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Hjálmþés saga ok Ǫlvis (HjǪ)

Skaldic vol. 8; ed. Richard L. Harris

verse introduction manuscripts contents

Among the latest of the fornaldarsögur in its extant form, Hjálmþés saga ok Ǫlvis ‘The Saga of Hjálmþér and Ǫlvir’ (HjǪ) received early attention in the flourish of saga editing during Sweden’s stormaktstid ‘Time of Great Power’ under the direction of the Peringskiöld father and son, by the latter of whom it was published in 1720. Although its action is not set in Scandinavia, its hero’s father, Ingi, is king of Man(n)heimar, which scholars of the Antikvitetskollegiet (The College of Antiquities) associated with Sweden and was probably the reason for their including this work in their literary celebration of the Rudbeckian preoccupation with the northern Atlantis. This tenuous justification for its inclusion among early Swedish editions, however, is further strained by evidence that in this, as in several other matters more crucial to its plot, the version we have is not a faithful representation of the saga in its earlier form, where Ingi was more likely to have been king of Denmark, as he is in Hjálmþérsrímur V, 25 (see Note to HjǪ 29/2).

The saga narrates the adventures of Hjálmþér, son of King Ingi of Man(n)heimar, and his friend and foster-brother Ǫlvir. Hjálmþér’s wicked step-mother, Lúða, tries to persuade him to become her lover. When he refuses, she places a spell (álǫg) on him, which forces him to seek out a princess, Hervǫr, daughter of a sorcerer king named Hundingi. As the heroes begin their travels, they encounter various adversaries and monsters, some of whom appear hostile, but are in fact friendly beings who have also been bewitched by Lúða. Among them are two Arabian princesses and their brother, a king named Hringr who has been transformed into a swineherd, Hǫrðr. Hǫrðr accompanies the foster-brothers on their journey. After the party reaches the court of King Hundingi, the sorcerer assigns Hjálmþér three dangerous tasks, all of which are successfully undertaken by Hǫrðr on his master’s behalf. After several mysterious events, during the last of which Hǫrðr appears to die, he and his two sisters are restored to their true identities while Hjálmþér eventually marries Hervǫr and all the good characters live happily ever after.

An earlier version of the saga has been taken by most scholars to have been the source for the Hjálmþérsrímur (Finnur Jónsson 1905-22, II, 1-84; cf. Björn K. Þórólfsson 1934, 323-5). The rímur are usually based on fornaldarsögur, romance sagas, or folk tales. The text of Hjálmþérsrímur is found in the sixteenth-century Staðarhólsbók, AM 604 4°, and a fragment of it, now lost, was also in AM 603 4°, also of that century, its text, according to Finnur Jónsson, less corrupt than the complete one of the former collection. None have challenged Kölbing’s (1876, 200) observation that Hjálmþérsrímur sind nach einer anderen redaktion der saga gedichtet als der uns vorliegenden ‘are composed from a different redaction of the saga than that before us’; cf. Jón Þorkelsson (1888, 144); Björn K. Þórólfsson (1934, 324). If this is so, it raises the question of whether the majority of the stanzas in the extant saga were part of the earlier version, or if they, or some of them, were inspired by Hjálmþérsrímur. Although there is no definitive answer to this question, there is no doubt that there are some close correspondences between the wording of many saga stanzas and the rímur texts (see below). There is also at least one case (HjǪ 29-30; Hjálmþérsrímur V. 24-5) of a difference between the information supplied in rímur and saga stanzas.

It is unlikely that the extant text of HjǪ could have existed before the second half of the fourteenth century at the earliest, although some of the stanzas, if they were composed separately from the prose text, could have originated earlier. Words such as píka ‘girl’ (FSGJ 4, 201, l. 23) and klénn ‘nice’ (HjǪ 6/6) were not common before the fifteenth century, and CVC describes kroppr as modern (when it means body) (FSGJ 4, 232, l. 26; ONP gives the earliest citation of kroppr ‘body’ as c. 1300). Other late-occurring words are þjós ‘whale’ (FSGJ 4, 232, l. 26) and leðr ‘leather’ (FSGJ 4, 225, 26). Place-names, names of characters, and their manners in dealing with one another are all indicative of foreign influence.

There are no clear indications of the place where this saga was composed, although the terms griddi (HjǪ 1970, 45, l. 19; 46, l. 3), graddi (FSGJ 4, 225, l. 2) and boli (FSGJ 4, 225, l. 9) may be of significance, reportedly used as pet words for griðungr ‘bull’ in the Vestfirðir or for a new-born male of the species in northern Iceland (Bandle 1967, 275). It is interesting that several of the better mss of HjǪ can be assumed on various grounds to come from those areas of the country.

HjǪ contains two episodes which are demonstrably interpolations, most notably the confrontation between the heroes and two vikings, in chs 4 and 5, which has close affinities with an episode in ÞorstVík (Gould 1909, 207-16). As sts 1 and 2 occur in ch. 5 and were probably not a part of the earlier version of the saga, it is reasonable to assume they are the invention of the later version’s composer. Another episode, noticed by Kölbing (1876, 207) as absent from Hjálmþérsrímur, is the battle with Núdus over the princess Díana, in chs 6-7, in which there are no stanzas.

The extant, presumably later version of HjǪ is found in thirty-four mss of this saga, all paper, all of them Icelandic in provenance or (mostly) copied by Icelanders in other parts of Scandinavia, dating from the seventeenth down to the late nineteenth century (for a current list, see Stories for All Time, accessed 15 December 2014). For an account of the mss in Swedish archives, see Busch (2002, 21-7, 125-30).

Mss selected for this edition are as follows: the base ms. is AM 109 a III 8°ˣ (109a IIIˣ), dated c. 1600-1700 (on the history of this ms., see Kålund 1888-94, II, 396-7; HjǪ 1970, xli-xliii). Other mss from which readings are given are Holm papp 6 4°ˣ (papp6ˣ) of c. 1660-6 (see further Gödel 1897-1900, 267-9; HjǪ 1970, xliii-xlvii) and ÍBR 5 folˣ (ÍBR5ˣ), Vigrabók, dated 1680 on its title page and written by Magnús Jónsson of Vigur, an island in Ísafjörður (see Páll Eggert Ólason 1918-37, III, 208; HjǪ 1970, xxxii-xxxv). All of these three paper mss are from the seventeenth century, and their texts are remarkably similar. This has made difficult the ascertainment of their relationships to one another in terms of descent, and no vellum copy of this saga is available. However in her edition of Partalópa saga (Part), whose text is found in these same paper mss that contain HjǪ, Præstgaard Andersen (1983) concluded that all three were descended from the text Holm perg 7 fol, and it has seemed logical to conclude that the same tradition was the case with HjǪ. This supposition was reinforced by Sanders’ edition of Bevers saga (Bev, Sanders 2001, xciii, cv-cxiv), also contained in the same set of mss, where he concluded that the text of this saga in ÍBR5ˣ and in papp6ˣ descended indirectly from another segment of the four-part ms. of which 109a IIIˣ is a part, and which in turn was copied from Holm perg 7 fol. The similar conclusions of these two editors regarding the ms. traditions of other sagas found in these mss suggests a similar pattern for the texts of HjǪ, and it is upon that supposition that this edition of the skaldic stanzas has proceeded.

The forty-seven stanzas of HjǪ are not distributed evenly within the text. As noted above, HjǪ 1 and 2 occur within a passage that is probably a later addition to the saga. The remaining stanzas are largely confined to a small number of locations and are rather concentrated there. So HjǪ 3-10, in which the hero encounters his enchanted female helper, occur together in ch. 10 (chapter numbering of FSGJ); the encounter with the sea-ogresses, HjǪ 11-21, is in ch. 12, while HjǪ 22-40, the encounter with King Hundingi and his daughter Hervǫr, is in ch. 14. HjǪ 41, Hjálmþér’s moving lament for the dead Hǫrðr, occurs by itself in ch. 21, while later in the same chapter HjǪ 42-7 cover the dénouement at King Hringr’s court. The last chapter, which may well also be a later addition, has no stanzas.

Stanzas 3-10 are a variation, almost a parody, of the typical encounter between a fornaldarsaga hero and a female antagonist, such as we find in Ket 16-27 and GrL 1-5, with the difference that in HjǪ the antagonist is really the hero’s helper in disguise. The encounter with the sea-ogresses likewise assumes the audience’s familiarity with the kinds of hazards fornaldarsaga heroes have to put up with at the hands of monstrous females as they go about their business, though here there are also wry touches of humour which verge on parody, as when in HjǪ 17 Ǫlvir complains about being woken in the middle of the night to deal with the murderous attentions of such females. The sequence of stanzas in the heroes’ encounter with King Hundingi and his daughter ring the changes on conventions familiar from heroic poetry when warriors enter a hostile hall and must identify themselves and state their pedigrees. The final stanzas (HjǪ 42-7) in which the heroes’ two female helpers reveal themselves to their men and King Hringr reveals his former identity as Hǫrðr the swineherd are hard to compare with other fornaldarsaga poetry; the conclusion of the saga almost reminds one of the ‘all’s well that ends well’ mood of some Shakespearean comedy.

Both from a literary point of view and a more technical one, the stanzas of HjǪ in their present form occupy a place towards the end of the tradition of fornaldarsaga poetry. Some linguistic forms indicate a fourteenth-century exemplar, but there are no unambiguous indications of desyllabification, though some stanzas (e.g. HjǪ 21) would probably read better if it were assumed to have taken place. The metre of these stanzas is most often málaháttr or a mixture of málaháttr and fornyrðislag. Some stanzas contain more than the normal number of four long-lines. Although it is obvious that the ms. transmission of some stanzas is corrupt, there is relatively little variation in the readings of the mss, and this probably reflects the fact that most extant paper copies of HjǪ are likely to have derived from a common vellum source (HjǪ 1970, xxviii, xxxv; Busch 2002, 130).

The ms. papp6ˣ is, however, a special case. Although its main readings are usually similar to those of the other mss, there are numerous additional readings and crossings out of the texts of the stanzas in a later hand that introduce new and usually very different readings from those of the main hand of papp6ˣ and the other mss. Most previous editors have adopted these readings into their edited texts without comment, and they often produce a regular text from a metrical and/or alliterative point of view, although their provenance is unknown. It is likely, however, that they were the work of one of the Icelandic copyists working in Sweden at the Antikvitetskollegiet in the late seventeenth century, either Árngrímur Jónsson, who copied Holm papp 63 folˣ among other mss in the period 1683-91 (Gödel 1897-1900, 177; HjǪ 1970, xlvii) or possibly Guðmundur Ólafsson, who had recognised poetic talents (Schück 1932-44, 50-118; Busch 2002, 14-27, 125-30). It is unknown whether this copyist derived his textual variants from a vellum ms. of HjǪ or a copy of it that has not survived, or whether the variants were his own invention. The latter may well be the more probable. Because the origin of these variants is unknown, this edition has treated them as editorial interventions; in the few cases where they have been adopted into the text of the stanzas, they have been italicised and treated as on a par with emendations.

It is possible that some of the stanzas of HjǪ may have come into being before the fourteenth century, or that they followed older conventions and formulae rather skilfully in order to give an impression of age. Some items of their vocabulary, like those of the prose saga, are recorded first in texts from the fourteenth century and are also frequent in rímur (e.g. skálkr ‘rogue’ HjǪ 1/1; falsari ‘imposter’ HjǪ 2/7; flanar ok flöktir ‘flits and flutters about’ HjǪ 3/3; klénn ‘nice, beautiful’ HjǪ 6/6; hýsnoppa ‘downy-snouted [girl]’ HjǪ 17/5; einninn ‘likewise’ HjǪ 34/5; vakta ‘look after’ HjǪ 43/6). There are definite parallels between the stanzas of HjǪ and Hjálmþérsrímur, amounting sometimes to similarities of subject-matter and vocabulary. Generally speaking, the content of one stanza is spread over three ríma stanzas. There are few kennings, heiti and mythological references in these stanzas, but those there are show similarities with the language of rímur poetry, especially Hjálmþérsrímur. Such similarities with rímur include mær/meyjar Hrauðungs (or Hrauðnis)  ‘the girl/girls of Hrauðungr/Hrauðnir [GIANTESS/GIANTESSES]’ HjǪ 3/8 and 16/6; fólk Nistils ‘the people of Nistill’ HjǪ 24/4; gaurr ‘ruffian’ and rótakylfa ‘club made from the bole of a tree’ HjǪ 33/1, 4; bingr Sófnis ‘the bed of Sófnir [GOLD]’ HjǪ 36/7. These similarities and comparable lexical items are discussed in detail in the Notes to the relevant stanzas.

Earlier editions of the saga have been six in number, the earliest being that of Johan Fredrich Peringskiöld (HjǪ 1720), based on Holm papp 20 4°ˣ, a copy of papp6ˣ made by his father, Johan Peringskiöld with annotations by the Icelander Guðmundur Ólafsson (Busch 2002, 127-28, 130); C. C. Rafn in FSN 3, 453-518, also based indirectly on copies of papp6ˣ and on HjǪ 1720; Valdimar Ásmundarson (1885-9, 3, 345-98), based on ÍBR5ˣ; Bjarni Vilhjálmsson and Guðni Jónsson (1943-4); Guðni Jónsson in FSGJ 4, 177-243 and Richard L. Harris (HjǪ 1970, based on ÍBR5ˣ). The editions HjǪ 1720, FSN 3, FSGJ and HjǪ 1970 are cited in the present edition, together with the editions of the poetry from HjǪ in Skj A and B and in Skald. The text in Skj A is that of 109a IIIˣ, and variant readings are provided there from papp6ˣ. Skj B, followed by Skald, like most other earlier editions, tends to favour the additional readings of papp6ˣ (on these, see above).

Two Swedish translations of the saga exist, that in HjǪ 1720 and another by Sander (1887), while there are also two English translations, the first being by Harris (HjǪ 1970, 115-82). Following this text closely is the translation of O’Connor (2002, 65-102). The saga has also been translated into Spanish (Ibánez Lluch 2009).

Runic data from Samnordisk runtextdatabas, Uppsala universitet, unless otherwise stated