The Northern Way

Sigurd the Dragon-Slayer

THE BALLAD OF HØGNI

WITH this Ballad, we leave behind Volsunga Saga, and enter the atmosphere of Vilkina. Myth is submerged in the luxuriant growth of fairytale. Equally striking is the change in the human aspect of the story brought about by the fact that the German Krimhild has crept into the skin of the Northem Gudrun.

True to primitive feeling and custom, the Lays and V.S. regard the claims of the marriage-bond as subordinate to those of the blood-tie. Though Gudrun's anguish is poignant, she has no thought of revenge on her kinsmen. (The treachery, moreover, is slightly less heinous inasmuch as the actual slayer of Sigurd is Gutthorm, the younger brother, who stands outside the oath of swom-brotherhood.) When Atli, hoping to secure the Treasure, lures the brethren to Hunland, Gudrun sends them secret warning, in Atlakviða by means of the ring entwined with wolf's hair, in the Greenland Atlamál by risting the rune-stick which her treacherous messenger falsifies. After the slayings, her vengeance for her brethren spares neither her husband nor her own children, who, sharing his blood, share also his guilt. (l)

This instinct died hard-is scarcely yet dead-in Northem psychology. That Highland Gudrun who, when her husband returned victorious from battle

1. Compare 'Kinship's Vengeance.'

88       SIGURD THE DRAGON-SLAYER

with her own clan, caught up her infant and dashed it into the blazing hearth, lived well within historical times.

Motive apart, the blood-feud finds its proper setting in the poems of the Heroic Age. Transferred to the medieval period, it becomes a savage anachronism. The splendour of the Niebe1ungen Lied cannot disguise this foundational flaw, and Krimhild, stripped of its pageantry and transferred to the Faroës, carries the falsity with her. The ballad-poet does his best to keep her in hand (note the human touch, 'Again her cheeks grew red' in v. 21); but she rapidly degenerates into a mere portent, fit congener of the were-dragon Tidrik Tattnarson. Her figure has absorbed the sinis ter magic popularly ascribed to the Huns. Artala, on the other hand, is a magnanimous figure. His acceptance of his son's death as a just punishment for breach of the all-sacred rites governing hospitality, is a true touch from the Heroic Age.


PECULIARITIES OF THE BALLAD

a.The brothers go alone to Hunland, not with an armed retinue.

b. The passage over the Rhine is expanded into a voyage, described with all the spirit of the sea-faring Faroëse.

c. Høgni meets the spectre of Sigurd.

d. Artala, not Tidrik, gives Høgni the Jarl's daughter.

e. Høgni is killed by the Dragon's venom, not his fiery breath.

f. The name of Høgni's son in Vilkina is Aldrian (some confusion has crept in from the Hvenske

THE BALLAD OF HØGNI       89

Chronicle); and the last section of the Ballad, from v. 175, is called by Lyngby 'Aldrian's Táttr.'

Finally, in Vilkina, Gudrun is slain by Tidrik, and the whole conclusion of the story follows other lines. Her death in the Treasure-house with Artala, merely hinted at in the Ballad (v. 209)-possibly a verse has dropped out-is plainly stated in the Danish 'Grimild's Revenge' (v. 39).

With regard to (b), it is said that the whole episode of the Mermaid (with the exception of vv. 45-46) is usually omitted á gólvi by the best Faroëse singers.

c. Fear of the dead and the awesome potency of the dead, were never long out of Northern minds. The Glám episode of Grettis Saga is the most gruesome, as it is the most powerful, of all European ghost stories; and the hauntings in Erbyggja make a good second. (The expression 'eyes like Glám's,' for the evil-eye, is still current in the Faroes.) The dead Mother who returns to her children, and Sir Morten of Fuglsang, are almost the only ghosts of the Danish ballad-world who return in order to do good and not harm-yet the Mother does not depart without a dire threat to the neglectful father, while Sir Morten swears by his troth as a Christian knight that he will do no hurt to his friend. A Faroëse audience would require no explanation of Gudrun's motive in sending Høgni to the spectral tryst with his victim. But, as in life, so Sigurd is noble-hearted in death-a touch, which, designedly or not, recalls the contrast of Høgni's treachery, and readjusts the sympathies which might otherwise shift to the hunted hero.

The death-scene in the Hall (v. 99 et seq.) must not be compared with that of the Lays, but is nevertheless a spirited thing. The grisly ordeal of the hides is no

90       SIGURD THE DRAGON-SLAYER

figment of poetic imagination. Many a Northern hall could tell of similar horrors, which, if no longer actually practised when these Ballads were made, must have been fresh in living tradition. Readers of Erbyggja need not be reminded of Arngrim Viga-Styr and the raw, slimy neat's hide which proved the undoing of Halli, the Swedish Berserk.

The sweating of Høgni's ring (v. 75) recalls the story told in Holinshed's Chronicle of the death of King John.

" And the King suspected them (the pears) to be poisoned indeed, by reason that such precious stones as he had about him cast forth a certain sweat, as it were bewraying the poison. "


THE BALLAD OF HØGNI

BURDEN(refrain):
GRANE bore the golden hoard,
Wroth did Sigurd swing his sword,
There he slew the Dragon grim,
Wroth did Sigurd swing his sword.
1.
GUDRUN abides in Gjúki's hall,
& sore she sorroweth;
Never a man might win her love
After young Sigurd's death.
2.
King Artala cried through bower & hall:
" Go saddle my steed eftsoon!
For I will down to Gjúki's garth
& woo the fair Gudrun. "
3.
Now when the early morning
Shone red on mount & moor,
They saw so gallant a champion
Ride up to Gjúki's door.
4.
To & fro went the henchmen
That gave him welcome kind,
& by the board sat Gudrun
With many thoughts in mind.
5.
Up she rose, Queen Gudrun,
& stood upon her feet:
" I will go forth to the gateway
This warrior proud to meet. "
6.
Up & spake Queen Gudrun:
" Methinks with the red, red gold
His garments shine as brightly
As Sigurd's wont of old. "

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7.
And now with Gjúki's daughter
He sits in Gjúki's hall;
Comely the King to look on,
& wise is he withal.
8.
Up & spake Queen Gudrun
Her woman's weird to dree: (1)
" Now whence hast thou ridden hither,
& what is thy will with me? "
9.
Up spake King Artala,
& that with royal mien:
" Now therefore am I come hither,
To woo thee for my Queen. "
10.
Behind the board sat Gudrun,
Glowing in gold so red:
" No man has e'er had love of me
Since Sigurd the brave fell dead. "
11.
He stood on his feet in Gjúki's hall,
& he was a stalwart swain:
" Now answer me yea, or answer me nay,
For I shall not ask again! "
12.
Long sat Gjúki's daughter,
& thought on her grievous wrong,
& how she vowed the dead to 'venge
If she should live so long.
13.
Up spake Gjúki's daughter
That thought on death & shame:
" Whence comest thou, bold warrior,
& how do men name thy name? "

1. dree = endure

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