THE LAY OF ATLI

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THE ELDER EDDAS OF SAEMUND SIGFUSSON.

Translated from the Original Old Norse Text into English BY BENJAMIN THORPE


THE LAY OF ATLI.


Gudrun, Giuki's daughter, avenged her brothers, as is well known. She first killed Atli's sons, and afterwards Atli himself, and burnt the palace with all the household. On these events was this lay composed.


1. Atli sent riding a messenger to Gunnar, a crafty man, Knefrud was his name. To Giuki's courts he came, and to Gunnar's hall, to the seats of state, and the glad potation:

2. There drank the courtiers wine in their Valhall—but the guileful ones silence kept—the Huns' wrath they[101] feared. Then said Knefrud, with chilling voice:—the southern warrior on a high bench sat—

3. "Atli has sent me hither on his errand riding on a bit-griping steed, through the unknown Murkwood, to pray you, Gunnar! that to his bench ye come, with helms of state, Atli's home to visit.

4. "Shields ye there can choose, and smooth-shaven spears, gold-red helms, and of Huns a multitude, silver-gilt saddle-cloths, sarks gory-red, the dart's obstruction, and bit-griping steeds.

5. "The plain he will also give you, the broad Gnitaheid, whistling javelins, and gilded prows, vast treasures, and Danp's towns, with that famed forest, which men the Murkwood call."

6. Gunnar his head then turned, and to Hogni said: "What counselest thou, bold warrior? now suchlike we hear? Of no gold I knew on Gnita's heath, to which we possess not other equal.

7. "Seven halls have we filled with swords, of each of which the hilt is gold. My horse I know the best, and my sword the keenest; my bow adorns my seat, my corslets are of gold, my helm and shield the brightest, brought from the hall of Kiar: mine alone are better than all the Hunnish ones.

8. "What thinkest thou the woman means, by sending us a ring in a wolf's clothing wrapt? I think that she caution enjoins. Wolf's hair I found twined in the red-gold ring: wolfish is the way we on our errand ride."

9. No sons pursuaded Gunnar, nor other kinsman, interpreters nor counsellors, nor those who potent were. Then spake Gunnar, as beseemed a king, great in his mead-hall, from his large soul:

10. "Rise now up, Fiornir! let along the benches pass the golden cups of heroes, from the attendants' hands.

11. "The wolf shall rule the Niflungs' heritage, O bearded sages! if Gunnar perish; black-coated bears earth's fruit tear with their teeth, to the dogs' delight, if Gunnar come not back."

12. Honoured men, weeping led the land's ruler from the Huns' court. Then said Hogni's youthful heir: "Go now, prudent and prosperous, whither your wishes lead."

13. The warriors made their bit-griping steeds over the mountains fly, through the unknown Murkwood. The whole Hunnish forest trembled where'er the warriors rode; over the shrubless, all-green plains they sped.

14. Atli's land they saw, and the high watch-towers; Bikki's people stood on that lofty fortress; the south people's hall was round with benches set, with well-bound bucklers, and white shields, the javelin's obstruction. There Atli drank wine in his Valhall: his guards sat without, Gunnar and his men to watch, lest they there should come with yelling dart, to excite their prince to conflict.

15. Their sister forthwith saw, when the hall they had entered, her brothers both—beer had she little drunken—"Betrayed art thou now, Gunnar! though strong, how wilt thou contend with the Huns' deadly wiles? Go quickly from this hall!

16. "Better hadst thou, Gunnar! in corslet come, than with helm of state, to see the home of Atli; thou in the saddle wouldst have sat whole sun-bright days, and o'er the pallid dead let the Norns weep, the Hunnish shield-maids misery suffer; but Atli himself thou shouldst into the serpent-pen have cast; but now the serpent-pen is for you two reserved."

17. "Sister! 'tis now too late the Niflungs to assemble, long 'tis to seek the aid of men, of valiant heroes, over the rugged fells of Rhine."

18. Then the Burgundians' friends Gunnar seized, in fetters laid, and him fast bound.

19. Hogni hewed down seven, with the keen sword, but the eighth he thrust into the raging fire. So should a valiant man defend himself from foes.

20. Hogni had Gunnar's hands[104] protected. The bold chief they asked, if the Goths' lord would with gold his life redeem?

21. "Hogni's heart in my hand shall lie, cut bloody from the breast of the valiant chief, the king's son, with a dull-edged knife." * * * They the heart cut out from Hialli's breast; on a dish bleeding laid it, and it to Gunnar bare.

23. Then said Gunnar, lord of men: "Here have I the heart of the timid Hialli, unlike the heart of the bold Hogni; for much it trembles as in the dish it lies: it trembled more by half, while in his breast it lay."

24. Hogni laughed, when to his heart they cut the living crest-crasher; no lament uttered he. All bleeding on a dish they laid it, and it to Gunnar bare.

25. Calmly said Gunnar, the warrior Niflung: "Here have I the heart of the bold Hogni, unlike the heart of the timid Hialli; for it little trembles, as in the dish it lies: it trembled less, while in his breast it lay.

26. "So far shalt thou, Atli! be from the eyes of men as thou wilt from the treasures be. In my power alone is all the hidden Niflungs' gold, now that Hogni lives not.

27. "Ever was I wavering, while we both lived; now am I so no longer, as I alone survive. Rhine shall possess men's baleful metal, the mighty stream, the As-known Niflungs' heritage. In the rolling water the choice rings shall glitter, rather than on the hands of the Huns' children shine.

28. "Drive your wheel-chariots, the captive is now in bonds."

29. Atli the mighty, their sister's husband, rode with resounding steeds, with strife-thorns surrounded. Gudrun perceived the heroes' peril, she from tears refrained, on entering the hall of tumult.

30. "So be it with thee, Atli! as towards Gunnar thou hast held the oft-sworn oaths, formerly taken—by the southward verging sun, and by Sigty's hill, the secluded bed of rest, and by Ullr's ring." Yet thence the more did the bit-shaker[106] the treasure's guardian, the warrior chief, drag to death.

31. The living prince then did a host of men into a pen cast down, which was within with serpents over-crawled. But Gunnar there alone a harp in wrathful mood with his hand struck: the strings resounded. So should a daring chief, a ring-dispenser, gold from men withhold.

32. Atli turned his brass-shod[107] steed, his home to revisit, back from the murder. Din was in the court with horses thronged, men's weapon-song, from the heath they were come.

33. Out then went Gudrun, Atli to meet, with a golden cup to do her duty to the king. "Thou canst, O King! joyful in thy hall receive from Gudrun the arms of the departed."

34. The drinking-cups of Atli groaned with wine heavy, when in the hall together the Huns were counted. Long-bearded, bold, the warriors entered.

35. Hastened the bright-faced dame to bear their potions to them, the wondrous lady to the chiefs; and reluctantly to the pallid Atli the festal dainties offered, and uttered words of hate.

36. "Thou, swords' dispenser! hast thy two sons' hearts, slaughter-gory, with honey eaten. I resolved that thou, bold chief! shouldst of a human dish eat at thy feasting, and to the place of honour send it. Henceforth thou wilt not to thy knees call Erp and Eitil, joyous with beer the two: thou wilt not henceforth, see them from thy middle seat, gold-dispersing, javelins shafting, manes clipping, or horses urging."

38. Uproar was on the benches, portentous the cry of men, noise beneath the costly hangings. The children of the Huns wept, all wept save Gudrun, who never wept, or for her bear-fierce brothers, or her dear sons, young, simple, whom she had borne to Atli.

39. Gold scattered the swan-fair dame; with ruddy rings the household gifted. Fate she let ripen, but the bright gold flow. The woman spared not the treasure-houses.

40. Atli incautious had himself drunk weary; weapon he had none, nor was 'gainst Gudrun guarded. Oft had their sport been better, when they lovingly embraced each other before the nobles.

41. With the sword's point she gave the bed of blood to drink with death-bent hand, and the dogs loosed, out at the hall-door drove them, and the lady wakened the household with burning brand. That vengeance she for her brothers took.

42. To fire she then gave all that were therein, and from her brothers' murder were from the dark den[108] returned. The old structures fell, the treasure-houses smoked, the Budlungs' dwelling. Burnt too were the shield-maids within, their lives cut short; in the raging fire they sank.

43. Of this enough is said. No such woman will henceforth arms again bear, to avenge her brothers. That bright woman had to three kings of men the death-doom borne, before she died.

Yet more clearly is this told in "Atlamalum inum Groenlenzkum" (the Groenland lay of Atli).