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Gǫngu-Hrólfs saga (GHr)

Skaldic vol. 8; ed. Margaret Clunies Ross

verse introduction manuscripts contents

Gǫngu-Hrólfs saga ‘The Saga of Walker-Hrólfr’ (GHr) probably dates from the fourteenth century. It is a rollicking and rather archly told narrative of multiple adventures, involving the hero Hrólfr, who is so big and heavy no horse can bear him all day, hence he must walk everywhere (thus his nickname). According to the saga (FSGJ 3, 173), Hrólfr is a son of Sturlaugr, the hero of Sturlaugs saga starfsama ‘The Saga of Sturlaugr the Industrious’ (StSt) by his wife Ása. Sturlaugr is presented in GHr as the king of Hringaríki (Ringerike) in Norway, where Hrólfr grows up as an unpromising lad. However he comes good and his adventures take him to many exotic lands where he is involved in fights with magical and monstrous enemies of various kinds, and a quest for the woman who will be his bride, Ingigerðr, daughter of King Hreggviðr of Hólmgarðaríki (Novgorod). This king is killed by an aggressive viking sea-king, Eiríkr, early in the saga narrative, and interred in a burial mound (haugr). At several points in the narrative the king emerges from his haugr to show Hrólfr his favour and give him advice because he intends Hrólfr to marry his daughter after the hero has taken vengeance on Eiríkr and his men for the king’s killing. On the last such occasion, after a major battle, Hrólfr visits the mound at night and encounters the king, who recites three stanzas. These are the only stanzas in the saga and are edited below. They probably date from the late fourteenth century, as they show many examples of desyllabification, a change usually dated to c. 1300. These are mentioned in the Notes.

GHr has been a very popular saga in Iceland and beyond. It exists in at least sixty-nine mss (see the list in the Stories for All Time database, accessed 14 September 2015), most of them post-medieval. There are also five different rímur of varying ages based on versions of the saga, the earliest of them recorded in the early seventeenth-century ms. AM 610 4° (cf. Björn K. Þórólfsson 1934, 495-6). To date, there is no critical edition of GHr that takes account of all ms. witnesses. Some time ago Gillian Fellows Jensen prepared material towards a critical edition but was not able to complete it. She has kindly made her draft notes available to the project, together with a draft stemma drawn up by Jonna Louis-Jensen.

There are several late medieval vellum mss of GHr, of which all but one are either fragments or are lacking parts of the text. Four mss date from the later fourteenth or the fifteenth century, GKS 2845 4° (2845) of c. 1450, AM 567 XI α 4° (567XI α) of c. 1350-1400, AM 567 XI β (567XI β) of c. 1400-1500, and AM 589 f 4° (589f), of c. 1450-1500. The last of these mss contains StSt followed by GHr. AM 152 fol (152) of c. 1500-25 is the only extant vellum ms. of GHr that contains the complete saga. This large ms. contains texts of eleven sagas, including Íslendingasögur, fornaldarsögur and riddarasögur, and is headed by Grettis saga Ásmundarsonar (see Introduction to Vol. VIII, Section 4 for further information on this and other mss listed here).

The relationship between the medieval mss of GHr has not been fully ascertained, partly because of the fragmentary or incomplete nature of the majority of them. In the present edition, readings are given from 589f, 152 and 567XI α. for all three stanzas. Fragment 567XI β does not contain the three stanzas. Two paper mss have also been consulted for the edition and their readings are mentioned selectively, where appropriate, in the Notes. These are AM 587 c 4°ˣ (587cˣ) of 1655, probably written by Brynjólfur Jónsson á Efstalandi, and AM 591 e 4°ˣ (591eˣ) of the second quarter of the seventeenth century, written by séra Ólafur Gíslason á Hofi í Vopnafirði. These two mss were also used by Finnur Jónsson in Skj A and B.

The first printed edition of GHr was published by C. C. Rafn in FSN 3, 235-364, based on 2845. Rafn also published part of the text in his Antiquités Russes (Rafn 1850-2, I, 230-3). There are editions of the saga in Valdimar Ásmundarson (1885-9, 3, 143-239), Bjarni Vilhjálmsson and Guðni Jónsson (1943-4, 2, 357-461) and FSGJ 3, 161-280. A facsimile edition of 2845 with a useful introduction on the history of the ms. was published by Jón Helgason (Jón Helgason 1955b), while Agnete Loth published a facsimile edition of 589f and other fragments (Loth 1977). In the present edition the editions of FSN and FSGJ are cited, together with the separate editions of the stanzas in Skj and Skald. The editors of Edd. Min. did not publish these stanzas on the ground that they were too young for inclusion in their anthology (Edd. Min. iii).

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