Erp, the Mongrel hero amidst the race-mixing polemic of the "Saga of the Volsungs" and the "Elder Edda."
The Lay of Hamdir, from the Volsunga Saga:
Great deeds of bale
In the garth began,
At the sad dawning
The tide of Elves' sorrow
When day is a-waxing
And man's grief awaketh,
And the sorrow of each one
The early day quickeneth.
Not now, not now,
But long ago
Has that day worn by,
That ancientest time,
The first time to tell of,
Then, whenas Gudrun,
Born of Giuki,
Whetter her sons
To Swanhild's avenging.
"Your sister's name
Was naught but Swanhild,
With horses has trodden! --
White horses and black
On the war-beaten way,
Grey horses that go
On the roads of the Goths.
"All alone am I now
As in holt is the aspen;
As the fir-tree of boughs,
So of kin am I bare;
As bare of things longed for
As the willow of leaves
When the bough-breaking wind
The warm day endeth.
"Few, sad, are ye left
O kings of my folk!
Yet alone living
Last shreds of my kin!
"Ah, naught are ye grown
As that Gunnar of old days;
Naught are your hearts
As the heart of Hogni!
Well would ye seek
Vengeance to win
If your hearts were in aught
As the hearts of my brethren!"
Then spake Hamdir
"Nought hadst thou to praise
The doings of Hogni,
When they woke up Sigurd
From out of slumber,
And in bed thou sat'st up
'Mid the banes-men's laughter.
"Then when thy bed=gear,
Blue-white, well woven
By art of craftsmen
All swam with thy king's blood;
The Sigurd died,
O'er his dead corpse thou sattest,
Not heeding aught gladsome,
Since Gunnar so willed it.
"Great grief for Atli
Gatst thou by Erp's murder,
And the end of thine Eitil,
But worse grief for thyself.
Good to use sword
For the slaying of others
In such wise that its edge
Shall not turn on ourselves!"
Then well spake Sorli
From a heart full of wisdom:
"No words will I
Make with my mother,
Though both ye twain
Need words belike --
What askest thou, Gudrun,
To let thee go greeting?
"Weep for thy brethren,
Weep for thy sweet sons,
And thy nighest kinsfolk
Laid by the fight-side!
Yea, and thou Gudrun,
May'st greet for us twain
Sitting fey on our steeds
Doomed in far lands to die."
From the garth forth they went
With hearts full of fury,
Sorli and Hamdir,
The sons of Gudrun,
And they met on the way
The wise in all wiles:
"And thou little Erp,
What helping from thee?"
He of alien womb
Spake out in such wise:
"Good help for my kin,
Such as foot gives to foot,
Or flesh-covered hand
Gives unto hand!"
"What helping for foot
That help that foot giveth,
Or for flesh-covered hand
The helping of hand?"
Then spake Erp
Yet once again
Mock spake the prince
As he sat on his steed:
"Fool's deed to show
The way to a dastard!"
"Bold beyond measure,"
Quoth they, "is the base-born!"
Out from the sheath
Drew they the sheath-steel,
And the glaives' edges played
For the pleasure of hell;
By the third part they minished
The might that they had,
Their young kin they let lie
A-cold on the earth.
Then their fur-cloaks they shook
And bound fast their swords,
In webs goodly woven
Those great ones were clad;
Young they went o'er the fells
Where the dew was new-fallen
Swift, on steeds of the Huns,
Heavy vengeance to wreak.
Forth stretched the ways,
And an ill way they found,
Yea, their sister's son (1)
Hanging slain upon tree --
Wolf-trees by the wind made cold
At the town's westward
Loud with cranes' clatter --
Ill abiding there long!
Din in the king's hall
Of men merry with drink,
And none might hearken
The horses' tramping
Or ever the warders
Their great horn winded.
Then men went forth
To tell of the heeding
Of men under helm:
"Give ye good counsel!
Great ones are come hither,
For the wrong of men mighty
Was the may to death trodden."
"Loud Jormunrek laughed,
And laid hand to his beard,
Nor bade bring his byrny,
But with the wine fighting,
Shook his red locks,
On his white shield sat staring,
And in his hand
Swung the gold cup on high.
"Sweet sight for me
Those twain to set eyes on,
Sorli and Hamdir,
Here in my hall!
Then with bowstrings
Would I bind them,
And hang the good Giukings
Aloft on the gallows!"
Then spake Hrothglod
From off the high steps,
Spake the slim-fingered
Unto her son, --
-- For a threat was cast forth
Of what ne'er should fall --
"Shall two men alone
Two hundred Gothfolk
Bind or bear down
In the midst of their burg?"
Strife and din in the hall,
Cups smitten asunder
Men lay low in blood
From the breasts of Goths flowing.
Then spake Hamdir,
"Thou cravedst, O king,
From the coming of us,
The sons of one mother,
Amidmost thine hall --
Look on these hands of thine,
Look on these feet of thine,
Cast by us, Jormunrek,
On to the flame!"
Then cried aloud
The high Gods' kinsman (2)
Bold under byrny, --
Roared he as bears roar;
"Stones to the stout ones
That the spears bite not,
Nor the edges of steel,
These sons of Jonakr!"
"Bale, brother, wroughtst thou
By that bag's (3) opening,
Oft from that bag
Rede of bale cometh!
Heart hast thou, Hamdir,
If thou hadst heart's wisdom
Great lack in a man
Who lacks wisdom and lore!"
"Yes, off were the head
If Erp were alive yet,
Our brother the bold
Whom we slew by the way;
The far-famed through the world --
Ah, the fares drave me on,
And the man war made holy,
There must I slay!"
"Unmeet we should do
As the doings of wolves are,
Raising wrong each 'gainst other
As the dogs of the Norns,
The greedy ones nourished
In waste steads of the world.
In strong wise have we fought,
On Goths' corpses we stand,
Beat down by our edges,
E'en as ernes on the bough.
Great fame our might winneth,
Die we now, or to-morrow, --
No man lives till eve
Whom the fates doom at morning."
At the hall's gable-end
Fell Sorli to earth,
But Hamdir lay low
At the back of the houses.
Now this is called the Ancient Lay of Hamdir.
(1) Randver, the son of their sister's husband.
(2) Odin, namely.
(3) "Bag", his mouth.
The Latter End of the Kin of the Giukings, from the Second Lay of Helgi, Hundings-Bane, from the Volsunga Saga:
Now telleth the tale concerning the sons of Gudrun, that she had arrayed their war-raiment in such wise, that no steel would bite thereon; and she bade them play not with stones or other heavy matters, for that it would be to their scathe if they did so.
And now, as they went on their way, they met Erp, their brother, and asked him in what wise he would help them.
He answered, "Even as hand helps hand, or foot helps foot."
But that they deemed naught at all, and slew him there and then. Then they went their ways, nor was it long or ever Hamdir stumbled, and thrust down his hand to steady himself, and spake therewith --
"Naught but a true thing spake Erp, for now should I have fallen, had not hand been to steady me."
A little after Sorli stumbled, but turned about on his feet, and so stood, and spake --
"Yea now had I fallen, but that I steadied myself with both feet."
And they said they had done evilly with Erp their brother.
But on they fare till they come to the abode of King Jormunrek, and they went up to him and set on him forthwith, and Hamdir cut both hands from him and Sorli both feet. Then spake Hamdir --
"Off were the head if Erp were alive; our brother whom we slew on the way, and found out our deed too late." Even as the Song says, --
"Off were the head
If Erp were alive yet,
Our brother the bold,
Whom we slew by the way,
The well-famed in warfare."
Now in this must they turn away from the words of their mother, whereas they had to deal with stones. For now men fell on them, and they defended themselves in good and manly wise, and were the scathe of many a man, nor would iron bite on them.
But there came thereto a certain man, old of aspect and one-eyed, (1) and he spake --
"No wise men are ye, whereas ye cannot bring these men to their end."
Then the king said, "Give us rede thereto, if thou canst."
He said, "Smite them to the death with stones."
In such wise was it done, for the stones flew thick and fast from every side, and that was the end of their life-days.
And now has come to an end the whole root and stem of the Giukings. (2)
NOW MAY ALL EARLS
BE BETTERED IN MIND,
MAY THE GRIEF OF ALL MAIDENS
EVER BE MINISHED,
FOR THIS TALE OF TROUBLE
SO TOLD TO ITS ENDING.
(1) Odin; he ends the tale as he began it.
(2) "And now," etc., inserted by translators from the prose Edda, the stanza at the end from the Whetting of Gudrun.
The Ballad of Hamthir, from the Poetic Edda, Bellows translation:
The Hamthesmol, the concluding poem in the Codex Regius, is on the whole the worst preserved of all the poems in the collection. The origin of the story, the relation of the Hamthesmol to the Guthrunarhvot, and of both poems to the hypothetical old Hamthesmol, are outlined in the introductory note to the Guthrunarhvot. The Hamthesmol as we have it is certainly not the old poem of that name; indeed it is so pronounced a patch work that it can hardly be regarded as a coherent poem at all. Some of the stanzas are in Fornyrthislag, some are in Malahattr, one (stanza 29) appears to be in Ljothahattr, and in many cases the words can be adapted to any known metrical form only by liberal emendation. That any one should have deliberately com posed such a poem seems quite incredible, and it is far more likely that some eleventh century narrator constructed a poem about the death of Hamther and Sorli by piecing together various fragments, and possibly adding a number of Malahattr stanzas of his own.
It has been argued, and with apparently sound logic, that our extant Hamthesmol originated in Greenland, along with the Atlamol. In any case, it can hardly have been put together before the latter part of the eleventh century, although the old Hamthesmol undoubtedly long antedates this period. Many editors have attempted to pick out the parts of the extant poem which were borrowed from this older lay, but the condition of the text is such that it is by no means clear even what stanzas are in Fornyrthislag and what in Malahattr. Many editors, likewise, indicate gaps and omissions, but it seems doubtful whether the extant Hamthesmol ever had a really consecutive quality, its component fragments having apparently been strung together with little regard for continuity. The notes indicate some of the more important editorial suggestions, but make no attempt to cover all of them, and the metrical form of the translation is often based on mere guesswork as to the character of the original lines and stanzas. Despite the chaotic state of the text, however, the underlying narrative is reasonably clear, and the story can be followed with no great difficulty.
1. Great the evils | once that grew,
With the dawning sad | of the sorrow of elves;
In early mom | awake for men
The evils that grief | to each shall bring.
2. Not now, nor yet | of yesterday was it,Long the time | that since hath lapsed,
So that little there is | that is half as old,Since Guthrun, daughter | of Gjuki, whetted
Her sons so young | to Svanhild's vengeance.
3. The sister ye had | was Svanhild called,
And her did Jormunrek | trample with horses,
White and black | on the battle-way,
Gray, road-wonted, | the steeds of the Goths.
4. Little the kings | of the folk are ye like,
For now ye are living | alone of my race.
<1. This stanza looks like a later interpolation from a totally unrelated source. Sorrow of elves: the sun; cf. Alvissmol, 16 and note.
2. Some editors regard lines 1-2 as interpolated, while others question line 3. Guthrun, etc.: regarding the marriage of Jonak and Guthrun (daughter of Gjuki, sister of Gunnar and Hogni, and widow first of Sigurth and then of Atli), and the sons of this marriage, Hamther and Sorli (but not Erp), cf. Guthrunarhvot, introductory prose and note.
3. Svanhild and Jormunrek: regarding the manner in which Jormunrek (Ermanarich) married Svanhild, daughter of Sigurth and Guthrun, and afterwards had her trodden to death by horses, cf. Guthrunarhvot, introductory note. Lines 3-4 are identical with lines 5-6 of Guthrunarhvot, 2.
4. These two lines may be all that is left of a four-line stanza. <fp. 567> The manuscript and many editions combine them with stanza 5, while a few place them after stanza 5 as a separate stanza, reversing the order of the two lines. Kings of the folk: Guthrun's brothers, Gunnar and Hogni, slain by Atli.>
5. Lonely am I | as the forest aspen,
Of kindred bare | as the fir of its boughs,
My joys are all lost | as the leaves of the tree
When the scather of twigs | from the warm day turns.
6. Then Hamther spake forth, | the high of heart:
Small praise didst thou, Guthrun, | to Hogni's deed give
When they wakened thy Sigurth | from out of his sleep,
Thou didst sit on the bed | while his slayers laughed.
7. Thy bed-covers white | with blood were red
From his wounds, and with gore | of thy husband were wet;
<5. Cf. note on stanza 4; the manuscript does not indicate line i as beginning a stanza. Scather of twigs: poetic circumlocution for the wind (cf. Skaldskaparmal, chapter 27), though some editors think the phrase here means the sun. Some editors assume a more or less extensive gap between stanzas 5 and 6.
6. Lines 1-3 are nearly identical with lines 1-3 of Guthrunarhvot, 4. On the death of Sigurth cf. Sigurtharkvitha en skamma, 21-24, and Brot, concluding prose. The word thy in line 3 is omitted in the original.
7. Lines 1-2 are nearly identical with lines 4-5 of Guthrunarhvot, 4. The manuscript, followed by many editions, indicates line 3 and not line 1 as beginning a stanza.>
So Sigurth was slain, | by his corpse didst thou sit,And of gladness didst think not: | 'twas Gunnar's doing.
8. Thou wouldst strike at Atli | by the slaying of Erp
And the killing of Eitil; | thine own grief was worse;
So should each one wield | the wound-biting sword
That another it slays | but smites not himself.
9. Then did Sorli speak out, | for wise was he ever:
With my mother I never | a quarrel will make;
Full little in speaking | methinks ye both lack;
What askest thou, Guthrun, | that will give thee no tears?
10. For thy brothers dost weep, | and thy boys so sweet,
Thy kinsmen in birth | on the battlefield slain;
Now, Guthrun, as; well | for us both shalt thou weep,
We sit doomed on our steeds, | and far hence shall we die.
<8. Some editors regard this stanza as interpolated. Erp and Eitil: regarding Guthrun's slaying of her sons by Atli, cf. Atlamol, 72-75. The Erp here referred to is not to be confused with the Erp, son of Jonak, who appears in stanza 13. The whole of stanza 8 is in doubtful shape, and many emendations have been suggested.
10. Some editors assign this speech to Hamther. Brothers: Gunnar and Hogni. Boys: Erp and Eitil.>
11. Then the fame-glad one-- | on the steps she was--
The slender-fingered, | spake with her son:
Ye shall danger have | if counsel ye heed not;
By two heroes alone | shall two hundred of Goths
Be bound or be slain | in the lofty-walled burg.
12. From the courtyard they fared, | and fury they breathed;
The youths swiftly went | o'er the mountain wet,
On their Hunnish steeds, | death's vengeance to have.
13. On the way they found | the man so wise;
<11. In the manuscript this stanza follows stanza 21, and some editors take the word here rendered fame-glad one (hrrgo㾾) to be a proper name (Jormunrek's mother or his concubine). The Volsungasaga, however, indicates that Guthrun at this point had so fashioned their war-gear that iron would not bite into it, and she bade them to have nought to do with stones or other heavy things, and told them that it would be ill for them if they did not do as she said. The substance of this counsel may well have been conveyed in a passage lost after line 3, though the manuscript indicates no gap. It is by being stoned that Hamther and Sorli are killed (stanza 26). On the other hand, the second part of line 3 may possibly mean if silent ye are not, in which case the advice relates to Hamther's speech to Jormunrek and Sorli's reproach to him thereupon (stanzas 25 and 27). Steps: the word in the original is doubtful. Line 3 is thoroughly obscure. Some editors make a separate stanza of lines 3-5, while others question line 5.
12. Many editors assume the loss of a line after line 1. In several editions lines 2-3 are placed after line 2 of stanza 18. Hunnish: the word meant little more than German ; cf. Guthrunarhvot, 3 and note.>
. . . . . . . . . .
What help from the weakling | brown may we have?
14. So answered them | their half-brother then:
So well may I | my kinsmen aid
As help one foot | from the other has.
15. How may afoot | its fellow aid,
Or a flesh-grown hand | another help?
16. Then Erp spake forth, | his words were few,
As haughty he sat | on his horse's back:
<13. In the manuscript these two lines follow stanza 16; some editors insert them in place of lines 2-3 of stanza 11. The manuscript indicates no gap. The man so wise: Erp, here represented as a son of Jonak but not of Guthrun, and hence a half-brother of Hamther and Sorli. There is nothing further to indicate whether or not he was born out of wedlock, as intimated in stanza 16. Some editors assign line 3 to Hamther, and some to Sorli.
14. The stanza is obviously defective. Many editors add Erp's name in line 1, and insert between lines 2 and 1 a line based on stanza 15 and the Volsungasaga paraphrase: As a flesh grown hand | another helps. In the Volsungasaga, after Erp's death, Hamther stumbles and saves himself from falling with his hand, whereupon he says: Erp spake truly; I had fallen had I not braced myself with my hand. Soon thereafter Sorli has a like experience, one foot slipping but the other saving him from a fall. Then they said that they had done ill to Erp, their brother.
15. Many editions attach these two lines to stanza 14, while a few assume the loss of two lines.
16. In the manuscript this stanza stands between stanzas 12 and 13. Some editors make line 4 a part of Erp's speech.>
To the timid 'tis ill | the way to tell.
A bastard they | the bold one called.
17. From their sheaths they drew | their shining swords,
Their blades, to the giantess | joy to give;
By a third they lessened | the might that was theirs,
The fighter young | to earth they felled.
18. Their cloaks they shook, | their swords they sheathed,
The high-born men | wrapped their mantles close.
19. On their road they fared | and an ill way found,
And their sister's son | on a tree they saw,
On the wind-cold wolf-tree | west of the hall,
And cranes'-bait crawled; | none would care to linger.
<17. The manuscript does not indicate line 1 as beginning a stanza. The giantess: presumably the reference is to Hel, goddess of the dead, but the phrase is doubtful.
18. In the manuscript these two lines are followed by stanza 19 with no indication of a break. Some editions insert here lines 2-3 of stanza 12, while others assume the loss of two or more lines.
19. Cf. note on stanza 18. Ill way: very likely the road leading through the gate of Jormunrek's town at which Svanhild was trampled to death. Sister's son: many editors change the text to read stepson, for the reference is certainly to Randver, son of Jormunrek, hanged by his father on Bikki's advice (cf. Guthrunarhvot, introductory note). Wolf-tree: the gallows, the wolf being symbolical of outlaws. Cranes'-bait: presumably either snakes or worms, but the passage is doubtful.>
20. In the hall was din, | the men drank deep,
And the horses' hoofs | could no one hear,
Till the warrior hardy | sounded his horn.
21. Men came and the tale | to Jormunrek told
How warriors helmed | without they beheld:
Take counsel wise, | for brave ones are come,
Of mighty men | thou the sister didst murder.
22. Then Jormunrek laughed, | his hand laid on his beard,
His arms, for with wine | he was warlike, he called for;
He shook his brown locks, | on his white shield he looked,
And raised high the cup | of gold in his hand.
23. Happy, methinks, | were I to behold
Hamther and Sorli | here in my hall;
<20. Many editors assume the loss of a line after line 3. The warrior: presumably a warder or watchman, but the reference may be to Hamther himself.
21. The word here rendered men (line 1) is missing in the original, involving a metrical error, and various words have been suggested.
22. Line 2 in the original is thoroughly obscure; some editors directly reverse the meaning here indicated by giving the line a negative force, while others completely alter the phrase rendered his arms he called for into one meaning he stroked his cheeks.
23. Gjuki's heirs: the original has the well-born of Gjuki, and some editors have changed the proper name to Guthrun, but the phrase apparently refers to Hamther and Sorli as Gjuki's grandsons. In the manuscript this stanza is followed by stanza 11, <fp. 553> and such editors as have retained this arrangement have had to resort to varied and complex explanations to account for it.>
The men would I bind | with strings of bows,
And Gjuki's heirs | on the gallows hang.
24. In the hall was clamor, | the cups were shattered,
Men stood in blood | from the breasts of the Goths,
25. Then did Hamther speak forth, | the haughty of heart:
Thou soughtest, Jormunrek, | us to see,Sons of one mother | seeking thy dwelling;
Thou seest thy hands, | thy feet thou beholdest,
Jormunrek, flung | in the fire so hot.
26. Then roared the king, | of the race of the gods,Bold in his armor, | as roars a bear:
Stone ye the men | that steel will bite not,
Sword nor spear, | the sons of Jonak.
<24. Editors have made various efforts to reconstruct a four line stanza out of these two lines, in some cases with the help of lines borrowed from the puzzling stanza 11 (cf. note on stanza 23). Line 2 in the original is doubtful.
25, Some editors mark line 1 as an interpolation. The manuscript marks line 4 as beginning a new stanza. As in the story told by Jordanes, Hamther and Sorli succeed in wounding Jormunrek (here they cut off his hands and feet), but do not kill him. 26. The manuscript marks line 3, and not line I, as beginning a stanza. Of the race of the gods: the reference here is apparently to Jormunrek, but in the Volsungasaga the advice to kill Hamther and Sorli with stones, since iron will not wound them (cf. note on stanza 11), Comes from Othin, who enters the hall as an old man with one eye.>
27. Ill didst win, brother, | when the bag thou didst open,
Oft from that bag | came baleful counsel;
Heart hast thou, Hamther, | if knowledge thou hadst
A man without wisdom | is lacking in much.
28. His head were now off | if Erp were living,
The brother so keen | whom we killed on our road,
The warrior noble,-- | 'twas the Norns that drove me
The hero to slay | who in fight should be holy.
29. In fashion of wolves | it befits us not
Amongst ourselves to strive,
<27. in the manuscript this stanza is introduced by the same line as stanza 25: Then did Hamther speak forth, the haughty of heart, but the speaker in this case must be Sorli and not Hamther. Some editors, however, give lines 1-2 to Hamther and lines 3-4 to Sorli. Bag: i.e., Hamther's mouth; cf. note on stanza 11. The manuscript indicates line 3 as beginning a new stanza.
28. Most editors regard stanzas 28-30 as a speech by Hamther, but the manuscript does not indicate the speaker, and some editors assign one or two of the stanzas to Sorli. Lines 1-2 are quoted in the Volsungasaga. The manuscript does not indicate line I as beginning a stanza. Erp: Hamther means that while the two brothers had succeeded only in wounding Jormunrek, Erp, if he had been with them, would have killed him. Lines 3-4 may be a later interpolation. Norns: the fates; the word used in the original means the goddesses of ill fortune.>
Like the hounds of the Norns, | that nourished were
In greed mid wastes so grim.
30. We have greatly fought, | o'er the Goths do we stand
By our blades laid low, | like eagles on branches;
Great our fame though we die | today or tomorrow;
None outlives the night | when the Norris have spoken.
31. Then Sorli beside | the gable sank,And Hamther fell | at the back of the house.
This is called the old ballad of Hamther.
<29. This is almost certainly an interpolated Ljothahattr stanza, though some editors have tried to expand it into the Fornyrthislag form. Hounds of the Norns: wolves.
30, Some editors assume a gap after this stanza.
31. Apparently a fragment of a stanza from the old Hamthesmol to which the annotator's concluding prose note refers. Some editors assume the loss of two lines after line 2.
Prose. Regarding the old Hamthesmol, cf. Guthrunarhvot, introductory note.>