The Northern Way

Grimm Centenary: Sigfred-Arminivs and Other Papers

Page 2

sleit Fróða-frið fiánda á mille. Helg. I. 51.
In one passage it is used when we should expect 'grið,' and it is probably misread.

                enn Elli gefr hánom engi frið. G. W. 181.

'Grið' appears in its early meaning of a particular state of peace, quarter, protection, a temporary or local cessation of hostilities.

                þu Giúca arfa griðom trúðer. Grip. 188. cor.
                Einherja grið þu scalt allra hafa. Hakm. 46.
                grið hann þeim seldi of góðom hug
                        enn þeir héto honom golli i gegn. Ch. W. 85-6.

Another word, which like 'truce' signified the peace secured by the good faith of the two parties, is 'trygð.'

                nema þu mic í trygð uæltir. Harb. 101.
Cf.                 þa hie getrúwedon on twá healfe
                fæste freoðu-wære. Beowulf. 1096.

Truces, like permanent peaces, were made fast by oaths, see §V, and by the giving of hostages. How early and prevalent this latter use was is proved by the occurance of 'gils' or 'gísl' in early proper names, (1) the Eadgils of Sweden; Gisl of Ynglingatal 20 (vol. ii. 655). Thor-gils, the Wicking prince in Ireland, seems to be the first famous person of the West in whose name it is found. In the Burgundian house it occurs earlier, and it is found on the fourteenth-century Swedish gravestones in the forms Thurgisl, Gisli. The hostage, as it appears from the Cyne-wulf story, O. E. Chron. A. D. 755, and allusions elsewhere, seems to have held the status of an adopted member of the tribe into which he enters. Thus Wolospa tells of Mimi and Niorð acting for the Anses, amongst whom they had come as hostages; so Walter fights for Attila, though he is a kind of hostage—

                þu vast austr heðan
                        sendr at gíslingo goðom:
                        gísl um sendr at goðom. Lokas 136, 141.
                huárt scyldo Æ ....... afrád gialda
                gíslar seljasc eðr gildi eiga. Vsp. 80-1.

The 'gest,' the stranger within the gates, whether an exile such as Theodric at Attila's court, or a mere traveller or errant knight, occupied much the same position as the 'gisl' in older days, and the word is found in very early Teutonic names. Later, in Norway, it becomes almost a regular order or rank at the King's court.

The word appears in the early poems in the sense of traveller. See Guest's Wisdom, the Riddles of Gest-um-blindi.' The guest, like the hostage, was expected to fight for and help his hosts, of which use there are many instances in the Icelandic family Histories.

                glœpr es gestz kuáma ef í gœrisc naccauð. Atlam. 110.

The ancient Teutons (like the Romans) had strict regulations about booty and war-spoil, and there are traces of the disposal of the whole booty into shares, which are dealt out by lot or choice. The oldest word for booty, used by Bragi (C. P. B. ii. p. 8, l. 44) and the old Runestone of Rök (Sweden), is 'ual-rauf,' 'cædi-raptum' as we might latinize it.

                conung drápom fyrstan kurom land þaðra. Atlam. 358.

 For a person taken in war there is the compound 'her-numi,' denoting the legal position of the captive (somewhat as dediticius does), but, as in the older times prisoners were probably always enslaved if not slain, the word 'haptr,' captiuus, is also in use. The distinction between this and her-numi is given in an early poem.

                eigi em ec haptr þótt ec uæra her-numi. W. Pl. 91.
                hapt oc her-numinn. O. W. Pl. 87.
                hapt sá ec liggia. Vsp. 90. cor.
                .... í Hagals þýjo
                .... man conungs
                áðr hána H...... höpto gœrði. Helg. III. 5, 13, 16.
                haptr er nú í böndom. Akv. 110.

The captive woman is called by Horn-clofi, Ravensong, 89, 'her-gaupa.' See as to the captivity of women C. P. B. ii. 473, 4.

The position of the Herald, 'sendimaðr,' 'boð,' is apparently sacred, but he is bound not to act treacherously or violently towards them that receive him, for such conduct would forfeit his safe-conduct and the 'grið' that he enjoys. The most notable scene in the poems on this head is that in which Wingi the false herald betrays and is slain by Hagene in Atlamal.


The distinction between Feud and War cannot be very clearly drawn in theory. Nations or tribes may make war for the same reasons that would cause a feud between two families. War is in fact a public feud, and Feud a private war. This private war has rules and customs of its own, and early Teutonic process is largely concerned with suits and legal proceedings and arbitrations arising round Feud. Feud gives birth to its own peculiar legis actiones; and precisely the same phenomena are met with in the Wicking poems of the Eddic Collection and in the early family Histories of Iceland, as are to be read of in the early Arab poems and traditions. The paramount duty of blood revenge; the way in which cruel feuds might sunder kinsfolk and friends; the disastrous effects of the continual bloodshed among the noblest of the community; the plans by which the settlement of a feud was brought about, --- are all to be met with in perfection in Arabia and Iceland. No where else, perhaps, are such heroic incidents woven about the institution of Feud. Feud, like Slavery, has been a great civilizer in its time, and the espirit de corps, the self-sacrifice, the sense of duty which it fosters are important, nay, necessary constituents in early socieites. Neither in Arabia nor the North was Christianity very successful in putting down the Feud, and it nearly perished in Iceland for lack of fuel, the great houses having been destroyed by its long and bitter persistence. It is not surprising that the literature of the Wicking-tide should be rich in allusions to feud-hate.

The hatred of feud, the accursed wrath of the Psalmist, is 'heipt,' mostly in plural:---

                sacar oc heiptir hyggjat suefingar uesa
                        né harm in heldr. W. Pl. 313-4.
                em af þeim harmi rann heipt saman
                        millim uictar-uina. Ch. W. 55-6
                nam of þeim heiptom huetjasc at uígi. L. B. L. 36.
                mál-rúnar scaltu cunna ef þu uilt at manngi þer
                        heiptom gialdi harm. W. Pl. 267.

Sacar, in the plural, is feud (in the singular a law-case), recalling the saca and gesacu of Beowulf.

                siðr þú hefner þótt þeir sacar gœri. W. Pl. 254.
                ef þú sacar deilir
                        uið h ....... hali. W. Pl. 291.
                þar Forseti bygguir flestan dag
                        oc suœfir allar sacar. Grimn. 55, 56.

W. Pl. 313 is cited above, and Atlam. 367 is corrupt.

 Other words for the feud are 'wróg,' the angry feeling arising from oppugned honour, a term connected with

                römm eru róg of risin. W. Pl. 320.
                nidja ná-borna leidda nær vrógi. Hamd. 54.

The word connected with 'fiend' and kindred words (opposed to friend, frið, and the like) is 'fión.'

                sa uecr fión með firom. App. Ch. W. 4.

Stríð or strife (cp. Lat. stlis) originally denotes a struggle of any kind, from the hel-stríð or death agony of Landnáma-bóc, to mere competition in a wrestling match, but it has the strongest sense in the poems.

                enn es uerra
                niðja stríð um nept. W. Pl. 26.

        The verb ---

                Atla þóttisk þú stríða at Erps mordi. Hamd. 30.
                stríddi hon ætt Buðla. Atlam. 272.
                niðjom stríð œxti. Atlam. 377.

Hatr, our hate, is connected with other terms of enmity and warfare, as also the term hatendr (OE hettend or hetend, Beow. and Brunanburgh Lay).

                huars hatr uex með hildings sonom
                        þat má ec bœta brátt. Havam. 80.

The cause of feud, the insult or wrong that wakes the feud in the old phrase (for Feud, like War, is a great goddess (Eris) and can be roused and lulled, and is spoken of as a person) is 'harm,' as will be seen from the phrases already cited. In later days, both in English and Icelandic, it has a passive sense, the distress caused by any misfortune, but its earlier sense is the legal one of iniuria (see Dict. s. v. 240). Theodwolf uses it of bodily hurt in Ynglinga-tal, 124. Note Beowulf's 'hearm-scaða,' and the way in which in the following phrase it is used of verbal insult.

                nó he mid hearme of hlíðes nosan
                gæstas grétte ac him tó geánes rád
                cwæð þæt wilcuman Wedera-leódum. Beow. 1893-5.

Another word, 'lýti,' originally used as Tacitus used dehonestamentum, stands for the wrong that brings forth feuds, usually bodily wrong; it has in the Christian poem a more refined sense of charge of evil.

                sú uas þeim til lýta lagið. Ch. W. 48.

 'Angr,' our anger, which originally denotes the struggle of pain, the choking and stifling agony, has in these Eddic poems the sense of a cruel wrong that causes bitter sorrow and hate.

                enn þeir angr uið þic ecci gœrðo. Helg. II. 41.

And this is the sense in which the Dirge may be called 'angr-lióð' (Helg. I. 341), the song of the affliction, but also the cry of wrath against the slayer of the loved one. Note how long this very archaic mixture of anger and sorrow prevails in Teutonic England and France. It is hardly dead yet in part of Spain and in Sardinia. Thus the contemporary Franciscan Laments for Louis the Saint are full of abuse of Death; Death is bitter, foul, traitorous, abominable, cowardly, foolish, cruel, greedy, viler than a dog --- a most curious survival. (2) And there are even in sixteenth-century English poems traces of the same feeling and expression.

The curious word 'níð,' which in Old English is used precisely as 'heiptir' or 'wróg,' comes in Old Northern to have the sense rather of 'hearm,' particularly of verbal insult; but a trace of its older meaning survives in the reflexive 'níðasc' (see Dict. s.v. 455), and in the derivative 'níðing,' which will be dealt with in §iv.

To the breaking of peace or of the ties of blood or friendship (nexa, uincula, as the Romans put it) by the wrong that wakes the feud, the words 'slíta,' 'brióta,' and 'riúfa' (slit, break, and rive) are applied, and the vows and covenants which are violated are said 'ganga à,' to make off--- to be sped, as we might say.

                á gengosc eiðar, orð, oc sœri,
                mál öll meginleg, es a meðal fóro. Vsp. 82-3.
                áðr uin-scap U......
                ....... um sleit uið mic. Sonat. 85.
                sleit ec þá sáttir, at uóro sacar minni. Atlam. 252.
                ......... ues-þu aldregi.
                fyrri at flaum-slitom. Less. Lodd. 34.
                sleit Fróda-frið. Helg. I. 51.


1. Grimnismal, 93, gives Gisl as the name of a hero's horse. (Cf. the use of Arfi for ox, noted § viii.) Were horses as well as men given as hostages in old days? It would be in accordance with parallel uses elsewhere. [Back]

2. Mort plus ville que chien. Diex tabate et asomme
Quar ce qui nest pas tien prens-tu, ce est la somme.
Ahi, Mort refusée et de pute value
Tu nes pas alosée, dehait qui te salue. [Back]

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