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Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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Anon (Heiðr) 6VIII (Heiðr 87)

Hannah Burrows (ed.) 2017, ‘Hervarar saga ok Heiðreks 87 (Anonymous Lausavísur, Lausavísur from Hervarar saga ok Heiðreks 6)’ in Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.), Poetry in fornaldarsögur. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 8. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 456.

Anonymous LausavísurLausavísur from Hervarar saga ok Heiðreks


The section of Heiðr which contains this group of stanzas concerns the saga’s fourth generation: Heiðrekr’s sons, the half-brothers Hlǫðr and Angantýr. After defeating the Hunnish king Humli, Heiðrekr captured his daughter Sifka (Heiðr 1960, 26), en at ǫðru sumri sendi hann hana heim, ok var hon þá með barni ‘but the next summer he sent her back home, and she was then with child’. The child is Hlǫðr, who is brought up by his maternal grandfather Humli at the court of the Huns. Angantýr’s mother is the unnamed daughter of the King of Saxland (northern Germany), to whom Heiðrekr is legitimately married.

The following stanzas relate Hlǫðr’s attempt to claim his share of the inheritance after Heiðrekr’s death and Angantýr’s accession as king of the Goths. After a couple of introductory stanzas, Hlǫðr’s arrival at Angantýr’s court, during Heiðrekr’s funeral feast, is described in detail. The public nature of the claim, the impressiveness of both parties and the ceremony of the occasion are emphasized. Hlǫðr is aggressive in his demands from the start, giving no observance to the niceties of feasting (til annars vér hingað fórum | en öl at drekka ‘we have come here for another reason than to drink ale’, HlǫðH Lv 2 (Heiðr 94)), and immediately asking for half of his father’s property. Angantýr refuses, instead offering him a third, but emphasizing how much this would actually amount to (AngH Lv 2-5 (Heiðr 95-98)). Heiðrekr’s foster-father, Gizurr Grýtingaliði ‘Retainer of the Grýtingar’, then speaks a stanza (GizGrý Lv 1 (Heiðr 99)) expressing his belief that this is a good offer for an illegitimate son.

At this point there is a jump in the action of the stanzas to Humli’s court, where, as the saga prose explains, Hlǫðr has returned having turned down Angantýr’s offer. Hlǫðr’s foster-father Humli speaks of his intention to prepare for war (Humli Lv 1-2 (Heiðr 100-1)). The action then jumps forward again to a Gothic messenger, Ormarr, the foster-father of Hervǫr Heiðreksdóttir, who is leading a Gothic troop on behalf of Angantýr. The saga prose does much of the work in explaining that Ormarr first speaks to Hervǫr (Ormarr Lv 1 (Heiðr 102)), who instructs him to ride out to challenge the approaching Huns to battle, then to Angantýr some time later (Ormarr Lv 2-4 (Heiðr 103-5)), after the Huns have killed Hervǫr and caused much destruction in the land of the Goths. Angantýr then sends his retainer, Gizurr Grýtingaliði, to ride and challenge the Huns to battle once again (Heiðr 107-115). The prose tells of hard fighting on both sides, Hlǫðr’s death at the hands of Angantýr, and the defeat of the Hunnish army. The final two stanzas express Angantýr’s regret that Hlǫðr did not accept his initial offer, and speak of the curse which has brought the situation about (AngH Lv 10-11 (Heiðr 118-19)).

Like Heiðr 25-48, the stanzas have often been considered as a long poem, which has come to be known as Hlǫðskviða ‘The Lay of Hlǫðr’ or, in English, often ‘The Battle of the Goths and the Huns’. It has been considered to be very old, at least in origin (e.g. Heiðr 1960, viii), and has been given a prominent place among eddic-style poetry not contained in the Codex Regius (GKS 2367 4°), for example being included in Edd. Min. and ÍF Edd. and in appendices to NK. In the saga setting, the verse is interspersed with narrative prose, which sometimes seems to contradict or to have misunderstood the content of the stanzas. Some of the stanzas are fragmentary and/or are now unmetrical, suggesting that certain parts of a presumed original have been lost in transmission.

Particularly in the later stanzas of this section of Heiðr there is some question of whether the fragments here set out as stanzas of verse should really be considered as poetry rather than prose interspersed with a few metrical lines. In some cases (e.g. sts 93, 96, 100, 103, 113) the word groups are mixtures of different metres (mostly fornyrðislag and málaháttr), interspersed with non-metrical lines or prose inserts (e.g. gef ek þér ‘I give you’, st. 96/5, 6, 7). In other cases, which are still set out and numbered as stanzas in this edition, the word groups do not have poetic form and are thus effectively prose (e.g. st. 116), though some are prose with alliterating staves (e.g. sts 106, 115). The position of this edition is conservative, based on conventional treatments in earlier editions, though not all editors have agreed on identifying each stanza as either verse or prose. However, the reader’s attention is drawn to the ambiguity and fluidity of the situation and to what it may imply for the preservation and indeed the transmission and reworking of legendary poetic texts.

There have been many attempts to discover a historical basis for the events related here (cf. Reifergerste 1989), which are comprehensively discussed by Tolkien (1955-6, 162), where he concludes, ‘the search for a definite, historical underlying event should be called off’. Certain correspondences with the Old English poem Wīdsīð suggest a widely known underlying legend (see e.g. Malone 1925; Tolkien 1955-6; Niles 1999; Notes to Anon (Heiðr) 6 (Heiðr 87)). There are also echoes in Book V of Saxo Grammaticus’s Gesta Danorum, though in that version the Huns are at war with the Danes, led by Fróði (Saxo 2015, I, v. 7. 1-4, pp. 318-23); see also Jón Helgason 1967, 163-9). The battle between the brothers is the subject of RvHbreiðm Hl 44III.

The stanzas are not preserved in any H-redaction mss. Ms. 2845 is the basis for eight of the first ten stanzas (it does not contain AngH Lv 1 (Heiðr 92) and only part of HlǫðH Lv 2 (Heiðr 93), for which the version of the other mss is preferable). The lacuna in this ms. occurs after AngH Lv 2 (Heiðr 95), and no more is preserved of the saga in 2845 or its copies. Shortly before this, part-way through HlǫðH Lv 2 (Heiðr 93), 203ˣ, which up to here has followed the R redaction, switches to its U-redaction exemplar (see Introduction to the saga above). It becomes the main ms. for the remaining stanzas. Most are also contained in R715ˣ, except as indicated in the Mss line.

As well as their inclusion in the editions of the saga listed in the Introduction, the stanzas have been edited in Skj, Skald, Edd. Min 1-12, NK 302-12, CPB, I, 348-52 and ÍF Edd., II, 416-30 (R and U versions printed separately; introduction pp. 168-75). Of these all but CPB are cited routinely. Since FSN is based only on 345, a copy of 203ˣ, it is usually excluded from consideration in the Notes below. A Modern Icelandic edition by Jón Helgason has a detailed introduction and some useful Notes (Jón Helgason 1967, 147-246).

text and translation

Ár kváðu Humla         fyrir her ráða,
Gizur Gautum,         Gotum Angantý,
Valdar Dönum,         en Völum Kíar;
Alrekr inn frækni         enskri þjóðu.

Ár kváðu Humla ráða fyrir her, Gizur Gautum, Angantý Gotum, Valdar Dönum en Kíar Völum; Alrekr inn frækni enskri þjóðu.
‘Long ago they said Humli ruled over the people, Gizurr the Gautar, Angantýr the Goths, Valdarr the Danes, and Kíarr the Valir; Alrekr inn frœkni (‘the Brave’) [ruled] the English people.

notes and context

The stanza provides a temporal setting for the action of this part of the saga and is introduced (Heiðr 1960, 46): Þá réðu þessir konungar lǫndum, sem hér segir ‘Then these kings ruled the lands, as it says here’. It precedes the introduction of Hlǫðr Heiðreksson, who was brought up in the court of King Humli, his maternal grandfather, mentioned in l. 1.

This stanza is not always counted as part of the entity designated Hlǫðskviða (see Introduction). — As has often been noted, this stanza bears some resemblance to the Old English poem Wīdsīð, which includes an eighteen-line catalogue of rulers and their peoples (ll. 18-35), e.g. (ll. 18-19) (Malone 1962, 23): Ætla weold Hunum, Eormanric Gotum, | Becca Baningum, Burgendum Gifica ‘Attila ruled the Huns, Eormanric the Goths, Becca the Banings, Gifica the Burgundians’. Although Attila and Eormanric (ON Atli and Jǫrmunrekkr) are chosen as the ‘archetypical’ leaders of the Huns and Goths respectively (cf. Niles 1999, 182-8), later in the poem the narrator speaks of visiting Heaþoric ond Sifecan, Hliþe ond Incgenþeow (l. 116), which have been compared to Heiðr’s Heiðrekr, Sifka(?) (Hlǫðr’s mother), Hlǫðr and Angantýr. On further connections with Wīdsīð see e.g. Heiðr 1960, xxv-xxviii, Malone (1925). — [5]: The same line is found in Guðr II 19/1, where Valdarr is one of the hopefuls attempting to win the hand of Guðrún after the death of Sigurðr. — [6]: In the prose introduction to Vǫl (NK 116) Ǫlrún, one of the three swan-maidens or valkyries married to Vǫlundr and his brothers (Ǫlrún is married to Egill) is said to be Kíars dóttir af Vallandi ‘the daughter of Kíarr of Valland’ (cf. Vǫl 15/3-4). The name Kíarr is apparently used as a generic term for ‘ruler’ in Edáð Bdr 2/4I, and may derive from Lat. cæsar (LP: Kíarr (not in AEW)).



Text is based on reconstruction from the base text and variant apparatus and may contain alternative spellings and other normalisations not visible in the manuscript text. Transcriptions may not have been checked and should not be cited.

editions and texts

Skj: Anonyme digte og vers [XIII], E. 5. Vers af Fornaldarsagaer: Af Hervararsaga V 1: AII, 250, BII, 270, Skald II, 140-1; FSN 1, 490, Heiðr 1873, 265-6, Heiðr 1924, 85, FSGJ 2, 52, Heiðr 1960, 46 (Heiðr); Edd. Min. 105, ÍF Edd. II, 417.


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