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CHAPTER III

HONOUR THE SOUL OF THE CLAN

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Without honour, life is impossible, not only worthless, but impossible to maintain. A man cannot live with shame; which in the old sense means far more than now, — the “can not” is equal to “is not able to”. As the life is in the blood, so actually the life is in honour; if the wound be left open, and honour suffered to be constantly oozing out, then follows a pining away, a discomfort rising to despair, that is nothing but the beginning of the death struggle itself.

Humanity itself is dependent on the pulsing in the veins of a frith-honour. Without it, human nature fades away, and in the void there grows a beast nature, which at last takes possession of the whole body. The niding is a wolf-man.

There was no difference. All human life (human life of course did not include slaves and suchlike creatures) was subject to the same necessity. All agreed that shame must be wiped out, honour upheld. And yet, on coming to the question of what constituted shame, what was the honour which it was kinsmen's duty to maintain, there would at once be differences manifest between men. An injury was an injury, and produced the same effect in peasant and chieftain. But men of high birth were more tender on the point, more sensitive than common folk, as for instance in regard to being indirectly slighted. And the people respected their right, or rather their duty to feel so. The difference lay not so much in the fact that they regarded certain things as constituting insult, where baser natures might ignore them, but rather in that their natures were finer, their skin more delicate; they felt an insult where the coarser breed would feel nothing. Still more sharply, perhaps, is the dissimilarity apparent on the positive side of honour. Men of standing were expected to have a keener sense of what was fitting; those of inferior degree might edge their way through life with little lapses here and there, and be none the worse for that. But to formulate the difference correctly, we must enter on a close examination of the nature and contents of honour.

The first part of Egil's saga is built up over the contrast between Thorolf Kveldulfson, the chieftain at Torgar, and the sons of Hilderid, wealthy yeomen, but of no great standing, from Leka. In Thorolf, the saga writer has drawn the northern ideal of a well-to-do freeman: active, courageous, fond of magnificence; affectionate in friendship; true and frank towards those to whom he has promised loyalty, but stiff with those towards whom he feels no obligation. In face of intrigues and calumny he is almost blind, that is to say, he sees but little, and that little he does not care to see. If the king will not be persuaded of his open dealing, he exhibits a nonchalant defiance and obstinacy: when his fiefs are taken from him by the king, he manages to live his life as a man of position, by trading voyages and viking expeditions, answering the king's confiscations by harrying along the shores, and holding on his course undeviatingly full into combat with the king of Norway. Hilderid's sons are named after their mother, and this gives an indication of their story. Their mother, the beautiful but lowborn Hilderid, once found favour in the eyes of the old Bjorgulf; he married her, but the wedding took place in such careless fashion that the family found pretext therein to deprive the late arrivals of their birthright. In vain the young men endeavour to obtain recognition and claim their inheritance from Bard, grandson of Bjorgulf and their coeval kinsman. After Bard's death, Thorolf, having married his widow, becomes the representative of Bjorgulf's inheritance. He, too, scornfully dismisses the “bastards”, offspring of a “ravished woman”. Then they decide to make their way at court; they arouse Harald's suspicions in regard to the splendour of Thorolf's household, and cunningly obtain a transfer of Thorolf's fiefs to themselves, under the pretext that the lands can be made to yield more revenue to the king's coffers; lay the blame on Thorolf when their fine promises fail, and finally bring about the fall of the rebel himself. But the miserable wretches have no time to enjoy their hard-won victory before retribution is upon them. Thorolf's friends take a very thorough vengeance.

Calmly and objectively the saga writer tells these happenings, but through his sober words judgement is passed with surety upon these men. Thorolf could not act otherwise, for he was of high birth; he could serve the king as long as his service brought him nothing but honour, but he could not allow anyone, even a king, to dictate to him how he should spend his honour, how many housecarles he might have about him, how splendidly he might equip himself and his retainers; he could not bow so low as to stand on a level with an accusation, a calumny, and offer his defence; he could see no better than that the king's interference with his affairs was an insult which justified him in taking his own measures accordingly. The king has seized his trading vessel — well and good: “We cannot lack for anything now, since we share goods with King Harald”, and he promptly falls to harrying the coast of Norway. The craftiness of Hilderid's sons, their lies and calumnies, their time-serving and power of accomodation were natural and inevitable traits of character in men descended, on their mother's side, from the sly, wealthy, lowborn Hogni of Leka, who had “raised himself by his own wits”.

The contest between Thorolf and his lowborn brothers-in-law discovers a fundamental principle in Teutonic psychology: high birth and nobility of character mean one and the same thing. But though these words are a fair translation of Teutonic wisdom, the sentence has lost its precise import by being transferred into modern surroundings; the play of colour and shade in the words is changed, because our modern culture sees them in a different light.

When the story is rendered into our tongue, it treats of a hero, who stumbles over his own nobility, whom fate, so to speak, masters by his own virtues; his noble frankness is changed to blinkers that blind him to calumny, his fondness for the straight road becomes a bit in his mouth, his independence a rein he must answer, and thus fate drives him proudly straight on, straight down, to his fall. On the other hand, we have two ignoble strugglers, who, when once the disaster has been sufficiently established, are trodden out on the ground as a sacrifice to justice. One is loth to find oneself giving way to this sort of æsthetic indulgence. But can the reading be otherwise? Our interest in these intriguing parvenus ends, in reality, with their part as villains of the piece.

We are here face to face with an essential difference between “ancient” epic and “modern” reproduction of the conflicts of human life in poetic form. Our epic is based on an arbitrary judgement disguised as morality, or as an idea, or an artistic principle; before ever any of the characters have entered the world, the author's ordering mind has twined their fate, predestined some to being glorified in the idea, and others to glorifying the idea by their downfall. So thoroughly has it become our nature to demand this sense of a poetic providence in, or rather over, the subject matter, that we unconsciously arrange the old poetry accordingly for our enjoyment. We put all the interest on one side of the conflict, and thereby break off what was the point of the story for the original hearers. The ancient poetry knows nothing of a higher point of view, an absolute, predetermined result only worked out in the story to prove it. The balance lies always much nearer the middle between the two parties than our æsthetic and moral sense will allow of. The “moral” does not appear until the collision and reckoning between the two factors. It is often impossible to say on which side the poet's sympathy lies, in a narrative of family feuds, because the interest of the story is not sifted into sympathies and antipathies. Anyone who has read Icelandic sagas with a fairly unprejudiced mind, will again and again have noticed in himself an after-effect of this equilibrium --perhaps with a certain surprise, or even dissatisfaction. The Icelandic sagas are poor, desperately poor, in villains — Njal's saga, sentimentally overdone as it is, may be left out of the question; as a whole, it belongs to another world. But just because the epos gives a contest between men, and not a mere exhibition with its end planned beforehand, the triumph comes still more crushingly and brutally. It follows on a combat, a victory, where the right of the one strikes down the right of the other and shatters it to fragments. However difficult it may be for us to understand; the old poetry was for its hearers a piece of reality, of the same tangible reality as that which took place under their personal participation.

The contrast, then, between Thorolf and Hilderid's sons becomes a real conflict. The character of the former is predetermined by his honour; his nobility sets definite bounds to his freedom of action; he cannot lie, cannot choose a crooked way, cannot be a time-server. If he were to reduce his magnificence and dismiss the half of his retainers, to let them go about telling that Thorolf of Torgar no longer dared to maintain as many men as before, if he would bring his disputes with men of lower rank before a court, with the obligation to submit 'to its decision, if he, trusting in the justice of his cause, would face his petty accusers, humbly offering proofs of his honesty — then he would have fallen away from his nobility and be subject to the condemnation of honour.

The character and behaviour of the two brothers are equally a necessary consequence of their birth, whence it follows, that they have the right to be as they are. They are fighting for their — and their mother's — honour; their actions are dictated solely by a sense of human dignity. They have no other means of achieving their righteous vengeance than the means they employ, and the saga writer cannot deny them the share of appreciation they deserve in face of their high-born, highminded opponent, who from the constitution of his blood, fights and must fight with other weapons. Nevertheless, the saga describing their doings contains a condemnation of the baseness they display. Necessity does not imply justification; on the contrary. They are in the right, but in and by the conflict to which honour forces them they become villains by their right. 

We have here a dilemma which forces us to look far and wide when seeking to estimate a people's honour and its ethics. Our task is not accomplished until we have reached so deep down that this contrast ceases to be a contradiction.

A high-born, high-minded man must show his nobility, not only in the way he deals with an injury, and in care for his behaviour, but also by taking up the affairs of others. A man in difficulties would turn confidently for help to the great man of his district. An Icelander who had lost his son, and 'could not see his way to take vengeance, or win his case at law, by himself, went to the headman of his district and said: “I want your help to gain my right in this matter”, and he gave grounds for his demands as follows: “It touches your honour also, that men of violence should not have their will in these parts.” The headman had then to take up the matter himself. If there was wizardry abroad, then the chieftain must “see to the matter”, otherwise he could ill “hold his honour”. Nay more, apart from having to deal with living miscreants, a man who aspired to leadership over his fellows might be called upon to exorcise a ghost, on the ground that here was a task his honour required him to undertake. The man would be obliged to meet any claim so made on him, and that out of regard to his own weal or woe. An applicant for aid could, if needed, threaten to let himself be cut down where he stood, with consequent dishonour to the man whose door was closed against him.

It touched the chieftain's personal honour, his honour as a man, if he failed to devote all his energies to the fulfilment of such obligations as went with his position. He had not an official honour to spend first; if he failed to live up to his duties as a leader of men, his chieftainship sank at once to nidinghood, without stopping on the way at the stage of ordinary respectability. A man born to chieftainship and looked up to as a chieftain must needs keep open house for all who sought protection. He had no right to enquire into the worthiness of the applicant and his cause; the fact that the man had sought refuge with him was enough to bind his honour in the eyes of the world. If the great man gave up the fugitive, instead of undertaking the intricate and complicated business which a guest of this sort often brought with him, his action would be stamped, not merely as weak, but as dishonourable.

This oneness throughout is a true characteristic of the old honour; it knows no shades of distinction, no more or less vulnerable points, no circles each with its relatively independent life — it is itself throughout, from the very innermost core of manly feeling to the very outermost periphery of a man's social influence. There is not a grain of difference between what a man owes to his ordinary human dignity and what his position as one of high standing adds of further obligations. He cannot, then, throw away his social prestige without perishing morally as well.

A nobleman's reputation is a great, well-grown honour. There lies in the appeal to a man's chieftainship nothing less than an appeal to “honour”, rendered more poignant by the suggestion of a more than common sensitiveness in his particular honour. “Be you every man's niding, if you will not take up my cause”, says the applicant for help, with the same weight as when another says: “Go your way as a niding, if you do not take vengeance”

The word virtue contains in brief a history of culture. It meant in ancient times as much as “to be good enough, to be what one should be”; in Anglo-Saxon, duguth, “virtue”, is a derivative of the verb dugan, “to avail, to be able to”. Virtue in the modern sense presupposes a liberation of moral forces for an æsthetic purpose, so to speak. Against the background of an average morality, which any man can attain, and any may find worth his while, the superior form unfolds its full magnificence. The barbarians know no virtues, because they have no minimum of morality. However high a man may rise above the common level, he never gets beyond his duty; for his duty grows with him. In the Icelandic, we may read of a hospitable yeoman: “He was so gallant a man, such a þegnskaparmaðr, that he gave any free man food as long as he would eat”; but curiously enough, the word here used in his praise, þegnskapr — thaneship — means simply that manly honour, or conscience, invoked by every man on taking oath before a court of law. And just as naturally, without any symbolical extension of the word, the man who can afford to feed his fellows and shuts his store against them is called a food-niding — a niding in regard to food. He was a niding, fully as much as the man who committed perjury. The King was generous —and so men are loud in his praises: he flung the gold about him, one could see from his men and women, with their gold-gleaming arms and breasts, how splendid a king they had; never was born such a king under the sun. But woe to the prince whom generosity forsook. Niggardliness was a sign among other signs that he was nearing his downfall. There is an ill-boding ring in the Beowulf's words about Heremod: “Bloodfierce thoughts grew in Heremod's soul; he gave not rings to his Danes, as was due. Joyless he bided the time when he gathered the harvest of his deeds: long-lasting war in the land.” A mysterious curse brooded over him, withering his will to give: Niding.

These barbarians can admire the extraordinary, as we see already here. Their words of praise leap high in the air. But the very passion of their acclaim has an oppressive effect on us. They raise a cheer for the king, as they would for the sworddancer who comes nearer and nearer to death the wilder and more skilful his dancing; a slip, and he will lie there under a mass of scorn and contempt. Through poems and sagas runs a murmur of applause, expressed or indicated in masterly wise, for the true hero's scorn of death; but anyone who is at all familiar with the spirit of these poems knows also that there is but one contrast to this praise, and feels instinctively what the verdict would have been if the hero had not laughed the pain to death. The poet of the Atlakvida, describing Hogni's defiant scorn when the heart is cut out of him, places the hero's contempt of death in relief by letting the executioners first show his brother the bloody heart of a slave as if it were Hogni's; but “then said Gunnar, king of men: “Here lies the heart of Hjalli the craven, unlike the heart of Hogni the brave; it quivers here, lying on the platter, but half that it quivered in the breast . . . “Here lies the heart of Hogni the brave, unlike the heart of Hjalli the craven; little as it quivers now lying on the platter, it quivered less in Hogni's breast”.” A modern reader is at first moved by the poignancy of the scene, but at a second reading his admiration is likely to give way to a musing wonder at the manner in which the poet points the intrepidity of the hero by contrasting it with the abject fear of a slave. So poor in shades of distinction is the old valuation of men and manhood.

The Germanic morality cannot be arranged in a hierarchy of good qualities. There is not the slightest approach among the Teutons to a system in which one virtue is vaulted above another like a series of heavens. Such an order of precedence presupposes centralisation; all men must be united under the same condemnation before they can be classified. Neither has the Germanic mind any conception of a common moral Gehenna. Strictly speaking, evil, nidinghood, has no reality at all, but must be interpreted as a negative, a total lack of human qualities. Nidinghood is the shadow every “honour” casts according to its nature. Therefore the boundary line between admiration and contempt stands sharply, without transition stages, without any neutral grey. And therefore the boundary lies differently for different people. What makes a man a niding, a criminal and a wretch, depends on what made him a man of honour.

For the man of kingly birth, the limit was set very high. His honour consisted in having at his disposal as many men as his father had had, or more; to be called the greatest, the bravest, the quickest of wit, the most generous, within the horizon that had formed his family's sphere of power. And immediately outside that honour stood the death of a niding. This is the secret thought which sets its mark on all Germanic chieftains, determines their fate and predestines them to a certain way of life, and it has found typical expression in the Icelandic saga's description of that famous family council at Westfold, when Olaf — who later on was called the Saint —declared his intention of claiming Norway.

There are three persons present at the council. On one side of Olaf sits his stepfather, Sigurd Syr, the peasant king. He listens to the impetuous words of the young pretender, following in a long glance the bold plan as it rolls over Norway, measuring the breadth of the road, the hardness of obstacles the enterprise must meet, and asking where are the hands to force it through the narrows. Sigurd cannot but feel that there is more youthful eagerness than foresight in the plan, but he sums up his considerations in these words: “I can well understand that a yeoman king such as I am has his way, and that yours must be another; for when you were yet but half a child you were already full of emulation and would be foremost in all you could... I know now that you are so set upon this that it will be fruitless to argue against it, and little wonder that such counsels should thrust aside all others in the hearts of daring men, when they see Harald's race and kingdom about to fall.” On Olaf's other hand sits the king's mother, Asta. She is now the dutiful wife of the peasant king, but she cannot forget that she is the mother of a descendant of Harald Fairhair. For so many years she has been forced to curb her ambition; now, her son loosens all bonds, and her pride of race stiffens and straightens her. Standing midmost in that honour which Sigurd surveys from without, she finds other words: “It is thus with me, my son, that I am happy in you and would be happiest to see your power the greatest; to that end, I will spare nothing that I can do; but there is little help to be had from me here. Better to be king over all Norway a little while, as Olaf Tryggvason, than live life to its end in easy ways, as can the petty kings here about.” And from the innermost of the race come Olaf's words: “You will not be so far from rising up to avenge this shame upon our kin, but that you will do your utmost to strengthen him who takes the lead in raising it.” Shame upon our kin, that, to the saga writer, is the salient point in Olaf's history. His race had been first in all Norway, and the honour of the family demands that he should maintain this position above all the clans of the country.

Having now considered the highest forms of honour, it is natural then to seek out the lowest degree. What was the scantiest amount of honour men could live on? In a way, the answer is given in the common denominator of what is human as expressed in the laws; we could reckon up a man's value from the sum of those things he was declared justified in seeking reparation for; and indirectly, we have done something of the sort. To arrive at the right proportion, however, we must make the active side of honour somewhat stronger than is directly made out in the formalities of legal paragraphs. The Norse laws, as we have seen, will here and there set a man outside the law for lack of manhood, whether the weakness display itself in his failing to accept a challenge, or in his coming out second best; and they show that it is not a mere phrase of etiquette when a man holds it “better to die than be held a niding for having given way without fight.” In such case, pacifism eats as deeply into its man as does the dishonour he incurs by leaving his brother unavenged. But in ambitious races, or indeed in any healthy stock, honour could not content itself with standing still under cover of a shield — a man could not wait until the test was forced upon him, but must seek out an opportunity of showing himself off. There is a characteristic phrase in Old Norse for a young man who has shown himself a worthy descendant of worthy ancestors; he is said to have vindicated his kinship or, literally, “led himself into his kin”. When Glum the Icelander on his first voyage abroad came to the house of his grandfather Vigfus, and made towards the high seat where his kinsman sat “big and stout, playing with a gold-inlaid spear” to greet him and declare his kinship, he met with a very cool reception; the youth was given a seat at the far end of the lowest bench and had little attention paid him. The young man waited patiently, until one day an opportunity offered of distinguishing himself by killing a man. Then Vigfus suddenly thawed. “Now you have given proof that you are of our kin; I was but waiting until you should lead yourself into your kin by a show of manhood.”

The same expression is used by Earl Hakon to Sigmund Brestison, son of the Faroe chief, when, after the killing of his father, he seeks refuge among his father's friends in Norway. “I will not be sparing of food for you, but you must lead yourself into your kin by your own strength,” by healing the mortal wound dealt to your frith and your honour. When Vigfus uses the word, there is thus something more behind it than the mere manifestation of ability; it means nothing less than entering into frith, the transition from the dangerous shadow-existence to life duly fortified in honour. And the saga is undoubtedly right in letting Vigfus express himself so solemnly.

The Icelanders have a characteristic term for a youth who has not shown that he feels his father's life as his spur and standard. They call him a verrfeðrungr, i. e. one who is worse than his father. The famous explorer Leif commenced his career with the vow that he would not be a verrfeðrungr. And in this lies a suggestion of the point of view for the bringing up of youth. The young man was drawn as early as possible into the common life of honour of the family, and led to feel himself as sharing in its responsibility. And the older members will hardly have lacked effective words wherewith to spur on a dullard. The opening chapters of the Vatsdoela picture how old Ketil Raum went looking at his son, shaking his head in increasing disapproval, until one day he could no longer keep silence, but began moralising: “Young men nowadays behave differently from what was their wont when I was young. Then, they were eager to do something for their own renown, either by going a-viking, or gaining goods and honour elsewhere in dangerous undertakings; but now they care only to sit with their backs to the fire and cool themselves with ale, and there is little manliness or hardihood to be looked for that way. . . . You have certainly nothing much either of strength or height, and the inner part answers no doubt to the outer, so you will hardly come to tread in your fathers' footsteps. In olden time, it was the custom for folk of our sort to go out on warlike expeditions, gaining wealth and honour; and that wealth was not handed down from father to son, — no, they took it with them to the burial mound, wherefore their sons must need find theirs by the same road . . . ." and so on for a long while. Unfortunately, the saga writer here seems to have something of that hectic admiration for the good old days which generally indicates that the good old days are irrevocably past. This goes naturally enough with his showing of old Ketil as something more rhetorically gifted and more inclined to historical moralising than was usual in the chieftains of the ninth century. In the good old days, such a waking up would have been delivered in words less learned, but a great deal sharper. Nor is it probably quite good history when the saga lets a thoroughly romantic robber lie hidden in the woods so near to Ketil's homestead that Thor-stein, the son, can prepare a grand surprise for his father without giving himself away by lengthy and numerous preliminaries.

Later on in the Vatsdoela there is an everyday scene showing how a youth actually claimed his right to recognition, in the days when life had no romantic robbers to offer, but only its own brutal prose. The Vatsdoela clan, represented first and foremost by Thorgrim of Karnsá, is in danger of losing the headmanship of the district, and with it the traditional supremacy of the family. At the assembly convened to elect the headman, Thor-grim sits in the high seat, and in front of him, on the floor among the slave children, is the twelve-year-old Thorkel, his illegitimate son, whom he has never been willing to acknowledge. Thorkel comes up and stands looking at him, and at the axe he carries in his hand. Thorgrim asks whether he finds the axe so much to his liking that he would care to strike a blow with it; there was a man present in whose head it would fit nicely, and “then I should reckon you had yourself won your place among us Vatsdoela folk.” The boy loses no time in fitting the axe as suggested, and Thorgrim keeps his word, seeing that “the lad has led himself into his kin.”

The compiler of the opening chapters of the Vatsdoela is far inferior, both in understanding of the past and in point of art, to the master spirit who reconstructed the family council at Westfold. Fortunately, tradition in Iceland was strong, and it shows willingly through in the tirades of the saga writer. This father, waiting and waiting for some manifestation of his son's true kinship with the old stock, is a genuine figure. He is historically right in demanding that the son shall win his place for himself. There must come a time in the life of every young man when he placed himself among the older members. And the older ones waited, letting example work; but when the proof failed to appear, the youngsters must be given to understand that there was danger in such an intermediate state as that of one who has not yet vindicated his kinship. And when the author lets his hero dwell on the obligation involved by the deeds and ways of one's forefathers, the authority of tradition speaks even through his flowery phrasing.

A curious point of etiquette among the Lombards, noted in Paulus Diaconus, seems also based upon the presumption that the young son of a princely house, before being seized of the privileges that were his due by birth, had to win his place by a certain demonstrative ambition. We read, that when the Lombard prince, Album, had distinguished himself in a battle against the Gepidæ, the warriors earnestly entreated his father to honour him with a seat at the royal table; but the king answered by referring them to the established custom which forbade a king's son to sit at his father's table before he had received arms from the prince of a foreign people. The scenes in the Beowulf appear almost as a pendant to this little story. There, the hero sets out to a foreign court, achieves great things, receives with delight the costly weapons and jewels as his reward, and returns with honour to his ancestral hall, to recount his doings to his kinsman in the high seat and lay his gifts of honour at his feet. And despite the fact that Beowulf, according to the first part of the poem, was already a hero of renown when he made his expedition to the hall of the Danish king, the words that close the description of his youth sound indisputably as if this act of prowess formed a turning-point in the hero's story: “Long he bore with slighting; the youth of the Geats counted him not good; and thus the king of men would not himself account him worthy to a place on the ale-bench; they surely thought that he was without courage, a feeble atheling; but the distress of the brave one was turned about.” And then his kinsman takes the opportunity of making him grants of land: “seven thousand, hall and ruler's seat, both had right by birth to the land, seat and inheritance, but the one before the other; to him, the better man, fell the kingdom.” This can, to my mind, only be taken as indicating that there was in the poet's mind a marked association of ideas between achievements of youth, winning one's place in the family, and taking up one's inheritance.

It is perhaps not unlikely that the Germanic people, like so many others at a corresponding stage of civilization, demanded a proof of manhood in some sort or other, before receiving their youths into the circle of the men. What applies to the sons of princes must also have applied to free men of lower rank. Cassiodorus' epigram: “To the Goths valour makes full age” has perhaps more of truth in it than one is predisposed to think of anything coming from the pen of such a deft phrasemaker.

The games of children reveal the manner in which adults regarded one another; little Thorgils had attained the age of five without having struck down any living thing, and had to steal aside and redden his spear upon a horse, because his companions had decided not to accept as their playfellow anyone who had not shed blood. The men took care that none should enter their company with virgin weapons. Naturally, the baptism of blood takes a prominent place in a community such as the Germanic, where battle and war stand in the foreground as a man's proper trade. The deed of arms, the test of arms is, by the forcefulness wherewith it reveals ambition in a flash, well suited to form a sacrament of initiation; cognomens such as Helgi Hunding's bane, Hygelac Ongentheow's bane compress the whole epic into a name. In the old conception of blood as a powerful dew of life, lie harsh materialism and heroic idealism naturally and inseparably interwoven.

Vengeance for a father slain, or vengeance for a kinsman in the wider sense, was often enough in those unruly times the means whereby youth showed its right to a seat in the home. But to regard honour as solely and exclusively in the sign of slaughter leads after all to a too restricted estimate of life. More was demanded of a well-born youth than merely to be a slayer of men. He claimed his place, and held his place in the family by his generosity, hospitality, helpfulness or readiness to take up the cause of kinsmen and fugitives, by nobility of manner, and magnificence. And eyes were watching from every side to see that he filled his place in every respect. The place he had to fill was the broad, spacious seat which his fathers had judged necessary for themselves. Ancestral ways, ancestral measures constitute the standard; on this point, Ketil Raum speaks as the man of experience. Olaf could find no better way of expressing his sense of duty than by saying: Harald Fairhair's inheritance. And men of lower rank could find no other way of determining what was good for them, than by saying: “Thus our kinsmen of old would never do” — or — “Thus our kinsmen of old were wont to do.”

Family tradition constitutes the entire ethical standard. A fixed line of demarcation, separating evil from good, was not known. There was, of course, a broad average, as among all peoples. The Germanic people knew that certain acts, stealing first and foremost, murder, and some few others, brought dishonour upon a man, whoever the culprit might be; just as they knew that killing was killing, injury injury; but that did not mean that any one keeping himself free from such dishonest acts was to be regarded as an honourable man. His tradition told him what was evil for himself and what was good — this distinction taken in full and complete moral adaptation. To accept blood-money, for instance, was for most people honourable and decent enough; but if one came of a stock that boasted of never having carried its kinsmen in a purse, or always having demanded double fine for a kinsman slain, a breach of such tradition was actual meanness. The constitutional honour of the race could not bear such a departure. The Icelandic verr feðrungr comes gradually to mean a scoundrel, an immoral person, in other words, a niding. This transition has doubtless its deep motives, or may at any rate have such; it stands in complete agreement with the spirit which inspires clan morality. The ethical standard is not based on what is generally applicable to all; the indisputable, that all agree to call right or wrong, is only a crude average formed by the individual “honours” in juxtaposition. Each circle has its own honour, an heirloom, that must be preserved in the very state in which it is handed down, and maintained according to its nature. Honour is the patch of land on which I and mine were born, which we own, and on which we depend; such as it is, broad and rich, well stocked with cattle and corn, or poor and sandy, such is our honour. Honour is a spiritual counterpart of earth and its possession, wherein all cows and sheep, all horses and weapons are represented, and that not as a number, or a value, but in their individuality.

And as the individual items of the property have each their counterpart in honour, so, naturally, are the kinsmen themselves personally represented. Honour forms a mirror, which retains the images of those it has reflected. There stand all the kinsmen, in their finest array and with their finest weapons, and the more costly their armour, the more precious is the honour. There are all the happenings within the family as far back as man's memory can reach; all great deeds, all costly entertainments, every magnificent piece of hospitality —- they stand there, and demand their rights. There too, everything degrading will appear, and woe to him who shall look therein without finding relief for the eye in mighty deeds of restitution. “Woe,” said the Swedish peasants, “to the race that sees one of its own buried without the churchyard wall.” This was the greatest misfortune that could fall upon a house; even when the dead man lay buried outside in unhallowed soil on account of his sins, his kinsmen would not rest until they had bought him a place within the churchyard. And this not alone, or even principally, out of regard to his future rest in peace, but in order not to hand down a shame to posterity. Thus the peasants of the North, even in late centuries, felt kin-shame as an intolerable burden, a thing that had to be lived through again day after day.

Honour is so far from being something ideal and indeterminate, that it can be actually reckoned up and felt. Honour is the property of the family, its influence; it is the history of the race, composed of actual traditions from the nearest generations and of legends of the forefathers.

Honour is the cattle and the ancestors of the clan, because both live just as much in the kinsmen as outside them. Livestock, like weapons and jewels, exists in the kinsman's soul not merely as an item of this or that value; it does not hang on externally by a sense of proprietary interest, but lies embedded in feelings of a far more intense character. The ancestors fill the living; their history is not sensed as a series of events following one on the heels of another; all history lay unfolded in its breadth as a present Now, so that all that had once happened was happening again and again. Every kinsman felt himself as living all that one of his kin had once lived into the world, and he did not merely feel himself as possessing the deeds of old, he renewed them actually in his own doings. Any interference with what had been acquired and handed down, such as raiding and robbery of cattle or property, had to be met with vengeance, because a field of the picture of honour was crushed by the blow. But an openly expressed doubt as to whether that old grandfather really had done what he was said to have done, is just as fatal to life, because it tears something out of his living kin; the taunt touches not only the dead man of old, but still more him who now lives through the former's achievements. The insult is a cut into the man himself, it tears a piece out of his brain, making a hole which is gradually filled with ideas of madness.

By an injury a piece of the soul is torn out, with the thoughts and feelings attaching to it. And the wound produces the same vertigo as a mother feels when robbed of a piece of her soul by the death of her child; a whole portion of her thoughts and feelings becomes superfluous, her instinctive movements become useless; she reaches out at night into the dark, grasping at something, and her hands are filled with emptiness. The void in the soul produces a constant uncertainty, as one might imagine if one's natural adjustment were disturbed, so that the hand misses its mark every time it reaches out for an object. Such a void in the soul wakes fear in its wildest form. If the mother imagine to herself that someone has killed her child, or that she herself has taken its life, or if she fears that the world is about to crumble to pieces, we know that these feelings are only the food with which her head is trying to sate her fear. She must grasp at all sorts of dreadful imaginings to appease for a moment this craving of dread; and there is, from a psychological point of view, no disproportion between her feeling and the thought of the world coming to an end. If the breach is not closed, the soul dies of that intolerable hunger, and her sorrow ends in madness.

This comparison between the clansmen's loss of honour and the mother's loss of her child is exactly to the point, because it illustrates an identical psychological state manifesting itself under different conditions. The bereaved mother is on the point of becoming a niding in the old sense of the word; in fact, she would be a niding in the old days, if she did not obtain restitution; and that which takes place in one whose honour is wounded, is just such a displacement of the entire soul, a spiritual earthquake shattering a man's self-esteem and moral carriage, and rendering him not responsible for his actions, as we should say.

Only in the very extreme cases of our civilization can we find anything that covers the experiences of the ancients. For the innate depravity of shame lies in the fact that spiritual life was then dependent upon a certain number and a certain sort of ideas. Good breeding was a family treasure, possibly not differing greatly to our eyes as regards the different families, but in reality distinctively marked from earliest youth, stamped by traditions, determined by environment, and consequently not easily changed. Personality was far less mobile than now, and was far less capable of recuperation. If a kinsman lost an idea, he could not make good the loss by taking up ideas from the other side; as he is bound to the family circle in which he grew up, so he is dependent upon the soul-constituents fostered in him. The traditions and reminiscences of his people, the enjoyment of ancient heirlooms and family property, the consciousness of purpose, the pride of authority and good repute in the judgement of neighbours found in his circle, make up his world, and there is no spiritual treasury outside on which he can draw for his intellectual and moral life. A man nowadays may be excluded from his family, whether this consist of father, mother, brothers and sisters, or a whole section of society; and he need not perish on that account, because no family, however large, can absorb the entire contents of a reasonably well-equipped human being's soul. He has parts of himself placed about here and there; even nature is in spiritual correspondence with him. But man as a member of a clan has a void about him; it need not mean that his kinsmen lack all wider interest, it does not mean that he is unable to feel himself as member of a larger political and religious community; but these associations are, in the first place, disproportionately weak, so that they cannot assert themselves side by side with frith, and further, they are only participated in through the medium of kinship or frith, so that they can have no independent existence of their own. A man cast off from his kin cannot appeal to nature for comfort, for its dominant attribute is hostility, save in the form where it faces him as inspired by humankind, cultivated and inhabited; and in the broad, fair fields it is only the land of his inheritance that meets him fully and entirely with friendly feelings. It will also be found that in cases where a niding is saved to the world by being received into a new circle, a family or a company of warriors, he does not then proceed by degrees from his former state over to the new; he leaps across a channel, and becomes a new man altogether.

Honour is identical with humanity. Without honour, one cannot be a living being; losing honour, one loses the vital element that makes man a thinking and feeling creature. The niding is empty, and haunted for ever by the all-embracing dread that springs from emptiness. The despairing words of Cain have a bitterness of their own in the Anglo-Saxon, steeped as they are in the Teuton's horror of loneliness: “I dare not look for honour in the world, seeing I have forfeited thy favour, thy love, thy peace.” He goes full of sorrow from his country, and from now onward there is no happiness for him, being without honour and goodwill (árleas). His emptiness means, in a modern phrase, that he has nothing to live for. The pains he is to suffer will cut deeper than before, seeing they are now all heaped up-in himself alone, and they will produce more dangerous wounds,. since there is no medicine to be found against them. Thus it is literally true, that no one can be a human being without being a kinsman, or that kinsman means the same as human being; there is not a grain of metaphor in the words. Frith and honour together constitute the soul. Of these two constituents frith seems to lie deeper. Frith is the base of the soul, honour is all the restless matter above it. But there is no separation between them. The force of honour is the feeling of kinship, and the contents of frith is honour. So it is natural that a wound to honour is felt on one hand as an inner decline, and on the other as a paralysis of love. By the import of honour we learn to know the character of the gladness which kinsmen felt when they sat together by the fire warming themselves in frith.

This interpenetration of frith and honour makes itself apparent, for instance, in the use of the Anglo-Saxon word ár. When an exile comes to a king to sue for ár, the word may be translated by favour or protection; but we must bear in mind that the acceptance by the king, the ár given him by the king, procures for him peace and human dignity. In Christian language, God is the giver of ár, grace, making the lives of men prosper. Ar thus embraces luck and honour and mutual goodwill, and the translator of Old English poetry is constantly brought to a standstill for want of a comprehensive term in his own language. Thus says Hrothgar's queen of her Sons' cousin, Hrothulf: “I know my Hrothulf the happy, know that he will hold the youths in honour (ár), if you, king of the Scyldings, go out of the world before him. I think he will return good to our sons, when he remembers how we gave him ár when he was small, to his joy and his exaltation.” When there was strife between Abraham's and Lot's men, the patriarch's love of peace is expressed by the Anglo-Saxon poet in the following words: “We two are kinsmen, there shall be no strife between us,” and the Englishman adds by way of explanation: “ár dwelt in his mind”.

Insight into the nature of honour opens a way to the understanding of the character of gladness. The sentences which have been quoted, referring to men's living in happiness and honour, when they sit in a circle round the fire with happy, fearless thoughts, have now obtained their full meaning, which cannot be exhausted in modern words.

Honour implies vengeance in ancient society, but honour, as we have seen it up to this, does not elucidate what made the shedding of blood so powerful a medicine for spiritual suffering. Honour contains much which points out beyond the limits here drawn, and which can only find its explanation in a still wider view of the spiritual life of these men.

   

 
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