilliant episodes.

What was an author to do when his hero died in his bed, or survived
all his feuds and enmities? or when a feud could not be wound up in
one generation?

_Vápnfirðinga Saga_ gives the history of two generations of feud, with
a reconciliation at the end, thus obtaining a rounded unity, though at
some cost of the personal interest in its transference from fathers to

_Víga-Glúms Saga_ is a story which, with the best intentions in the
world, could not attain to tragedy like that of Gisli or of Grettir,
because every one knew that Glum was a threatened man who lived long,
and got through without any deadly injury. Glum is well enough fitted
for the part of a tragic hero. He has the slow growth, the unpromising
youth, the silence and the dangerous laughter, such as are recorded in
the lives of other notable personages in heroic literature:--

     Glum turned homeward; and a fit of laughing came on him. It
     took him in this way, that his face grew pale, and there ran
     tears from his eyes like hailstones: it was often so with
     him afterwards, when bloodshed was in his mind.

But although there are several feuds in the story of Glum or several
incidents in a feud, somehow there is no tragedy. Glum dies quietly,
aged and sightless. There is a thread of romantic destiny in his
story; he keeps his good luck till he parts with the gifts of his
grandfather Vigfus--the cloak, the spear, and the sword that Vigfus
had given him in Norway. The prayer for Glum's discomfiture, which one
of his early adversaries had offered to Frey, then takes effect, when
the protecting luck has been given away. The fall of Glum is,
however, nothing incurable; the change in his fortune is merely that
he has to give up the land which he had extorted from his adversary
long before, and that he ceases to be the greatest man in Eyjafirth,
though continuing to be a man of importance still. His honour and his
family are not hard hit, after all.

The history of Glum, with its biographical unity, its interest of
character, and its want of tragedy, is a form of story midway between
the closer knit texture of _Gísla Saga_ and the laxity of construction
in the stories without a hero, or with more than one, such as
_Ljósvetninga_ or _Vatnsdæla_. It is a biography with no strong crisis
in it; it might have been extended indefinitely. And, in fact, the
existing form of the story looks as if it were rather carelessly put
together, or perhaps abridged from a fuller version. The story in
_Reykdæla_ of Viga Skuta, Glum's son-in-law and enemy, contains a
better and fuller account of their dealings than _Glúma_, without any
discrepancy, though the _Reykdæla_ version alludes to divergencies of
tradition in certain points. The curious thing is that the _Reykdæla_
version supplies information about Glum's character which supplements
what is told more baldly in his own Saga. Both accounts agree about
Glum's good nature, which is practised on by Skuta. Glum is constant
and trustworthy whenever he is appealed to for help. The _Reykdæla_
version gives a pretty confirmation of this view of Glum's character
(c. 24), where Glum protects the old Gaberlunzie man, with the result
that the old man goes and praises his kindness, and so lets his
enemies know of his movements, and spoils his game for that time. This
episode is related to _Glúma_, as the foster-brother episode of
Grettir (c. 51), quoted above, is related to _Fóstbræðra Saga_.

If _Glúma_ is interesting and even fairly compact, in spite of its
want of any great dramatic moment, on the other hand the tragic ending
is not always enough to save a story from dissipation of interest. In
the story of Glum's antagonist, Viga Skuta, in the second part of
_Reykdæla Saga_, there is no proportion or composition; his adventures
follow one upon the other, without development, a series of hazards
and escapes, till he is brought down at last. In the earlier part of
the same Saga (the story of Vemund, Skuta's cousin, and Askel, Skuta's
father) there is more continuity in the chronicle of wrongs and
revenges, and, if this story be taken by itself, more form and
definite design. The two rivals are well marked out and opposed to one
another, while the mischief-making Vemund is well contrasted with his
uncle Askel, the just man and the peacemaker, who at the end is killed
in one of his nephew's feuds, in the fight by the frozen river from
which Vemund escapes, while his enemy is drowned and his best friend
gets a death wound.

There are two Sagas in which a biographical theme is treated in such a
way that the story produces one single impressive and tragical effect,
leaving the mind with a sense of definite and necessary movement
towards a tragic conclusion,--the story of Grettir the Strong, and the
story of Gisli the Outlaw. These stories have analogies to one
another, though they are not cast in quite the same manner.

In the life of Grettir there are many detached episodes, giving room
for theories of adulteration such as are only too inevitable and
certain in regard to the imbecile continuation of the story after
Grettir's death and his brother's vengeance. The episodes in the main
story are, however, not to be dismissed quite so easily as the
unnecessary romance of the Lady Spes (_Grettis Saga_, cc. 90-95).
While many of the episodes do little to advance the story, and some
of them seem to have been borrowed from other Sagas without sufficient
reason (cc. 25-27, from the _Foster-brothers_), most of them serve to
accentuate the character of Grettir, or to deepen the sense of the
mystery surrounding his life.

The tragedy of Grettir is one of those which depend on Accident,
interpreted by the author as Fate. The hero is a doomed man, like
Gisli, who sees things clearly coming on, but is unable to get out of
their way. In both _Gisli_ and _Grettir_ there is an accompaniment of
mystery and fantasy--for Gisli in the songs of the dream woman, for
Grettir in various touches unlike the common prose of the Sagas. The
hopelessness of his ill fortune is brought out in a sober way in his
dealings with the chiefs who are unable to protect him, and in the
cheerless courage of his relations with the foster-brothers, when the
three are all together in the house of Thorgils Arason. It is
illustrated in a quite different and more fantastic way in the scenes
of his wanderings among the mountains, in the mysterious quiet of
Thorisdal, in his alliance with strange deliverers, outside of the
common world and its society, in the curse of Glam under the
moonlight. This last is one of the few scenes in the Sagas, though not
the only one, when the effect depends on something more than the
persons engaged in it. The moon with the clouds driving over counts
for more than a mere indication of time or weather; it is essential to
the story, and lends itself to the malignity of the adversary in
casting the spell of fear upon Grettir's mind. The solitude of
Drangey, in the concluding chapters of _Grettis Saga_, the cliffs, the
sea and the storms are all much less exceptional; they are necessary
parts of the action, more closely and organically related to the
destiny of the hero. There, in the final scenes, although there is
witchcraft practised against Grettir, it is not that, but the common
and natural qualities of the foolishness of the thrall and the heroism
of Grettir and his young brother on which the story turns. These are
the humanities of Drangey, a strong contrast, in the art of narrative,
to the moonlight spell of Glam. The notable thing is that the romantic
and fantastic passages in Grettir are not obscurations of the tragedy,
not irrelevant, but rather an expression by the way, and in an
exceptional mood, of the author's own view of the story and his
conviction that it is all one coherent piece. This certainly is the
effect of the romantic interludes in _Gisli_, which is perhaps the
most tragic of all the Sagas, or at any rate the most self-conscious
of its tragic aim. In the story of Gisli there is an introduction and
preparation, but there is no very great expense of historical
preliminaries. The discrepancies here between the two extant
redactions of the Saga seem to show that introductory chapters of this
sort were regarded as fair openings for invention and decoration by
editors, who had wits enough to leave the essential part of the story
very much to itself. Here, when once the action has begun, it goes on
to the end without a fault. The chief characters are presented at the
beginning; Gisli and Thorkell his brother; Thorgrim the Priest and
Vestein, their two brothers-in-law. A speech foretelling their
disunion is reported to Gisli, and leads him to propose the oath of
fellowship between the four; which proposal, meant to avert the omen,
brings about its fulfilment. And so the story goes on logically and
inevitably to the death of Gisli, who slew Thorgrim, and the
passionate agony of Thordis, Thorgrim's wife and Gisli's sister.

_Hrafnkels Saga_ is a tragic idyll, complete and rounded. It is
different in its design from _Njála_ or _Laxdæla_, from the stories of
Grettir and Gisli. It is a short story, well concentrated. For mere
symmetry of design it might compete with any of the greater Icelandic
works, not to speak of any modern fiction.

Hrafnkel, the proud man, did a cruel thing "for his oath's sake";
killed his shepherd Einar for riding on Freyfaxi, the horse that
belonged to Frey the god, and to Hrafnkel his priest. To the father of
Einar he made offers of compensation which were not accepted. Then the
story, with much admirable detail (especially in the scenes at the
Althing), goes on to show how Hrafnkel's pride was humbled by Einar's
cousin. All through, however, Hrafnkel is represented as guilty of
tragic terror, not of wickedness; he is punished more than is due, and
in the end the balance is redressed, and his arrogant conqueror is
made to accept Hrafnkel's terms. It is a story clearly and
symmetrically composed; it would be too neat, indeed, if it were not
that it still leaves some accounts outstanding at the end: the
original error is wasteful, and the life of an innocent man is
sacrificed in the clearing of scores between Hrafnkel and his

The theory of a conglomerate epic may be applied to the Icelandic
Sagas with some effect. It is plain on the face of them that they
contain short stories from tradition which may correspond to the short
lays of the epic theory, which do in fact resemble in many things
certain of the lays of the "Elder Edda." Many of the Sagas, like
_Eyrbyggja_, _Vatnsdæla_, _Svarfdæla_, are ill compacted, and easily
broken up into separate short passages. On the other hand, these
broken and variegated Sagas are wanting in dignity and impressiveness
compared with some others, while those others have attained their
dignity, not by choosing their episodic chapters merely, but by
forcing their own original and commanding thought upon all their
matter. This is the case, whether the form be that of the
comprehensive, large, secure, and elaborate _Njála_; of _Laxdæla_,
with its dilatory introduction changing to the eagerness and quickness
of the story of Gudrun; of _Grettir_ and _Gisli_, giving shape in
their several ways to the traditional accumulation of a hero's
adventures; or, not less remarkable, the precision of _Hrafnkels Saga_
and _Bandamanna_,[49] which appear to have discovered and fixed for
themselves the canons of good imaginative narrative in short compass,
and to have freed themselves, in a more summary way than _Njála_, from
the encumbrances of traditional history, and the distracting interests
of the antiquarian and the genealogist. These two stories, with that
of Howard of Icefirth[50] and some others, might perhaps be taken as
corresponding in Icelandic prose to the short epic in verse, such as
the _Atlakviða_. They show, at any rate, that the difficulties of
reluctant subject-matter and of the manifold deliverances of tradition
were not able, in all cases, to get the better of that sense of form
which was revealed in the older poetic designs.

[Footnote 49: See below, pp. 229 _sqq._]

[Footnote 50: p. 216.]

In their temper also, and in the quality of their heroic ideal, the
Sagas are the inheritors of the older heroic poetry.



In the material conditions of Icelandic life in the "Saga Age" there
was all the stuff that was required for heroic narrative. This was
recognised by the story-tellers, and they made the most of it. It must
be admitted that there is some monotony in the circumstances, but it
may be contended that this is of no account in comparison with the
results that are produced in the best Sagas out of trivial occasions.
"Greatly to find quarrel in a straw" is the rule of their conduct. The
tempers of the men are easily stirred; they have a general name[51]
for the trial of a man's patience, applied to anything that puts a
strain on him, or encroaches on his honour. The trial may come from
anything--horses, sheep, hay, women, merchandise. From these follow
any number of secondary or retaliatory insults, trespasses, and
manslaughters. Anything almost is enough to set the play going. What
the matter in dispute may be, is almost indifferent to the author of
the story. Its value depends on the persons; it is what they choose to
make it.

[Footnote 51: _Skapraun_, lit. _test of condition_.]

The Sagas differ from all other "heroic" literatures in the larger
proportion that they give to the meannesses of reality. Their
historical character, and their attempts to preserve an accurate
memory of the past, though often freely modified by imagination, yet
oblige them to include a number of things, gross, common, and
barbarous, because they are part of the story. The Sagas differ one
from another in this respect. The characters are not all raised to the
height of Gunnar, Njal, Skarphedinn, Flosi, Bolli, Kjartan, Gisli. In
many of the Sagas, and in many scenes, the characters are dull and
ungainly. At the same time their perversity, the naughtiness, for
example, of Vemund in _Reykdæla_, or of Thorolf the crank old man in
_Eyrbyggja_, belongs to the same world as the lives of the more heroic
personages. The Sagas take an interest in misconduct, when there is
nothing better to be had, and the heroic age is frequently represented
by them rather according to the rules of modern unheroic story-telling
than of Bossu _on the Epic Poem_. The inequitable persons
(_újafnaðarmenn_) in the Sagas are not all of them as lordly as
Agamemnon. For many readers this is an advantage; if the Sagas are
thereby made inferior to Homer, they are all the closer to modern
stories of "common life." The people of Iceland seem always to have
been "at the auld work of the marches again," like Dandie Dinmont and
Jock o' Dawstoncleugh, and many of their grievances and wrongs might
with little change have been turned into subjects for Crabbe or Mr.
Hardy. It requires no great stretch of fancy to see Crabbe at work on
the story of Thorolf Bægifot and his neighbour in _Eyrbyggja_; the old
Thorolf, "curst with age," driven frantic by his homely neighbour's
greater skill in the weather, and taking it out in a vicious trespass
on his neighbour's hay; the neighbour's recourse to Thorolf's more
considerate son Arnkell; Arnkell's payment of the damage, and summary
method of putting accounts square again by seizure of his father's
oxen; with the consequences of all this, which perhaps are somewhat
too violent to be translated literally into the modern language of
Suffolk or Wessex. Episodes of this type are common in the Sagas, and
it is to them in a great measure that the Sagas owe their distinction
from the common run of medieval narrative. But no appreciation of this
"common life" in the Sagas can be just, if it ignores the essentially
"heroic" nature of the moral laws under which the Icelandic narratives
are conducted. Whether with good results or bad, is another question;
but there can be no doubt that the Sagas were composed under the
direction of an heroic ideal, identical in most respects with that of
the older heroic poetry. This ideal view is revealed in different
ways, as the Sagas have different ways of bringing their characters
before the audience. In the best passages, of course, which are the
most dramatic, the presuppositions and private opinions of the author
are not immediately disclosed in the speeches of the characters. But
the Sagas are not without their chorus; the general judgment of people
about their leaders is often expressed; and although the action of the
Sagas is generally sufficient to make its own impression and explain
itself, the author's reading of his characters is frequently added.
From the action and the commentary together, the heroic ideal comes
out clearly, and it is plain that its effect on the Sagas was not
merely an implicit and unconscious influence. It had risen into the
consciousness of the authors of the Sagas; it was not far from
definite expression in abstract terms. In this lay the danger. An
ideal, defined or described in set terms, is an ideal without any
responsibility and without any privilege. It may be picked up and
traded on by any fool or hypocrite. Undefined and undivulged, it
belongs only to those who have some original strength of imagination
or will, and with them it cannot go wrong. But a definite ideal, and
the terms of its definition, may belong to any one and be turned to
any use. So the ideal of Petrarch was formulated and abused by the
Petrarchists. The formula of Amadis of Gaul is derived from
generations of older unformulated heroes, and implies the exhaustion
of the heroic strain, in that line of descent. The Sagas have not come
as far as that, but the latter days, that have seen Amadis, and the
mechanical repetitions of Amadis, may find in the Sagas some
resemblances and anticipations of the formal hero, though not yet
enough to be dangerous.

In all sound heroic literature there are passages that bring up the
shadow of the sceptic,--passages of noble sentiment, whose phrases are
capable of being imitated, whose ideas may make the fortune of
imitators and pretenders. In the Teutonic epic poetry, as in Homer,
there are many noble speeches of this sort, speeches of lofty
rhetoric, about which the spirit of depreciation prompts a suspicion
that perhaps they may be less weighty and more conventional than we
think. False heroics are easy, and unhappily they have borrowed so
much of the true, that the truth itself is sometimes put out of
countenance by the likeness.

In the English and the Icelandic heroic poetry there is some ground
for thinking that the process of decline and the evolution of the
false heroic went to some length before it was stopped. The older
poems laid emphasis on certain qualities, and made them an example and
an edification. "So ought a man to do," is a phrase common to the
English and the Northern schools of epic. The point of honour comes
to be only too well understood--too well, that is, for the work of the
imagination. Possibly the latter part of _Beowulf_ is more abstract
than it ought to be; at any rate, there are many of the secondary
Anglo-Saxon poems which, like the old Saxon _Hêliand_, show an
excessive use of the poetic formulas of courage and loyalty. The
Icelandic poetry had also its spurious heroic phrases, by which
something is taken away from the force of their more authentic

In the Sagas, as in the _Iliad_, in the _Song of Maldon_, in the
_Death of Ermanaric_, there is a rhetorical element by which the ideas
of absolute courage are expressed. Unhappily it is not always easy to
be sure whether the phrases are of the first or the second growth; in
most cases, the better opinion perhaps will be that they belong to a
time not wholly unsophisticated, yet not in the stage of secondary and
abstract heroic romance. The rhetoric of the Sagas, like the rhetoric
of the "Poetic Edda," was taken too seriously and too greedily by the
first modern discoverers of the old Northern literature. It is not,
any more than the rhetoric of Homer, the immediate expression of the
real life of an heroic age; for the good reason that it is literature,
and literature just on the autumnal verge, and plainly capable of
decay. The best of the Sagas were just in time to escape that touch of
over-reflexion and self-consciousness which checks the dramatic life
and turns it into matter of edification or sentiment. The best of them
also give many indications to show how near they were to
over-elaboration and refinement.

Kjartan, for example, in _Laxdæla_ is represented in a way that
sometimes brings him dangerously near the ideal hero. The story (like
many of the other Sagas) plays about between the two extremes, of
strong imagination applied dramatically to the subject-matter, on the
one hand, and abstract ethical reflexion on the other. In the scene of
Kjartan's encounter with Olaf Tryggvason in Norway[52] there is a
typical example of the two kinds of operation. The scene and the
dialogue are fully adequate to the author's intention, about which
there can be no mistake. What he wishes to express is there expressed,
in the most lively way, with the least possible encumbrance of
explanation or chorus: the pride of Kjartan, his respect for his
unknown antagonist in the swimming-match, his anxiety to keep clear of
any submission to the king, with the king's reciprocal sense of the
Icelander's magnanimity; no stroke in all this is other than right.
While also it may be perceived that the author has brought into his
story an ingredient of rhetoric. In this place it has its use and its
effect; and, nevertheless, it is recognisable as the dangerous essence
of all that is most different from sound narrative or drama.

[Footnote 52: Translated in Appendix, Note B.]

     Then said the king, "It is well seen that Kjartan is used to
     put more trust in his own might than in the help of Thor and

This rings as true as the noble echo of it in the modern version of
the _Lovers of Gudrun_:--

     If neither Christ nor Odin help, why then
     Still at the worst we are the sons of men.

No amount of hacking work can take away the eloquence of this
phrasing. Yet it is beyond question, that these phrases, like that
speech of Sarpedon which has been borrowed by many a hero since, are
of a different stuff from pure drama, or any pure imaginative work.
By taking thought, they may be more nearly imitated than is possible
in the case of any strong dramatic scene. The words of the king about
Kjartan are like the words that are used to Earl Hakon, by Sigmund of
the Faroes;[53] they are on their way to become, or they have already
become, an ethical commonplace. In the place where they are used, in
the debate between Kjartan and King Olaf, they have received the
strong life of the individual persons between whom they pass, just as
an actor may give life and character to any words that are put in his
mouth. Yet elsewhere the phrase may occur as a commonplace
formula--_hann trúði á mátt sinn ok megin_ (he trusted in his own
might and main)--applied generally to those Northern pagans who were
known to be _securi adversus Deos_ at the time of the first preaching
of Christendom in the North.

[Footnote 53: "Tell me what faith you are of," said the earl. "I
believe in my own strength," said Sigmund (_Færeyinga Saga_).]

All is well, however, so long as this heroic ideal is kept in its
right relation, as one element in a complex work, not permitted to
walk about by itself as a personage. This right subordination is
observed in the Sagas, whereby both the heroic characters are kept out
of extravagance (for neither Gunnar, Kari, nor Kjartan is an abstract
creature), and the less noble or the more complex characters are
rightly estimated. The Sagas, which in many things are ironical or
reticent, do not conceal their standard of measurement or value, in
relation to which characters and actions are to be appraised. They do
not, on the other hand, allow this ideal to usurp upon the rights of
individual characters. They are imaginative, dealing in actions and
characters; they are not ethical or sentimental treatises, or mirrors
of chivalry.



In their definite tragical situations and problems, the Sagas are akin
to the older poetry of the Teutonic race. The tragical cases of the
earlier heroic age are found repeated, with variations, in the Sagas.
Some of the chief of these resemblances have been found and discussed
by the editors of _Corpus Poeticum Boreale_. Also in many places where
there is no need to look for any close resemblance in detail, there is
to be seen the same mode of comprehending the tragical stress and
contradiction as is manifested in the remains of the poetry. As in the
older Germanic stories, so in the Sagas, the plot is often more than
mere contest or adventure. As in _Finnesburh_ and _Waldere_, so in
_Gísla Saga_ and _Njála_ and many other Icelandic stories, the action
turns upon a debate between opposite motives of loyalty, friendship,
kindred. Gisli kills his sister's husband; it is his sister who begins
the pursuit of Gisli, his sister who, after Gisli's death, tries to
avenge him. Njal has to stand by his sons, who have killed his friend.
Gunnlaug and Hrafn, Kjartan and Bolli, are friends estranged by "Fate
and their own transgression," like Walter and Hagena.

The Sagas, being prose and having an historical tradition to take
care of, are unable to reach the same intensity of passion as some of
the heroic poems, the poems of _Helgi_ and of _Sigurd_. They are all
the more epic, perhaps, on that account; more equable in their course,
with this compensation for their quieter manner, that they have more
room and more variety than the passionate heroic poems. These
histories have also, as a rule, to do without the fantasies of such
poetry as _Hervor and Angantyr_, or _Helgi and Sigrun_. The vision of
the Queens of the Air, the return of Helgi from the dead, the
chantings of Hervor "between the worlds," are too much for the plain
texture of the Sagas. Though, as has already been seen in _Grettir_
and _Gisli_, this element of fantastic beauty is not wholly absent;
the less substantial graces of mythical romance, "fainter and
flightier" than those of epic, are sometimes to be found even in the
historical prose; the historical tragedies have their accompaniment of
mystery. More particularly, the story of the _Death of Thidrandi whom
the Goddesses slew_, is a prose counterpart to the poetry of Sigrun
and Hervor.[54]

[Footnote 54: It is summarised in Dasent's _Njal_, i. p. xx., and
translated in Sephton's _Olaf Tryggvason_ (1895), pp. 339-341.]

There are many other incidents in the Sagas which have the look of
romance about them. But of a number of these the distinction holds
good that has been already put forward in the case of _Beowulf_: they
are not such wonders as lie outside the bounds of common experience,
according to the estimate of those for whom the stories were told.
Besides some wonderful passages that still retain the visionary and
fantastic charm of myth and mythical romance, there are others in
which the wonders are more gross and nearer to common life. Such is
the story of the hauntings at Froda, in _Eyrbyggja_; the drowned man
and his companions coming home night after night and sitting in their
wet clothes till daybreak; such is the ghastly story of the funeral of
Víga-Styrr in _Heiðarvíga Saga_. Things of that sort are no exceptions
to common experience, according to the Icelandic judgment, and do not
stand out from the history as something different in kind; they do not
belong to the same order as the dream-poetry of Gisli or the vision of

The self-denial of the Icelandic authors in regard to myth and pure
romance has secured for them, in exchange, everything that is
essential to strong dramatic stories, independent of mythological or
romantic attractions.

Some of the Sagas are a reduction of heroic fable to the temper and
conditions of modern prose. _Laxdæla_ is an heroic epic, rewritten as
a prose history under the conditions of actual life, and without the
help of any supernatural "machinery." It is a modern prose version of
the Niblung tragedy, with the personages chosen from the life of
Iceland in the heroic age, and from the Icelandic family traditions.
It is not the only work that has reduced the Niblung story to terms of
matter of fact. The story of Sigurd and Brynhild has been presented as
a drama by Ibsen in his _Warriors in Helgeland_, with the names
changed, with new circumstances, and with nothing remaining of the
mythical and legendary lights that play about the fortunes of Sigurd
in the Northern poems. The play relies on the characters, without the
mysteries of Odin and the Valkyria. An experiment of the same sort had
been made long before. In _Laxdæla_, Kjartan stands for Sigurd: Gudrun
daughter of Osvifr, wife of Bolli, is in the place of Brynhild wife of
Gunnar, driving her husband to avenge her on her old lover. That the
authors of the Sagas were conscious at least in some cases of their
relation to the poems is proved by affinities in the details of their
language. In _Gísla Saga_, Thordis, sister of Gisli, has to endure the
same sorrow as the wife of Sigurd in the poems; her husband, like
Sigurd, is killed by her brother. One of the verses put in the mouth
of Gisli in the story contrasts her with Gudrun, daughter of Giuki,
who killed her husband (Attila) to avenge her brothers; whereas
Thordis was waking up the pursuers of her brother Gisli to avenge her
husband. With this verse in his head, it is impossible that the writer
of the Saga can have overlooked the resemblance which is no less
striking than the contrast between the two cases.

The relation of the Sagas to the older poetry may be expressed in this
way, perhaps, that they are the last stage in a progress from the
earliest mythical imagination, and the earliest dirges and encomiums
of the great men of a tribe, to a consistent and orderly form of
narrative literature, attained by the direction of a critical faculty
which kept out absurdities, without impairing the dramatic energy of
the story. The Sagas are the great victory of the Humanities in the
North, at the end of a long process of education. The Northern
nations, like others, had to come to an understanding with themselves
about their inherited myths, their traditional literary forms. One age
after another helped in different ways to modify their beliefs, to
change their literary taste. Practically, they had to find out what
they were to think of the gods; poetically, what they were to put into
their songs and stories. With problems of this sort, when a beginning
has once been made, anything is possible, and there is no one kind of
success. Every nation that has ever come to anything has had to go to
school in this way. None has ever been successful right through;
while, on the other hand, success does not mean the attainment of any
definite end. There is a success for every stage in the progress, and
one nation or literature differs from another, not by reason of an
ultimate victory or defeat, but in the number of prizes taken by the

As far as can be made out, the people of the Northern tongue got the
better of the Western Teutons, in making far more than they out of the
store of primeval fancies about the gods and the worlds, and in giving
to their heroic poems both an intenser passion of expression and a
more mysterious grace and charm. The Western Teutons in their heroic
poetry seem, on the other hand, to have been steadier and less
flighty. They took earlier to the line of reasonable and dignified
narrative, reducing the lyrical element, perhaps increasing the gnomic
or reflective proportions of their work. So they succeeded in their
own way, with whatever success belongs to _Beowulf_, _Waldere_,
_Byrhtnoth_, not to speak of the new essays they made with themes
taken from the Church, in the poems of _Andreas_, _Judith_, and all
the rest. Meanwhile the Northerners were having their own difficulties
and getting over them, or out of them. They knew far more about the
gods, and made poems about them. They had no patience, so that they
could not dilute and expand their stories in the Western way. They saw
no good in the leisurely methods; they must have everything emphatic,
everything full of poetical meaning; hence no large poetry, but a
number of short poems with no slackness in them. With these they had
good reason to be content, as a good day's work in their day. But
whatever advantage the fiery Northern poems may have over the slower
verse of the Anglo-Saxons, they do not correspond to the same
intellectual wants, and they leave out something which seems to have
been attained in the Western poetry. The North had still to find out
what could be done with simpler materials, and without the magical
light of the companions of Sigrun. The Icelandic prose histories are
the solution of this new problem, a problem which the English had
already tried and solved in their own manner in the quieter passages
of their epic poetry, and, above all, in the severity of the poem of

The Sagas are partly indebted to a spirit of negative criticism and
restraint; a tendency not purely literary, corresponding, at any rate,
to a similar tendency in practical life. The energy, the passion, the
lamentation of the Northern poetry, the love of all the wonders of
mythology, went along with practical and intellectual clearness of
vision in matters that required cool judgment. The ironical correction
of sentiment, the tone of the _advocatus diaboli_, is habitual with
many of the Icelandic writers, and many of their heroes. "To see
things as they really are," so that no incantation could transform
them, was one of the gifts of an Icelandic hero,[55] and appears to
have been shared by his countrymen when they set themselves to compose
the Sagas.

[Footnote 55: _Harðar Saga_, c. xi.]

The tone of the Sagas is generally kept as near as may be to that of
the recital of true history. Nothing is allowed any preponderance over
the story and the speeches in it. It is the kind of story furthest
removed from the common pathetic fallacies of the Middle Ages. The
rationalist mind has cleared away all the sentimental and most of the
superstitious encumbrances and hindrances of strong narrative.

The history of the early Northern rationalism and its practical
results is part of the general history of religion and politics. In
some respects it may have been premature; in many cases it seems (as
might be expected) to have gone along with hardness and sterility of
mind, and to have left an inheritance of vacuity behind it. The
curious and elaborate hardness of the Icelandic Court poetry may
possibly be a sign of this same temper; in another way, the prevalent
coolness of Northern piety, even before the Reformation, is scarcely
to be dissociated from the coolness of the last days of heathendom.
The spirited acuteness of Snorri the Priest and his contemporaries was
succeeded by a moderate and unenthusiastic fashion of religion, for
the most part equally remote from the extravagances and the glories of
the medieval Church. But with these things the Sagas have little to
do; where they are in relation to this common rationalist habit of
mind, it is all to their good. The Sagas are not injured by any
scepticism or coolness in the minds of their authors. The positive
habit of mind in the Icelanders is enough to secure them against a
good deal of the conventional dulness of the Middle Ages. It made them
dissatisfied with anything that seemed wanting in vividness or
immediate force; it led them to select, in their histories, such
things as were interesting in themselves, and to present them
definitely, without any drawling commonplaces, or any makeshift
rhetorical substitutes for accurate vision and clear record. It did
not hinder, but it directed and concentrated the imagination. The
self-repression in the Sagas is bracing. It gives greater clearness,
greater resonance; it does not cut out or renounce anything that is
really worth keeping.

If not the greatest charm of the Sagas, at any rate that which is
perhaps most generally appreciated by modern readers is their economy
of phrasing in the critical passages, the brevity with which the
incidents and speeches are conveyed, the restriction of all
commentary to the least available compass. Single phrases in the great
scenes of the Sagas are full-charged with meaning to a degree hardly
surpassed in any literature, certainly not in the literatures of
medieval Europe. Half a dozen words will carry all the force of the
tragedy of the Sagas, or render all the suspense and terror of their
adventurous moments, with an effect that is like nothing so much as
the effect of some of the short repressed phrases of Shakespeare in
_Hamlet_ or _King Lear_. The effect is attained not by study of the
central phrase so much as by the right arrangement and selection of
the antecedents; that is, by right proportion in the narrative. It is
in this way that the killing of Gunnar's dog, in the attack on
Lithend, is made the occasion for one of the great strokes of
narrative. The words of Gunnar, when he is roused by the dog's
howl--"Sore art thou handled, Sam, my fosterling, and maybe it is
meant that there is not to be long between thy death and mine!"--are a
perfect dramatic indication of everything the author wishes to
express--the coolness of Gunnar, and his contempt for his enemies, as
well as his pity for his dog. They set everything in tune for the
story of Gunnar's death which follows. It is in this way that the
adventures of the Sagas are raised above the common form of mere
reported "fightings and flockings," the common tedious story of raids
and reprisals. This is one of the kinds of drama to be found in the
Sagas, and not exclusively in the best of them. One of the conditions
of this manner of composition and this device of phrasing is that the
author shall be able to keep himself out of the story, and let things
make their own impression. This is the result of the Icelandic habit
of restraint. The intellectual coolness of the Sagas is a pride that
keeps them from pathetic effusions; it does not impede the dramatic
passion, it merely gives a lesson to the sensibilities and sympathies,
to keep them out of the way when they are not wanted.

This is one notable difference of temper and rhetoric between the
Sagas and the old English poems. One of the great beauties of the old
English poetry is its understanding of the moods of lamentation--the
mood of Ossian it might be called, without much error in the name. The
transience and uncertainty of the world, the memory of past good
fortune, and of things lost,--with themes like these the Anglo-Saxon
poets make some of their finest verse; and while this fashion of
meditation may seem perhaps to have come too readily, it is not the
worst poets who fall in with it. In the Icelandic poetry the notes of
lamentation are not wanting, and it cannot be said that the Northern
elegies are less sweet or less thrilling in their grief than those of
England in the kindred forms of verse. It is enough to think of
_Gudrun's Lament_ in the "Elder Edda," or of _Sonatorrek_, Egil
Skallagrimsson's elegy on the death of his two sons. It was not any
congenital dulness or want of sense that made the Sagas generally
averse to elegy. No mere writer of Sagas was made of stronger temper
than Egil, and none of them need have been ashamed of lamentation
after Egil had lamented. But they saw that it would not do, that the
fabric of the Saga was not made for excessive decoration of any kind,
and least of all for parenthesis of elegy. The English heroic poetry
is more relenting. _Beowulf_ is invaded by pathos in a way that often
brings the old English verse very nearly to the tone of the great
lament for Lancelot at the end of the _Morte d'Arthur_; which, no
doubt, is justification enough for any lapse from the pure heroic. In
the Sagas the sense of all the vanity of human wishes is expressed in
a different way: the lament is turned into dramatic action; the
author's sympathy is not shown in direct effusions, but in his
rendering of the drama.[56] The best instance of this is the story of
Howard of Icefirth.

[Footnote 56: The pathos of Asdis, Grettir's mother, comes nearest to
the tone of the old English laments, or of the Northern elegiac
poetry, and may be taken as a contrast to the demeanour of Bjargey in
_Hávarðar Saga_, and an exception to the general rule of the Sagas in
this respect.]

Howard's son Olaf, a high-spirited and generous young man, comes under
the spite of a domineering gentleman, all the more because he does
some good offices of his own free will for this tyrannical person.
Olaf is attacked and killed by the bully and his friends; then the
story goes on to tell of the vengeance of his father and mother. The
grief of the old man is described as a matter of fact; he was lame and
feeble, and took to his bed for a long time after his son's death.
Then he roused himself, and he and his wife went to look for help, and
finally were able to bring down their enemy. In all this there is no
reflexion or commentary by the author. The pathos is turned into
narrative; it is conveyed by means of the form of the story, the
relation of the incidents to one another. The passion of the old
people turns into resolute action, and is revealed in the perseverance
of Bjargey, Olaf's mother, tracking out her enemy and coming to her
kinsmen to ask for help. She rows her boat round her enemy's ship and
finds out his plans; then she goes to her brothers' houses, one after
another, and "borrows" avengers for her son. The repression and irony
of the Icelandic character are shown in the style of her address to
her brothers. "I have come to borrow your nets," she says to one, and
"I have come to borrow your turf-spade," to another; all which is
interpreted aright by the brothers, who see what her meaning is. Then
she goes home to her husband; and here comes in, not merely irony, but
an intentional rebuke to sentiment. Her husband is lying helpless and
moaning, and she asks him whether he has slept. To which he answers in
a stave of the usual form in the Sagas, the purport of which is that
he has never known sleep since the death of Olaf his son. "'Verily
that is a great lie,' says she, 'that thou hast never slept once these
three years. But now it is high time to be up and play the man, if
thou wilt have revenge for Olaf thy son; because never in thy days
will he be avenged, if it be not this day.' And when he heard his
wife's reproof he sprang out of bed on to the floor, and sang this
other stave,"--of which the substance is still lamentation, but
greatly modified in its effect by the action with which it is
accompanied. Howard seems to throw off his age and feebleness as time
goes on, and the height of his passion is marked by a note of his
cheerfulness and gladness after he has killed his enemy. This is
different from the method of _Beowulf_, where the grief of a father
for his son is rendered in an elegy, with some beauty and some
irrelevance, as if the charm of melancholy were too much for the

The hardness of the Sagas is sometimes carried too far for the taste
of some readers, and there is room for some misgiving that in places
the Sagas have been affected by the contrary vice from that of
effusive pathos, namely, by a pretence of courage and endurance. In
some of the Northern poetry, as in _Ragnar's Death-Song_,[57] there
may be detected the same kind of insincere and exaggerated heroism as
in the modern romantic imitations of old Northern sentiment, now
fortunately less common than in the great days of the Northern
romantic movement at the beginning of this century. The old Northern
poetry seems to have become at one stage too self-conscious of the
literary effect of magnanimity, too quick to seize all the literary
profit that was to be made out of the conventional Viking. The Viking
of the modern romantic poets has been the affliction of many in the
last hundred years; none of his patrons seem to have guessed that he
had been discovered, and possibly had begun to be a bore, at a time
when the historical "Viking Age" had scarcely come to its close. There
is little in the Icelandic Sagas to show any affinity with his forced
and ostentatious bravery; but it may be suspected that here and there
the Sagas have made some use of the theatrical Viking, and have thrown
their lights too strongly on their death scenes. Some of the most
impressive passages of the Sagas are those in which a man receives a
death-wound with a quaint remark, and dies forthwith, like Atli in the
story of Grettir, who was thrust through as he stood at his door, and
said, "Those broad spears are in fashion now," as he went down. This
scene is one of the best of its kind; there is no fault to be found
with it. But there are possibly too many scenes and speeches of the
same sort; enough to raise the suspicion that the situation and the
form of phrase were becoming a conventional device, like some of the
"machines" in the secondary Sagas, and in the too-much-edited parts of
the better ones. This suspicion is not one that need be scouted or
choked off. The worser parts and baser parts of the literature are to
be detected by any means and all means. It is well in criticism,
however, to supplement this amputating practice by some regard for
the valid substances that have no need of it, and in this present case
to look away from the scenes where there is suspicion of journey work
and mechanical processes to the masterpieces that set the standard;
more especially to the story of the burning of Njal, which more than
any other is full of the peculiar strength and quality of the Sagas.

[Footnote 57: _Vide supra_, p. 140, and _infra_, p. 295.]

The beauty of _Njála_, and especially of the chapters about Njal's
death, is the result of a harmony between two extremes of sentiment,
each of which by itself was dangerous, and both of which have here
been brought to terms with each other and with the whole design of the
work. The ugliness of Skarphedinn's demeanour might have turned out to
be as excessive as the brutalities of _Svarfdæla_ or _Ljósvetninga
Saga_; the gentleness of Njal has some affinities with the gentleness
of the martyrs. Some few passages have distinctly the homiletic or
legendary tone about them:--

     Then Flosi and his men made a great pile before each of the
     doors, and then the women-folk who were inside began to weep
     and to wail.

     Njal spoke to them, and said: "Keep up your hearts, nor
     utter shrieks, for this is but a passing storm, and it will
     be long before you have another such; and put your faith in
     God, and believe that He is so merciful that He will not let
     us burn both in this world and the next."

     Such words of comfort had he for them all, and others still
     more strong (c. 128, Dasent's translation).

It is easy to see in what school the style of this was learned, and of
this other passage, about Njal after his death:--

     Then Hjallti said, "I shall speak what I say with all
     freedom of speech. The body of Bergthora looks as it was
     likely she would look, and still fair; but Njal's body and
     visage seem to me so bright that I have never seen any dead
     man's body so bright as this" (c. 131).

At the other extreme are the heathenish manners of Skarphedinn, who,
in the scene at the Althing, uses all the bad language of the old
"flytings" in the heroic poetry,[58] who "grins" at the attempts to
make peace, who might easily, by a little exaggeration and change of
emphasis, have been turned into one of the types of the false heroic.

[Footnote 58: Pp. 96, 113, above.]

Something like this has happened to Egil, in another Saga, through
want of balance, want of comprehensive imagination in the author. In
_Njála_, where no element is left to itself, the picture is complete
and full of variety. The prevailing tone is neither that of the homily
nor that of the robustious Viking; it is the tone of a narrative that
has command of itself and its subject, and can play securely with
everything that comes within its scope.

In the death of Njal the author's imagination has found room for
everything,--for the severity and the nobility of the old Northern
life, for the gentleness of the new religion, for the irony in which
the temper of Skarphedinn is made to complement and illustrate the
temper of Njal.

     Then Flosi went to the door and called out to Njal, and said
     he would speak with him and Bergthora.

     Now Njal does so, and Flosi said: "I will offer thee, master
     Njal, leave to go out, for it is unworthy that thou shouldst
     burn indoors."

     "I will not go out," said Njal, "for I am an old man, and
     little fitted to avenge my sons, but I will not live in

     Then Flosi said to Bergthora: "Come thou out, housewife, for
     I will for no sake burn thee indoors."

     "I was given away to Njal young," said Bergthora, "and I
     have promised him this, that we should both share the same

     After that they both went back into the house.

     "What counsel shall we now take?" said Bergthora.

     "We will go to our bed," says Njal, "and lay us down; I have
     long been eager for rest."

     Then she said to the boy Thord, Kari's son: "Thee will I
     take out, and thou shalt not burn in here."

     "Thou hast promised me this, grandmother," says the boy,
     "that we should never part so long as I wished to be with
     thee; but methinks it is much better to die with thee and
     Njal than to live after you."

     Then she bore the boy to her bed, and Njal spoke to his
     steward and said:--

     "Now shalt thou see where we lay us down, and how I lay us
     out, for I mean not to stir an inch hence, whether reek or
     burning smart me, and so thou wilt be able to guess where to
     look for our bones."

     He said he would do so.

     There had been an ox slaughtered, and the hide lay there.
     Njal told the steward to spread the hide over them, and he
     did so.

     So there they lay down both of them in their bed, and put
     the boy between them. Then they signed themselves and the
     boy with the cross, and gave over their souls into God's
     hand, and that was the last word that men heard them utter.

     Then the steward took the hide and spread it over them, and
     went out afterwards. Kettle of the Mark caught hold of him
     and dragged him out; he asked carefully after his
     father-in-law Njal, but the steward told him the whole
     truth. Then Kettle said:--

     "Great grief hath been sent on us, when we have had to share
     such ill-luck together."

     Skarphedinn saw how his father laid him down and how he laid
     himself out, and then he said:--

     "Our father goes early to bed, and that is what was to be
     looked for, for he is an old man."

The harmonies of _Laxdæla_ are somewhat different from those of the
history of Njal, but here again the elements of grace and strength, of
gentleness and terror, are combined in a variety of ways, and in such
a way as to leave no preponderance to any one exclusively. Sometimes
the story may seem to fall into the exemplary vein of the "antique
poet historicall"; sometimes the portrait of Kjartan may look as if it
were designed, like the portrait of Amadis or Tirant the White, "to
fashion a gentleman or noble person in vertuous and gentle
discipline." Sometimes the story is involved in the ordinary business
of Icelandic life, and Kjartan and Bolli, the Sigurd and Gunnar of the
tragedy, are seen engaged in common affairs, such as make the alloy of
heroic narrative in the _Odyssey_. The hero is put to the proof in
this way, and made to adapt himself to various circumstances.
Sometimes the story touches on the barbarism and cruelty, which were
part of the reality familiar to the whole of Iceland in the age of the
Sturlungs, of which there is more in the authentic history of the
Sturlungs than in the freer and more imaginative story of Kjartan. At
one time the story uses the broad and fluent form of narrative,
leaving scene after scene to speak for itself; at other times it
allows itself to be condensed into a significant phrase. Of these
emphatic phrases there are two especially, both of them speeches of
Gudrun, and the one is the complement of the other: the one in the
tone of irony, Gudrun's comment on the death of Kjartan, a repetition
of Brynhild's phrase on the death of Sigurd;[59] the other Gudrun's
confession to her son at the end of the whole matter.

[Footnote 59: Then Brynhild laughed till the walls rang again: "Good
luck to your hands and swords that have felled the goodly prince"
(_Brot Sgkv._ 10; cf. p. 103 above).]

     Gudrun meets her husband coming back, and says: "A good
     day's work and a notable; I have spun twelve ells of yarn,
     and you have slain Kjartan Olaf's son."

     Bolli answers: "That mischance would abide with me, without
     thy speaking of it."

     Said Gudrun: "I reckon not that among mischances; it seemed
     to me thou hadst greater renown that winter Kjartan was in
     Norway, than when he came back to Iceland and trampled thee
     under foot. But the last is best, that Hrefna will not go
     laughing to bed this night."

     Then said Bolli in great wrath: "I know not whether she will
     look paler at this news than thou, and I doubt thou mightest
     have taken it no worse if we had been left lying where we
     fought, and Kjartan had come to tell of it."

     Gudrun saw that Bolli was angry, and said: "Nay, no need of
     words like these; for this work I thank thee; there is an
     earnest in it that thou wilt not thwart me after."

This is one of the crises of the story, in which the meaning of Gudrun
is brought out in a short passage of dialogue, at the close of a
section of narrative full of adventure and incident. In all that
precedes, in the relations of Gudrun to Kjartan before and after her
marriage with Bolli, as after the marriage of Kjartan and Hrefna, the
motives are generally left to be inferred from the events and actions.
Here it was time that Gudrun should speak her mind, or at least the
half of her mind.

Her speech at the end of her life is equally required, and the two
speeches are the complement of one another. Bolli her son comes to see
her and sits with her.

     The story tells that one day Bolli came to Helgafell; for
     Gudrun was always glad when he came to see her. Bolli sat
     long with his mother, and there was much talk between them.
     At last Bolli said: "Mother, will you tell me one thing? It
     has been in my mind to ask you, who was the man you loved

     Gudrun answers: "Thorkell was a great man and a lordly; and
     no man was goodlier than Bolli, nor of gentler breeding;
     Thord Ingwin's son was the most discreet of them all, a wise
     man in the law. Of Thorvald I make no reckoning."

     Then says Bolli: "All this is clear, all the condition of
     your husbands as you have told; but it has not yet been told
     whom you loved best. You must not keep it secret from me

     Gudrun answers: "You put me hard to it, my son; but if I am
     to tell any one, I will rather tell you than another."

     Bolli besought her again to tell him. Then said Gudrun: "I
     did the worst to him, the man that I loved the most."

     "Now may we believe," says Bolli, "that there is no more to

     He said that she had done right in telling him what he

     Gudrun became an old woman, and it is said that she lost her
     sight. She died at Helgafell, and there she rests.

This is one of the passages which it is easy to quote, and also
dangerous. The confession of Gudrun loses incalculably when detached
from the whole story, as also her earlier answer fails, by itself, to
represent the meaning and the art of the Saga. They are the two keys
that the author has given; neither is of any use by itself, and both
together are of service only in relation to the whole story and all
its fabric of incident and situation and changing views of life.



The Poetical Justice of Tragedy is observed, and rightly observed, in
many of the Sagas and in the greater plots. Fate and Retribution
preside over the stories of Njal and his sons, and the _Lovers of
Gudrun_. The story of Gisli works itself out in accordance with the
original forebodings, yet without any illicit process in the logic of
acts and motives, or any intervention of the mysterious powers who
accompany the life of Gisli in his dreams. Even in less consistent
stories the same ideas have a part; the story of Gudmund the Mighty,
which is a series of separate chapters, is brought to an end in the
Nemesis for Gudmund's injustice to Thorkell Hake. But the Sagas claim
exemption from the laws of Tragedy, when poetical Justice threatens to
become tyrannical. Partly by the nature of their origin, no doubt, and
their initial dependence on historical recollections of actual
events,[60] they are driven to include a number of things that might
disappoint a well-educated gallery of spectators; the drama is not
always worked out, or it may be that the meaning of a chapter or
episode lies precisely in the disappointment of conventional

[Footnote 60: _Vide supra_, p. 193 (the want of tragedy in _Víga-Glúms

There is only one comedy, or at most two, among the Sagas--the story
of the Confederates (_Bandamanna Saga_) with an afterpiece, the short
story of Alecap (_Olkofra Þáttr_). The composition of the Sagas,
however, admits all sorts of comic passages and undignified
characters, and it also quietly unravels many complications that seem
to be working up for a tragic ending. The dissipation of the storm
before it breaks is, indeed, so common an event that it almost becomes
itself a convention of narrative in the Sagas, by opposition to the
common devices of the feud and vengeance. There is a good instance of
this paradoxical conclusion in _Arons Saga_ (c. 12), an authentic
biography, apparently narrating an actual event. The third chapter of
_Glúma_ gives another instance of threatened trouble passing away.
Ivar, a Norwegian with a strong hatred of Icelanders, seems likely to
quarrel with Eyolf, Glum's father, but being a gentleman is won over
by Eyolf's bearing. This is a part of the Saga where one need not
expect to meet with any authentic historical tradition. The story of
Eyolf in Norway is probably mere literature, and shows the working of
the common principles of the Saga, as applied by an author of fiction.
The sojourn of Grettir with the two foster-brothers is another
instance of a dangerous situation going off without result. The whole
action of _Vápnfirðinga Saga_ is wound up in a reconciliation, which
is a sufficient close; but, on the other hand, the story of Glum ends
in a mere exhaustion of the rivalries, a drawn game. One of the later
more authentic histories, the story of Thorgils and Haflidi, dealing
with the matters of the twelfth century and not with the days of
Gunnar, Njal, and Snorri the Priest, is a story of rivalry passing
away, and may help to show how the composers of the Sagas were
influenced by their knowledge and observation of things near their
own time in their treatment of matters of tradition.

Even more striking than this evasion of the conventional plot of the
blood-feud, is the freedom and variety in respect of the minor
characters, particularly shown in the way they are made to perplex the
simple-minded spectator. To say that all the characters in the Sagas
escape from the limitations of mere typical humours might be to say
too much; but it is obvious that simple types are little in favour,
and that the Icelandic authors had all of them some conception of the
ticklish and dangerous variability of human dispositions, and knew
that hardly any one was to be trusted to come up to his looks, for
good or evil. Popular imagination has everywhere got at something of
this sort in its views of the lubberly younger brother, the ash-raker
and idler who carries off the princess. Many of the heroes of the
Sagas are noted to have been slow in their growth and unpromising,
like Glum, but there are many more cases of change of disposition in
the Sagas than can be summed up under this old formula. There are
stories of the quiet man roused to action, like Thorarin in
_Eyrbyggja_, where it is plain that the quietness was strength from
the first. A different kind of courage is shown by Atli, the
poor-spirited prosperous man in _Hávarðar Saga_, who went into hiding
to escape being dragged into the family troubles, but took heart and
played the man later on. One of the most effective pieces of comedy in
the Sagas is the description of his ill-temper when he is found out,
and his gradual improvement. He comes from his den half-frozen, with
his teeth chattering, and nothing but bad words for his wife and her
inconvenient brother who wants his help. His wife puts him to bed, and
he comes to think better of himself and the world; the change of his
mind being represented in the unobtrusive manner which the Sagas
employ in their larger scenes.

One of the most humorous and effective contradictions of the popular
judgment is that episode in _Njála_, where Kari has to trust to the
talkative person whose wife has a low opinion of him. It begins like
farce: any one can see that Bjorn has all the manners of the
swaggering captain; his wife is a shrew and does not take him at his
own valuation. The comedy of Bjorn is that he proves to be something
different both from his own Bjorn and his wife's Bjorn. He is the
idealist of his own heroism, and believes in himself as a hero. His
wife knows better; but the beauty of it all is that his wife is wrong.
His courage, it is true, is not quite certain, but he stands his
ground; there is a small particle of a hero in him, enough to save
him. His backing of Kari in the fight is what many have longed to see,
who have found little comfort in the discomfiture of Bobadil and
Parolles, and who will stand to it that the chronicler has done less
than justice to Sir John Falstaff both at Gadshill and Shrewsbury.
Never before Bjorn of _Njála_ was there seen on any theatre the person
of the comfortable optimist, with a soul apparently damned from the
first to a comic exposure and disgrace, but escaping this because his
soul has just enough virtue to keep him steady. The ordeal of Bjorn
contains more of the comic spirit than all the host of stage cowards
from Pyrgopolinices to Bob Acres, precisely because it introduces
something more than the simple humour, an essence more spiritual and

Further, the partnership of Kari and Bjorn, and Kari's appreciation of
his idealist companion, go a long way to save Kari from a too
exclusive and limited devotion to the purpose of vengeance. There is
much to be said on behalf of this Bjorn. His relations with Kari
prevent the hero of the latter part of the book from turning into a
mere hero. The humorous character of the squire brings out something
new in the character of the knight, a humorous response; all which
goes to increase the variety of the story, and to widen the difference
between this story and all the monotonous and abstract stories of
chivalrous adventures.

The Sagas have comedy in them, comic incidents and characters, because
they have no notion of the dignity of abstract and limited heroics;
because they cannot understand the life of Iceland otherwise than in
full, with all its elements together. The one intentionally comic
history, _Bandamanna Saga_, "The Confederates," which is exceptional
in tone and plot, is a piece of work in which what may be called the
form or spirit or idea of the heroic Saga is brought fully within
one's comprehension by means of contrast and parody. _Bandamanna Saga_
is a complete work, successful in every detail; as an artistic piece
of composition it will stand comparison with any of the Sagas. But it
is comedy, not tragedy; it is a mock-heroic, following the lines of
the heroic model, consistently and steadily, and serving as a
touchstone for the vanity of the heroic age. It is worth study, for
Comedy is later and therefore it would seem more difficult than
Tragedy, and this is the first reasonable and modern comedy in the
history of modern Europe. Further, the method of narrative, and
everything in it except the irony, belong to all the Sagas in common;
there is nothing particularly new or exceptional in the style or the
arrangement of the scenes; it is not so much a parody or a
mock-heroic, as an heroic work inspired with comic irony. It is not a
new kind of Saga, it is the old Saga itself put to the ordeal by the
Comic Muse, and proving its temper under the severest of all strains.

This is the story of the Confederates.--There was a man named Ufeig
who lived in Midfirth, a free-handed man, not rich, who had a son
named Odd. The father and son disagreed, and Odd, the son, went off to
make his own fortune, and made it, without taking any further notice
of his father. The two men are contrasted; Ufeig being an unsuccessful
man and a humorist, too generous and too careless to get on in the
world, while Odd, his son, is born to be a prosperous man. The main
plot of the story is the reconciliation of the respectable son and the
prodigal father, which is brought about in the most perfect and
admirable manner.

Odd got into trouble. He had a lawsuit against Uspak, a violent person
whom he had formerly trusted, who had presumed too much, had been
disgraced, and finally had killed the best friend of Odd in one of the
ways usual in such business in the Sagas. In the course of the lawsuit
a slight difficulty arose--one of Odd's jurymen died, and another had
to be called in his place. This was informal, but no one at first made
anything of it; till it occurred to a certain great man that Odd was
becoming too strong and prosperous, and that it was time to put him
down. Whereupon he went about and talked to another great man, and
half persuaded him that this view was the right one; and then felt
himself strong enough to step in and break down the prosecution by
raising the point about the formation of the jury. Odd went out of the
court without a word as soon as the challenge was made.

While he was thinking it over, and not making much of it, there
appeared an old, bent, ragged man, with a flapping hat and a
pikestaff; this was Ufeig, his father, to whom he had never spoken
since he left his house. Ufeig now is the principal personage in the
story. He asks his son about the case and pretends to be surprised at
his failure. "Impossible! it is not like a gentleman to try to take in
an old man like me; how could you be beaten?" Finally, after Odd had
been made to go over all the several points of his humiliation, he is
reduced to trust the whole thing to his father, who goes away with the
comforting remark that Odd, by leaving the court when he did, before
the case was finished, had made one good move in the game, though he
did not know it. Ufeig gets a purse full of money from his son; goes
back to the court, where (as the case is not yet closed) he makes an
eloquent speech on the iniquity of such a plea as has been raised. "To
let a man-slayer escape, gentlemen! where are your oaths that you
swore? Will you prefer a paltry legal quibble to the plain open
justice of the case?" and so on, impressively and emotionally, in the
name of Equity, while all the time (equity + _x_) he plays with the
purse under his cloak, and gets the eyes of the judges fixed upon it.
Late in the day, Odd is brought back to hear the close of the case,
and Uspak is outlawed.

Then the jealousy of the great men comes to a head, and a compact is
formed among eight of them to make an end of Odd's brand-new
prosperity. These eight are the Confederates from whom the Saga is
named, and the story is the story of Ufeig's ingenuity and malice as
applied to these noble Pillars of Society. To tell it rightly would be
to repeat the Saga. The skill with which the humorist plays upon the
strongest motives, and gets the conspirators to betray one another, is
not less beautifully represented than the spite which the humorist
provokes among the subjects of his experiments. The details are
finished to the utmost; most curiously and subtly in some of the
indications of character and disposition in the eight persons of
quality. The details, however, are only the last perfection of a work
which is organic from the beginning. Ufeig, the humorist, is the
servant and deputy of the Comic Muse, and there can be no doubt of the
validity of his credentials, or of the soundness of his procedure. He
is the ironical critic and censor of the heroic age; his touch is
infallible, as unerring as that of Figaro, in bringing out and making
ridiculous the meanness of the nobility. The decline and fall of the
noble houses is recorded in _Sturlunga Saga_; the essence of that
history is preserved in the comedy of the _Banded Men_.

But, however the material of the heroic age may be handled in this
comedy, the form of heroic narrative comes out unscathed. There is
nothing for the comic spirit to fix upon in the form of the Sagas. The
Icelandic heroes may be vulnerable, but Comedy cannot take advantage
of them except by using the general form of heroic narrative in
Iceland, a form which proves itself equally capable of Tragedy and
Comedy. And as the more serious Icelandic histories are comprehensive
and varied, so also is this comic history. It is not an artificial
comedy, nor a comedy of humours, nor a purely satirical comedy. It is
no more exclusive or abstract in its contents than _Njála_; its strict
observance of limit and order is not the same thing as monotony; its
unity of action is consistent with diversities of motive. Along with,
and inseparable from, the satirical criticism of the great world, as
represented by the eight discomfited noble Confederates, there is the
even more satisfactory plot of the Nemesis of Respectability in the
case of Odd; while the successful malice and craft of Ufeig are
inseparable from the humanity, the constancy, and the imaginative
strength, which make him come out to help his prosaic son, and enable
him, the bent and thriftless old man, to see all round the frontiers
of his son's well-defined and uninteresting character. Also the
variety of the Saga appears in the variety of incident, and that
although the story is a short one. As the solemn histories admit of
comic passages, so conversely this comic history touches upon the
tragic. The death of Vali, slain by Uspak, is of a piece with the most
heroic scenes in Icelandic literature. Vali the friend of Odd goes
along with him to get satisfaction out of Uspak the mischief-maker.
Vali is all for peace; he is killed through his good nature, and
before his death forgives and helps his assailant.

     And when with the spring the days of summons came on, Odd
     rode out with twenty men, till he came near by the garth of
     Svalastead. Then said Vali to Odd: "Now you shall stop here,
     and I will ride on and see Uspak, and find out if he will
     agree to settle the case now without more ado." So they
     stopped, and Vali went up to the house. There was no one
     outside; the doors were open and Vali went in. It was dark
     within, and suddenly there leapt a man out of the side-room
     and struck between the shoulders of Vali, so that he fell on
     the spot. Said Vali: "Look out for yourself, poor wretch!
     for Odd is coming, hard by, and means to have your life.
     Send your wife to him; let her say that we have made it up;
     and you have agreed to everything, and that I have gone on
     about my own gear down the valley!" Then said Uspak: "This
     is an ill piece of work; this was meant for Odd and not for

This short heroic scene in the comedy has an effect corresponding to
that of the comic humours in the Icelandic tragedies; it redresses the
balance, it qualifies and diversifies what would otherwise be
monotonous. Simple and clear in outline as the best of the short
Icelandic stories are, they are not satisfied unless they have
introduced something, if only a suggestion, of worlds different from
their own immediate interests, a touch to show where their proper
story branches out into the history of other characters and fortunes.
This same story of the Confederates is wound up at the end, after the
reconciliation of the father and son, by a return to the adventures of
Uspak and to the subordinate tragic element in the comedy. The
poetical justice of the story leaves Uspak, the slayer of Vali, dead
in a cave of the hills; discovered there, alone, by shepherds going
their autumn rounds.



The art of the Sagas will bear to be tested in every way: not that
every Saga or every part of one is flawless, far from it; but they all
have, though in different measure, the essentials of the fine art of
story-telling. Except analysis, it is hardly possible to require from
a story anything which will not be found supplied in some form or
other in the Sagas. The best of them have that sort of unity which can
hardly be described, except as a unity of life--the organic unity that
is felt in every particular detail. It is absurd to take separately
the details of a great work like _Njála_, or of less magnificent but
not less perfect achievements such as the story of Hrafnkel. There is
no story in the world that can surpass the _Bandamanna Saga_ in the
liveliness with which each particular reveals itself as a moment in
the whole story, inseparable from the whole, and yet in its own proper
space appearing to resume and absorb the life of the whole. Where the
work is elaborated in this way, where every particular is organic, it
is not possible to do much by way of illustration, or to exhibit
piecemeal what only exists as a complete thing, and can only be
understood as such. It is of some importance in the history of
literature that the rank and general character of these Icelandic
works should be asserted and understood. It would be equally laborious
and superfluous to follow each of them with an exposition of the value
of each stroke in the work. There are difficulties enough in the
language, and in the history, without any multiplication of
commentaries on the obvious; and there is little in the art of the
Sagas that is of doubtful import, however great may be the lasting
miracle that such things, of such excellence, should have been written
there and then.

There is one general quality or characteristic of the Sagas which has
not yet been noticed, one which admits of explanation and
illustration, while it represents very well the prevailing mode of
imagination in the Sagas. The imaginative life of the Sagas (in the
best of them) is intensely strong at each critical point of the story,
with the result that all abstract, makeshift explanations are driven
out; the light is too strong for them, and the events are made to
appear in the order of their appearance, with their meaning gradually
coming out as the tale rolls on. No imagination has ever been so
consistently intolerant of anything that might betray the author's
knowledge before the author's chosen time. That everything should
present itself first of all as appearance, before it becomes
appearance with a meaning, is a common rule of all good story-telling;
but no historians have followed this rule with so complete and sound
an instinct as the authors of the Sagas. No medieval writers, and few
of the modern, have understood the point of view as well as the
authors of the story of Njal or of Kjartan. The reserve of the
narrator in the most exciting passages of the Sagas is not dulness or
want of sensibility; it is a consistent mode of procedure, to allow
things to make their own impression; and the result is attained by
following the order of impressions in the mind of one of the actors,
or of a looker-on. "To see things as they are" is an equivocal
formula, which may be claimed as their own privilege by many schools
and many different degrees of intelligence. "To see things as they
become," the rule of Lessing's _Laocoon_, has not found so many
adherents, but it is more certain in meaning, and more pertinent to
the art of narrative. It is a fair description of the aim of the
Icelandic authors and of their peculiar gift. The story for them is
not a thing finished and done with; it is a series of pictures rising
in the mind, succeeding, displacing, and correcting one another; all
under the control of a steady imagination, which will not be hurried,
and will not tell the bearing of things till the right time comes. The
vivid effect of the Saga, if it be studied at all closely, will be
found to be due to this steadiness of imagination which gives first
the blurred and inaccurate impression, the possibility of danger, the
matter for surmises and suspicions, and then the clearing up. Stated
generally in this way, the rule is an elementary one, but it is
followed in the Sagas with a singular consistency and success, and
with something more than a compulsory obedience. That both the
narrators and their audience in that country had their whole lives
filled with momentous problems in the interpretation of appearances
may well be understood. To identify a band of riders in the distance,
or a single man seen hurrying on the other side of the valley, was a
problem which might be a matter of life or death any day; but so it
has been in many places where there is nothing like the narrative art
of Iceland. The Icelandic historian is like no other in putting into
his work the thrill of suspense at something indistinctly seen going
on in the distance--a crowd of men moving, not known whether friends
or enemies. So it was in _Thorgils Saga_ (one of the later more
authentic histories, of the Sturlung cycle), when Thorgils and his men
came down to the Althing, and Bard and Aron were sent on ahead to find
out if the way was clear from the northern passes across the plain of
the Thing. Bard and Aron, as they came down past Armannsfell, saw a
number of horses and men on the plain below just where Haflidi, the
enemy, might have been expected to block the way. They left some of
their band to wait behind while they themselves went on. From that
point a chapter and more is taken up with the confused impression and
report brought back by the scouts to the main body. They saw Bard and
Aron ride on to the other people, and saw the others get up to meet
them, carrying weapons; and then Bard and Aron went out of sight in
the crowd, but the bearers of the report had no doubt that they were
prisoners. And further, they thought they made out a well-known horse,
Dapplecheek, and a gold-mounted spear among the strangers, both of
which had belonged to Thorgils, and had been given away by him to one
of his friends. From which it is inferred that his friend has been
robbed of the horse and the spear.

The use of all this, which turns out to be all made up of true
eyesight and wrong judgment, is partly to bring out Thorgils; for his
decision, against the wish of his companions, is to ride on in any
event, so that the author gets a chapter of courage out of the
mistake. Apart from that, there is something curiously spirited and
attractive in the placing of the different views, with the near view
last of all. In the play between them, between the apprehension of
danger, the first report of an enemy in the way, the appearance of an
indistinct crowd, the false inference, and the final truth of the
matter, the Saga is faithful to its vital principle of variety and
comprehensiveness; no one appearance, not even the truest, must be
allowed too much room to itself.

This indirect description is really the most vivid of all narrative
forms, because it gives the point of view that is wanting in an
ordinary continuous history. It brings down the story-teller from his
abstract and discursive freedom, and makes him limit himself to one
thing at a time, with the greatest advantage to himself and all the
rest of his story. In that way the important things of the story may
be made to come with the stroke and flash of present reality, instead
of being prosed away by the historian and his good grammar.

There is a very remarkable instance of the use of this method in the
Book of Kings. Of Jehoram, son of Ahab, king of Israel, it is told
formally that "he wrought evil in the sight of the Lord," with the
qualification that his evil was not like that of Ahab and Jezebel.
This is impressive in its formal and summary way. It is quite another
mode of narrative, and it is one in which the spectator is introduced
to vouch for the matter, that presents the king of Israel, once for
all, in a sublime and tragic protest against the sentence of the
historian himself, among the horrors of the famine of Samaria.

     So we boiled my son, and did eat him: and I said unto her on
     the next day, Give thy son, that we may eat him; and she
     hath hid her son.

     And it came to pass, when the king heard the words of the
     woman, that he rent his clothes; and he passed by upon the
     wall, and the people looked, and, behold, he had sackcloth
     within upon his flesh.

No more than this is told of the unavailing penance of Jehoram the
son of Ahab. There is no preparation; all the tragedy lies in this
notice of something casually seen, and left without a commentary, for
any one to make his own story about, if he chooses. There is perhaps
nothing anywhere in narrative quite so sudden as this. The Northern
writers, however, carry out consistently the same kind of principles,
putting their facts or impressions forward in a right order and
leaving them to take care of themselves; while in the presentation of
events the spectator within the story has a good deal given him to do.
Naturally, where the author does not make use of analysis and where he
trusts to the reader's intellect to interpret things aright, the
"facts" must be fairly given; in a lucid order, with a progressive
clearness, from the point of view of those who are engaged in the

There is another and somewhat different function of the spectator in
the Sagas. In some cases, where there is no problem, where the action
is straightforward, the spectator and his evidence are introduced
merely to give breadth and freedom to the presentment, to get a
foreground for the scene. This is effected best of all, as it happens,
in a passage that called for nothing less than the best of the
author's power and wit; namely, the chapter of the death of Kjartan in

     And with this talk of Gudrun, Bolli was made to magnify his
     ill-will and his grievance against Kjartan; and took his
     weapons and went along with the others. They were nine
     altogether; five sons of Osvifr, that is to say, Ospak and
     Helgi, Vandrad, Torrad, and Thorolf; Bolli was the sixth,
     Gunnlaug the seventh, sister's son of Osvifr, a comely man;
     the other two were Odd and Stein, sons of Thorhalla the
     talkative. They rode to Svinadal and stopped at the gully
     called Hafragil; there they tied their horses and sat down.
     Bolli was silent all the day, and laid him down at the edge
     of the gully, above.

     Kjartan and his companions had come south over the pass, and
     the dale was opening out, when Kjartan said that it was time
     for Thorkell and his brother to turn back. Thorkell said
     they would ride with him to the foot of the dale. And when
     they were come south as far as the bothies called the North
     Sheilings, Kjartan said to the brothers that they were not
     to ride further.

     "Thorolf, the thief, shall not have this to laugh at, that I
     was afraid to ride on my way without a host of men."

     Thorkell Whelp makes answer: "We will give in to you and
     ride no further; but sorry shall we be if we are not there
     and you are in want of men this day."

     Then said Kjartan: "Bolli my kinsman will not try to have my
     life, and for the sons of Osvifr, if they lie in wait for
     me, it remains to be seen which of us shall tell the tale
     afterwards, for all that there may be odds against me."

     After that the brothers and their men rode west again.

     Now Kjartan rides southward down the valley, he and the two
     others, An the Swart and Thorarinn. At Hafratindr in
     Svinadal lived a man called Thorkell. There is no house
     there now. He had gone to look after his horses that day,
     and his shepherd along with him. They had a view of both
     companies; the sons of Osvifr lying in wait, and Kjartan's
     band of three coming down along the dale. Then said the herd
     lad that they should go and meet Kjartan; it would be great
     luck if they could clear away the mischief that was waiting
     for them.

     "Hold your tongue," said Thorkell; "does the fool think he
     can give life to a man when his doom is set? It is but
     little I grudge them their good pleasure, though they choose
     to hurt one another to their hearts' content. No! but you
     and I, we will get to a place where there will be no risk,
     where we can see all their meeting and have good sport out
     of their play. They all say that Kjartan has more fighting
     in him than any man; maybe he will need it all, for you and
     I can see that the odds are something."

     And so it had to be as Thorkell wished.

The tragic encounter that follows, the last meeting of the two
friends, Kjartan throwing away his weapons when he sees Bolli coming
against him, Bolli's repentance when he has killed his friend, when he
sits with his knee under Kjartan's head,--all this is told as well as
may be; it is one of the finest passages in all the Sagas. But even
this passage has something to gain from the episode of the churl and
his more generous servant who looked on at the fight. The scene opens
out; the spaces of the valley are shown as they appear to a looker-on;
the story, just before the critical moment, takes us aside from the
two rival bands and gives us the relation between them, the
gradually-increasing danger as the hero and his companions come down
out of the distance and nearer to the ambush.

In this piece of composition, also, there goes along with the
pictorial vividness of the right point of view a further advantage to
the narrative in the character of the spectator. Two of the most
notable peculiarities of the Icelandic workmanship are thus brought
together,--the habit of presenting actions and events as they happen,
from the point of view of an immediate witness; and the habit of
correcting the heroic ideal by the ironical suggestion of the other
side. Nothing is so deeply and essentially part of the nature of the
Icelandic story, as its inability to give a limited or abstract
rendering of life. It is from this glorious incapacity that there are
derived both the habit of looking at events as appearances, before
they are interpreted, and the habit of checking heroics by means of
unheroic details, or, as here, by a suggestion of the way it strikes a
vulgar contemporary. Without this average man and his commentary the
story of the death of Kjartan would lose much. There is first of all
the comic value of the meanness and envy in the mind of the boor, his
complacency at the quarrels and mutual destruction of the magnificent
people. His intrusion on the scene, his judgment of the situation, is
proof of the variety of the life from which the Saga is drawn. More
than that, there is here a rather cruel test of the heroics of
_Laxdæla_, of the story itself; the notable thing about this spectator
and critic is that his boorish judgment is partly right, as the
judgment of Thersites is partly right--"too much blood and too little
brains." He is vulgar common sense in the presence of heroism. In his
own way a critic of the heroic ideals, his appearance in Svinadal as a
negative and depreciatory chorus in the tragedy of Kjartan is a touch
of something like the mood of _Bandamanna Saga_ in its criticism of
the nobles and their rivalries; although the author of _Laxdæla_ is
careful not to let this dangerous spirit penetrate too far. It is only
enough to increase the sense of the tragic vanity of human wishes in
the life and death of Kjartan Olafsson.

Everything in the Sagas tends to the same end; the preservation of the
balance and completeness of the history, as far as it goes; the
impartiality of the record. The different sides are not represented as
fully as in _Clarissa Harlowe_ or _The Ring and the Book_, but they
are allowed their chance, according to the rules, which are not those
of analytical psychology. The Icelandic imagination is content if the
character is briefly indicated in a few dramatic speeches. The brevity
and externality of the Saga method might easily provoke from admirers
of Richardson a condemnation like that of Dr. Johnson on those who
know the dial-plate only and not the works. The psychology of the
Sagas, however, brief and superficial as it may be, is yet of the sort
that may be tested; the dials keep time, though the works are not
exposed. It may be doubtful at any moment how Skarphedinn will act,
but when his history is in progress, and when it is finished, the
reader knows that Skarphedinn is rightly rendered, and furthermore
that it is impossible to deal with him except as an individual
character, impressing the mind through a variety of qualities and
circumstances that are inexplicably consistent. It is impossible to
take his character to pieces. The rendering is in one sense
superficial, and open to the censures of the moralist--"from without
inwards"--like the characters of Scott. But as in this latter case,
the superficiality and slightness of the work are deceptive. The
character is given in a few strokes and without elaboration, but it is
given inevitably and indescribably; the various appearances of
Skarphedinn, different at different times, are all consistent with one
another in the unity of imagination, and have no need of psychological
analysis to explain them.

The characters in the best of the Sagas grow upon the mind with each
successive appearance, until they are known and recognised at a hint.
In some cases it looks almost as if the author's dramatic imagination
were stronger and more just than his deliberate moral opinions; as if
his characters had taken the matter into their own hands, against his
will. Or is it art, and art of the subtlest order, which in Kjartan
Olafsson, the glorious hero, still leaves something of lightness, of
fickleness, as compared both with the intensity of the passion of
Gudrun and the dogged resolution of Bolli? There is another Saga in
which a hero of the likeness of Kjartan is contrasted with a dark,
malevolent, not ignoble figure,--the story of the Faroes, of Sigmund
Brestisson and Thrond of Gata. There, at the end of the story, when
Thrond of Gata has taken vengeance for the murder of his old enemy, it
is not Sigmund, the glorious champion of King Olaf, who is most
thought of, but Thrond the dark old man, his opponent and avenger. The
character of Thrond is too strong to be suppressed, and breaks through
the praise and blame of the chronicler, as, in another history, the
character of Saul asserts itself against the party of David. The
charge of superficiality or externality falls away to nothing in the
mind of any one who knows by what slight touches of imagination a
character may be brought home to an audience, if the character is
there to begin with. It is not by elaborate, continuous analysis, but
by a gesture here and a sentence there, that characters are expressed.
The Sagas give the look of things and persons at the critical moments,
getting as close as they can, by all devices, to the vividness of
things as they appear, as they happen; brief and reserved in their
phrasing, but the reverse of abstract or limited in their regard for
the different modes and aspects of life, impartial in their
acknowledgment of the claims of individual character, and unhesitating
in their rejection of conventional ideals, of the conventional
romantic hero as well as the conventional righteous man. The Sagas are
more solid and more philosophical than any romance or legend.



In the close of the heroic literature of Iceland a number of general
causes are to be found at work. The period of the Sagas comes to an
end partly by a natural progress, culmination, and exhaustion of a
definite form of literary activity, partly through external influences
by which the decline is hastened. After the material of the early
heroic traditions had been all used up, after the writers of the
thirteenth century had given their present shapes to the stories of
the tenth and the eleventh centuries, two courses were open, and both
courses were taken. On the one hand the form of the Saga was applied
to historical matter near the writer's own time, or actually
contemporary, on the other hand it was turned to pure fiction. The
literature divides into history and romance. The authentic history,
the Sturlung cycle in particular, is the true heir and successor of
the heroic Saga. The romantic Sagas are less intimately related to the
histories of Njal or Gisli, though those also are representative of
some part of the essence of the Saga, and continue in a shadowy way
something of its original life. The Northern literatures in the
thirteenth century were invaded from abroad by the same romantic
forces as had put an end to the epic literature of France;
translations of French romances became popular, and helped to change
the popular taste in Norway and Iceland. At the same time the victory
of Romance was not entirely due to these foreigners; they found allies
in the more fanciful parts of the native literature. The schools of
Northern prose romance, which took the place of the older Sagas, were
indebted almost as much to the older native literature as to Tristram
or Perceval; they are the product of something that had all along been
part, though hardly the most essential part, of the heroic Sagas. The
romantic story of Frithiof and the others like it have disengaged from
the complexity of the older Sagas an element which contributes not a
little, though by no means everything, to the charm of _Njála_ and

The historical work contained in the _Sturlunga Saga_ is a more
comprehensive and thorough modification of the old form. Instead of
detaching one of the elements and using it in separation from the
rest, as was done by the author of _Frithiof_, for example, the
historian of the Sturlungs kept everything that he was not compelled
to drop by the exigencies of his subject. The biographical and
historical work belonging to the _Sturlunga Saga_ falls outside the
order to which _Njal_ and _Gisli_ belong; it is epic, only in the
sense that a history may be called epic. Nevertheless it is true that
this historical work shows, even better than the heroic Sagas
themselves, what the nature of the heroic literature really is. In
dealing with a more stubborn and less profitable subject it brings out
the virtues of the Icelandic form of narrative.

The relation of the Saga to authentic history had always been close.
The first attempt to give shape, in writing, to the traditions of the
heroic age was made by Ari Thorgilsson (_ob._ 1148), especially in
his _Landnámabók_, a history exact and positive, a record in detail of
all the first settlers of the island, with notes of the substance of
the popular stories by which their fame was transmitted. This exact
history, this positive work, precedes the freer and more imaginative
stories, and supplies some of them with a good deal of their matter,
which they work up in their own way. The fashion of writing, the
example of a written form of narrative, was set by Ari; though the
example was not followed closely nor in all points by the writers of
the Sagas: his form is too strict for them.

It was too strict for his greatest successor in historical writing in
Iceland. Snorri Sturluson is the author of _Lives of the Kings of
Norway_, apparently founded upon Ari's _Book of Kings_, which has been
lost as an independent work. Snorri's _Lives_ themselves are extant in
a shape very far from authentic; one has to choose between the
abridged and inconvenient shape of _Heimskringla_, in which Snorri's
work appears to have been cut down and trimmed, and the looser form
presented by such compilations as the longer Saga of Olaf Tryggvason,
where more of Snorri appears to have been retained than in
_Heimskringla_, though it has to be extricated from all sorts of
irrelevant additions and interpolations. But whatever problems may
still remain unsolved, it is certain enough that Snorri worked on his
historical material with no intention of keeping to the positive lines
of Ari, and with the fullest intention of giving to his history of
Norway all the imaginative force of which he was capable. This was
considerable, as is proved by the stories of the gods in his _Edda_;
and in the histories of Olaf Tryggvason and of Saint Olaf, kings of
Norway, he has given companions to the very noblest of the Sagas
dealing with the Icelandic chiefs. Between the more scientific work of
Ari and the more imaginative work of Snorri comes, half-way, the _Life
of King Sverre_ (_ob._ 1202), written at the king's own dictation by
the Abbot Karl of Thingeyri.

Ari collected the historical materials, both for Iceland and Norway,
and put them together in the extant _Landnámabók_ and the lost _Kings'
Lives_. Snorri Sturluson treated the _Kings' Lives_ in the spirit of
the greater Icelandic Sagas; his _Lives_ belong to heroic literature,
if there is any meaning in that name. The _Life of Sverre_ is not so
glorious as the _Life_ of either Olaf. Abbot Karl had not the same
interests or the same genius as Snorri, and his range was determined,
in most of the work, by the king himself. King Sverre, though he could
quote poetry to good effect when he liked, was mainly practical in his

The Sturlung history, which is the close of the heroic literature of
Iceland, has resemblances to the work of all three of the historians
just named. It is like Ari in its minuteness and accuracy; like
_Sverris Saga_, it has a contemporary subject to treat of; and it
shares with Snorri his spirit of vivid narrative and his sympathy with
the methods of the greater Sagas of Iceland. If authors were to be
judged by the difficulty of their undertakings, then Sturla, the
writer of the Sturlung history, would certainly come out as the
greatest of them all. For he was limited by known facts as much, or
even more than Ari; while he has given to his record of factions,
feuds, and anarchy almost as much spirit as Snorri gave to his lives
of the heroic kings, and more than Abbot Karl could give to the
history of Sverre and his political success. At the same time,
however, the difficulty of Sturla's work had been a good deal reduced
in the gradual progress of Icelandic literature. He had to represent
modern history, the history of his own time, in the form and with the
vividness of the imaginative Sagas. In undertaking this he was helped
by some examples of the same sort of thing, in Sagas written before
his time, and forming an intermediate stage between the group of which
_Njála_ is the head, and Sturla's history of his own family. The
biographies of Icelanders in the twelfth century, like that of
Thorgils and Haflidi quoted above, which form an introduction to the
Sturlung history, are something more authentic than the heroic Sagas,
but not much less spirited. It is difficult to draw a decided line
anywhere between the different classes; or, except by the date of its
subject, to mark off the story of the heroic age from the story of the
rather less heroic age that followed it. There was apparently an
accommodation of the Saga form to modern subjects, effected through a
number of experiments, with a result, complete and admirable, in
Sturla's history of the Sturlung fortunes.

It may be said, also, that something of the work was done ready to the
author's hand; there was a natural fitness and correspondence between
the Icelandic reality, even when looked at closely by contemporary
eyes in the broad daylight, and the Icelandic form of representation.
The statue was already part shapen in the block, and led the hand of
the artist as he worked upon it. It is dangerous, no doubt, to say
after the work has been done, after the artist has conquered his
material and finished off his subject, that there was a natural
affinity between the subject and the author's mind. In the case of
Iceland, however, this pre-existent harmony is capable of being
proved. The conditions of life in Iceland were, and still are, such as
to exclude a number of the things that in other countries prevent the
historian from writing epic. There were none of the large, abstract
considerations and problems that turn the history into a dissertation
on political forces, on monarchy, on democracy, on diplomacy; there
were none of the large, vague multitudes of the people that impose
themselves on the historian's attention, to the detriment of his
individual characters. The public history of Iceland lies all in the
lives of private characters; it is the life of a municipality, very
much spread out, it is true, but much more like the life of a country
town or a group of country neighbours, than the society of a complex
state of any kind that has ever existed in Europe. Private interests
and the lives of individual men were what they had to think about and
talk about; and just in so far as they were involved in gossip, they
were debarred from the achievements of political history, and equally
inclined to that sort of record in which individual lives are
everything. If their histories were to have any life at all, it must
be the life of the drama or the dramatic narrative, and not that of
the philosophical history, or even of those medieval chronicles,
which, however unphilosophical, are still obliged by the greatness of
their subject to dwarf the individual actors in comparison with the
greatness of Kingdoms, Church, and Empire. Of those great
impersonalities there was little known in Iceland; and if the story of
Iceland was not to be (what it afterwards became) a mere string of
trivial annals, it must be by a deepening of the personal interest, by
making the personages act and talk, and by following intently the
various threads of their individual lives.

So far the work was prepared for authors like Sturla, who had to
enliven the contemporary record of life in Iceland; it was prepared to
this extent, that any other kind of work was unpromising or even
hopeless. The present life in Sturla's time was, like the life of the
heroic age, a perpetual conflict of private wills, with occasional and
provisional reconciliations. The mode of narrative that was suitable
for the heroic stories could hardly fail to be the proper mode for the
contemporary factions of chiefs, heroic more or less, and so it was
proved by Sturla.

_Sturlunga Saga_ contains some of the finest passages of narrative in
the whole of Icelandic literature. The biographical Sagas, with which
it is introduced or supported, are as good as all but the best of the
heroic Sagas, while they are not out of all comparison even with
_Njála_ or _Gísla_, with _Hrafnkels Saga_ or _Bandamanna_, in the
qualities in which these excel.

The story of Thorgils and Haflidi has already been referred to in
illustration of the Icelandic method of narrative at its best. It is a
good story, well told, with the unities well preserved. The plot is
one that is known to the heroic Sagas--the growth of mischief and
ill-will between two honourable gentlemen, out of the villainy of a
worthless beast who gets them into his quarrels. Haflidi has an
ill-conditioned nephew whom, for his brother's sake, he is loth to
cast off. Thorgils takes up one of many cases in which this nephew is
concerned, and so is brought into disagreement with Haflidi. The end
is reconciliation, effected by the intervention of Bishop Thorlak
Runolfsson and Ketill the priest, aided by the good sense of the
rivals at a point where the game may be handsomely drawn, with no
dishonour to either side. The details are given with great liveliness.
One of the best scenes is that which has already been referred to (p.
238); another may be quoted of a rather different sort from an earlier
year. In the year 1120 at the Althing, Thorgils was with difficulty
dissuaded from breaking the peace as they stood, both parties, by the
door of the Thingvalla church on St. Peter's Day. Thorgils' friend
Bodvar had to use both arguments and unction to make him respect the
sanctity of the Althing, of the Church, and of the Saint to whom the
day belonged. Afterwards Thorgils said to his friend, "You are more
pious than people think."

     Bodvar answered: "I saw that we were penned between two
     bands of them at the church door, and that if it broke into
     a fight we should be cut to pieces. But for that I should
     not have cared though Haflidi had been killed in spite of
     the peace of Church and Parliament."

The intervention at the end is very well given, particularly Ketill
the priest's story of his own enemy.

_Sturlu Saga_, the story of the founder of the great Sturlung house,
the father of the three great Sturlung brothers, of whom Snorri the
historian was one, is longer and more important than the story of
Thorgils and Haflidi. The plot is a simple one: the rivalry between
Sturla and Einar, son of Thorgils. The contest is more deadly and more
complicated than that of Thorgils himself against Haflidi; that was
mainly a case of the point of honour, and the opponents were both of
them honourable men, while in this contest Sturla is politic and
unscrupulous, and his adversary "a ruffian by habit and repute." There
is a considerable likeness between the characters of Sturla and of
Snorri the priest, as that is presented in _Eyrbyggja_ and elsewhere.
A comparison of the rise of Snorri, as told in _Eyrbyggja_, with the
life of Sturla will bring out the unaltered persistence of the old
ways and the old standards, while the advantage lies with the later
subject in regard to concentration of interest. The _Life of Sturla_
is not so varied as _Eyrbyggja_, but it is a more orderly piece of
writing, and at the same time more lively, through the unity of its
plot. Nor are the details spoiled by any tameness. Notable is the
company of rogues maintained by Einar; they and their ways are well
described. There was Geir the thief, son of Thorgerda the liar; he was
hanged by the priest Helgi. There was Vidcuth, son of stumpy Lina
(these gentry have no father's name to them); he was a short man and a
nimble. The third was Thorir the warlock, a little man from the North
country. This introduction serves to bring on the story of a moonlight
encounter with the robbers in snow; and in this sort of thing the
history of Sturla is as good as the best. It is worth while to look at
the account of the last decisive match with Einar--another snow piece.
It may be discovered there that the closer adhesion to facts, and the
nearer acquaintance with the persons, were no hindrance to the
Icelandic author who knew his business. It was not the multitude and
confusion of real details that could prevent him from making a good
thing out of his subject, if only his subject contained some
opportunity for passion and conflict, which it generally did.

In this scene of the midnight raid in which the position of the two
rivals is decided, there is nothing at all heightened or exaggerated,
yet the proportions are such, the relations of the incidents are given
in such a way, as could not be bettered by any modern author dealing
with a critical point in a drama of private life. The style is that of
the best kind of subdued and sober narrative in which the excitement
of the situations is not spent in rhetoric.

It fell at Hvamm in the winter nights (about Hallowmass) of the year
1171 that a man passed through, an old retainer of Sturla's; and
Sturla did not like his manner. As it turned out, this man went west
to Stadarhol, the house of Sturla's enemy, and told Einar all the
state of Sturla's house, how there were few men there.

There was dancing at Hvamm that night, and it was kept up late. The
night was still, and every now and then some would look out and
listen, but they could hear no one stirring.

The night after that Einar set out. He avoided Hvamm, but came down on
another steading, the house of Sturla's son-in-law Ingjald, and drove
off the cows and sheep, without any alarm; it was not till the morning
that one of the women got up and found the beasts gone. The news was
brought at once to Hvamm. Sturla had risen at daybreak and was looking
to his haystacks; it was north wind, and freezing. Ingjald came up,
and, "Now he is coming to ask me to buy his wethers," says Sturla; for
Sturla had warned him that he was in danger of being raided, and had
tried to get Ingjald to part with his sheep. Ingjald told him of the
robbery. Sturla said nothing, but went in and took down his axe and
shield. Gudny his wife was wakened, and asked what the news was.
"Nothing so far; only Einar has driven all Ingjald's beasts." Then
Gudny sprang up and shouted to the men: "Up, lads! Sturla is out, and
his weapons with him, and Ingjald's gear is gone!"

Then follows the pursuit over the snow, and the fight, in which
Ingjald is killed, and Einar wounded and driven to beg for quarter.
After which it was the common saying that Einar's strength had gone
over to Sturla.

It is a piece of clean and exact description, and particularly of the
succession of scenes and moods in life. The revels go on through the
calm night with an accompaniment of suspense and anxiety. There is no
better note in any chronicle of the anxieties of a lawless time, and
the steady flow of common pleasures in spite of the troubles; all the
manners of an heroic or a lawless time are summed up in the account of
the dance and its intermittent listening for the sound of enemies.
Sturla in the early light sees his son-in-law coming to him, and
thinks he knows what his errand is,--the author here, as usual,
putting the mistaken appearance first, and the true interpretation
second. In the beginning of the pursuit there is the silence and the
repression of a man in a rage, and the vehement call of his wife who
knows what he is about, and finds words for his anger and his purpose.
The weather of the whole story is just enough to play into the human
life--the quiet night, the north wind, and the frosty, sunless
morning. The snow is not all one surface; the drifts on the
hill-sides, the hanging cornice over a gully, these have their place
in the story, just enough to make the movements clear and
intelligible. This is the way history was written when the themes were
later by two centuries than those of the heroic Sagas. There is not
much difference, except in the "soothfastness"; the author is closer
to his subject, his imagination is confronted with something very near
reality, and is not helped, as in the older stories, by traditional
imaginative modifications of his subject.

It is the same kind of excellence that is found in the other
subsidiary parts of _Sturlunga_, hardly less than in the main body of
that work. There is no reason for depressing these histories below the
level of any but the strongest work in the heroic Sagas. The history
of Bishop Gudmund and the separate lives of his two friends, Hrafn
and Aron, are not less vivid than the stories of the men of Eyre or
the men of Vatzdal. The wanderings of Aron round Iceland are all but
as thrilling as those of the outlaw Gisli or Grettir, whose adventures
and difficulties are so like his own. It is not easy to specify any
element in the one that is not in the other, while the handling of the
more authentic stories is not weak or faltering in comparison with the
others. No single incident in any of the Sagas is much better in its
way, and few are more humane than the scene in which Eyjolf Karsson
gets Aron to save himself, while he, Eyjolf, goes back into

[Footnote 61: Translated in Appendix, Note C.]

The _Islendinga_ or _Sturlunga Saga_ of Sturla Thordarson, which is
the greatest of the pure historical works, is in some things inferior
to stories like those of the older Sturla, or of Hrafn and Aron. There
is no hero; perhaps least of all that hero, namely the nation itself,
which gives something like unity to the Shakespearean plays of the
Wars of the Roses. Historically there is much resemblance between the
Wars of the Roses and the faction fights in Iceland in which the old
constitution went to pieces and the old spirit was exhausted. But the
Icelandic tragedy had no reconciliation at the end, and there was no
national strength underneath the disorder, fit to be called out by a
peacemaker or a "saviour of society" like Henry VII. There was nothing
but the family interests of the great houses, and the _Sturlunga Saga_
leaves it impossible to sympathise with either side in a contest that
has no principles and no great reformer to distinguish it. The anarchy
is worse than in the old days of the Northern rovers; the men are more
formal and more vain. Yet the history of these tumults is not without
its brightness of character. The generous and lawless Bishop Gudmund
belongs to the story; so do his champions Eyjolf, Hrafn, and Aron.
The figure of Snorri Sturluson is there, though he is rather
disappointing in his nephew's view of him. His enemy, Gizur the earl,
is a strong man, whose strength is felt in the course of the history;
and there are others.

The beauty of _Sturlunga_ is that it gives a more detailed and more
rational account than is to be found elsewhere in the world of the
heroic age going to the bad, without a hero. The kind of thing
represented may be found in countless other places, but not Froissart
has rendered it so fully or with such truth, nor the _Paston Letters_
with more intimate knowledge and experience. It is a history and not
an epic; the title of epic which may be claimed for _Njála_ and
_Laxdæla_, and even in a sense transferred to the later biographies,
does not rightly belong to Sturla's history of Iceland. It is a record
from year to year; it covers two generations; there is nothing in it
but faction. But it is descended from the epic school; it has the gift
of narrative and of vision. It represents, as no prosaic historian
can, the suspense and the shock of events, the alarm in the night, the
confusion of a house attacked, the encounter of enemies in the open,
the demeanour of men going to their death. The scenes are epic at
least, though the work as a whole is merely historical.

There is a return in this to the original nature of the Saga, in some
respects. It was in the telling of adventures that the Sagas began,
separate adventures attaching to great names of the early days. The
separate adventures of Gisli were known and were told about before his
history was brought into the form and unity which it now possesses,
where the end is foreknown from the beginning. Many of the heroic
Sagas have remained in what must be very like their old oral form--a
string of episodes. _Eyrbyggja_, _Vatnsdæla_, _Flóamanna_,
_Svarfdæla_, are of this sort. _Sturlunga_, has not more unity than
_Eyrbyggja_, perhaps not as much, unless the rise of Gizur may be
reckoned to do for it what is done for the older story by the rise of
Snorri the Priest. But while the scenes thus fall apart in
_Sturlunga_, they are more vivid than in any other Icelandic book. In
no other is the art of description so nearly perfect.

The scenes of _Sturlunga_ come into rivalry with the best of those in
the heroic Sagas. No one will ever be able to say, much less to
convince any one else, whether the burning of Njal's house or the
burning of Flugumyri is the better told or the more impressive. There
is no comparison between the personages in the two stories. But in
pure art of language and in the certainty of its effect the story of
Flugumyri is not less notable than the story of Bergthorsknoll. It may
be repeated here, to stand as the last words of the great Icelandic
school; the school which went out and had no successor till all its
methods were invented again, independently, by the great novelists,
after ages of fumbling and helpless experiments, after all the
weariness of pedantic chronicles and the inflation of heroic romance.

Sturla had given his daughter Ingibjorg in marriage to Hall, son of
Gizur, and had come to the wedding at Flugumyri, Gizur's house at the
foot of the hills of Skagafjord, with steep slopes behind and the
broad open valley in front, a place with no exceptional defences, no
fortress. It was here, just after the bridal, and after the bride's
father had gone away, that Gizur's enemy, Eyjolf, came upon him, as he
had threatened openly in men's hearing. Sturla, who had left the house
just before, tells the story with the details that came to him from
the eye-witnesses, with exact particular descriptions. But there is no
drag in the story, and nothing mean in the style, whatever may have
been the brutal reality. It is, once again, the great scene of Epic
poetry repeated, the defence of a man's life and of his own people
against surrounding enemies; it is the drama of Gunnar or of Njal
played out again at the very end of the Northern heroic age, and the
prose history is quick to recognise the claims upon it.

This is the end of the wedding at Flugumyri, in October of the year
1253, as told by Sturla:--


     Eyjolf saw that the attack was beginning to flag, and grew
     afraid that the countryside might be raised upon them; so
     they brought up the fire. John of Bakki had a tar-pin with
     him; they took the sheepskins from the frames that stood
     outside there, and tarred them and set them on fire. Some
     took hay and stuffed it into the windows and put fire to it;
     and soon there was a great smoke in the house and a choking
     heat. Gizur lay down in the hall by one of the rows of
     pillars, and kept his nose on the floor. Groa his wife was
     near him. Thorbjorn Neb was lying there too, and he and
     Gizur had their heads close together. Thorbjorn could hear
     Gizur praying to God in many ways and fervently, and thought
     he had never before heard praying like it. As for himself,
     he could not have opened his mouth for the smoke. After that
     Gizur stood up and Groa supported him, and he went to the
     south porch. He was much distressed by the smoke and heat,
     and thought to make his way out rather than be choked
     inside. Gizur Glad was standing at the door, talking to
     Kolbein Grön, and Kolbein was offering him quarter, for
     there was a pact between them, that if ever it came to that,
     they should give quarter to one another, whichever of them
     had it in his power. Gizur stood behind Gizur Glad, his
     namesake while they were talking, and got some coolness the
     while. Gizur Glad said to Kolbein, "I will take quarter for
     myself, if I may bring out another man along with me."
     Kolbein agreed to this at once, excepting only Gizur and his

     Then Ingibjorg, Sturla's daughter, came to Groa at the door;
     she was in her nightgown, and barefoot. She was then in her
     fourteenth year, and tall and comely to see. Her silver belt
     had tangled round her feet as she came from her bedroom.
     There was on it a purse with many gold rings of hers in it;
     she had it there with her. Groa was very glad to see her,
     and said that there should be one lot for both of them,
     whatever might befall.

     When Gizur had got himself cooled a little, he gave up his
     thought of dashing out of the house. He was in linen
     clothes, with a mail-coat over them, and a steel cap on his
     head, and his sword _Corselet-biter_ in his hand. Groa was
     in her nightgown only. Gizur went to Groa and took two gold
     rings out of his girdle-pocket and put them into her hand,
     because he thought that she would live through it, but not
     he himself. One ring had belonged to Bishop Magnus his
     uncle, and the other to his father Thorvald.

     "I wish my friends to have the good of these," he says, "if
     things go as I would have them."

     Gizur saw that Groa took their parting much to heart.

     Then he felt his way through the house, and with him went
     Gudmund the Headstrong, his kinsman, who did not wish to
     lose sight of him. They came to the doors of the ladies'
     room; and Gizur was going to make his way out there. Then he
     heard outside the voices of men cursing and swearing, and
     turned back from there.

     Now in the meantime Groa and Ingibjorg had gone to the door.
     Groa asked for freedom for Ingibjorg. Kolbein heard that,
     her kinsman, and asked Ingibjorg to come out to him. She
     would not, unless she got leave to take some one out along
     with her. Kolbein said that was too much to ask. Groa
     besought her to go.

     "I have to look after the lad Thorlak, my sister's son,"
     says she.

     Thorlak was a boy of ten, the son of Thorleif the Noisy. He
     had jumped out of the house before this, and his linen
     clothes were all ablaze when he came down to the ground: he
     got safe to the church. Some men say that Thorstein Genja
     pushed Groa back into the fire; she was found in the porch
     afterwards. Kolbein dashed into the fire for Ingibjorg, and
     carried her out to the church.

     Then the house began to blaze up. A little after, Hall
     Gizur's son [the bridegroom] came to the south door, and
     Arni the Bitter, his henchman, with him. They were both very
     hard put to it, and distressed by the heat. There was a
     board across the doorway, half-way up. Hall did not stop to
     look, but jumped straight out over the hatch. He had a sword
     in one hand, and no weapon besides. Einar Thorgrimsson was
     posted near where he leapt out, and hewed at his head with a
     sword, and that was his death-wound. As he fell, another man
     cut at his right leg below the knee and slashed it nearly
     off. Thorleif the monk from Thverá, the brewer, had got out
     before, and was in the yard; he took a sheepskin and put it
     under Hall when Einar and the others went away; then he
     rolled all together, Hall and the sheepskin, along to the
     church when they were not looking. Hall was lightly clad,
     and the cold struck deep into his wounds. The monk was
     barefoot, and his feet were frostbitten, but he brought
     himself and Hall to the church at last.

     Arni leapt out straight after Hall; he struck his foot on
     the hatch (he was turning old) and fell as he came out. They
     asked who that might be, coming in such a hurry.

     "Arni the Bitter is here," says he; "and I will not ask for
     quarter. I see one lying not far away makes me like it well
     enough if I travel the same road with him."

     Then said Kolbein: "Is there no man here remembers Snorri

     [Footnote 62: Arni Beiskr (the Bitter) in company with Gizur
     murdered Snorri Sturluson the historian at his house of
     Reykholt, 22nd September 1241.]

     They both had a stroke at him, Kolbein and Ari Ingimund's
     son, and more of them besides hewed at him, and he came by
     his death there.

     Then the hall fell in, beginning from the north side into
     the loft above the hall. Now all the buildings began to
     flare up, except that the guest-house did not burn, nor the
     ladies' room, nor the dairy.

     Now to go back to Gizur: he made his way through the house
     to the dairy, with Gudmund, his kinsman, after him. Gizur
     asked him to go away, and said that one man might find a way
     of escape, if fate would have it so, that would not do for
     two. Then Parson John Haldorsson came up; and Gizur asked
     them both to leave him. He took off his coat of mail and his
     morion, but kept his sword in his hand. Parson John and
     Gudmund made their way from the dairy to the south door, and
     got quarter. Gizur went into the dairy and found a curd-tub
     standing on stocks; there he thrust the sword into the curds
     down over the hilts. He saw close by a vat sunk in the earth
     with whey in it, and the curd-tub stood over it and nearly
     hid the sunken vat altogether. There was room for Gizur to
     get into it, and he sat down in the whey in his linen
     clothes and nothing else, and the whey came up to his
     breast. It was cold in the whey. He had not been long there
     when he heard voices, and their talk went thus, that three
     men were meant to have the hewing of him; each man his
     stroke, and no hurry about it, so as to see how he took it.
     The three appointed were Hrani and Kolbein and Ari. And now
     they came into the dairy with a light, and searched about
     everywhere. They came to the vat that Gizur was in, and
     thrust into it three or four times with spears. Then there
     was a wrangle among them; some said there was something in
     the vat, and others said no. Gizur kept his hand over his
     belly, moving gently, so that they might be as long as
     possible in finding out that there was anything there. He
     had grazes on his hands, and all down to his knees skin
     wounds, little and many. Gizur said afterwards that before
     they came in he was shaking with cold, so that it rippled in
     the vat, but after they came in he did not shiver at all.
     They made two searches through the dairy, and the second
     time was like the first. After that they went out and made
     ready to ride away. Those men that still had life in them
     were spared, to wit, Gudmund Falkason, Thord the Deacon, and
     Olaf, who was afterwards called Guest, whose life Einar
     Thorgrimsson had attempted before. By that time it was dawn.

There is one passage in the story of Flugumyri, before the scene of
the burning, in which the narrative is heightened a little, as if the
author were conscious that his subject was related to the matter of
heroic poetry, or as if it had at once, like the battle of Maldon,
begun to be magnified by the popular memory into the likeness of
heroic battles. It is in the description of the defence of the hall
(_skáli_) at Flugumyri, before the assailants were driven back and had
to take to fire, as is told above.

     Eyjolf and his companions made a hard assault on the hall.
     Now was there battle joined, and sharp onset, for the
     defence was of the stoutest. They kept at it far into the
     night, and struck so hard (say the men who were there) that
     fire flew, as it seemed, when the weapons came together.
     Thorstein Gudmund's son said afterwards that he had never
     been where men made a braver stand; and all are agreed to
     praise the defence of Flugumyri, both friends and enemies.

The fire of the swords which is here referred to by the way, and with
something like an apology for exaggeration, is in the poem of
_Finnesburh_ brought out with emphasis, as a proper part of the

                    swurdléoma stód,
     Swylce eall Finnesburh fýrenu wáere.

     The sword-light rose, as though all Finnsburgh were aflame.

It is characteristic of the Icelandic work that it should frequently
seem to reflect the incidents of epic poetry in a modified way. The
Sagas follow the outlines of heroic poetry, but they have to reduce
the epic magnificence, or rather it would be truer to say that they
present in plain language, and without extravagance, some of the
favourite passages of experience that have been at different times
selected and magnified by epic poets. Thus the death of Skarphedinn is
like a prose rendering of the death of Roland; instead of the last
stroke of the hero in his agony, cleaving the rock with Durendal, it
is noted simply that Skarphedinn had driven his axe into the beam
before him, in the place where he was penned in, and there the axe was
found when they came to look for him after the burning. The moderation
of the language here does not conceal the intention of the writer that
Skarphedinn's last stroke is to be remembered. It is by touches such
as these that the heroic nature of the Sagas is revealed. In spite of
the common details and the prose statement, it is impossible to
mistake their essential character. They are something loftier than
history, and their authors knew it. When history came to be written as
it was written by Sturla, it still retained this distinction. It is
history governed by an heroic spirit; and while it is closely bound to
the facts, it is at the same time controlled and directed by the
forms of an imaginative literature that had grown up in greater
freedom and at a greater distance from its historical matter. Sturla
uses, for contemporary history, a kind of narrative created and
perfected for another purpose, namely for the imaginative
reconstruction and representation of tradition, in the stories of
Njal, Grettir, and Gisli.

There is no distortion or perversion in this choice and use of his
instrument, any more than in Fielding's adaptation of the method of
_Joseph Andrews_ to the matter of the _Voyage to Lisbon_. In the first
place, the imaginative form of narrative obliges the author to take
his subject seriously and treat it with dignity; he cannot leave it
crude and unformed. In the second place, there is a real affinity, in
Iceland, between the subject-matters of the true history and the
heroic Saga; the events are of the same kind, the personages are not

The imaginative treatment of the stories of Njal and Gisli had been
founded on real knowledge of life; in _Sturlunga_ the history of real
life is repaid for its loan. In Sturla's book, the contemporary alarms
and excursions, the midnight raids, the perils and escapes, the death
of the strong man, the painful ending of the poor-spirited, all the
shocks and accidents of his own time, are comprehended by the author
in the light of the traditional heroics, and of similar situations in
the imaginative Sagas; and so these matters of real life, and of the
writer's own experience, or near it, come to be co-ordinated,
represented, and made intelligible through imagination. _Sturlunga_ is
something more than a bare diary, or a series of pieces of evidence.
It has an author, and the author understands and appreciates the
matter in hand, because it is illuminated for him by the example of
the heroic literature. He carries an imaginative narrative design in
his head, and things as they happen fall into the general scheme of
his story as if he had invented them.

How much this imaginative kind of true history is bound and indebted
to its native land, how little capable of transportation, is proved in
a very striking and interesting way by Sturla's other work, his essay
in foreign history, the _Life of King Hacon of Norway_. The _Hákonar
Saga_, as compared with _Sturlunga_, is thin, grey, and abstract. It
is a masterly book in its own kind; fluent and clear, and written in
the inimitable Icelandic prose. The story is parallel to the history
of Iceland, contemporary with _Sturlunga_. It tells of the agonies of
Norway, a confusion no less violent and cruel than the anarchy of
Iceland in the same sixty years; while the Norwegian history has the
advantage that it comes to an end in remedy, not in exhaustion. There
was no one in Iceland like King Hacon to break the heads of the
disorderly great men, and thus make peace in an effective way.
_Sturlunga_, in Iceland, is made up of mere anarchy; _Hákonar Saga_ is
the counterpart of _Sturlunga_, exhibiting the cure of anarchy in
Norway under an active king. But while the political import of
Sturla's _Hacon_ is thus greater, the literary force is much less, in
comparison with the strong work of _Sturlunga_. There is great
dexterity in the management of the narrative, great lucidity; but the
vivid imagination shown in the story of Flugumyri, and hardly less in
other passages of _Sturlunga_, is replaced in the life of Hacon by a
methodical exposition of facts, good enough as history, but seldom
giving any hint of the author's reserve of imaginative force. It is
not that Sturla does not understand his subject. The tragedy of Duke
Skule does not escape him; he recognises the contradiction in the
life of Hacon's greatest rival, between Skule's own nobility and
generosity of temper, and the hopelessness of the old scrambling
misrule of which he is the representative. But the tragedy of the
_Rival Kings_ (_Kongsemnerne_) is left for Ibsen to work out in full;
the portraits of Skule and Hacon are only given in outline. In the
part describing Hacon's childhood among the veterans of the Old Guard
(Sverre's men, the "ancient Birchlegs"), and in a few other places,
there is a lapse into the proper Icelandic manner. Elsewhere, and in
the more important parts of the history especially, it would seem as
if the author had gone out of his way to find a sober and colourless
pattern of work, instead of the full and vivid sort of story that came
natural to him.

After Sturla, and after the fall of the Commonwealth of Iceland,
although there were still some interesting biographies to be
written--the _Life of Bishop Arne_, the _Life of Bishop Laurence_--it
may be reckoned that the heroic strain is exhausted. After that, it is
a new world for Iceland, or rather it is the common medieval world,
and not the peculiar Icelandic version of an heroic age. After the
fourteenth century the historical schools die out into meagre annals;
and even the glorious figure of Jón Arason, and the tragic end of the
Catholic bishop, the poet, the ruler, who along with his sons was
beheaded in the interests of the Reformed Religion and its adherents,
must go without the honours that were freely paid in the thirteenth
century to bishops and lords no more heroic, no more vehement and
self-willed. The history of Jón Arason has to be made out and put
together from documents; his Saga was left unwritten, though the facts
of his life and death may seem to prove that the old spirit lived
long after the failure of the old literature.

The thirteenth century, the century of Snorri Sturluson and of Sturla
his nephew, is also the age of Villehardouin and Joinville. That is to
say, the finished historical work of the Icelandic School is
contemporary with the splendid improvisations and first essays of
French historical prose. The fates of the two languages are an
instance of "the way that things are shared" in this world, and may
raise some grudges against the dispensing fortune that has ordered the
_Life of St. Louis_ to be praised, not beyond its deserts, by century
after century, while the Northern masterpieces are left pretty much to
their own island and to the antiquarian students of the Northern
tongues. This, however, is a consideration which does not touch the
merits of either side. It is part of the fate of Icelandic literature
that it should not be influential in the great world, that it should
fall out of time, and be neglected, in the march of the great nations.
It is in this seclusion that its perfection is acquired, and there is
nothing to complain of.

A comparison of the two contemporaries, Sturla and Joinville, brings
out the difference between two admirable varieties of history, dealing
with like subjects. The scenery of the _Life of St. Louis_ is
different from that of _Sturlunga_, but there is some resemblance in
parts of their themes, in so far as both narrate the adventures of
brave men in difficult places, and both are told by authors who were
on the spot themselves, and saw with their own eyes, or heard directly
from those who had seen. As a subject for literature there is not much
to choose between St. Louis in Egypt in 1250 and the burning of
Flugumyri three years later, though the one adventure had all the eyes
of the world upon it, and the other was of no more practical interest
to the world than floods or landslips or the grinding of rocks and
stones in an undiscovered valley. Nor is there much to choose between
the results of the two methods; neither Sturla nor Joinville has
anything to fear from a comparison between them.

Sometimes, in details, there is a very close approximation of the
French and the Icelandic methods. Joinville's story, for example, of
the moonlight adventure of the clerk of Paris and the three robbers
might go straight into Icelandic. Only, the seneschal's opening of the
story is too personal, and does not agree with the Icelandic manner of
telling a story:--

     As I went along I met with a wagon carrying three dead men
     that a clerk had slain, and I was told they were being
     brought for the king to see. When I heard this I sent my
     squire after them, to know how it had fallen out.

The difference between the two kinds is that Joinville, being mainly
experimental and without much regard for the older precedents and
models of historical writing, tells his story in his own way, as
memoirs, in the order of events as they come within his view,
revealing his own sentiments and policy, and keeping a distinction
between the things he himself saw and the things he did not see.
Whereas Sturla goes on the lines that had been laid down before him,
and does not require to invent his own narrative scheme; and further,
the scheme he receives from his masters is the opposite of Joinville's
personal memories. Though Sturla in great part of his work is as near
the reality as Joinville, he is obliged by the Icelandic custom to
keep himself out of the story, except when he is necessary; and then
he only appears in the third person on the same terms as the other
actors, with nothing except perhaps a greater particularity in
description to show that the author is there himself in the thick of
it. To let the story take care of itself is the first rule of the
Icelandic authors. If they have any emotion or sentiment of their own,
it must go into the story impersonally; it must inform or enliven the
characters and their speeches; it must quicken the style
unobtrusively, or else it must be suppressed. The parts of the Sagas
that are most touching, such as the death of Njal, and the parting of
Grettir and his mother, though they give evidence of the author's
sensibility, never allow him a word for himself. The method is the
method of Homer--[Greek: dolôi d' ho ge dakrya keuthen]--"he would not
confess that he wept."

In Joinville, on the contrary, all the epic matter of the story is
surveyed and represented not as a drama for any one to come and look
at, and make his own judgment about it, but as the life of himself,
the Sire de Joinville, Seneschal of Champagne, known and interpreted
to himself first of all. It is barely possible to conceive the _Life
of St. Louis_ transposed into the mood of the _Odyssey_ or of _Njála_.
It is hard to see who would be a gainer thereby--certainly not St.
Louis himself. He would be deprived, for instance, of what is at once
the most heroic and the most trifling of all the passages in his
story, which belongs altogether to Joinville, and is worth nothing
except as he tells it, and because he tells it. The story of
Joinville's misunderstanding of the king, and the king's way of taking
it, on occasion of the Council at Acre and the question whether to
return or to stay and recover the prisoners from the Saracens, is not
only the whole _Life of St. Louis_ summed up and put into one chapter,
but it is also one of those rarest passages of true history in which a
character whom we thought we knew is presented with all his qualities
intensified in a momentary act or speech. It is as if the dulness of
custom were magically broken, and the familiar character stood out,
not different from himself, but with a new expression. In this great
scene the Barons were for returning home, and put forward Guy
Malvoisin their foreman to state their opinion. Joinville took the
other side, remembering the warning of a kinsman of his own not to
return in a hurry and forget the Lord's poor servants (_le peuple menu
Nostre Signour_). There was no one there but had friends in prison
among the Saracens, "so they did not rebuke me," says Joinville; but
only two ventured to speak on his side, and one of these was shouted
at (_mout felonessement_) by his uncle, the good knight Sir Jehan de
Beaumont, for so doing. The king adjourned the Council for a week.
What follows is a kind of narrative impossible under the Homeric or
the Icelandic conditions--no impersonal story, but a record of
Joinville's own changes of mind as he was played upon by the mind of
the king; an heroic incident, but represented in a way quite different
from any epic manner. Joinville describes the breaking up of the
Council, and how he was baited by them all: "The king is a fool, Sire
de Joinville, if he does not take your advice against all the council
of the realm of France"; how he sat beside the king at dinner, but the
king did not speak to him; how he, Joinville, thought the king was
displeased; and how he got up when the king was hearing grace, and
went to a window in a recess and stuck his arms out through the bars,
and leant there gazing out and brooding over the whole matter, making
up his mind to stay, whatever happened to all the rest; till some one
came behind him and put his hands on his head at the window and held
him there, and Joinville thought it was one of the other side
beginning to bother him again (_et je cuidai que ce fust mes sires
Phelippes d'Anemos, qui trop d'ennui m'avoit fait le jour pour le
consoil que je li avoie donnei_), till as he was trying to get free he
saw, by a ring on the hand, that it was the king. Then the king asked
him how it was that he, a young man, had been bold enough to set his
opinion against all the wisdom of France; and before their talk ended,
let him see that he was of the same mind as Joinville.

This personal kind of story, in which an heroic scene is rendered
through its effect on one particular mind, is quite contrary to the
principles of the Icelandic history, except that both kinds are
heroic, and both are alive.

Joinville gives the succession of his own emotions; the Icelandic
narrators give the succession of events, either as they might appear
to an impartial spectator, or (on occasion) as they are viewed by some
one in the story, but never as they merely affect the writer himself,
though he may be as important a personage as Sturla was in the events
of which he wrote the Chronicle. The subject-matter of the Icelandic
historian (whether his own experience or not) is displayed as
something in which he is not more nearly concerned than other people;
his business is to render the successive moments of the history so
that any one may form a judgment about them such as he might have
formed if he had been there. Joinville, while giving his own changes
of mind very clearly, is not as careful as the Icelandic writers are
about the proper order of events. Thus an Icelander would not have
written, as Joinville does, "the king came and put his hands on my
head"; he would have said, "John found that his head was being held";
and the discovery by means of the ring would have been the first
direct intimation who it was. The story as told by Joinville, though
it is so much more intimate than any of the Sagas, is not as true to
the natural order of impressions. He follows out his own train of
sentiment; he is less careful of the order of perception, which the
Icelanders generally observe, and sometimes with extraordinary effect.

Joinville's history is not one of a class, and there is nothing equal
to it; but some of the qualities of his history are characteristic of
the second medieval period, the age of romance. His prose, as compared
with that of Iceland, is unstudied and simple, an apparently
unreserved confession. The Icelandic prose, with its richness of
contents and its capability of different moods, is by comparison
resolute, secure, and impartial; its authors are among those who do
not give their own opinion about their stories. Joinville, for all his
exceptional genius in narrative, is yet like all the host of medieval
writers except the Icelandic school, in his readiness to give his
opinion, to improve the occasion, and to add to his plain story
something like the intonation of the preacher. Inimitable as he is, to
come from the Icelandic books to Joinville is to discover that he is
"medieval" in a sense that does not apply to those; that his work,
with all its sobriety and solidity, has also the incalculable and
elusive touch of fantasy, of exaltation, that seems to claim in a
special way the name of Romance.



The history of the Sturlungs is the last great work of the classical
age of Icelandic literature, and after it the end comes pretty
sharply, as far as masterpieces are concerned. There is, however, a
continuation of the old literature in a lower degree and in degenerate
forms, which if not intrinsically valuable, are yet significant, as
bringing out by exaggeration some of the features and qualities of the
older school, and also as showing in a peculiar way the encroachments
of new "romantic" ideas and formulas.

One of the extant versions of the _Foster-brothers' Story_ is
remarkable for its patches of euphuistic rhetoric, which often appear
suddenly in the course of plain, straightforward narrative. These
ornamental additions are not all of the same kind. Some of them are of
the alliterative antithetical kind which is frequently found in the
old Northern ecclesiastical prose,[63] and which has an English
counterpart in the alliterative prose of Ælfric. Others are more
unusual; they are borrowed not from the Latin ecclesiastical school of
prose, but from the terms of the Northern poetry, and their effect is
often very curious. For instance, on page 13 there is a sudden break
from the common, unemphatic narrative of a storm at sea ("they were
drenched through, and their clothes froze on them") into the
incongruous statement that "the daughters of Ran (the sea-goddess)
came and wooed them and offered them rest in their embraces,"--a
conceit which might possibly be mistaken by a modern reader for the
fancy of Hans Andersen, but which is really something quite different,
not "pathetic fallacy," but an irruption of metaphorical rhetoric from
the poetical dictionary. There is another metaphorical flare-up on the
next page, equally amazing, in its plain context:--

     She gave orders to take their clothes and have them thawed.
     After that they had supper and were shown to bed. They were
     not long in falling asleep. Snow and frost held all the
     night through; _all that night the Dog (devourer) of the
     elder-tree howled with unwearying jaws and worried the earth
     with grim fangs of cold_. And when it began to grow light
     towards daybreak, a man got up to look out, and when he came
     in Thorgeir asked what sort of weather it was outside;

and so on in the ordinary sober way. It is not surprising that an
editor should have been found to touch up the plain text of a Saga
with a few ornamental phrases here and there. Considering the amount
of bad taste and false wit in the contemporary poetry, the wonder is
that there should be such a consistent exclusion of all such things
from the prose of the Sagas. The _Fóstbræðra_ variations show the
beginning of a process of decay, in which the lines of separation
between prose and poetry are cut through.

[Footnote 63: _Fóstbr._ (1852) p. 8: "Því at ekki var hjarta hans seen
fóarn í fugli: ekki var þat blóðfullt svá at þat skylfi af hræzlu,
heldr var þat herdt af enum hæsta höfuðsmið í öllum hvatleik." ("His
heart was not fashioned like the crop in a fowl: it was not gorged
with blood that it should flutter with fear, but was tempered by the
High Headsmith in all alacrity.")]

Except, however, as an indication of a general decline of taste, these
diversions in _Fóstbræðra Saga_ do not represent the later and
secondary schools of Icelandic narrative. They remain as exceptional
results of a common degeneracy of literature; the prevailing forms are
not exactly of this special kind. Instead of embroidering poetical
diction over the plain text of the old Sagas, the later authors
preferred to invent new stories of their own, and to use in them the
machinery and vocabulary of the old Sagas. Hence arose various orders
of romantic Saga, cut off from the original sources of vitality, and
imitating the old forms very much as a modern romanticist might
intimate them. One of the best, and one of the most famous, of these
romantic Sagas is the story of Frithiof the Bold, which was chosen by
Tegnér as the groundwork of his elegant romantic poem, a brilliant
example of one particular kind of modern medievalism. The significance
of Tegnér's choice is that he went for his story to the secondary
order of Sagas. The original _Frithiof_ is almost as remote as Tegnér
himself from the true heroic tradition; and, like Tegnér's poem, makes
up for this want of a pedigree by a study and imitation of the great
manner, and by a selection and combination of heroic traits from the
older authentic literature. Hence Tegnér's work, an ingenious
rhetorical adaptation of all the old heroic motives, is already half
done for him by the earlier romanticist; the original prose Frithiof
is the same romantic hero as in the Swedish poem, and no more like the
men of the Icelandic histories than Raoul de Bragelonne is like
D'Artagnan. At the same time, it is easy to see how the authentic
histories have supplied materials for the romance; as has been shown
already, there are passages in the older Sagas that contain some
suggestions for the later kind of stories, and the fictitious hero is
put together out of reminiscences of Gunnar and Kjartan.

The "romantic movement" in the old Northern literature was greatly
helped by foreign encouragement from the thirteenth century onward,
and particularly by a change of literary taste at the Court of Norway.
King Sverre at the end of the twelfth century quotes from the old
Volsung poem; he perhaps kept the Faroese memory for that kind of
poetry from the days of his youth in the islands. Hakon Hakonsson, two
generations later, had a different taste in literature and was fond of
French romances. It was in his day that the work of translation from
the French began; the results of which are still extant in
_Strengleikar_ (the Lays of Marie de France), in _Karlamagnus Saga_,
in the Norwegian versions of Tristram, Perceval, Iwain, and other
books of chivalry.[64] These cargoes of foreign romance found a ready
market in the North; first of all in Norway, but in Iceland also. They
came to Iceland just at the time when the native literature, or the
highest form of it at any rate, was failing; the failure of the native
literature let in these foreign competitors. The Norwegian
translations of French romances are not the chief agents in the
creation of the secondary Icelandic School, though they help. The
foreigners have contributed something to the story of Frithiof and the
story of Viglund. The phrase _náttúra amorsins_ (= _natura amoris_)
in the latter work shows the intrusion even of the Romance vocabulary
here, as under similar conditions in Germany and England. But while
the old Northern literature in its decline is affected by the vogue of
French romance, it still retains some independence. It went to the bad
in its own way; and the later kinds of story in the old Northern
tongue are not wholly spurious and surreptitious. They have some claim
upon _Njála_ and _Laxdæla_; there is a strain in them that
distinguishes them from the ordinary professional medieval romance in
French, English, or German.

[Footnote 64: "The first romantic Sagas"--_i.e._ Sagas derived from
French romance--"date from the reign of King Hakon Hakonsson
(1217-1263), when the longest and best were composed, and they appear
to cease at the death of King Hakon the Fifth (1319), who, we are
expressly told, commanded many translations to be made" (G. Vigfusson,
Prol. § 25).]

When the Icelandic prose began to fail, and the slighter forms of
Romance rose up in the place of Epic history, there were two modes in
which the older literature might be turned to profit. For one thing,
there was plenty of romantic stuff in the old heroic poetry, without
going to the French books. For another thing, the prose stories of the
old tradition had in them all kinds of romantic motives which were fit
to be used again. So there came into existence the highly-interesting
series of Mythical Romances on the themes of the old Northern mythical
and heroic poetry, and another series besides, which worked up in its
own way a number of themes and conventional motives from the older
prose books.

Mythical sagas had their beginning in the classical age of the North.
Snorri, with his stories of the adventures of the gods, is the leader
in the work of getting pure romance, for pure amusement, out of what
once was religious or heroic myth, mythological or heroic poetry. Even
Ari the Wise, his great predecessor, had done something of the same
sort, if the _Ynglinga Saga_ be his, an historical abstract of
Northern mythical history; though his aim, like that of Saxo
Grammaticus, is more purely scientific than is the case with Snorri.
The later mythical romances are of different kinds. The _Volsunga
Saga_ is the best known on account of its subject. The story of
Heidrek, instead of paraphrasing throughout like the Volsung book,
inserts the poems of Hervor and Angantyr, and of their descendants, in
a consecutive prose narrative. _Halfs Saga_ follows the same method.
The story of _Hrolf Kraki_, full of interest from its connexion with
the matter of _Beowulf_ and of Saxo Grammaticus, is more like
_Volsunga Saga_ in its procedure.[65]

[Footnote 65: The Mythical Sagas are described and discussed by
Vigfusson, Prol. § 34.]

The other class[66] contains the Sagas of _Frithiof_ and _Viglund_,
and all the fictitious stories which copy the style of the proper
Icelandic Sagas. Their matter is taken from the adventures of the
heroic age; their personages are idealised romantic heroes; romantic
formulas, without substance.

[Footnote 66: _Ibid._ § 11, "Spurious Icelandic Sagas"
(_Skrök-Sögur_). For _Frithiof_, see § 34.]

Among the original Sagas there are some that show the beginning of the
process by which the substance was eliminated, and the romantic
_eidolon_ left to walk about by itself. The introductions of many of
the older Sagas, of _Gisli_ and _Grettir_ for example, giving the
adventures of the hero's ancestors, are made up in this way; and the
best Sagas have many conventional passages--Viking exploits,
discomfiture of berserkers, etc.--which the reader learns to take for
granted, like the tournaments in the French books, and which have no
more effect than simple adjectives to say that the hero is brave or
strong. Besides these stock incidents, there are ethical passages (as
has already been seen) in which the hero is in some danger of turning
into a figure of romance. Grettir, Gisli, Kjartan, Gunnlaug the
Wormtongue, Gunnar of Lithend, are all in some degree and at some
point or other in danger of romantic exaggeration, while Kari has to
thank his humorous squire, more than anything in himself, for his
preservation. Also in the original Sagas there are conventions of the
main plot, as well as of the episodes, such as are repeated with more
deliberation and less skill in the romantic Sagas.

The love-adventures of Viglund are like those of Frithiof, and they
have a common likeness, except in their conclusion, to the adventures
of Kormak and Steingerd in _Kormaks Saga_. Kormak was too rude and
natural for romance, and the romancers had to make their heroes
better-looking, and to provide a happy ending. But the story of the
poet's unfortunate love had become a commonplace.

The plot of _Laxdæla_, the story of the _Lovers of Gudrun_, which is
the Volsung story born again, became a commonplace of the same sort.
It certainly had a good right to the favour it received. The plot of
_Laxdæla_ is repeated in the story of Gunnlaug and Helga, even to a
repetition of the course of events by which Kjartan is defrauded. The
true lover is left in Norway and comes back too late; the second
lover, the dull, persistent man, contrasted with a more brilliant but
less single-minded hero, keeps to his wooing and spreads false
reports, and wins his bride without her goodwill. Compared with the
story of Kjartan and Gudrun, the story of Gunnlaug and Helga is
shallow and sentimental; the likeness to _Frithiof_ is considerable.

The device of a false report, in order to carry off the bride of a man
absent in Norway, is used again in the story of _Thorstein the White_,
where the result is more summary and more in accordance with poetical
justice than in _Laxdæla_ or _Gunnlaug_. This is one of the best of
the Icelandic short stories, firmly drawn, with plenty of life and
variety in it. It is only in its use of what seems like a stock device
for producing agony that it resembles the more pretentious romantic

Another short story of the same class and the same family tradition
(Vopnafjord), the story of _Thorstein Staffsmitten_, looks like a
clever working-up of a stock theme--the quiet man roused.[67] The
combat in it is less like the ordinary Icelandic fighting than the
combats in the French poems, more especially that of Roland and Oliver
in _Girart de Viane_; and on the whole there is no particular reason,
except its use of well-known East-country names, to reckon this among
the family histories rather than the romances.

[Footnote 67: Translated by Mr. William Morris and Mr. E. Magnússon,
in the same volume as _Gunnlaug_, _Frithiof_, and _Viglund_ (_Three
Northern Love Stories_, etc., 1875).]

Romantic Sagas of different kinds have been composed in Iceland,
century after century, in a more or less mechanical way, by the
repetition of old adventures, situations, phrases, characters, or
pretences of character. What the worst of them are like may be seen by
a reference to Mr. Ward's Catalogue of MS. Romances in the British
Museum, which contains a number of specimens. There is fortunately no
need to say anything more of them here. They are among the dreariest
things ever made by human fancy. But the first and freshest of the
romantic Sagas have still some reason in them and some beauty; they
are at least the reflection of something living, either of the romance
of the old mythology, or of the romantic grace by which the epic
strength of _Njal_ and _Gisli_ is accompanied.

There are some other romantic transformations of the old heroic
matters to be noticed, before turning away from the Northern world and
its "twilight of the gods" to the countries in which the course of
modern literature first began to define itself as something distinct
from the older unsuccessful fashions, Teutonic or Celtic.

The fictitious Sagas were not the most popular kind of literature in
Iceland in the later Middle Ages. The successors of the old Sagas, as
far as popularity goes, are to be found in the _Rímur_, narrative
poems, of any length, in rhyming verse; not the ballad measures of
Denmark, nor the short couplets of the French School such as were used
in Denmark and Sweden, in England, and in High and Low Germany, but
rhyming verse derived from the medieval Latin rhymes of the type best
known from the works of Bishop Golias.[68] This rhyming poetry was
very industrious, and turned out all kinds of stories; the native
Sagas went through the mill in company with the more popular romances
of chivalry.

[Footnote 68: Vigfusson, Prol. p. cxxxviii. _C.P.B._, ii. 392. The
forms of verse used in the _Rímur_ are analysed in the preface to
_Riddara Rímur_, by Theodor Wisén (1881).]

They were transformed also in another way. The Icelandic Sagas went
along with other books to feed the imagination of the ballad-singers
of the Faroes. Those islands, where the singing of ballads has always
had a larger share of importance among the literary and intellectual
tastes of the people than anywhere else in the world, have relied
comparatively little on their own traditions or inventions for their
ballad themes. Natural and popular as it is, the ballad poetry of the
Faroes is derived from Icelandic literary traditions. Even Sigmund
Brestisson, the hero of the islands, might have been forgotten but
for the _Færeyinga Saga_; and Icelandic books, possibly near relations
of _Codex Regius_, have provided the islanders with what they sing of
the exploits of Sigurd and his horse Grani, as other writings brought
them the story of Roncesvalles. From Iceland also there passed to the
Faroes, along with the older legends, the stories of Gunnar and of
Kjartan; they have been turned into ballad measures, together with
_Roland_ and _Tristram_, in that refuge of the old songs of the



(_Chansons de Geste_)

It appears to be generally the case in all old epic literature, and it
is not surprising, that the existing specimens come from the end of
the period of its greatest excellence, and generally represent the
epic fashion, not quite at its freshest and best, but after it has
passed its culmination, and is already on the verge of decline. This
condition of things is exemplified in _Beowulf_; and the Sagas also,
here and there, show signs of over-refinement and exhaustion. In the
extant mass of old French epic this condition is enormously
exaggerated. The _Song of Roland_ itself, even in its earliest extant
form, is comparatively late and unoriginal; while the remainder of
French epic poetry, in all its variety, is much less authentic than
_Roland_, sensibly later, and getting rapidly and luxuriantly worse
through all the stages of lethargy.

It is the misfortune of French epic that so much should have been
preserved of its "dotages," so little of the same date and order as
the _Song of Roland_, and nothing at all of the still earlier
epic--the more original _Roland_ of a previous generation. The
exuberance, however, of the later stages of French epic, and its long
persistence in living beyond its due time, are proof of a certain
kind of vitality. The French epic in the twelfth century, long after
its best days were over, came into the keenest and closest rivalry
with the younger romantic schools in their first vigour. Fortune has
to some extent made up for the loss of the older French poems by the
preservation of endless later versions belonging in date to the
exciting times of the great romantic revolution in literature. Feeble
and drowsy as they often are, the late-born hosts of the French epic
are nevertheless in the thick of a great European contest, matched not
dishonourably against the forces of Romance. They were not the
strongest possible champions of the heroic age, but they were _there_,
in the field, and in view of all spectators. At this distance of time,
we can see how much more fully the drift of the old Teutonic world was
caught and rendered by the imagination of Iceland; how much more there
is in Grettir or Skarphedinn than in Ogier the Dane, or Raoul de
Cambrai, or even Roland and Oliver. But the Icelandic work lay outside
of the consciousness of Europe, and the French epic was known
everywhere. There are no such masterpieces in the French epic as in
the Icelandic prose. The French epic, to make up for that, has an
exciting history; it lived by antagonism, and one may look on and see
how the _chansons de geste_ were fighting for their life against the
newer forms of narrative poetry. In all this there is the interest of
watching one of the main currents of history, for it was nothing less
than the whole future imaginative life of Europe that was involved in
the debate between the stubborn old epic fashion and the new romantic

The _chansons de geste_ stand in a real, positive, ancestral relation
to all modern literature; there is something of them in all the poetry
of Europe. The Icelandic histories can make no such claim. Their
relation to modern life is slighter, in one sense; more spiritual, in
another. They are not widely known, they have had no share in
establishing the forms or giving vogue to the commonplaces of modern
literature. Now that they are published and accessible to modern
readers, their immediate and present worth, for the friends of
Skarphedinn and Gunnar, is out of all proportion to their past
historical influence. They have anticipated some of the literary
methods which hardly became the common property of Europe till the
nineteenth century; even now, when all the world reads and writes
prose stories, their virtue is unexhausted and unimpaired. But this
spiritual affinity with modern imaginations and conversations, across
the interval of medieval romance and rhetoric, is not due to any
direct or overt relation. The Sagas have had no influence; that is the
plain historical fact about them.

The historical influence and importance of the _chansons de geste_, on
the other hand, is equally plain and evident. Partly by their
opposition to the new modes of fiction, and partly by compliance with
their adversaries, they belong to the history of those great schools
of literature in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries from which all
modern imaginations in prose and rhyme are descended. The "dolorous
rout" of Roncesvalles, and not the tragedy of the Niblungs, still less
the history of Gunnar or of Njal, is the heroic origin of modern
poetry; it is remembered and renowned, [Greek: pasi melousa], among
the poets who have given shape to modern imaginative literature, while
the older heroics of the Teutonic migration are forgotten, and the
things of Iceland are utterly unknown.

French epic has some great advantages in comparison with the epic
experiments of Teutonic verse. For one thing, it exists in great
quantity; there is no want of specimens, though they are not all of
the best sort or the best period. Further, it has no difficulty, only
too much ease, in keeping a long regular course of narrative. Even
_Beowulf_ appears to have attained to its epic proportions by a
succession of efforts, and with difficulty; it labours rather heavily
over the longer epic course. _Maldon_ is a poem that runs freely, but
here the course is shorter, and it carries much less weight. The
Northern poems of the "Elder Edda" never attain the right epic scale
at all; their abrupt and lyrical manner is the opposite of the epic
mode of narration. It is true that the _chansons de geste_ are far
from the perfect continuity of the Homeric narrative. _Roland_ is
described by M. Gaston Paris in terms not unlike those that are
applied by Ten Brink in his criticism of _Beowulf_:--

     "On peut dire que la _Chanson de Roland_ (ainsi que toutes
     nos plus anciennes chansons de geste) se développe non pas,
     comme les poèmes homériques, par un courant large et
     ininterrompu, non pas, comme le _Nibelungenlied_, par des
     battements d'ailes égaux et lents, mais par un suite
     d'explosions successives, toujours arrêtées court et
     toujours reprenant avec soudaineté" (_Litt. fr. au moyen
     âge_, p. 59).

_Roland_ is a succession of separate scenes, with no gradation or
transition between them. It still bears traces of the lyrical origins
of epic. But the narrative, though broken, is neither stinted nor
laboured; it does not, like _Beowulf_, give the impression that it has
been expanded beyond the convenient limits, and that the author is
scant of breath. And none of the later _chansons de geste_ are so
restricted and reserved in their design as _Roland_; most of them are
diffuse and long. The French and the Teutonic epics are at opposite
extremes of style.

The French epics are addressed to the largest conceivable
audience.[69] They are plain and simple, as different as possible from
the allusive brevity of the Northern poems. Even the plainest of the
old English poems, even _Maldon_, has to employ the poetical diction,
the unprosaic terms and figures of the Teutonic School. The
alliterative poetry down to its last days has a vocabulary different
from that of prose, and much richer. The French epic language is not
distinguished and made difficult in this way; it is "not prismatic but
diaphanous." Those who could understand anything could understand it,
and the _chansons de geste_ easily found currency in the market-place,
when they were driven by the new romances from their old place of
honour in "bower and hall." The Teutonic poetry, even at its simplest,
must have required more attention in its hearers than the French,
through the strangeness and the greater variety of its vocabulary. It
is less familiar, less popular. Whatever dignity may be acquired by
the French epic is not due to any special or elaborate convention of
phrase. Where it is weak, its poverty is not disguised, as in the
weaker portions of Teutonic poetry, by the ornaments and synonyms of
the _Gradus_. The commonplaces of French epic are not imposing.[70]
With this difference between the French and the Teutonic conventions,
there is all the more interest in a comparison of the two kinds, where
they come into comparison through any resemblance of their subjects or
their thought, as in _Byrhtnoth_ and _Roland_.

[Footnote 69: G. Paris, Preface to _Histoire de la littérature
française_, edited by L. Petit de Julleville.]

[Footnote 70: See the preface to _Raoul de Cambrai_, ed. Paul Meyer
(Anc. Textes), for examples of such _chevilles_; and also _Aimeri de
Narbonne_, p. civ.]

The French epics have generally a larger political field, more
numerous armies, and more magnificent kings, than the Teutonic. In the
same degree, their heroism is different from that of the earlier
heroic age. The general motives of patriotism and religion, France and
Christendom, prevent the free use of the simpler and older motives of
individual heroism. The hero of the older sort is still there, but his
game is hindered by the larger and more complex political conditions
of France; or if these are evaded, still the mere size of the country
and numbers of the fighting-men tell against his importance; he is
dwarfed by his surroundings. The limitation of the scenes in the poems
of _Beowulf_, _Ermanaric_, and _Attila_ throws out the figures in
strong relief. The mere extent of the stage and the number of the
supernumeraries required for the action of most of the French stories
appear to have told against the definiteness of their characters; as,
on the other hand, the personages in _Beowulf_, without much
individual character of their own, seem to gain in precision and
strength from the smallness of the scene in which they act. There is
less strict economy in the _chansons de geste_.

Apart from this, there is real and essential vagueness in their
characters; their drama is rudimentary. The simplicity of the French
epic style, which is addressed to a large audience and easily
intelligible, is not capable of much dramatic subtlety. It can be made
to express a variety of actions and a variety of moods, but these are
generally rendered by means of common formulas, without much dramatic
insight or intention. While the fragments of Teutonic epic seem to
give evidence of a growing dramatic imagination, and the Northern
poems, especially, of a series of experiments in character, the French
epic imagination appears to have remained content with its
established and abstract formulas for different modes of sentiment
and passion. It would not be easy to find anything in French epic that
gives the same impression of discovery and innovation, of the search
for dramatic form, of the absorption of the poet's mind in the pursuit
of an imaginary character, as is given, again and again, by the
Northern poems of the Volsung cycle. Yet the _chansons de geste_ are
often true and effective in their outlines of character, and include a
quantity of "humours and observation," though their authors seem to
have been unable to give solidity to their sketches.

The weakness of the drama in the French epics, even more than their
compliance with foreign romance in the choice of incidents or
machinery, is against their claim to be reckoned in the higher order
of heroic narrative. They are romantic by the comparative levity of
their imagination; the story, with them, is too much for the
personages. But it is still the problem of heroic character that
engages them, however feebly or conventionally they may deal with it.
They rely, like the Teutonic epic and the Sagas, on situations that
test the force of character, and they find those situations in the
common conditions of an heroic age, subject of course to the
modifications of the comparatively late period and late form of
society to which they belong. _Roland_ is a variation on the one
perpetual heroic theme; it has a grander setting, a grander
accompaniment, than _Byrhtnoth_ or _Waldere_, but it is essentially
the old story of the heroic age,--no knight-errantry, but the last
resistance of a man driven into a corner.

The greatness of the poem of _Roland_ is that of an author who knows
his own mind, who has a certain mood of the heroic imagination to
express, and is at no loss for his instrument or for the lines of his

The poem, as has been already noted, has a general likeness in its
plan to the story of Finnesburh as told in _Beowulf_, and to the poems
of the death of Attila. The plot falls into two parts, the second part
being the vengeance and expiation.

Although the story is thus not absolutely simple, like the adventures
of Beowulf, no epic has a more magnificent simplicity of effect. The
other personages, Charlemagne, Ganelon, Oliver, King Marsile, have to
Roland nothing like the importance of Agamemnon, Ajax, Diomede, or
Hector, as compared with Achilles in the _Iliad_. The poem is almost
wholly devoted to the praise and glorification of a single hero; it
retains very much of the old manners of the earlier stages of epic
poetry, before it ceased to be lyric. It is a poem in honour of a

At the same time, this lyrical tone in _Roland_ and this pathetic
concentration of the interest on one personage do not interfere with
the epic plan of the narrative, or disturb the lines of the
composition. The central part of the poem is on the Homeric scale; the
fighting, the separate combats, are rendered in an Homeric way.
_Byrhtnoth_ and _Roland_ are the works that have given the best
medieval counterpart to the battles of Homer. There is more of a
crisis and a climax in _Roland_ than in the several battles of the
_Iliad_, and a different sort of climax from that of _Byrhtnoth_.
Everything leads to the agony and heroic death of Roland, and to his
glory as the unyielding champion of France and Christendom. It is not
as in the _Iliad_, where different heroes have their day, or as at
Maldon, where the fall of the captain leads to the more desperate
defence and the more exalted heroism of his companions. Roland is the
absolute master of the _Song of Roland_. No other heroic poetry
conveys the same effect of pre-eminent simplicity and grandeur. There
is hardly anything in the poem except the single mood; its simplicity
is overpowering, a type of heroic resistance for all the later poets
of Europe. This impressive effect is aided, it is true, by an infusion
of the lyrical tone and by playing on the pathetic emotions. Roland is
ideal and universal, and the story of his defeat, of the blast of his
horn, and the last stroke of Durendal, is a kind of funeral march or
"heroic symphony" into which a meaning may be read for every new hero,
to the end of the world; for any one in any age whose _Mood is the
more as the Might lessens_. Yet although Roland has this universal or
symbolical or musical meaning--unlike the more individual personages
in the Sagas, who would resent being made into allegories--the total
effect is mainly due to legitimate epic means. There is no stinting of
the epic proportions or suppression of the epic devices. The _Song of
Roland_ is narrative poetry, a model of narrative design, with the
proper epic spaces well proportioned, well considered, and filled with
action. It may be contrasted with the _Death-Song of Ragnar Lodbrok_,
which is an attempt to get the same sort of moral effect by a process
of lyrical distillation from heroic poetry; putting all the strongest
heroic motives into the most intense and emphatic form. There is
something lyrical in _Roland_, but the poem is not governed by lyrical
principles; it requires the deliberation and the freedom of epic; it
must have room to move in before it can come up to the height of its
argument. The abruptness of its periods is not really an interruption
of its even flight; it is an abruptness of detail, like a broken sea
with a larger wave moving under it; it does not impair or disguise the
grandeur of the movement as a whole.

There are other poems among the _chansons de geste_ which admit of
comparison with _Roland_, though _Roland_ is supreme; other epics in
which the simple motives of heroism and loyalty are treated in a
simple and noble way, without any very strong individual character
among the personages. Of these rather abstract expositions of the
heroic ideal, some of the finest are to be found in the cycle of
William of Orange, more especially in the poems relating the exploits
of William and his nephew Vivian, and the death of Vivian in the
battle against the Moors--

     En icel jor que la dolor fu grans
     Et la bataille orible en Aliscans.

Like _Roland_, the poem of _Aliscans_ is rather lyrical in its effect,
reiterating and reinforcing the heroic motives, making an impression
by repetition of one and the same mood; a poem of the glorification of
France. It shows, at the same time, how this motive might be degraded
by exaggeration and amplification. There are too many Moors in it (as
also in _Roland_), and the sequel is reckless and extravagant, where
William of Orange rides to the king's court for help and discovers an
ally in the enormous scullion of the king's kitchen, Rainouart, the
Morgante of French epic. Rainouart, along with William of Orange, was
seen by Dante in Paradise. In his gigantic and discourteous way he was
one of the champions of Christendom, and his manners are interesting
as a variation from the conventional heroic standards. But he takes up
too much room; he was not invented by the wide and comprehensive epic
imagination which finds a place for many varieties of mankind in its
story, but by some one who felt that the old epic forms were growing
thin and unsatisfactory, and that there was need of some violent
diversion to keep the audiences awake. This new device is not
abandoned till Rainouart has been sent to Avalon--the epic form and
spirit losing themselves in a misappropriation of Romance. These
excursions are of course not to be ascribed to the central authors of
the cycle of William of Orange; but already even in the most heroic
parts of the cycle there are indications of the flagging imagination,
the failure of the old motives, which gave an opening to these wild
auxiliary forces. Where the epic came to trust too much to the mere
heroic sentiment, to the moral of _Roland_, to the contrast of knight
and infidel, there was nothing for it but either to have recourse to
the formal heroics of Camoens or Tasso,--for which the time had not
yet come,--or to be dissolved altogether in a medley of adventures,
and to pass from its old station in the front of literature to those
audiences of the market-place that even now, in some parts of the
world, have a welcome for Charlemagne and his peers.[71]

[Footnote 71: _Historia Verdadera de Carlo Magno y los doce Pares de
Francia_: Madrid, 4to (1891), a chap-book of thirty-two pages.]

Those of the French epics in which the motives of _Roland_ are in some
form or other repeated, in which the defence of Christendom is the
burden, are rightly considered the best representatives of the whole
body. But there are others in which with less dignity of theme there
is more freedom, and in which an older epic type, more akin to the
Teutonic, nearer in many ways to the Icelandic Sagas, is preserved,
and for a long time maintains itself distinct from all the forms of
romance and the romantic schools. It is not in _Roland_ or in
_Aliscans_ that the epic interest in character is most pronounced and
most effective. Those among the _chansons de geste_ which make least
of the adventures in comparison with the personages, which think more
of the tragic situation than of rapid changes of scene and incident,
are generally those which represent the feuds and quarrels between the
king and his vassals, or among the great houses themselves; the
anarchy, in fact, which belongs to an heroic age and passes from
experience into heroic literature. There is hardly any of the
_chansons de geste_ in which this element of heroic anarchy is not to
be found in a greater or less degree. In _Roland_, for example, though
the main action is between the French and the Moors, it is jealousy
and rivalry that bring about the catastrophe, through the treason of
Ganelon. This sort of jealousy, which is subordinate in _Roland_,
forms the chief motive of some of the other epics. These depend for
their chief interest on the vicissitudes of family quarrels almost as
completely as the Sagas. These are the French counterparts of
_Eyrbyggja_, and of the stories of Glum or Gisli. In France, as in
Iceland, the effect of the story is produced as much by the energy of
the characters as by the interest of adventures. Only in the French
epic, while they play for larger stakes, the heroes are incomparably
less impressive. The imagination which represents them is different in
kind from the Icelandic, and puts up with a very indefinite and
general way of denoting character. Though the extant poems are late,
some of them have preserved a very elementary psychology and a very
simple sort of ethics, the artistic formulas and devices of a
rudimentary stage which has nothing to correspond to it in the extant
Icelandic prose.

_Raoul de Cambrai_ in its existing form is a late poem; it has gone
through the process of translation from assonance into rhyme, and like
_Huon of Bordeaux_, though by a different method, it has been fitted
with a romantic continuation. But the first part of the poem
apparently keeps the lines of an older and more original version. The
story is not one of the later cyclic fabrications; it has an
historical basis and is derived from the genuine epic tradition of
that tenth-century school which unfortunately is only known through
its descendants and its influence. _Raoul de Cambrai_, though in an
altered verse and later style, may be taken as presenting an old story
still recognisable in most of its original features, especially in its

Raoul de Cambrai, a child at his father's death, is deprived of his
inheritance. To make up for this he is promised, later, the first fief
that falls vacant, and asserts his claim in a way that brings him into
continual trouble,--a story with great opportunities for heroic
contrasts and complications. The situation is well chosen; it is
better than that of the story of Glum, which is rather like
it[72]--the right is not all on one side. Raoul has a just cause, but
cannot make it good; he is driven to be unjust in order to come by his
own. Violence and excess in a just cause will make a tragic history;
there is no fault to be found with the general scheme or principle in
this case. It is in the details that the barbarous simplicity of the
author comes out. For example, in the invasion of the lands on which
he has a claim, Raoul attacks and burns a nunnery, and in it the
mother of his best friend and former squire, Bernier. The injured man,
his friend, is represented as taking it all in a helpless dull
expostulatory way. The author has no language to express any
imaginative passion; he can only repeat, in a muffled professional
voice, that it was really a very painful and discreditable affair. The
violent passions here are those of the heroic age in its most
barbarous form; more sudden and uncontrolled even than the anger of
Achilles. But with all their vehemence and violence there is no real
tragic force, and when the hero is killed by his friend, and the
friend is sorry afterwards, there is nothing but the mere formal and
abstract identity of the situation to recall to mind the tragedy of
Kjartan and Bolli.

[Footnote 72: Glum, like Raoul, is a widow's son deprived of his

_Garin le Loherain_ is a story with a similar plot,--the estrangement
and enmity of old friends, "sworn companions." Though no earlier than
_Raoul de Cambrai_, though belonging in date to the flourishing period
of romance, it is a story of the older heroic age, and its contents
are epic. Its heroes are unsophisticated, and the incidents,
sentiments, and motives are primitive and not of the romantic school.
The story is much superior to _Raoul de Cambrai_ in speed and
lightness; it does not drag at the critical moments; it has some
humour and some grace. Among other things, its gnomic passages
represent very fairly the dominant heroic ideas of courage and good
temper; it may be appealed to for the humanities of the _chansons de
geste_, expressed in a more fluent and less emphatic shape than
_Roland_. The characters are taken very lightly, but at least they are
not obtuse and awkward. If there is not much dramatic subtlety, there
is a recognition and appreciation of different aspects of the same
character. The story proceeds like an Icelandic Saga, through
different phases of a long family quarrel, springing from a
well-marked origin; foreshadowed and accompanied, as in many of the
Sagas, by the hereditary felonious character of the one party, which
yet is not blackened too much nor wholly unrelieved.

As in many of the Icelandic stories, there is a stronger dramatic
interest in the adversary, the wrong side, than in the heroes. As with
Kari and Flosi in _Njála_, as with Kjartan and Bolli in _Laxdæla_, and
with Sigmund and Thrond of Gata in _Færeyinga Saga_, so in the story
of Garin it is Fromont the enemy whose case is followed with most
attention, because it is less simple than that of the heroes, Garin of
Lorraine and Begon his brother. The character of Fromont shows the
true observation, as well as the inadequate and sketchy handling, of
the French epic school. Fromont is in the wrong; all the trouble
follows from his original misconduct, when he refused to stand by
Garin in a war of defence against the Moors:--

     Iluec comence li grans borroflemens.

But Fromont's demeanour afterwards is not that of a traitor and a
felon, such as his father was. He belongs to a felonious house; he is
the son of Hardré, one of the notorious traitors of French epic
tradition; but he is less than half-hearted in his own cause, always
lamentable, perplexed, and peevish, always trying to be just, and
always dragged further into iniquity by the mischief-makers among his
friends. This idea of a distracted character is worked out as well as
was possible for a poet of that school, in a passage of narrative
which represents more than one of the good qualities of French epic
poetry,--the story of the death of Begon, and the vengeance exacted
for him by his brother Garin. This episode shows how the French poets
could deal with matter like that of the Sagas. The story is well told,
fluently and clearly; it contains some fine expressions of heroic
sentiment, and a good fight, as well as the ineffectual sorrows and
good intentions of the anti-hero Fromont, with all the usual tissue of
violence which goes along with a feud in heroic narrative, when the
feud is regarded as something impersonal and fatal, outside the wishes
of the agents in it.

It may be said here that although the story of Garin and of the feud
between the house of Lorraine and their enemies is long drawn out and
copious in details, it is not confused, but falls into a few definite
episodes of warfare, with intervals of truce and apparent
reconciliation. Of these separate acts in the tragedy, the _Death of
Begon_ is the most complete in itself; the most varied, as well as the
most compact. The previous action is for a modern taste too much
occupied with the commonplaces of epic warfare, Homeric combats in the
field, such as need the heroic motives of Maldon or Roncesvalles to
make them interesting. In the story of the _Death of Begon_ there is a
change of scene from the common epic battlefield; the incidents are
not taken from the common stock of battle-poetry, and the Homeric
supernumeraries are dismissed.

This episode[73] begins after an interval in the feud, and tells how
Begon one day thought of his brother Garin whom he had not seen for
seven years and more (the business of the feud having been slack for
so long), and how he set out for the East country to pay his brother a
visit, with the chance of a big boar-hunt on the way. The opening
passage is a very complete and lively selection from the experience
and the sentiments of the heroic age; it represents the old heroic
temper and the heroic standard of value, with, at the same time, a
good deal of the gentler humanities.

[Footnote 73: _Garin le Loherain_, ed. Paulin Paris (1833-35), vol.
ii. pp. 217-272.]

     One day Begon was in his castle of Belin; at his side was
     the Duchess Beatrice, and he kissed her on the mouth: he saw
     his two sons coming through the hall (so the story runs).
     The elder was named Gerin and the younger Hernaudin; the one
     was twelve and the other was ten years old, and with them
     went six noble youths, running and leaping with one another,
     playing and laughing and taking their sport.

     The Duke saw them and began to sigh, and his lady questioned

     "Ah, my Lord Duke, why do you ponder thus? Gold and silver
     you have in your coffers; falcons on their perch, and furs
     of the vair and the grey, and mules and palfreys; and well
     have you trodden down your enemies: for six days' journey
     round you have no neighbour so stout but he will come to
     your levy."

     Said the Duke: "Madame, you have spoken true, save in one
     thing. Riches are not in the vair and the grey, nor in
     money, nor in mules and horses, but riches are in kinsmen
     and friends: the heart of a man is worth all the gold in the
     land. Do you not remember how I was assailed and beset at
     our home-coming? and but for my friends how great had been
     my shame that day! Pepin has set me in these marches where I
     have none of my near friends save Rigaut and Hervi his
     father; I have no brother but one, Garin the Lothering, and
     full seven years are past and gone that I have not seen him,
     and for that I am grieved and vexed and ill at ease. Now I
     will set off to see my brother Garin, and the child Girbert
     his son that I have never seen. Of the woods of Vicogne and
     of St. Bertin I hear news that there is a boar there; I will
     run him down, please the Lord, and will bring the head to
     Garin, a wonder to look upon, for of its like never man
     heard tell."

Begon's combined motives are all alike honest, and his rhetoric is as
sound as that of Sarpedon or of Gunnar. Nor is there any reason to
suppose, any more than in the case of Byrhtnoth, that what is striking
in the poem is due to its comparative lateness, and to its
opportunities of borrowing from new discoveries in literature. If that
were so, then we might find similar things among the newer fashions
of the contemporary twelfth-century literature; but in fact one does
not find in the works of the romantic school the same kind of humanity
as in this scene. The melancholy of Begon at the thought of his
isolation--"Bare is back without brother behind it"--is an adaptation
of a common old heroic motive which is obscured by other more showy
ideas in the romances. The conditions of life are here essentially
those of the heroic age, an age which has no particular ideas of its
own, which lives merely on such ideas as are struck out in the
collision of lawless heavy bodies, in that heroic strife which is the
parent of all things, and, among the rest, of the ideas of loyalty,
fellowship, fair dealing, and so on. There is nothing romantic or
idealist in Begon; he is merely an honest country gentleman, rather
short of work.

He continues in the same strain, after the duchess has tried to
dissuade him. She points out to him the risk he runs by going to hunt
on his enemy's marches,--

     C'est en la marche Fromont le poësti,

--and tells him of her foreboding that he will never return alive. His
answer is like that of Hector to Polydamas:--

     Diex! dist il, dame, merveilles avez dit:
     Ja mar croiroie sorciere ne devin;
     Par aventure vient li biens el païs,
     Je ne lairoie, por tot l'or que Diex fist,
     Que je n'i voise, que talens m'en est prins.

The hunting of the boar is as good as anything of its kind in history,
and it is impossible to read it without wishing that it had been
printed a few years earlier to be read by Sir Walter Scott. He would
have applauded as no one else can this story of the chase and of the
hunter separated from his companions in the forest. There is one line
especially in the lament for Begon after his death which is enough by
itself to prove the soundness of the French poet's judgment, and his
right to a welcome at Abbotsford: "This was a true man; his dogs loved

     Gentis hons fu, moult l'amoient si chien.

Begon came by his death in the greenwood. The forester found him there
and reported him to Fromont's seneschal, who called out six of his men
to go and take the poacher; and along with them went Thibaut,
Fromont's nephew, an old rival of Begon. Begon set his back to an
aspen tree and killed four of the churls and beat off the rest, but
was killed himself at last with an arrow.

The four dead men were brought home and Begon's horse was led away:--

     En une estable menerent le destrier
     Fronce et hennit et si grate des pies
     Que nus de char ne li ouse aprochier.

Begon was left lying where he fell and his three dogs came back to

     Seul ont Begon en la forest laissié:
     Et jouste lui revindrent si trois chien,
     Hulent et braient com fuissent enragié.

This most spirited passage of action and adventure shows the poet at
his best; it is the sort of thing that he understands, and he carries
it through without a mistake. It is followed by an attempt at another
theme where something more is required of the author, and his success
is not so perfect. He is drawn into the field of tragic emotion. Here,
though his means are hardly sufficient for elaborate work, he sketches
well. The character of Fromont when the news of his opponent's death
is brought to him comes out as something of a different value from the
sheer barbarism of _Raoul de Cambrai_. The narrative is light and
wanting in depth, but there is no untruth and no dulness in the
conception, and the author's meaning is perfectly clear. Fromont is
different from the felons of his own household. Fromont is the
adversary, but he is a gentleman. Even when he knows no more of the
event than that a trespasser has been killed in the forest, he sends
his men to bring in the body;--

     Frans hons de l'autre doient avoir pitié

--and when he sees who it is (_vif l'ot véu, mort le reconnut bien_)
he breaks out into strong language against the churls who have killed
the most courteous knight that ever bore arms. Mingled with this
sentiment is the thought of all the trouble to come from the revival
of the feud, but his vexation does not spring from mere self-interest.
Fromondin his son is also angry with Thibaut his cousin; Thibaut ought
to be flayed alive for his foul stroke. But while Fromondin is
thinking of the shame of the murder which will be laid to the account
of his father's house, Fromont's thought is more generous, a thought
of respect and regret for his enemy. The tragedy of the feud continues
after this; as before, Fromont is involved by his irrepressible
kinsmen, and nothing comes of his good thoughts and intentions.

     Our wills and fates do so contrary run,
     Our thoughts are ours, the ends none of our own.

This moral axiom is understood by the French author, and in an
imaginative, not a didactic way, though his imagination is not strong
enough to make much of it.

In this free, rapid, and unforced narrative, that nothing might be
wanting of the humanities of the French heroic poetry, there is added
the lament for Begon, by his brother and his wife. Garin's lament is
what the French epic can show in comparison with the famous lament for
Lancelot at the end of the _Mort d'Arthur_:--

     Ha! sire Begues, li Loherains a dit
     Frans chevaliers, corajeus et hardis!
     Fel et angris contre vos anemis
     Et dols et simples a trestoz vos amis!
     Tant mar i fustes, biaus frères, biaus amis!

Here the advantage is with the English romantic author, who has
command of a more subtle and various eloquence. On the other hand, the
scene of the grief of the Duchess Beatrice, when Begon is brought to
his own land, and his wife and his sons come out to meet him, shows a
different point of view from romance altogether, and a different
dramatic sense. The whole scene of the conversation between Beatrice
and Garin is written with a steady hand; it needs no commentary to
bring out the pathos or the dramatic truth of the consolation offered
by Garin.

     She falls fainting, she cannot help herself; and when she
     awakens her lamenting is redoubled. She mourns over her
     sons, Hernaudin and Gerin: "Children, you are orphans; dead
     is he that begot you, dead is he that was your
     stay!"--"Peace, madame," said Garin the Duke, "this is a
     foolish speech and a craven. You, for the sake of the land
     that is in your keeping, for your lineage and your lordly
     friends--some gentle knight will take you to wife and
     cherish you; but it falls to me to have long sorrow. The
     more I have of silver and fine gold, the more will be my
     grief and vexation of spirit. Hernaudin and Gerin are my
     nephews; it will be mine to suffer many a war for them, to
     watch late, and to rise up early."--"Thank you, uncle,"
     said Hernaudin: "Lord! why have I not a little habergeon of
     my own? I would help you against your enemies!" The Duke
     hears him, and takes him in his arms and kisses the child.
     "By God, fair nephew, you are stout and brave, and like my
     brother in face and mouth, the rich Duke, on whom God have
     mercy!" When this was said, they go to bury the Duke in the
     chapel beyond Belin; the pilgrims see it to this day, as
     they come back from Galicia, from St. James.[74]

[Footnote 74: One of the frequent morals of French epic (repeated also
by French romance) is the vanity of overmuch sorrow for the dead.

     [Greek: alla chrê ton men katathaptein hos ke thanêsin
     nêlea thymon echontas, ep' êmati dakrysantas.]

     (Odysseus speaking) _Il._ xix. 228.

     "Laissiez ester," li quens Guillaumes dit;
     "Tout avenra ce que doit avenir;
     Li mort as mors, li vif voissent as vis;
     Duel sor dolor et joie sor joïr
     Ja nus frans hons nel devroit maintenir."
     Les cors enportent, les out en terre mis.

     _Garin_, i. p. 262.]

_Roland_, _Raoul de Cambrai_, and _Garin le Loherain_ represent three
kinds of French heroic poetry. _Roland_ is the more purely heroic
kind, in which the interest is concentrated on the passion of the
hero, and the hero is glorified by every possible means of patriotism,
religion, and the traditional ethics of battle, with the scenery and
the accompaniments all chosen so as to bring him into relief and give
him an ideal or symbolical value, like that of the statues of the
gods. _Raoul_ and _Garin_, contrasted with _Roland_, are two varieties
of another species; namely, of the heroic poetry which (like the
_Odyssey_ and the Icelandic stories) represents the common life of an
heroic age, without employing the ideal motives of great causes,
religious or patriotic, and without giving to the personages any
great representative or symbolical import. The subjects of _Raoul_ and
_Garin_ belong to the same order. The difference between them is that
the author of the first is only half awake to the chances offered by
his theme. The theme is well chosen, not disabled, like so many
romantic plots, by an inherent fallacy of ethics or imagination; a
story that shapes itself naturally, if the author has the wit to see
it. The author of _Raoul de Cambrai_, unhappily, has "no more wit than
a Christian or an ordinary man," and leaves his work encumbered with
his dulness of perception; an evidence of the fertility of the heroic
age in good subjects, and of the incompetence of some of the artists.
_Garin_, on the other hand, shows how the common subject-matter might
be worked up by a man of intelligence, rather discursive than
imaginative, but alive to the meaning of his story, and before
everything a continuous narrator, with the gift of natural sequence in
his adventures. He relates as if he were following the course of
events in his own memory, with simplicity and lucidity, qualities
which were not beyond the compass of the old French verse and diction.
He does not stop to elaborate his characters; he takes them perhaps
too easily. But his lightness of spirit saves him from the untruth of
_Raoul de Cambrai_; and while his ethics are the commonplaces of the
heroic age, these commonplaces are not mere formulas or cant; they are
vividly realised.

There is no need to multiply examples in order to prove the capacity
of French epic for the same kind of subjects as those of the Sagas;
that is, for the representation of strenuous and unruly life in a
comprehensive and liberal narrative, noble in spirit and not much
hampered by conventional nobility or dignity.

_Roland_ is the great achievement of French epic, and there are other
poems, also, not far removed from the severity of _Roland_ and
inspired by the same patriotic and religious ardour. But the poem of
_Garin of Lorraine_ (which begins with the defence of France against
the infidels, but very soon passes to the business of the great
feud--its proper theme), though it is lacking in the political
motives, not to speak of the symbolical imagination of _Roland_, is
significant in another way, because though much later in date, though
written at a time when Romance was prevalent, it is both archaic in
its subject and also comprehensive in its treatment. It has something
like the freedom of movement and the ease which in the Icelandic Sagas
go along with similar antique subjects. The French epic poetry is not
all of it made sublime by the ideas of _Roland_; there is still scope
for the free representation of life in different moods, with character
as the dominant interest.

It should not be forgotten that the French epic has room for comedy,
not merely in the shape of "comic relief," though that unhappily is
sometimes favoured by the _chansons de geste_, and by the romances as
well, but in the "humours" inseparable from all large and unpedantic

A good deal of credit on this account may be claimed for Galopin, the
reckless humorist of the party of Garin of Lorraine, and something
rather less for Rigaut the Villain Unwashed, another of Garin's
friends. This latter appears to be one of the same family as Hreidar
the Simple, in the Saga of Harald Hardrada; a figure of popular
comedy, one of the lubbers who turn out something different from their
promise. Clumsy strength and good-nature make one of the most
elementary compounds, and may easily be misused (as in _Rainouart_)
where the author has few scruples and no dramatic consistency. Galopin
is a more singular humorist, a ribald and a prodigal, yet of gentle
birth, and capable of good service when he can be got away from the

There are several passages in the _chansons de geste_ where, as with
_Rainouart_, the fun is of a grotesque and gigantic kind, like the fun
to be got out of the giants in the Northern mythology, and the trolls
in the Northern popular tales. The heathen champion Corsolt in the
_Coronemenz Looïs_ makes good comedy of this sort, when he accosts the
Pope: "Little man! why is your head shaved?" and explains to him his
objection to the Pope's religion: "You are not well advised to talk to
me of God: he has done me more wrong than any other man in the world,"
and so on.[75]

[Footnote 75:

     Respont li reis: "N'iés pas bien enseigniez,
     Qui devant mei oses de Deu plaidier;
     C'est l'om el mont qui plus m'a fait irier:
     Mon pere ocist une foldre del ciel:
     Tot i fu ars, ne li pot l'en aidier.
     Quant Deus l'ot mort, si fist que enseigniez;
     El ciel monta, ça ne voit repairier;
     Ge nel poeie sivre ne enchalcier,
     Mais de ses omes me sui ge puis vengiez;
     De cels qui furent levé et baptisié
     Ai fait destruire plus de trente miliers,
     Ardeir en feu et en eve neier;
     Quant ge la sus ne puis Deu guerreier,
     Nul de ses omes ne vueil ça jus laissier,
     Et mei et Deu n'avons mais que plaidier:
     Meie est la terre et siens sera li ciels."

     _l.c._, l. 522.

The last verse expresses the same sentiment as the answer of the
Emperor Henry when he was told to beware of God's vengeance: "Celum
celi Domino, terram autem dedit filiis hominum" (Otton. Frising.
_Gesta Frid._ i. 11).]

Also, in a less exaggerated way, there is some appreciation of the
humour to be found in the contrast between the churl and the knight,
and their different points of view; as in the passage of the _Charroi
de Nismes_ where William of Orange questions the countryman about the
condition of the city under its Saracen masters, and is answered with
information about the city tolls and the price of bread.[76] It must
be admitted, however, that this slight passage of comedy is far
outdone by the conversation in the romance of _Aucassin and
Nicolette_, between Aucassin and the countryman, where the author of
that story seems to get altogether beyond the conventions of his own
time into the region of Chaucer, or even somewhere near the forest of
Arden. The comedy of the _chansons de geste_ is easily satisfied with
plain and robust practical jokes. Yet it counts for something in the
picture, and it might be possible, in a detailed criticism of the
epics, to distinguish between the comic incidents that have an
artistic value and intention, and those that are due merely to the
rudeness of those common minstrels who are accused (by their rivals in
epic poetry) of corrupting and debasing the texts.

[Footnote 76:

     Li cuens Guillaumes li comença à dire:
     --Diva, vilain, par la loi dont tu vives
     Fus-tu a Nymes, la fort cité garnie?
     --Oïl, voir, sire, le paaige me quistrent;
     Ge fui trop poures, si nel poi baillier mie.
     Il me lessèrent por mes enfanz qu'il virent.
     --Di moi, vilain, des estres de la vile.
     Et cil respont:--Ce vos sai-ge bien dire
     Por un denier .ii. granz pains i véismes;
     La denerée vaut .iii. en autre vile:
     Moult par est bone, se puis n'est empirie.
     --Fox, dist Guillaume, ce ne demant-je mie,
     Mès des paiens chevaliers de la vile,
     Del rei Otrant et de sa compaignie.

     _l.c._, ll. 903-916.]

There were many ways in which the French epic was degraded at the
close of its course--by dilution and expansion, by the growth of a
kind of dull parasitic, sapless language over the old stocks, by the
general failure of interest, and the transference of favour to other
kinds of literature. Reading came into fashion, and the minstrels lost
their welcome in the castles, and had to betake themselves to more
vulgar society for their livelihood. At the same time, epic made a
stand against the new modes and a partial compliance with them; and
the _chansons de geste_ were not wholly left to the vagrant reciters,
but were sometimes copied out fair in handsome books, and held their
own with the romances.

The compromise between epic and romance in old French literature is
most interesting where romance has invaded a story of the simpler kind
like _Raoul de Cambrai_. Stories of war against the infidel, stories
like those of William of Orange, were easily made romantic. The poem
of the _Prise d'Orange_, for example, an addition to this cycle, is a
pure romance of adventure, and a good one, though it has nothing of
the more solid epic in it. Where the action is carried on between the
knights of France and the Moors, one is prepared for a certain amount
of wonder; the palaces and dungeons of the Moors are the right places
for strange things to happen, and the epic of the defence of France
goes easily off into night excursions and disguises: the Moorish
princess also is there, to be won by the hero. All this is natural;
but it is rather more paradoxical to find the epic of family feuds,
originally sober, grave, and business-like, turning more and more
extravagant, as it does in the _Four Sons of Aymon_, which in its
original form, no doubt, was something like the more serious parts of
_Raoul de Cambrai_ or of the _Lorrains_, but which in the extant
version is expanded and made wonderful, a story of wild adventures,
yet with traces still of its origin among the realities of the heroic
age, the common matters of practical interest to heroes.

The case of _Huon of Bordeaux_ is more curious, for there the original
sober story has been preserved, and it is one of the best and most
coherent of them all,[77] till it is suddenly changed by the sound of
Oberon's horn and passes out of the real world altogether.

[Footnote 77: Cf. Auguste Longnon, "L'élément historique de Huon de
Bordeaux," _Romania_, viii.]

The lines of the earlier part of the story are worth following, for
there is no better story among the French poems that represent the
ruder heroic age--a simple story of feudal rivalries and jealousies,
surviving in this strange way as an introduction to the romance of

The Emperor Charlemagne, one hundred and twenty-five years old, but
not particularly reverend, holds a court at Paris one Whitsuntide and
asks to be relieved of his kingdom. His son Charlot is to succeed him.
Charlot is worthless, the companion of traitors and disorderly
persons; he has made enough trouble already in embroiling Ogier the
Dane with the Emperor. Charlemagne is infatuated and will have his son
made king:--

     Si m'aït Diex, tu auras si franc fiet
     Com Damediex qui tot puet justicier
     Tient Paradis de regne droiturier!

Then the traitor Amaury de la Tor de Rivier gets up and brings forward
the case of Bordeaux, which has rendered no service for seven years,
since the two brothers, Huon and Gerard, were left orphans. Amaury
proposes that the orphans should be dispossessed. Charlemagne agrees
at once, and withdraws his assent again (a painful spectacle!) when
it is suggested to him that Huon and his brother have omitted their
duties in pure innocence, and that their father Sewin was always

Messengers are sent to bring Huon and Gerard to Paris, and every
chance is to be given them of proving their good faith to the Emperor.

This is not what Amaury the traitor wants; he goes to Charlot and
proposes an ambuscade to lie in wait for the two boys and get rid of
them; his real purpose being to get rid of the king's son as well as
of Huon of Bordeaux.

The two boys set out, and on the way fall in with the Abbot of Clugni,
their father's cousin, a strong-minded prelate, who accompanies them.
Outside Paris they come to the ambush, and the king's son is
despatched by Amaury to encounter them. What follows is an admirable
piece of narrative. Gerard rides up to address Charlot; Charlot rides
at him as he is turning back to report to Huon and the Abbot, and
Gerard who is unarmed falls severely wounded. Then Huon, also unarmed,
rides at Charlot, though his brother calls out to him: "I see helmets
flashing there among the bushes." With his scarlet mantle rolled round
his arm he meets the lance of Charlot safely, and with his sword, as
he passes, cuts through the helmet and head of his adversary.

This is good enough for Amaury, and he lets Huon and his party ride on
to the city, while he takes up the body of Charlot on a shield and
follows after.

Huon comes before the Emperor and tells his story as far as he knows
it; he does not know that the felon he has killed is the Emperor's
son. Charlemagne gives solemn absolution to Huon. Then appears Amaury
with a false story, making Huon the aggressor. Charlemagne forgets
all about the absolution and snatches up a knife, and is with
difficulty calmed by his wise men.

The ordeal of battle has to decide between the two parties; there are
elaborate preparations and preliminaries, obviously of the most vivid
interest to the audience. The demeanour of the Abbot of Clugni ought
not to be passed over: he vows that if Heaven permits any mischance to
come upon Huon, he, the Abbot, will make it good on St. Peter himself,
and batter his holy shrine till the gold flies.

In the combat Huon is victorious; but unhappily a last treacherous
effort of his enemy, after he has yielded and confessed, makes Huon
cut off his head in too great a hurry before the confession is heard
by the Emperor or any witnesses:--

     Le teste fist voler ens el larris:
     Hues le voit, mais ce fu sans jehir.

     The head went flying over the lea, but it had no more words
     to speak.

Huon is not forgiven by the Emperor; the Emperor spares his life,
indeed, but sends him on a hopeless expedition.

And there the first part of the story ends. The present version is
dated in the early part of the reign of St. Louis; it is contemporary
with Snorri Sturluson and Sturla his nephew, and exhibits, though not
quite in the Icelandic manner, the principal motives of early unruly
society, without much fanciful addition, and with a very strong hold
upon the tragic situation, and upon the types of character. As in
_Raoul de Cambrai_, right and wrong are mixed; the Emperor has a real
grievance against Huon, and Huon, with little fault of his own, is put
apparently in the wrong. The interests involved are of the strongest
possible. There was not a single lord among those to whom the
minstrel repeated his story who did not know that he might have to
look out for encroachments and injustice--interference at any
rate--from the king, and treachery from his neighbours. No one hoped
to leave his castles and lands in peace to his son, who did not also
fear that his son might be left defenceless and his lands exposed to
competition; a fear most touchingly expressed in the lament of William
of Poitiers, when he set out on the first Crusade.[78]

[Footnote 78: "Pos de chantar m'es pres talens:"--Raynouard, _Choix
des poésies des Troubadours_, iv. p. 83; Bartsch, _Chrestomathie

Whatever general influences of law or politics or social economy are
supposed to be at work in the story of _Huon of Bordeaux_,--and all
this earlier part of it is a story of feudal politics and legal
problems,--these influences were also present in the real world in
which the maker and the hearers of the poem had their life. It is
plain and serious dealing with matter of fact.

But after the ordeal of battle in which Huon kills the traitor, the
tone changes with great abruptness and a new story begins.

The commission laid upon Huon by the implacable and doting Emperor is
nothing less than that which afterwards was made a byword for all
impossible enterprises--"to take the Great Turk by the beard." He is
to go to Babylon and, literally, to beard the Admiral there, and carry
off the Admiral's daughter. The audience is led away into the wide
world of Romance. Huon goes to the East by way of Rome and
Brindisi--naturally enough--but the real world ends at Brindisi;
beyond that everything is magical.




Romance in many varieties is to be found inherent in Epic and in
Tragedy; for some readers, possibly, the great and magnificent forms
of poetry are most attractive when from time to time they forget their
severity, and when the tragic strength is allowed to rest, as in the
fairy interludes of the _Odyssey_, or the similes of the clouds,
winds, and mountain-waters in the _Iliad_. If Romance be the name for
the sort of imagination that possesses the mystery and the spell of
everything remote and unattainable, then Romance is to be found in the
old Northern heroic poetry in larger measure than any epic or tragic
solemnity, and in no small measure also even in the steady course of
the Icelandic histories. Possibly Romance is in its best place here,
as an element in the epic harmony; perhaps the romantic mystery is
most mysterious when it is found as something additional among the
graver and more positive affairs of epic or tragic personages. The
occasional visitations of the dreaming moods of romance, in the middle
of a great epic or a great tragedy, are often more romantic than the
literature which is nothing but romance from beginning to end. The
strongest poets, Homer, Dante, and Shakespeare, have along with their
strong reasoning enough of the lighter and fainter grace and charm to
be the despair of all the "romantic schools" in the world. In the
Icelandic prose stories, as has been seen already, there is a similar
combination. These stories contain the strongest imaginative work of
the Middle Ages before Dante. Along with this there is found in them
occasionally the uncertain and incalculable play of the other, the
more airy mode of imagination; and the romance of the strong Sagas is
more romantic than that of the medieval works which have no other
interest to rely upon, or of all but a very few.

One of the largest and plainest facts of medieval history is the
change of literature in the twelfth century, and the sudden and
exuberant growth and progress of a number of new poetical forms;
particularly the courtly lyric that took shape in Provence, and passed
into the tongues of Italy, France, and Germany, and the French romance
which obeyed the same general inspiration as the Provençal poetry, and
was equally powerful as an influence on foreign nations. The French
Romantic Schools of the twelfth century are among the most definite
and the most important appearances even in that most wonderful age;
though it is irrational to contrast them with the other great
historical movements of the time, because there is no real separation
between them. French romance is part of the life of the time, and the
life of the twelfth century is reproduced in French romance.

The rise of these new forms of story makes an unmistakable difference
between the age that preceded them and everything that comes after.
They are a new, fresh, and prosperous beginning in literature, and
they imply the failure of the older manner of thought, the older
fashion of imagination, represented in the epic literature of France,
not to speak of the various Teutonic forms of heroic verse and prose
that are related to the epic of France only by a remote common
ancestry, and a certain general likeness in the conditions of "heroic"

The defeat of French epic, as has been noted already, was slow and
long resisted; but the victory of romance was inevitable. Together
with the influence of the Provençal lyric idealism, it determined the
forms of modern literature, long after the close of the Middle Ages.
The change of fashion in the twelfth century is as momentous and
far-reaching in its consequences as that to which the name
"Renaissance" is generally appropriated. The later Renaissance,
indeed, in what concerns imaginative literature, makes no such abrupt
and sudden change of fashion as was made in the twelfth century. The
poetry and romance of the Renaissance follow naturally upon the
literature of the Middle Ages; for the very good reason that it was
the Middle Ages which began, even in their dark beginnings, the modern
study of the humanities, and in the twelfth century made a remarkable
and determined effort to secure the inheritance of ancient poetry for
the advantage of the new tongues and their new forms of verse. There
is no such line of division between Ariosto and Chrestien of Troyes as
there is between Chrestien and the primitive epic.

The romantic schools of the twelfth century are the result and
evidence of a great unanimous movement, the origins of which may be
traced far back in the general conditions of education and learning,
in the influence of Latin authors, in the interchange of popular
tales. They are among the most characteristic productions of the most
impressive, varied, and characteristic period in the Middle Ages; of
that century which broke, decisively, with the old "heroic"
traditions, and made the division between the heroic and the
chivalric age. When the term "medieval" is used in modern talk, it
almost always denotes something which first took definite shape in the
twelfth century. The twelfth century is the source of most of the
"medieval" influences in modern art and literature, and the French
romances of that age are the original authorities for most of the
"Gothic" ornaments adopted in modern romantic schools.

The twelfth-century French romances form a definite large group, with
many ranks and divisions, some of which are easily distinguished,
while all are of great historical interest.

One common quality, hardly to be mistaken, is that which marks them
all as belonging to a romantic _school_, in almost all the modern
senses of that term. That is to say, they are not the spontaneous
product of an uncritical and ingenuous imagination; they are not the
same sort of thing as the popular stories on which many of them are
founded; they are the literary work of authors more or less
sophisticated, on the look-out for new sensations and new literary
devices. It is useless to go to those French books in order to catch
the first fresh jet of romantic fancy, the "silly sooth" of the golden
age. One might as well go to the _Légende des Siècles_. Most of the
romance of the medieval schools is already hot and dusty and fatigued.
It has come through the mills of a thousand active literary men, who
know their business, and have an eye to their profits. Medieval
romance, in its most characteristic and most influential form, is
almost as factitious and professional as modern Gothic architecture.
The twelfth-century dealers in romantic commonplaces are as fully
conscious of the market value of their goods as any later poet who has
borrowed from them their giants and enchanters, their forests and
their magic castles; and these and similar properties are used in the
twelfth century with the same kind of literary sharpness, the same
attention to the demands of the "reading public," as is shown by the
various poets and novelists who have waited on the successes, and
tried to copy the methods, of Goethe, Scott, or Victor Hugo. Pure
Romance, such as is found in the old Northern poems, is very rare in
the French stories of the twelfth century; the magical touch and the
sense of mystery, and all the things that are associated with the name
romance, when that name is applied to the _Ancient Mariner_, or _La
Belle Dame sans Merci_, or the _Lady of Shalott_, are generally absent
from the most successful romances of the great medieval romantic age,
full though they may be of all the forms of chivalrous devotion and
all the most wonderful romantic machines. Most of them are as
different from the true irresistible magic of fancy as _Thalaba_ from
_Kubla Khan_. The name "romantic school" is rightly applicable to them
and their work, for almost the last thing that is produced in a
"romantic school" is the infallible and indescribable touch of
romance. A "romantic school" is a company for the profitable working
of Broceliande, an organised attempt to "open up" the Enchanted
Ground; such, at least, is the appearance of a great deal of the
romantic literature of the early part of the nineteenth century, and
of its forerunner in the twelfth. There is this difference between the
two ages, that the medieval romanticists are freer and more original
than the moderns who made a business out of tales of terror and
wonder, and tried to fatten their lean kine on the pastures of
"Gothic" or of Oriental learning.

The romance-writers of the twelfth century, though they did much to
make romance into a mechanic art, though they reduced the game to a
system and left the different romantic combinations and conventions
within the reach of almost any 'prentice hand, were yet in their way
original explorers. Though few of them got out of their materials the
kind of effect that appeals to us now most strongly, and though we
think we can see what they missed in their opportunities, yet they
were not the followers of any great man of their own time, and they
chose their own way freely, not as bungling imitators of a greater
artist. It is a disappointment to find that romance is rarely at its
finest in the works that technically have the best right in the world
to be called by that name. Nevertheless, the work that is actually
found there is interesting in its own way, and historically of an
importance which does not need to be emphasised.

The true romantic interest is very unequally distributed over the
works of the Middle Ages, and there is least of it in the authors who
are most representative of the "age of chivalry." There is a
disappointment prepared for any one who looks in the greater romantic
authors of the twelfth century for the music of the _Faery Queene_ or
_La Belle Dame sans Merci_. There is more of the pure romantic element
in the poems of Brynhild, in the story of Njal, in the _Song of
Roland_, than in the famous romances of Chrestien of Troyes or any of
his imitators, though they have all the wonders of the Isle of Britain
at their command, though they have the very story of Tristram and the
very mystery of the Grail to quicken them and call them out. Elegance,
fluency, sentiment, romantic adventures are common, but for words like
those of Hervor at the grave of her father, or of the parting between
Brynhild and Sigurd, or of Helgi and Sigrun, it would be vain to
search in the romances of Benoit de Sainte More or of Chrestien. Yet
these are the masters of the art of romance when it was fresh and
strong, a victorious fashion.

If the search be continued further, the search for that kind of
imaginative beauty which these authors do not give, it will not be
unsuccessful. The greater authors of the twelfth century have more
affinity to the "heroic romance" of the school of the _Grand Cyrus_
than to the dreams of Spenser or Coleridge. But, while this is the
case with the most distinguished members of the romantic school, it is
not so with all the rest. The magic that is wanting to the clear and
elegant narrative of Benoit and Chrestien will be found elsewhere; it
will be found in one form in the mystical prose of the _Queste del St.
Graal_--a very different thing from Chrestien's _Perceval_--it will be
found, again and again, in the prose of Sir Thomas Malory; it will be
found in many ballads and ballad burdens, in _William and Margaret_,
in _Binnorie_, in the _Wife of Usher's Well_, in the _Rime of the
Count Arnaldos_, in the _Königskinder_; it will be found in the most
beautiful story of the Middle Ages, _Aucassin and Nicolette_; one of
the few perfectly beautiful stories in the world, about which there is
no need, in England at any rate, to say anything in addition to the
well-known passages in which it has been praised. _Aucassin and
Nicolette_ cannot be made into a representative medieval romance:
there is nothing else like it; and the qualities that make it what it
is are the opposite of the rhetorical self-possession, the correct and
deliberate narrative of Chrestien and his school. It contains the
quintessence of romantic imagination, but it is quite unlike the most
fashionable and successful romances.

There are several stages in the history of the great Romantic School,
as well as several distinct sources of interest. The value of the
best works of the school consists in their representation of the
passion of love. They turn the psychology of the courtly amatory poets
into narrative. Chaucer's address to the old poets,--"Ye lovers that
can make of sentiment,"--when he complains that they have left little
for him to glean in the field of poetry, does not touch the lyrical
poets only. The narrative poetry of the courteous school is equally
devoted to the philosophy of love. Narrative poets like Chrestien,
when they turn to lyric, can change their instrument without changing
the purport of their verse; lyric or narrative, it has the same
object, the same duty. So also, two hundred years later, Chaucer
himself or Froissart may use narrative or lyric forms indifferently,
and observe the same "courteous" ideal in both.

In the twelfth-century narratives, besides the interest of the
love-story and all its science, there was the interest of adventure,
of strange things; and here there is a great diversity among the
authors, and a perceptible difference between earlier and later usage.
Courteous sentiment, running through a succession of wonderful
adventures, is generally enough to make a romance; but there are some
notable varieties, both in the sentiment and in the incidents. The
sentiment comes later in the history of literature than the
adventures; the conventional romantic form of plot may be said to have
been fixed before the romantic sentiment was brought to its furthest
refinement. The wonders of romantic story are more easily traced to
their origin, or at least to some of their earlier forms, than the
spirit of chivalrous idealism which came in due time to take
possession of the fabulous stories, and gave new meanings to the lives
of Tristram and Lancelot.

Variety of incident, remoteness of scene, and all the incredible
things in the world, had been at the disposal of medieval authors long
before the French Romantic Schools began to define themselves. The
wonders of the East, especially, had very early come into literature;
and the Anglo-Saxon _Epistle of Alexander_ seems to anticipate the
popular taste for Eastern stories, just as the Anglo-Saxon version of
_Apollonius of Tyre_ anticipates the later importation of Greek
romance, and the appropriation of classical rhetoric, in the twelfth
and thirteenth centuries; as the grace and brightness of the old
English poems of St. Andrew or St. Helen seem to anticipate the
peculiar charm of some of the French poems of adventures. In French
literature before the vogue of romance can be said to have begun, and
before the epic form had lost its supremacy, the poem of the
_Pilgrimage of Charlemagne_, one of the oldest extant poems of the
heroic cycle, is already far gone in subjection to the charm of mere
unqualified wonder and exaggeration--rioting in the wonders of the
East, like the Varangians on their holiday, when they were allowed a
free day to loot in the Emperor's palace.[79] The poem of
Charlemagne's journey to Constantinople is unrefined enough, but the
later and more elegant romances deal often in the same kind of matter.
Mere furniture counts for a good deal in the best romances, and they
are full of descriptions of riches and splendours. The story of Troy
is full of details of various sorts of magnificence; the city of Troy
itself and "Ylion," its master-tower, were built by Priam out of all
kinds of marble, and covered with sculpture all over. Much further on
in Benoit's poem (l. 14,553) Hector is brought home wounded to a room
which is described in 300 lines, with particulars of its remarkable
decorations, especially its four magical images. The tomb of
Penthesilea (l. 25,690) is too much for the author:--

     Sepolture ot et monument
     Tant que se _Plenius_ fust vis
     Ou _cil qui fist Apocalis_
     Nel vos sauroient il retraire:
     Por ço si m'en dei gie bien taire:
     N'en dirai plus, que n'oseroie;
     Trop halte chose envaïroie.

[Footnote 79: See the account of the custom in the _Saga of Harald
Hardrada_, c. 16. "Harald entrusted to Jarizleif all the gold that he
had sent from Micklegarth, and all sorts of precious things: so much
wealth all together, as no man of the North Lands had ever seen before
in one man's hands. Harald had thrice come in for the palace-sweeping
(_Polotasvarf_) while he was in Micklegarth. It is the law there that
when the Greek king dies, the Varangians shall have a sweep of the
palace; they go over all the king's palaces where his treasures are,
and every man shall have for his own what falls to his hand"
(_Fornmanna Sögur_, vi. p. 171).]

Pliny and the author of the Apocalypse are here acknowledged as
masters and authorities in the art of description. In other places of
the same work there is a very liberal use of natural history such as
is common in many versions of the history of Alexander. There is, for
example, a long description of the precious clothes of Briseide
(Cressida) at her departure, especially of her mantle, which had been
given to Calchas by an Indian poet in Upper India. It was made by
nigromancy, of the skin of the beast _Dindialos_, which is hunted in
the shadowless land by the savage people whose name is _Cenocefali_;
and the fringes of the mantle were not of the sable, but of a "beast
of price" that dwells in the water of Paradise:--

     Dedans le flum de Paradis
     Sont et conversent, ço set l'on
     Se c'est vrais que nos en lison.

Calchas had a tent which had belonged to Pharaoh:--

     Diomedes tant la conduit
     Qu'il descendi al paveillon
     Qui fu al riche Pharaon,
     Cil qui noa en la mer roge.

In such passages of ornamental description the names of strange people
and of foreign kings have the same kind of value as the names of
precious stones, and sometimes they are introduced on their own
account, apart from the precious work of Arabian or Indian artists. Of
this sort is the "dreadful sagittary," who is still retained in
Shakespeare's _Troilus and Cressida_ on the ultimate authority (when
it comes to be looked into) of Benoit de Sainte More.[80]

[Footnote 80:

     Il ot o lui un saietaire
     Qui molt fu fels et deputaire:
     Des le nombril tot contreval
     Ot cors en forme de cheval:
     Il n'est riens nule s'il volsist
     Que d'isnelece n'ateinsist:
     Cors, chiere, braz, a noz semblanz
     Avoit, mes n'ert pas avenanz.

     l. 12,207.]

A quotation by M. Gaston Paris (_Hist. litt. de la France_, xxx. p.
210), from the unpublished romance of _Ider_ (Edeyrn, son of Nudd),
shows how this fashion of rich description and allusion had been
overdone, and how it was necessary, in time, to make a protest against
it. Kings' pavilions were a favourite subject for rhetoric, and the
poet of _Ider_ explains that he does not approve of this fashion,
though he has pavilions of his own, and can describe them if he likes,
as well as any one:--

     Tels diz n'a fors savor de songe,
     Tant en acreissent les paroles:
     Mes jo n'ai cure d'iperboles:
     _Yperbole_ est chose non voire,
     Qui ne fu et qui n'est a croire,
     C'en est la difinicion:
     Mes tant di de cest paveillon
     Qu'il n'en a nul soz ciel qu'il vaille.

     Many poets give themselves pains to describe gardens and
     pavilions and other things, and think they are beautifying
     their work, but this is all dreaming and waste of words; I
     will have no such hyperbole. (_Hyperbole_ means by
     definition that which is untrue and incredible.) I will only
     say of this pavilion that there was not its match under

The author, by his definition of _hyperbole_[81] in this place,
secures an ornamental word with which he consoles himself for his
abstinence in other respects. This piece of science is itself
characteristic of the rhetorical enterprise of the Romantic School; of
the way in which Pliny, Isidore, and other encyclopaedic authors were
turned into decorations. The taste for such things is common in the
early and the later Middle Ages; all that the romances did was to give
a certain amount of finish and neatness to the sort of work that was
left comparatively rude by the earlier pedants. There many be
discovered in some writers a preference for classical subjects in
their ornamental digressions, or for the graceful forms of allegory,
such as in the next century were collected for the Garden of the Rose,
and still later for the _House of Fame_. Thus Chrestien seems to
assert his superiority of taste and judgment when, instead of
Oriental work, he gives Enid an ivory saddle carved with the story of
Aeneas and Dido (_Erec_, l. 5337); or when, in the same book, Erec's
coronation mantle, though it is fairy work, bears no embroidered
designs of Broceliande or Avalon, but four allegorical figures of the
quadrivial sciences, with a reference by Chrestien to Macrobius as his
authority in describing them. One function of this Romantic School,
though not the most important, is to make an immediate literary profit
out of all accessible books of learning. It was a quick-witted school,
and knew how to turn quotations and allusions. Much of its art, like
the art of _Euphues_, is bestowed in making pedantry look attractive.

[Footnote 81: Chaucer, who often yields to the temptations of
"Hyperbole" in this sense of the word, lays down the law against
impertinent decorations, in the rhetorical instruction of Pandarus to
Troilus, about Troilus's letter to Cressida (B. ii. l. 1037):--

     Ne jompre eek no discordaunt thing yfere
     As thus, to usen termes of phisyk;
     In loves termes hold of thy matere
     The forme alwey, and do that it be lyk;
     For if a peyntour wolde peynte a pyk
     With asses feet, and hede it as an ape,
     It cordeth naught; so nere it but a jape.]

The narrative material imported and worked up in the Romantic School
is, of course, enormously more important than the mere decorations
taken out of Solinus or Macrobius. It is not, however, with the
principal masters the most important part of their study. Chrestien,
for example, often treats his adventures with great levity in
comparison with the serious psychological passages; the wonder often
is that he should have used so much of the common stuff of adventures
in poems where he had a strong commanding interest in the sentiments
of the personages. There are many irrelevant and unnecessary
adventures in his _Erec_, _Lancelot_, and _Yvain_, not to speak of his
unfinished _Perceval_; while in _Cliges_ he shows that he did not rely
on the commonplaces of adventure, on the regular machinery of romance,
and that he might, when he chose, commit himself to a novel almost
wholly made up of psychology and sentiment. Whatever the explanation
be in this case, it is plain enough both that the adventures are of
secondary value as compared with the psychology, in the best
romances, and that their value, though inferior, is still
considerable, even in some of the best work of the "courtly makers."

The greatest novelty in the twelfth-century narrative materials was
due to the Welsh; not that the "matter of Britain" was quite
overwhelming in extent, or out of proportion to the other stores of
legend and fable. "The matter of Rome the Great" (not to speak again
of the old epic "matter of France" and its various later romantic
developments) included all known antiquity, and it was recruited
continually by new importations from the East. The "matter of Rome,"
however, the tales of Thebes and Troy and the wars of Alexander, had
been known more or less for centuries, and they did not produce the
same effect as the discovery of the Celtic stories. Rather, it may be
held that the Welsh stories gave a new value to the classical
authorities, and suggested new imaginative readings. As Chaucer's
_Troilus_ in our own time has inspired a new rendering of the _Life
and Death of Jason_, so (it would seem) the same story of Jason got a
new meaning in the twelfth century when it was read by Benoit de
Sainte More in the light of Celtic romance. Then it was discovered
that Jason and Medea were no more, and no less, than the adventurer
and the wizard's daughter, who might play their parts in a story of
Wales or Brittany. The quest of the Golden Fleece and the labours of
Jason are all reduced from the rhetoric of Ovid, from their classical
dignity, to something like what their original shape may have been
when the story that now is told in Argyll and Connaught of the _King's
Son of Ireland_ was told or chanted, ages before Homer, of a king's
son of the Greeks and an enchantress beyond sea. Something indeed, and
that of the highest consequence, as will be seen, was kept by Benoit
from his reading of the _Metamorphoses_; the passion of Medea,
namely. But the story itself is hardly distinguishable in kind from
_Libeaux Desconus_. It is not easy to say how far this treatment of
Jason may be due to the Welsh example of similar stories, and how far
to the general medieval disrespect for everything in the classics
except their matter. The Celtic precedents can scarcely have been
without influence on this very remarkable detection of the "Celtic
element" in the voyage of the Argonauts, while at the same time Ovid
ought not to be refused his share in the credit of medieval romantic
adventure. Virgil, Ovid, and Statius are not to be underrated as
sources of chivalrous adventure, even in comparison with the
unquestioned riches of Wales or Ireland.

There is more than one distinct stage in the progress of the Celtic
influence in France. The culmination of the whole thing is attained
when Chrestien makes the British story of the capture and rescue of
Guinevere into the vehicle of his most finished and most courtly
doctrine of love, as shown in the examples of Lancelot and the Queen.
Before that there are several earlier kinds of Celtic romance in
French, and after that comes what for modern readers is more
attractive than the typical work of Chrestien and his school,--the
eloquence of the old French prose, with its languor and its
melancholy, both in the prose _Lancelot_ and in the _Queste del St.
Graal_ and _Mort Artus_. In Chrestien everything is clear and
positive; in these prose romances, and even more in Malory's English
rendering of his "French book," is to be heard the indescribable
plaintive melody, the sigh of the wind over the enchanted ground, the
spell of pure Romance. Neither in Chrestien of Troyes, nor yet in the
earlier authors who dealt more simply than he with their Celtic
materials, is there anything to compare with this later prose.

In some of the earlier French romantic work, in some of the lays of
Marie de France, and in the fragments of the poems about Tristram,
there is a kind of simplicity, partly due to want of skill, but in its
effect often impressive enough. The plots made use of by the medieval
artists are some of them among the noblest in the world, but none of
the poets were strong enough to bring out their value, either in
translating _Dido_ and _Medea_, or in trying to educate Tristram and
other British heroes according to the manners of the Court of
Champagne. There are, however, differences among the misinterpretations
and the failures. No French romance appears to have felt the full
power of the story of Tristram and Iseult; no French poet had his mind
and imagination taken up by the character of Iseult as more than one
Northern poet was possessed by the tragedy of Brynhild. But there were
some who, without developing the story as Chaucer did with the story
of Troilus, at least allowed it to tell itself clearly. The Celtic
magic, as that is described in Mr. Arnold's _Lectures_, has scarcely
any place in French romance, either of the earlier period or of the
fully-developed and successful chivalrous order, until the time of the
prose books. The French poets, both the simpler sort and the more
elegant, appear to have had a gift for ignoring that power of
vagueness and mystery which is appreciated by some of the prose
authors of the thirteenth century. They seem for the most part to have
been pleased with the incidents of the Celtic stories, without
appreciating any charm of style that they may have possessed. They
treated them, in fact, as they treated Virgil and Ovid; and there is
about as much of the "Celtic spirit" in the French versions of
_Tristram_, as there is of the genius of Virgil in the _Roman
d'Eneas_. In each case there is something recognisable of the original
source, but it has been translated by minds imperfectly responsive. In
dealing with Celtic, as with Greek, Latin, or Oriental stories, the
French romancers were at first generally content if they could get the
matter in the right order and present it in simple language, like
tunes played with one finger. One great advantage of this procedure is
that the stories are intelligible; the sequence of events is clear,
and where the original conception has any strength or beauty it is not
distorted, though the colours may be faint. This earlier and more
temperate method was abandoned in the later stages of the Romantic
School, when it often happened that a simple story was taken from the
"matter of Britain" and overlaid with the chivalrous conventional
ornament, losing its simplicity without being developed in respect of
its characters or its sentiment. As an example of the one kind may be
chosen the _Lay of Guingamor_, one of the lays of Marie de France;[82]
as an example of the other, the Dutch romance of Gawain (_Walewein_),
which is taken from the French and exhibits the results of a common
process of adulteration. Or, again, the story of _Guinglain_, as told
by Renaud de Beaujeu with an irrelevant "courtly" digression, may be
compared with the simpler and more natural versions in English
(_Libeaux Desconus_) and Italian (_Carduino_), as has been done by M.
Gaston Paris; or the _Conte du Graal_ of Chrestien with the English
_Sir Perceval of Galles_.

[Footnote 82: Not included in the editions of her works (Roquefort,
Warnke); edited by M. Gaston Paris in the eighth volume of _Romania_
along with the lays of _Doon_, _Tidorel_, and _Tiolet_.]

_Guingamor_ is one of the best of the simpler kind of romances. The
theme is that of an old story, a story which in one form and another
is extant in native Celtic versions with centuries between them. In
essentials it is the story of Ossian in the land of youth; in its
chief motive, the fairy-bride, it is akin to the old Irish story of
Connla. It is different from both in its definite historical manner of
treating the subject. The story is allowed to count for the full value
of all its incidents, with scarcely a touch to heighten the importance
of any of them. It is the argument of a story, and little more. Even
an argument, however, may present some of the vital qualities of a
fairy story, as well as of a tragic plot, and the conclusion,
especially, of _Guingamor_ is very fine in its own way, through its
perfect clearness.

There was a king in Britain, and Guingamor was his nephew. The queen
fell in love with him, and was driven to take revenge for his
rejection of her; but being less cruel than other queens of similar
fortune, she planned nothing worse than to send him into the _lande
aventureuse_, a mysterious forest on the other side of the river, to
hunt the white boar. This white boar of the adventurous ground had
already taken off ten knights, who had gone out to hunt it and had
never returned. Guingamor followed the boar with the king's hound. In
his wanderings he came on a great palace, with a wall of green marble
and a silver shining tower, and open gates, and no one within, to
which he was brought back later by a maiden whom he met in the forest.
The story of their meeting was evidently, in the original, a story
like that of Weland and the swan-maidens, and those of other swan or
seal maidens, who are caught by their lovers as Weland caught his
bride. But the simplicity of the French story here is in excess of
what is required even by the illiterate popular versions of similar

Guingamor, after two days in the rich palace (where he met the ten
knights of the king's court, who had disappeared before), on the third
day wished to go back to bring the head of the white boar to the king.
His bride told him that he had been there for three hundred years, and
that his uncle was dead, with all his retinue, and his cities fallen
and destroyed.

But she allowed him to go, and gave him the boar's head and the king's
hound; and told him after he had crossed the river into his own
country to eat and drink nothing.

He was ferried across the river, and there he met a charcoal-burner
and asked for news of the king. The king had been dead for three
hundred years, he was told; and the king's nephew had gone hunting in
the forest and had never been seen again. Guingamor told him his
story, and showed him the boar's head, and turned to go back.

Now it was after nones and turning late. He saw a wild apple-tree and
took three apples from it; but as he tasted them he grew old and
feeble and fell from his horse.

The charcoal-burner had followed him and was going to help him, when
he saw two damsels richly dressed, who came to Guingamor and
reproached him for his forgetfulness. They put him gently on a horse
and brought him to the river, and ferried him over, along with his
hound. The charcoal-burner went back to his own house at nightfall.
The boar's head he took to the king of Britain that then was, and told
the story of Guingamor, and the king bade turn it into a lay.

The simplicity of all this is no small excellence in a story. If
there is anything in this story that can affect the imagination, it is
there unimpaired by anything foreign or cumbrous. It is unsupported
and undeveloped by any strong poetic art, but it is sound and clear.

In the Dutch romance of _Walewein_, and doubtless in its French
original (to show what is gained by the moderation and restriction of
the earlier school), another story of fairy adventures has been
dressed up to look like chivalry. The story of Walewein is one that
appears in collections of popular tales; it is that of Mac Iain
Direach in Campbell's _West Highland Tales_ (No. xlvi.), as well as of
Grimm's _Golden Bird_. The romance observes the general plot of the
popular story; indeed, it is singular among the romances in its close
adherence to the order of events as given in the traditional oral
forms. Though it contains 11,200 lines, it begins at the beginning and
goes on to the end without losing what may be considered the original
design. But while the general economy is thus retained, there are
large digressions, and there is an enormous change in the character of
the hero. While Guingamor in the French poem has little, if anything,
to distinguish him from the adventurer of popular fairy stories, the
hero in this Dutch romance is Gawain,--Gawain the Courteous, in
splendid armour, playing the part of Mac Iain Direach. The discrepancy
is very great, and there can be little doubt that the story as told in
Gaelic fifty years ago by Angus Campbell, quarryman, is, in respect of
the hero's condition and manners, more original than the medieval
romance. Both versions are simple enough in their plot, and their plot
is one and the same: the story of a quest for something wonderful,
leading to another quest and then another, till the several problems
are solved and the adventurer returns successful. In each story (as
in Grimm's version also) the Fox appears as a helper.

Mac Iain Direach is sent to look for the Blue Falcon; the giant who
owns the Falcon sends him to the big Women of the Isle of Jura to ask
for their white glaive of light. The Women of Jura ask for the bay
filly of the king of Erin; the king of Erin sends him to woo for him
the king's daughter of France. Mac Iain Direach wins all for himself,
with the help of the Fox.

Gawain has to carry out similar tasks: to find and bring back to King
Arthur a magical flying Chessboard that appeared one day through the
window and went out again; to bring to King Wonder, the owner of the
Chessboard, "the sword of the strange rings"; to win for the owner of
the sword the Princess of the Garden of India.

Some things in the story, apart from the hero, are different from the
popular versions. In _Walewein_ there appears quite plainly what is
lost in the Gaelic and the German stories, the character of the
strange land in which the quests are carried out. Gawain has to pass
through or into a hill to reach the land of King Wonder; it does not
belong to the common earth. The three castles to which he comes have
all of them water about them; the second of them, Ravensten, is an
island in the sea; the third is beyond the water of Purgatory, and is
reached by two perilous bridges, the bridge of the sword and the
bridge under water, like those in Chrestien's _Lancelot_. There is a
distinction here, plain enough, between the human world, to which
Arthur and his Court belong, and the other world within the hill, and
the castles beyond the waters. But if this may be supposed to belong
to an older form of the story not evident in the popular versions, a
story of adventures in the land of the Dead, on the other hand the
romance has no conception of the meaning of these passages, and gets
no poetical result from the chances here offered to it. It has nothing
like the vision of Thomas of Erceldoune; the waters about the magic
island are tame and shallow; the castle beyond the Bridge of Dread is
loaded with the common, cheap, pedantic "hyperboles," like those of
the _Pèlerinage_ or of Benoit's _Troy_. Gawain is too heavily
armoured, also, and even his horse Gringalet has a reputation of his
own; all inconsistent with the lightness of the fairy tale. Gawain in
the land of all these dreams is burdened still by the heavy chivalrous
conventions. The world for him, even after he has gone through the
mountain, is still very much the old world with the old stale business
going on; especially tournaments and all their weariness. One natural
result of all this is that the Fox's part is very much reduced. In the
Gaelic story, Mac Iain Direach and his friend Gille Mairtean (the Lad
of March, the Fox) are a pair of equals; they have no character, no
position in the world, no station and its duties. They are quite
careless, and they move freely. Gawain is slow, and he has to put in a
certain amount of the common romantic business. The authors of that
romantic school, if ever they talked shop, may have asked one another,
"Where do you put your Felon Red Knight? Where do you put your doing
away of the Ill Custom? or your tournaments?" and the author of
_Walewein_ would have had an answer ready. Everything is there all
right: that is to say, all the things that every one else has, all the
mechanical business of romance. The Fox is postponed to the third
adventure, and there, though he has not quite grown out of his
original likeness to the Gille Mairtean, he is evidently constrained.
Sir Gawain of the romance, this courteous but rather dull and
middle-aged gentleman in armour, is not his old light-hearted

Still, though this story of _Gawain_ is weighed down by the
commonplaces of the Romantic School, it shows through all its
encumbrances what sort of story it was that impressed the French
imagination at the beginning of the School. It may be permitted to
believe that the story of _Walewein_ existed once in a simpler and
clearer form, like that of _Guingamor_.

The curious sophistication of _Guinglain_ by Renaud de Beaujeu has
been fully described and criticised by M. Gaston Paris in one of his
essays (_Hist. litt. de la France_, xxx. p. 171). His comparison with
the English and Italian versions of the story brings out the
indifference of the French poets to their plot, and their readiness to
sacrifice the unities of action for the sake of irrelevant sentiment.
The story is as simple as that of Walewein; an expedition, this time,
to rescue a lady from enchantment. She is bewitched in the form of a
serpent, and freed by a kiss (_le fier basier_). There are various
adventures on the journey; it has some resemblance to that of Gareth
in the _Morte d'Arthur_, and of the Red Cross Knight in Spenser, which
is founded upon Malory's _Gareth_.[83] One of the adventures is in the
house of a beautiful sorceress, who treats Guinglain with small
consideration. Renaud de Beaujeu, in order to get literary credit from
his handling of this romantic episode, brings Guinglain back to this
enchantress after the real close of the story, in a kind of
sentimental show-piece or appendix, by which the story is quite
overweighted and thrown off its balance for the sake of a rhetorical
demonstration. This of course belongs to the later period of romance,
when the simpler methods had been discredited; but the simpler form,
much nearer the fashion of popular stories, is still kept more or less
by the English and the Italian rhymes of "Sir Lybeaux."

[Footnote 83: Britomart in the House of Busirane has some resemblance
to the conclusion of _Libius Disconius_.]

The most remarkable examples of the earlier French romantic methods
are presented by the fragments remaining of the old Anglo-Norman poems
on Tristram and Yseult, by Béroul and Thomas, especially the
latter;[84] most remarkable, because in this case there is the
greatest contradiction between the tragic capabilities of the story
and the very simple methods of the Norman poets. It is a story that
might test the tragic strength and eloquence of any poet in any age of
the world; the poetical genius of Thomas is shown in his abstinence
from effort. Hardly anything could be simpler. He does very little to
fill out or to elaborate the story; he does nothing to vitiate his
style; there is little ornament or emphasis. The story itself is
there, as if the poet thought it an impertinence to add any harmonies
of his own. If it were only extant as a whole, it would be one of the
most notable of poems. Where else is there anything like it, for
sincerity and for thinness?

[Footnote 84: Fr. Michel: _Tristan._ London, 1835. _Le Roman de
Tristan_ (Thomas) ed. Bédier; (Béroul) ed. Muret, _Anc. Textes_,
1902-1905. Cf. Gaston Paris, _Poëmes et Légendes_.]

This poet of _Tristram_ does not represent the prevalent fashion of
his time. The eloquence and the passion of the amorous romances are
commonly more effusive, and seldom as true. The lost _Tristram_ of
Chrestien would probably have made a contrast with the Anglo-Norman
poem in this respect. Chrestien of Troyes is at the head of the French
Romantic School, and his interest is in the science of love; not in
ancient rude and passionate stories, such as the story of
Tristram--for it is rude and ancient, even in the French of
Thomas--not in the "Celtic magic," except for decorative and
incidental purposes, but in psychology and analysis of the emotions,
and in the appropriate forms of language for such things.

It is impossible (as M. Gaston Paris has shown) to separate the spirit
of French romance from the spirit of the Provençal lyric poetry. The
romances represent in a narrative form the ideas and the spirit which
took shape as lyric poetry in the South; the romances are directly
dependent upon the poetry of the South for their principal motives.
The courtesy of the Provençal poetry, with its idealism and its
pedantry, its psychological formalism, its rhetoric of antithesis and
conceits, is to be found again in the narrative poetry of France in
the twelfth century, just as, in the thirteenth, all the floods of
lyrical idealism are collected in the didactic reservoir of the
_Romaunt of the Rose_. The dominant interest in the French romances is
the same as in the Provençal lyric poetry and in the _Romaunt of the
Rose_; namely, the idealist or courteous science of love. The origins
of this mode of thought are difficult to trace fully. The inquiry
belongs more immediately to the history of Provence than of France,
for the romancers are the pupils of the Provençal school; not
independent practitioners of the same craft, but directly indebted to
Provence for some of their main ideas and a good deal of their
rhetoric. In Provence itself the origins are partly to be found in the
natural (_i.e._ inexplicable) development of popular love-poetry, and
in the corresponding progress of society and its sentiments; while
among the definite influences that can be proved and explained, one of
the strongest is that of Latin poetry, particularly of the _Art of
Love_. About this there can be no doubt, however great may seem to be
the interval between the ideas of Ovid and those of the Provençal
lyrists, not to speak of their greater scholars in Italy, Dante and
Petrarch. The pedantry of Ovid was taken seriously, for one thing, in
an age when everything systematic was valuable just because it was a
system; when every doctrine was profitable. For another thing, they
found in Ovid the form, at least, of devotion, and again the _Art of
Love_ was not their only book. There were other writings of Ovid and
works of other poets from whom the Middle Ages learned their lesson of
chivalrous service; not for the most part, it must be confessed, from
the example of "Paynim Knights," but far more from the classical
"Legend of Good Women," from the passion of Dido and the other
heroines. It is true that there were some names of ancient heroes that
were held in honour; the name of Paris is almost inseparable from the
name of Tristram, wherever a medieval poet has occasion to praise the
true lovers of old time, and Dante followed the common form when he
brought the names together in his fifth canto.

But what made by far the strongest impression on the Middle Ages was
not the example of Paris or of Leander, nor yet the passion of
Catullus and Propertius, who were then unknown, but the poetry of the
loyalty of the heroines, the fourth book of the _Aeneid_, the
_Heroides_ of Ovid, and certain parts of the _Metamorphoses_. If
anything literary can be said to have taken effect upon the temper of
the Middle Ages, so as to produce the manners and sentiments of
chivalry, this is the literature to which the largest share of
influence must be ascribed. The ladies of Romance all owe allegiance,
and some of them are ready to pay it, to the queens of the Latin
poets.[85] Virgil's Dido and Ovid's Medea taught the eloquence of
love to the French poets, and the first chivalrous lovers are those
who have learned to think poorly of the recreant knights of antiquity.

[Footnote 85: A fine passage is quoted from the romance of _Ider_ in
the essay cited above, where Guenloïe the queen finds Ider near death
and thinks of killing herself, like Phyllis and other ladies of the
old time, who will welcome her. It is the "Saints' Legend of Cupid,"
many generations before Chaucer, in the form of an invocation to Love,
the tyrant:--

     Bel semblant ço quit me feront
     Les cheitives qui a toi sont
     Qui s'ocistrent par druerie
     D'amor; mout voil lor compainie:
     D'amor me recomfortera
     La lasse Deïanira,
     Qui s'encroast, et Canacé,
     Eco, Scilla, Fillis, Pronné,
     Ero, Biblis, Dido, Mirra,
     Tisbé, la bele Hypermnestra,
     Et des autres mil et cinc cenz.
     Amor! por quoi ne te repenz
     De ces simples lasses destruire?
     Trop cruelment te voi deduire:
     Pechié feiz que n'en as pitié;
     Nuls deus fors toi ne fait pechié!
     De ço est Tisbé al dessus,
     Que por lié s'ocist Piramus;
     Amors, de ço te puet loer
     Car a ta cort siet o son per;
     Ero i est o Leander:
     Si jo i fusse avec Ider,
     Aise fusse, ço m'est avis,
     Com alme qu'est en paraïs.]

The French romantic authors were scholars in the poetry of the
Provençal School, but they also knew a good deal independently of
their Provençal masters, and did not need to be told everything. They
read the ancient authors for themselves, and drew their own
conclusions from them. They were influenced by the special Provençal
rendering of the common ideas of chivalry and courtesy; they were also
affected immediately by the authors who influenced the Provençal

Few things are more instructive in this part of literature than the
story of Medea in the _Roman de Troie_ of Benoit de Sainte More. It
might even claim to be the representative French romance, for it
contains in an admirable form the two chief elements common to all the
dominant school--adventure (here reduced from Ovid to the scale of a
common fairy story, as has been seen already) and sentimental
eloquence, which in this particular story is very near its original

It is to be noted that Benoit is not in the least troubled by the
Latin rhetoric when he has to get at the story. Nothing Latin, except
the names, and nothing rhetorical remains to show that the story came
from Ovid, and not from Blethericus or some other of his
fellow-romancers in Wales,[86] so long, that is, as the story is
merely concerned with the Golden Fleece, the Dragon, the Bulls, and
all the tasks imposed on Jason. But one essential thing is retained by
Benoit out of the Latin which is his authority, and that is the way in
which the love of Medea for Jason is dwelt upon and described.

[Footnote 86: Blethericus, or Bréri, is the Welsh authority cited by
Thomas in his _Tristan_. Cf. Gaston Paris, _Romania_, viii. p. 427.]

This is for medieval poetry one of the chief sources of the psychology
in which it took delight,--an original and authoritative
representation of the beginning and growth of the passion of love, not
yet spoilt by the pedantry which later displayed itself unrestrained
in the following generations of amatory poets, and which took its
finest form in the poem of Guillaume de Lorris; but yet at the same
time giving a starting-point and some encouragement to the later
pedants, by its study of the different degrees of the passion, and by
the success with which they are explained and made interesting. This
is one of the masterpieces and one of the standards of composition in
early French romance; and it gives one of the most singular proofs of
the dependence of modern on ancient literature, in certain respects.
It would not be easy to prove any real connexion between Homer and the
Sagas, in order to explain the resemblances of temper, and even of
incident, between them; but in the case of the medieval romances there
is this direct and real dependence. The Medea of Apollonius Rhodius is
at the beginning of medieval poetry, in one line of descent (through
Virgil's Dido as well as Ovid's Medea); and it would be hard to
overestimate the accumulated debt of all the modern poets whose
rhetoric of passion, whether they knew it or not, is derived somehow
from the earlier medieval masters of Dante or Chaucer, Boccaccio or

The "medieval" character of the work of Chrestien and his
contemporaries is plain enough. But "medieval" and other terms of the
same sort are too apt to impose themselves on the mind as complete
descriptive formulas, and in this case the term "medieval" ought not
to obscure the fact that it is modern literature, in one of its chief
branches, which has its beginning in the twelfth century. No later
change in the forms of fiction is more important than the
twelfth-century revolution, from which all the later forms and
constitutions of romance and novel are in some degree or other
derived. It was this revolution, of which Chrestien was one of the
first to take full advantage, that finally put an end to the old local
and provincial restrictions upon narrative. The older schools of epic
are bound to their own nation or tribe, and to the family traditions.
These restrictions are no hindrance to the poetry of Homer, nor to the
plots and conversations of the Sagas. Within these local restrictions
the highest form of narrative art is possible. Nevertheless the period
of these restrictions must come to an end; the heroic age cannot last
for ever. The merit of the twelfth-century authors, Benoit, Chrestien,
and their followers, is that they faced the new problems and solved
them. In their productions it may be seen how the Western world was
moving away from the separate national traditions, and beginning the
course of modern civilisation with a large stock of ideas, subjects,
and forms of expression common to all the nations. The new forms of
story might be defective in many ways, thin or formal or extravagant
in comparison with some of the older modes; but there was no help for
it, there was no progress to be made in any other way.

The first condition of modern progress in novel-writing, as in other
more serious branches of learning, was that the author should be free
to look about him, to reflect and choose, to pick up his ideas and his
matter anyhow. He was turned out of the old limited region of epic
tradition. The nations had several centuries to themselves, in the
Dark Ages, in which they were at liberty to compose Homeric poems ("if
they had a mind"), but by the twelfth century that time was over. The
romancers of the twelfth century were in the same position as modern
authors in regard to their choice of subjects. Their subjects were not
prescribed to them by epic tradition. They were more or less
reflective and self-conscious literary men, citizens of the universal
world, ready to make the most of their education. They are the
sophists of medieval literature; emancipated, enlightened and
intelligent persons, with an apparatus of rhetoric, a set of abstract
ideas, a repertory of abstract sentiments, which they could apply to
any available subject. In this sophistical period, when the serious
interest of national epic was lost, and when stories, collected from
all the ends of the earth, were made the receptacles of a common,
abstract, sentimental pathos, it was of some importance that the
rhetoric should be well managed, and that the sentiment should be
refined. The great achievement of the French poets, on account of
which they are to be remembered as founders and benefactors, is that
they went to good masters for instruction. Solid dramatic
interpretation of character was beyond them, and they were not able to
make much of the openings for dramatic contrast in the stories on
which they worked. But they were caught and held by the language of
passion, the language of Dido and Medea; language not dramatic so much
as lyrical or musical, the expression of universal passion, such as
might be repeated without much change in a thousand stories. In this
they were happily guided. The greater drama, the stronger characters,
appeared in due time; but the dramas and the novels of Europe would
not have been what they are, without the medieval elaboration of the
simple motives, and the practice of the early romantic schools in
executing variations on Love and Jealousy. It may be remarked that
there were sources more remote and even more august, above and beyond
the Latin poets from whom the medieval authors copied their phrasing;
in so far as the Latin poets were affected by Athenian tragedy,
directly or indirectly, in their great declamatory passages, which in
turn affected the Middle Ages.

The history of this school has no end, for it merges in the history of
the romantic schools that are still flourishing, and will be continued
by their successors. One of the principal lines of progress may be
indicated, to conclude this discourse on Epic Poetry.

The twelfth-century romances are in most things the antithesis to
Homer, in narrative. They are fanciful, conceited, thin in their
drama, affected in their sentiments. They are like the "heroic
romances" of the seventeenth century, their descendants, as compared
with the strong imagination of Cervantes or Shakespeare, who are the
representatives, if not of the Homeric line, at any rate of the
Homeric principles, in their intolerance of the formally pathetic or
heroic, and who have all the great modern novelists on their side.

But the early romantic schools, though they are generally formal and
sentimental, and not dramatic, have here and there the possibilities
of a stronger drama and a truer imagination, and seem at times almost
to have worked themselves free from their pedantry.

There is sentiment and sentiment: and while the pathos of medieval
romance, like some of the effusion of medieval lyric, is often merely
formal repetition of phrases, it is sometimes more natural, and
sometimes the mechanical fancy seems to quicken into true poetical
vision, or at least to make room for a sane appreciation of real life
and its incidents. Chrestien of Troyes shows his genius most
unmistakably in his occasional surprising intervals of true
description and natural feeling, in the middle of his rhetoric; while
even his sustained rhetorical dissertations, like those of the _Roman
de la Rose_ in the next century, are not absolutely untrue, or
uncontrolled by observation of actual manners. Often the rhetorical
apparatus interferes in the most annoying way with the clear vision.
In the _Chevalier au Lion_, for example, there is a pretty sketch of a
family party--a girl reading a romance to her father in a garden, and
her mother coming up and listening to the story--from which there is a
sudden and annoying change to the common impertinences of the amatory
professional novelist. This is the passage, with the two kinds of
literature in abrupt opposition:--

     Messire Yvain goes into the garden, and his people follow;
     and he sees a goodly gentleman reclining on a cloth of silk
     and leaning on his elbow; and a maiden was sitting before
     him reading out of a romance, I know not whose the story.
     And to listen to the romance a lady had drawn near; that was
     her mother, and he was her father, and well might they be
     glad to look on her and listen to her, for they had no other
     child. She was not yet sixteen years old, and she was so
     fair and gentle that the God of Love if he had seen her
     would have given himself to be her slave, and never would
     have bestowed the love of her on any other than himself. For
     her sake, to serve her, he would have made himself man,
     would have put off his deity, and would have stricken
     himself with the dart whose wound is never healed, except a
     disloyal physician tend it. It is not right that any should
     recover from that wound, unless there be disloyalty in it;
     and whoever is otherwise healed, he never loved with
     loyalty. _Of this wound I could talk to you without end_, if
     it pleased you to listen; but I know that some would say
     that all my talk was idleness, for the world is fallen away
     from true love, and men know not any more how to love as
     they ought, for the very talk of love is a weariness to
     them! (ll. 5360-5396).

This short passage is representative of Chrestien's work, and indeed
of the most successful and influential work of the twelfth-century
schools. It is not, like some affected kinds of romance, entirely cut
off from reality. But the glimpses of the real world are occasional
and short; there is a flash of pure daylight, a breath of fresh air,
and then the heavy-laden, enchanted mists of rhetoric and obligatory
sentiment come rolling down and shut out the view.

It is possible to trace out in some detail a line of progress in
medieval romance, in which there is a victory in the end for the more
ingenuous kind of sentiment; in which the rhetorical romantic forms
are altered and strengthened to bear the weight of true imagination.

This line of progress is nothing less than the earlier life of all the
great modern forms of novel; a part of European history which deserves
some study from those who have leisure for it.

The case may be looked at in this way. The romantic schools, following
on the earlier heroic literature, generally substituted a more
shallow, formal, limited set of characters for the larger and freer
portraits of the heroic age, making up for this defect in the
personages by extravagance in other respects--in the incidents, the
phrasing, the sentimental pathos, the rhetorical conceits. The great
advantage of the new school over the old was that it was adapted to
modern cosmopolitan civilisation; it left the artist free to choose
his subject anywhere, and to deal with it according to the laws of
good society, without local or national restrictions. But the earlier
work of this modern enlightenment in the Middle Ages was generally
very formal, very meagre in imagination. The progress of literature
was to fill out the romantic forms, and to gain for the new
cosmopolitan schemes of fiction the same sort of substantial contents,
the same command of human nature and its variety, as belong (with
local or national restrictions) to some at any rate of the earlier
epic authors. This being so, one of the interests of the study of
medieval romance must be the discovery of those places in which it
departs from its own dominant conventions, and seems to aim at
something different from its own nature: at the recovery of the fuller
life of epic for the benefit of romance. Epic fulness of life within
the limits of romantic form--that might be said to be the ideal which
is _not_ attained in the Middle Ages, but towards which many medieval
writers seem to be making their way.

Chrestien's story of _Geraint and Enid_ (Geraint has to take the name
of _Erec_ in the French) is one of his earlier works, but cannot be
called immature in comparison with what he wrote afterwards. In
Chrestien's _Enid_ there is not a little superfluity of the common
sort of adventure. The story of Enid in the _Idylls of the King_
(founded upon the Welsh _Geraint_, as given in Lady Charlotte Guest's
_Mabinogion_) has been brought within compass, and a number of quite
unnecessary adventures have been cut out. Yet the story here is the
same as Chrestien's, and the drama of the story is not the pure
invention of the English poet. Chrestien has all the principal
motives, and the working out of the problem is the same. In one place,
indeed, where the Welsh romance, the immediate source of Tennyson's
_Enid_, has shortened the scene of reconciliation between the lovers,
the Idyll has restored something like the proportions of the original
French. Chrestien makes Erec speak to Enid and renounce all his
ill-will, after the scene in which "the brute Earl" is killed; the
Welsh story, with no less effect, allows the reconciliation to be
taken for granted when Geraint, at this point in the history, with no
speech of his reported, lifts Enid on his own horse. The Idyll goes
back (apparently without any direct knowledge of Chrestien's version)
to the method of Chrestien.

The story of Enid in Chrestien is very unlike the other stories of
distressed and submissive wives; it has none of the ineradicable
falsity of the story of Griselda. How much is due to Chrestien for
this can hardly be reckoned, in our ignorance of the materials he
used. But taking into account the other passages, like that of the
girl reading in the garden, where Chrestien shows a distinct original
appreciation of certain aspects of life, it cannot be far wrong to
consider Chrestien's picture of Enid as mainly his own; and, in any
case, this picture is one of the finest in medieval romance. There is
no comparison between Chrestien of Troyes and Homer, but it is not
impious to speak of Enid along with Nausicaa, and there are few other
ladies of romance who may claim as much as this. The adventure of the
Sparrowhawk, one of the finest pieces of pure romance in the poetry of
this century, is also one of the finest in the old French, and in many
ways very unlike the commonplaces of chivalry, in the simplicity of
the household where Enid waits on her father's guest and takes his
horse to the stable, in the sincerity and clearness with which
Chrestien indicates the gentle breeding and dignity of her father and
mother, and the pervading spirit of grace and loyalty in the whole

[Footnote 87: The Welsh version has the advantage here in noting more
fully than Chrestien the beauty of age in Enid's mother: "And he
thought that there could be no woman fairer than she must have been in
the prime of her youth." Chrestien says merely (at the end of his
story, l. 6621):--

     Bele est Enide et bele doit
     Estre par reison et par droit,
     Que bele dame est mout sa mere
     Bel chevalier a an son pere.]

In the story of Enid, Chrestien has a subject which recommends itself
to modern readers. The misunderstanding between Enid and her husband,
and the reconciliation, are not peculiarly medieval, though the
adventures through which their history is worked out are of the
ordinary romantic commonplace.

Indeed the relation of husband and wife in this story is rather
exceptionally divergent from the current romantic mode, and from the
conventional law that true love between husband and wife was
impossible. Afterwards, in his poem of _Lancelot_ (_le Chevalier de la
Charrette_), Chrestien took up and worked out this conventional and
pedantic theory, and made the love of Lancelot and the Queen into the
standard for all courtly lovers. In his _Enid_, however, there is
nothing of this. At the same time, the courtly and chivalrous mode
gets the better of the central drama in his _Enid_, in so far as he
allows himself to be distracted unduly from the pair of lovers by
various "hyperboles" of the Romantic School; there are a number of
unnecessary jousts and encounters, and a mysterious exploit of Erec in
a magic garden, which is quite out of connexion with the rest of the
story. The final impression is that Chrestien wanted strength of mind
or inclination to concentrate himself on the drama of the two lovers.
The story is taken too lightly.

In _Cliges_, his next work, the dramatic situation is much less
valuable than in _Enid_, but the workmanship is far more careful and
exact, and the result is a story which may claim to be among the
earliest of modern novels, if the Greek romances, to which it has a
close relation, are not taken into account. The story has very little
"machinery"; there are none of the marvels of the Faerie in it. There
is a Thessalian witch (the heroine's nurse), who keeps well within the
limits of possible witchcraft, and there is the incident of the
sleeping-draught (familiar in the ballad of the _Gay Goshawk_), and
that is all. The rest is a simple love-story (or rather a double
love-story, for there is the history of the hero's father and mother,
before his own begins), and the personages are merely true lovers,
undistinguished by any such qualities as the sulkiness of Erec or the
discretion of Enid. It is all pure sensibility, and as it happens the
sensibility is in good keeping--not overdriven into the pedantry of
the more quixotic troubadours and minnesingers, and not warped by the
conventions against marriage. It is explained at the end that, though
Cliges and Fenice are married, they are lovers still:--

     De s'amie a feite sa fame,
     Mais il l'apele amie et dame,
     Que por ce ne pert ele mie
     Que il ne l'aint come s'amie,
     Et ele lui autresi
     Con l'an doit feire son ami:
     Et chascun jor lor amors crut,
     N'onques cil celi ne mescrut,
     Ne querela de nule chose.

     _Cliges_, l. 6753.

This poem of Chrestien's is a collection of the finest specimens of
medieval rhetoric on the eternal theme. There is little incident, and
sensibility has it all its own way, in monologues by the actors and
digressions by the author, on the nature of love. It is rather the
sentiment than the passion that is here expressed in the "language of
the heart"; but, however that may be, there are both delicacy and
eloquence in the language. The pensive Fenice, who debates with
herself for nearly two hundred lines in one place (4410-4574), is the
ancestress of many later heroines.

     Meis Fenice est sor toz pansive;
     Ele ne trueve fonz ne rive
     El panser dont ele est anplie,
     Tant li abonde et mouteplie.

     _Cliges_, l. 4339.

In the later works of Chrestien, in _Yvain_, _Lancelot_, and
_Perceval_, there are new developments of romance, more particularly
in the story of Lancelot and Guinevere. But these three later stories,
unlike _Cliges_, are full of the British marvels, which no one would
wish away, and yet they are encumbrances to what we must regard as the
principal virtue of the poet--his skill of analysis in cases of
sentiment, and his interest in such cases. _Cliges_, at any rate,
however far it may come short of the _Chevalier de la Charrette_ and
the _Conte du Graal_ in variety, is that one of Chrestien's poems, it
might be said that one of the twelfth-century French romances, which
best corresponds to the later type of novel. It is the most modern of
them; and at the same time it does not represent its own age any the
worse, because it also to some extent anticipates the fashions of
later literature.

In this kind of romance, which reduces the cost of the "machinery,"
and does without enchanters, dragons, magic mists, and deadly castles,
there are many other examples besides _Cliges_.

A hundred years after Chrestien, one of his cleverest pupils wrote the
Provençal story of _Flamenca_,[88] a work in which the form of the
novel is completely disengaged from the unnecessary accidents of
romance, and reaches a kind of positive and modern clearness very much
at variance in some respects with popular ideas of what is medieval.
The Romance of the medieval Romantic School attains one of its highest
and most distinctive points in _Flamenca_, and shows what it had been
aiming at from the beginning--namely, the expression in an elegant
manner of the ideas of the _Art of Love_, as understood in the polite
society of those times. _Flamenca_ is nearly contemporary with the
_Roman de la Rose_ of Guillaume de Lorris. Its inspiring ideas are the
same, and though its influence on succeeding authors is
indiscernible, where that of the _Roman de la Rose_ is widespread and
enduring, _Flamenca_ would have as good a claim to be considered a
representative masterpiece of medieval literature, if it were not that
it appears to be breaking loose from medieval conventions where the
_Roman de la Rose_ makes all it can out of them. _Flamenca_ is a
simple narrative of society, with the indispensable three
characters--the husband, the lady, and the lover. The scene of the
story is principally at the baths of Bourbon, in the then present day;
and of the miracles and adventures of the more marvellous and
adventurous romances there is nothing left but the very pleasant
enumeration of the names of favourite stories in the account of the
minstrelsy at Flamenca's wedding. The author knew all that was to be
known in romance, of Greek, Latin, or British invention--Thebes and
Troy, Alexander and Julius Caesar, Samson and Judas Maccabeus, Ivain
and Gawain and Perceval, Paris and Tristram, and all Ovid's _Legend of
Good Women_--but out of all these studies he has retained only what
suited his purpose. He does not compete with the Greek or the British
champions in their adventures among the romantic forests. Chrestien of
Troyes is his master, but he does not try to copy the magic of the
Lady of the Fountain, or the Bridge of the Sword, or the Castle of the
Grail. He follows the doctrine of love expounded in Chrestien's
_Lancelot_, but his hero is not sent wandering at random, and is not
made to display his courtly emotions among the ruins and shadows of
the lost Celtic mythology, like Lancelot in Chrestien's poem. The life
described in _Flamenca_ is the life of the days in which it was
composed; and the hero's task is to disguise himself as a clerk, so as
to get a word with the jealously-guarded lady in church on Sundays,
while giving her the Psalter to kiss after the Mass. _Flamenca_, is
really the triumph of Ovid, with the _Art of Love_, over all his
Gothic competitors out of the fairy tales. The Provençal poet has
discarded everything but the essential dominant interests, and in so
doing has gone ahead of his master Chrestien, who (except in _Cliges_)
allowed himself to be distracted between opposite kinds of story,
between the school of Ovid and the school of Blethericus; and who,
even in _Cliges_, was less consistently modern than his Provençal

[Footnote 88: Ed. Paul Meyer, 1865, and, again, 1901.]

_Flamenca_ is the perfection and completion of medieval romance in one
kind and in one direction. It is all sentiment; the ideal courtly
sentiment of good society and its poets, made lively by the author's
knowledge of his own time and its manners, and his decision not to
talk about anything else. It is perhaps significant that he allows his
heroine the romance of _Flores and Blanchefleur_ for her reading, an
older story of true lovers, after the simpler pattern of Greek
romance, which the author of _Flamenca_ apparently feels himself
entitled to refer to with the condescension of a modern and critical
author towards some old-fashioned prettiness. He is completely
self-possessed and ironical with regard to his story. His theme is the
idle love whose origin is explained by Ovid; his personages are
nothing to him but the instruments of the symphony which he composes
and directs: _sopra lor vanità che par persona_, over and through
their graceful inanity, passes the stream of sentiment, the shifting,
flickering light which the Provençal author has borrowed from Ovid and
transferred for his own purposes to his own time. It is perhaps the
first complete modern appropriation of classical examples in literary
art; for the poem of _Flamenca_ is classical in more than one sense of
the term--classical, not only because of its comprehension of the
spirit of the Latin poet and his code of manners and sentiment, but
because of its clear proportions and its definite abstract lines of
composition; because of the self-possession of the author and his
subordination of details and rejection of irrelevances.

Many things are wanting to _Flamenca_ which it did not suit the author
to bring in. It was left to other greater writers to venture on other
and larger schemes with room for more strength and individuality of
character, and more stress of passion, still keeping the romantic
framework which had been designed by the masters of the twelfth
century, and also very much of the sentimental language which the same
masters had invented and elaborated.

The story of the _Chastelaine de Vergi_[89] (dated by its editor
between 1282 and 1288) is an example of a different kind from
_Flamenca_; still abstract in its personages, still sentimental, but
wholly unlike _Flamenca_ in the tragic stress of its sentiment and in
the pathos of its incidents. There is no plot in _Flamenca_, or only
just enough to display the author's resources of eloquence; in the
_Chastelaine de Vergi_ there is no rhetorical expansion or effusion,
but instead of that the coherent closely-reasoned argument of a
romantic tragedy, with nothing in it out of keeping with the
conditions of "real life." It is a moral example to show the
disastrous result of breaking the first law of chivalrous love, which
enjoins loyal secrecy on the lover; the tragedy in this case arises
from the strong compulsion of honour under which the commandment is

[Footnote 89: Ed. G. Raynaud, _Romania_, xxi. p. 145.]

There was a knight who was the lover of the Chastelaine de Vergi,
unknown to all the world. Their love was discovered by the jealous
machinations of the Duchess of Burgundy, whom the knight had
neglected. The Duchess made use of her knowledge to insult the
Chastelaine; the Chastelaine died of a broken heart at the thought
that her lover had betrayed her; the knight found her dead, and threw
himself on his sword to make amends for his unwilling disloyalty. Even
a summary like this may show that the plot has capabilities and
opportunities in it; and though the scheme of the short story does not
allow the author to make use of them in the full detailed manner of
the great novelists, he understands what he is about, and his work is
a very fine instance of sensitive and clearly-executed medieval
narrative, which has nothing to learn (in its own kind, and granting
the conditions assumed by the author) from any later fiction.

The story of the _Lady of Vergi_ was known to Boccaccio, and was
repeated both by Bandello and by Queen Margaret of Navarre.

It is time to consider how the work of the medieval romantic schools
was taken up and continued by many of the most notable writers of the
period which no longer can be called medieval, in which modern
literature makes a new and definite beginning; especially in the works
of the two modern poets who have done most to save and adapt the
inheritance of medieval romance for modern forms of literature--Boccaccio
and Chaucer.

The development of romance in these authors is not always and in all
respects a gain. Even the pathetic stories of the _Decameron_ (such as
the _Pot of Basil_, _Tancred and Gismunda_, _William of Cabestaing_)
seem to have lost something by the adoption of a different kind of
grammar, a more learned rhetoric, in comparison with the best of the
simple French stories, like the _Chastelaine de Vergi_. This is the
case in a still greater degree where Boccaccio has allowed himself a
larger scale, as in his version of the old romance of _Flores and
Blanchefleur_ (_Filocolo_), while his _Teseide_ might be taken as the
first example in modern history of the pernicious effect of classical
studies. The _Teseide_ is the story of Palamon and Arcita. The
original is lost, but it evidently was a French romance, probably not
a long one; one of the favourite well-defined cases or problems of
love, easily understood as soon as stated, presenting the rivalry of
the two noble kinsmen for the love of the lady Emily. It might have
been made into one of the stories of the _Decameron_, but Boccaccio
had other designs for it. He wished to write a classical epic in
twelve books, and not very fortunately chose this simple theme as the
groundwork of his operations. The _Teseide_ is the first of the solemn
row of modern epics; "reverend and divine, abiding without motion,
shall we say that they have being?" Everything is to be found in the
_Teseide_ that the best classical traditions require in epic--Olympian
machinery, catalogues of armies, descriptions of works of art to
compete with the Homeric and Virgilian shields, elaborate battles, and
epic similes, and funeral games. Chaucer may have been at one time
tempted by all this magnificence; his final version of the story, in
the _Knight's Tale_, is a proof among other things of his critical
tact. He must have recognised that the _Teseide_, with all its
ambition and its brilliancy of details, was a failure as a story; that
this particular theme, at any rate, was not well fitted to carry the
epic weight. These personages of romance were not in training for the
heavy classical panoply. So he reduced the story of Palamon and Arcita
to something not very different from what must have been its original
scale as a romance. His modifications of Boccaccio here are a lesson
in the art of narrative which can hardly be overvalued by students of
that mystery.

Chaucer's procedure in regard to his romantic subjects is often very
difficult to understand. How firm and unwavering his critical
meditations and calculations were may be seen by a comparison of the
_Knight's Tale_ with its Italian source. At other times and in other
stories he appears to have worked on different principles, or without
much critical study at all. The _Knight's Tale_ is a complete and
perfect version of a medieval romance, worked out with all the
resources of Chaucer's literary study and reflexion; tested and
considered and corrected in every possible way. The story of
_Constance_ (the _Man of Law's Tale_) is an earlier work in which
almost everything is lacking that is found in the mere workmanship of
the _Knight's Tale_; though not, of course, the humanity, the pathos,
of Chaucer. The story of _Constance_ appears to have been taken by
Chaucer from one of the least artificial specimens of medieval
romance, the kind of romance that worked up in a random sort of way
the careless sequence of incidents in a popular traditional tale. Just
as the tellers of the stories in Campbell's _Highland Tales_, and
other authentic collections, make no scruple about proportion where
their memory happens to fail them or their irrelevant fancy to
distract them, but go on easily, dropping out a symmetrical adventure
here and there, and repeating a favourite "machine" if necessary or
unnecessary; so the story of _Constance_ forgets and repeats itself.
The voice is the voice of Chaucer, and so are the thoughts, but the
order or disorder of the story is that of the old wives' tales when
the old wives are drowsy. All the principal situations occur twice
over; twice the heroine is persecuted by a wicked mother-in-law, twice
sent adrift in a rudderless boat, twice rescued from a churl, and so
on. In this story the poetry of Chaucer appears as something almost
independent of the structure of the plot; there has been no such
process of design and reconstruction as in the _Knight's Tale_.

It is almost as strange to find Chaucer in other stories, as in the
_Franklin's Tale_ and the _Clerk's Tale_, putting up with the most
abstract medieval conventions of morality; the Point of Honour in the
_Franklin's Tale_, and the unmitigated virtue of Griselda, are
hopelessly opposed to anything like dramatic truth, and very far
inferior as motives to the ethical ideas of many stories of the
twelfth century. The truth of _Enid_ would have given no opportunity
for the ironical verses in which Chaucer takes his leave of the Clerk
of Oxford and his heroine.

In these romances Chaucer leaves some old medieval difficulties
unresolved and unreconciled, without attempting to recast the
situation as he found it in his authorities, or to clear away the
element of unreason in it. He takes the framework as he finds it, and
embroiders his poetry over it, leaving an obvious discrepancy between
his poetry and its subject-matter.

In some other stories, as in the _Legend of Good Women_, and the tale
of Virginia, he is content with pathos, stopping short of vivid drama.
In the _Knight's Tale_ he seems to have deliberately chosen a
compromise between the pathetic mood of pure romance and a fuller
dramatic method; he felt, apparently, that while the contrast between
the two rivals admitted of drama, the position of the lady Emily in
the story was such as to prevent a full dramatic rendering of all the
characters. The plot required that the lady Emily should be left
without much share of her own in the action.

The short and uncompleted poem of _Anelida_ gains in significance and
comes into its right place in Chaucer's works, when it is compared
with such examples of the older school as the _Chastelaine de Vergi_.
It is Chaucer's essay in that delicate abstract fashion of story which
formed one of the chief accomplishments of the French Romantic School.
It is his acknowledgment of his debt to the artists of sensibility,
the older French authors, "that can make of sentiment," and it proves,
like all his writings, how quick he was to save all he could from the
teaching of his forerunners, for the profit of "that fair style that
has brought him honour." To treat a simple problem, or "case," of
right and wrong in love, was a favourite task of medieval courtly
poetry, narrative and lyric. Chaucer in his _Anelida_ takes up this
old theme again, treating it in a form between narrative and lyric,
with the pure abstract melody that gives the mood of the actors apart
from any dramatic individuality. He is one of the Extractors of
Quintessence, and his _Anelida_ is the formal spirit, impalpable yet
definite, of the medieval courtly romance.

It is not here, but in a poem the opposite of this in fulness and
richness of drama, that Chaucer attains a place for himself above all
other authors as the poet who saw what was needed to transform
medieval romance out of its limitations into a new kind of narrative.
Chaucer's _Troilus and Criseyde_ is the poem in which medieval romance
passes out of itself into the form of the modern novel. What Cervantes
and what Fielding did was done first by Chaucer; and this was the
invention of a kind of story in which life might be represented no
longer in a conventional or abstract manner, or with sentiment and
pathos instead of drama, but with characters adapting themselves to
different circumstances, no longer obviously breathed upon by the
master of the show to convey his own ideas, but moving freely and
talking like men and women. The romance of the Middle Ages comes to an
end, in one of the branches of the family tree, by the production of a
romance that has all the freedom of epic, that comprehends all good
and evil, and excludes nothing as common or unclean which can be made
in any way to strengthen the impression of life and variety. Chaucer
was not tempted by the phantasm of the Epic Poem like Boccaccio, and
like so many of the great and wise in later generations. The substance
of Epic, since his time, has been appropriated by certain writers of
history, as Fielding has explained in his lectures on that science in
_Tom Jones_. The first in the line of these modern historians is
Chaucer with his _Troilus and Criseyde_, and the wonder still is as
great as it was for Sir Philip Sidney:--

     Chaucer undoubtedly did excellently in his _Troylus_ and
     _Cresseid_; of whom, truly I know not whether to mervaile
     more, either that he in that mistie time could see so
     clearely, or that wee in this cleare age walke so
     stumblingly after him.

His great work grew out of the French Romantic School. The episode of
Troilus and Briseide in Benoit's _Roman de Troie_ is one of the best
passages in the earlier French romance; light and unsubstantial like
all the work of that School, but graceful, and not untrue. It is all
summed up in the monologue of Briseide at the end of her story (l.

     Dex donge bien a Troylus!
     Quant nel puis amer ne il mei
     A cestui[90] me done et otrei.
     Molt voldreie aveir cel talent
     Que n'eüsse remembrement
     Des ovres faites d'en arriere:
     Ço me fait mal à grant manière!

[Footnote 90: _i.e._ Diomede.]

Boccaccio took up this story, from the Latin version of the Tale of
Troy, the _Historia Trojana_ of Guido. His _Filostrato_ is written on
a different plan from the _Teseide_; it is one of his best works. He
did not make it into an epic poem; the _Filostrato_, Boccaccio's
_Troilus and Cressida_, is a romance, differing from the older French
romantic form not in the design of the story, but in the new poetical
diction in which it is composed, and its new poetical ideas. There is
no false classicism in it, as there is in his _Palamon and Arcita_; it
is a novel of his own time, a story of the _Decameron_, only written
at greater length, and in verse. Chaucer, the "great translator," took
Boccaccio's poem and treated it in his own way, not as he had dealt
with the _Teseide_. The _Teseide_, because there was some romantic
improbability in the story, he made into a romance. The story of
Troilus he saw was strong enough to bear a stronger handling, and
instead of leaving it a romance, graceful and superficial as it is in
Boccaccio, he deepened it and filled it with such dramatic imagination
and such variety of life as had never been attained before his time by
any romancer; and the result is a piece of work that leaves all
romantic convention behind. The _Filostrato_ of Boccaccio is a story
of light love, not much more substantial, except in its new poetical
language, than the story of _Flamenca_. In Chaucer the passion of
Troilus is something different from the sentiment of romance; the
changing mind of Cressida is represented with an understanding of the
subtlety and the tragic meaning of that life which is "Time's fool."
Pandarus is the other element. In Boccaccio he is a personage of the
same order as Troilus and Cressida; they all might have come out of
the Garden of the _Decameron_, and there is little to choose between
them. Chaucer sets him up with a character and a philosophy of his
own, to represent the world outside of romance. The Comic Genius
claims a share in the tragedy, and the tragedy makes room for him,
because the tragic personages, "Tragic Comedians" as they are, can
bear the strain of the contrast. The selection of personages and
motives is made in another way in the romantic schools, but this poem
of Chaucer's is not romance. It is the fulfilment of the prophecy of
Socrates, just before Aristophanes and the tragic poet had to be put
to bed at the end of the _Symposium_, that the best author of tragedy
is the best author of comedy also. It is the freedom of the
imagination, beyond all the limits of partial and conventional forms.



NOTE A (p. 133)

_Rhetoric of the Western and Northern Alliterative Poems_

Any page of the Anglo-Saxon poets, and of the "Elder Edda," will show
the difference between the "continuous" and the "discrete"--the
Western and the Northern--modes of the alliterative verse. It may be
convenient to select some passages here for reference.

(1) As an example of the Western style ("the sense variously drawn out
from one verse to another"), the speech of the "old warrior" stirring
up vengeance for King Froda (_Beowulf_, l. 2041 _sq._; see above, p.

     þonne cwið æt beore se ðe beah gesyhð,
     eald æscwiga, se ðe eall geman
     garcwealm gumena (him bið grim sefa)
     onginneð geomormod geongum cempan
     þurh hreðra gehygd higes cunnian,
     wigbealu weccean, ond þæt word acwyð:
     "Meaht ðu, min wine, mece gecnawan,
     þone þin fæder to gefeohte bær
     under heregriman, hindeman siðe,
     dyre iren, þær hine Dene slogon,
     weoldon wælstowe, syððan Wiðergyld læg
     æfter hæleþa hryre, hwate Scyldingas?
     Nu her þara banena byre nathwylces,
     frætwum hremig, on flet gæð,
     mordres gylpeð ond þone maðþum byreð
     þone þe þu mid rihte rædan sceoldest!"

(The "old warrior"--no less a hero than Starkad himself, according to
Saxo--bears a grudge on account of the slaying of Froda, and cannot
endure the reconciliation that has been made. He sees the reconciled
enemies still wearing the spoils of war, arm-rings, and even Froda's
sword, and addresses Ingeld, Froda's son):--

     Over the ale he speaks, seeing the ring,
     the old warrior, that remembers all,
     the spear-wrought slaying of men (his thought is grim),
     with sorrow at heart begins with the young champion,
     in study of mind to make trial of his valour,
     to waken the havoc of war, and thus he speaks:
     "Knowest thou, my lord? nay, well thou knowest the falchion
     that thy father bore to the fray,
     wearing his helmet of war, in that last hour,
     the blade of price, where the Danes him slew,
     and kept the field, when Withergyld was brought down
     after the heroes' fall; yea, the Danish princes slew him!
     See now, a son of one or other of the men of blood,
     glorious in apparel, goes through the hall,
     boasts of the stealthy slaying, and bears the goodly heirloom
     that thou of right shouldst have and hold!"

(2) The Northern arrangement, with "the sense concluded in the
couplet," is quite different from the Western style. There is no need
to quote more than a few lines. The following passage is from the last
scene of _Helgi and Sigrun_ (_C.P.B._, i. p. 143; see p. 72
above--"Yet precious are the draughts," etc.):--

       Vel skolom drekka dýrar veigar
     þótt misst hafim munar ok landa:
     skal engi maðr angr-lióð kveða,
     þótt mer á briósti benjar líti.
     Nú ero brúðir byrgðar í haugi,
     lofða dísir, hjá oss liðnom.

The figure of _Anadiplosis_ (or the "Redouble," as it is called in the
_Arte of English Poesie_) is characteristic of a certain group of
Northern poems. See the note on this, with references, in _C.P.B._,
i. p. 557. The poems in which this device appears are the poems of the
heroines (Brynhild, Gudrun, Oddrun), the heroic idylls of the North.
In these poems the repetition of a phrase, as in the Greek pastoral
poetry and its descendants, has the effect of giving solemnity to the
speech, and slowness of movement to the line.

So in the _Long Lay of Brynhild_ (_C.P.B._, i. p. 296):--

     svárar sifjar, svarna eiða,
     eiða svarna, unnar trygðir;

and (_ibid._)--

     hann vas fyr utan eiða svarna,
     eiða svarna, unnar trygðir;

and in the _Old Lay of Gudrun_ (_C.P.B._, i. p. 319)--

     Hverr vildi mer hnossir velja
     hnossir velja, ok hugat mæla.

There are other figures which have the same effect:--

     Gott es at ráða Rínar malmi,
     ok unandi auði styra,
     ok sitjandi sælo nióta.

     _C.P.B._, i. p. 296.

But apart from these emphatic forms of phrasing, all the sentences are
so constructed as to coincide with the divisions of the lines, whereas
in the Western poetry, Saxon and Anglo-Saxon, the phrases are made to
cut across the lines, the sentences having their own limits,
independent of the beginnings and endings of the verses.

NOTE B (p. 205)

_The Meeting of Kjartan and King Olaf Tryggvason_ (_Laxdæla Saga_, c.

Kjartan rode with his father east from Hjardarholt, and they parted in
Northwaterdale; Kjartan rode on to the ship, and Bolli, his kinsman,
went along with him. There were ten men of Iceland all together that
followed Kjartan out of goodwill; and with this company he rides to
the harbour. Kalf Asgeirsson welcomes them all. Kjartan and Bolli took
a rich freight with them. So they made themselves ready to sail, and
when the wind was fair they sailed out and down the Borg firth with a
gentle breeze and good, and so out to sea. They had a fair voyage, and
made the north of Norway, and so into Throndheim. There they asked for
news, and it was told them that the land had changed its masters; Earl
Hacon was gone, and King Olaf Tryggvason come, and the whole of Norway
had fallen under his sway. King Olaf was proclaiming a change of law;
men did not take it all in the same way. Kjartan and his fellows
brought their ship into Nidaros.

At that time there were in Norway many Icelanders who were men of
reputation. There at the wharves were lying three ships all belonging
to men of Iceland: one to Brand the Generous, son of Vermund
Thorgrimsson; another to Hallfred the Troublesome Poet; the third ship
was owned by two brothers, Bjarni and Thorhall, sons of Skeggi, east
in Fleetlithe,--all these men had been bound for Iceland in the
summer, but the king had arrested the ships because these men would
not accept the faith that he was proclaiming. Kjartan was welcomed by
them all, and most of all by Brand, because they had been well
acquainted earlier. The Icelanders all took counsel together, and this
was the upshot, that they bound themselves to refuse the king's new
law. Kjartan and his mates brought in their ship to the quay, and fell
to work to land their freight.

King Olaf was in the town; he hears of the ship's coming, and that
there were men in it of no small account. It fell out on a bright day
in harvest-time that Kjartan's company saw a number of men going to
swim in the river Nith. Kjartan said they ought to go too, for the
sport; and so they did. There was one man of the place who was far
the best swimmer. Kjartan says to Bolli:

"Will you try your swimming against this townsman?"

Bolli answers: "I reckon that is more than my strength."

"I know not what is become of your hardihood," says Kjartan; "but I
will venture it myself."

"That you may, if you please," says Bolli.

Kjartan dives into the river, and so out to the man that swam better
than all the rest; him he takes hold of and dives under with him, and
holds him under for a time, and then lets him go. After that they swam
for a little, and then the stranger takes Kjartan and goes under with
him, and holds him under, none too short a time, as it seemed to
Kjartan. Then they came to the top, but there were no words between
them. They dived together a third time, and were down longer than
before. Kjartan thought it hard to tell how the play would end; it
seemed to him that he had never been in so tight a place in his life.
However, they come up at last, and strike out for the land.

Then says the stranger: "Who may this man be?"

Kjartan told his name.

The townsman said: "You are a good swimmer; are you as good at other
sports as at this?"

Kjartan answers, but not very readily: "When I was in Iceland it was
thought that my skill in other things was much of a piece; but now
there is not much to be said about it."

The townsman said: "It may make some difference to know with whom you
have been matched; why do you not ask?"

Kjartan said: "I care nothing for your name."

The townsman says: "For one thing you are a good man of your hands,
and for another you bear yourself otherwise than humbly; none the less
shall you know my name and with whom you have been swimming; I am
Olaf Tryggvason, the king."

Kjartan makes no answer, and turns to go away. He had no cloak, but a
coat of scarlet cloth. The king was then nearly dressed. He called to
Kjartan to wait a little; Kjartan turned and came back, rather slowly.
Then the king took from his shoulders a rich cloak and gave it to
Kjartan, saying he should not go cloakless back to his men. Kjartan
thanks the king for his gift, and goes to his men and shows them the
cloak. They did not take it very well, but thought he had allowed the
king too much of a hold on him.

Things were quiet for a space; the weather began to harden with frost
and cold. The heathen men said it was no wonder they had ill weather
that autumn; it was all the king's newfangledness and the new law that
had made the gods angry.

The Icelanders were all together that winter in the town; and Kjartan
took the lead among them. In time the weather softened, and men came
in numbers to the town at the summons of King Olaf. Many men had taken
the Christian faith in Throndheim, but those were more in number who
were against it. One day the king held an assembly in the town, out on
the point of Eyre, and declared the Faith with many eloquent words.
The Thronds had a great multitude there, and offered battle to the
king on the spot. The king said they should know that he had fought
against greater powers than to think of scuffling with clowns in
Throndheim. Then the yeomen were cowed, and gave in wholly to the
king, and many men were christened; then the assembly broke up.

That same evening the king sends men to the Icelanders' inn to observe
and find out how they talked. When the messengers came there, there
was a loud sound of voices within.

Kjartan spoke, and said to Bolli: "Kinsman, are you willing to take
this faith of the king's?"

"I am not," says Bolli, "for it seems to me a feeble, pithless thing."

Says Kjartan: "Seemed the king to you to have no threats for those
that refused to accept his will?"

Says Bolli: "Truly the king seemed to us to come out clearly and leave
no shadow on that head, that they should have hard measure dealt

"No man's underling will I be," says Kjartan, "while I can keep my
feet and handle a sword; it seems to me a pitiful thing to be taken
thus like a lamb out of the pen, or a fox out of the trap. I hold it a
far better choice, if one must die, to do something first that shall
be long talked of after."

"What will you do?" says Bolli.

"I will not make a secret of it," says Kjartan; "burn the king's
house, and the king in it."

"I call that no mean thing to do," says Bolli; "but yet it will not
be, for I reckon that the king has no small grace and good luck along
with him; and he keeps a strong watch day and night."

Kjartan said that courage might fail the stoutest man; Bolli answered
that it was still to be tried whose courage would hold out longest.
Then many broke in and said that this talk was foolishness; and when
the king's spies had heard so much, they went back to the king and
told him how the talk had gone.

On the morrow the king summons an assembly; and all the Icelanders
were bidden to come. When all were met, the king stood up and thanked
all men for their presence, those who were willing to be his friends
and had taken the Faith. Then he fell to speech with the Icelanders.
The king asks if they will be christened. They make little sound of
agreement to that. The king said that they might make a choice that
would profit them less.

"Which of you was it that thought it convenient to burn me in my

Then says Kjartan: "You think that he will not have the honesty to
confess it, he that said this. But here you may see him."

"See thee I may," says the king, "and a man of no mean imagination;
yet it is not in thy destiny to see my head at thy feet. And good
enough cause might I have to stay thee from offering to burn kings in
their houses in return for their good advice; but because I know not
how far thy thought went along with thy words, and because of thy
manly declaration, thou shalt not lose thy life for this; it may be
that thou wilt hold the Faith better, as thou speakest against it more
than others. I can see, too, that it will bring the men of all the
Iceland ships to accept the Faith the same day that thou art
christened of thine own free will. It seems to me also like enough
that thy kinsmen and friends in Iceland will listen to what thou
sayest when thou art come out thither again. It is not far from my
thought that thou, Kjartan, mayst have a better Faith when thou
sailest from Norway than when thou camest hither. Go now all in peace
and liberty whither you will from this meeting; you shall not be
penned into Christendom; for it is the word of God that He will not
have any come to Him save in free will."

There was much approval of this speech of the king's, yet chiefly from
the Christians; the heathen men left it to Kjartan to answer as he
would. Then said Kjartan: "We will thank you, Sir, for giving us your
peace; this more than anything would draw us to accept your Faith,
that you renounce all grounds of enmity and speak gently altogether,
though you have our whole fortunes in your hand to-day. And this is in
my mind, only to accept the Faith in Norway if I may pay some small
respect to Thor next winter when I come to Iceland."

Then answered the king, smiling: "It is well seen from the bearing of
Kjartan that he thinks he has better surety in his strength and his
weapons than there where Thor and Odin are."

After that the assembly broke up.

NOTE C (p. 257)

     _Eyjolf Karsson_: an Episode in the History of Bishop
     Gudmund Arason, A.D. 1222 (from _Arons Saga Hjörleifssonar_,
     c. 8, printed in _Biskupa Sögur_, i., and in _Sturlunga_,
     ii. pp. 312-347).

     [Eyjolf Karsson and Aron stood by Bishop Gudmund in his
     troubles, and followed him out to his refuge in the island
     of Grimsey, lying off the north coast of Iceland, about 30
     miles from the mouth of Eyjafirth. There the Bishop was
     attacked by the Sturlungs, Sighvat (brother of Snorri
     Sturluson) and his son Sturla. His men were out-numbered;
     Aron was severely wounded. This chapter describes how Eyjolf
     managed to get his friend out of danger and how he went back
     himself and was killed.]

Now the story turns to Eyjolf and Aron. When many of Eyjolf's men were
down, and some had run to the church, he took his way to the place
where Aron and Sturla had met, and there he found Aron sitting with
his weapons, and all about were lying dead men and wounded. It is
reckoned that nine men must have lost their lives there. Eyjolf asks
his cousin whether he can move at all. Aron says that he can, and
stands on his feet; and now they go both together for a while by the
shore, till they come to a hidden bay; there they saw a boat ready
floating, with five or six men at the oars, and the bow to sea. This
was Eyjolf's arrangement, in case of sudden need. Now Eyjolf tells
Aron that he means the boat for both of them; giving out that he sees
no hope of doing more for the Bishop at that time.

"But I look for better days to come," says Eyjolf.

"It seems a strange plan to me," says Aron; "for I thought that we
should never part from Bishop Gudmund in this distress; there is
something behind this, and I vow that I will not go unless you go
first on board."

"That I will not, cousin," says Eyjolf; "for it is shoal water here,
and I will not have any of the oarsmen leave his oar to shove her off;
and it is far too much for you to go afoot with wounds like yours. You
will have to go on board."

"Well, put your weapons in the boat," says Aron, "and I will believe

Aron now goes on board; and Eyjolf did as Aron asked him. Eyjolf waded
after, pushing the boat, for the shallows went far out. And when he
saw the right time come, Eyjolf caught up a battle-axe out of the
stern of the boat, and gave a shove to the boat with all his might.

"Good-bye, Aron," says Eyjolf; "we shall meet again when God pleases."

And since Aron was disabled with wounds, and weary with loss of blood,
it had to be even so; and this parting was a grief to Aron, for they
saw each other no more.

Now Eyjolf spoke to the oarsmen and told them to row hard, and not to
let Aron come back to Grimsey that day, and not for many a day if they
could help it.

They row away with Aron in their boat; but Eyjolf turns to the shore
again and to a boat-house with a large ferry-boat in it, that belonged
to the goodman Gnup. And at the same nick of time he sees the Sturlung
company come tearing down from the garth, having finished their
mischief there. Eyjolf takes to the boat-house, with his mind made up
to defend it as long as his doom would let him. There were double
doors to the boat-house, and he puts heavy stones against them.

Brand, one of Sighvat's followers, a man of good condition, caught a
glimpse of a man moving, and said to his companions that he thought he
had made out Eyjolf Karsson there, and they ought to go after him.
Sturla was not on the spot; there were nine or ten together. So they
come to the boat-house. Brand asks who is there, and Eyjolf says it is

"Then you will please to come out and come before Sturla," says Brand.

"Will you promise me quarter?" says Eyjolf.

"There will be little of that," says Brand.

"Then it is for you to come on," says Eyjolf, "and for me to guard; and
it seems to me the shares are ill divided."

Eyjolf had a coat of mail, and a great axe, and that was all.

Now they came at him, and he made a good and brave defence; he cut
their pike-shafts through; there were stout strokes on both sides. And
in that bout Eyjolf breaks his axe-heft, and catches up an oar, and
then another, and both break with his blows. And in this bout Eyjolf
gets a thrust under his arm, and it came home. Some say that he broke
the shaft from the spear-head, and let it stay in the wound. He sees
now that his defence is ended. Then he made a dash out, and got
through them, before they knew. They were not expecting this; still
they kept their heads, and a man named Mar cut at him and caught his
ankle, so that his foot hung crippled. With that he rolls down the
beach, and the sea was at the flood. In such plight as he was in,
Eyjolf set to and swam; and swimming he came twelve fathoms from shore
to a shelf of rock, and knelt there; and then he fell full length upon
the earth, and spread his hands from him, turning to the East as if to

Now they launch the boat, and go after him. And when they came to the
rock, a man drove a spear into him, and then another, but no blood
flowed from either wound. So they turn to go ashore, and find Sturla
and tell him the story plainly how it had all fallen out. Sturla held,
and other men too, that this had been a glorious defence. He showed
that he was pleased at the news.

NOTE D (p. 360)

_Two Catalogues of Romances_

There are many references to books and cycles of romance in medieval
literature--minstrels' enumerations of their stock-in-trade, and
humorous allusions like those of Sir Thopas, and otherwise. There are
two passages, among others, which seem to do their best to cover the
whole ground, or at least to exemplify all the chief groups. One of
these is that referred to in the text, from _Flamenca_; the other is
to be found, much later, in the _Complaint of Scotland_ (1549).

I. FLAMENCA (ll. 609-701)

     Qui volc ausir diverses comtes
     De reis, de marques e de comtes,
     Auzir ne poc tan can si volc;
     Anc null' aurella non lai colc,
     Quar l'us comtet de Priamus,
     E l'autre diz de Piramus;
     L'us contet de la bell'Elena
     Com Paris l'enquer, pois l'anmena;
     L'autres comtava d'Ulixes,
     L'autre d'Ector et d'Achilles;
     L'autre comtava d'Eneas,
     E de Dido consi remas
     Per lui dolenta e mesquina;
     L'autre comtava de Lavina
     Con fes lo breu el cairel traire
     A la gaita de l'auzor caire;
     L'us contet d'Apollonices
     De Tideu e d'Etidiocles;
     L'autre comtava d'Apolloine
     Comsi retenc Tyr de Sidoine;
     L'us comtet del rei Alexandri
     L'autre d'Ero et de Leandri;
     L'us dis de Catmus quan fugi
     Et de Tebas con las basti,
     L'autre contava de Jason
     E del dragon que non hac son;
     L'us comte d'Alcide sa forsa,
     L'autre con tornet en sa forsa
     Phillis per amor Demophon;
     L'us dis com neguet en la fon
     Lo bels Narcis quan s'i miret;
     L'us dis de Pluto con emblet
     Sa bella moillier ad Orpheu;
     L'autre comtet del Philisteu
     Golias, consi fon aucis
     Ab treis peiras quel trais David;
     L'us diz de Samson con dormi,
     Quan Dalidan liet la cri;
     L'autre comtet de Machabeu
     Comen si combatet per Dieu;
     L'us comtet de Juli Cesar
     Com passet tot solet la mar,
     E no i preguet Nostre Senor
     Que nous cujes agues paor;
     L'us diz de la Taula Redonda
     Que no i venc homs que noil responda
     Le reis segon sa conoissensa,
     Anc nuil jorn ne i failli valensa;
     L'autre comtava de Galvain,
     E del leo que fon compain
     Del cavallier qu'estors Luneta;
     L'us diz de la piucella breta
     Con tenc Lancelot en preiso
     Cant de s'amor li dis de no;
     L'autre comtet de Persaval
     Co venc a la cort a caval;
     L'us comtet d'Erec e d'Enida,
     L'autre d'Ugonet de Perida;
     L'us comtava de Governail
     Com per Tristan ac grieu trebail,
     L'autre comtava de Feniza
     Con transir la fes sa noirissa
     L'us dis del Bel Desconogut
     E l'autre del vermeil escut
     Que l'yras trobet a l'uisset;
     L'autre comtava de Guiflet;
     L'us comtet de Calobrenan,
     L'autre dis con retenc un an
     Dins sa preison Quec senescal
     Lo deliez car li dis mal;
     L'autre comtava de Mordret;
     L'us retrais lo comte Duret
     Com fo per los Ventres faiditz
     E per Rei Pescador grazits;
     L'us comtet l'astre d'Ermeli,
     L'autre dis com fan l'Ancessi
     Per gein lo Veil de la Montaina;
     L'us retrais con tenc Alamaina
     Karlesmaines tro la parti,
     De Clodoveu e de Pipi
     Comtava l'us tota l'istoria;
     L'autre dis con cazec de gloria
     Donz Lucifers per son ergoil;
     L'us diz del vallet de Nantoil,
     L'autre d'Oliveir de Verdu.
     L'us dis lo vers de Marcabru,
     L'autre comtet con Dedalus
     Saup ben volar, et d'Icarus
     Co neguet per sa leujaria.
     Cascus dis lo mieil que sabia.
     Per la rumor dels viuladors
     E per brug d'aitans comtadors
     Hac gran murmuri per la sala.

The allusions are explained by the editor, M. Paul Meyer. The stories
are as follows: Priam, Pyramus, Helen, Ulysses, Hector, Achilles,
Dido, Lavinia (how she sent her letter with an arrow over the
sentinel's head, _Roman d'Eneas_, l. 8807, _sq._), Polynices, Tydeus,
and Eteocles; Apollonius of Tyre; Alexander; Hero and Leander; Cadmus
of Thebes; Jason and the sleepless Dragon; Hercules; Demophoon and
Phyllis (a hard passage); Narcissus; Pluto and the wife of Orpheus
("Sir Orfeo"); David and Goliath; Samson and Dalila; Judas Maccabeus;
Julius Caesar; the Round Table, and how the king had an answer for all
who sought him; Gawain and Yvain ("of the lion that was companion of
the knight whom Lunete rescued"[91]); of the British maiden who kept
Lancelot imprisoned when he refused her love; of Perceval, how he rode
into hall; Ugonet de Perida (?); Governail, the loyal comrade of
Tristram; Fenice and the sleeping-draught (Chrestien's _Cliges_, see
p. 357, above); Guinglain ("Sir Libeaus)"; Chrestien's _Chevalier de
la Charrette_ ("how the herald found the red shield at the entry," an
allusion explained by M. Gaston Paris, in _Romania_, xvi. p. 101),
Guiflet, Calobrenan, Kay punished for his railing accusations;
Mordred; how the Count Duret was dispossessed by the Vandals and
welcomed by the Fisher King (?); the luck of Hermelin (?); the Old Man
of the Mountain and his Assassins; the Wars of Charlemagne; Clovis and
Pepin of France; the Fall of Lucifer; Gui de Nanteuil; Oliver of
Verdun; the Flight of Daedalus, and how Icarus was drowned through his
vanity. The songs of Marcabrun, the troubadour, find a place in the
list among the stories.

[Footnote 91: In a somewhat similar list of romances, in the Italian
poem of _L'Intelligenza_, ascribed to Dino Compagni (st. 75), Luneta
is named Analida; possibly the origin of Chaucer's Anelida, a name
which has not been clearly traced.]

The author of _Flamenca_ has arranged his library, though there are
some incongruities; Daedalus belongs properly to the "matter of Rome"
with which the catalogue begins, and Lucifer interrupts the series of
_Chansons de geste_. The "matter of Britain," however, is all by
itself, and is well represented.


(Ed. J.A.H. Murray, _E.E.T.S._, pp. 62-64)

[This passage belongs to the close of the Middle Ages, when the old
epic and romantic books were falling into neglect. There is no
distinction here between literary romance and popular tales; the
once-fashionable poetical works are reduced to their original
elements. Arthur and Gawain are no more respected than the Red Etin,
or the tale of the _Well at the World's End_ (the reading _volfe_ in
the text has no defender); the Four Sons of Aymon have become what
they were afterwards for Boileau (_Ep._ xi. 20), or rather for
Boileau's gardener. But, on the whole, the list represents the common
medieval taste in fiction. The _Chansons de geste_ have provided the
_Bridge of the Mantrible_ (from _Oliver and Fierabras_, which may be
intended in the _Flamenca_ reference to Oliver), and the _Siege of
Milan_ (see _English Charlemagne Romances_, _E.E.T.S._, part ii.), as
well as the _Four Sons of Aymon_ and _Sir Bevis_. The Arthurian cycle
is popular; the romance of _Sir Ywain_ (the Knight of the Lion) is
here, however, the only one that can be definitely traced in the
_Flamenca_ list also, though of course there is a general
correspondence in subject-matter. The classical fables from Ovid are
still among the favourites, and many of them are common to both lists.
See Dr. Furnivall's note, in the edition cited, pp. lxxiii.-lxxxii.]

Quhen the scheiphird hed endit his prolixt orison to the laif of the
scheiphirdis, i meruellit nocht litil quhen i herd ane rustic pastour
of bestialite, distitut of vrbanite, and of speculatioune of natural
philosophe, indoctryne his nychtbours as he hed studeit ptholome,
auerois, aristotel, galien, ypocrites, or Cicero, quhilk var expert
practicians in methamatic art. Than the scheiphirdis vyf said: my veil
belouit hisband, i pray the to desist fra that tideus melancolic
orison, quhilk surpassis thy ingyne, be rason that it is nocht thy
facultee to disput in ane profund mater, the quhilk thy capacite can
nocht comprehend. ther for, i thynk it best that ve recreat our selfis
vytht ioyus comonyng quhil on to the tyme that ve return to the scheip
fald vytht our flokkis. And to begin sic recreatione i thynk it best
that everie ane of vs tel ane gude tayl or fable, to pas the tyme
quhil euyn. Al the scheiphirdis, ther vyuis and saruandis, var glaid
of this propositione. than the eldest scheiphird began, and al the
laif follouit, ane be ane in their auen place. it vil be ouer prolixt,
and no les tideus to reherse them agane vord be vord. bot i sal
reherse sum of ther namys that i herd. Sum vas in prose and sum vas
in verse: sum vas stories and sum var flet taylis. Thir var the namis
of them as eftir follouis: the taylis of cantirberrye, Robert le
dyabil duc of Normandie, the tayl of the volfe of the varldis end,
Ferrand erl of Flandris that mareit the deuyl, the taiyl of the reyde
eyttyn vitht the thre heydis, the tail quhou perseus sauit andromada
fra the cruel monstir, the prophysie of merlyne, the tayl of the
giantis that eit quyk men, on fut by fortht as i culd found, vallace,
the bruce, ypomedon, the tail of the three futtit dug of norrouay, the
tayl quhou Hercules sleu the serpent hidra that hed vij heydis, the
tail quhou the king of est mure land mareit the kyngis dochtir of vest
mure land, Skail gillenderson the kyngis sone of skellye, the tail of
the four sonnis of aymon, the tail of the brig of the mantribil, the
tail of syr euan, arthour's knycht, rauf col3ear, the seige of
millan, gauen and gollogras, lancelot du lac, Arthour knycht he raid
on nycht vitht gyltin spur and candil lycht, the tail of floremond of
albanye that sleu the dragon be the see, the tail of syr valtir the
bald leslye, the tail of the pure tynt, claryades and maliades,
Arthour of litil bertang3e, robene hude and litil ihone, the
meruellis of mandiueil, the tayl of the 3ong tamlene and of the
bald braband, the ryng of the roy Robert, syr egeir and syr gryme,
beuis of southamtoun, the goldin targe, the paleis of honour, the tayl
quhou acteon vas transformit in ane hart and syne slane be his auen
doggis, the tayl of Pirramus and tesbe, the tail of the amours of
leander and hero, the tail how Iupiter transformit his deir love yo in
ane cou, the tail quhou that iason van the goldin fleice, Opheus kyng
of portingal, the tail of the goldin appil, the tail of the thre veird
systirs, the tail quhou that dedalus maid the laborynth to keip the
monstir minotaurus, the tail quhou kyng midas gat tua asse luggis on
his hede because of his auereis.


_Aage_, Danish ballad, related to Helgi and Sigrun, 144;
  cf. York Powell, _C.P.B._ i. 502, and _Grimm Centenary Papers_ (1886), p. 47

Achilles, 12, 13, 19, 35, 39, 67

_Aeneid_, 18, 22, 334, 349

Alboin the Lombard (O.E. Ælfwine, see _Davenant_), 23, 66, 69, 82 n, 189

Alexander the Great, in old French poetry, 27;
  his _Epistle_; (Anglo-Saxon version), 329

_Aliscans, chanson de geste_ of the cycle of William of Orange, 296

_Alvíssmál_, in 'Elder Edda,' 112

Amadis of Gaul, a formal hero, 175, 203, 222

Ammius (O.N. Hamðer): see _Hamðismál_

_Andreas_, old English poem on the legend of St. Andrew, 28, 50, 90, 329

Andvari, 115

_Angantyr_, the _Waking of_, poem in _Hervarar Saga_, 48, 70, 73, 78,
112, 129 n

_Apollonius of Tyre_, in Anglo-Saxon, 329

Ari Thorgilsson, called the Wise (Ari Fróði, A.D. 1067-1148),
  his _Landnámabók_ and _Konunga Æfi_, 248;
  _Ynglinga Saga_, 279

Ariosto, 30, 31, 40, 323

Aristotle on the dramatic element in epic, 17 _sq._;
  his summary of the _Odyssey_, 36, 74, 120, 139, 159 _sq._

_Arnaldos, romance del Conde_, Spanish ballad, 327

Arni, Bishop of Skalholt (_ob._ 1298), his _Life_ (_Arna Saga_), 268

Arni Beiskr (the Bitter), murderer of Snorri Sturluson, his death at
Flugumyri, 263

Aron Hjörleifsson (_Arons Saga_), a friend of Bishop Gudmund, 225, 257,
381 _sq._

Asbjörnsen, P. Chr., 170 n

Asdis, Grettir's mother, 216 n

Askel: see _Reykdæla Saga_

_Atlakviða_, the _Lay of Attila_, 146 _sq._: see _Attila_

_Atlamál_, the _Greenland Poem of Attila_, 92, 137, 146-156: see _Attila_

_Atli and Rimgerd, Contention of_, in 'Elder Edda,' 113 _sq._

Atli in _Grettis Saga_, his dying speech, 218
  in _Hávarðar Saga_, 227

Attila (O.E. Ætla, O.N. Atli), the Hun, adopted as a German hero in
epic tradition, 22;
  different views of him in epic, 24;
  in _Waltharius_, 84;
  in _Waldere_, 86;
  in the 'Elder Edda,' 80, 83, 105 _sq._, 110, 137, 149 _sq._

_Aucassin et Nicolette_, 312, 327

Audoin the Lombard (O.E. Eadwine), father of Alboin, 67

_Aymon, Four Sons of_, i.e. _Renaus de Montauban_ (_chanson de geste_),
313, 387

Balder, death of, 43, 78, 112

_Bandamanna Saga_, 'The Confederates,' 187, 226, 229-234

Beatrice the Duchess, wife of Begon de Belin, mother of Gerin and
Hernaudin, 307 _sq._

Begon de Belin, brother of Garin le Loherain, _q.v._

Benoit de Sainte More, his _Roman de Troie_, 330 _sq._, 334

_Beowulf_, 69, 88 _sq._, 110, 136, 145, 158-175, 290
  and the _Odyssey_, 10

_Beowulf_ and the _Hêliand_, 28

Bergthora, Njal's wife, 190, 220 _sq._

Bernier: see _Raoul de Cambrai_

Béroul: see _Tristram_

_Bevis, Sir_, 388

_Biarkamál_, 78

Bjargey: see _Hávarðar Saga_

Bjorn, in _Njála_, and his wife, 228-229

Blethericus, a Welsh author, 348

Boccaccio, his relation to the French Romantic School, and to Chaucer,

Bodvild, 95

Boethius _On the Consolation of Philosophy_, a favourite book, 46

Bolli, Gudrun's husband (_Laxdæla Saga_), 191, 207, 223, 376 _sq._;
  kills Kjartan, 242

Bolli the younger, son of Bolli and Gudrun, 223-224

Bossu, on the Epic Poem, his opinion of Phaeacia, 32, 40 n

Bradley, Mr. Henry, on the first Riddle in the _Exeter Book_, 135
(_Academy_, March 24, 1888, p. 198)

Bréri, cited by Thomas as his authority for the story of Tristram:
see _Blethericus_

Brink, Dr. Bernhard Ten, some time Professor at Strassburg, 145, 290

Broceliande visited by Wace, 26, 171

_Brunanburh_, poem of the battle of, 76

Brynhild, sister of Attila, wife of Gunnar the Niblung, _passim_
  long _Lay of_, in the 'Elder Edda' (_al. Sigurðarkviða in Skamma_),
  83, 100 _sq._
  _Hell-ride of_, 102
  short _Lay of_ (fragment), 103, 256
  lost poem concerning, paraphrased in _Volsunga Saga_, 71
  Danish ballad of: see _Sivard_

Bugge, Dr. Sophus, sometime Professor in Christiania, 77 n, 87 n, 137 n

_Byrhtnoth_: see _Maldon_

_C.P.B._, i.e. _Corpus Poeticum Boreale_, q.v.

Campbell, J.F., of Islay, 170 n, 340

Casket of whalebone (the Franks casket), in the British Museum, subjects
represented on it, 48;
  runic inscriptions, 49 (cf. Napier, in _An English Miscellany_,
  Oxford 1901)

Charles the Great, Roman Emperor (Charlemagne), different views of him
in French Epic, 24;
  in _Huon de Bordeaux_ 314 _sq._;
  history of, in Norwegian (_Karlamagnus Saga_), 278;
  in Spanish (chap-book), 297 n: see _Pèlerinage de Charlemagne_

Charlot: see _Huon de Bordeaux_

_Charroi de Nismes_, _chanson de geste_ of the cycle of William of
Orange, quoted, 312

Chaucer, 328, 332 n;
  his relation to the French Romantic School, and to Boccaccio, 363-370

Chrestien de Troyes, 323, 344
  his works,
    _Tristan_ (lost), 344;
    _Erec_ (_Geraint and Enid_), 6, 332, 355 _sq._;
    _Conte du Graal_ (_Perceval_), 327;
    _Cliges_, 333, 357 _sq._, 387;
    _Chevalier de la Charrette_ (_Lancelot_), 341, 357, 387;
    _Yvain_ (_Chevalier au Lion_), 352 _sq._, 386 _sq._
  his influence on the author of _Flamenca_, 359 _sq._

_Codex Regius_ (2365, 4to), in the King's Library, Copenhagen: see
_Edda, 'the Elder_'

_Comédie Humaine, la_, 188

Connla (the story of the fairy-bride): see _Guingamor_

Contract, Social, in Iceland, 59

_Coronemenz Looïs_, _chanson de geste_ of the cycle of William of
Orange, quoted, 311

_Corpus Poeticum Boreale_, ed. G. Vigfusson and F. York Powell, Oxford,
1883, _passim_

Corsolt, a pagan, 311

Cressida, in _Roman de Troie_, 330;
  the story treated in different ways by Boccaccio and Chaucer, _q.v._

Cynewulf, the poet, 51

_Cynewulf and Cyneheard_ (English Chronicle, A.D. 755), 5, 82 n

Dag, brother of Sigrun, 72

Dandie Dinmont, 201

Dante, 31;
 his reference to William of Orange, 296

_Dart, Song of the_ (_Darraðarlióð_, Gray's 'Fatal Sisters'), 78

Davenant, Sir William, on the heroic poem (Preface to _Gondibert_),
quoted, 30;
  author of a tragedy, 'Albovine King of the Lombards,' 67

_Deor's Lament_, old English poem, 76, 115, 134

Drangey, island in Eyjafirth, north of Iceland, Grettir's refuge, 196

Dryden and the heroic ideal, 30

Du Bartas, 31

_Edda_, a handbook of the Art of Poetry, by Snorri Sturluson, 42, 138, 181

'Edda,' 'the Elder,' 'the Poetic,' 'of Sæmund the Wise' (_Codex
Regius_), 77, 93, 156 _passim_

Egil the Bowman, Weland's brother, represented on the Franks casket
(Ægili), 48

Egil Skallagrimsson, 192, 215, 220

Einar Thorgilsson: see _Sturla of Hvamm_

Ekkehard, Dean of St. Gall, author of _Waltharius_, 84

_Elene_, by Cynewulf, an old English poem on the legend of St. Helen
(the Invention of the Cross), 50, 90, 329

_Eneas, Roman d'_, 386

_Enid_: see _Chrestien de Troyes_

_Erec_: see _Chrestien de Troyes_

Eric the Red, his Saga in Hauk's book, 47

Ermanaric (O.E. Eormenríc, O.N. Jörmunrekr), 22;
  killed by the brothers of Suanihilda, 66: see _Hamðismál_

Erp: see _Hamðismál_

_Exodus_, old English poem of, 28, 90

Eyjolf Karsson, a friend of Bishop Gudmund, 257, 381, _sq._

Eyjolf Thorsteinsson: see _Gizur_

_Eyrbyggja Saga_, the story of the men of Eyre, 187 _sq._, 201, 227, 253

_Færeyinga Saga_, the story of the men of the Faroes (Thrond of Gata
and Sigmund Brestisson), 206, 245

Faroese ballads, 181, 283

Fielding, Henry, 266

_Fierabras_, 388

Finn: see _Finnesburh_

_Finnesburh_, old English poem (fragment), published by Hickes from a
Lambeth MS., now mislaid, 81 _sq._, 265
  episode in _Beowulf_, giving more of the story, 81 _sq._

_Fiölsvinnsmál_ see _Svipdag_

_Flamenca_, a Provençal romance, by a follower of Chrestien de Troyes,
in the spirit of Ovid, 359-362;
  romances named in, 360, 384-387

_Flóamanna Saga_, the story of the people of Floi, 259

_Flores et Blanchefleur_, romance, referred to in _Flamenca_, 361;
  translated by Boccaccio (_Filocolo_), 364

Flosi the Burner, in _Njála_, 218, 219, 190, 191, 219 _sq._

Flugumyri, a homestead in Northern Iceland (Skagafjord), Earl Gizur's
house, burned October 1253, the story as given by Sturla, 259-264

_Fóstbræðra Saga_ (the story of the two sworn brethren, Thorgeir and
Thormod) 38 n, 47;
  in Hauk's book, 187, 194, 196;
  euphuistic interpolations in, 275 _sq._

Frey, poem of his wooing of Gerd (_Skirnismál_), in the 'Poetic Edda,'
77, 94, 114

_Frithiof the Bold_, a romantic Saga, 247, 277, 280 _sq._

Froda (Fróðá), homestead in Olafsvík, near the end of Snæfellsnes,
Western Iceland, a haunted house, _Eyrbyggja Saga_, 208

Froda (Frotho in Saxo Grammaticus), his story alluded to in _Beowulf_,
69, 72, 82 n, 163, 373 _sq._

Froissart and the courteous ideal, 328

Fromont, the adversary in the story of _Garin le Loherain_, _q.v._

Galopin the Prodigal, in the story of _Garin le Loherain_, 310

_Gareth_, in Malory's _Morte d'Arthur_, original of the Red Cross
Knight in the _Faery Queene_, 343

_Garin le Loherain_ (_chanson de geste_), 53 n, 300-309

Gawain killed dragons, 168: see _Walewein_

_Gawain and the Green Knight_, alliterative poem, 180

_Gay Goshawk_, ballad of the, 357

_Genesis_, old English poem of, 90, 136

_Geraint_, Welsh story, 355

Gerd: see _Frey_

_Germania_ of Tacitus, 46

_Gísla Saga_, the story of Gisli the Outlaw, 187, 196 _sq._, 207, 225;
  its relations to the heroic poetry, 210

Giuki (Lat. Gibicho, O.E. Gifica), father of Gunnar, Hogni, Gothorm,
and Gudrun, _q.v._

Gizur Thorvaldsson, the earl, at Flugumyri, 258, 259-264

Glam (_Grettis Saga_), 172, 196

Glum (_Víga-Glúms Saga_), 193 _sq._, 225
  and _Raoul de Cambrai_, 299

Gollancz, Mr., 135 (see _Academy_, Dec. 23, 1893, p. 572)

Gothorm, 101

Gray, his translations from the Icelandic, 78, 157 n

Gregory (St.) the Great, _de Cura Pastorali_, studied in Iceland, 59

Grendel, 165: see _Beowulf_

_Grettis Saga_, the story of Grettir the Strong, 172, 187, 195 _sq._,
216 n, 218, 226

Grimhild, mother of Gudrun, 110

_Grimild's Revenge_, Danish ballad (_Grimilds Hævn_), 105, 149

Grimm, 136 n;
  story of the _Golden Bird_, 340
  Wilhelm, _Deutsche Heldensage_, 79

_Grímnismál_, in 'Elder Edda,' 112

Gripir, Prophecy of (_Grípisspá_) in the 'Elder Edda,' a summary of
the Volsung story, 94

Groa, wife of Earl Gizur, _q.v._

_Grógaldr_: see _Svipdag_

_Grottasöngr_ (Song of the Magic Mill), 90

Gudmund Arason, Bishop of Hólar, 170, 256, 381

Gudmund, son of Granmar: see _Sinfiotli_

Gudmund the Mighty (Guðmundr inn Riki), in _Ljósvetninga_ and other
Sagas, 188, 225

Gudny, wife of Sturla of Hvamm, _q.v._

Gudrun (O.N. Guðrún), daughter of Giuki, sister of Gunnar and Hogni,
wife of Sigurd, 23, 71, 101, 149 _sq._
  and Theodoric, the _Old Lay of Gudrun_ (_Guðrúnarkviða in forna_),
  103, 109
  _Lay of_ (_Guðrúnarkviða_), 111
  _Lament of_, or _Chain of Woe_ (_Tregrof Guðrúnar_), 111, 215
  _Ordeal of_, 111
  daughter of Osvifr (_Laxdæla Saga_), 191, 209, 222-224

_Guingamor, Lay of_, by Marie de France, 337-340

_Guinglain_, romance, by Renaud de Beaujeu: see _Libeaux Desconus_

Gundaharius (Gundicarius), the Burgundian (O.E. Gúðhere, O.N. Gunnarr;
Gunther in the _Nibelungenlied_, etc.), 22: see _Gunnar_, _Gunther_

Gunnar of Lithend (Hlíðarendi), in _Njáls Saga_, 190;
  his death, 214

Gunnar, son of Giuki, brother of Gudrun, 101 _sq._, 168 _sq._: see
_Gundaharius_, _Gunther_

Gunnlaug the Poet, called Wormtongue, his story (_Gunnlaugs Saga
Ormstungu_), 207, 281

Gunther (Guntharius, son of Gibicho) in _Waltharius_, 84 _sq._;
  in _Waldere_, 100: see _Gundaharius_, _Gunnar_

Hacon, King of Norway (A.D. 1217-1263): see _Hákonar Saga_;
  his taste for French romances, 278

Hadubrand, son of Hildebrand, 81

Hagen (Hagano), in _Waltharius_, 84 _sq._

Hagen, in _Waldere_ (Hagena), 86, 239
  in _Sivard_, _q.v._: see _Hogni_

_Hákonar Saga_, the _Life_ of Hacon, Hacon's son, King of Norway (_ob._
1263), written by Sturla, contrasted with his history of Iceland, 267

_Halfs Saga_, 280

Hall, son of Earl Gizur, 259

Hama, 163

_Hamlet_ in Saxo, 70

_Hamðismál_ ('Poetic Edda'), Lay of the death of Ermanaric, 66, 70-71,
109, 140

Harald, king of Norway (Fairhair), 58;
    in _Egils Saga_, 192
  king of Norway (Hardrada), killed dragons, 168;
    his Saga referred to (story of Hreidar the Simple), 310;
    (Varangian custom), 329 n

_Harbarzlióð_: see _Thor_

_Harðar Saga ok Holmverja_, the story of Hord and the men of the
island, 212 n

Hauk's Book, an Icelandic gentleman's select library in the fourteenth
century, 47 _sq._ (_Hauksbók_, ed. Finnur Jónsson, 1892-1896)

_Hávamál_ in 'Poetic Edda,' a gnomic miscellany, 77

_Hávarðar Saga Isfirðings_, the story of Howard of Icefirth, 199, 216
_sq._, 227

Hearne, Thomas, 78

Hedin, brother of Helgi, Hiorvard's son, 99

_Heiðarvíga Saga_, the story of the battle on the Heath (connected with
_Eyrbyggja Saga_), 209: see _Víga-Styrr_

_Heiðreks Saga_: see _Hervarar Saga_

_Heimskringla_, Snorri's _Lives of the Kings of Norway_, abridged, 248

Helgi and Kara, 98

Helgi, Hiorvard's son, and Swava, 97 _sq._, 113

Helgi Hundingsbane and Sigrun, 72, 93 n, 95 _sq._, 239

_Hêliand_, old Saxon poem on the Gospel history, using the forms of
German heroic poetry, 27, 90, 204

Hengest: see _Finnesburh_

Heremod, 162

Herkja, 111

Hermes, in the Homeric hymn, 43

_Hervarar Saga ok Heiðreks Konungs_ (_Heiðreks Saga_), one of the
romantic mythical Sagas in Hauk's book, 48;
  contains the poems of the cycle of Angantyr, 78, 280

Hervor, daughter of Angantyr, 70, 73, 112, 208

Heusler, Dr. Andreas, Professor in Berlin, 100 n

Hialli, 151

Hickes, George, D.D., 73 n, 78

_Hildebrand, Lay of_, 76, 79, 81, 87 n, 91

Hildeburg: see _Finnesburh_

Hildegund (Hildegyth), 84 _sq._: see _Walter_

Hnæf: see _Finnesburh_

Hobs, Mr. (_i.e._ Thomas Hobbes of Malmesbury), 31

Hodbrodd, in story of Helgi and Sigrun, 72, 96

Hogni, father of Sigrun, 72, 96

Hogni, son of Giuki, brother of Gunnar, Gothorm, and Gudrun, 101, 151
_sq._: see _Hagen_

Homeric analogies in medieval literature, 9 _sq._

Hrafn Sveinbjarnarson, a friend of Bishop Gudmund, 257;
  _Hrafns Saga_ quoted, 38 n

Hrafn: see _Gunnlaug_

_Hrafnkels Saga Freysgoða_, the story of Hrafnkel, Frey's Priest, 187, 198

Hrefna, Kjartan's wife, 223

Hreidar the Simple, an unpromising hero, in _Haralds Saga Harðráða_, 310

Hrolf Kraki (Hroðulf in _Beowulf_), 166, 280

_Hromund Greipsson_, Saga of, 99

Hrothgar, 10, 166.

Hunding, 95

Hunferth, 10, 166

_Huon de Bordeaux_ (_chanson de geste_), epic and romance combined
inartistically in, 37, 53, 314-317

Hurd's _Letters on Chivalry and Romance_, 30

Hygelac, 161 _sq._: see _Beowulf_

_Hymiskviða_: see _Thor_

Ibsen, Henrik, his _Hærmændene paa Helgeland_ (_Warriors in Helgeland_),
a drama founded on the Volsung story, its relation to _Laxdæla Saga_, 209
  his _Kongsemnerne_ (_Rival Kings_, Hacon and Skule), 268

_Ider_, romance, 331 _sq._, 347 n

_Iliad_, 11 _sq._, 18, 38 _sq._, 52, 162 _sq._, 348, 352 n

Ingeld: see _Froda_

Ingibjorg, daughter of Sturla, her wedding at Flugumyri, 259 _sq._

_Intelligenza, L'_, 386 n

Jehoram, son of Ahab, in the famine of Samaria, 239

Johnson, Dr., 9, 244

Joinville, Jean de, Seneschal of Champagne, his _Life of St. Louis_
compared with Icelandic prose history, 269 _sq._

Jón Arason the poet, Bishop of Hólar, the last Catholic Bishop in
Iceland, beheaded by Reformers, 7th November 1550, a notable character,

Jordanes, historian of the Goths, his version of the story of
_Ermanaric_, its relation to _Hamðismál_, 65

_Judith_, old English poem of, 28, 29, 90

Julian, the Emperor, his opinion of German songs, 65

Kara, 98 _sq._

Kari, in _Njála_, 206
  and Bjorn, 228-229

Karl Jónsson, Abbot of Thingeyri in Iceland, author of _Sverris Saga_, 249

Kjartan, son of Olaf the Peacock (_Laxdæla Saga_), 13, 191, 204, 207, 375
  his death, 240 _sq._

_Königskinder, die_, German ballad, 327

_Kormaks Saga_, 129 n, 281

_Lancelot_, the French prose romance, 335

_Landnámabók_, in Hauk's book, 47

Laurence, Bishop of Hólar (_ob._ 1331), his _Life_ (_Laurentius Saga_), 268

_Laxdæla Saga_, the story of Laxdale (_the Lovers of the Gudrun_), 185,
190, 240 _sq._, 375;
  a new version of the Niblung story, 209 _sq._, 222 _sq._, 281

Leconte de Lisle, _L'Epée d'Angantyr_, 73 n

Lessing's _Laocoon_, 237

_Libeaux Desconus_, romance in different versions--French, by Renaud
de Beaujeu (_Guinglain_), 337, 343 _sq._, 387;
  English, 337, 343;
  Italian (_Carduino_), 337, 343

_Ljósvetninga Saga_, story of the House of Ljósavatn, 188 _sq._

_Lokasenna_ (the Railing of Loki), 41, 77, 113

Longnon, Auguste, 314 n

Louis IX., king of France (St. Louis): see _Joinville_

_Lusiad_, the, a patriotic epic, unlike the poetry of the 'heroic age,' 22

Macrobius, 47, 333

_Maldon_, poem of the battle of (A.D. 991), 69, 88, 95 n, 134, 205, 244;
  compared with the _Iliad_, 11;
  compared with _Roland_, 51, 54 _sq._, 294

Malory, Sir Thomas, his _Morte d'Arthur_, 215, 307

_Mantrible, Bridge of the_, 388

Marie de France, her _Lays_ translated into Norwegian (_Strengleikar_),
  _Guingamor_ criticised, 337-340

Marino, 31

Martianus Capella, _de Nuptiis Philologiae_, studied in the Middle Ages, 47

Medea, 334, 347 _sq._

_Menglad, Rescue of_, 78, 114: see _Svipdag_

Mephistopheles in Thessaly, 10

Meyer, Paul, 290 n, 359 n, 386

_Milan, Siege of_, 388

Mimming, the sword of Weland, 86

Morris, William, 205, 282, 334

_Mort Arthure_, alliterative poem, 180

_Mort Artus_, French prose romance, 335

_Morte d'Arthur_: see _Malory_

_Nibelungenlied_, 105, 120, 149, 179

Niblung story, its relation to historical fact, 22 _sq._: see _Gunnar_,
_Hogni_, _Gudrun_, _Laxdæla Saga_

Nidad, 95

Njal, story of (_Njála_), 8, 13, 60, 185, 207, 219-221

Oberon; see _Huon de Bordeaux_

Odd, Arrow (Örvar-Oddr), 73

Oddrun, sister of Brynhild and Attila, 102
  _Lament of_ (_Oddrúnargrátr_), in the 'Elder Edda,' 103, 107 _sq._,
  151 _sq._

Odd Ufeigsson: see _Bandamanna Saga_

Odoacer, referred to in _Lay of Hildebrand_, 81

Odysseus, 7, 9, 32 _sq._, 35, 71

_Odyssey_, the, 10, 163, 171;
  Aristotle's summary of, 18;
  romance in, 32 _sq._

Olaf Tryggvason, king of Norway, 205, 375 _sq._

_Olkofra Þáttr_, the story of Alecap, related to _Bandamanna Saga_, 226

Ossian, in the land of youth: see _Guingamor_

Ovid in the Middle Ages, 47, 346, 412;
[Transcriber's Note: No page 412 in original.]
  _Ovidius Epistolarum_ studied in Iceland, 59

Ovid's story of Medea, translated in the _Roman de Troie_, 334 _sq._,
348 _sq._;
  _Heroides_ became the 'Saints' Legend of Cupid,' 347

Paris, Gaston, 290, 291, 331, 337, 343, 345, 348 n, 387

Paulus Diaconus, heroic stories in the Lombard history, 66 _sq._

Peer Gynt, 170

_Pèlerinage de Charlemagne_ (_chanson de geste_), 24, 53, 329

Percy, Thomas, D.D., _Five Pieces of Runic Poetry_, 73 n, 141 n

Phaeacia, Odysseus in, Bossu's criticism, 31

Pindar, his treatment of myths, 43

Poitiers, William IX., Count of, his poem on setting out for the
Crusade, 317

Powell, F. York, 66: see _Aage_

_Prise d'Orange_, _chanson de geste_ of the cycle of William of Orange,
in substance a romance of adventure, 313

_Queste del St. Graal_, French prose romance, a contrast to the style
of Chrestien de Troyes, 327, 335

Ragnar Lodbrok, his Death-Song (_Krákumál_), 140, 217, 295

Rainouart, the gigantic ally of William of Orange, 296, 311;
  their names associated by Dante (_Par._ xviii. 46), _ibid._

_Raoul de Cambrai_ (_chanson de geste_), 291 n, 298-300, 309

Rastignac, Eugène de, 188

_Reykdæla Saga_, the story of Vemund, Askel, and Skuta son of Askel,
connected with the story of Glum, 194, 201

Rigaut, son of Hervi the Villain, in the story of _Garin le Loherain_, 310

Rimgerd the Giantess: see _Atli_

_Rímur_, Icelandic rhyming romances, 181, 283

_Roland, Chanson de_, 9, 24, 83, 287, 293-295, 308;
  compared with _Byrhtnoth_ (_Maldon_), 54 _sq._;
  with an incident in _Njála_, 265

_Roman de la Rose_, of Guillaume de Lorris, 345, 348, 352, 359

_Rood, Dream of the_, old English poem, 134

Rosamund and Alboin in the Lombard history, 23, 67

_Rosmunda_, a tragedy, by Rucellai, 67

_Rou, Roman de_, the author's visit to Broceliande, 26

Sam (Sámr), Gunnar's dog, 214

Sarpedon's address to Glaucus, 9, 11

Sarus and Ammius (Sorli and Hamther), brothers of Suanihilda (Jordanes),
66: see _Hamðismál_

Saxo Grammaticus, 69, 79, 105, 149, 181, 374

_Scotland, Complaynt of_, romances named in, 387-389

_Scottish Field_, alliterative poem on Flodden, 179 _sq._

Shakespeare, his treatment of popular tales, 36 _sq._

_Sibyl's Prophecy_: see _Volospá_

Sidney, Sir Philip, 99, 368

Sievers, Dr. Eduard, Professor in Leipzig, 136 n, 169 n

Sigmund Brestisson, in _Færeyinga Saga_, 206, 245, 283

Sigmund, father of Sinfiotli, Helgi, and Sigurd, 95, 110

Signild: see _Sivard_

Sigrdrifa, 115

Sigrun: see _Helgi_

Sigurd, the Volsung (O.N. Sigurðr), 22, 71, 100 _sq._, 129, 133
  fragmentary _Lay of_ (_Brot af Sigurðarkviðu_), 103
  _Lay of_: see _Brynhild_

Sinfiotli, debate of, and Gudmund, 96

_Sivard og Brynild_, Danish ballad, translated, 127-129

Skallagrim, how he told the truth to King Harald, 192

Skarphedinn, son of Njal, 190, 220 _sq._, 244, 265

Skirnir: see _Frey_

Skule, Duke, the rival of Hacon, 267

Skuta: see _Reykdæla Saga_

Snorri Sturluson (A.D. 1178-1241), author of the _Edda_, 42;
  and of the _Lives of the Kings of Norway_, 248;
  his murder avenged at Flugumyri, 263

Snorri the Priest (Snorri Goði), in _Eyrbyggja_ and other Sagas, 188,
213, 253

_Sonatorrek_ (the Sons' Loss), poem by Egil Skallagrimsson, 215

Sorli: see _Hamðismál_

Spenser, 343

Starkad, 166, 374

Stephens, George, sometime Professor in Copenhagen, 78

Stevenson, R.L., _Catriona_, 170 n

Sturla of Hvamm (Hvamm-Sturla), founder of the house of the Sturlungs,
his life (_Sturlu Saga_) 253-256

Sturla (_c._ A.D. 1214-1284), son of Thord, and grandson of Hvamm-Sturla,
nephew of Snorri, author of _Sturlunga Saga_ (_q.v._) and of _Hákonar
Saga_ (_q.v._) 61, 251, 259

_Sturlunga Saga_ (more accurately _Islendinga Saga_), of Sturla, Thord's
son, a history of the author's own times, using the forms of the heroic
Sagas, 61, 246 _sq._, 249 _sq._

Suanihilda: see _Swanhild_

_Svarfdæla Saga_, the story of the men of Swarfdale (_Svarfaðardalr_), 219

_Sveidal, Ungen_, Danish ballad, on the story of Svipdag and Menglad,
114, 126

Sverre, king of Norway (_ob._ 1202), his _Life_ (_Sverris Saga_) written
by Abbot Karl Jónsson at the king's dictation, 249;
  quotes a Volsung poem, 278

_Svipdag and Menglad_, old Northern poems of, 78, 114 _sq._: see _Sveidal_

Swanhild (O.N. Svanhildr), daughter of Sigurd and Gudrun, her cruel
death; the vengeance on Ermanaric known to Jordanes in the sixth
century, 65: see _Hamðismál_

Tasso, 18, 21;
  his critical essays on heroic poetry, 30

Tegnér, Esaias, 141;
  his _Frithiofs Saga_, 277

Tennyson, _Enid_, 355

Theodoric (O.N. Þióðrekr), a hero of Teutonic epic in different
dialects, 22, 81, 87;
  fragment of Swedish poem on, inscription on stone at Rök, 78: see

Thersites, 243

Thidrandi, whom the goddesses slew, 208

_Þidreks Saga_ (thirteenth century), a Norwegian compilation from North
German ballads on heroic subjects, 79, 121

Thomas: see _Tristram_

Thor, in old Northern literature, his Fishing for the World Serpent
(_Hymiskviða_), 43, 77, 95;
    the Winning of the Hammer (_Þrymskviða_), 43, 77, 81, 95
  Danish ballad of, 125
  the contention of, and Odin (_Harbarzlióð_), 77, 113

Thorarin, in _Eyrbyggja_, the quiet man, 227

Thorgils and Haflidi (_Þorgils Saga ok Hafliða_), 226, 238, 252 _sq._

Thorkell Hake, in _Ljósvetinga Saga_, 225

Thorolf Bægifot: see _Eyrbyggja_

Thorolf, Kveldulf's son: see _Skallagrim_

_Þorsteins Saga Hvíta_, the story of Thorstein the White, points of
resemblance to _Laxdæla_ and _Gunnlaugs Saga_, 281

_Þorsteins Saga Stangarhöggs_ (Thorstein Staffsmitten), a short story, 282

Thrond of Gata (_Færeyinga Saga_), 245

_Þrymskviða_: see _Thor_

Thrytho, 162

Thurismund, son of Thurisvend, king of the Gepidae, killed by Alboin, 67

_Tirant lo Blanch_ (Tirant the White, Romance of), 38 n;
  a moral work, 222

Trissino, author of _Italia liberata dai Goti_, a correct epic poem, 30

_Tristram and Iseult_, 336, Anglo-Norman poems, by Béroul and Thomas, 344;
  of Chrestien (lost), _ibid._

Troilus, 368 _sq._

_Troy, Destruction of_, alliterative poem, 180

Ufeig: see _Bandamanna Saga_

Uistean Mor mac Ghille Phadrig, 170

Uspak: see _Bandamanna Saga_

_Vafþrúðnismál_, mythological poem in 'Elder Edda,' 77, 112, 115

Vali: see _Bandamanna Saga_

_Vápnfirðinga Saga_, the story of Vopnafjord, 193, 226

_Vatnsdæla Saga_, story of the House of Vatnsdal, 189

Vemund: see _Reykdæla Saga_

_Vergi, la Chastelaine de_, a short tragic story, 362 _sq._

_Víga-Glúms Saga_, 193: see _Glum_

Víga-Styrr: see _Heiðarvíga Saga_

     _N.B._--The story referred to in the text is preserved in
     Jón Olafsson's recollection of the leaves of the MS. which
     were lost in the fire of 1728 (_Islendinga Sögur_, 1847, ii.
     p. 296). It is not given in Mr. William Morris's translation
     of the extant portion of the Saga, appended to his

Vigfusson, Gudbrand, 77, 280 n, 283 n

_Viglund, Story of_, a romantic Saga, 278 _sq._

Villehardouin, a contemporary of Snorri, 269

_Volospá_ (the Sibyl's Song of the Doom of the Gods), in the 'Poetic
Edda,' 43, 77, 139;
  another copy in Hauk's book, 47, 93

_Volsunga Saga_, a prose paraphrase of old Northern poems, 71, 77, 79, 280

_Volsungs, Old Lay of the_, 96

_Wade, Song of_, fragment recently discovered, 180 (see _Academy_, Feb.
15, 1896)

_Waldere_, old English poem (fragment), 78, 86 _sq._, 116, 163: see
_Walter of Aquitaine_

_Walewein, Roman van_, Dutch romance of Sir Gawain; the plot compared
with the Gaelic story of Mac Iain Direach, 337, 340-343

Walter of Aquitaine, 5, 78, 84 _sq._, 206

_Waltharius_, Latin poem by Ekkehard, on the story of Walter of
Aquitaine, _q.v._

_Wanderer, the_, old English poem, 134

Ward, H.L.D., his Catalogue of MS. Romances in the British Museum, 282

Wealhtheo, 166

_Weland_, 338
  represented on the Franks casket in the British Museum, 48
  mentioned in _Waldere_, 87, 163
  _Lay of_, in 'Poetic Edda,' 77, 94

_Well at the World's End_, 387

Widia, Weland's son, 87, 163

_Widsith_ (the Traveller's Song), old English poem, 76, 115, 134

Wiglaf, the 'loyal servitor' in _Beowulf_, 166

William of Orange, old French epic hero, 296: see _Coronemenz Looïs_,
_Charroi de Nismes_, _Prise d'Orange_, _Aliscans_, _Rainouart_; cf. J.
Bédier, _Les Légendes épiques_ (1908)

Printed in Great Britain by R. & R. CLARK, LIMITED, Edinburgh.

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