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Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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Hervarar saga ok Heiðreks — Heiðr


Hervarar saga ok Heiðreks ‘The Saga of Hervǫr and of Heiðrekr’ (Heiðr) includes 121 stanzas or part-stanzas across its three main extant redactions (see further below). It has been a popular work, surviving in at least fifty-five manuscripts (most post-medieval) and inspiring several cycles of rímur, based more or less closely on the material of the saga (Love 2013, 263-73). It has been edited at least seventeen times and translated into at least twelve modern languages (Stories for All Time database, accessed 28 October 2015). Its poetry, in groups of stanzas or as long poems, has taken on a life, or lives, of its own; the reception histories of these groups are discussed in the relevant Introductions. Individually or between them, the redactions of the saga prose tell the following story.

The saga opens by describing the origins of the enchanted sword Tyrfingr, an object which provides a thread of continuity through the saga. We are then told of Arngrímr, a great lord in Garðaríki (Russia), who is given Tyrfingr by the king and later settles down with his wife Eyfura on the island of Bólm, said in some versions of the saga to have been in Hålogaland in northern Norway, but more probably to be identified with the island Bolmsö on Lake Bolmen, southern Sweden (Heiðr 1960, 2 n. 2). They have twelve sons, all berserks, the most notable of whom are Angantýr, the eldest, and Hjǫrvarðr. At a heitstrenging ‘vow-making’ one jól ‘Yule’, Hjǫrvarðr vows to marry the daughter of Ingjaldr, the Swedish king. However, he is challenged to a duel for her hand by Hjálmarr inn hugumstóri ‘the Great-minded’, and after a brief interlude in which Angantýr marries the daughter of the Swedish jarl Bjarmi, the twelve brothers fight Hjálmarr and his companion Ǫrvar-Oddr on the island of Samsø (ON Sámsey), a Danish island in the Kattegat, with Angantýr wielding Tyrfingr. Ǫrvar-Oddr, who owns an enchanted shirt into which no weapons can bite, is the sole survivor. This story is also found in Ǫrv, and poetry from this part of the saga, including some lausavísur and part of the so-called ‘death-song’ of Hjálmarr, is edited in the present edition with the rest of the poetry from Ǫrv, where more stanzas are preserved. For details of the number and disposition of these stanzas in Heiðr mss, see the edition of Ǫrv and, in particular, Introductions to Ǫrv 5-12 and Ǫrv 13-29.

The saga then moves on to tell that Angantýr’s widow gives birth to a girl, Hervǫr, who is brought up in the household of her maternal grandfather Bjarmi jarl. Sterk sem karlar ‘as strong as men’, she is something of a troublemaker, until she decides to visit her kinsmen’s burial mound on Samsø to claim the treasure that was buried with them, in particular the sword Tyrfingr. She rouses the ghost of her dead father and they engage in a verse dialogue in which Angantýr eventually yields Tyrfingr to her, but not without warning that it will bring ruin to her family. Later she marries Hǫfundr, son of King Guðmundr of Glasisvellir, and they have two sons, Angantýr and Heiðrekr.

Heiðrekr grows up to be unruly and difficult, and one day turns up to a feast, uninvited and intent on causing trouble, and throws a rock with blind aim which strikes and kills his brother Angantýr. Their father Hǫfundr orders him into exile, but gives him six pieces of heilræði ‘good advice’ (which Heiðrekr immediately resolves to break) at the behest of Hervǫr, whose own parting gift to her son is Tyrfingr. Heiðrekr then puts himself into the service of King Haraldr of Reiðgotaland, gaining honour, wealth and the hand of the king’s daughter, Helga, by whom he has a son, Angantýr. When Haraldr and Heiðrekr each want to sacrifice the other’s son to relieve a famine, however, Heiðrekr raises an army against Haraldr, defeats him and takes over his rule, at which Helga kills herself. Heiðrekr fathers another son, Hlǫðr, after abducting Sifka, daughter of the Hunnish king Humli; Hlǫðr is fostered at his maternal grandfather’s court. After various other exploits Heiðrekr sets out to defy his father’s advice, and is eventually married to the daughter of the king of Garðaríki, who bears him a daughter, Hervǫr.

Heiðrekr, now a powerful, wealthy and popular king, sends for his enemy Gestumblindi to come and be reconciled with him, either by submitting to the judgement of his councillors or else by propounding a riddle Heiðrekr is unable to solve. Gestumblindi sacrifices to Óðinn for help with this dilemma, and the god switches places with Gestumblindi to propose a series of riddles, all of which Heiðrekr solves. In the end Óðinn reveals himself but wins the contest by asking what he himself said into the ear of his son Baldr at the latter’s funeral pyre (cf. Vafþr). Heiðrekr attempts to attack Óðinn for this deception, but the god transforms himself into a hawk and escapes, cursing Heiðrekr to death at the hand of inir verstu þrælar ‘the basest slaves’ (Heiðr 1960, 44). Sure enough, this comes to pass, the slaves also stealing Tyrfingr. Angantýr Heiðreksson is received as Heiðrekr’s successor, and quickly avenges his father, reclaiming Tyrfingr in the process.

The next section, which intersperses prose with verse more than anywhere else in the saga, relates how Hlǫðr Heiðreksson travels to claim his share of their father’s inheritance from Angantýr. Angantýr promises him wealth and material goods, but says he has no title to the land, as an illegitimate son. Hlǫðr and his maternal grandfather and foster-father Humli raise an army of Huns (Heiðr 1960, 52): svá mikinn, at aleyða var eptir í Húnalandi vígra manna ‘so vast that afterwards the land of the Huns was utterly despoiled of all its fighting men’. They meet the army of Hervǫr Heiðreksdóttir first; she is defeated and killed. Her foster-father Ormarr then rides to warn Angantýr, who stakes out a battlefield in the land of the Goths. Fighting continues for eight days, but eventually Angantýr slays Hlǫðr and Humli with Tyrfingr and the Hunnish army flees. The saga ends with tales of Angantýr’s descendants and genealogies of Swedish kings.

There are four main groups of poetic stanzas in the saga. First, there is that relating to the duel on Samsø (which does not appear in the so-called H redaction of Heiðr; on the different redactions see further below), which is found in fuller form in Ǫrv and edited in SkP with the rest of the poetry from that saga. Then there are thirty-five stanzas relating to the story of the first Hervǫr, many of them constituting a dialogue between her and her (now-dead) father Angantýr. Third is Gestumblindi’s riddle-series (Heiðreks gátur), and finally there are the stanzas relating the battle of the Goths and the Huns. The character of the poetry in the saga and the issues surrounding it, including questions of metre and normalisation, are discussed more fully in the Introductions to individual groups of stanzas.

Dating of the fornaldarsögur is difficult, but Heiðr is thought to be among the oldest of the genre, partly on structural grounds: the integration of poetry and prose is somewhat awkward, with the prose often serving to contextualise the verse and advance the plot between poems, rather than being developed in itself as in the more fully-evolved sagas (Torfi H. Tulinius 2002, 23, 58). Torfi H. Tulinius (2002, 63, 234-89) places the saga as a whole in the first third of the thirteenth century. Almost all the poetry is generally accepted as older than the prose; dating issues are discussed further in the relevant Introductions.

Three extant redactions of Heiðr are recognised, as first posited by Sharovol’sky (1906; see Andrews 1914, Love 2013, 22 n. 25) and are now known as H (whose main ms. is Hauksbók, AM 544 4° (Hb), of c. 1302-10), R (main ms. GKS 2845 4° (2845), of c. 1450) and U (main ms. Upps UB R715ˣ (R715ˣ), of c. 1650). The relationship between these redactions, and with later mss, is complicated and has not yet been fully worked out (Love 2013, 37-8). Love’s recent study (2013) contributes much to addressing the issue and provides a review of previous scholarly opinion and new stemmata for each redaction, considering in total forty-one mss (Love 2013, 318-27). The conventional designations H, R and U for the three redactions will be retained in this edition, though the SkP sigla Hb, 2845 and R715ˣ are used for the mss.

H and U are more closely related to one another than either is to R, sharing several major differences from the latter including wording, names, plot details and the addition of ‘new’ matter not to be found in R (Heiðr 1960, ix). The H redaction can claim the oldest ms. witness of the saga, Hb, where the text of the saga is in the hand of Haukr Erlendson himself (Heiðr 1924, xvii). However, it is shorter and less detailed than the other redactions, and has been described as ‘a drastic and by no means careful abridgement’ of its exemplar (Heiðr 1960, xxx). Hb does not contain any of the stanzas from the first group of poetry in the other redactions, relating to the duel on Samsø, though it summarises the plot and refers the reader to Ǫrv. Moreover a lacuna in the ms. beginning part-way through the solution to the second of the Heiðreks gátur means that the end of the saga in the H redaction is lost. Two seventeenth-century paper mss (AM 281 4°ˣ (281ˣ) and AM 597 b 4°ˣ (597bˣ)), apparently copied from Hb in a more complete condition (Heiðr 1873, 203; though see Love 2013, 193-4 for problematisation), preserve the riddle-match to its conclusion, but neither these nor any other later mss preserve more of the H redaction of the saga.

The primary ms. of R, 2845, is also damaged: there is a lacuna part-way through the text of Heiðr, and the end is missing (from part-way through the battle section). No later ms. contains a fuller version of the R redaction, but some suggest another now-lost version of it (Heiðr 1924, xii-xiii, xxiv-xxxviii; Love 2013, 27). Ms. 2845 contains a number of other fornaldarsögur, including Hálf, of which it is the oldest extant witness.

The U redaction is preserved complete, without lacunae, meaning it is the only version to contain the end of the saga. However, it now exists only in paper copies from the mid-seventeenth century and later, and the primary ms., R715ˣ (written probably before 1647 by one Páll Hallson at Gnúpufell (Heiðr 1924, xx-xxi)) has been criticised for textual problems (e.g. Heinrichs 1979, 2) – in the poetry in particular – and is covered with marginal annotations and corrections, both apparently conjectural and identifiably from other sources, many in the hand of Jón Rugman (Heiðr 1924, xxii). His name is abbreviated as JR in the Readings below.

The ms. AM 203 folˣ (203ˣ), a collection of several fornaldarsögur written by Jón Erlendsson of Villingaholt in south-west Iceland (d. 1672) (Heiðr 1924, xxix), is also worthy of note. For the text of Heiðr, an R-redaction exemplar was copied almost entirely, with the lacuna in R filled in from an H-redaction exemplar (Andrews 1914, 366; Love 2013, 28). A U-redaction ms. was also used for the fuller beginning of the text which R does not have, and at the end from the point where R breaks off. This exemplar is now lost, but seems to share a common original with R715ˣ (Heiðr 1960, xxx). Ms. 203ˣ therefore has independent textual value for the parts of the saga where it does not follow R. Where it differs in the U redaction from R715ˣ, it is usually closer to Hb than the latter is, and is therefore probably closer to their common ancestor (Hall 2005, 5).

Given the complicated ms. relations and that the preferred witnesses differ between prose and poetry (and between different groups of poetry), the mss of the saga are listed here by siglum without further attempt to designate redaction or relation. These issues are discussed more fully as they relate to the poetry in the Introductions to each group of stanzas. The following list draws on the Stories for All Time database (accessed 28 October 2015), Heiðr 1924, Love 2013, and (accessed 28 October 2015). Included here are mss that contain versions of the saga or substantial extracts from it; the riddles in particular often exist outside the saga context and those mss are not included here but discussed further in the Introduction to those stanzas:

AM 192 folˣ; AM 193 a folˣ; AM 202k folˣ (202kˣ) (two versions); AM 203 folˣ (203ˣ); AM 395 folˣ; AM 281 4° (281ˣ); AM 345 4° (345); AM 354 4°ˣ; AM 355 4°ˣ; AM 359 a 4°ˣ; AM 359 b 4°ˣ; AM 544 4° (Hb); AM 582 4°ˣ; AM 591 k 4°ˣ; AM 597 b 4°ˣ (597bˣ); AM 738 4°ˣ; AM 949 c 4°ˣ; AMAcc 5ˣ; BLAdd 4859ˣ; DKNVSB 4 m folˣ; GKS 2845 4to; Holm papp 105 folˣ; Holm papp 120 folˣ; Holm papp 15 4°ˣ; Holm papp 34 4°ˣ; Holm papp 62 4°ˣ; Holm papp 63 4°ˣ; Holm papp 79 VII 4°ˣ; JS 19 folˣ; JS 160 folˣ; JS 624 4°ˣ; Lbs 633 folˣ; Lbs 1500 4°ˣ (from Valdimar Ásmundarson 1885-9); Lbs 1849 8°ˣ; NKS 1151 folˣ; NKS 1189 folˣ; NKS 635 4°ˣ; NKS 1701 4°ˣ; NKS 1711 4°ˣ; NKS 1762 4°ˣ; NKS 1769 4°ˣ; NKS 331 8°ˣ; OsloUB 1159 8°ˣ; Rask 30ˣ; Riksarkivet E 8630ˣ; UppsUB R 715ˣ (715ˣ); UppsUB R 757ˣ; UppsUB Westin 604 IVˣ.

The editio princeps of Heiðr is by Olaus Verelius (Heiðr 1672), with facing Swedish translation and Latin commentary. It has been thought (e.g. Heiðr 1924, xxi-xxv) that ms. R715ˣ formed the basis for this edition, but Love (2013, 249-53) has recently made a compelling case that Verelius used instead or as well the ms. Riksarkivet E 8630ˣ, written by Jón Rugman c. 1660. The following paper mss take material from Verelius’ edition: AMAcc 5ˣ, BLAdd 11108ˣ, Lbs 896 4°ˣ, Rask 21 aˣ, AM 1020 4°ˣ, Kall 620 4°ˣ, UppsUB Waller ms se 568ˣ. Other editions are as follows: Heiðr 1785 (based on 345); FSN 1, 409-512 (based on 345) and 513-33 (based on Hb); Petersen and Thorarensen 1847 (based on Hb, supplemented by 2845); Rafn 1850-2, I, 109-211 (based on 345); Heiðr 1873; Valdimar Ásmundarson 1885-9, 1, 307-60; Hb 1892-6 (facsimile); Scharovol’sky 1906; Heiðr 1924 (normalised text of Hb and diplomatic texts of 2845 and R715ˣ); FSGJ 2, 1-71, Jón Helgason 1955b (facsimile); Heiðr 1956 (normalised after the R text of Heiðr 1924); Hb 1960 (facsimile); Heiðr 1960 (based on 2845); Labuda 1961, 175-230 (extracts); Kozák 2008. In the present edition Heiðr 1672, FSN 1, Heiðr 1873, Heiðr 1924, FSGJ and Heiðr 1960 are cited routinely unless otherwise stated. Normalised prose text of Heiðr in Old Norse is routinely cited from Heiðr 1960 (unless otherwise stated), but translations throughout are those of the present editor.

For stanzas 1-12 see the edition of Ǫrvar-Odds saga in this volume.


  1. Bibliography
  2. FSN = Rafn, Carl Christian, ed. 1829-30. Fornaldar sögur nordrlanda. 3 vols. Copenhagen: Popp.
  3. Heiðr 1672 = Verelius, Olaus, ed. 1672. Hervarar Saga på Gammel Gotska. Uppsala: Curio.
  4. FSGJ = Guðni Jónsson, ed. 1954. Fornaldar sögur norðurlanda. 4 vols. [Reykjavík]: Íslendingasagnaútgáfan.
  5. Hb 1892-6 = Finnur Jónsson, ed. 1892-6. Hauksbók udgiven efter de Arnamagnæanske håndskrifter no. 371, 544 og 675, 4° samt forskellige papirshåndskrifter. Copenhagen: Det kongelige nordiske oldskrift-selskab.
  6. Hb 1960 = Jón Helgason, ed. 1960. Hauksbók: The Arna-Magnæan Manuscripts 371, 4to, 544, 4to, and 675, 4to. MI 5. Copenhagen: Munksgaard.
  7. SkP = Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages. Turnhout: Brepols.
  8. Heiðr 1924 = Jón Helgason, ed. 1924. Heiðreks saga. Hervarar saga ok Heiðreks konungs. SUGNL 48. Copenhagen: Jørgensen.
  9. Heiðr 1960 = Tolkien, Christopher, ed. and trans. 1960. Saga Heiðreks konungs ins vitra / The Saga of King Heidrek the Wise. Nelson Icelandic Texts. London etc.: Nelson.
  10. Valdimar Ásmundarson, ed. 1885-9. Fornaldarsögur Norðurlanda. 3 vols. Reykjavík: Sigurður Kristjánsson and Sigmundur Guðmundsson. 2nd edn of Vol. I 1891.
  11. Jón Helgason, ed. 1955b. The Saga Manuscript 2845, 4to. Manuscripta Islandica 2. Copenhagen: Munksgaard.
  12. Stories For All Time = Stories for All Time: The Icelandic fornaldarsögur. <>
  13. Rafn, Carl Christian, ed. 1850-2. Antiquités russes d’après les monuments historique des Islandais et des anciens Scandinaves. 2 vols. Copenhagen: Berling.
  14. Andrews, A. Le Roy. 1914. ‘Studies in the Fornaldarsǫgur Norðrlanda II: The Hervarar Saga’. MP 11, 363-78.
  15. Heiðr 1785 = Stefán Björnsson and P. F. Suhm, eds. 1785. Hervararsaga ok Heidrekskongs. Hafniæ (Copenhagen): Stein.
  16. Heiðr 1873 = Bugge, Sophus, ed. 1873. Hervarar saga ok Heidreks. Det Norske oldskriftselskabs samlinger 17. Christiania (Oslo): Brøgger.
  17. Heiðr 1956 = Turville-Petre, Gabriel, ed. 1956. Hervarar saga ok Heidreks. Viking Society for Northern Research Text Series 2. With Notes and Glossary by G. Turville-Petre; Introduction by Christopher Tolkien. London: Viking Society for Northern Research, University College London. Rpt. 2014 with minor corrections. Exeter: Short Run Press.
  18. <>
  19. Love, Jeffrey Scott. 2013. The Reception of Hervarar saga ok Heiðreks from the Middle Ages to the Seventeenth Century. Munich: Utz.
  20. Hall, Alaric. 2005. ‘Changing Style and Changing Meaning: Icelandic Historiography and the Medieval Redactions of Heiðreks saga’. SS 77, 1-30.
  21. Sharovol’sky, Ivan V., ed. 1906. Skazanie o meche Tjurfinge (Hervarar saga og Heiðreks): Staro-islandskij tekst svvedeniem. Kiev: [n. p.].
  22. Labuda, Gerard, ed. and trans. 1961. Żródła skandynawskie i anglosaskie do dziejów Słowiańszczyzny. Fontes Septentrionales 1. Warsaw: Państwowe Wydawnictwo Naukowe.
  23. Kozák, Jan, ed. 2008. Sága o Hervaře: Hervarar saga. Prague: Herrmann & synové.
  24. Torfi H. Tulinius. 2002. The Matter of the North: The Rise of Literary Fiction in Thirteenth-Century Iceland. VC 13. [Odense]: Odense University Press.
  25. Heinrichs, Anne. 1979. ‘Friedrich David Gräter und die Rezeption der Hervarar saga’. In Fourth International Saga Conference, München, July 30th-August 4th, 1979. Munich: Institut für Nordische Philologie der Universität München. No continuous pagination, 22 pages.
  26. Internal references
  27. 2017, ‘(Introduction to) Anonymous, Ǫrvar-Odds saga’ in Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.), Poetry in fornaldarsögur. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 8. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 804.
  28. 2017, ‘(Introduction to) Anonymous, Hálfs saga ok Hálfsrekka’ in Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.), Poetry in fornaldarsögur. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 8. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 303.
  29. Not published: do not cite (HjálmVIII)
  30. Not published: do not cite (HlǫðHVIII)
  31. Not published: do not cite (BjarmijVIII)
  32. Not published: do not cite ()
  33. Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.) 2017, ‘Ǫrvar-Odds saga 13 (Ǫrvar-Oddr, Lausavísur 5)’ in Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.), Poetry in fornaldarsögur. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 8. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 826.
  34. Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.) 2017, ‘Ǫrvar-Odds saga 5 (Hjálmarr inn hugumstóri, Lausavísur 1)’ in Margaret Clunies Ross (ed.), Poetry in fornaldarsögur. Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages 8. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 816.

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This page is used for different resources. For groups of stanzas such as poems, you will see the verse text and, where published, the translation of each stanza. These are also links to information about the individual stanzas.

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