most thoroughgoing attempt to enter the kinsmen into a
comprehensive system was made in Norway. In its rules
for the payment of weregild, the Gulathing's Law
arranges the participants into three groups of men, each
of whom has to pay or receive one of the principal
rings, but to these “ring men” are added three
classes of other kinsmen who are called receivers — uppnámamenn
— because they can lay claim to certain additional
fees. In the first group of receivers are gathered such
as father's brother, brother's son, mother's father,
daughter's son; the second group is composed of
brother's daughter's son, mother's brother, sister's son
and cousin through father's sister and mother's brother,
and finally in the third group meet mother's sister's
son, cousin's son, father's cousin, mother's mother's
brother and sister's daughter's son. Apart from these
receivers there are some additional parties to the cause
called sakaukar, additional receivers; among them
are counted the son and brother whose mother was
slaveborn, and half-brothers having the same mother. But
the enumeration is not yet complete. The law still adds
a new group consisting of men attached to the clan by
marriage; the man who has a man's daughter, he who has
his sister, further stepfather and stepson, sworn
brother and foster-brother.
tables are complicated enough to produce something of a
roundabout feeling in a modern head, unaccustomed to
following family mathematics beyond sums with two or
three factors. What a relief, then, to be able to settle
down among the Norsemen's less ingenious brothers, with
the reflection that artificial systems must have their
root in artificial forms. But simplicity — that is to
say, something convenient to the pattern our brains
are built on — is unfortunately after all no
infallible criterion of age. Complications also arise
when a complex feeling, which in practice always goes
surely, has to reckon out all its instinctive movements
in figures, and struggles with itself until it stands
agape before its own inscrutability.
accusing the Norwegian lawyers of modern tendencies or
of innovations we must first make sure that their
ingenuity has effected a system running counter to
ancient clan feeling and affirming a modern family
conscience, but the rules for distributing the fines are
particularly designed to place all these people in
categories running athwart all calculations in lines and
degrees. They are herded together — father's brother,
brother's son, daughter's son, mother's father by
themselves, mother's brother, brother's daughter's son,
sister's son by themselves — in groups that certainly
cannot have been invented for the purpose of
schematising nearness of kin according to our
genealogical principles. And it ought to give us pause
that the lawyer in another place, after having struggled
to gather the rules of inheritance into a regular system
ends with a resigned appeal to individual judgment of
actual cases: for the rest each must manage to make it
out for himself, “so manifold are the ways of kinship
between men that none can make rules for all
inheritance, a cause arising must be judged as is deemed
best according to its nature”. The group arrangement
is undoubtedly based on a principle having broad
premises in the Teutons' mode of thought.
is obvious that here is a man who struggles to force
refractory ideas into a system that was not made for
them. And this is the difficulty more or less of all
Teuton laws, that they are put to the attempt of
transposing clan feeling into a reckoning of kindred in
degrees and generations that was foreign to indigenous
ideas. Latin civilization made history grow like
branches or twigs on family trees, and in the relations
of men one with another it recognized only the formula:
father begot son and son begot son's son. The Icelanders
learnt the art of making chronological history and
genealogical trees, and even rose to be masters of the
profession, their wits being considerably sharpened by
the revolution in all family matters that was the
consequence of their emigrating with kith and kin into a
new country and their minds being enlightened by
intimate intercourse with people of the western isles.
Thus it comes that the family history after the
colonisation of Iceland is a system of clear
genealogical lines, while all history before that event
is conceived in another spirit and expressed in myths,
as we call a form with which we are unfamiliar. On the
emigrants' island, the simplest peasant knew every
detail of his status by descent and by marriage from the
first settlement in the country, whereas among the first
settlers themselves very few knew more than their
grandfather, and all the prominent figures of history
are introduced with a father and at most a grandfather.
in the royal family itself, Harald Fairhair's father
represents the end of history. Harald's contemporary,
the powerful earl of Moeri, can hardly be said to have
more than a grandfather; the same applies to Earl Hakon
of Hladi, while his most dangerous opponent, Earl Atli
of Gaular, is registered in history as his father's son.
The noblest born of all the original settlers in
Iceland, Geirmund, whose forefathers were kings by full
right, had to pass down into history as merely the son
of Hjor. All that lies behind these two or three
prehistoric generations is myth. And while the Icelandic
peasants, with their pride of race, made themselves
leaders of Europe in scientific accuracy of reckoning,
we find in Norway no great change in men's genealogical
sense; as late as the eleventh and twelfth centuries, we
find prominent families entering into history in a
strangely abrupt fashion.
man was called Finnvid the Found; he was discovered in
an eagle's nest, swathed in silken garments. From him
descends the family called the Arnunga race. His son was
Thorarin Bulliback, his son Arnvid, who was the father
of Earl Arnmod. He is the ancestor of the Arnmodlings.”
This is the simple genealogy of Norwegian grandees of
the 11th century. Generally the pedigrees lead through a
couple of links to a barrow, as for instance Bardi, the
princeling who was buried in Bardistad, or Ketil, who
lies in Vinreid. Exactly the same peculiarity is met
with in the Anglo-Saxon traditions about the ancestors
of the kingly races in Great Britain.
organs did not grow forth suddenly in the brains of
Englishmen or Icelanders. They had learned at home to
keep faith with the past, and steadfastly to keep it
alive; they only re-shaped the old tradition on a new
basis. Earlier, too, men had cherished their family
history, handing it down from generation to generation,
but in a form that fitted with a view of time as a
plane, and the soul as a thing ever present.
we are not left to speculate vaguely how the North-men
reckoned their kin before becoming acquainted with the
genealogies of the South. Among the literary remains of
Scandinavia are found a couple of poems which introduce
us to the circle in the hall of the chief, listening
when his mighty hamingja is praised and his ancestors
enumerated. The Eddic poem of Hyndluljód is certainly
not as it stands a pure family piece; it has been
retouched by a poet versed in the poetic fashions of the
viking age, and by him embellished with some additions
from the mythological stock-in-trade. But the additions
only affect the framework of the poem; the core is a
Norwegian family pedigree as it used to be cited in the
ancestral hall. The centre of the poem is a young
atheling called Ottar, evidently belonging to a noble
race of Western Norway, and the words, slightly
abreviated, run thus:
was born of Innstein, and Innstein of Alf the Old, Alf
of Ulf, Ulf of Sæfari, Sæfari of Svan the Red.
mother's name was Hiedis; a woman in noble rings and
necklaces she was whom your father took for his honoured
wife. Her father was Frodi, and her mother Friaut; all
that race were reckoned among the great.
lived Ali richest of men, and earlier still Halfdan
highest among Scyldings. All can tell of the great
battles that the bold hero held.
came the Scyldings, thence the Scilfings, thence
Audlings and Ynglings; from them proud franklins, from
them chieftains — all these are your race.
was her mother, daughter of Svava and Sækonung — all
are your kin. Mark well, it means much that you know
this; and now hear yet more.
married Thora, mother of heroes, in that race were born
champions before all others: Fradmar and Gyrd and the
two Freki, Am, Josurmar and Alf the Old. Mark well, it
means much that you know this.
friend was called Ketil, Klyp's heir; he was mother's
father to your mother; there was Frodi and before him
Kari and earlier yet was born Alf.
Nanna, Nokkvi's daughter — her son was kin by marriage
to your father; it is an old kinship; and yet more I can
count, both Broddi and Horfi — these are all your kin.
and Asolf, Olmod's sons, with their mother Skurhild,
daughter of Skekkil. To many men you may count yourself
akin. All are your race, Ottar.
Bolm in the East were born the sons of Arngrim and
Eyfura, the berserks who rushed destroying over land and
sea as fire leaps.
know both Broddi and Horfi; they served among the king's
men of Hrolf the Old.
born from Earmanric, kinsman by marriage to Sigurd who
slew the dragon.
king was descended from Volsung, and Hjordis (Sigurd's
mother) was of Hraudung's kin, but Eylimi (her father)
was descended from the Audlings — all are your kin.
and Hogni, heirs of Gjuki, and Gudrun their sister . . .
. . . all are your kin.
Hilditonn born of Hroerek, son he was of Aud, Ivar's
daughter, but Radbard was Randver's father. These men
were consecrated to the gods — strong, holy kings —
all are your kin.”
poet then passes on to the enumeration of the gods of
reckoning up of Ottar's ancestors is not based on
conceiving and begetting. The poem enumerates a number
of hamingjas which belonged to Ottar and his kinsmen. In
the middle stand, as the main stem of the clan, Ottar,
his father and mother with their nearest of kin, and
about them are ranged a multitude of circles overlapping
one another, some based on begetting, others on
marriage, others again perhaps on fostering. Among these
hamingjas are pure Norwegian clans such as that Horda-Kari
clan indicated by Klyp and Olmod, a famous race which
attained renown in Iceland with the lawgiver Ulfljot,
and wrote itself into Norway's history as Erling
Skjalgson of Soli. There are families from the East such
as that who is introduced by Angantyr of Bolm in Sweden.
There are Danish stocks such as the Scyldings; and the
connections of Ottar even reach beyond the frontiers of
Scandinavia and draw the luck of Volsungs and
Burgundians into his soul.
these circles there may occur some indications of
fathership and sonship placing the men in relation to
one another, but parallel to these indications run
phrases that merely affirm how this or that hero
“was” or “lived” in former times, or state that
“this is an old kinship”.
poem recording the pride of a Norwegian family is the
Ynglingatal. This monumental poem is composed by one of
the greatest scalds of the ninth century, Thjodolf, in
honour of a petty king called Rognvald Heidumhærri. In
this poem, the kinsmen of Rognvald are reckoned up in a
direct line to the divine kings of Upsala, and though
there are no indications in the verses that one king
begot the next, the commentators are perhaps not so very
far from the mark when they suppose it to have been
Thjodolf's intention to connect the ancestors into a
genealogical line. Probably the Ynglingatal is a
compromise between the old system and the more
of pedigrees that was coming in. This way of translating
ancient facts into modern style can be illustrated by
the Anglo-Saxon pedigrees in which the groups of
ancestors are piled one on another into a ladder; the
original arrangement sometimes shows through the fact
that a founder of a race or a god is automatically put
into the middle of the list and made the son of mortal
men. Thus also Thjodolf's Ynglingatal shows traces of
the process of adaptation: the old circle system peeps
through the lines.
verses of Thjodolf are compressed and often obscure —
to us — because the poet, as already indicated, was
not compiling an historical narrative but hinting at
facts well known in the hall of his employer. Snorri has
added a commentary which is partly drawn out of the
verses by an ingenious reader, partly no doubt rests on
additional data which he has evidently elicited by
interrogating persons acquainted with the family.
the poet has, in the first verses, proved divine descent
from Frey through Sveigdir and Fjolnir, he begins with
Vanlandi the series of the earthly kings; and baldly
paraphrased the poem runs as follows:
his death through witchcraft. The troll-born ‚woman
crushed him with her feet, and the king's pyre flamed in
the banks of the river Skuta.
commentary adds: Vanlandi was crushed by a night-mare.
He had married a Finnish princess and had left his bride
never to return; his wife hired a sorceress to draw him
to Finland by charms or else to kill him.
swallowed by the fire, when the sons urged the
mischievous destroyer of the forest against their
father, so that he bit the great prince to death in the
Visbur deserted his first queen, and her sons avenged
former days it came about that sword-men reddened the
earth with their own lord's blood, when the Swedes, in
hope of good harvest, bore bloody weapons against Domaldi,
hater of the Jutes.
Starvation reigned in the land, and when all other means
to stop the misfortune failed the Swedes sacrificed
Domar was placed on the pyre at Fyrir, when deathly illness had bitten that atheling of Fjolnir's race.
Came the time when Hel should choose a kingly hero, and Dyggvi, ruler of the Yngvifolk, fell before her grip.
Thirsting for fame, Dag followed the bidding of death, when he set out for Vorvi to avenge his sparrow.
Surely the deed of Skjalf did not please the warrior host when she, the queen, hoisted Agni, their rightful king, up in his own necklace and let him ride the cool horse of the gallows.
Comm.: Agni warred on Finland and led a princess captive; on the bridal night, when the king was in his cups, she tied a rope to his costly necklace and flung it over a bough overhead.
Alrek fell what time he and Eric, the brothers, bore arms one against the other; those two kinsmen of Dag struck each other with bits. Frey's children have never before been known to use horse gear in battle.
Yngvi fell; he was left lying when Alf, the guardian of the altar, envious reddened his sword; it was Bera who made two brothers each the other's bane.
Comm.: Bera, Alf's queen, preferred his brother Yngvi.
Jorund was reft of his life long ago in the Limfiord; the rope's horse carried high the king who had formerly taken Gudlaug's life.
Comm.: Jorund was killed by the Norwegian king Gylaug in revenge of his lather Gudlaug.
Aun longed for life, till he drank horn for milk as a child; with his sons' lives he bought life for himself.
Comm.: Aun sacrificed one of his sons every tenth year to prolong his own life.
Egil, Tyr's atheling, great of fame, fled the land, and the end of that atheling of the Scilfings' race was the ox that drove its head-sword into his heart.
Comm.: Egil, who had several times been driven from his land by a rebel, was at last killed when out hunting, by a savage bull.
Ottar fell beneath the claws of the eagles at Vendil before Frodi's Danes; the Swedes could tell of the island-kingdom's earls, who slew him when he offered battle.
Comm.: Ottar had
dealings with Frodi, the king of Denmark.
Adils is known by Snorri as the antagonist of King Ali of Norway and King Hrolf 0f Sealand.
The hall flamed to ruin about Eystein at Lofund, men of Jutiand burned him in the house.
The word went out that Ynguar had fallen before the folk-host of Esthonia; the Eastern Sea delights the Swedish king with its songs.
Onund, enemy of the Ests, fell before the hate of the leman's son; hard stones covered the slayer of Hogni.
The commentary does not know why Onund had killed Hogni, or who was the leman's son who avenged him.
Fire, the roaring house-thief, trod through Ingjald with hot feet at Ræning. His death was famous among the Swedes because the atheling of the gods living kindled his own pyre.
Comm.: Ingjald had dealings with the kings of Scania, and when he was taken unawares by Ivar the Widegrasping he buried himself and all his warriors under the blazing beams of his own hall.
The glowing fire loosened the war dress of the Swedish king Olaf, this scion of the Lofdungs disappeared from Upsala long ago.
Halfdan was sadly missed by the peace makers when he died on Thoten, and Skæreid in Skiringssal droops over the remains of the king.
Eystein went to Hel struck by the boom onboard the ship, the Gautland king rests under stones where Vadla's chilly stream meets the sea.
Halfdan who had his seat at Holtar, was buried by victorious men at Borro.
Godrod who lived long ago, was foully slain by Asa's thrall on the shore of Stiflusund.
Comm.: Godrod had killed Asa's father and married her against her will.
In ancient days Olaf ruled
over Upsi and Vestmar and the kingdom of Grenland, a
godlike prince; stricken by disease the brave leader of
hosts lies in his barrow at Geirstad.
The centre of the picture is occupied by Rognvald with the proud title of Heidumhærri whose meaning is unfortunately lost to us; he ruled at Geirstad in the south of Norway about 900. His father, Olaf Geirstadaalf, is well known from other fragments of the mythical lore of the clan; no doubt he is an historical king, but his humanity is half merged into divinity, as shown by his surname, Geirstadaalf, which means the god or patron of Geirstad. In other words, Olaf is the hero and father of the house; one line — the direct one upwards — of Rognvald comes to an end with him.
Above him there is a clearly marked circle in the line from Godrod to Olaf and Halfdan. This list of names that may or may not represent a direct succession of fathers and sons forms an important branch of Rognvald's hamingja, namely the branch by which the petty king of Geirstad was connected with the family which conquered Norway, through the person of Harald Fairhair. The unity of this circle is attested by the fact that the names Olaf, Halfdan and Godrod are perpetuated in Harald Fairhair's dynasty. The field of activity of this clan lies in the boundary lands between Norway, Sweden and Denmark, and taken together with the fragments of family legends which the author of the Ynglingasaga has happily unearthed, these verses give a picture of Westfold kings, who fought and befriended small princelings from the south, of Norway but also had dealings with the kings of adjacent East, to wit Gautland, which formed a region of its own in those days, half independent, between Norway and the ancient kingdom of Upsala. This connection is sealed by Ingjald, who by his name and through his queen Gauthild is intimately bound up with Gautland. Ingjald's place in the world is indicated by the tradition that he succumbs before Ivar the Widegrasping (Vidfadmi), a conqueror king of Scania in the south of modern Sweden.
Above this fundamental stock we can discern various groups, though it is not always possible to point out the exact spot where they join. Through Adils and his father Ottar we are introduced to a world viewed from another angle in the Beowulf. According to Snorri and the Northern sources which are dependent mainly on the family legends of Norwegian princes, Adils fought with Hrolf Kraki of Sealand without gaining much honour, and won glory by defeating Ali from the Uplands or, in other versions, from Norway. In the Anglo-Saxon poem — descended from another family legend — a vista is opened into a little world where four princely clans meet in battle and carouse. Foremost in fame are the Scyldings or Spear-Danes of Leire in Sealand, Heorogar and Hrothgar, and in the younger generation Hrothulf, and rivalling these mighty - spear-men the Heathobards come into prominence: Froda and his son Ingeld, who was unhappily married to a Scylding princess, the daughter of Hrothgar. On one side stand the Geats or Gautland-men — Hygelac foremost — and on the other side the “Swedes”, Ohthere and Eadgils and their kinsman Onela (Ali) who usurps the kingdom and is slain by his nephew Eadgils. It is a story of feuds and friendships between district kings in South Scandinavia before the time when the North had crystallised into three ethnographical and political groups, Sweden, Norway and Denmark. To the same circle as Adils belongs undoubtedly Aun the Old; though perhaps not identical with the Eanmund known to the Beowulf as Eadgils' brother, he bears witness in his name to kinship with the Swedes, for the family mark Ead is contained in Aun, though obscured by phonetical changes.
An entirely different circle is represented by Yngvar and Onund; they turn their faces to the East, to the Swedish viking lands of Esthonia, where Yngvar fell before the folk of the continent, and Onund, the foe of the Ests, avenged him.
Within the upper portion of the family register we can discern at least two clan circles.
One has for its centre the unlucky brothers Eric and Alrek, who slew each other while out hunting, and the sons Alf and Yngvi who quarrelled over a woman. They are connected by a family fate, and their history is foreshadowed in Vanlandi, Visbur and Agni; this family is marked by all its men being vanquished by woman's counsel. We have here a race of kings whose aldr or hamingja had a peculiar taint, giving them into the hands of their women. Now these kings belong to another part of the world, as is proved by the fact that their expeditions are confined to Finland — there they harried, there they procured their wives, thence came the troll-born nightmare who trampled Vanlandi to death. In these men we are confronted with the renowned family of Ynglings whose seat was at Upsala.
Finally, in this group is interpolated another series: Domaldi, Domar, Dyggvi, Dag. Where they belong it is hard to say; Domar is called an Yngling, and is burned at Fyrir in Uppland; Dyggvi is also referred to the Yngvi clan, whereas Domaldi is hinted at as the enemy of the Jutes. But this much is certain, that with Dag we are suddenly back in Norway once more, or at least in regions comparatively near, for not only does he recur again and again in the family registers of the Norwegian kings, but his name crops up among the children of Harald Fairhair. Without doubt he is the mythical ancestor of a chiefly clan, the Daglings, in the southern parts of Norway or Sweden, and it is possibly through this family that Rognvald is connected with the Ynglings. There are also some hints in other pedigrees that Dyggvi and his mother Drot were recognised by the descendants of Harald Fairhair as belonging to their ancestors, and in their genealogical tables they are brought in as descending from Dag. This does not at all prove that Dyggvi is really descended from Dag, but merely that the Daglings possessed the hamingja of Dyggvi and transmitted it through some alliance to the kingly race of Norway.
In the Ynglingatal we catch a glimpse of a family
tradition working on the same lines with the Hyndluljód.
All this shows abundantly that to understand the clan
feeling and clan system of ancient times we must revise
our ideas of kinship altogether, and replace our
genealogical tree by other images. Kinship was viewed
from the standpoint of an individual family, the centre
of a number of non-concentric rings, and thus the
reckoning of relationship in one clan did not hold good
for other families as to persons who were common kinsmen
to both. The circles were foreshortened in different
ways, as we may express the fact in our mathematical
language. We cannot get history in our sense by
comparing related genealogies and synchronising their
data into our chronological system. Rognvald Heidumhærri
and Harald Fairhair had a paternal grandfather in
common, and would according to our reckoning be actual
cousins, but the Ynglingatal was not Harald's pedigree,
neither could it be made to tally with his clan feeling,
as we very well know through the genealogical lists of
the royal family. Harald shares Godrod and Halfdan with
his cousin Rognvald, but these ancestors do not in
Harald's case lead up to the Ynglings, but to Norwegian
origin; he touches the hamingja of his cousin through
Dag and through Ingj aid and Frodi, all of whom reappear
in the ancestry of the king, but these kinships do not
extend eastward and connect him with the Swedes. To be
sure, when Harald in his past has the sequence: Eric,
Alrek, we are fully justified in recognising something
of the fateful family will that rings so loudly through
the Ynglingatal; this hamingja entered into the luck of
Harald, but it was far less extensive. And at all other
points the two families run each its own course, and
that course is determined by a different tendency in the
family luck. The Harald family shows its ambition by
incorporating in its hamingja the luck of the Danish
viking chieftains and conquerors, as is proved by the
presence of Ivar the Widegrasping and the Ragnar
athelings in its registers. And through these rising
clans of the unruly times in the dawn of Northern
history this Norwegian family reaches farther outward to
the Scyldings and the Volsungs of the Franks. Among
Harald's ancestors were Sigurd the dragon slayer and the
Niblungs famous in Northern song. Consequently, in
Harald's family the divine places are not occupied by
Frey and Yngvi, but by Odin and Scyld, the hero-ancestor
of the Scyldings.
It is always necessary to keep firm hold of the end personage in the list, the man from whom the race is viewed; if he be lost, and the table thus lose its family mark, we can never reconstruct its value, and where links drop out they can never be set right again by comparison with another pedigree, not even by that of a cousin by blood.
The circles drawn into community of life, either by marriage or in any other way, are not washed out of their former connections before entering the pale of friendship and kinship. Each family carried along with it the honour and luck and fate that constituted its soul, and by becoming kin by marriage Ottar or Rognvald acquired the ancestors of his new brothers in-law.
To modern readers there is a difference not of degree but of quality between such matter-of-fact persons as Klyp or Olmod and a dragon slayer like Sigurd Fafnirsbane, who belongs to poetry as we would say. But the difficulty is all on our side; in ancient times, Sigurd was a kinsman just as real as any historical person. A good many Norwegian and Icelandic families felt affinity with the famous slayer of the dragon and his Burgundian brothers-in-law.
All these clans had lawfully and rightfully acquired the Frankish and Burgundian hamingja by marrying or otherwise concluding vital alliance with circles possessing the deeds of the southern heroes. We are still able to point out the links which connected the families of the north with the mighty clans on the Rhine. How Herald Fairhair acquired the right to enter Burgundian, Frankish and Goth kings among his. ancestors is clearly shown through his pedigree. His family is connected with Danish kings who claimed kinship with the Ragnar house, and these kings had ancestors who were allied to princes in Russia or on the southern shores of the Baltic. Some Icelandic families evidently concluded the alliance that brought Sigurd into their hamingja during their expeditions to the western Isles, where they settled temporarily and were brought into contact with descendants of Danish viking clans, first and foremost that of the Sons of Ragnar Lodbrok.
In the case of Ottar, we are not without some hints as to how he came into possession of such a far-off hamingja as that working in Sigurd and the Burgundian kings who ruled in Worms. It has already been pointed out that some persons in the Hyndluljód indicate a relationship between the hero of the poem and the family whose most powerful member was Erling Skjalgson, the “king” of the Rugians. Erling married Astrid Tryggvi's daughter, a great-grandchild of Harald Fair-hair, and thus became brother-in-law of the Norwegian king Olaf Tryggvason. It is not unlikely that Erling and the Hyndiuljód are nearly contemporary, and in Erling's marriage we have possibly an explanation as to how Danish and southern hamingja had filtered into leading families of western Norway.
These facts suggest
another view of ancient poetry and saga than the purely
literary theory current now, which rests on the rather
naïve acceptance of modern literary conditions as
applying to all times and cultures. Poems and novels are
to us substantial wares brought to market by poets and
handed in books over the counter to customers tendering
a fixed price. But the sagas and poems of ancient times
were property belonging to individual persons, the
self-revelations of particular clans. The sagas do not
rest on an author, but on an owner, one who acknowledges
the past as it is here set forth, maintains it as his
own, is proud of it and depends on it. The true saga,
that which in its inmost essence is inspired by
repetition by word of mouth, has in reality never worked
its way loose from the personal mandate. Even the
Icelandic sagas, which in artistic form are strongly
influenced by European literature, still bear the
birthmark of being told from the point of view of a
clan, and expressing the clan's private past. The
Volsungasaga is the prelude to Ragnar Lodbrok's, and it
ends with Hofdithord, the chieftain of Skagafiord,
according to the reckoning of the Landnáma, fifth man
from the famous viking chief. The Hervor's saga — the
saga of the sword Tyrfing — bears its stamp of
proprietorship in the genealogies at the end, referring
to a Norwegian and Icelandic family — the Angantyr
clan — which prided itself on its connections with the
kingly house of Sweden. The Beowulf has become regular
literature in the hand of the late poet, but on a closer
scrutiny of the West-Saxon pedigrees with their Beow and
Scyld we may get an inkling of the circle in which the
interest for the legends was fostered.
Going back to the Hyndluljód as the truest picture of an ancient clan, we see now that the circles enumerated belong to Ottar and his kinsmen as wholes. All that the allied families had and were flowed into the man's luck. And this spiritual amalgamation is of greater depth than we at first imagine, because Ottar's kindred were not principally a number of persons, but a mass of deeds — luck, honour and “fate”. The names of the pedigree are clothed with epithets and short descriptive phrases indicating the life that had throbbed in the old heroes and pulsated from them into their descendants, the happenings and achievements in which their honour had manifested itself. We cannot understand the poem as it was understood by the old-world listeners, because to them every epithet and every line called up a host of memories. Our compositions tell a story to an audience wishing to know how it all happened, how it began and how it ended; the ancient poems were only reminders or hints by which deeds that lived in men's minds were called forth and made vivid before their eyes.
The family is primarily a hamingja, and as a soul it is incorporated into new kinsmen. The persons are only representatives of the hamingja, and their power consists in their having been able to regenerate the life rich in distinctive features that flowed through their ancestors. The hamingja is always something present, and the past is only real insofar as its fate has been renewed again and again in a sequence of transient generations. These old heroes have never been outside reality. A Sigurd, a Hrolf, a Ragnar have come to life again and again, have been born forward from clan to clan, they have been ancestors whose deeds were revived in fresh human lives.
The hamingja is a present thing, and it is a living whole, not a complex being split up into a number of persons. We see from the example of a Harald or from that of an Ottar how a world met within the individual human being. In the king of Norway they crowd together: Norwegian village kings and chieftains who fought, married and added to their hamingja, Danish throne kings with a mass of deeds welling forth from the nothingness of earliest time, together with heroic clans who lived and battled on the Rhine or in the plains of Russia. It is a whole world, not only countries wide but centuries deep, all differences of time perish in the living renewal that is contained in a couple of generations.
The ancestors, then, are not figures seated in state on a lofty pile of years reached by laborious climbing through degrees and generations. The modern and the ancient ideas as to the founder of a race are far apart. When we lack the number of rings required to make a decent ladder we must hide our heads among the ephemeral crowd of those who may indeed confess to being, but cannot pretend to have been. The old progenitor simply resided within his children if he existed at all, and his heir grasped him directly by thrusting a hand into his own breast. Thus the brother-in-law or the friend immediately draws the old hero into his hamingja by touching his kinsmen, and after having mingled blood and mind with his new brothers he feels the ancestor's power in his own limbs.
This suggests a history of another structure than ours, not a chronological series of occurrences hanging on the pegs of dates, but living events coming to light again and again — in slightly different shapes, perhaps, but substantially the same — throughout subsequent generations. History to us is something past and done with, a crystallisation of completed incidents which can neither be obliterated nor in the least affected by later developments. Primitive history, on the other hand, is living and changing; not only do later phases rearrange the events into new patterns, but if history does not propagate itself it disappears, and the events sink into the same nothingness that covers events which never came to be. Primitive history lacks certain time proportions which to us are the foundation of all historical truth, and consequently it cannot wield the blocks of the centuries and build them up to towering pyramids. But primitive and ancient historians can do one thing which we cannot or have not yet been able to do, they can give the past as a whole explaining the present, whereas our history can be nothing but a row of torsos.
The secret of the incompatibility of the two systems lies in the fact that whereas our history forms a general self-existing organism outside the experience of all individual men, primitive and ancient history is the belongings of clans and peoples. The latter form is incomprehensible to modern men whose lives are arranged in years, and moreover, never merge into one another, but run on each in its own particular grove, and in consequence ancient traditions are naïvely set down by us as caprice or fanciful legend-mongering. In fact, the chasm is so great between the systems, historical though they be both of them, that facts cannot by any key be translated from one mode into the other. It is labour lost to analyse “myths” in legendary and historical elements in order to elicit a “kernel of truth”.
Thus the problem of the structure of the Teutonic clan solves itself. It is waste of labour to seek a rigid system behind the laws, and it is still more useless to search for a universal Germanic system of which the later schemata are variations. The problem is primarily psychological rather than social, the form of the clan depends more on an inner structure than on an outer organisation. All who had the same thoughts and traditions, the same past and the same ambitions possessed one soul and were of one clan. This inner structure must necessarily develop itself into a strong external organism, but the force worked in living bodies of men which were eminently amenable to the plastic touch of circumstances and might take different patterns among different peoples. There is no earthly reason to suppose that the Norwegians and the Danes, the Lombards and the Anglo-Saxons ever had exactly the same social and legal customs.
The clan was a living
whole, now wider, now narrower, varying in accordance
with the strength of the hamingja, and adapting itself
to the moment. It had as its core a body of friends
which could never split up into fragments. This nucleus
was never identical with the family or the father's
house; not only did it comprise the brothers-in-law, but
it extended literally in the breadth as is indicated by
the juxtaposition of sons and brothers' sons in the same
category. Under the stress of the moment, and under
actual political conditions, it might swell out into the
dimensions of a tribe or even a people. Normally the
state was not a hamingja; the clans were held together
by allegiance to a chief, and by membership in a legal
order centred in the law-thing or moot place where
people met several times in the year. This legal
community did not prevent the clans from asserting their
rights severally and from carrying on feuds among
themselves, the law-thing meant only that differences
among the members could be brought before the community
and settled either by sentence or mediation according to
compelling forms. But when the people acted unanimously
- in war, in expeditions, in any common enterprise
whatever - all the individual hamingjas melted into one,
and one frith reigned supreme with one honour through
the entire corporation. At such times killing was murder
Among the Teutons this larger hamingja was generally - though not necessarily — that of the king or chieftain. In war times his luck absorbed the lucks of his followers, and thus his gods and ancestors became the gods and ancestors of the whole people. In history it is not possible to distinguish between the king's clan and the people he led, simply because the two were identical in their relations with foreign bodies.
Without re-birth no eternity — to gauge the fulness of this sentence is a necessary condition for understanding what it means to have life and to die so that none knows one's name.