THE MEETING OF THE MERMAID HRÍMGERTH WITH ATLI AND HELGI HJÖRVARTHSSON - Page 4
It seems to me certain that the Hrímgerth lay presupposes the First Lay of Helgi Hundingsbani; for several features in the former are certainly borrowed from the latter. In the Helgi lay a storm is described in which the fleet is near foundering, but from which it finally escapes. I have shown that this description was to some extent influenced by an Irish tale. Now in the Hrímgerth lay also a storm is spoken of, in which Helgi's fleet would have been wrecked had it not been saved by a valkyrie. It is certain, then, that this presupposes the corresponding incident in the First Helgi lay. Further, the place name Varinsvík in the Hrímgerth lay must have been formed in imitation of Varinsfjord in the account of the fight with Höthbrodd, where there are several names of places mentioned which are situated in the same waters as Varinsfjord.
I have shown that the conversation between Atli and Hrímgerth betrays the influence of the conversation between Sinfjötli and Guthmund as we find it in the First Helgi lay (which, as we have seen, is a lengthened working over of the word combat in the Second Lay). It should now be observed that, vice versa, the dialogue between Sinfjötli and Guthmund in the First Helgi lay seems, strangely enough, to have been influenced by ideas in the Hrímgerth lay.
This Hrímgerth is, and is called, a troll wife (skass). She is described as a monster with a tail, ready to follow the stallion. Her father bears the wolf-name Hati, and of her prototype Scylla we read: 'It is told in fable that she gave birth to wolves and dogs.' Now Guthmund is likewise called by Sinfjötli a troll wife (skass). He is said, moreover, to have been a mare, and to have given birth to wolves.
This peculiar circular relationship between the Hrímgerth lay and the First Helgi lay seems to me capable of explanation in only one way: the First Helgi lay and the Hrímgerth lay must have been composed by one and the same author. He must have planned the two poems about the same time; but he seems to have finished the First Helgi lay first, or, at any rate, the greater part of it.
In what precedes I have endeavoured to prove that this First Lay was composed ca. 1020-1035 by a poet from the west of Norway, who understood Irish and English. He was familiar with Irish poetry, and lived a while at the Scandinavian royal court in Dublin, and probably a while also in England. The same may, therefore, be said of the Lay of Hrímgerth.
The author of that poem too must, therefore, have been born in the west of Norway. In favour of this view we have another argument: In H. Hj., 25, Atli says to Hrímgerth: 'Lothin he is called, who shall become thy husband'; the monster dwells í þolleyio (i.e. in Toll Isle). Professor Rygh has called my attention to the fact that there are in Søndhordland two small islands which bear the name Tolløen (35) (Toll Isle). The form reini (H. Hj., 20, 21), 'stallion,' not vreini, also supports the opinion that the poet was born in the west of Norway.
Since the author of the Hrímgerth lay appears to have understood Irish, to have been to some extent familiar with Irish poetry, and to have lived with the Scandinavian king in Dublin, an acquaintance on his part with the story of Scylla, particularly as it was known from the Second Vatican Mythograph, is entirely natural and not in the least remarkable. For, in the first place, the Vatican Mythographs were composed in north-western Europe, most likely by Irishmen; and, secondly, the MS. in which they are preserved seems to have been written by an Irishman. (36) Moreover, it can also be proved from other documents that the story of Scylla and Charybdis was known in Ireland in the early Middle Ages.
In the hymn of St. Columba, 'Altus Prosator' (composed a little before 600), carubdibus and scillus are used of the whirlpools under which the giants groan in hell. (37) And in a marginal note at this place in an old Irish MS. (38) the story of Scylla and Charybdis is told in Latin following the source used by Myth. Vatic., II, 169 and 170, viz. Servius's commentary on Virgil's Æneid, III, 420, but with many new corruptions. (39)
The Irish redaction of the Scylla story omits some of the features which influenced the Hrímgerth lay; but, on the other hand, in some respects it is nearer than the redaction in the Myth. Vatic. to the ON poem, and in part may be regarded as a stage in the transition to the latter.
Scilla is here called without hesitation a sea monster (belua marina), and is said to have swum out into the sea (in mare nantem), which agrees with the account in the ON Lay. Further, in opposition to the old classical story, Carubdis is made into Scilla's mother; and of the mother we read that she swam out into the sea, but was unable to reach her daughter there; and of them both, as it seems, that they molested the sea men (frequenter nautas [?] affligebant). Similarly, in the ON lay we read that both mother and daughter lay in the sea, but apart from each other, and that both molested seamen.
Finally, the Irish redaction, in opposition to the old classical story, tells us that Neptune thrust his trident into the sea, and fastened Scilla and Carubdis to two rocks. (40) With this we may compare the statement in the ON lay that one of the two sea trolls was pierced by a pole (ef þér kæmit í þverst þvari). Atli says that it was Hrímgerth; but she says that it was her mother. The expression for 'pole' which is here used, viz. þvari, could be used of a trident or a similar weapon.
We see, therefore, that the Norse poet was not familiar with the story of Scylla in exactly the same form in which we read it in the Second Vatican Mythograph, but in a form current in Ireland which, though based partly on the latter, was more corrupt.
The Hrímgerth lay is connected with the other parts of the Lay of Helgi Hjörvarthsson, not only through the characters Helgi and Atli, but also by the fact that the splendid valkyrie, who saves the king's ships, is introduced in contrast to the disgusting Hrímgerth, who wishes to destroy them. (41)
The ride of the valkyries through the air is described in the Hrímgerth lay essentially as in the First Helgi lay.
I should now like to point
out a peculiarity in this Hrímgerth poem. In the prose passage in H. H.,
II, between 18 and 19, we read: 'They saw nine valkyries ride in the air.'
The number nine is, of course, significant and very common in stories
and superstitions; (42) but the statement in H.
Hj., 28, is more peculiar: 'Three times nine maidens (really: Three nines
of maidens), yet a white helmet-decked maiden rode alone ahead,'
þrennar niundir meyja,
þó reið ein fyrir
hvít und hjálmi mær.
The same enumeration is so common in Irish, (43) particularly in old Irish heroic stories, that it may be considered as a fixed formula. (44) And while the ON níund, 'nine in number,' occurs only in the one verse of the Helgi lay, the Irish nónbor, noinbor, which has the same meaning, is a common word.
The Irish expression in the following story should be noted particularly. In the tale of Bran, which is known to have existed ca. 1100, Bran sets out with three times nine men to find a fairy land. They come to the 'Land of Women' and see the princess of these women near the harbour. They are led ashore by magic, and come into a large house where there are three times nine beds, one for each couple. (45) Thus, as in the Helgi lay, men, who come sailing, see three times nine supernatural women near the harbour.
In the Irish tale of Conchobar's Birth, which is preserved in a MS. of the fifteenth century, and seems to be of comparatively late origin, we are told of the hero's mother Ness, before she was married: 'Thereupon she set out on an expedition with three nines of men to revenge her guardians.' (46) When Ness at one time in this expedition was bathing in a spring in the wild forest and had laid her clothes and armour from her, the Druid Cathbad surprised her and forced her to become his wife. He had previously, when he was on an expedition with three times nine men, killed Ness's twelve guardians.
Observe that here it is a young woman who sets out armed as a shield-maiden with three nines of men. She is bound to a man in essentially the same way as the valkyries in the Wayland lay. It is, therefore, in the highest degree probable that the statement in the Hrímgerth lay, that the valkyries were 'three nines of maidens,' is due to Irish influence.
In the elaboration of the dialogue between Atli and Hrímgerth, the ON poet may also have been partly influenced in details by an Irish story of a conversation between a hero and a supernatural woman.
Atli exchanges taunting words with a supernatural woman, who seeks his and Helgi's love; and they threaten each other. Atli says : 'Thou shalt be wholly crushed'; and to this Hrímgerth answers; 'Thou shalt get thy ribs squeezed flat if thou comest into my clutches.'
With this we may compare an Irish tale in the MS Lebor na h Uidre of ca. 1100, which belongs to the old Ulster epic cycle. (47) The war fury Morrigan comes in the form of a young woman, decked out in clothes of all colours, to meet the hero Cuchulinn, and says that she loves him. When he rejects her, she says that she will change herself into an eel under his feet, so that he shall fall. He answers that he will seize her between his fingers, so that her ribs shall break. After several retorts, in which they threaten each other, they separate.
In other records of this conversation, (48) the fury Morrigan says that she will change herself into a she-wolf. What is predicted in the conversation takes place later. Hrímgerth's father bears the wolf's name Hati, and her prototype Scylla gives birth to wolves. (49)
It was in the Hati-fjord (í Hatafirði) that Hrímgerth came to Helgi's ships, and was changed into a stone sea mark. (50) No real fjord with this name has been pointed out, (51) and the name was doubtless made up by the ON poet himself. Since Hrímgerth was a troll, the poet must of necessity make her father a giant or troll, and therefore he calls him Hati. This name means 'the hostile pursuer,' and is eminently suitable for a giant or troll. Thus we read of the troll Grendel in Béowulf, 2319, that he Géata léode hatode---'pursued the people of the Geats.' In Grímnismál, 39, Hati is the name of one of the sun wolves. Being the name of a wolf, Hati could be used as a name for Hrímgerth's father, because it was said of Hrímgerth's prototype, Scylla, that she gave birth to wolves. (52) Now the ON poet knew from the Latin story that Scylla was turned into stone near a strait or sound. (53) A strait between two lands was called by the Norsemen not merely sund (sound), but also fjörðr (fjord)---e.g. Pétlandsfjörðr, the Pentland Firth, between Scotland and the Orkneys. (54) Therefore, the poet represented Hrímgerth as turned into stone near a fjord. He called this fjord, after his father, Hatafjörðr; for he knew from the Latin tale that Scylla's father also went about in the sea.
By describing the sea trolls with features familiar to Scandinavian superstition, and by transforming all that he took from foreign sources in accordance with genuine Scandinavian tradition and sentiment, the poet succeeded in making of Helgi's meeting with Hrímgerth and her kin a truly native picture---graphic and effective, even if course---of the life of Viking chieftains on the billowy deep, struggling against perils from sea and storm.
Deep below we perceive the troll wife before the king's fleet, which she would fain destroy; but our gaze is fixed on the noble woman whose superior power is exercised in Helgi's defence. Over the surging sea she rides with golden gleam, a radiant helmet-decked maiden, before the valkyries who attend her. The manes of their steeds are shaken as they fly, causing hail to descend on the high trees and fertilising dew in the deep dales. Towards the strand the fearless woman rides erect, there, with powerful hand, to make secure the ships of the chieftain she loves.
35. Now pronounced Tådløyo, the one between Tysnæsøen and Skorpen in Tysnæs Præstegjæld, the other in Ølen Sogn, Tysnæs Præstegjæld. Back
36. In this way certain peculiar forms, like scotie for Scythiae, festa for Vesta, Sarpalice for Harpalyce, are explained. See my Studien über die Entstehung der nord. Götter- und Heldensagen, I, 257 ff (Norw. ed., I, 246-248). Back
37. V. 60 f; see Liber Hymnorum, ed. Todd, II, 214. Back
38. Liber Hymnorum (Trin. Coll., Dublin, E. 4, 2), which, according to Stokes, is from the end of the eleventh or the beginning of the twelfth century. Back
39. It runs thus: Scilla......conuersa est......in beluam marinam et noluit ad homines uenire propter formam suam, proiecit se in mare. Uidens mater Carubdis filiam suam Scillam in mare nantem, exiit in mare ut teneret eam, sed non potuit, et frequenter [ven]tis affligebant, ut ferunt fabulæ. Uidens Neptunus quod in mare......mittit tridentem in mare et statuit eas in scopolos et fixit Scillam in Sicilia et Carubdim in Italia cominus et uix nautae nauigare possunt inter eas sine periculo. For [ven]tis affligebant I conjecture nautas affligebant; after quod in mare we should doubtless add exierant. In an Irish MS. of the tenth century there is also a note on Scilla; see Stokes in Ztsch. f. vgl. Sprachf., XXXIII, 64. Back
40. In the Scholia Bernesia to Virgil's Eclogues, VII, 74 (ed. Hagen, p. 804), it is also told how Neptune pierced Scylla with his trident and changed her to a rock. The account in the Scholia resembles in other respects also that in the Liber Hymnorum. Back
41. In the Scylla story Circe, daughter of the Sun, is named as her rival; but, as I have said before, the influence of the Circe story on the Helgi poems is hardly traceable. Back
42. See B. Grøndal in Annaler f. nord. Oldk., 1862, pp. 370 ff. Back
43. Even also among the Romans: Decrevere pontifices, ut virgines ter novenae per urbem euntes carmen canerent, Livy, 27, 37 (to avert a bad omen). Among the Greeks: Patroklos killed trij ennea fwtaj, Iliad, XVI, 785 (cited by Grøndal, p. 375). Back
44. I adduce some examples: In the story of the mythical fight between Tuatha Dé Danann and the Fomorians, a man says that his object in the battle is to 'chase away the king and chase away three nines of his friends' (Rev. Celt., XII, 91). We read of the Fomorians, when Balor's glance fell upon them, that 'three nines of them died' (XII, 101). In another story it is said: 'Coirpre dealt out (the cooked fish) among his three times nine persons' (Cormac's Glossary, under Orc tréith). Other examples in the story of the Wooing of Emer, translated by Kuno Meyer, p. 8; Fled Bricrend, ed. Windisch, §§ 84, 89. The number of these examples could easily be increased. Back
45. Ztsch. f. d. Alt., XXXIII, 259 f. Back
46. Rev. Celt., VI, 174, 179; cf. Zimmer, Ztsch. f. d. Alt., XXXII, 265. Back
47. Rev. Celt., I, 45 f. Back
48. Stokes and Windisch, Irische Texte, II, 2, pp. 239-254. Back
49. In H. H., I, Sinfjötli accuses Guthmund of having been a troll wife. He calls her (st. 42) simul, which probably means 'a cow.' The word resembles the modern Norw. simla, 'female reindeer, rein-cow,' in Østerdalen sømøl and sumul, and ON simull, 'ox.' That the word was used by Scandinavians in Britain is proved by the Gaelic siomlach, 'a cow that gives milk without the calf' (Macleod-Dewar), which is borrowed from Old Norse. In the conversation with Cuchulinn, Morrigan says that she will change herself into a (hornless) cow (Irische Texte, II, 2, 247-253). That simul (H. H., I, 42) was, however, understood in ancient times as 'she-wolf,' we may conclude from sim.....(i.e. simul) in Sn. Ed., II, 258, svimul in Sn. Ed., I, 592; II, 484; II, 627, among words for 'wolf,' which is doubtless taken from H. H., I, 42. Back
50. See H. Hj., 12, and preceding prose passages; also H. Hj., 30. Back
51. Keyser (Efterladte Skrifter, I, 161) and Vigfusson (Grimm Centenary, p. 30) have made conjectures as to where Hati-fjord is to be sought for; but they seem to me to lack firm foundation. Back
52. Skalli also is the name both of a giant and of a sun wolf. Back
53. Myth. Vatic., II, 169 begins, according to the MS. : Scilla phorci et cretidos nymphae filia fuit. Directly before these words, we read in Servius on Virgil's Æneid, III, 420: Scylla enim in Italia est, Charybdis in Sicilia. The opposite is said in the place in the Liber Hymnorum cited above, p. 244. Cf. Myth. Vatic., II, 170. Back
54. Other examples in Vigfusson, Grimm Centenary, p. 30. Back