The Story of Grettir the Strong, by William Morris

Chap. xcv.

How Thorstein Dromund and Spes fared to Rome and died there.

Now they went their ways till they came to Rome-town; and so when they came before him, who was appointed to hear the shrifts of men, they told him well and truly all things even as they had happed, and with what cunning and craft they had joined together in wedlock; therewithal they gave themselves up with great humility to such penance for the amending of their lives as he should lay on them; but because that they themselves had turned their minds to the atoning of their faults, without any urging or anger from the rulers of the church, they were eased of all fines as much as might be, but were bidden gently that they should now and henceforth concern themselves reasonably for their souls' health, and from this time forward live in chastity, since they had gotten them release from all their guilt; and herewith they were deemed to have fared well and wisely.

Then said Spes, "Now, meseems, our matters have gone well and are come to an end, and no unlucky life have we had together; yet maybe fools will do after the pattern of our former life; now therefore let us make such an end to all, that good men also may follow after us and do the like: so let us go bargain with those who are deft in stone-craft; that they make for each of us a cell of stone, that we may thereby atone for what we have done against God."

So Thorstein laid down money for the making of a stone cell for each of them, and for such-like other things as they might need, and might not be without for the keeping of their lives; and then, when the stone work was done, and the time was meet therefor and all things were ready, they departed their worldly fellowship of their own free will, that they might the more enjoy a holy fellowship in another world. And there they abode both in their stone cells, and lived as long as God would have it, and so ended their lives. And most men say that Thorstein Dromund and Spes his wife may be deemed to be folk of the greatest good luck, all things being accounted of; but neither his children or any of his issue have come to Iceland for a tale to be made of them.

Now Sturla the Lawman says so much as that he deems no outlawed man ever to have been so mighty as Grettir the Strong; and thereto he puts forth three reasons —

And first in that he was the wisest of them all; for the longest in outlawry he was of any man, and was never won whiles he was hale.

And again, in that he was the strongest in all the land among men of a like age; and more fitted to lay ghosts and do away with hauntings than any other.

And thirdly, in that he was avenged out in Micklegarth, even as no other man of Iceland has been; and this withal, that Thorstein Dromund, who avenged him, was so lucky a man in his last days.

So here ends the story of Grettir Asmundson, our fellow-countryman. Thank have they who listened thereto; but thank little enow to him who scribbled out the tale.

GOOD PEOPLE, HERE THE WORK HATH END:

MAY ALL FOLK TO THE GOOD GOD WEND!

Notes and Corrections.

P. 29. The genealogy of Gamli of Meals, as here recorded, seems to be peculiar to Grettir's saga. Yet its statements are inconsistent in the matter, for it gives this twofold genealogy of the man. See Ed. Kaupmannahöfn: 1853.

P. 22. Ranveig was the wife of Gamli, the son of Thorald, the son of the Vendlander.

P. 70. And (Thorir of the Pass) sold the land at Meals to Thorhalli, son of Gamli the Widelander. His son was Gamli, who had to wife Ranveig, the daughter of Asmund Greyhaired.

According to 'Landnáma,' this Gamli of Meals, Asmund's son-in-law, was son of Thord, and great-great-grandson of Thorhrolf or Thorolf Fasthaldi (Fastholding), who settled lands on the north coast of Icefirth-deep (Isafjartðardjúp), and farmed at Snowfells (Snaefjöll). We have given Thorhall in our translation in both places as the man's name. Perhaps Thoraldr is nothing but a corruption of Thorólfr fasthaldi; and Thorhalli again a corruption of the first. But Gamli the Vendlander or Widelander, we have no means of identifying.

P. 30. 'Now in those times there were wont to be large fire-halls at the homesteads.' The hall, holl, skáli, stofa, was the principal room in every home. Elda-skáli, or fire-hall, as the one alluded to at Biarg, was so called from its serving as a cooking-hall and a sitting-hall at once. The main features in the construction of a hall were the following: it was generally built from east to west, in an oblong form, having doors either at one or both ends through the south-side wall, where it met the gable end. These two entrances were called carles'-door and queens'-door (karldyrr, kvenndyrr), being respectively for the ingress and egress of men and women. Sometimes the men's-door was adorned with the beaks (brandar) of a hewn-up ship, as was the case with the hall of Thorir of Garth, standing as door-posts on either side. The door led to a front-hall (forkáli, fortofa, and-dyri, framhús), which, sometimes at least, seems to have been portioned off into an inner room (klefi), or bay, and the vestibule proper. In the bay were kept victuals, such as dried fish, flour, and sometimes, no doubt, beer. Within, the hall fell into three main portions: the main hall, or the nave, and the aisles on either side thereof (skot): The plan of the hall was much like that of one of our regular-built churches without chancel, say like a Suffolk church of the fifteenth century, the nave being lighted by a clerestory, and the aisles running the whole way along the nave, and communicating behind the dais. These aisles were used for sleeping-places; so that along the whole length of the hall, and behind the dais, all was partitioned into bedsteads, open or locked — open, that is to say, communicating with the nave by a doorless aperture — locked, that is, shut out of view from the nave (lok-rekkja, lok-hvila).

On the wall between nave and aisles, which was covered with a panelling on its inside at least, were hung the shields and weapons of the chief and his retainers, or home-men. Sometimes it was painted with mythic subjects, and adorned with fantastic carvings; on great occasions it was covered with hangings. Along both side-walls ran a row of seats, called benches (bekkr), the north-most of which, or the one which faced the sun, was called the nobler bench (aeðri bekkr), the south-most one, the less noble bench, (úoeðri bekkr). In the middle of either bench was a seat, called the high seat (öndvegi); that of the nobler bench being occupied by the chief or head of the house, unless he had for his guest a man nobler than himself, in which case the latter took it; that of the less noble bench being allotted to the noblest among the guests. The nobler bench was on ordinary occasions the bench for the chief and the household. The less noble for the guests. In front of the chiefs high-seat were the high-seat-poles which in the early ages of Paganism in the North were objects of much veneration, and must always accompany the chief if he moved his abode, and point out his new homestead, if he fared for it over sea, by the spot where they drifted ashore, as, when land was sighted, they were thrown overboard. In front of the seat-rows just described were placed the tables whereon the meals were put forth. And when the number of people exceeded the capacity of the ordinary benches, a new row of benches was placed in front of the tables, so that there were two rows of benches down along either side of the hall with the tables between them. The last-named rows of benches were called forsoeti; and their occupiers, when seated at table, faced those of the upper and lower bench. In the centre of the hall, if of the fashion, as it probably was in early times, of a fire-hall, was a narrow oblong stone-pavement, probably as long as the rows of the benches, whereon fires were lit for heating of the room, for cooking of food in some cases, and for the purpose of lighting up the hall. The smoke that rose from the burning fuel found its way out through the luffer or louvre, in the middle of the ridge of the roof (ljóri); the reyk-beri, reek-bearer, seems to have been a contrivance for creating draught to carry the smoke out through the ljóri. In that end of the hall which was opposite to the entrance was the cross-bench, dais (pallr), occupied by the women. Here was also a high seat (öndvegi á palli), which was generally taken by the mistress of the house. In our saga it seems that the hall of Sand-heaps made an exception to this general rule, as it apparently had the dais immediately within the doorway.

P. 77 (cpr. 110). It is worth observing here, that Thorvald, son of Asgeir Madpate the younger, dwells at As in Waterdale, about 1013, when Thorgils Makson was slain. When Grettir played, as a youth, on Midfirth-water (or cca. 1010), he dwelt at Asgeirsriver. We mention this because there has been some confusion about the matter. On the slight authority of the Þáttr af Isleifi biskupi', Biskupa Sögur I. 54, it has been maintained that he dwelt at Asgeirsriver even as late as cca. 1035, when his daughter Dalla was wooed by Isleif the Bishop. G. Vigfússon, Safn til Sögu Islands, I. 337. On the other hand, the statement of Hungrvaka that he farmed at As (i.e., at the Ridge), at the time aforesaid, has given rise to the conjecture that thereby must be meant Valdar-As, a farm in Willowdale, near Asgeirsriver, the manor of the Madpate family. G. Vigfússon, in Biskupa Sögur, I. 61, note 2. It seems there is no need of setting aside the clear statement of our saga, that the As was As in Waterdale (see Index), and not Valdarás in Willowdale at all, or that Thorvald had, by 1013, moved up to the neighbouring country-side of Waterdale, and settled among the kin of his great-grandmother.

P. 114, 1. 1. 'The men of Meals,' is a close translation of the original, which, however, is incorrect; for the men of Meals were Grettir's kin-in-law, and natural allies. The saga means the men of Meal, Kormak and his followers, and the original should be either, þeir Mel-menn, or Mels-menn, or þeir Kormakr frá Mel.

P. 129, 1. 10, 11. We have purposely altered the text from: en þú öruggr í einangri, i.e., 'but thou stout in danger,' into: en þó, i.e., 'but stout in danger none-the-less.' The former reading seems barely to give any sense, the last a natural and the required one.

P. 169. Hallmund. Our saga is one among the historic sagas of Iceland which deals with traditions of ancient belief in the spirits of the unknown regions of the land that are interested in the well-being of the mere men who dwell near them. Hallmund and the giant Thorir are the representatives of these powers in our saga. Of these Hallmund is the more interesting of the two, both for his human sympathies, his tragic end, and the poetry ascribed to him. At one time or other he has had a great name in the Icelandic folk-lore among the spirits of the land, the so-called land wights (land-voetir), and there is still existing a poem of ancient type, the refrain of which is closely similar to that of Grettir's song on Hallmund, but which is stated to be by some cave-wight that lived in a deep and gloomy cavern somewhere in Deepfirth, on the north side of Broadfirth. In the so-called Bergbúaþáttr or cave-dweller's tale (Edited by G. Vigfússon in Nordiske Old-skrifter, xxvii., pp. 123-128, and 140-143, Copenhagen, 1860), this song is said to have been heard by two men, who, on their way to church, had lost their road, and were overtaken by the darkness of night, and, in order to escape straying too far out of their way, sought shelter under the lee of a sheer rock which chanced to be on their way. They soon found a mouth of a cave where they knew not that any cave was to be looked for, whereupon one of the wayfarers set up a cross-mark in the door of the cave, and then with his fellow-traveller sat down on two stones at the mouth of the cave, as they did not dare to risk themselves too far in the gloomy abode away from the cross. When the first third part of the night was spent they heard something come along from within the cave doorwards out to them.20 They signed themselves with the sign of the cross, and prayed God's mercy to be on them, for they thought the doings within the deep of the cavern now grew big enough. On looking into the darkness they saw a sight like unto two full-moons, or huge targets, with some monstrous figure (unreadable in the MS.) between them. They thought this was nothing but two eyes, and that nowise narrow of face might he be who bore such torches. Next they heard a chanting of a monstrous kind and in a big voice. A lay there was sung of twelve staves, with the final refrain of each twice repeated.

The poem seems to be a death-song over the cave-kin of the country by the new change of thought brought in by Christianity.

P. 189. 'Grettir lay out that summer on Madderdale-heath, and in sundry places, and at whiles he was at Reek-heath.' A corroboration of the saga has been clearly set forth by the discovery of a Grettir's-lair, in Axefirth-peak, in 1862. True the saga passes over Grettir's doings on these vast eastern wildernesses, but tradition has preserved the name for the place, and it shows by its construction and position that it must have been constructed by one skilled in choosing a good fighting stand, and a good and wide view at the same time. An Icelandic farmer has thus given an accurate and reliable description of Grettir's lair:

'In the summer of 1850, when I came north to Axefirth, I heard talk of a Grettir's lair upon Axefirth-peak. . . . Many who had seen it made a slight matter of it, which brought me to think it must have few peculiarities of antiquarian interest to show. But on the 7th of September, this summer (1862), I went with the rape-ruler Arni Jónsson of Wood-stead to inspect the lair. Walking up to it from the level ground below took us three minutes. The lair stands in the lower part of a slip of stones beneath some sheer rocks between a sandstone rock, called the carline, and the stone slip from the peak. It is built up of stones, straight as a line, and runs, 4-3/4 ells in length, 10 inches broad, and is, within walls, 7/8 of an ell deep. The half of it is deftly covered in with flat stones, the longest of which are 2 ells 9 inches long, and about half an ell in thickness, and a little more in breadth. Small thin fragments of stone are wedged in between these where their junctures do not close tight, and so firmly are they fixed, that without instruments they may not be removed. One stone in the south wall is so large that we deemed it fully the task of from four to six men to move it when loose. The north side wall is beginning to give way, where the room is covered in. On the outside it is overgrown with black scurf and grey moss. The head end we deemed was the one which is turned to the rock and is not covered in, and evidently has been open from the beginning. Here the floor is overgrown with moss, grass, thyme, ferns, crow-foot, and lady's-mantle. In all likelihood the inmate has closed that part of the room in with hides, when needful. On sitting up, all who went to and fro on the road below, must have been within view; not only those who came from the north of Foxplain (Melrakkaslètta) and Nupa-sveit, but also far toward the north he had a view even unto the open sea, nay, even unto Budluga-haven. Looking southwards, he must have seen all who came up from the outer firth; for from the lair there is a clear view even unto Burn-river, past which the high-road goes. A popular tradition says, too, that all who must needs pass this way, when Grettir was in the Peak, had taken at last to going over the top of the Peak, where there was no road, but the sheep-wilds of the Axefirthers. The lair-bider, even if he was set on by an overwhelming force, was not easily won, and least of all a man of such prowess as Grettir, except by shot; for he might at a moment's notice take his stand in the rock above his head, the where one side only gives the chance of an onset, and where there is an ample supply of loose stones, large and small, on the Peak side of the rock to defend oneself; on three sides sheer rocks hem in the position, and those overhead are many times the height of a man's.'

P. 208. Knave-game. Perhaps the truer rendering would have been 'nut-game,' if indeed 'hnet tafl' here stands not for 'hnef-tafl,' as we at first supposed. It is undoubtedly true that among the early games of Iceland the 'hettafl,' 'hnottafl,' was a distinct kind of game, as was also the 'hneftafl,' 'hnefatafl,' knave-game. If we follow the text as it stands, the game that Thorbiorn played is supposed to have borne some resemblance to what is now called in Iceland 'refskák,' fox-play, anglice 'fox and geese,' the aim of which is, by twelve pieces, called lambs, to bring the fox into such a position as to leave him no place to move, whichso way he turns.

P. 240. Pied-belly we call the Ram, although the saga seems to mean that he was called Autumn-belly, which is a name of little, if of any, sense at all. We suppose that haus-mögóttr, p. 169, and haust-magi, p. 184, is one and the same thing, the t having spuriously crept into the text from a scribe's inadvertence.

P. 243 (cpr. 207, 225, 272). 'In such wise Grettir lost his life, &c.' The hardest thing to account for, or to bring to an intelligible issue in Grettir's saga, is the incongruity between the statements as to his age at his death and the number of years of his outlawry, as compared with the truthful account of the events told in the saga itself. From the time when Grettir slew his first man, all the events of the saga may be traced clearly year for year up to his death, and their truthfulness is borne out whensoever they chance to run parallel to events mentioned in other trustworthy sagas, and they fall in with the right time nearly without an exception. But the statement on the page referred to above, that he was fourteen years old when he slew Skeggi, that he was twenty when he dealt with Glam; twenty-five when he fell into outlawry, and forty-four when he was slain, is utterly confuted by the chronology of the saga itself.

These numbers given above are obviously made to fall in with the story in page 225 about the talk of the time of his outlawry at the Thing. The question is stated to have been this: whether he had been a fraction of the twentieth year an outlaw, his friends hoping that in such case a part might count pro toto. But the truth of the matter was that he had neither been an outlaw for a fraction of the twentieth year, nor even for anything like nineteen years. He was outlawed at the Thing held in 1016, his year of outlawry dated from Thing to Thing; this talk befell in 1031, consequently he had been full fifteen years and no fraction of a year in outlawry. The story, therefore, of the twenty years, or nineteen years and a fraction, of outlawry falls utterly to the ground when brought to the test of the actual facts as recorded in the saga.

But, despite of this, it is not to be supposed that this episode at the Thing in 1031 is brought in at random and without any cause. There are two obvious reasons for assigning twenty years to the length of Grettir's outlawry, and for bringing into the tale a discussion on that subject just where it is done. The one we may call the reason of traditional belief, the other the reason of dramatic effect. Grettir was indisputably for all reasons the greatest of Icelandic outlaws, and the fond imagination of his biographers at all times urged them to give the longest endurance to the time of his outlawry above all outlaws, without inquiring closely as to whether it agreed with the saga itself or not. The other, or the dramatic motive, lies in bringing in the discussion on this long outlawry just at this particular Thing of 1031; for it was obviously the teller's object to suggest to the reader the hope of the great outlaw's legal restoration to the cherished society of man just before the falling of the crushing blow, in order to give an enhanced tragic interest to his end, and he undoubtedly succeeds in doing this. To these reasons, besides others less obvious, we imagine this main inconsistency in Grettir's saga is to be ascribed.

Nevertheless, it is worth observing that blunders of scribes may have in a measure been at work here. If we are not mistaken most of the existing MSS. of our saga state that when he fell (p. 243) 'he was one winter short of —var hánum vetri fátt á'— whatever number of years they give as his age. And we venture the suggestion that originally the passage ran thus: var hánum vetri fátt á hálf iv{tugum},21 i.e., he lacked one winter of thirty-five years, when he was slain. If a subsequent scribe committed the easy blunder of dropping I before V, the reading of our original (Edition, 53) would be the natural result, and an offspring of that same blunder would also as easily be the other reading, common to one class of the Grettir MSS.: var hánum vetri fátt í v{tugum} or í hinum v. tug, by dropping the syllable 'hálf.'

If the whole passage on page 243, beginning with the words quoted in the commencement of this note, be not indeed a later interpolation, we believe that all that follows the words, 'till the time when he dealt with Glam, the Thrall,' must, indeed, be taken as an interpolation of later commentators.

Our suggestion recommends itself in this at least, that it brings about full harmony between the statements, here treated of, and the saga itself, for when Grettir left the land in 1011 he was fourteen years of age, and twenty years later, or 1031, he fell. How far his age thus given agrees or not with the decrepitude of his father, who died in 1015, having been apparently already a bedridden man for some time, is a matter of itself, and need not affect the accuracy of our suggestion, which, however, we only put forth as a conjecture, not having within reach the MSS. of Grettir's saga. A critical examination of these might, perhaps, allow of a more positive discourse on this vexed point, which to all commentators on Grettir has hitherto remained an insoluble riddle.

P. 251, 1. 12. The original makes Asdis daughter of Skeggi the Short-handed. This is here corrected agreeably to Landnáma, and other records of her family.

20 Innan eptir, as here rendered, is the reading of the MS. from which Bergbua páttr is edited. Innar eptir, as the aforesaid edition of the tale has it, is wrong.

21 A man of twenty, thirty, forty, &c., is in the Icelandic expressed by the adjective tvítugr, prítugr, fertugr; a man twenty-five, thirty-five, &c., is hálf-prítugr, hálf-fertugr, &c.; the units beyond the tens are expressed by the particle um, a man of twenty-one, thirty-seven, or forty-nine, is said to have einn (i.e., vetr. winter) um = beyond, tvítugt, sjö um þrítugt, níu um fertugt, &c.

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