SAXO'S ACCOUNT OF REGNER AND SWANWHITE
Saxo Grammaticus has several stories, besides that of the Danish king Helgi, which are generally acknowledged to stand in connection with the Lays of Helgi Hundingsbani and Helgi Hjörvarthsson.
The story of the love of Regner(us) and Swanwhite (1) (Suanhuita) contains three poems, and is doubtless, therefore, based on ON verses which were united by prose narrative. Several scholars (2) rightly describe this story as a parallel to the Eddic Lays of Helgi Hjörvarthsson.
Regner and Thorald(us), sons of the Swedish king Hunding, are set by their wicked stepmother Thorild(a) to tend cattle. In order to save them, Swanwhite, daughter of the Danish king Hadding (Hadingus), rides to Sweden, with 'sisters' who serve her. (3) She finds the king's sons in miserable clothes in the night surrounded by monsters of various kinds, elves, and demonic beasts, which prevent the maidens from riding on farther. Swanwhite bids her sisters not to dismount. She questions Regner, who replies that he and his brothers are the king's herd boys. The cattle have got away from them, and for fear of punishment they dare not go home. Swanwhite looks at the youth more closely, and says in substance: 'Born of a king, not of a thrall, thou art; that I see by thy flashing eyes.' She incites the brothers to flee from the trolls, and Regner assures her of his courage: he fears no trolls, only the god Thor. When Swanwhite disperses the magic fog, the youth sees her in all her radiance. She promises to become his bride, and gives him a sword as a first gift. He slays the trolls gathered about him, who after daybreak are burned in a fire. Regner's stepmother Thorild is one of them. Regner becomes king of Sweden, and Swanwhite his wife. When Regner dies, Swanwhite's grief is too great to bear, and she very soon follows him in death. (4)
Saxo makes Höthbrodd, who fights with Helgi, a son of Regner and Swanwhite.
Swanwhite is also the name of the king's daughter who loves Hromund Greipsson, the opponent of Kára's lover the Hadding hero Helgi. The name Swanwhite was perhaps, therefore, transferred to the Regner story from the lost poem on Helgi Haddingjaskati. (5) But originally, at all events, this name doubtless came from the swan maiden in the Wayland lay. It was also due to the influence of this lay that the maidens who follow Swanwhite in the Regner story are called her 'sisters.' (6)
In the feature that Swanwhite and her sisters ride on horses, we have an imitation of the First Helgi lay and the Hrímgerth lay. Swanwhite seeks the young Regner, as Sváfa seeks Helgi. Swanwhite's gift of a sword to the youth as a betrothal present, is taken from the Lay of Helgi Hjörvarthsson. (7)
Swanwhite helps Regner, as Sváfa Helgi, against a female troll who wishes to cause the youth's destruction in the night time, but whose power is broken by the approach of dawn. Moreover Regner, though dressed as a herd boy, is recognised by his flashing eyes; with this we may compare H. H., II, 2, where we read of Helgi, son of Sigmund, who is disguised as a slave woman: 'Hagal's (female) servant has flashing eyes.' The name Hunding was also probably borrowed from the Lay of Helgi Hundingsbani. (8)
On the other hand, the king's son Regner and his brother, whose flashing eyes reveal their noble race in spite of their miserable garb, remind us of the brothers Helgi and Hroar in Hrólf Kraki's saga. We find, therefore, in this another bond of connection between Helgi Hund. and Helgi son of Halfdan. Swanwhite and Sigrún both die of grief; here also the influence of the Sigrún story is manifest.
In the story of Regner and Swanwhite we read of a magic cloud or mist. (9) This feature was doubtless borrowed from the Irish. In Irish tales, both ancient and modern, 'a druidical mist' is often mentioned. In the story of the first battle of Mag Tuired, we are told that the battle furies Badb, Macha, and Morrigu sent out magic showers and storm clouds which contained thick fogs. (10) In a story in the Ossin epic cycle, 'The Chase of Slieve Fuad,' edited from MSS. of the eighteenth century, a magic fog is spread about so that men cannot find their way, and so that Finn comes into the power of supernatural beings. (11)
We have seen that the story of Regner and Swanwhite is later than the Hrímgerth lay, which, as I have pointed out, seems to have been composed in the first half of the eleventh century by a Norwegian who lived for a time in Dublin, and that it borrowed many features from that lay, as well as from other Helgi poems. Since, now, the Regner story also adopted the Irish account of the magic fog, it supports my theory as to the circumstances in which the Helgi lay arose.
This Regner story dates from the early Christian period when all were still familiar with heathen beliefs. The god Thor is here associated with trolls, just as in several stories of a later period he is a troll outright.
Saxo, ed. Müller, Bk. II, pp. 68-72. Back
2. Uhland, Schriften, VIII, 131 f; Sv. Grundtvig, Heroiske Digtning, pp. 83 f; Olrik, Sakses Oldhist., 11, 12; cf. I, 40; Müllenhoff, Ztsch. f. d. Alt., XXIII, 128; Detter, in Sievers, Beit., XVIII, 96-105. Back
3. Sororibus in famulitium sumptis. Back
4. Interea Regnero apud Svetiam defuncto, conjunx ejus Svanhvita parvo post et ipsa morbo ex moestitia contracto decedit, fato virum insecuta, a quo vita distrahi passa non fuerat. Fieri namque solet, ut quidam ob eximiam caritatem, quam vivis impenderant, etiam vita excedentes comitari contendant (Saxo, p. 82). Back
5. We may note that the name Hadding occurs in both these stories. Back
6. Völund. 2 has þeira systir, where, however, the older expression was possibly þeirar systir. Back
7. The verses on the sword in Saxo, p. 72,
Ferrea vis tenerum mentis confortet acumen,
Atque animus dextrae noverit esse comes,
may be compared with the verses on the sword in H. Hj., 9,
hugr er í hjalti,
ógn er í oddi
þeim er eiga getr.
'There is courage in the hilt, terror in the point for its owner.' Back
8. With the verse Framea quid prodest ubi languet debile pectus (Saxo, p. 72) may be compared Fáfn. 30: Hugr er betri en sé hjörs megin, 'courage is better than is the might of the sword.' Back
9. Ablegato nubilae inumbrationis vapore, praetentas ori tenebras suda perspicuitate discussit (Saxo, ed. M., p. 71). Back
10. Rev. Celt., I, 40. Back
11. In Joyce, Old Celtic Romances, p. 363. Back