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Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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Ásmundar saga kappabana (Ásm) - 10

Ásmundar saga kappabana (Ásm)

Skaldic vol. 8; ed. Peter Jorgensen

verse introduction manuscripts contents

Ásmundar saga kappabana ‘The Saga of Ásmundr, Slayer of Champions’ (Ásm) is a short fornaldarsaga, thought to have been composed c. 1300, although parts of the tale are considerably older. The story is related to that told in the ninth-century Old High German Hildebrandslied ‘Lay of Hildebrand’ (de Boor 1923, 1926; Kolk 1967; Gutenbrunner 1976) and a version of the Old Norse stanzas was probably used by Saxo Grammaticus in Book VII of his Gesta Danorum (Saxo 2015, I, vii. 9. 14-19, pp. 506-13; Friis-Jensen 1987, 59). Saxo’s Latin version probably goes back to a source common to it and Ásm, which relates the following story. In the saga Hildr, daughter of the Swedish king Buðli, marries Helgi, prince of the Huns, and bears Hildibrandr, who becomes a famous if overbearing champion of the Hunnish king. After Danish attacks on Sweden, Hildr is carried off and married to Áki, a powerful warrior in Denmark, eventually bearing a second son, Ásmundr, who attains fame as a warrior. In order to win the hand of Æsa, daughter of the Danish king Álfr, Ásmundr must avenge the death of her father at the hands of the Huns. Æsa aids Ásmundr in acquiring the second of two special swords forged for King Buðli, who had had the weapon sunk beneath the waves near Agnafit upon learning that it would bring death to his grandsons. Ásmundr then aids the people of Saxland, oppressed by Hildibrandr, by duelling with ever-increasing numbers of Huns. The Hunnish champion, aware that he was Ásmundr’s half-brother, had been reluctant to battle against him, but upon learning that his bravest warriors had been defeated, a berserk rage overcomes him, causing him to slay his own son, and he rushes off to fight against his half-brother. Ásmundr mortally wounds Hildibrandr and returns to marry Æsa.

Ásm is preserved in two vellum mss, Holm perg 7 4° (7) of the first quarter of the fourteenth century and AM 586 4° (586) of the second half of the fifteenth century, but the latter has lost all the stanzas in a lacuna. For this reason, 7 is the base and only ms. used in this edition. Both 7 and 586 go back to a common source, and forms like of (1/5), þanns (6/4), synjaðak (4/6) and talðir (3/3), as well as the use of the free-standing definite article (in 3/2, inir 3/4, inn 4/1, 10/1), indicate the stanzas to be indebted to a much older, written tradition.

Of the ten stanzas in Ásm, seven contain eight lines, sts 3 and 4 each contain six lines, and st. 6 comprises four lines. The metre is fornyrðislag, with each line containing two stressed and, quite often, two unstressed syllables. Each odd line contains one stave alliterating with the first stressed syllable of the following line.

The saga and its stanzas, together and separately, have been edited a number of times. The first edition of the saga is Peringskiöld (1722), followed by FSN 2, 461-87, Detter (1891, 79-100), Valdimar Ásmundarson (1885-9, 2, 337-56) and FSGJ 1, 385-408. The stanzas have been edited separately in Skj and Skald, as well as in CPB I, 190-2, Edd. Min. 53-4 and 87, Halvorsen (1951) and NK 313-14 (sts 1-6 only).

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