Saturday, 25 June 2016

Hrolf's Heroes

"'...[Hrolf's] name will be unforgotten while the world stands.'" (Hrolf Kraki's Saga, p. 136)

Will it? People then thought that their kind of society would endure until the world's end. Thus, skalds would continue to recite lays in kings' halls. They do not. However:

novels and films are based on ancient legends;
manuscripts are preserved in libraries;
all information has been digitized.

Thus, scholars and antiquarians will retain access to ancient stories which can always be revived in new popular forms.

A powerful effect is generated when independently famous heroes are brought together into a single team. Hrolf, Bjarki and Svipdag:

"...held long talks about how to widen and strengthen the kingdom and what might be done for its welfare." (p. 180)

Bjarki's Wiki article calls him Bodvar Bjarki but Poul Anderson explains this on p. 183, as also the term, "Bjarkamaal." Anderson lists Hrolf's heroes:

Hjalti the High-Minded (the transformed Hott)
Hromund the Hard
Hrolf the Swift-Coming
Haaki the Bold
Hvatt the High-Born
Agnar and the other berserkers

I might get round to googling these names.

Under Hrolf's peace, farmers, fishermen, merchants and settlers thrive. Trade is in goods, arts, crafts, skills, news, sagas, staves and songs:

" lift the soul out of the narrow paddocks of home." (p. 185)

Hrolf's reign recalls those of Grallon and Hadding. War is followed by peace, not by more war. Years ago, episodes of a British children's TV series ended with a theme song:

"Life and love and happiness
"Are well worth fighting for.
"They're well worth fighting for!"

This was a blatant rationalization of a series that was all about sword fights, not about life, love or happiness. However, Anderson shows us how a strengthened realm could then become a peaceful realm. Hrolf owns land and ships and need not lay heavy scot. He also gets his unruly men to practice games and crafts. This recalls van Rijn on Diomedes. See here.

1 comment:

Sean M. Brooks said...

Kaor, Paul!

But, to paraphrase or quote from Flavius Vegetius' DE RE MILITARI: "If you want peace, prepare for war." That is, peace will need to be DEFENDED--for which you will need to be able to cow or overawe all who might attack you. And that remains as true today as it was in King Hrolf's time.

And I note that King Hrolf still had armed forces, such as the core formed by his heroes, household guards, and then the shire levies.

Nor do I consider OUR times to be peaceful. Wars or civil wars still flames around the world in many locations. And the threat of jihadism from within Islam still threatens the US and other Western nations, as the Orlando massacre makes plain.

And of course there's plain old fashioned aggression from places like Russia or the ambitions China has, which can easily lead to other wars.

No, I don't see anything like Anderson's Solar Commonwealth arising any time soon!