William Morris Archive

Translated from the Icelandic by Eirikr Magnusson and William Morris

[v] Translators' Preface

THE three excellent Icelandic stories that arc printed first in this book were, in their present form at least, written respectively in the thirteenth, the fourteenth, and the fifteenth centuries: the earliest of them, the Gunnlaug, has even been assigned by tradition to Ari the Learned, the father of Icelandic history: the names of people and the genealogies given in it, as well as the names given to their habitations, are found to agree with what we learn about them from other early records; and, in short, it must be called an historical tale, in spite of anything marvellous or mythological that is to be found in it.

The Frithiof, on the other hand, is an example of the large class of romantic stories that took their present form in the fourteenth century, though it can scarcely be questioned that something of them must have existed in some guise at a much earlier date. Though the Frithiof Saga is not mentioned in any earlier work, it bears in one part signs of its having had an earlier form: for some of the (apparent) prose of it is really verse; and [vi] it is remarkable that this happens in the typical part of the tale, viz. where Frithiof comes disguised to King Ring.

The Viglund again, in spite of its story being localised definitely enough, is confessedly nothing but a pure fiction, and in more than one place the tale-teller has borrowed from earlier stories: e.g. the incident at p. 192 from the Frithiof; and the fight in which the sons of Holmkell are slain from the story of Helgi and Grim, the sons of Droplaug. It should be mentioned that the melody given in it is an old traditional one in Iceland, and may be taken as an example of the sort of tune to which the staves of verse in the Sagas were sung.

The story of Hogni and Hedinn is a late and amplified version of the mythological tale given in the Skáldskaparmál (or Treatise on Poetic Diction), a translation of which we add in a note.

Roi the Fool in spite of its very characteristic Northern colouring, is a version of an Eastern story, and is probably adapted directly from some Latin translation of the mediaeval Greek Syntipas, the earliest European version of the "Seven Wise Masters," which is also found in the Thousand and One Nights under the title of "The King, his Son, and the Seven Wezeers" at p. 163 of [vii] the 3rd vol. of Mr. Lane's translation the reader will find the Arabian version of Roi the Fool.

The short tale of Thorstein Staff-smitten is a kind of hanger-on to the more important story of "The Weapon-firth Men," the people of a district in the Northeast of Iceland. Biarni of Hof is the hero of the second generation in this tale: at the fight at Bodvarsdale, mentioned more than once in our story, he met and defeated his cousin, whom he afterwards treated with a generosity and forbearance much of a piece with his dealings with Thorstein Staff-smitten.

*We must note here, in illustration of the wanderings of this story, that it is found only in the ancient Icelandic MS. commonly called the Flateyjarbók and in that part of it which was written before 1380 : from the manner of its adaptation it would seem that the tale came to Iceland from Denmark. It is to be added, that the Flateyjarbók was certainly written at Viðalstungu (in Iceland) by two clerks, Jón Þorhallson and Magnús Þorðarson, probably chaplains (heimilis prestar) of the lord of the manor, and belonged apparently from the beginning to Jón Hákonarson, who by a charter (máldagí) for the church of Viðalstungu, dated 1394, is proved to have been master of that stead about the time when the MS. was being written.

[ix] Chronology


Helga the Fair born .... circa 985

Gunnlaug Worm-tongue born .... 983

Gunnlaug attempts to run away .... 998
Gimnlaug resides alternately at Burg and Gilsbank for three years .... 998-1001

Gimnlaug goes to Earl Eric of Hladir ... 1001
Gunnlaug goes to King Sigtrygg in Ireland, Earl Sigurd in Orkney, and Earl Sigurd of Skarir in Sweden ...... 1002

Gunnlaug goes to King Olaf of Sweden .... 1003

Raven goes to Iceland ..... 1003

Gunnlaug goes to King Ethelred of England, and remains with him .... 1004-5

Observe. — On p. 42 it is stated that in those days Knut the Great ruled in Denmark, &c. This is a mistake on the part of the writer of the Saga, as King Swein lived until a.d. 1014, when Knut succeeded to his throne; but it affects the chronology of the Saga in nowise.

Gunnlaug sails to Iceland in the autumn .... 1005

Gunnlaug fights a duel with Raven .... 1006

Duels forbidden by law .... 1006

Gunnlaug and Raven go abroad .... 1006

Gunnlaug remains in Orkney .... 1007

Raven sojourns in Thrandheim .... 1007

Gunnlaug spends the winter with Earl Eric .... 1008

Gunnlaug falls, 23 years of age .... 1008

[xi] Contents

The Story of Gunnlaug the Worm-tongue and Raven the Skald .... 1

The Story of Frithiof the Bold .... 65

The Story of Viglund the Fair .... 115

The Tale of Hogni and Hedinn .... 187

The Tale of Roi the Fool .... 211

The Tale of Thorstein Staff-Smitten .... 231

Notes ....... 245

Index .... 249