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.

FOLK-TALES.

There might be a classification of Saxo’s stories akin to that of the Irish poets, Battles, Sieges, Voyages, Rapes, Cattle Forays, etc.; and quite apart from the historic element, however faint and legendary, there are a set of stories ascribed by him, or rather his authorities, to definite persons, which had, even in his day, probably long been the property of Tis, their original owners not being known owing to lapse of time and the wear of memory, and the natural and accidental catastrophies that impair the human record.  Such are the “Dragon-Slayer” stories.  In one type of these the hero (Frithlaf) is cast on a desolate island, and warned by a dream to attack and slay a dragon guarding treasure.  He wakes, sees the dragon arise out of the waves, apparently, to come ashore and go back to the cavern or mound wherein the treasure lay.  His scales are too hard to pierce; he is terribly strong, lashing trees down with his tail, and wearing a deep path through the wood and over the stones with his huge and perpetual bulk; but the hero, covered with hide-wrapped shield against the poison, gets down into the hollow path, and pierces the monster from below, afterward rifling its underground store and carrying off its treasure.

Again the story is repeated; the hero (Frode Haddingsson) is warned by a countryman of the island-dragon and its hoard, is told to cover his shield and body with bulls’ hides against the poison, and smite the monster’s belly.  The dragon goes to drink, and, as it is coming back, it is attacked, slain, and its treasure lifted precisely as before.  The analogies with the Beowulf and Sigfred stories are evident; but no great poet has arisen to weave the dragon-slaying intimately into the lives of Frode and Frithlaf as they have been woven into the tragedy of Sigfred the wooer of Brunhild and, if Dr. Vigffisson be right the conqueror of Varus, or into the story of Beowulf, whose real engagements were with sea-monsters, not fiery dragons.

Another type is that of the “Loathly Worm”.  A king out hunting (Herod or Herraud, King of Sweden), for some unexplained reason brings home two small snakes as presents for his daughter.  They wax wonderfully, have to be fed a whole ox a day, and proceed to poison and waste the countryside.  The wretched king is forced to offer his daughter (Thora) to anyone who will slay them.  The hero (Ragnar) devises a dress of a peculiar kind (by help of his nurse, apparently), in this case, woolly mantle and hairy breeches all frozen and ice-covered to resist the venom, then strapping his spear to his hand, he encounters them boldly alone.  The courtiers hide “like frightened little girls”, and the king betakes him to a “narrow shelter”, an euphemism evidently of Saxo’s, for the scene is comic.  The king comes forth when the hero is victorious, and laughing at his hairy legs, nick-names him Shaggy-breech, and bids him to the feast.  Ragnar fetches up his comrades, and apparently seeks out the frightened courtiers (no doubt with appropriate quip, omitted by Saxo, who hurries on), feasts, marries the king’s daughter, and begets on her two fine sons.

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