The Danish History, Books I-IX eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 487 pages of information about The Danish History, Books I-IX.

The dedication of part of the spoils to the god who gave good omens for the war is told of the heathen Baltic peoples; but though, as Sidonius records, it had once prevailed among the Saxons, and, as other witnesses add, among the Scandinavian people, the tradition is not clearly preserved by Saxo.

“Sea and Sea Warfare.”—­As might be expected, there is much mention of Wicking adventure and of maritime warfare in Saxo.

Saxo tells of Asmund’s huge ship (Gnod), built high that he might shoot down on the enemy’s craft; he speaks of a ship (such as Godwin gave as a gift to the king his master), and the monk of St. Bertin and the court-poets have lovingly described a ship with gold-broidered sails, gilt masts, and red-dyed rigging.  One of his ships has, like the ships in the Chansons de Geste, a carbuncle for a lantern at the masthead.  Hedin signals to Frode by a shield at the masthead.  A red shield was a peace signal, as noted above.  The practice of “strand-hewing”, a great feature in Wicking-life (which, so far as the victualling of raw meat by the fishing fleets, and its use raw, as Mr. P. H. Emerson informs me, still survives), is spoken of.  There was great fear of monsters attacking them, a fear probably justified by such occasional attacks of angry whales as Melville (founding his narrative on repeated facts) has immortalised.  The whales, like Moby Dick, were uncanny, and inspired by troll-women or witches (cf.  “Frithiof Saga” and the older “Lay of Atle and Rimegerd").  The clever sailing of Hadding, by which he eludes pursuit, is tantalising, for one gathers that, Saxo knows the details that he for some reason omits.  Big fleets of 150 and a monster armada of 3,000 vessels are recorded.

The ships were moved by oars and sails; they had rudders, no doubt such as the Gokstad ship, for the hero Arrow-Odd used a rudder as a weapon.

“Champions".—­Professed fighting men were often kept by kings and earls about their court as useful in feud and fray.  Harald Fairhair’s champions are admirably described in the contemporary Raven Song by Hornclofe—­

     “Wolf-coats they call them that in battle
     Bellow into bloody shields. 
     They wear wolves’ hides when they come into the fight,
     And clash their weapons together.”

and Saxo’s sources adhere closely to this pattern.

These “bear-sarks”, or wolf-coats of Harald give rise to an O. N. term, “bear-sarks’ way”, to describe the frenzy of fight and fury which such champions indulged in, barking and howling, and biting their shield-rims (like the ferocious “rook” in the narwhale ivory chessmen in the British Museum) till a kind of state was produced akin to that of the Malay when he has worked himself up to “run-a-muck.”  There seems to have been in the 10th century a number of such fellows about unemployed, who became nuisances to their neighbours by reason of their bullying and highhandedness.  Stories are told in the Icelandic

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The Danish History, Books I-IX from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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