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Tryggvason was confounded with another Olaf, the famous Viking chieftain and king of Northumberland who is known by the Celtic surname Cuarán (Shoe). This Olaf, who fought at Brunanburh in 937, and afterwards became king of Dublin and died as a pilgrim on the sacred island of Iona in 981, is commonly regarded as the prototype of the hero of the famous medieval tale of Havelok the Dane. But the story of Olaf Cuarán does not coincide with that of Havelok. The saga of Havelok, known in French as well as in English versions, is the story of Olaf Tryggvason, only remodelled into the form of a märchen. The tale of Havelok sprang from the British saga of Olaf in Norman times. Olaf Tryggvason is frequently called Havelok in the Middle English rhyming chronicles.11 The real Olaf Cuarán, in the same chronicle which contains the saga of Havelok (in Gaimar), is called, not Havelok, but Anlaf Cuiran. The only time that the name Cuarán appears in an Irish chronicle (the Leabhar Oiris), it is used for a warrior who fought in the battle of Clontarf (1014).
Arthur conquers Denmark. Havelok's father, Gunter, king of that country, loses his life by treachery. The traitor Odulf is made an under-king under Arthur. The faithful Grim flees with the young Havelok and his mother. They are assailed by pirates. The mother is slain. Grim lands in eastern England. Around his hut a town rises, which is called after him, Grimsby. When Havelok grows up, his forter-parents are no longer able to keep him. He comes to King Edelsi of Lincoln, becomes a kitchen-boy and helps to carry water and wood. Edelsi has a niece, Argentele, daughter of the late king of Norfolk. He marries her to Havelok to disinherit her. The first night after they are married, Argentele dreams that the wild beasts of the forest pay homage to her husband and she sees a flame of fire coming from his mouth. She tells a pious hermit of this. He prophesies that Havelok will become king. Havelok learns of his royal descent and sails with his wife to Denmark. One of his father's faithful servants recognizes him by the flame, the traitor Odulf is killed and Havelok is made king. Later, at his wife's entreaty, he returns to England. In the English poem his army is represented as a foreign Viking host which slays priests and burns churches. King Edelsi is forced to surrender Norfolk and soon thereafter dies. Argentele and Havelok inherit Lincoln and live in splendor and happiness.
King Tryggve, the father of Olaf Tryggvason, was likewise slain through treachery. The traitor Hakon, jarl of Lade, who in the saga, incited by Queen Gunhild, persecutes Olaf and his mother Astrid, became an under-king under the king of Denmark, Harald Gormsson, who conquered Norway. Astrid, the widow of Tryggve, accompanied by a faithful servant, flees with her son to Russia. On the way they are seized by pirates; mother and son are separated. How Olaf's royal descent was discovered in Novgorod, we have already heard.
11 Cf. Ward, Catalogue of Romances in the British Museum.
The light of Olaf's hamingja corresponds to the fame from Havelok's mouth. Olaf marries a Wendish, and afterwards an Irish and a Danish princess. These and the Russian queen are blended in Argentele. Later Olaf goes to England. In the Scilly Isles he visits a pious hermit who prophesies that he will be a king. He comes to Norway, the traitor Jarl Hakon is slain and he himself is made king. 12
The War of the Gaedhil with the Gaill is the name of an Irish work of the end of the eleventh century, telling of the wars between the Vikings and the Irish, and especially of the king of Munster, Brian Borumha, and the great battle of Clontarf in 1014.13 Among the sources for the history of this battle, the “historians of the Northlanders” (senchaidi Gall), are mentioned. My father, the late Sophus Bugge, has shown that a saga of King Brian and the battle of Clontarf was told orally by the Norsemen of Dublin in their own language, and perhaps even written down.14
This "Viking saga ” has many features characteristic of the Icelandic saga. A peculiarity which we only meet in the saga of the Battle of Clontarf and in that of the Battle of Svolder (A. D. 1000), as well as in the story of the Battle of Braavalla, which has been modelled after the two above-mentioned tales, is that the names of the combatants are arranged in alliterative lines. The Icelandic saga grew up under the influence of the Viking saga and through this it is influenced also by the Celtic prose-narrative. In Ireland as in Wales heroic tales had from primitive times the form of prose narrative, while with the Germanic people their form was that of the poem. The Irish moreover had historical sagas; indeed the saganarrators could even produce their own experiences in artistic prose. The poet Erard MacCoisi (at the end of the tenth century) comes disguised to the court of King Domnall, whose people had burned his possessions and carried away his cattle. The king asks him what tales he has in his memory. The poet names one hundred and forty-nine different titles. He finally, by the only one which is unknown to the king, awakens the latter's curiosity. MacCoisi was concealing under this title the story of the injustice which had befallen him. All the narratives named by him had the form of prose, occasionally interspersed with verses, and should be called sagas. 15
12 I discuss the entire question of the origin of the Havelok saga more fully in an article to be printed in the Aarböger for nordisk Oldkyndighed.
18 The War of the Gaedhil with the Gaill (Logadh Gaedhel re Gallaibh), ed. by Todd, Rerum Brit. Medii Aevi Scriptores (London, 1867), cannot possibly, as Todd, the editor, thought, have been written immediately after the battle of Clontarf. The chronicle contains too many untruths, and märchen play too prominent a part in it. It was probably written at the end of the eleventh century.
1 S. Bugge, Norsk Sagafortælling og Sagaskrivning i Irland (published by the Norsk Historisk Tidskrift).
The Irish saga is a child of the country and of the people among whom it grew up. The continually changing tones and varied colors of the sky, the dark forests with their luxuriant underbrush, the blooming hedges of red thorn, white thorn, privet and fuchsia, which grows in southern Ireland to large trees; the still forest lakes in whose blackish-brown waters the beech-trees and the larches are reflected; the heather which clothes in pink the hillsides—all these give to nature in Ireland a peculiar, dreamy, even fanciful imprint, as in no other country of Europe. Like nature so the Irish people, a thousand years ago, were dreamy and fanciful, but at the same time wild and excitable, having the traits of a nature-people and yet also such as suggest the highest intellectual culture. The Irish hero-saga is wild and unrestrained, often tragic and deeply impressive, sometimes melancholy or elegiac; full of the finest naturepoetry. The tragic tale of the sons of Usnech or the tale of Ronan who murders his son (Fingal Ronain), is sure to move the reader with its wild pathos, as will the story of the children of Lir with its deep melancholy.
On the great inhospitable island covered with mountains and with ice, and in the midst of the ocean, there was no place for fancy or for dreamy melancholy. There people in the struggle for life grew to be cool men of sense, maintaining their rights and never allowing themselves to be carried away by their feelings. Like the people, so the Icelandic saga too is calm, exact and under control, its language clear and concise. The language of the Irish saga, on the contrary, is often diffuse and obscure (though not in the best specimens), and artistic moderation is foreign to it. Yet there is after all an unmistakable similarity between the Irish and the Icelandic saga. Both have a foothold in history; both begin by giving the hero's ancestry and early life, and verses are introduced in both to serve as historical proofs.
The Viking saga has left a lasting impress upon the Irish saga. Middle Irish prose literature is full of Scandinavian loan-words. The above-mentioned work, The War of the Gaedhil with the Gaill, at its beginning, where the early life of Brian is told, appears like an Irish chronicle of the usual type. With the story of the battle of Clontarf, the work assumes a completely altered character. The chronicle becomes a saga. The dramatic episodes however are borrowed from the Norse saga of Brian, as it was told in Dublin.
15 This story is found in the Book of Leinster (twelfth century) and is pub. lished by H. Zimmer in the Göttingische gelehrte Anzeigen.
To indicate the Irish influence upon the Viking saga, and thereby upon the Icelandic saga, is not easy. The prose narrative as a species of artistic composition was primitive among the Irish, but not among the Norwegians. The Irish saga opened the eyes of the
. Norsemen, and, so to speak, set free the saga. Certain types and motives moreover are of Irish origin. The gallery of women in Celtic poetry is a remarkably rich one. Even Shakespeare has his Lady Macbeth and Cordelia of Celtic extraction. In the Icelandic saga, on the other hand, the men are more interesting. The most characteristic women are those who know no difference between good and evil, who attract men irresistibly by their unfading beauty, who by their vain and unbounded passion for revenge bring death and destruction upon friends as well as foes, but who themselves unharmed live on to a great age. To this type belong Hallgerd of Njal's Saga and Gudrun of the Laxdæla. They are related to the Brynhild of the Eddic songs. Their prototype, however, is the Irish queen Gormflaith,16 whose deadly hatred toward her former husband, Brian, brings on the battle of Clontarf, where, to win her, kings and chieftains lose their lives. Gormflaith or Kormlod was well known in Iceland. The Njála, whose heroine Hallgerd is, gives an excellent characterization of her. Other female figures of the Icelandic saga likewise appear to be influenced by the women of Irish poetry; for example, the fair Helga, the beloved of Gunnlaug Snakestongue, bears unmistakable likeness to Derdriu, the loved one of Noisi, son of Usnech.
Of the men in the sagas, only the scalds resemble the Irish type. In their veins indeed there was often Celtic blood. The scald Kormak, for instance, the Icelandic Catullus, has an Irish name; his eyes are dark, his hair black and curled, his wit and his hotblooded nature remind one more of the Celt than of the Scandinavian. The saga of the scald whose poems possess magic power17 is borrowed from Irish literature. The Icelander porleifr desires to take vengeance on Hakon, the mighty jarl of Lade.18 He comes
16 Queen Gormfiaith was married three times: (1) to Maelsechlainn, king of Tara and supreme king of all Ireland, (2) to Olaf Cuarán, king of Dublin, by whom she had a son, Sitric, king of Dublin, (3) to Brian Borumha.
17 The battr of Porleifr Jarlaskald, a continuation of the Srarfdælasaga.
18 Hakon ruled Norway from 965 to 995. His ancestors were hereditary earls of the northern part of the country.
to the latter's hall in disguise and recites a poem called pokuvísur or “mist-song”. The hall becomes dark in consequence; weapons move of themselves, and kill many men; the jarl falls sick, his beard and hair drop off. The Irish have always believed in the power of the satirical poem. Through this came storms of every darkness”, as is said in “The Colloquy of the Two Sages”. 19 The poet Athirne composed satirical poems against the inhabitants of Leinster so that neither grain nor grass nor leaves would grow.
In certain other episodes Irish influence can likewise be traced. A favorite motive in the sagas is the so-called mannjafnaðr (comparison between men). Most famous is the colloquy between the
. two kings of Norway, Eystein and Sigurd the Jerusalem-farer (ca. 1120), where each of the kings puts forth his claims to fame and declares what good he has done. This colloquy is not history but fiction, and formed under influence from Ireland, where similar comparisons play a great part in the heroic tales. In the Ljósvetningasaga there is a contention about precedence between two women that reminds the reader of the famous Irish tale “The Festival of Briceriu". Adam of Bremen relates that Olaf Tryggvason undertook at his wife's request the expedition in which he fell at Svolder in the year 1000. This episode has been recast by Snorre into a dramatic scene which is borrowed from Brian's saga. King Olaf comes one day with a present for his wife. She pushes it aside, however, and reproaches her husband severely as not daring to march through the realm of her brother, the king of Denmark, while her own father had conquered Norway. Olaf replies in anger: “I shall never be afraid of your brother. 'In case we meet he will get the worst of it!” He collects a fleet, sails through Öresund and falls at Svolder.
The battle of Clontarf is brought on by a similar episode. The king of Leinster, Maelmordha, comes to pay tribute to Brian. His sister Gormflaith has separated from Brian but is still living at his court. Maelmordha asks her to sew a silver button on his coat. She however throws the cloak into the fire and harshly reproaches her brother for being willing to pay a tax which neither his father nor his grandfather have given. Incited by his sister, Maelmordha severs relations with Brian, collects the latter's enemies and falls at Clontarf. It is only through such scenes that it is possible to indicate the force of Irish influence.20
19 Immacallam in dá Thuarad, ed. by Whitley Stokes in the Revue Celtique, 1907.
20 One of the most important Norwegian literary works of the Middle Ages is the so-called “Kings' Mirror" (Speculum Regale or Konungs skuggsjá). In