THE GROENLAND LAY OF ATLI
THE ELDER EDDAS OF SAEMUND SIGFUSSON.
Translated from the Original Old Norse Text into English BY BENJAMIN THORPE
THE GROENLAND LAY OF ATLI.
1. Of those misdeeds men have heard tell, when warriors of old a compact made, which by pledges they confirmed, a secret consultation held: terrible it was to them after, and to Giuki's sons likewise, who were betrayed.
2. The warriors' fate ripened, they were death-doomed: ill advised was Atli, though he possessed sagacity: he felled a mighty column, strove hardly against himself; with speed he messengers despatched, that his wife's brothers should come quickly.
3. Wise was the house-dame, prudently she thought; the words in order she had heard, that in secret they had said: the sage lady was at a loss: fain would she help them; they o'er the sea must sail, but she herself could not go.
4. Runes she graved, Vingi them falsified, before he gave them from him; of ill he was the bearer. Then departed Atli's messengers, through the branched firth, for where the bold warriors dwelt.
5. They with beer were cheered, and fires they kindled, naught thought they of guile, when they were come; they the gifts accepted, which the prince sent them, on a column hung them, and of no evil thought.
6. Then came Kostbera, she was Hogni's wife, a woman greatly cautious, and them both greeted. Glad was also Glaumvor, Gunnar's consort, the prudent dame her duty forgot not, she to the guests' need attended.
7. Hogni they home invited, if he would be pleased to go. Treachery was manifest, had they but reflected! Gunnar then promised, if only Hogni would, but Hogni refused what the other proposed.
8. The noble dames bore mead, of many things there was abundance, many horns passed round, until it seemed they had full drunken.
9. The household prepared their couches, as to them seemed best. Cunning was Kostbera, she could runes interpret; she the letters read by the bright fire;—her tongue she had to guard between both her gums—so perverted were they, it was difficult to understand them.
10. To their bed they went, she and Hogni. The gentle lady dreamed, and concealed it not, to the prince wisely said it as soon as she awoke.
11. "From home thou art going, Hogni! give ear to counsel; few are fully prudent: go another time.
12. I have the runes interpreted, which thy sister graved: that fair dame has not this time invited thee. At one thing I wonder most, I cannot even conceive, why so wise a woman so confusedly should grave; for it is so set down as if it intimated death to you both, if you should straightway come. Either she has left out a letter, or others are the cause."
13. "They are," said Hogni, "all suspicious; I have no knowledge of them, nor will I into it inquire, unless we have to make requital. The king will gift us with gleed-red gold. I never fear, though we may hear of terror."
14. "Tottering ye will go, if thitherward ye tend. No kind entertainment there will ye at this time find. Hogni! I have dreamed, I will not conceal it: in an evil hour ye will go, or so at least I fear.
15. "Methought thy coverlet was with fire consumed; that the towering flame rushed through my dwelling."
16. "Here lie linen cloths, which thou hadst little noticed: these will quickly burn where thou the coverlet sawest."
17. "Methought a bear came in, and broke down the columns; and so his talons shook, that we were terror-stricken; by his mouth held many of us, so that we were helpless: there, too, was a din far from little."
18. "A tempest there will be furious and sudden: the white bear thou sawest will be a storm from the east."
19. "Methought an eagle flew herein, all through the house: that will largely concern us. He sprinkled all with blood: from his threats I thought it to be the 'ham' of Atli."
20. "We often slaughter largely, and then red we see: often are oxen meant, when we of eagles dream. Sound is the heart of Atli, dream thou as thou mayest." With this they ended: all speeches have an end.
21. The high-born awoke, there the like befell: Glaumvor had perceived that her dreams were ill-boding, adverse to Gunnar's going to and fro.
22. "Methought a gallows was for thee erected, thou wentest to be hanged, that serpents ate thee, that I inter'd thee living, that the Powers' dissolution came—Divine thou what that portends.
23. "Methought a bloody glave from thy sark was drawn—ill 'tis such a dream to a consort to recount—methought a lance was thrust through thy middle: wolves howled on every side."
24. "Where dogs run they are wont to bark: oft bodes the bay of dogs the flight of javelins."
25. "Methought a river ran herein, through the whole house, that it roared violently, rushed o'er the benches, brake the feet of you brothers twain; nothing the water spared: something will that portend!
26. "Methought dead women in the night came hither; not ill-clad were they: they would choose thee, forthwith invited thee to their seats. I ween thy Disir have forsaken thee."
27. "Too late it is to speak, it is now so resolved; from the journey we shall not shrink, as it is decreed to go: very probable it seems that our lives will be short."
28. When colours were discernible, those on journey bent all rose up: the others fain would stay them. The five journeyed together, of "hus-carls" there were present twice that number—it was ill devised—Snævar and Solar, they were Hogni's sons; Orkning he was named, who them accompanied, a gentle shield-bearer was he, the brother of Hogni's wife.
29. They went fair-appointed, until the firth them parted: ever would their wives have stayed them, they would not be stayed.
30. Glaumvor then spake, Gunnar's consort, Vingi she addressed, as to her seemed fitting: "I know not whether ye will requite us as we would: with treachery came the guest, if aught of ill betide."
31. Then Vingi swore, little spared he himself: "May him the Jotuns have, if towards you he lies! the gallows hold him, if aught against peace he meditates!"
32. Bera took up the word, she of gentle soul: "Sail ye prosperous, and may success attend you: may it be as I pray, and if nothing hinder!"
33. Hogni answered—he to his kin meant well—"Be of good cheer, ye prudent! whatever may befall. Many say the same, though with great difference; for many little care how they depart from home."
34. On each other then they looked before they parted: then, I ween, their fates were severed, and their ways divided.
35. Vigorously they rowed, their bark was well nigh riven; backward bending the waves they beat, ardently plied: their oar-bands were broken, the rowlocks shattered. They made not the vessel fast before they quitted it.
36. A little after—I will the end relate—they saw the mansion stand that Budli had possessed. Loud creaked the latticed gates, when Hogni knocked.
37. Then said Vingi, what he had better not, "Go far from the house, 'tis perilous to enter; I quickly enticed you to perdition; ye shall forthwith be slain. With fair words I prayed your coming, though guile was under them. But just bide here, while a gallows I prepare."
38. Hogni answered—little thought he of yielding, or of aught fearful that was to be proved:—"Think not to frighten us: try that seldom. If one word thou addest, thou wilt thy harm prolong."
39. They rushed on Vingi, and struck him dead, laid on their axes, while life within him throbbed.
40. Atli his men assembled, in their byrnies they issued forth, went prepared so that a fence was between them. Words they bandied, all with rage boiling: "Already had we resolved to take your lives away."
41. "It looks but ill, if ye before have counselled: e'en now ye are unprepared, and we one have felled, smitten to death: one of your host was he."
42. Furious they became, when those words they heard; their fingers they stretched forth, and their bowstrings seized; sharply shot, and with shields themselves protected.
43. In then came the tale of what without was passing; loud before the hall they a thrall heard speak.
44. Then incensed was Gudrun, when the sad news she heard: adorned with necklaces, she tore them all asunder; so hurled the silver, that the rings in shivers flew.
45. Then she went out, not gently moved the doors; went forth, void of fear, and the comers hailed, turned to the Niflungs: that was her last greeting, truth attended it; more words she said:
46. "I sought by symbols to prevent your leaving home,—fate may no one resist—and yet must you come hither." Wisely she asked: might they not be appeased? No one consented, all answered no.
47. Saw then the high-born lady that a hard game they played; a deadly deed she meditated, and her robe dashed aside, a naked falchion seized, and her kinsmen's lives defended: skilful she was in warfare, where her hand she applied.
48. Giuki's daughter caused two warriors to fall; Atli's brother she struck down,—he must henceforth be borne—so she the conflict managed, that she his foot struck off. Another too she smote, so that he never rose, to Hel she sent him: her hand trembled not.
49. A conflict then ensued, which was widely famed, but that excelled all else which Giuki's sons performed. So 'tis said the Niflungs, while yet they lived, with swords maintained the fight, corslets rent, helmets hewed, as their hearts prompted.
50. At morning most they fought, until mid-day had passed; all early morn, and the forenoon, ere the fight was ended, the field flowed with blood, until eighteen had fallen: Bera's two sons, and her brother, had them overcome.
51. Then the fierce Atli spoke, wroth though he was: "'Tis ill to look around; this is long of you. We were thirty warlike thanes, eleven survive: the chasm is too great. We were five brothers, when Budli died; now has Hel the half, two lie slain.
52. "A great affinity I obtained, that I cannot deny, pernicious woman! of which I have no benefit: peace we have seldom had, since thou among us camest. Of kinsmen ye have bereft me, of riches often wronged. To Hel my sister ye have sent; that is to me most bitter."
53. "This thou callest to mind, Atli! but thou so first didst act: my mother thou didst take, and for her treasures murder; my gifted niece with hunger thou didst cause to perish. Laughable to me it seems, when thou sorrows dost recount. The gods are to be thanked, that it goes ill with thee."
54. Jarls! I exhort you the sorrow to augment of that presumptuous woman: I would fain see it. Strive so to do, that Gudrun may lament. Might I but see that in her lot she joys not![Pg 241]
55. Take ye Hogni, and with a knife hack him: cut out his heart: this ye shall do. Gunnar the fierce of soul to a gallows fasten; do the work thoroughly, lure up the serpents.
56. Do as thou listest, glad I will await it; stout I shall prove myself: I have ere now things much harder proved. Ye had a hindrance while unscathed we were: now are we so wounded that our fate thou mayest command.
57. Beiti spake,—he was Atli's steward—Take we Hialli, but Hogni let us save. Let us do half the work; he is death-worthy. As long as he lives a slug he will ever be.
58. Terrified was the kettle-watcher, the place no longer held him: he could be a whiner, he clomb into every nook: their conflict was his bane, as he the penalty must pay; and the day sad, when he must from the swine die, from all good things, which he had enjoyed.
59. Budli's cook they took, and the knife brought towards him. Howled the wretched thrall, ere the point he felt; declared that he had time the gardens to manure, the vilest offices to do, if from death he might escape. Joyful indeed was Hialli, could he but save his life.
60. Hogni all this observed—few so act, as for a slave to intercede, that he may escape!—"Less 'tis, I say, for me to play this game myself. Why shall we here desire to listen to that screaming?"
61. Hands on the good prince they laid. Then was no option for the bold warriors, the sentence longer to delay. Then laughed Hogni; heard the sons of day how he could hold out: torment he well endured!
62. A harp Gunnar took, with his foot-branches touched it. He could so strike it, that women wept, and the men sobbed, who best could hear it. He the noble queen counselled: the rafters burst asunder.
63. There died the noble, as the dawn of day; at the last they caused their deeds to live.
64. Atli thought himself great: over them both he strode, to the sagacious woman told the evil, and bitterly reproached her. "It is now morning, Gudrun! thy loved ones thou hast lost; partly thou art the cause that it has so befallen."
65. Joyful art thou, Atli! slaughter to announce: repentance shall await thee, when thou hast all proved. That heritage shall be left thee—that I can tell thee—that ill shall never from thee go, unless I also die.
66. That I can prevent; another course I see, easier by half: the good we oft reject. With slaves I will console thee, with things most precious, with snow-white silver, as thou thyself mayest desire.
67. Of that there is no hope; I will all reject; atonement I have spurned for smaller injuries. Hard I was ever thought, now will that be aggravated. I every grudge concealed, while Hogni lived.
68. We were both nurtured in one house; many a play we played, and in the wood grew up; Grimhild us adorned with gold and necklaces; for my brothers' death never wilt thou indemnify me, nor ever do what shall to me seem good.
69. Mens' too great power women's lot oppresses; on the knee the hand sinks, if the arms wither; the tree inclines, if its root-fibres are severed. Now, Atli! thou mayest alone over all here command.
70. Most unwise it was, when to this the prince gave credit: the guile was manifest, had he been on his guard. Dissembling then was Gudrun, against her heart she could speak, made herself gay appear, with two shields she played.
71. A banquet she would prepare, her brothers' funeral feast; the same would Atli also for his own do.
72. With this they ended; the banquet was prepared; the feasting was too luxurious. The woman great of heart was stern, she warred on Budli's race; on her spouse she would cruel vengeance wreak.
73. The young ones she enticed, and on a block laid them, the fierce babes were terrified, and wept not, to their mother's bosom crept, asked what she was going to do.
74. "Ask no questions, both I intend to kill; long have I desired to cut short your days."
75. "Slay as thou wilt thy children, no one hinders it; thy rage will have short peace, if thou destroyest us in our blooming years, thou desperate woman!" It fell out accordingly: she cut the throats of both.[Pg 244]
76. Atli oft inquired whither his boys were gone to play, as he nowhere saw them?
77. Over I am resolved to go, and to Atli tell it. Grimhild's daughter will not conceal it from thee. Little glad, Atli! wilt thou be, when all thou learnest; great woe didst thou raise up, when thou my brother slewest.
78. Very seldom have I slept since they fell. Bitterly I threatened thee: now I have reminded thee. "It is now morning," saidst thou: I yet it well remember; and it now is eve, when thou the like shalt learn.
79. Thou thy sons hast lost, as thou least shouldest; know that their skulls thou hast had for beer-cups; thy drink I prepared, I their red blood have shed.
80. I their hearts took, and on a spit staked them, then to thee gave them. I said they were of calves,—it was long of thee alone—thou didst leave none, voraciously didst devour, well didst ply thy teeth.
81. Thy children's fate thou knowest, few a worse awaits. I have my part performed, though in it glory not.
82. Cruel wast thou, Gudrun! who couldst so act, with thy children's blood my drink to mingle. Thou hast destroyed thy offspring, as thou least shouldest; and to myself thou leavest a short interval from ill.
83. I could still desire thyself to slay; rarely too ill it fares with such a prince. Thou hast already perpetrated crimes unexampled among men of frantic cruelty, in this world: now thou hast added what we have just witnessed. A great misdeed hast thou committed, thy death-feast thou hast prepared.
84. On the pile thou shalt be burnt, but first be stoned; then wilt thou have earned what thou hast ever sought.
85. Tell to thyself such griefs early to-morrow: by a fairer death I will pass to another light.
86. In the same hall they sat, exchanged hostile thoughts, bandied words of hate: each was ill at ease.
87. Hate waxed in a Hniflung, a great deed he meditated; to Gudrun he declared that he was Atli's deadly foe.
88. Into her mind came Hogni's treatment; happy she him accounted, if he vengeance wreaked. Then was Atli slain, within a little space; Hogni's son him slew, and Gudrun herself.
89. The bold king spake, roused up from sleep; quickly he felt the wounds, said he no binding needed. "Tell me most truly who has slain Budli's son. I am hardly treated: of life I have no hope."
90. I, Grimhild's daughter, will not from thee hide, that I am the cause that thy life passes away; but partly Hogni's son, that thy wounds make thee faint.
91. To the slaughter thou hast rushed, although it ill beseemed thee; 'tis bad to circumvent a friend, who well confided in thee. Besought I went from home, to woo thee, Gudrun!
92. A widow thou was left, fierce thou wast accounted, which was no falsehood, as we have proved. Hither home thou earnest, us a host of men attended; all was splendid on our journey.
93. Pomp of all kinds was there, of illustrious men, beeves in abundance: largely we enjoyed them. Of all things there was plenty partaken of by many.
94. A marriage gift to my bride I gave, treasures for her acceptance, thralls thrice ten, seven fair female slaves: in such things was honour; silver there was yet more.
95. All seemed to thee as it were naught, while the lands untouched lay, which Budli had left me. So didst thou undermine, dist allow me nothing to receive. Thou didst my mother let often sit weeping: with heart content I found not one of my household after.
96. Now, Atli! thou liest, though of that I little reck. Gentle I seldom was, yet didst thou greatly aggravate it. Young brothers ye fought together, among yourselves contended; to Hel went the half from thy house: all went to ruin that should be for benefit.
97. Brothers and sisters we were three, we thought ourselves invincible: from the land we departed, we followed Sigurd. We roved about, each steered a ship; seeking luck we went, till to the east we came.
98. The chief king we slew, there a land obtained, the "hersar" yielded to us; that manifested fear. We from the forest freed him whom we wished harmless, raised him to prosperity who nothing had possessed.
99. The Hun king died, then suddenly my fortune changed: great was the young wife's grief, the widow's lot was hers. A torment to me it seemed to come living to the house of Atli. A hero had possessed me: sad was that loss!
100. Thou didst never from a contest come, as we had heard, where thou didst gain thy cause, or others overcome; ever wouldst thou give way, and never stand, lettest all pass off quietly, as ill beseemed a king.
101. Gudrun! now thou liest. Little will be bettered the lot of either: we have all suffered. Now act thou, Gudrun! of thy goodness, and for our honour, when I forth am borne.
102. I a ship will buy, and a painted cist; will the winding-sheet well wax, to enwrap thy corpse; will think of every requisite, as if we had each other loved.
103. Atli was now a corpse, lament from his kin arose: the illustrious woman did all she had promised. The wise woman would go to destroy herself; her days were lengthened: she died another time.
104. Happy is every one hereafter who shall give birth to such a daughter famed for deeds, as Giuki begat: ever will live, in every land, their oft-told tale, wherever people shall give ear.