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Full text of "The heroic age"




Cambridge arrfcaeotogtcal antr Oftftnologfral 


The Cambridge Archaeological and Ethnological 
Series is supervised by an Editorial Committee consisting 
of WILLIAM RIDGEWAY, Sc.D., F.B.A., Disney Professor 
of Archaeology, A. C. H ADDON, Sc.D., F.R.S., University 
Reader in Ethnology, M. R. JAMES, Litt.D., F.B.A., 
Provost of Kings College, and C. WALDSTEIN, Litt.D. 

> \ 7^ 

ESjT-4 Sl ^(aOere 

illustrating the Heroic Age of the Teutonic Peoples 

Where the same name occurs both in capitals and italics the former denote a 
position occupied in the early part of the Heroic Age, while the latter 
mark a change or extension of territories. 





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'T^HE type of poetry commonly known as heroic is one 
JL which makes its appearance in various nations and in 
various periods of history. No one can fail to observe that 
certain similar features are to be found in poems of this type 
which are widely separated from one another both in date 
and place of origin. In view of this fact it has seemed worth 
' while to attempt a comparative study of two groups of such 
poems with the object of determining the nature of the resem- 
blances between them and the causes to which they are due. 
Occasional illustrations have been taken from other groups of 
poems belonging to the same type. 

The first part of the book deals with the early heroic 
poetry and traditions of the Teutonic peoples, more especially 
with those stories which were the common property of various 
Teutonic peoples. It is pointed out that these stories all relate 
to a period with definite limits a period for which a consider- 
able amount of information is available from external sources. 
The subjects discussed include the distribution of the stories 
and the relationship between the various versions of them, the 
antiquity of the earliest poems and the conditions under which 
they were produced. Lastly, an attempt has been made to 
estimate the significance of the various elements, historical, 
mythical and fictitious, of which the stories are composed. 

The second part deals with Greek heroic poetry and 
traditions. These relate to a period for which little or no 
external evidence is available; and consequently they present 
many problems, the bearings of which can hardly be estimated 
without reference to the existence of similar phenomena else- 
where. In general I have followed the same plan as in the 


first part, and made use throughout of the results obtained 
there. If some excuse is necessary for dealing with so well 
worn a theme I may plead that, so far as my knowledge goes, 
it has not hitherto been approached from this point of view. 

In the third part attention has been called to the existence 
of a number of somewhat striking characteristics common to 
the two groups of poems and an attempt made to account for 
them. The conclusion to which I have been brought is that 
the resemblances in the poems are due primarily to resem- 
blances in the ages to which they relate and to which they 
ultimately owe their origin. The comparative study of heroic 
poetry therefore involves the comparative study of ' Heroic 
Ages'; and the problems which it presents are essentially 
problems of anthropology. 

In this conclusion I am glad to find myself in agreement 
with Dr Haddon, who suggested to me that a comparative 
study of this kind would be a suitable subject for the Cam- 
bridge Archaeological and Ethnological Series. I take this 
opportunity of thanking him for bringing the matter before 
the Syndics of the University Press and for the interest which 
he has kindly taken in the progress of the work. 

Owing to the pressure of teaching and other duties a con- 
siderable time has unfortunately elapsed since the earlier portions 
of the book were printed. I would therefore respectfully call 
the reader's attention to the list of Addenda at the end, where 
references will be found to several important works which have 
appeared in the meantime. 

In a work, such as this, which deals with records preserved 
in a number of different languages, difficulties necessarily arise 
with regard to the spelling of proper names. In the represen- 
tation of Teutonic names the system adopted in my previous 
books has in general been retained. Any such system is of 
course open to objections, of the cogency of which I am quite 
aware; and consequently I have not felt inclined to carry out 
my scheme with rigid consistency. The same remarks apply 
to the representation of Greek names which will doubtless 
displease many critics. South Slavonic names and words are 
given according to the usual Croatian orthography. 


I cannot attempt here to enumerate the various scholars to 
whose writings I am indebted. It will be seen that they are 
many and that much of what I have had to do is in the nature 
of criticism. One name however, that of Professor Ridgeway, 
I cannot leave unmentioned, since it is largely to his inspiring 
influence by no means through his writings alone that my 
interest in these subjects is due. 

It remains for me to record my obligations to a number 
of friends who have generously responded to my requests 
for information or criticism on various points. In particular 
I must mention Miss A. C. Paues, Mr A. B. Cook, Dr W. H. R. 
Rivers, Mr S. A. Cook, Professor J. W. H. Atkins, Professor A. 
Mawer, Mr E. H. Minns and Mr F. W. Green. Above all I am 
indebted to Mr E. C. Quiggin and Mr F. G. M. Beck, who have 
most kindly read through a considerable part of the book in 
proof and several chapters even in manuscript. It is scarcely 
necessary to add that in the sections dealing with Celtic history 
and poetry Mr Quiggin's criticism has been of the greatest value 
to me. My thanks are due, further, to my pupils, Mr C. A. 
Scutt, of Clare College, and Mr Bruce Dickins, of Magdalene 
College, for similar kind services in the proofs of the later 
chapters. From the staff of the University Library in 
particular I must mention Mr A. Rogers and Mr O. Johnson 
I have received the same unfailing and courteous attention 
as in the past. Lastly, I have to thank the Syndics of the 
University Press for undertaking the publication of the book 
and the staff for the efficient and obliging way in which the 
printing and corrections have been carried out. 

H. M. C. 

December, 1911. 







































INDEX 469 



OF THE TEUTONIC PEOPLES .... To face Title-page 


between 4>b. 288 

ana 200 






THE remains of English poetry which have come down to us 
from times anterior to the Norman conquest are mainly of a 
religious character and deal with the lives of saints or with 
subjects derived from the Bible or ecclesiastical tradition. The 
secular poems are comparatively few in number and, with one 
exception, of inconsiderable length. Most of them are narrative 
poems and admit of a very obvious classification according to- 
the choice of subjects with which they are concerned. One 
group deals with the exploits of English kings and noblemen of 
the tenth century, the other with the exploits and adventures of 
persons who did not belong to this country. We will take the 
second group of poems first, as it is admitted by all authorities to 
be the earlier of the two. 

The longest poem of this class is Beowulf, an epic of 3183 
verses, the subject of which briefly is as follows: Hrothgar, king 
of the Danes, has built a splendid hall, but is unable to enjoy the 
use of it on account of the ravages of a monster named Grendel, 
who attacks the hall by night and devours all whom he finds 
there. Beowulf, a nephew of Hygelac, king of the Geatas, 
hearing of Hrothgar's distress comes to his help and destroys 
first the monster himself and then his mother who had come to 
exact vengeance. He is thanked and rewarded for his exploits 
by Hrothgar, and returns to his own home. After this a long 
period is supposed to elapse. Hygelac has perished in an 
expedition against the Frisians, and his son Heardred has been 
slain by the Swedes. Beowulf has succeeded to the throne and 

c. i 


reigned many years. In his old age he resolves to attack a 
dragon which is ravaging the land, and in spite of the cowardice 
of his followers, of whom all except one forsake him, he 
eventually succeeds in destroying it, though not before he has 
himself received a mortal wound. The poem ends with an 
account of his funeral. 

The action is interrupted a good many times by references 
to incidents in the history of the royal families of the Danes and 
the Geatas, particularly to Hygelac's fatal expedition and to the 
dealings of his family with the Swedish kings Ongentheow, 
Onela and Eadgils. We find also a number of allusions to 
heroes of the past such as Sigemund, Eormenric, Finn and Offa, 
who are known to us from other sources. 

To the same class of poetry belong some fragments dealing 
with the stones of Finn and Waldhere. The fragment relating 
to Finn is very obscure and indeed would be quite unintelligible 
were it not for a passage in Beowulf (vv. 1068 1159) where the 
same story is introduced as the subject of a recitation by 
Hrothgar's minstrel. A certain Hnaef, represented as a vassal 
of Healfdene, Hrothgar's father, was slain in a fortress belonging 
to Finn, king of the Frisians. His followers made so brave a 
defence that Finn was compelled to come to terms with them. 
Subsequently, when an opportunity presented itself they took 
vengeance upon Finn and slew him. The fragment gives an 
account of the fighting which took place, probably in the 
encounter immediately after Hnaefs death. 

The story of Waldhere is well known from German sources 
which we shall have to mention presently. One of the fragments 
is taken up by an altercation between Waldhere and the 
Burgundian king Guthhere, before they begin to fight, while the 
other contains an exhortation to Waldhere by the lady to acquit 
himself bravely. 

Widsith, though not an epic poem itself, refers to a large 
number of the characters which figure in Beowulf, Finn and 
W T aldhere. It is stated that the poet was in the service of a 
certain Eadgils, prince of the Myrgingas, and that in company 
with Ealhhild, apparently a princess of the same family, he 
visited the court of the Gothic king Eormenric. The greater 


part of the poem is taken up with lists of peoples which he 
had visited and of famous princes whom he knew personally or 
by report. 

The elegy of Deor consists of a number of brief notices of 
misfortunes which had befallen various persons, Weland and 
Beaduhild, Geat, Theodric and the subjects of Eormenric. Each 
notice ends with a refrain expressing the belief or hope that the 
poet will be able to survive his misfortunes as they did. At the 
end he says that he had been the bard of the Heodeningas, but 
that his office had been taken away from him and given to a 
skilful minstrel named Heorrenda. 

In a later chapter we shall have to discuss the question when 
these poems were composed. At present it will be enough to 
remark that though the MSS. in which they are preserved date 
only from the tenth or eleventh centuries almost all scholars 
agree that the poems themselves cannot be later than the eighth 
century, while probably the majority would refer their composi- 
tion, in part at least to the seventh. In their present form they 
cannot be earlier than this, for with the exception of the Finn- 
fragment all of them contain Christian allusions. 

The later group of secular narrative poems may best be 
described as historical. The earliest of them celebrates the 
battle of Brunanburh won by Aethelstan in 937 over the 
Scottish king Constantine II and his Scandinavian allies. 
Others describe Edmund's conquest of the Five Boroughs, the 
coronation of Edgar, the glories of his reign, the troubles which 
followed, and lastly the death of Edward the Confessor. The 
longest of all is a detailed account of the disastrous battle 
of Maldon, in which Byrhtnoth, earl of Essex, lost his life. 
All these pieces except the last are found inserted in texts 
of the Saxon Chronicle and all without exception appear to 
have been composed soon after the events which they com- 

In addition to the above there are a number of other short 
poems which are not essentially of a religious character. The 
most important of these are the Wanderer, the Wife's Complaint, 
the Husband's Message and the Ruin to which we may per- 
haps add the first half of the Seafarer. They are probably all of 

i 2 


fairly early date, but they differ from the poems we have been 
discussing in the fact that they contain no proper names. Those 
of them which can be called narrative deal apparently with 
typical characters or situations. A certain amount of magical 
and gnomic poetry has also survived, while metrical riddles are 
numerous, but these need not concern us here. 

It is scarcely open to doubt that a large amount of Anglo- 
Saxon narrative poetry has perished. Several historical poems 
and ballads of the tenth and eleventh centuries, now lost, can be 
traced in texts of the Saxon Chronicle and in Latin works 1 . 
Attempts have been made also to show that narrative poems 
were used by the compilers of the early part of the Chronicle 
and by several Latin histories referring to the same period, but 
the evidence adduced is very doubtful. Perhaps the most likely 
case is the story of Hengest and Horsa, especially in the form in 
which it appears in the Historia Brittonum. On the other hand 
it is probable that parts of the Vitae Duorum Offarum, a 
St Albans work dating from the beginning of the thirteenth 
century, are derived ultimately from poems which described 
Offa's single combat and marriage incidents to which we find 
brief references in Widsith and Beowulf respectively. A similar 
origin may perhaps be claimed for Walter Map's story (De Nugis 
Curialium, II 17) of Gado (Wada). A few corrupt verses of a 
poem on this subject, obviously of late date, have been preserved 
in a Latin homily 2 . 

The earlier and later groups of narrative poems have in 
general 3 the same metrical form and on the whole a very similar 
terminology. The love of battle-scenes is also common to both. 
In other respects however they differ greatly. Here we need 
only notice the entire difference in subject-matter ; the poems of 
" ; the second group contain no allusion to the subjects of the first. 
Much greater changes however, both in form and matter, are 
noticeable when English poetry reappears in the thirteenth and 

fourteenth centuries. The majority of these poems are of French 

1 Cf. Brandl in Paul's Grundriss d. germ. Philol. 1 *, II pp. 1083 ff., 1087 f. 
a Academy, 1896, I 137 ; cf. Brandl, op. cit., p. 1085. 

3 This remark applies more especially to the poems on Brunanburh aad Maldon 
in the later group. 


origin. But even when the scene is laid in England, the subjects 
are usually drawn from written sources which is certainly not 
the case with the historical poems of the tenth century. To the 
subjects of the earlier group of Anglo-Saxon poems there is 
scarcely a reference. 

The period of German literature which corresponds cnrono--' 
logically to the Anglo-Saxon period in England is far inferior to 
the latter in remains of secular narrative poetry. We possess 
only one fragment of a poem somewhat similar to the Finn- 
fragment, preserved in a MS. dating from about 800, and 
one poem of somewhat later date, celebrating a victory of 
Ludwig III, king of the West Franks. To these we may add 
three or four very short metrical charms, similar to the Anglo- 
Saxon magical pieces mentioned above. 

The subject of the first of these poems is as follows : tjilde- 
brand (Hiltibrant) is an old warrior who has left his country with 
Dietrich (Theotrifi) and served with the Huns. On his return 
from exile, thirty years later, he is challenged by a young 
warrior named Hadubrand. In the altercation with which the 
piece opens Hildebrand discovers that his opponent is his own 
son, acquaints him with the fact and tries to dissuade him from 
the combat with offers of rich presents. But the young man 
refuses to believe him, and taunts him with cowardice and guile 
in trying to put him off his guard. Hildebrand is therefore 
obliged to fight, and the fragment comes to an end in the midst 
of the encounter. 

The Ludwigslied is a poem of fifty-nine verses celebrating 
the praises of Ludwig III, with special reference to his victory 
over the Northmen at Saucourt in 88 1, and seems to have been 
composed before the king's death in the following year. It is 
not in the old Teutonic alliterative metre which we find in 
Anglo-Saxon poetry and in the Hildebrandslied, but in the 
later rhyming verse. The religious element is prominent 

There is no doubt that a considerable amount of secular 
narrative poetry once existed in German. Einhard in his Life 
of Charlemagne (cap. 29) states that the emperor collected 
native and very ancient poems in which were related the deeds 


and battles of kings of former times 1 . But during the following 
centuries poetry of this kind seems to have gone entirely out of 
favour among the higher classes. We do indeed find occasional 
references to such poems in later Latin works. In particular the 
Annals of Quedlinburg have incorporated from them a number 
of notices relating to Eormenric, Theodric (Thideric de Berne) 
and other heroes of antiquity. But here it is expressly stated 
that it was among the peasants (rustici) that these poems were 
known. Other Latin chronicles cite lost poems relating to 
persons and events of the tenth century, which may have been 
somewhat similar to the contemporary Anglo-Saxon poems, 
though generally they appear to have been of a less serious 

Some compensation for the loss of early German poetry is 
afforded by the preservation of a few Latin poems, of which the 
most important is Waltharius manu fortis^ composed probably 
about 930 by Ekkehard of St Gall. The subject is the same as 
that of the Anglo-Saxon Waldhere fragments. Waltharius and 
Hiltgund, the son and daughter respectively of two princes in 
Gaul, were betrothed in their childhood, but had to be given up 
as hostages to Attila, king of the Huns. After many years they 
escaped and carried off with them much treasure. Hearing of 
this, King Guntharius, who dwelt at Worms, determined to 
waylay them and set out with twelve warriors, among them 
the brave Hagano who had formerly shared Waltharius' exile. 
Waltharius is overtaken in a defile of the Vosges and slays 
eleven of the warriors in single combat. In his final encounter 
with Hagano and Guntharius all three are crippled, but 
Waltharius is able to make his way home with Hiltgund. There 
are other poems, one of which combines German with Latin in 
each verse, celebrating the deeds of the contemporary Saxon 
emperors and their relatives. 

The second period of German literature, beginning in the 
twelfth century, is incomparably superior to the first in the 

1 Saxo Poeta, who wrote about 890, speaks of uulgaria carmina which celebrated 
Pippinox Carolos Hludoivicos et Theodricos et Carlomannos Hlothariosque (Mon. Germ., 
Script. I 268). But it is usually held that these words are due to a mistaken inference 
from Einhard, whose work he was using. 


amount of secular narrative poetry which it has left behind. 
Here we need only concern ourselves with those poems which 
draw their subjects from ancient native traditions. These are 
mostly anonymous and come from the southern districts, 
especially Austria and Bavaria. Their metrical form is modern 
and similar to that of other poetry of the same period. The 
best known of these poems is the Nibelungenlied, which dates 
from the beginning of the thirteenth century. Only a very brief 
resume of its contents can be given here. 

Siegfried (Sivrif), the son of Siegmund, comes from Xanten 
to Worms and asks for the hand of Kriemhild, the sister of the 
Burgundian king Gunther. He joins Gunther in his campaigns 
and by magical arts enables him to win the amazon Brunhild 
(Priinhilt) for his bride. The two wives quarrel, and Brunhild 
learns from Kriemhild of the part played by Siegfried towards 
her. On hearing this she begins to long for his death, and 
eventually he is murdered at a hunting party by Hagen 
(Hagene), the chief of Gunther's knights. Hagen also deprives 
Kriemhild of Siegfried's treasure (der Nibelunge hort) and sinks it 
in the Rhine. Kriemhild is afterwards married to Etzel, king of 
the Huns and, burning for vengeance, persuades him to invite 
Gunther on a visit, together with his brothers Gernot and 
Giselher and also Hagen. Soon after their arrival she brings 
about a quarrel, and after a huge slaughter on both sides, 
Gunther and Hagen, who have lost all their men, are captured^ 
by Dietrich von Bern, Etzel's vassal. Kriemhild puts them to 
death, violating the oath which she had given to spare them, and 
in anger at this treachery Hildebrand, Dietrich's old retainer, 
slays her. 

Closely connected in subject with the Nibelungenlied is the 
Klage, which describes the funeral of those slain in the fighting 
with Gunther and the lamentation over them. Here too we may 
notice the Seyfridslied, though in the form in which it has come 
down to us it belongs to a much later period. In reality it is 
clearly a combination of two different ballads, both of which 
deal with Siegfried's early years. The first relates how he was 
brought up by a smith and slew a dragon. The second gives 
an account of another similar adventure this time with a fiery 


dragon which had carried off Kriemhild from her father's home. 
Siegfried kills the dragon and at the same time takes possession 
of the treasure of certain dwarfs, the sons of Nybling. 

A number of other medieval poems deal with the adventures 
of Dietrich von Bern and his knights. Alpharts Tod tells the 
story of the young knight Alphart, Hildebrand's nephew, and 
his encounter with two of Ermenrich's warriors named Witege 
and Heime, by the former of whom he was treacherously slain. 
Dietrichs Flucht relates how Ermenrich (Ermrich) was instigated 
by an evil counseller named Sibeche to plot destruction for his 
nephew Dietrich. Though the plot fails, Hildebrand and several 
of Dietrich's other knights are captured and imprisoned, and in 
order to obtain their release Dietrich is forced to go into exile. 
In the Rabenschlacht we are told how Dietrich with the help of 
Etzel set out to recover his inheritance. While he is engaged 
in battle with Ermenrich, his brother Diether and two young 
sons of Etzel are slain by Witege. Dietrich rides after Witege 
to exact vengeance, but Witege disappears in the sea. Virginal 
describes how Dietrich was imprisoned by a giant in a castle 
called Muter and rescued by Hildebrand, Witege, Heime and 
others. Further adventures with giants and dwarfs are related 
in the Eckenlied, Sigenot and Laurin. In the Rosengarten 
Dietrich is made to fight with Siegfried. 

The story of Wolfdietrich and Ortnit has come down to us 
in several different forms, but the outline may be given briefly 
as follows. Wolfdietrich, the son of king Hugdietrich, is kept 
out of his inheritance by his brothers or their guardian Saben on 
the ground of illegitimacy. He betakes himself to a faithful old 
knight, Berchtung of Meran, who raises an army to help him. 
But in the battle that ensues Berchtung and his sons are all 
slain or captured, and Wolfdietrich has to go into exile. He 
then marries the widow of a king named Ortnit and destroys 
the dragon which had killed him. Eventually he succeeds in 
winning his father's kingdom and releasing his faithful followers. 
Some elements of this story appear to have been incorporated 
in the romance of King Rother. 

The story of the poem Kudrun falls naturally into two parts. 
In the first Hetel (Hetele), king of Denmark, hears of Hilde, a 


princess of Ireland and desires to marry her. As her father, the 
fierce Hagen, will not consent, Hetel's warriors Wate, Fruote 
and Horand carry her off. Hagen pursues them to Denmark, 
but in the fight which follows he is nearly killed by Wate. 
Finally a reconciliation takes place and Hilde is allowed to 
marry Hetel. In the second part Hartmuot and Herwig are 
suitors for Kudrun, the daughter of Hetel and Hilde. The 
latter is at length accepted, but Kudrun is carried off by 
Hartmuot and his father Ludwig (Ludewic). A pursuit follows 
and Hetel is killed by Ludwig. Kudrun is kept at Hartmuot's 
home for seven years, harshly treated by his mother Gerlind, 
because she will not consent to become his wife. At last 
Herwig and her brother Ortwin with the warriors Wate, Fruote 
and Horand come and rescue her. Ludwig is killed but 
Hartmuot is spared at Kudrun's intercession. 

In conclusion mention must be made of some fragments of 
a poem dealing with Walther and Hildegund. The subject 
seems to have been identical with that of Ekkehard's Waltharius. 
Reminiscences of other ancient stories are occasionally to be 
found in poems of a romantic character. Among these we may 
note especially the poem Herzog Friedrich von Schwaben, a 
portion of which seems to be derived from the story of Weland. 

The North German dialects have no poetry of this type, 
except a few ballads dating from much later times, of which the 
most important is one on Eormenric's death. But a great mass 
of legend, derived chiefly from North German sources, is pre- 
served in the Norse work ThitSreks Saga af Bern, which dates 
from about the middle of the thirteenth century. The characters 
are for the most part identical with those which figure in the 
High German epics, Dietrich von Bern, Ermenrich, Witege, 
Walther, Siegfried etc. Traces of poems of much earlier date 
have been sought in several Latin chronicles. Besides the 
references in the Annals of Quedlinburg, to which we have 
already alluded, mention may be made of the Saxon stories 
given by Widukind and the Translatio S. Alexandri, especially 
that of the victory over the Thuringian king Irminfrith. 

The vernacular poetry of the Langobardi has entirely 
perished, but a number of stories given by the Latin historians 


are thought to be based on early poems. The first and most 
striking of these is the account of the battle with the Vandals, 
in which the two armies appeal for victory to Wodan and Fria 
respectively 1 . A similar origin has been claimed for several 
other narratives, such as that of Alboin's visit to Turisind, king 
of the Gepidae, and more especially the story of Authari and 
Theudelinda 2 . 

The Gothic historian Jordanes states (cap. 5) that his com- 
patriots were wont to celebrate the deeds of their famous men 
in poetry, and it is probable that many of the legends which he 
gives were ultimately derived from such poems. Among them 
we may include not only the story of Filimer and the migration 
to the Black Sea (cap. 4) in which case ancient poems are 
expressly mentioned but also perhaps that of the first migra- 
tion under Berig (ib.) and some part of the account of Ostrogotha 
(cap. i6f.), as well as the incidental reference to Vidigoia's death 
(cap. 34). In the story of Hermanaricus also several incidents, 
notably the death of Sunilda and the vengeance subsequently 
exacted by her brothers Sarus and Ammius (cap. 24), suggest a 
tradition preserved in poetic form. 

No Scandinavian country except Iceland 3 has preserved any 
/early poems in its native language. The ancient literature of 
Iceland however is peculiarly rich in secular narrative poetry. 
Moreover though the earliest of these poems are probably quite 
two centuries later than Beowulf, they are entirely free from 
Christian influence. Indeed it can hardly be doubted that a 
considerable proportion of them date from heathen times. 

It will be convenient to begin with the collection of poems 
usually known as the Older Edda. These are all anonymous ; 
but most of them are generally believed to belong to the tenth 
century, while a few may really have been composed in Norway 
at a still earlier date. Eleven of these poems deal exclusively, 
or almost exclusively, with gods, giants and other supernatural 

1 Origo Gentis Langobardorum (Mon. Germ., Script. Rerum Langobard., p. 2 f.); 
Paulus Diaconus, Hist. Lang. I 8. 

2 Cf. Kogel, Geschichte d. deutschen Litteratur, I p. 1 1 5 flf. 

3 The poems were not all composed in Iceland. Many of the earliest doubtless 
came from Norway, others perhaps from the British Isles, while others again are 
referred to Greenland. 


beings, and hence stand quite apart from the class of poetry 
with which we are concerned. But since we shall have to refer 
to them occasionally in the following pages it will be convenient 
here to give a brief synopsis of their contents. 

Voluspa is a mythological poem in the form of a speech 
delivered to the god Othin by a sibyl whom he is consulting. 
It deals with the origin of the world, the history of the gods 
and their coming fate. Havamal is a collection of proverbial 
wisdom and moral precepts of the heathen age, with occasional 
references to myth and ritual. VafJ>ru5nismal describes how 
Othin visited the giant Vafj?ru5nir and entered into a contest 
with him in mythological lore. The subject of Grimnismal is a 
visit paid by Othin in disguise to a king named GeirroSr, who 
tortures him. Othin gives a long discourse on mythological 
matters and finally reveals himself, whereupon the king stumbles 
over his sword and dies. Skirnismal relates how Skirnir, the 
servant of the god Frey, was sent to obtain for his master the 
hand of the giantess GerSr, of whom he had become passionately 
enamoured. HarbarftslioS is taken up with an altercation 
between the god Thor and a ferryman called HarbarSr (generally 
supposed to be Othin), who refuses to take him over a strait. 
HymiskviSa gives an account of Thor's adventures when he 
went to visit the giant Hymir. Lokasenna is occupied with a 
number of scandalous charges brought by Loki against various 
gods and goddesses who have been invited to a feast by Aegir. 
ThrymskviSa relates how the giant Thrymr, having obtained 
possession of Thor's hammer, demanded the goddess Freyia as 
his bride, and how Thor came disguised as Freyia and slew the 
giant. Alvissmal is a dialogue between Thor and the dwarf 
Alvi'ss, who is a suitor for his daughter. Thor detains the dwarf 
with questions on the various names of natural objects and 
phenomena until the fatal moment of daybreak. VegtamskviSa 
describes how Othin went to consult a sibyl on the impending 
fate of Balder. 

In addition to these pieces, all of which probably come from 
one collection, there are two semi-mythical poems contained in 
other works. Rfgsmal or Rigsjmla relates how a certain Ri'gr 
(identified in the introduction with the god Heimdallr) became 


the progenitor of the three classes of men the characteristics of 
which are described at length. HyndlulioS is mainly a genea- 
logical poem, narrating how Freyia went to consult the giantess 
Hyndla as to the ancestry of her devotee, Ottarr the son of 
Innsteinn. It contains also some purely mythological matter 
which is generally supposed to have come from a separate poem. 
Here also we may mention two pieces known as Grogaldr and 
Fiolsvinnsmal, which clearly belong together. In the former 
Svipdagr calls up the spirit of Groa, his mother; in the latter 
he comes to the enchanted abode of MengloS and, after many 
questions with the gatekeeper, is at length recognised as her 
destined lover. In much later times we find Swedish and 
Danish versions of the same story, and there can be little doubt 
that it is really a folk-tale. 

The purely mythological poems of the Edda are followed by 
VolundarkviSa, which gives a fairly full account of the story of 
Volundr (Weland). It describes how Volundr and his brothers 
obtained as their wives three swan-maidens, who after eight 
years deserted them. Then Volundr is captured by a king 
named Ni'SuSr, hamstrung and compelled to work as his smith. 
Volundr executes vengeance on the king's sons and daughter 
(BoSvildr) and then flies away. 

The next poem, HelgakvitJa HiorvarSssonar, gives in dialogue 
form a somewhat complicated story of the adventures of a king 
named HiorvarSr and his son Helgi. A different Helgi, the son 
of Sigmundr, is the subject of the two following poems, Helga- 
kviSur Hundingsbana. Both poems relate how the hero over- 
threw a king named Hundingr and how he was afterwards 
summoned by Sigrun, the daughter of Hogni, to save her from 
marriage to a prince named HoSbroddr, whom she detested. 
The first poem ends with Helgi's victory over Hogni and 
HoSbroddr ; but the second goes on to describe how Dagr, the 
son of Hogni, subsequently slew Helgi in revenge for his father. 
Sinfiotli, the son of Sigmundr, figures in both poems, but SigurSr 
is not mentioned. 

The next poem, Gripisspa, probably a late work, gives a 
summary of the adventures of SigurSr, the son of Sigmundr, in 
the form of a dialogue between the hero and his uncle Gripir, 


who is endowed with prophecy. This is followed by three 
pieces which may really be parts of one original poem. The 
first (commonly called Reginsmal) relates how three of the 
gods, Othin, Hoenir and Loki, killed a certain Otr, the son of 
HreiSmarr. Having to pay compensation to the father, Loki 
robbed a dwarf, named Andvari, of his gold. Andvari laid a 
curse on the gold, and HreiSmarr was soon killed by his own 
son Fafnir, who subsequently turned into a serpent 1 . Reginn, 
Fafnir's brother, betook himself to SigurSr and became his 
attendant. The poem then goes on to describe how a certain 
Hnikarr (Othin) guided SigurSr on an expedition he undertook 
against the sons of Hundingr. In the next piece (Fafnismal) 
SigurSr at Reginn's instigation attacks and kills Fafnir. Then, 
finding that Reginn is plotting treachery, he slays him also and 
carries off Fafnir's gold. In the third (Sigrdrifumal) SigurSr 
finds and wakens a maid named Sigrdrifa, a valkyrie who has 
been punished by Othin with an enchanted sleep. She imparts 
to him much magical lore ; but the close of the poem is lost 
owing to a lacuna in the MS. 

Of the following nine poems six SigurSarkviSa I (a frag- 
ment), GuSrunarkviSa I, SigurSarkviSa II (hin skamma), GuSru- 
narkviSa II (kin forna], AtlakviSa and Atlamal deal with 
practically the same events as the Nibelungenlied. But unfor- 
tunately, owing to the lacuna in the MS. several poems at the 
beginning of the series have been lost. Hence in order to obtain 
a full account of the story it is necessary to refer to the Volsunga 
Saga (see below), which used the lost poems as well as the 

The chief variations from the German version of the story 
are as follows : (i) Sigmundr has been killed before the birth of 
SigurSr (Siegfried) by the sons of Hundingr. (ii) The wife of 
SigurSr is called GuSrun, Grimhildr being the name of her mother 
and Giuki that of her father, (iii) Brynhildr is the sister of Atli 
(Etzel). In several authorities 2 she is identified with the valkyrie 

1 Called a dragon (dreki) in Volsunga Saga. 

2 HelreiiS Brynh. (str. 7 ff.) and the prose versions (Skaldsk. 41, Vols. S. 20). It 
is a much debated question whether the two are identified also in Fafnismal, str. 40 ff. 
In Gripisspa they seem clearly to be separated. 


of Sigrdrifumal, and it is stated that she and SigurtSr had ex- 
changed vows of love ; but SigurSr's love was subsequently 
turned to GutSrun through a magic potion given him by Gri'm- 
hildr. (iv) Hogni (Hagen) is the brother of Gunnarr (Gunther); 
and in place of Gernot and Gtselher there is another brother 
named Guthormr. It is the last-named who actually kills 
SigurSr, and he is himself killed by the dying man. Brynhildr 
then puts herself to death and is burned with SigurSr. (v) The 
death of Gunnarr and Hogni is attributed to Atli. GuSrun on the 
other hand warns her brothers of the treachery awaiting them, 
and subsequently avenges their deaths by killing Atli and the 
children he had had by her. 

Interspersed among these poems are three others connected 
with the same story, but dealing with incidents unknown to the 
German version. The HelreiS Brynhildar describes how Bryn- 
hildr on her way to Hell encounters a giantess, to whom she 
tells the story of her life. GuSrunarkviSa III relates how 
GuSrun was accused to Atli of adultery with ThioSrekr, but 
established her innocence by the ordeal. In Oddrunargratr a 
sister of Atli named Oddrun comes to Borgny, the daughter of 
a certain HeiSrekr, to relieve her in her travail, and gives an 
account of the relations between herself, Brynhildr and Gunnarr. 

The last two poems GuSrunarhvot and HamSismal are 
concerned with the story of the attack upon lormunrekr (Her- 
manaricus), to Jordanes' account of which we have already 
alluded (p. 10). Here the story is connected with the preceding 
poems 1 by the fact that Svanhildr (Sunilda) is represented as 
the daughter of GuSrun and SigurSr, while HamSir and Sorli 
(Ammius and Sarus) are said to be the sons of GuSrun and a 
certain lonakr, whom she had married after Atli's death. In 
the first poem GuSrun incites her sons to avenge their sister 
and then bewails her many misfortunes. The second describes 
the actual fighting, preceded however by the account of a quarrel 
in which Erpr, a stepson of GuSrun, is killed by his half- 
brothers. To his death is attributed the fact that lormunrekr, 

1 The death of Svanhildr is mentioned also in SigurftarkviSa II, where it is 
attributed (as in the prose authorities) to the evil counsel of a certain Bikki, an 
adviser of lormunrekr. 


was able to survive the onslaught, though he lost both hands 
and both feet. 

The prose Edda (Skaldskaparmal, cap. 43) contains a poem, 
Grottasongr, which gives the story of two giant maidens who 
had to grind gold and peace for the Danish king Fr6Si. At the 
end there is an allusion to Halfdan and Hrolfr Kraki (see below). 
Besides this we have, both in the prose Edda and elsewhere, a 
number of fragments of poems, some of which refer to SigurSr 
and his family and some to other stories. Among the latter 
mention may be made especially of a poem Biarkamal, which 
celebrated the achievements of the Danish king Hrolfr Kraki 
and the heroism of his retinue in the battle wherein he lost his 
life. In Hervarar Saga large portions of an early poem relating 
to the Goths and Huns have been preserved. 

In addition to the poems enumerated above, all of which are 
anonymous, we have also a number of works by known poets. 
Most of these deal either wholly or in part with contemporary 
persons and events. The earliest date from the ninth century 
and are of Norwegian origin. Probably the oldest of all are the 
fragments of Bragi Boddason, the chief of which is a description 
of his shield (Ragnarsdrapa). From the reign of Harold the 
Fair-haired several poems are known, though nearly all of them 
are in a very fragmentary condition. Among them may be men- 
tioned especially the Ynglingatal of ThioSolfr of Hvin, a genea- 
logical poem which traces the descent of Rognvaldr, a cousin of 
Harold, from the ancient kings of the Swedes and the god Frey. 
Another famous work by the same poet was the Haustlong, 
which dealt with mythological subjects. Next perhaps in 
importance to ThioSolfr was Thorbiorn Hornklofi, from whom 
we have fragments of two poems (Hrafnsmal and Glymdrapa), 
celebrating the exploits of Harold. Somewhat later we hear of 
a poet named GoSSormr Sindri, who is known chiefly from the 
remains of a work (Hakonardrapa) in honour of Haakon I. A 
famous fragment (Eireksmal) by an unknown poet, dating from 
shortly after the middle of the tenth century, celebrates the 
death of King Eirikr BloSox and his reception by Othin in 
Valhalla. From this is copied the Hakonarmal of Eyvindr 
Skaldaspillir, celebrating the death of Haakon I at the battle of. 


Fitje (A.D. 961). The same poet also composed a genealogical 
poem (Haleygiatal) in imitation of Ynglingatal. In it he traced 
the ancestry of Haakon, earl of Lade, who ruled Norway from 
about 975 to 995, back through the kings of Halogaland to 
Othin and SkaSi. 

From this time onwards the cultivation of poetry seems to 
have been almost entirely limited to Icelanders, many of whom 
resided largely at the courts of various Scandinavian kings. 
Among them the most noteworthy and almost the earliest was 
Egill Skallagrimsson, who lived from about 900 to 982. He is 
known chiefly from the HofuSlausn, composed for Eirikr BloSox 
in England, the Arinbiarnardrapa, in honour of his friend 
Arinbiorn, and the Sonatorrek, an elegy over one of his sons. 
Of his younger contemporaries perhaps the best known are 
Kormakr Ogmundarson and Einarr Helgason. The latter is 
famous chiefly for his poem Vellekla, in which he celebrated 
the exploits of Earl Haakon. Many other distinguished poets 
flourished during the following half century down to the time 
of Harold III (HarSraSi) but it is not necessary here to discuss 
their works. 

By the time of Harold III the composition of prose narra- 
tives or sagas (sogur) had already begun to be cultivated by 
Icelanders, though it was not until towards the end of the 
following century that they were first committed to writing. 
Many sagas are based on old narrative poems ; as for instance 
Ynglinga Saga, which is largely a paraphrase and expansion of 
Ynglingatal. Volsunga Saga, which gives the stories of Helgi, 
SigurSr, GuSrun and Svanhildr, is derived mainly from the 
poems of the Edda, though it has used other materials. The 
earlier part, dealing with Sigmundr and his ancestors seems to 
have drawn upon some lost poems. In Sorla Thattr 1 we meet 
with a story found also in the prose Edda (Skaldsk. 50) and 
alluded to in Bragi's Ragnarsdrapa which is clearly connected 
with that of the first part of the German poem Kudrun. Hildr, 
the daughter of Hogni, is carried off in her father's absence by 
his friend HeSinn. They are overtaken and a battle follows, in 
which all the combatants are killed. Hildr by magic spells 

1 P'ornaldar Sogur Norftrlanda, I p. 391 ff. 


rouses the slain each night to renew the battle. In Hr61fs 
Saga Kraka we have an account of the Danish kings Helgi and 
Hroarr, the sons of Halfdan, and of Helgi's son, Hr61fr Kraki, 
which seems to be derived ultimately from old poems like 
Biarkamal. Certain incidents in the story, such as Hrolfr's 
dealings with the Swedish king ASils, are related also in other 
sagas. The same characters figured prominently in Skioldunga 
Saga, of which we have little except an abridged Latin trans- 
lation. This saga also related at length the stories of Haraldr 
Hilditonn, SigurSr Hringr and Ragnarr LoSbrok, parts of which 
are known also from other sources, especially Ragnars Saga 
LoSbrokar and the Thdttr af LoSbrokar sonum. 

Among Latin authorities the most important is the great 
Danish History (Gesta Danorum} of Saxo Grammaticus, which 
dates from the end of the twelfth century and contains metrical 
translations or paraphrases of many old poems. Of these perhaps 
the most noteworthy are the Biarkamal and some of the poems 
attributed to StarkaSr (Starcatherus), particularly those ad- 
dressed to Ingialdr (Ingellus). Here also we find a detailed 
account of the tragic story of HagbarSr and Signy, which is 
very frequently alluded to in Old Norse poetry. HagbarSr 
belonged to a family which was involved in vendetta with the 
Danish king Sigarr. But having fallen in love with Signy, the 
king's daughter, he visited her disguised as a woman an adven- 
ture which ended in his being discovered and condemned to 
death. Signy and all her maidens destroyed themselves when 
he was led to the gallows. Many other stories are given entirely 
in prose, among them those of HeSinn and Hogni, lormunrekr 
and Helgi Hundingsbani, though no mention is made of Sig- 
mundr or SigurSr. The adventures also of Haraldr Hilditonn 
and Ragnarr LoSbrok are related at considerable length. Lastly, 
we may mention a story which is not recorded by any Icelandic 
authority, namely that of the single combat fought by Uffo the 
son of Wermundus. It deserves notice here on account of its 
obvious identity with the English story of Offa. 

In the course of this chapter we have reviewed briefly the 
secular narrative poetry produced by the various Teutonic 
peoples down to the end of the tenth century. In the case of 
c. 2 


works by historical Norwegian and Icelandic poets, owing to 
the abundance of material, we have restricted ourselves to men- 
tioning only the leading names. Elsewhere we have endeavoured 
to give a more or less complete summary. On the other hand, 
among works dating from later than the tenth century, we have 
taken into consideration only those which are concerned with 
stories of ancient times. The stories themselves will be discussed 
in the following chapters. 



IT will not have escaped notice that a large proportion of 
the stories described or alluded to in the preceding chapter are 
found in the literature of more than one nation. The most 
casual reader could not fail to observe the identity of the story 
of SigurSr and GuSrun, as given in the Edda and Volsunga 
Saga, with that of Siegfried and Kriemhild related in the 
Nibelungenlied. Equally obvious is the connection between the 
story of lormunrekr and Svanhildr in the same Scandinavian 
authorities and that of Hermanaricus and Sunilda given by 
Jordanes. A still closer resemblance is furnished by the Anglo- 
Saxon poem Waldhere and the German-Latin Waltharius. 
The connection between the German poem Kudrun and the 
Scandinavian story of HeSinn and Hogni is perhaps less striking, 
but not open to question. The brief references to the story of 
Weland and Beaduhild in the Anglo-Saxon poem Deor are 
quite sufficient to prove its substantial identity with that told in 

In other cases the same characters appear, though the 
incidents related are different. Eormenric (Ermenrich) is a 
prominent figure in Anglo-Saxon and German poetry, as well as 
in Scandinavian and Gothic records. The VVudga and Hama of 
Widsith (Waldhere and Beowulf) and the Theodric of Waldhere 
are clearly identical with the Witege, Heime and Dietrich von 
Bern of the German epics, while Theodric figures also, though 
not prominently, in the Edda. Of all the Edda poems 1 those 
which show the least connection with non-Scandinavian poetry 
are the three HelgakvitSur. Yet Sinfiotli, as well as Sigmundr, 

1 Except of course those which deal only with supernatural beings (p. n f.). 

2 2 


is mentioned in Beowulf (under the form Fitela) and there are 
traces that his name was once known in Germany. 

We may observe that in Beowulf it is only the persons 
mentioned in casual references and in episodes lying outside the 
main action of the story, such as Sigemund, Eormenric, Kama 
and Weland, to whom we find allusions in German poetry. On 
the other hand most of the chief characters of the poem are well 
known from Scandinavian records, though not in connection 
with precisely the same incidents. There is no doubt as to the 
identity of the Danish kings Healfdene, his sons Hrothgar and 
Halga, and Hrothwulf the nephew and colleague of Hrothgar, 
with Halfdan, his sons Hroarr and Helgi and Helgi's son, the 
famous Hrolfr Kraki all likewise kings of the Danes. Equally 
obvious is the identity of the Swedish prince Eadgils the son of 
Ohthere with ASils the son of Ottarr in Ynglingatal, while his 
uncle and opponent Onela is clearly the same person as ASils' 
opponent Ali, although the latter is represented as a Norwegian 
in Old Norse literature. Further, the episode in which Ingeld is 
incited by an old warrior to avenge his father Froda is evidently 
to be connected with certain poems given by Saxo, in which the 
old warrior Starcatherus rouses Ingellus to avenge his father 
Frotho. Among other persons mentioned in the poem Scyld is 
doubtless to be identified with the Skioldr of Scandinavian 
tradition ; probably also Heremod with the HermoSr of Hynd- 
lulioS and Weoxtan with the Vesteinn of the Kalfsvisa 1 . To the 
identification of Beowulf himself with the Biarki of Scandinavian 
tradition, which is doubted by some scholars, we shall have to 
U return later. 

The characters of the Finn fragment are much less easy to 
trace elsewhere. Two of Hnaefs warriors named Ordlaf and 
Guthlaf are probably to be identified with two Danish princes, 
Oddlevus and Gunnlevus, mentioned in Skioldunga Saga ; but 
there is nothing to show that Sigeferth is identical with SigurtSr 
the son of Sigmundr. In Widsith however we find a large number 
of persons who are well known from Continental and Scandinavian 
authorities. Besides Eormenric, Wudga, Kama, Offa, Hrothgar, 
Hrothwulf and Ingeld, of whom we have already spoken, 

1 Quoted in the prose Edda (Skaldskaparmal, cap. 66). 


we hear of Aetla, king of the Huns (Atli, Etzel), Guthhere and 
Gifeca, kings of the Burgundians (i.e. the Gunnarr and Giuki of 
the Edda), and Sigehere, king of the Danes (i.e. probably Sigarr, 
the father of Signy), as well as the Goths Eastgota the father of 
Unwine (i.e. Jordanes' Ostrogotha the father of Hunwil), Becca 
(probably Bikki, the evil counsellor of lormunrekr) and the 
Herelingas, Emerca and Fridla, who are doubtless to be identified 
with the Embrica and Fritla, nephews of Eormenric, mentioned 
in the Annals of Quedlinburg and elsewhere. It is more than 
probable also that in v. 21 : " Hagena ruled the Holmryge and 
Heoden (MS. Henden) the Glommas," we have an allusion to the 
story of HeSinn and Hogni (the Hetel and Hagen of Kudrun). 
We may compare a passage of Deor (v. 35 ff.) which tells of 
a skilful minstrel of the Heodeningas named Heorrenda, pre- 
sumably the Horand of the German poem. 

These instances, though far from exhaustive, will be sufficient 
to show that the same characters recur again and again in the 
early narrative poetry of the various Teutonic peoples. In the 
last nineteen poems of the Older Edda (viz. those which deal 
with human beings) there is but one (HelgakviSa HiorvarSssonar) 
which introduces no characters known elsewhere. Among the 
early Anglo-Saxon poems treated on p. I ff. we find no such 
case, and the same is probably true of the German poems 
discussed on pp. 5, 7 ff. With the later Anglo-Saxon poems 
(p. 3) and the German historical poems of the ninth and 
following centuries the case is quite otherwise. The exploits of 
Aethelstan and Byrhtnoth are celebrated only in English poems, 
those of Ludwig III and other German princes only in the 
poetry of their own country. So also with the skaldic poems 
of the North. If these introduce any personal names known 
in the poetry of England or Germany they are names, like 
Sigmundr and HermoSr, derived from earlier poems and not 
belonging to contemporary persons. Similarly neither English 
nor German poetry celebrates the deeds of Eirfkr BloSox or 
Haakon the Good. 

The phenomena noted above seem to indicate that the poetic 
cycles with which we have been dealing have a common origin 
or at least that there was a considerable amount of borrowing 


between poets of different nations. In order however to be 
able to form an opinion on this point it is necessary first to 
consider the following questions : (i) how far the characters and 
incidents of these poems are to be regarded as historical, (ii) to 
what period or periods of history they belong. We may note in 
passing that no doubt need be entertained as to the historical basis 
of the later group of Anglo-Saxon poems, of German poems such 
as the Ludwigslied or of the Northern skaldic poems however 
much the true facts may be obscured by poetic embellishments. 
It is clear enough that some of the characters of the common 
cycles are historical persons. Thus there can be no doubt that 
Aetla (Atli, Etzel), king of the Huns, is the famous Hunnish king 
Attila who died in 453. Again the Burgundian king Guthhere 
(Gunnarr, Gunther), who plays so prominent a part in the stories 
of Waldhere and SigurSr-Siegfried, is clearly identical with the 
historical Burgundian king Gundicarius (Gundaharius), whose 
defeat in 435 by the Roman general Aetius is recorded by con- 
temporary writers. Of his end Prosper says only that the Huns 
destroyed him together with his family and nation 1 , and some 
scholars have denied that Attila had any part in this event 2 . But 
our knowledge of the course of events on or beyond the Roman 
frontier at this period is too slight to justify any confident state- 
ment on such a point. Of the other members of the Burgundian 
royal family Gifeca (Giuki) and Gislhere (Giselher) are mentioned 
in the laws of King Gundobad who died in the year 5i6 3 . 

1 Theodosio xv et Valentiniano IV coss. (A.D. 435) : pax fact a ctim Vandalis... 
eodem tempore Gundicarium Burgundionum regem intra Gallias habitantem Aetius 
bello obtriuit, pacemque ei siipplicanti dedit, qua non diu potitus est. siquidem ilium 
Hunni cum populo atque stirpe sua deleuerunt. 

2 The overthrow of Guthhere is ascribed to Attila by Paulus Diaconus in his 
Gesta episc. Mettensium (Mon. Germ., Scr. II p. 262), Hist. Misc. xiv (Muratori, Scr. I 
p. 97) ; but he is a late authority. On the other hand an anonymous Gaulish chronicle, 
which ends in the year 452, attributes the whole of the Burgundian disasters to Aetius : 
bellum contra Burgundionum gentem memorabile exarsit quo uniiiersa pene gens cum 
rege per Aetium deleta (Mon. Germ., Chron. Min. I 660). But this seems to be due to 
the confusion of two events which Prosper clearly distinguishes (cf. Idatius, Chron., 
Theodosii ann. xii, xin). 

3 Liber Legum Gundebati, cap. 3 (Mon. Germ., Leg., Vol. ill p. 533): si quos 
apud regiae memoriae auctores nostros, id est Gebicam, Godomarem, Gislaharium^ 
Gundaharium, patrem quoque nostrum et patruum, liberos liberasue fuisse constiterit, 
in eadem libertate permaneant. 


The Gothic king Eormenric (Hermanaricus, lormunrekr) is 
another doubtless historical character. The account of him 
given by Jordanes seems indeed to be derived from tradition, 
handed down probably in poetic form ; but the statement that 
he took his own life through fear of the Huns is confirmed 
by the strictly contemporary writer Ammianus Marcellinus 
(xxxi. 3. i), from whom we gather that the event took place 
shortly after 370. He also states that Eormenric was a most 
warlike king and feared by the surrounding nations on account 
of his many brave deeds. 

In Dietrich von Bern (the Theodric of Waldhere and the 
ThioSrekr of the Edda) we certainly have reminiscences of the 
Ostrogothic king Theodoric who ruled Italy from 489 to 526. 
The statement in the Hildebrandslied that he fled from the 
hostility of Ottachar and the story of the Rabenschlacht recall 
his campaigns with Odoacer, which culminated in the surrender 
of Ravenna in 493. But it cannot possibly be true that he was 
present at Attila's court, where we find him in the Edda and 
in German poetry, much less that he had any dealings with 
Eormenric. The former mistake is generally attributed to 
confusion between Dietrich and his father Dietmar (Thiudemer), 
who is known to have been with Attila. The other error 
however is more difficult to account for and will require to be 
discussed later. 

It is commonly held that in the poems dealing with 
Wolfdietrich 1 the hero and his father Hugdietrich represent a 
confusion of the Prankish kings Theodberht (r. 534 548) and 
his father Theodric I (r. 511 534). In this case however it 
must be confessed that the resemblances are extremely slight. 
The application of the name Hugo Theodoricus to Theodric I 
in the Annals of Quedlinburg cannot at best prove more than that 
the chronicler identified the two. 

The identification of characters which figure in stories 
relating to the northern kingdoms is naturally more difficult, 
since references to such persons by contemporary Roman 

1 This cycle is supposed to have been known in England at one time, owing to 
the juxtaposition of the names Seafola (Saben) and Theodric in Widsith, v. 115. 
Theodric, king of the Franks, is mentioned in the same poem (v. -24). 


historians are extremely rare. One safe instance however is 
furnished by the incident, referred to several times in Beowulf, of 
Hygelac's disastrous expedition against the Franks and Frisians. 
Gregory of Tours (ill 3) and the Gesta Francorum (cap. 19) 
mention a very serious raid on the lower Rhine by a king of the 
Danes named Chocilaicus, which ended in his defeat and death 
through the arrival of an army under Theodberht. The Liber 
Monstrorum (I, cap. 3 1 ), a work of perhaps the seventh century, 
states that the bones of a certain Getarum rex Huiglaucus, who 
had been slain by the Franks, were preserved on an island at the 
mouth of the Rhine. There can be no question that the person 
referred to in these passages is the Hygelac of Beowulf. The 
date of the expedition, though not precisely fixed by any 
authority, may safely be placed within a few years of 520. 

Most of the Danish and Swedish princes common to Beowulf 
and the Northern authorities are now generally regarded as 
historical characters, though we have no reference to them in 
contemporary documents. It is to be noted in the first place 
that though the persons themselves are common to the two 
traditions, English and Northern, they are not as a rule 
mentioned in connection with the same incidents. Further, 
there is no evidence for communication between England and 
the Baltic during the seventh and eighth centuries. This renders 
it probable that the two records go back independently to a 
time at which persons who remembered Hygelac's younger 
contemporaries might still be alive. 

Lastly a few words must be said with regard to the stories of 
Haraldr Hilditohn, SigurtSr Hringr and Ragnarr LoSbrok. The 
sons of LoSbrok are well known from contemporary historical 
documents through their piratical expeditions, more especially 
the great invasion of England in 866. Moreover, though 
the references to Lotforok himself are rare and doubtful, 
it is clear enough that the king Ella who is said to have put 
him to death was the Northumbrian usurper Aella, who reigned 
from 863 to 867. LoSbrok's father SigurSr Hringr has been 
identified with a certain Sigifridus whose conflict with another 
Danish king named Anulo is recorded in a number of Latin 

1 Cf. Berger de Xivrey, Traditions Ttratologiques, p. 12. 


chronicles under the year 812, and Anulo himself with that 
OH who is represented as Sigurftr's ally at the battle of Bravik. 
Lastly, it has been suggested that a reference to Haraldr 
Hilditonn may quite possibly be preserved in the description of 
Anulo as nepos Herioldi quondam regis^- ; for according to Saxo 
(p. 250) 6li was the son of Haraldr's sister and eventually 
succeeded him on the Danish throne. 

The above identifications 2 are sufficient to show that historical 
characters are introduced into most of the stories with which 
we have been dealing. Further and this is a very remarkable 
fact apart from the last cycles embracing Haraldr Hilditonn 
and Ragnarr LoSbrok, which are entirely confined to Northern 
literature, all the historical personages whom we have been able 
to identify belong to a period extending over barely two 
centuries. Eormenric flourished in the latter half of the fourth 
century, Attila and the Burgundian kings in the first half of the 
fifth ; Theodric towards the end of the same century and in the 
first quarter of the sixth. Hygelac again was a contemporary 
of Theodric ; while Wolfdietrich, if he is rightly identified with 
Theodberht, died in 548. In the stories which form the common 
thgmgs, Qf p n gl r German and Scandinavian poets we find no 
mention of historical persons who lived after the middle of the 
sixth century. 

Now it will be clear that the cycles of stones dealing with 
Ragnarr LoSbrok and his ancestors are really, like the skaldic 
poems, to be compared with German and English works such 
as the Ludwigslied and the poem on the battle of Brunanburh. 
The difference in tone is sufficiently accounted for by the social 
conditions of the Viking Age, which were wholly different from 
those which prevailed in the Christian kingdoms. 

The statement that the common cycles of tradition mention 
no historical characters later than about 550 ought perhaps to be 
qualified in one case. Paulus Diaconus (Hist. Lang. I 27) says 

1 Einhardi Ann., 812 (Mon. Germ., Scr. I p. 199). Prof. Olrik (Nordisches 
Geistesleben, p. 44) apparently rejects this identification, as he places Haraldr 
Hilditonn not long after the time of Hrolfr Kraki. 

2 The list makes ro claim to completeness. Thus several of the characters in 
Hervarar Saga (probibly mentioned also in Widsith, v. n6ff.) have been identified 
with historical persons of the fifth century. But the evidence is far from satisfactory. 


that the praises of Alboin, king of the Langobardi, who died in 
572 (or 573), were sung by the Saxons, Bavarians and other 
peoples; and it has been suggested that his account of certain 
incidents in Alboin's career is derived from poetic sources. 
Further, we find the generosity of the same king celebrated in 
the Anglo-Saxon poem Widsith, where he is apparently the 
latest person mentioned. Hence there is some ground for 
including him among the characters of common Teutonic 
poetry which will involve our extending the lower of the 
chronological limits fixed above by about twenty years. Yet it 
is not clear that Alboin figured in any poems which can properly 
be called narrative, except perhaps among his own people- 

On the other hand some of the Gothic heroes recorded by 
Jordanes, if we are to trust his chronology at all, must be referred 
to times long anterior to the middle of the fourth century. 
Apart from Gothic tradition the only mention of any of these 
persons occurs in a brief passage in Widsith (v. 113 f.): "(I have 
visited) Eastgota, the wise and good father of Unwine." Now 
Ostrogotha is brought by Jordanes into connection with the 
Emperor Philip (v. 244 249). He is mentioned also by Cassio- 
dorus ( Var. XL i) as one of the ancestors of Amalasuintha and 
as a prince renowned for forbearance (patuntia). In spite of his 
suspicious name what is said of him by Jordanes seems to 
point to a genuine tradition. But if so, even setting aside both 
the reference to Philip and the genealogy given by Jordanes in 
cap. 5, he is probably to be referred to a time anterior to the 
upper limit fixed above. Into the story of Filimer and the 
migration we need not enter, as there is no reason for supposing 
it to be anything but a purely Gothic tradition. The story of 
the Langobardic victory over the Vandals (cf. p. 10) is probably 
of a similar character. 

There remain of course a number of stories which contain 
/ no names of persons mentioned in contemporary records. The 
story of Finn is in Beowulf connected, rather loosely, with 
Healfdene, Hrothgar's father. Hence jf the incidents which it 
relates are to be regarded as historical, they must be dated 
somewhat earlier, though certainly not morevthan a century 
earlier, than Hygelac's expedition. The story (of Offa and his 


father Wermund must be referred to a still earlier period if we 
are to trust the evidence of the Mercian genealogy in which 
these persons figure. I have tried elsewhere 1 to show that the 
Athislus, who in Saxo's version of the story appears as Wer- 
mund's enemy, is probably to be identified with the Eadgils 
prince of the Myrgingas mentioned in Widsith. The latter is 
represented as the contemporary of Eormenric, and the date 
thus obtained agrees with that given by the genealogy. The 
story of Weland, if it .contains any historical element, should be 
placed perhaps slightly further back ; for in Waldhere, as well 
as in many German authorities, including ThiSreks Saga, 
Weland is said to be the father of Widia ( Wudga, Witege). The 
latter is often associated with Eormenric 2 , and there can be little 
doubt that he is to be identified with the Gothic Vidigoia who is 
mentioned as a hero of the past by Jordanes (cap. 34) in a 
quotation from Priscus 3 . For the story of HagbarSr and Signy 
a date is afford ed by a poem attributed by Saxo (p. 214) to 
StarkaSr. The poet, who in his old age served Ingellus, 
i.e. Ingeld, the son-in-law of Hrothgar, says that he had followed 
Haki, the brother of HagbarSr, in his early youth. In Ynglinga 
Saga (cap. 23) Haki is made to fight with the Swedish king 
lorundr, four generations above ASils, but this genealogy cannot 
be entirely correct. 

The only important stories which remain are those of FroSi 
the Peaceful and HeSinn and Hogni. In Saxo's history 
(p. 158 ff.) the two are brought into connection with one another, 
and it is certainly to be noted that a Fruote von Tenemarke 
plays rather a prominent part in Kudrun, especially the first 
portion. But FroSi is associated with different sets of persons 
in different works, and his resemblance to the god Frey rather 
suggests that he was regarded as the typical representative of 
a Golden Age in the past. The story of HeSinn and Hogni is 
very difficult to locate, both in regard to time and scene. 
Widsith however, which is our earliest authority for it, represents 

1 The Origin of the English Nation, p. 134 f. 

2 But also with Theodric. This is a question to which we shall have to refer later. 

3 Venimus in ilium locum ubi dudum Vidigoia, Gothorum forttssimus, Sarmatum 
dolo occubuit (cf. also cap. 5). 


Hagena (Hogni) as king of the Holmryge, who appear to have 
dwelt in eastern Pomerania. Since the whole of the south coast 
of the Baltic had probably become Slavonic by the end of the 
fifth century, it is at all events unlikely that the story refers to 
any period after this. 

We shall have to discuss later how far these stories are to be 
regarded as historical and to what extent the characters and 
incidents with which they deal are to be attributed to myth or 
fiction. Here it is sufficient to point out that with the exception 
of the story of HeSinn and Hogni, the connections of which 
are obscure, all the stories which we have just been discussing 
are referred by our authorities to generations anterior to the 
characters of Beowulf. Hence we may safely conclude that the 
period embraced by the common poetry and traditions of the 
various Teutonic peoples what we may call the Heroic Age of 
these peoples had come to an end by the middle of the sixth 
century or at least by the death of Alboin. Its upper limit 
must in view of the evidence given above be set from two to 
three centuries back probably three centuries if we include the 
story of Ostrogotha. 

These limitations are clearly such as to call for some attempt 
at explanation. Why do the cycles of story which are common 
to the various Teutonic peoples mention no historical character 
later than Alboin ? Before we can hope to give a satisfactory 
answer to this question, a number of other phenomena will have 
to be taken into account. One or two observations however will 
not be out of place here. 

The period extending backwards from two to three centuries 
before the reign of Alboin coincides with what is generally 
known as the Age of National Migrations (Volkerwanderungs- 
zeit). It was during this period that many of the Teutonic 
nations broke through the frontiers of the Roman empire and 
carved out for themselves extensive kingdoms within its terri- 
tories. Among these were the realms of Guthhere and Theodric, 
and in part also that of Attila. There is no doubt that in all 
these cases the conquest of the Roman provinces brought with 
it a great accession of wealth and profoundly affected the life of 
the invaders. 


The same period witnessed the conversion of most of the 
continental Teutonic peoples to Christianity, another change 
which produced far-reaching effects upon them. Yet it is not 
clear at first sight how this change is connected with the chrono- 
logical limitation of the stories, for while some of the chief 
characters, Attila for instance and doubtless Eormenric, were 
heathens, others such as Theodric were certainly Christians. 
The change of faith is not a motive which plays any part in 
the stories themselves. 

Whatever weight we may be disposed to attach to these 
observations, it should be noted that they do not seem to apply 
to every case. Thus we shall see in the course of the next 
chapter that Danish characters figure more prominently than 
those of any other nation, not only in Scandinavian but also in 
English records, throughout the period ending with Hrolfr 
Kraki. Yet the Danes took no part, collectively at least, in the 
movements against the Roman Empire, nor did Christianity 
penetrate to them before the ninth century. It is worth remark- 
ing therefore that stories relating to Denmark stop where they 
do, and that for centuries after the time of Hrolfr we can scarcely 
give the name of a single Danish prince. 

In the following chapters it will be convenient to speak of 
the period which we have been discussing simply as the Heroic 
Age. The term * heroic poetry,' as a translation of Helden- 
dichtung or Heltedigtning, may of course be applied in a sense 
to such works as Hakonarmal or the poem on the battle of 
Maldon, just as well as to Beowulf or the Hildebrandslied. But 
no ambiguity will arise if we limit the term 'heroic' here to 
what may be called the ' Teutonic ' Heroic Age (das germa- 
nische Heldenalter), i.e. to the period embraced by the common 
poetry and traditions of the various Teutonic peoples. 



IN the last chapter it was pointed out that the age covered 
by the heroic poetry and traditions of the Teutonic peoples 
coincides with a clearly marked period of history, extending 
over about two or possibly three hundred years, and coming to 
an end in the latter half of the sixth century. Something must 
now be said regarding the geographical and ethnographical 
limitations of the stories the localities in which the scenes are 
laid and the nationalities to which the various characters be- 
longed. The scenes are distributed over a considerable part of 
Europe, extending from Italy to Sweden and from western 
Russia to the Vosges and the Netherlands. The British Isles 
however seem to have lain outside the area, though in the late 
form in which some of the stories have come down to us, we do 
occasionally find references to them generally to Scotland or 
Ireland which are probably due to confusion with stories of 
the Viking Age. Indeed it is remarkable that the early Anglo- 
Saxon poems contain no reference to persons or events con- 
nected with this country. Further, except possibly in the case 
of the story of Hengest and Horsa, we have no evidence worth 
consideration that poems dealing with such subjects ever existed. 
Norway also is not made the scene of any of the main stories, 
though it is mentioned incidentally in English and German as 
well as Scandinavian poems. The Balkan peninsula figures 
only in the later German poems, while references to places in 
Italy are limited practically to the Dietrich (Theodric) and 
Wolfdietrich cycles. 


Turning to the question of nationality we find the fol- 
lowing peoples represented : (i) to the Goths belong Eormenric, 
Theodric, Wudga (Witege) and probably most of the heroes 
associated with them ; (ii) to the Huns Attila ; (iii) to the 
Burgundians Guthhere and his family ; (iv) to the Rugii ap- 
parently Hagena (Hogni), the father of Hild ; (v) to the Franks 
Hugdietrich and Wolfdietrich, if the identifications are correct ; 
(vi) to the Frisians Finn ; (vii) to the Angli Wermund and Offa; 
(viii) to the Danes (a) FroSi the Peaceful, (b) Sigarr and his 
family, together probably with HagbarSr and Haki, (c) Hrolfr 
Kraki and his family, perhaps also Froda (Frotho IV) and 
Ingeld; (ix) to the Gotar Hygelac, Beowulf and their relatives ; 
(x) to the Swedes (Svear) ASils and his family. 

It is somewhat remarkable that we have no stories dealing 
with Alamannic or Bavarian heroes, since the German poems 
which have come down to us are almost entirely derived from 
the territories of these peoples 1 . The Vandals too are unrepre- 
sented, and probably also the Visigoths, while the evidence for 
Frankish heroes is slight and rather unsatisfactory. Frankish 
nationality is claimed by most scholars for Siegfried, chiefly on 
the ground that Xanten is represented as his home in the 
Nibelungenlied 2 . Yet he is never called a Frank, and it is not 
clear that Xanten was in the possession of the Franks at the 
time to which the story refers. The same nationality may 
perhaps be claimed for Waldhere. In several German poems 
Langres is said to be his home, though he is also called a 
Spaniard, while Ekkehard makes his father king of Aquitaine 3 . 
To this question we shall have to return later. In any case 
both stories refer to a period considerably anterior to the real 
conquest of Gaul by the Franks, and it is certainly a curious 
fact that Clovis and his great achievements seem to be entirely 
unnoticed in poetry. 

It appears then that though most of the principal Teutonic 
nations are represented in our stories the relative prominence 

1 These poems do introduce Bavarian characters, such as the Markgraf Riidiger ; 
but they are not found elsewhere in heroic poetry. 

2 In the prose piece Frd datf&i Sinfiotla (in the Older Edda) Sigmundr is said to 
have held territories in the land of the Franks. 

3 Hence many scholars regard him as a Visigoth. 


assigned to them does not at all correspond to what we should 
expect. Most remarkable is the fact that in stories relating to 
the Continent nearly all the chief characters (Eormenric, Theo- 
dric, Guthhere, Attila, etc.) belong to nations which had passed 
out of existence before the end of the sixth century. From 
Jordanes (cap. 5) we gather that the preservation of the early 
Gothic traditions was very largely due to the pride taken by 
that people in its own heroes of the past. Yet it is not easy to 
see how the survival of the stories which have come down to us 
can be ascribed to any such feeling. 

Let us first examine the Anglo-Saxon poems. In Beowulf 
the scene is laid first in the land of the Danes and later in that 
of the Gotar. The hero himself belongs to the latter nation, 
but in the earlier part of the poem the former are decidedly the 
more prominent. Taking it as a whole the interest is divided 
between the royal families of these two nations ; the only other 
dynasty which comes in for any considerable share of attention 
is that of the Swedes. In the story of Finn the interest is 
centred in a prince and his followers who according to Beowulf 
were of Danish nationality and involved in hostilities with the 
Frisians. In Waldhere the hero and heroine, whatever their 
nationality, belong to Gaul, while their opponents are Burgun- 
dians. In Deor the interests are mainly, perhaps exclusively, 
Gothic. In Widsith the foremost characters are Eadgils, prince 
of the Myrgingas (a dynasty hostile to the Angli), and the 
Gothic king Eormenric ; after them the English king Offa, the 
Danish kings Hrothgar and Hrothwulf, Guthhere, king of the 
Burgundians, Aelfwine (Alboin, king of the Langobardi) and 
several Gothic heroes. In all these poems there is no reference, 
as far as we know, to any person of English nationality except 
Offa and his relatives (Beow. 1944 ff.), nor except in Widsith is 
the name of the Angli even mentioned. 

If we turn now to the Scandinavian records, which are 
entirely Norse (Norwegian-Icelandic), so far as the vernacular 
literature is concerned, the phenomena which confront us are on 
the whole very similar. As we might expect from the com- 
parative lateness of our authorities the nationality of the various 
characters is not very clearly indicated. It is remembered that 



Atli (Attila) belonged to the Huns and lormunrekr (Eormenric) 
to the Goths, but Gunnarr (Guthhere) is only once called lord 
of the Burgundians. As for SigurSr, his later adventures are 
uniformly located in the Rhineland, but the history of his family 
is generally connected with Denmark, which is also the scene 
of Helgi's exploits. Most noteworthy however is the fact that 
Norway is only mentioned once in the Older Edda, namely 
in the prose of HelgakviSa HiorvarSssonar. In the sagas it is 
somewhat more prominent, e.g. in the account of Biarki's origin 
in Hrolfs Saga Kraka ; but these passages are usually regarded 
as accretions to the original stories. Of course there are numerous 
other sagas which deal exclusively with Norwegian history 
and legend. These stories however are peculiar to Norwegian- 
Icelandic literature, and the earliest persons who figure in them, 
if we may regard them as historical, cannot have lived before 
the seventh century. In stories relating to earlier times the 
scene is practically always laid in Denmark or southern Sweden 
or in the lands south of the Baltic. 

Even in the German poems national feeling has influenced 
the choice of subjects comparatively little. The poems in their 
present form are mainly Austrian or Bavarian. Yet except in 
the second half of the Nibelungenlied this region does not figure 
prominently 1 , and even there the Bavarian characters that occur 
are generally believed to be rather late additions to the story. 
The chief characters of the story in its original form were clearly 
Burgundians and Huns, to whom the Goths may have been 
added at a fairly early date. The stories which deal with the 
Rhineland those of Siegfried and Walther may be derived 
ultimately from early Prankish poems; but this cannot be 
proved. Most of the others are concerned with Gothic heroes, 
the true scene of whose adventures is to be sought in Poland, 
Hungary, Italy and other countries which had ceased to be 
Teutonic before the time of our authorities. Theodric, it is true? 
seems to have become a national hero in the south-east, but this 
feature is prominent only in the latest poems, and even here it 
is clearly remembered that he belonged to Italy. But the most 

1 Tyrol is the scene of several of Dietrich's and Wolfdietrich's adventures ; but 
generally it is the southern (Italian) part of that country. 

c - 3 


remarkable case is that of Kudrun. The poem itself is probably 
Austrian, but the names which it contains show that the story is 
derived from Frisian sources. The scene is laid first in Ireland, 
then in Denmark and lastly in Normandy. Yet if we take into 
account the various Scandinavian versions and the references to 
the story in Anglo-Saxon poetry, there is every probability that 
it came originally from the Baltic. 

This short discussion will suffice to show how singularly free 
the poems we have been discussing are from anything in the 
nature of national interest or sentiment. They are certainly 
national in the sense that the characters are drawn entirely, or 
almost entirely, from within the Teutonic world for even Attila 
can hardly be regarded as an exception. But nationalism in the 
narrower sense, i.e. in the interests of the poet's own nation or 
tribe, seems to be altogether wanting. The interest is centred 
in one or more individual characters and in the various adven- 
tures that befall them. Sometimes, as in Beowulf, it does also 
embrace the history of the family to which these persons 
belonged, but the nation, apart from the royal family, is 
practically disregarded. 

The contrast afforded by the historical poems of the ninth 
and tenth centuries 1 is sufficiently obvious. We have seen that 
these poems, whether English or German, uniformly deal with 
the poet's own nation. The poem on the battle of Brunanburh 
is an expression of national triumph. It is not concerned with 
the personal adventures of the king or his brother, but with the 
prowess of the English army as a whole. The bravery of the 
princes is certainly noticed, but they appear to be regarded as 
the champions and representatives of the nation. The Lud- 
wigslied breathes on the whole a similar spirit, in spite of its 
strongly religious tone. Even in the skaldic poetry of the North 
traces of national pride are clearly discernible, as in Hakonarmal 
(v. 3), where Haakon, at the head of his Norwegian troops, is 
described as the terror of the Danes. 

It may perhaps be urged that, though the poems which have 
come down to us have no national interest, they may be derived 

1 The poem on the battle of Maldon approximates much more closely than any 
other of this age to the spirit of the old poetry. 


from older poems which originated in the hero's own land. 
Thus many scholars believe Beowulf to be of Scandinavian 
origin in one sense or another, though the linguistic arguments 
which have been brought forward in favour of this view are not 
generally admitted. But there is a curious lack of uniformity 
in the national interests of the poem, as we have already seen. 
If it had been the chief intention of the original poet to glorify 
the Danish nation, he would not have ignored it as he has done 
in the latter part of the poem. On the other hand if his inten- 
tion was to glorify the Gotar he would hardly have begun with 
an account of the early kings of the Danes. The difficulty has 
been got over by supposing that the poem as we have it is of 
composite formation, and it may very well be that the second 
part of the poem is a later addition. But it is to be observed 
that somewhat similar phenomena occur in other cases. Thus 
the stories of Siegfried and Attila are connected both in the 
Nibelungenlied and the Edda, and there can be no doubt that 
the connection is of considerable antiquity. Yet the only 
common element in the two stories is supplied by the Burgun- 
dians, and the portraiture of their princes, especially that of the 
king, is hardly of such a character as to suggest its derivation 
from a poem composed for the glorification of the Burgundian 

The evidence then of Beowulf alone is scarcely sufficient to 
justify us in assuming more than that its author or authors were 
interested in the royal families of the North, and that they 
possessed a considerable amount of information regarding them. 
The account of the early kings of the Danes seems to be in the 
nature of a tribal or family tradition to be compared with the 
early stories given by Jordanes, Paulus Diaconus and Widukind. 
Traditions of this kind are no doubt generally of a mythical 
character, and consequently their origin is to be sought in the 
particular locality or family with which they are concerned. 
We have no evidence that such traditions formed the main 
theme of stories which were common to the poetry of the various 
Teutonic peoples. But it is natural enough that a poet who was 
well acquainted with some royal family, whether that of his own 



nation or not, would also know its traditions, and that he would 
utilise them incidentally or by way of introduction in a poem 
largely concerned with the fortunes of that family. 

The main story of the poem stands on a different footing. 
Of course if it could be shown that the Danish princes who 
figure both in Beowulf and the various Scandinavian records 
were fictitious persons, who never really existed, we should be 
bound to hold that they were derived from a common story, 
probably of Scandinavian origin. But few scholars would now 
be willing to admit such a proposition. Certain incidents, such 
as the exhortation of Ingeld (Ingellus) by the old warrior 
(Starcatherus), may be held to point to a common origin in 
poem or saga ; but most of the events narrated appear to have 
been either preserved by memory or invented independently. 

With the stories of SigurSr (Siegfried) and Waldhere the case 
is somewhat different. It is the opinion of the great majority of 
scholars that both these heroes are mythical or fictitious, in spite 
of the fact that they are associated with undoubtedly historical 
characters. If this view is correct a question which we shall 
have to discuss later we may conclude at once that the 
different versions of the two stories, Scandinavian and German 
in the one case, English and German in the other, have sprung 
from a common source, whether in poem or saga. But even if 
we take the opposite view, viz. that SigurSr and Waldhere were 
real persons and that their adventures are founded on fact, it 
does not by any means follow that the different versions of their 
stories must have originated independently. Neither hero seems 
to have belonged to a family of outstanding position, nor were 
their exploits such as to influence the destiny of nations 1 . In 
the age of Hunnish supremacy scores of petty princes must 
have undergone somewhat similar adventures and distinguished 
themselves by similar deeds of heroism. Hence it can hardly 
be due to accident that the handful whose names we know were 
celebrated far and wide in the Teutonic world. 

1 The victories over the Saxons and Danes described in the Nibelungenlied and 
the Thattr af Nornagesti have little in common and are scarcely to be regarded as an 
essential feature in the story of Sigurftr. 


The story of Eormenric is again rather a different case. There 
can be no question that this king was a historical person, but the 
earliest detailed account which we possess of his doings, viz. that 
given by Jordanes, dates from nearly two centuries after his 
death. Now we find what is perhaps the most striking episode 
in Eormenric's story, namely the account of Swanhild and the 
vengeance attempted by her brothers, both in Jordanes and the 
Older Edda (GuSrunarhvot and HamSismal) with comparatively 
slight variations. The chief feature wanting in Jordanes' ac- 
count is supplied by the Annals of Quedlinburg 1 . How much 
truth the story contains we are not in a position to decide. But 
even if we grant that the main features are historical, the event 
can hardly have been of the first importance, since the attack 
seems really to have failed in its object. Ammianus Marcellinus 
says that Eormenric committed suicide owing to despair at the 
impending Hunnish invasion, and Jordanes recognises that his 
death was partly due to this cause. But in the later (Scandi- 
navian and German) accounts it is entirely forgotten. Hence if 
we bear in mind the close agreement between the Gothic and 
Scandinavian versions of the story, not only in the names of the 
characters but also in the description of Swanhild's death, we 
can hardly help inferring that they are derived from a common 
narrative source. 

In conclusion mention may be made of a story which appears 
to be definitely at variance with historical truth, namely the 
account of Attila's death given in the Edda poems AtlakviSa 
and Atlamal. It is there stated that Attila was murdered with 
his two children by his wife Guftrun in revenge for her brothers 
(Gunnarr and Hogni), whom he had treacherously put to death. 
Now Jordanes (cap. 49) says that Attila died from the bursting 
of a blood-vessel on the night of his marriage with a girl named 
Ildico. As his account is derived from Priscus, a contemporary 
and trustworthy writer, there can be little doubt that it is correct. 
Yet it should be observed that the Roman chronicler Marcellinus 
Comes, who wrote apparently a few years before Jordanes, says 

1 Anastasius annos XXVII Ermanrici regis Gothorum afratribus Hemido et 

Serilo el Adaccaro, quorum patrem interfecerat, arnputatis manibus et pedibus turpiter, 
ut dignus erat, occisio (Mon. Germ., Scr. in p. 31). 


that Attila died by the hand of a woman 1 . The account given 
in the Edda therefore is no invention of an Icelandic or 
Norwegian poet, but founded on a story which was current 
among the Romans within a century after Attila's death. Indeed 
considering the circumstances it is by no means unlikely that 
the story originated immediately after the event. 

These examples will be sufficient to show that the subjects of 
many of our poems are derived from stories which passed from 
one Teutonic people to another and some of which were of great 
antiquity. Further, it is a proof of the popularity of these stories 
that they were preserved until comparatively late in the Middle 
Ages, in spite of the fact that they did not appeal to national 
interests. The question how they were preserved and transmitted 
is one which we shall have to discuss in the following chapters. 
We may note at once however that the most obvious means of 
preservation, namely by means of writing, was almost certainly 
not used to any great extent. Had that been the case the 
divergencies between the different versions of the stories would 
be far less noticeable than they are. Even in the case of 
Waldhere, which shows probably the least amount of variation, 
the Anglo-Saxon fragments show a treatment of the subject 
totally different from that which appears in Ekkehard's poem. 
Again, there is no evidence that the Roman alphabet was used 
in the North, except possibly by a few foreigners here and there, 
before the end of the tenth century, while the Runic alphabet, 
though it had been known for many centuries, seems not to have 
been employed for literary purposes until very late times. But, 
as we have already mentioned, some of the Edda poems date 
probably from the ninth century, and the story of HeSinn and 
Hogni is used by the poet Bragi who lived apparently in the 
early part of that century. On the Continent of course the case 
is somewhat different. We have seen that Charlemagne did 
have a number of ancient poems written down ; but there is 
nothing to show that his collection had any permanent influence. 
When the Quedlinburg annalist or his authority quotes the 

1 Ind. vn. Aetio et Studio coss. (A.D. 454) : Attila rex Hunnorum Europae 
orbator proninciae noctu miilieris manu cultroque confoditur. quidam uero sangiiinis 
reiectione necatum perhibent. 


heroic stories, perhaps some two centuries later, he refers not 
to any written works but to songs formerly current among the 
country people. It is doubtless by oral tradition therefore, whether 
in verse or prose, that the stories of the Heroic Age have mainly 
been preserved. 

There can be no question that a large number of similar 
stories have perished. A glance through the catalogues of 
Widsith will show many names which otherwise are entirely 
unknown to us, and also an appreciable number which are not 
mentioned elsewhere in Anglo-Saxon literature, though they 
figure in German and Scandinavian records. It would scarcely 
be wise however to assume that all the stories of the Heroic Age 
were common Teutonic property. Thus we have no evidence 
for the story of Waldhere in the North 1 , while stories dealing 
with Danish heroes seem to have been little known in Germany. 
The latter observation deserves notice all the more in view of 
the obvious popularity of such stories in England a fact proved 
not merely by Beowulf and Finn, but still more by the 
prominence assigned to Danish characters in Widsith. 

It will be convenient now to summarise briefly the results 
of .our discussion. We have seen that the scenes of the heroic 
stories are distributed over most of the lands formerly occupied ^ 
by the Teutonic peoples. Norway and England however, as 
well as the distant kingdoms of the Visigoths and Vandals, seem 
to lie outside the area. The heroes also are drawn from many 
nations, though not in the proportion which we should expect. 
Thus the Prankish nation, which ultimately became dominant, is 
but poorly represented, while the most prominent places are 
taken by peoples such as the Ostrogoths and Burgundians, which 
lost their nationality in the course of the sixth century. 

We have further seen that a very large proportion of the 
characters of the heroic stories figure in the literature of two or 
more nations, and that frequently the same stories are told of 
them. In the latter case it is probable, indeed often practically 
certain, that the different versions of the story are ultimately 
derived from a common narrative. On the other hand, where 
the same characters are known but only in connection with 

1 Excluding of course Thiftreks S. af Bern. 


different events, such derivation can be proved only if it can be 
shown that the characters themselves are fictitious. This remark 
applies especially to a number of characters common to Beowulf 
and Scandinavian stories relating to Hr61fr Kraki and his times. 
It is fully in accord with these facts that the heroic poems 
are not concerned at all or at least only to a very slight degree 
with local or tribal interests. Their tone indeed may be 
described as in a sense international, though with the restriction 
that characters and scenes alike are drawn exclusively from 
within the Teutonic world. 



IN an earlier chapter (p. 3) it was mentioned that the 
English heroic poems are usually ascribed to the seventh or 
eighth centuries. We must now try to see whether any means 
are to be found of dating their composition more precisely. 

Unfortunately very few references to the poems or their 
subjects occur in works which can be dated with anything like 
certainty. The most important is contained in a letter from 
Alcuin to Hygebald, bishop of Lindisfarne, written in the year 
797 : " When priests dine together let the words of God be read. 
It is fitting on such occasions to listen to a reader, not to a 
harpist, to the discourses of the fathers, not to the poems of the 
heathen. What has Ingeld to do with Christ ? Strait is the 
house ; it will not be able to hold them both. The king of 
heaven will have no part with so-called kings who are heathen 
and damned ; for the one king reigns eternally in heaven, the 
other, the heathen, is damned and groans in hell. In your 
houses the voices of those who read should be heard, not a rabble 
of those who make merry in the streets 1 ." From this passage it 
is clear that at the end of the eighth century there were current 
in Northumbria certain poems, probably well known poems, 
dealing with a heathen king named Ingeld, whom we need not 

1 Verba Dei legantur in sacerdotali conuiuio- ibi decet lectorem audiri, non 
citharistam ; sermones patrum, non carmina gentilium. quid Hinieldus cum Christo? 
angusta est domus ; utrosque tenere non poterit. non uult rex coelestis cum paganis et 
perditis nominetenus regibus communionem habere, quiet rex ille aeternus regnat in 
coelo, ille paganus perditus plangit in inferno, uoces legentiiun audiri in domibus tuis, 
non ridentium turuam in plateis. Mon. Germ., Epist. Carol. II 124; cf. O. Janicke, 
ZfdA. xv 314. 


hesitate to identify with Ingeld the son of Froda, who figures in 
Beowulf. Of course it is not at all likely that the reference is to 
Beowulf itself, for the part played by Ingeld in that poem is 

Acquaintance with the subjects of the heroic poems is shown 
also by a mistake in the Historia Brittonum, 31, which dates 
probably from about the same period. This passage contains a 
genealogy, tracing the descent of Hengest and Horsa from 
Woden and of Woden from Geat. The latter part is known 
also from many other texts, in which it regularly runs as follows: 
Woden Frealafing, Frealaf Frithuwulfing, Frithuwulf Finning, 
Finn Godwulfing, Godwulf Geating. In the Historia Brittonum 
however in place of Finn Godwulfing we find Finn qui fuit 
Folcwald which is clearly due to confusion with Finn the son 
of Folcwalda (Finn Folcwalding), a Frisian king mentioned in 
Beowulf and Widsith, as well as in the fragment which bears his 

Further evidence is afforded by names of persons and places. 
There can be no doubt that even in the seventh century it was 
customary to take the names of famous men of the past or 
present. Danihel, bishop of Winchester (d. 745), and lohannes, 
bishop of Hexham (d. 721), are instances which no one will 
dispute. In the Durham Liber Vitae we meet with the names 
Aethan and Cundigeorn. It must not be assumed that persons 
bearing such names were necessarily of Celtic blood. Indeed 
the spelling suggests rather that they were Englishmen called 
after Aidan and Kentigern. Deusdedit, archbishop of Canter- 
bury (65 5 664), doubtless derived his name from Pope Deus- 
dedit (615 618), while the West Saxon king Ceadwalla 
(685 688) was in all probability called after the British king of 
the same name, who died in 642. It is extremely likely that 
Hlothhere, king of Kent (673 685), obtained his name from one 
of the Frankish kings, Lothair II (584 628) or Lothair III 
(656670), for the element hloth- is not used elsewhere in 
Anglo-Saxon names. Even in the sixth century we hear of 
English princes who seem to be called after Frankish or Gothic 
kings of the same period. Thus Tytla, the name of the father of 
the East Anglian king Redwald, is probably taken from the 


Gothic king Totila ; it is not of an English type. Two sons of 
the Northumbrian king Ida were called Theodric and Aethelric, 
perhaps after the Gothic king Theodric and his successor 
Athalaric. As the element theod- is somewhat rare in England, 
it is not unlikely that the Northumbrian prince Theodbald, a 
son of Aethelric, derived his name from the Prankish king 

The occurrence of such names as Widsith and Beowulf 
(Biuulf) in the Liber Vitae shows that names 'were taken not 
only from contemporary persons and from books but also from 
native poems and traditions. Indeed researches which have 
been made in this direction have demonstrated that names of 
the latter type were extremely popular. But it has not been 
sufficiently pointed out that such names occur most frequently 
in the earliest times and gradually become more rare a fact 
which is of considerable importance for our purpose. The total 
number of personal names found in the five poems Beowulf, 
Finn, Waldhere, Widsith and Deor is I32 1 , and of these 
altogether 57 recur as names of persons mentioned in English 
historical documents. Over forty of these names belonged to 
persons who appear to have lived, or at any rate to have been 
born, before the end of the seventh century 2 , while at least 
thirteen of them are unknown after the same period. To the 
latter class belong the important names Widsith and Beowulf. 

In local nomenclature it is possible to trace at least 51 of the 
132 names mentioned above. In some cases these names may 
have been taken direct from the story, e.g. when we find in Kent 
two localities close together called Hokes clif and Hengstes earas 
(Birch, Cart. Sax., in 1000). A similar case, very frequently 
cited 3 , is that of Beowanhammes hecgan and Grendeles mere in 
Wiltshire (ib. II 677), though neither of these names is included 
in our list. But in the majority of cases it is more probable that 
the place-name is taken in the first instance from that of a 
previous landowner, and consequently that the connection with 

1 The names Grendel, Cain, Abel, Alexandreas and Casere are not included. 

2 For the figures and the method of calculation see Note I. 

3 But open to very serious objections, as has been shown by Prof. W. W. Lawrence 
in the Publications of the Modern Language Association of America, xxiv 251 ff. 


the story is only secondary. Hence it is important to notice 
that out of the 51 place-names no less than 19 contain names 
which are not borne by persons in historical documents. The 
explanation of this lies doubtless in the fact that the place-names 
for the most part became fixed at a very early period, and 
consequently that they exhibit an earlier stratum of personal 

If we add the place-names to the personal names the total 
number of heroic names found in England in historical 
documents seems to be 76. Out of this number only seven 
apparently are limited to persons born after the end of the 
seventh century, and of these again almost all occur in the course 
of the eighth century. These statistics show clearly that such 
names were most popular during the sixth and seventh centuries, 
especially if we bear in mind that the materials for this period 
are incomparably less than those for the following three 
centuries. Hence, if we are justified in drawing any conclusions 
from nomenclature, the popularity of the heroic stories was 
distinctly on the wane in Alcuin's time. 

The argument from nomenclature holds good of course only 
for showing the popularity of the stories ; it cannot prove the 
existence of the poems which we now possess. In one case 
however we may probably make an exception. The name 
Widsith is obviously fictitious 1 and based on the travels with 
which the minstrel is credited. The introduction, in which 
alone the name occurs, is in all probability a later composition 
than the rest of the poem 2 and designed to explain what 
follows. It is of importance therefore to note that, if we may 
judge from the place in which this name occurs in the Liber 
Vitae, it must have been borne by a person of the seventh 

1 Compound names containing wid- or -sl\ (-sin\-) are used in other Teutonic 
languages; but the latter apparently does not occur in England, while the former is 
extremely rare. 

2 In contrast with the body of the poem (vv. 10 134) it is non-strophic, after the 
general fashion of Anglo-Saxon poetry. Originally when the poem was recited it may 
have been introduced with a short explanation in prose, such as we find e.g. in 
Rigsmal or AtlakviSa. The epilogue (vv. 135143), which is likewise non-strophic, 
may belong to the same stratum. 


We must next turn to the internal evidence. The linguistic 
criteria are of a somewhat unsatisfactory nature and investiga- 
tions in this field have led to few definite results. It is clear 
that the heroic poems do not exhibit any dialect in its purity 
a remark which is true of Anglo-Saxon poetry in general. West 
Saxon forms predominate and there is no doubt that the final 
recension of the text is due to scribes who employed this dialect. 
Yet at the same time there are a sufficient number of Midland 
or Northumbrian characteristics 1 to render it highly probable 
that the poems were not only composed but also originally 
written down in one of these dialects. Beyond this however 
no safe conclusions can be attained owing to the lateness of 
the MSS. 

In regard to syntax the heroic poems are at least as archaic 
as any other remains of Anglo-Saxon poetry which have come 
down to us. We may notice especially the use of the definite 
article, which in reality is still a demonstrative pronoun in the 
heroic poems. It occurs comparatively seldom in connection 
with a weak adjective followed by a substantive a usage which 
is nearly universal in most of the Christian poems. Thus in 
Cynewulf's works the proportion of examples with and without 
the article varies from 7:1 to 9 : I, and even in the first part of 
Guthlac, which is believed to date from soon after the middle of 
the eighth century, the proportion is 7 : 1 2 ; but in Beowulf it is 
only I : 5. If the Dream of the Cross, in which the proportion is 
2 : i, is rightly attributed to the early years of the eighth century 3 , 
it seems reasonable to date the composition of Beowulf quite 
half a century further back. The nearest approach to the usage 
of Beowulf is shown by Exodus, in which the proportion is over 
2 : 3. Unfortunately we have no certain means of dating this 
work, though it is generally believed to be one of the earliest 
of the Christian poems. Its archaic character would be natural 
enough if it is really the work of Caedmon, who flourished while 

1 Especially the regular use of unsyncopated forms such as 3 sg. onwindfS, past 
part, onsended. 

2 The statistics for these poems are as follows : Juliana 27:3, Christ (II) 28 : 3, 
Elene 66 : 9, Guthlac (A) 42 : 6, Dream of the Cross 10 : 5, Exodus 10 : 14, Beowulf 
13 : 65 ; see Brandl, S.B. d. Akad. der Wiss. zu Berlin, 1905, p. 718 f. 

3 Cf. Brandl, U. (p. 721 ff.). 


Hild was abbess at Whitby (658 680) and who according to 
Bede 1 did compose a poem or poems on this subject. 

The metrical characteristics of the heroic poems differ but 
little from those of Anglo-Saxon poetry in general. Cases of 
absence of contraction after the loss of intervocalic -h- (e.g. in the 
half-verse hean huses) can be paralleled in poems dating from the 
close of the eighth century or even later, where they are doubt- 
less to be regarded as poetic archaisms. On the other hand 
importance is generally attached to the absence of any evidence 
for the retention of -u after a long syllable and to the shortening 
of syllables containing -r- which was originally followed by 
antevocalic -h-. Thus it is contended that such combinations as 
to widan feore in the latter half of a verse cannot go back to the 
middle of the seventh century 2 , since the form in use at that time 
would be feorha, which would offend against the metre. As 
a matter of fact half- verses of the condemned type do occur in 
Anglo-Saxon poetry, Beowulf itself containing at least eight 
examples. But even if we were to admit all these statements 
and emend the offending verses the argument would be con- 
clusive only on the assumption that the poems were written 
down from the very beginning 3 . Poems which are preserved 
by oral tradition alone are manifestly liable to small verbal 
changes, especially in a metre so flexible as that of the Teutonic 
alliterative verse. Thus in place of the expression to widan feore 
we find occasionally widan feore in the same sense, and even in 
Beowulf we meet with widan feorh which is not improbably the 
oldest form of the phrase. Before the loss of final -u it would be 
a perfectly regular half-verse, but the operation of this change 
would render it impossible and necessitate the substitution of a 
synonymous expression. In principle, it should be observed, the 

1 Hist. Eccl., IV 24 : canebat autem de creatione mtindi et origine humani 
generis et tota genesis historia, de egressu Israel ex Aegypto et ingressu in terram 
repromissionis, de aliis plurimis sacrae scripturae historiis, de incarnatione dominica, 
passione, resurrectione et ascensione in caelum^ de Spiritus Sancti aduentu et apostolorum 
doctrina. item de terrore futuri iudicii et horrore poenae gehennalis ac dulcedine regni 
caelestis multa carmina faciebat ; sed et perplura de beneficiis et iudiciis diuinis, etc. 
Prof. Brandl (Grundr., II 1028) holds that the reference is to lyric poems throughout. 
But is this interpretation really necessary? 

2 On this date see Note II. 

3 For a brief discussion of this question see Note III. 


assumption of such substitutions seems to be absolutely necessary, 
unless we are prepared to deny that any old poems or even 
verses survived the period of apocope. Yet there is a sufficient 
amount of resemblance between English and German poetry, not 
merely in the general metrical scheme but also in the construc- 
tion of individual verses 1 , to render such a conclusion extremely 
improbable. Consequently I am very much inclined to doubt 
whether any safe conclusions as to the date of the poems can 
be obtained from metrical considerations, except of course as 
regards their final form. 

Of far greater importance is the fact that with the exception 
of the Finn-fragment, which consists of only fifty verses, all our 
poems contain passages or references of a religious (Christian) 
character. In Beowulf alone there are about seventy such 
passages of which the significance is not open to question, and 
seven or eight others which may belong to the same category. 
Out of the total number thirty-three are limited to single verses 
or half- verses 2 , while another sixteen affect not more than two 
verses in each case 3 . The longest passage of all (v. 17246^) 
contains at least 37 verses, the next longest (v. 175 fF.) fourteen. 
The rest vary from three to nine verses 4 . The theology which 
appears in these passages is of a singularly vague type. There 
are four distinct references to incidents in the early part of 
Genesis, viz. one (v. 90 ff.) to the Creation, two (vv. 107 ff., 
1261 ff.) to the story of Cain and Abel and one (v. 1688 ff.) to 
the Flood. Apart from these there appears to be no reference 
to any passage in the Bible except perhaps in v. 1745 ff, which 
are thought by some to be based on Ephes. vi. 16, and in 
v. 3069, which contains the phrase ' day of judgment.' We find 

1 A few examples are given in the following chapter. 

2 vv. 27, 72, 101, 570, 670, 706, 711, 756 (?), 786, 788, 790, 801, 806, 8n, 852, 
940, 967, 975, 986 (?), 1201, 1255, 1379, 1626, 1658, 1680, 1682, 2088, 2182, 2216 (?), 
2276 (?), 2469, 2650, 3083 (?). 

3 vv. 168 f. (?), 227 f., 44 o f., 478 f., 588 f., 625 f., 945 f., 955 f., 1314 f., 1397 f., 
1778 f., 1841 f., 1997 f., 2819 f., 2874 f., 3108 f. 

4 w. 1317, 908, 10614, 3168, 3814, 6657 (?), 6857, 696702, 
92831, 9779, 105662, 12615, 1271 6, 1553 6, 1609 1X > 16614, 
168893, 17168, 22913, 232931, 23413 (?), 27413, 27947, 2855-9, 
3054 7, 306973. 


also a few references to rewards and punishments in a future 
life 1 . The word god is of very frequent occurrence and always 
used in the Christian sense. The other epithets of the Deity 
are ' lord ' (/raz, dryhten), ' father ' (faeder), ' creator ' (scyppend), 
1 ruler ' (waldend), ( almighty ' (alwalda, aelmihtigd), ( ruler of 
men ' (ylda or fira waldend), ( ruler of glory ' (wuldres waldend], 
'shepherd of glory' (wuldres hyrde), 'king of glory' (wuldurcyning), 
' guider of the heavens ' (rodera raedend), ' helm of the heavens ' 
(Jieofena helm), ' ruler of victories ' (sigora waldend}, ( king of 
victories ' (sigora softcyning). On the other hand there is no 
example of the word gast in a religious sense (Holy Ghost), 
nor of the name Crist, nor of any epithet denoting ' Saviour ' 
(nergend, haelend etc.). Hardly less curious is the total absence 
of the word engel, for expressions such as ' lord of angels ' (engla 
dryhten*) are among the most frequent epithets of the Deity in 
Anglo-Saxon religious poems. Lastly, there are no references 
to the saints, to the cross or to the church, nor to any Christian 
rites or ceremonies. 

It appears then that the religious utterances of the poem are 
of a singularly one-sided character. Indeed it has been observed 3 
that, with the exception perhaps of vv. 977 9, " their theology is 
covered by the Old Testament, and a pious Jew would have no 
difficulty in assenting to them all." Certainly the facts are such 
as to call for some explanation, especially since the religious 
poems are pervaded by a wholly different tone. 

One suggestion is that Beowulf was composed under the 
influence of the missionaries from lona ; but it is extremely 
doubtful whether the influence of Irish Christianity would tend 
in this direction at all 4 . Another is that the poet had little 
direct knowledge of the Christian religion, but that he was 
acquainted with some religious poems. This explanation 
certainly seems to fit the case much better than the other. 
Moreover there is one piece of positive evidence in its favour. 

1 w. 588 f., 977 9, 2741 3, 2819 f. 

a It is perhaps worth noting that in v. 2 1 86 the expression dryhten ivereda is used 
of Hygelac. Elsewhere in Anglo-Saxon poetry this phrase is applied only to the 

3 Clark Hall, Beowulf, p. xxviii. 

4 If there is Celtic influence at all it is more probably Welsh. 


In Beow. v. 89 ff. we hear of recitation to the accompaniment of 
the harp in Hrothgar's hall, and the subject of the recitation is 
the creation of the world. It appears to me highly probable 
that we have here an allusion to Caedmon's poem or poems on 
Genesis, which may very well have been among the earliest of 
that poet's productions. At all events it was by his hymn on 
the Creation that he first became known. The inference is 
strengthened by the rather close resemblance which the hymn 
bears to the phraseology of Beowulf. If the two poets were 
contemporary the author of Beowulf would have no other 
Christian poet on whom to draw, and the limitations of his 
theological equipment might be satisfactorily accounted for on 
the hypothesis that he knew only a few of Caedmon's works. 
As a matter of fact two or three out of the list given by Bede 1 
would have been quite sufficient to provide him with all the 
statements and terms that he uses. 

There is another question however with regard to the 
composition of Beowulf which has aroused more controversy 
than this, namely whether the Christian passages formed an 
original part of the poem or not. In the former case of course 
the poem cannot have been composed before the second quarter 
of the seventh century. Indeed, if we grant the use of 
Caedmon's poetry the earliest possible date would be about 660. 
On the other hand if the Christian passages are due to inter- 
polation the upper limit for the dating of the poem vanishes 
into air. 

As to the possibility of such interpolation in principle we 
need scarcely entertain any doubt. It is true that the Christian 
passages or references cannot as a rule be removed without 
breaking into the rhythm. Consequently, if interpolation has 
taken place we must assume it to be the work of poets or 
minstrels, and not of scribes. But have we any reason for 
doubting that the minstrels of that period were capable of such 
' interpolation.' Wherever poetry at all events anonymous 
narrative poetry is preserved exclusively by oral tradition, it 
is usually the case that the minstrel is allowed a certain amount 

1 Cf. p. 46, note, where the passage is quoted in full. 
c. 4 


of freedom in the presentation of his subject 1 . Now probably 
no one will suggest that it was only after their conversion to 
Christianity that the English began to compose poems about 
' heathen kings.' But, if we grant that such poems were already 
in existence, does it really involve a greater amount of effort on 
the part of the minstrels to bring these poems up to date by 
removing objectionable matter and introducing expressions in 
accordance with the new religion than to compose an entirely 
new set of poems on the same subjects. I cannot think that 
such a view will be seriously maintained. Therefore we must 
consider the case of Beowulf the only narrative poem which 
has come down to us entire without prejudice on the general 
question ; and we must endeavour to see whether it bears the 
stamp of a new composition or that of an old work which has 
been brought into conformity with new ideas. The probability or 
improbability of the latter view will of course depend largely on 
the amount of inconsistency which the poem is found to contain. 
Until within the last few years the majority of scholars 
believed that Beowulf was a composite work. This theory was 
most fully developed in the writings of Miillenhoff and ten 
Brink. According to the former 2 the poem was made up from 
four separate lays, though in its present form nearly half of it 
is the work of interpolators. The latter 3 likewise traced the 
origin of the poem to lays, but explained its inconsistencies as 
being due not to extensive interpolations but to the combination 
of two parallel versions. In regard to the relative antiquity of 
the various parts of the poem there was great divergence of 
opinion both between these scholars and generally. It is 
perhaps partly on this account that in recent years there has 
been a reaction in favour of believing that the poem as we have 
it is practically the work of one man, though it is allowed that 
he may have made use of earlier lays. But those who have 

1 The amount of freedom differs of course greatly from case to case (cf. Note IV, 
p. 101 ff.) ; but it is only in communities which have elaborated the art of minstrelsy 
to a very high degree that the form of words can become absolutely stereotyped. 

2 Beowulf (1889), pp. 110160. 

3 Quellen und Forschungen, LXII (1888) ; summarised p. 242 ff. 


adopted this view seem to agree that the author, whatever his 
precise date, belonged to the Christian period, and consequently 
that the religious passages are not due to interpolation. 

Now in the first place it is clear that the story of Beowulf 
is derived from the Baltic, and the first question which we have 
to settle is as to the time at which the information on which it 
is based became known in England. The Angli themselves 
were originally a Baltic people, as I have tried elsewhere to 
show, and there is no doubt that down to the time of the 
invasion of Britain they were thoroughly familiar with all the 
surrounding regions. But we have no evidence whatever for 
believing that such was the case within the historical period. 
By the end of the sixth century, when the first missionaries 
arrived in this country, they had apparently ceased to be a sea- 
faring people, and we have no record of any voyage made by 
an Englishman across the North Sea for several centuries. 
Again, the Danes became familiar to the west of Europe during 
the sixth century ; but from about 580 onwards we hear no more 
of their presence on the North Sea for fully two centuries. 
During the whole of this period their name is heard of only 
in connection with the missionary expeditions of St Willibrord, 
early in the eighth century. I have suggested elsewhere 1 
that their temporary disappearance was due to the maritime 
supremacy held by the Frisians. At all events we have archaeo- 
logical evidence for a considerable amount of communication 
between southern Norway and the Frisian coasts during this 
period, while for the Baltic such evidence is almost wholly 

Bearing these facts in mind we can hardly doubt that the 
information used by Beowulf was acquired before the ^nd_o__thje_ 
sixth_cenliiry in all probability we may say considerably before^ 
that date*._ Next we have to notice that we have practically 
no trustworthy information regarding the history of the English 
kingdoms before the middle of the sixth century, and I think it 

1 The Origin of the English Nation, p. 93, note. 

2 The references quoted on p. 41 ff. preclude the possibility that these stories were 
first acquired from the Danes, when the latter again became known in this country 
about the close of the eighth century. 



will be the opinion of any attentive student of early English 
history that even the best informed persons of Bede's time were 
not much better off in this respect than we ourselves are. How 
then are we to account for the preservation of detailed infor- 
mation regarding the early kings of the Danes and Swedes ? 
The only answer to this question, so far as I can see, is that the 
doings of such persons must have become embodied in stories 
which were preserved by recitation in a more or less fixed form 
of words. Such recitative pieces may have consisted of poetry 
alone or of poetry mixed with prose, like some of the pieces 
contained in the Older Edda. If we may trust the analogy of 
what appear to be the oldest pieces in this collection, such as 
VolundarkviSa or HelgakviSa Hundingsbana II, the speeches 
would be given in metre, while the connecting narrative might 
be partly or wholly in prose and quite brief. We have no 
evidence for believing that the early Teutonic peoples ever used 
entirely prose narratives, like the Icelandic and Irish sagas, for 
such purposes. 

At all events it seems to me that if Beowulf is Jio older 
than the middle of -the, seventh century we are bound to assume 
the existence oLearHer poems omarratives gnjjiesame subject. 
Such pieces may of course have been quite short, and it is likely 
enoughJLhat_oujL_gpic has^made_Ueofmore than one of them. 
One perhaps may have dealt with the hero s exploits at the 
Danish court and another with his last adventure, while in the 
scene between Beowulf and Hygelac it is possible that an older 
poem has been incorporated, more or less complete, in the 
text 1 . 

But we have yet to take account of what is perhaps the 
most striking feature of the poem, namely the fact that, though 
it abounds in expressions of Christian sentiment, yet the 
customs and ceremonies to which it alludes are uniformly 
heathen. Among these we may mention the tuneral srnp~in 
vT27 ff., the offerings at the shrines in v. 175 f., the observation 
of the omens in v. 204 and the curious reference to Jhanging in 
v. 2444 ff. (cf. v. 2939 ff.), probably also the use of^ the boar on 

1 A different view is taken by Schiicking, Beowulfs Riickkehr (Studien zur engl. < 
Philologie, xxi), p. 65 ff. 




helmets_(vv. 303 f., iiiif., 1286, 1451 ff., 2152) and the burial 
of the treasure (v. 2233 ff.), together with the curse imprecated 
on the person who should disturb it (v. 3069 ff.). But most 
important of all are the descriptions of the disposal of the H^aH 
by^cremation in vv. iioSff, 2i24ff. ^i^/ff. \In the long account 
of Beowulf's obsequies beginning with the dying king's in- 
junction (v. 2802 ff.) to construct for him a lofty barrow on the 
edge of the cliff, and ending with the scene of the twelve 
princes riding round the barrow, proclaiming the dead man's 
exploits we have the most detailed description of an early 
Teutonic funeral which has come down to us, and one of which 
the accuracy is confirmed in every point by archaeological ^r 
contemporary literary evidenceM Such an account must have 
been composed within living memory of a time when ceremo 
of tm's kind were still actually in use. 

The significance of these passages seems to me to have 
been altogether misapprehended by recent writers. If the poem 
preserves its original form and is the work of a Christian, it 
is difficult to see why the poet should go out of his way in 
V.-I75 ff. to represent the Danes as offering heathen sacrifices; 
for not long before he has introduced a song of the Creation 
at the Danish court, and in the sequel Hrothgar is constantly 
giving utterance to Christian sentiments. Again why should 
he lay Beowulf himself to rest with heathen O'DJ 
in all~po5stbte^ detail.when in his dying speeches (vv. 2739 ff, 
2794 ff. 2 ) the hero has been made to express his faith anA 
gratitude to the Almighty? On the other hand ijLthe poem- 
was originally a heatKen work thesg_jnconsistencies are perfectly 
natural. If it was to retain its place after the change of faith 
and to be recited in the presence of bishops or clergy, all 
references to actual heathen worship or belief would of necessity 
have to be either accompanied by censure as is the case in 
the homiletic verses following v. 175 ff. or else suppressed 
altogether, and their place taken by expressions in accordance 

1 We may refer especially to the account of Attila's funeral given by Jordanes, 

cap. 49 (from Priscus). 

. 3 Apart from certain expressions the general tone of these speeches, especially the 
'last words of all (v. 2813 ff.), is scarcely Christian ; but they contain nothing which is 

obviously opposed to Christian doctrine. 


with Christian doctrine. Hence it seems to me probable that 
such expressions are frequently in the nature of substitutions 
for objectionable matter, rather than gratuitous additions \ and 
in the same way I would account for the occasional survival of 
ideas which appear to be essentially heathen 1 , though they are 
cloaked in ^hrist^__pjimGGotogy: "But references to practices 
such as cremation which, though heathen, had long ago passed 
out of use, would not excite the same repugnance and conse- 
quently might be allowed to stand. 

It may be urged 2 that cremation_seems to have lingered on 
among the Old Saxons of the Continent until late in the eighth 
century. True : but it is quite incredible that a Christian poet 
__ ^hnnlH borrow from this quarter a method of funeral for his 
Christianised heroes. If the description of Beowulf's obsequies 
stood alone a bare possibility might be conceded to the sugges- 
tion that it had once formed a poem by itself, unconnected with 
Beowulf, and based upon a traveller's story. But cremation is 
clearly regarded as the normal rite throughout the poem, apart 
from the legendary story of Scyld. We have anotheFdescription 
of it in the episode dealing with Finn (v. iioSff.), and above all 
there is the purely incidental reference in v. 2124 ff. : " Yet when 
morning came the knights of the Danes could not burn his 
(Aeschere's) lifeless form with fire, nor lay the man they loved 
on the pyre. She had carried the body away," etc. Here the 
poet realises the significance 3 of the rite quite clearly and 
consequently notes that the inability of the Danes to carry it 
out added materially to their sorrow. In such a rase jhe 
possibility of Christian authorship seems to me to be definitely 

On the hypothesis that these jdescriptions had come down 
from the days of English heathenism all isjeasily explicable. 
At the time when the poem was Christianised it may very well 
not have been known that the ri>e_^fLjcre_mation was still 
practised among the heathen of the Continent, and in later 

1 E.g. in the imprecation, v. 3069 ff. The imprecatory formulae of charters can 
scarcely be regarded as analogous. 

2 Cf. Brai\dl, op. cit., p. 1003. 

8 The same idea is frequently expressed in the Homeric poems, e.g. II. vn 79 f., 
xxn 342 f., xxni 75 f., xxiv 37 f., Od. xi 71 ff., etc. 


days the_verses of the old poet would be handed on in parrot 
fasffion without their^ significance being generally understood. 
Well-informed persons however, like Alcuin, who had travelled 
abroad, perceived clearly enough that, however much coated 
over with Christian phraseology, the heroic poems were in 
reality of an essentially heathen character. 

Now cremation was widely prevalent in this country during 
the early days of the Saxon invasion a fact attested by 
numerous cemeteries especially in the northern and midland 
counties, Including the valley of tfre Thames. But it appears 
to have become a thing of the past when the Roman missionaries 
arrived here ; otherwise it is difficult to account for the absence 
of any reference to the custom in the records which have come 
down to us. Indeed we may say with safety that it had passed 
out of general use, at least in the southern half of England, quite 
a generation before this time ; for there are scarcely any traces 
of it to be found in those western districts which appear to have 
been conquered during the latter half of the sixth century. 
Consequently, if we are justified in believing that the descriptions 
of cremation ceremonies contained in Beowulf date from a time 
whenjthe practice was still remembered, we must conclude that 
they were composed not later than the third or fourth decade^ 
of the seventh century 1 . 

r But it is not contended, so far as I am aware, by any scholar 
that the account of Beovvulfs obsequies belongs to the earlier 
parts of the poem. It is the final scene of the story, it is not 
contained in any speech, and further it is of a thoroughly epic 
character and would be quite out of place in a short lay. 
Hence, if the line of argument which we have been following 
is legitimate, we shall be forced to admit that though thej)oem 
has undergone a fairly thorough revision in early Christian 
times,~Tt~must in the main have been in existence some time 
before the conversion. I do not mean to suggest that the 
1 revision' was entirely limitecTtcTthe. religious element. Other 
changes and additions may have been made about the same 

1 This date does not depend in any way on the question where the poem originated. 
Cremation may possibly have lingered in Northumbria longer than elsewhere ; but 
that kingdom seems to have become entirely Christian between 626 and 642. 


time 1 . What I do mean is that the great bulk of the_rjpem 
must have been in existence not merely as a collection of lays 
"or^sTories, but. in fulLe4>i<^ "fo?m^-an appreciable time before' the 
middle of the seventh century. 


The other heroic poems do not furnish us with any similar 
criteria for estimating the date of their composition, but there 
seems to be no valid reason for doubting that they are quite as 
early. Two of them, Deor and Widsith, are expressed in the 
first person and lay claim to being of a remote antiquity. Deor 
says that he had been the bard of the Heodeningas and that 
he had been displaced by a skilful minstrel named Heorrenda. 
Since in old Norse literature Hicfcningar (i.e. Heodeningas} 
means ' HeSinn and his men,' 2 and since Heorrenda can hardly 
be separated from the minstrel Horand in Kudrun, it would 
seem that the poet claims to have been a contemporary of 
HeSinn and Hogni, with whose story we have dealt briefly 
above (pp. 8 f, 16). 

Widsith is still more explicit. The poet states that he 
visited the Gothic king Eormenric, who as we know died about 
370. It is true that incidentally he mentions that he had met 
with a number of other princes, some of whom lived in the fifth 
and sixth centuries ; but the visit to Eormenric is his main 
theme. Eormenric is of course one of the most prominent 
figures of the Heroic Age, and it may be for this reason as 
the type of a powerful king that he is chosen for the poet's 
host and patron. But then it is by no means so easy to see 
why he is associated with such an obscure person as Eadgils, 
prince of the Myrgingas. The suggestion that the poem is 
founded upon a tradition that this Eadgils possessed a famous 
minstrel breaks down upon the name Widsith^ which is obviously 
fictitious as we have seen (p. 44). It appears to me that 
considerably less difficulty is involved in the hypothesis that 
the kernel of the poem 3 is really the work of an unknown bard 

1 E.g. possibly some of the elegiac passages (e.g. vv. 2236 2270, 2450 2464), 
which show a certain resemblance to such poems as the Ruin and the Wanderer. 

2 The name Hegelinge in Kudrfin is probably a corruption of Hetelinge (i.e. 

3 Presumably including vv. 88 108; but I am not prepared to suggest an elaborate 
analysis of the poem. 


of the fourth century, and that successive minstrels from time 
to time have added the names of famous heroes with which they 
were acquainted 1 a process to which the original plan of the 
poem may well have offered inducement. 

However this may be neither of the poems shows any 
characteristics which suggest a later date than Beowulf. Both 
appear to be constructed in strophic form, a feature rare else- 
where in Anglo-Saxon poetry, while Deor also has a refrain, 
which is almost without parallel. Lastly, we have seen that 
Widsith occurs as a personal name, apparently in the seventh 
century, and that this presupposes the existence not only of the 
poem itself but also of the introduction, which is clearly later. 

The case of Waldhere stands somewhat apart from the 
others, since it has been suggested that this is really a transla- 
tion of a lost German poem, on which Ekkehard's Waltharius 
is also based. That the story came from the Continent may 
of course be granted ; but we have also to consider when and 
in what form it was brought. The linguistic arguments which 
have been adduced in favour of the German origin of the poem 
are not now generally maintained. But it is further to be 
noticed that the poet seems to have treated his subject very 
differently from Ekkehard. The speeches, with which the 
fragments are entirely taken up, have nothing corresponding 
to them in the Latin poem, while the characterisation of the 
heroine is as unlike as it well could be. Ekkehard represents 
her as a timid creature, but in the fragments she displays a 
spirit which may fairly be called martial. It is unwise to lay 
stress on agreements between Ekkehard and the fragments as 
against the version of the story given in ThiSreks Saga af Bern. 
The less complicated form of the latter in which Guthhere is 
omitted and Hagena represented as an officer of Attila, pursuing 
the fugitives may be due either to imperfect acquaintance with 
the story or, perhaps more probably, to the conditions under 
which it had been preserved. We shall see later that for a 

1 These lists are perhaps derived in part from mnemonic catalogues ' inventories' 
of the stories known to the minstrels who composed them. Metrical catalogues of this 
kind are said to be in use among Servian minstrels at the present day ; cf. Krauss, 
Slavische Volkforschungen, p. i86ff., where a specimen is given. 


considerable period heroic poetry appears to have been entirely 
neglected by the higher classes in Germany ; and it may be 
accepted as generally true that when stories are preserved only 
by the peasants complex situations tend to become simplified, 
while all except the most prominent characters drop out. As 
for the date at which the story became known in England we 
may note that besides Aetla and Hagena, which may come from 
other sources, Waldhere, Hildegyth and Hereric were all names 
current during the seventh century. There seems therefore to 
be no adequate reason for believing Waldhere to have had a 
different history from the other heroic poems. 

On the whole, taking all the poems, including Beowulf, 
together, we may conclude with probability that they assumed 
substantially their present form 1 in the course of the seventh 
century. But if our reasoning with regard to the composition 
of Beowulf is correct we shall have to refer the first treatment 
of the subject to the sixth century, i.e. almost if not quite to 
the Heroic Age itself. Deor and Widsith may quite possibly 
contain still older elements. 

We may now turn to the Old Norse poems. Here the data 
at our disposal are of a very different character, for the metrical 
evidence is said to preclude the possibility that any of the 
extant poems date from before the ninth century. It may 
perhaps be questioned whether all of them are necessarily new 
compositions since that time whether certain of them may not 
be old poems somewhat recast. To this question however we 
can hardly hope to obtain a satisfactory answer. 

The fragmentary Ragnarsdrapa of Bragi Boddason, who 
seems to have lived in the first half of the ninth century, is 
probably the earliest extant piece which refers to stories of the 
Heroic Age. In this poem we find allusions both to the story 
of HeSinn and Hogni and to the attack made upon lormunrekr 
by HamSir and Sorli. Thiodolfr's Ynglingatal, perhaps half a 
century later, contains references to the story of HagbarSr and 

1 Waldhere, Deor and Widsith all contain ' Christian ' passages, like Beowulf. 
The interpolations in Widsith (e.g. vv. 15 f., 82 ff.) appear to have been made by 
some one who possessed a certain amount of erudition ; but there is no need to 
attribute them to a different period. 


Signy, as well as brief accounts of the Swedish kings Ottarr and 
ASils, who are mentioned in Beowulf (cf. p. 20). All these 
stories, except that of Ottarr, are told also by Saxo, but in a 
somewhat different form, which points to their derivation from 
Danish rather than Norse sources 1 . 

On the other hand the stories of the Volsungar, Sigmundr 
and SigurSr, are not mentioned by any early Danish authority. 
The story of SigurSr is generally supposed to have been intro- 
duced into Norway from Germany ; and in some sense or other 
this would seem necessarily to be true, since in the Northern 
version, as well as in the German, the scene is laid chiefly in the 
Rhineland. But it is apparently impossible to determine when 
and in what form the story was transmitted. We have already 
noticed that there is archaeological evidence for a considerable 
amount of communication between Norway (not Denmark) and 
the southern (Frisian) coasts of the North Sea during the seventh 
and eighth centuries, and this is clearly a factor which deserves 
to be taken into account. Further, it is worth noting that, with 
the exception perhaps of Atli' 2 , the names all appear in regular 
Northern form 3 , as if they had been known from the earliest 
times, e.g. Gunnarr, Hogni, Giiiki^ Buftli. This consideration, as 
far as it goes, certainly favours a very early date ; but it is 
hardly conclusive 4 . 

The story of Sigmundr stands on a somewhat different 
footing. In the first place Sigemund (Sigmundr) himself is 
little more than a name in German tradition, while though 

1 Cf. Olrik, Kilderne til Sakses Oldhistorie, p. 132. 

2 The name appears to have been quite common in the North during the Viking 
Age ; yet the apparent absence of umlaut suggests derivation from a (Frisian ?) form 
corresponding to the Ang.-Sax. Aetla (cf. Aecci> Aeddi beside Acca, Adda}. 

3 In contrast (e.g.) with Kudrfin, which clearly shows its foreign origin 
(cf. p. 34). 

4 Such names may have been current before, though their frequent occurrence is 
no proof of this and may be due to the popularity of the heroic poems. It is perhaps 
worth noting that alliteration is shown by certain names which are generally believed 
to have been introduced into the story in Norway or Iceland, e.g. Oddrtin, Erpr, 
Eitill with Atli, Giaflaug, Gullrond (Guftrun?) with Giuki and Gunnarr. If we 
may judge from the genealogies in Landnamabok and elsewhere the principle of 
alliteration seems to have been generally given up in family names before the ninth 


Welsung and Sintarfizzilo occur as personal names, they are 
not connected in any way with the story of Siegfried. Again, 
in the Helgi poems, which contain no reference to SigurSr, 
Sigmundr is connected with the Baltic, and this is still more 
clearly the case with his son Helgi, who is unknown to the 
German story. Thirdly, in Beowulf, which knows Sigemund 
and Fitela, though not SigurSr, the former is brought into 
juxtaposition, and apparently also into comparison, with a 
Danish prince named Heremod. The same two persons are 
brought together also in the Old Norse poem HyndlulioS, while 
the Hakonarmal likewise seems to imply some connection 
between them, as I have tried to show elsewhere 1 . Apart from 
the passages specified this HermoSr (Heremod) is apparently 
not mentioned in Scandinavian literature, but the facts noted 
seem to indicate that the* two characters were connected in 
poetry before English and Danish tradition became separated, 
i.e. presumably in the sixth century. 

We have seen that many of the persons mentioned in the 
main narrative of Beowulf were remembered also in Scandinavian 
tradition. But since these persons are in all probability to be 
regarded as historical, it is hardly safe to infer the existence 
of ancient Scandinavian poems, unless the same incidents are 
related of them, which is generally not the case. There is a 
rather striking verbal resemblance 2 between the first speech of 
Wiglaf (Beow. 2633 60) and certain passages in Biarkamal 
(especially Saxo's version), where Hialti is addressing Biarki ; 
and this fact is the more noteworthy if Biarki is really to be 
identified with Beowulf. But the words themselves are of a 
somewhat general character and might have been used on 
other occasions. Again there is a certain affinity 3 between 
the account of the dragon-fight in Beowulf and that of a similar 
incident related of Frotho I by Saxo (p. 38f.); and here again 
a connection can be traced indirectly between the two heroes. 
But the story of Frotho seems really rather to resemble the 
account given in Beowulf of Sigemund's dragon-fight ; so it 

1 The Cult of Othin, p. 51 f. 

2 Cf. Bugge, Beitrcige, xii 45 ff. 

3 Cf. Sievers, Ges. d. Wiss. zu Leipzig, Ber. 1895, p. iSoff. 


may be questioned whether the points of affinity between the 
two did not originally form part of a standard description of 
incidents of this kind. 

A clearer case is that of the poems attributed by Saxo to 
Starcatherus, in which that warrior exhorts Ingellus to avenge 
his father. These are clearly to be connected with the speech 
of the old warrior to Ingeld in Beowulf (vv. 2047 2056), though 
there is little verbal resemblance. Moreover we have seen 
(p. 41 f.) that in Alcuin's time poems dealing with Ingeld were 
known and probably popular in England. The relationship of 
the passage in Beowulf to these may be compared with that of 
another passage (vv. 1068 1159) to the fragment dealing with 
Finn. The poems on Ingeld given by Saxo are traced by 
Prof. Olrik 1 to a Danish source; and there can be little doubt 
that his view is correct, as they share the characteristics exhibited 
by other stones which appear to come from the same quarter 
(cf. p. in). Thus the queer's name is not given and her brothers 
are described simply as sons of Suertingus. Further, the story 
is cut right away from the surroundings in which we find it 
in Beowulf, and it may be that for a time it survived in 
Denmark only in ballad form. Yet, however much change it 
had undergone before it came under Saxo's treatment, there 
can be little doubt, in view of the English evidence, that its 
origin is ultimately to be sought in heroic poetry, or at all 
events heroic narrative, dating from the sixth century. 

Lastly we must mention the story of UfTb's single combat, 
though, strictly speaking, this is probably not of Danish origin. 
It was certainly well known in England and there is good 
reason for believing that its home is to be found in the district 
to which it refers, i.e. the neighbourhood of Angel, Slesvig and 
Rendsburg. I have tried elsewhere 2 to show that this story 
also rests on historical foundations. But the details of the 
combat, as given by Saxo and Svend Aagesen, and certain 
legendary features, such as the dumbness or silence of the hero, 
which are present in both the Danish and English versions of 
the story, strongly favour the view that it was embodied in 

1 Kilderne til Sakses Oldhistorie, pp. 18 ff., 132. 

2 The Origin of the English Nation, p. 118 ff. 


poetic form at a very early period. On the other hand there 
is nothing to show that such poems survived till Saxo's time. 
The story is apparently unknown to all Norse authorities. 

Many of the German poems which have come down to us 
are known to be derived, directly or indirectly, from earlier 
ones, but regarding the antiquity of the latter nothing can be 
stated with certainty. The Hildebrandslied, which is the only 
extant piece of early poetry, goes back at all events to the 
eighth century. Further, the language 1 used by Einhard in 
describing the poems collected by Charlemagne (cf. p. 5 f.) would 
scarcely be appropriate unless they were believed to be more 
than a century old by that time. We may probably therefore 
refer them at least to the seventh century. 

It seems likely that some of the lost poems of the Langobardi 
were of still greater antiquity. In the poem which celebrated 
their victory over the Vandals (cf. p. 10), a story with which 
we shall have to deal more fully in a later chapter, a very 
prominent part appears to have been played by the heathen 
gods. Such a piece can hardly have been composed after the 
end of the fifth century, at which time the Langobardi were 
already Christians. 

Regarding the antiquity of Gothic heroic poetry there can 
be no question, for Jordanes, our chief authority on this subject, 
wrote about the middle of the sixth century, i.e. during the 
Heroic Age itself. We have already noticed (p. 37) that his 
account of Eormenric appears to be coloured by poetic tradition. 
But of the heroes whom he enumerates (cap. 5) as celebrated in 
poetry, the only one of whom we know anything, Vidigoia, is 
described as Gothorum fortissimus in a quotation (cap. 34) 
from Priscus, who lived about a century earlier 2 . There is 
good reason therefore for believing that the Goths possessed 
heroic poems as early as the first half of the fifth century. 

1 Item barbara et antiquissima carmina, quibus ueterum return actus et bella 
canebantur, scripsit memoriaeque mandauit (Vita Caroli Magni, cap. 29). 

2 Cassiodorus (Var. vin 9) states that the Gothic king Gensimundus, who 
according to Jordanes (cap. 48) reigned shortly after Eormenric's death, was widely 
celebrated in poetry (toto orbe cantabilis] ; but his name is preserved only in Gothic 


We may now sum up briefly the results of our discussion. 
The heroic poetry of the Goths certainly belonged to the Heroic 
Age itself, and it is more than likely that certain Langobardic 
poems were nearly as old. Some heroic poems belonging to 
other German peoples may probably be referred at least to the 
seventh century. The chief monument of English heroic poetry 
must be ascribed to the first half of that century, while some 
of the other poems claim to be of greater antiquity. The lost 
heroic poetry of the Danes seems to have been occupied largely 
with the same subjects as the English poems, and since the 
stories generally refer to the Baltic we may reasonably infer 
that heroic poetry flourished in that region during the sixth 
century. On the whole then it seems probable that the develop- 
ment of heroic poetry began in the Heroic Age itself, not only 
among the Goths but throughout the greater part of the Teutonic 



THE distribution of heroic names in English historical documents is as 
follows. The Liber Vitae contains 35 (37), of which nine (eleven) are peculiar 
to that work 1 . Of those which occur in other documents 29 2 belong to 
persons born apparently before 700, six to such persons only, 14 or 15 3 to 
persons born between 700 and 800, two to such persons only, and 22* 
to persons born after 800, four to such persons only. It must be remembered 
that, apart from the Liber Vitae, the materials for the ninth and tenth 
centuries are much more abundant than those for earlier times. 

In the Liber Vitae itself it is possible within certain limits to distinguish 
between persons of early and later date. Investigations in the lists of kings, 
queens and abbots have shown that they are arranged chronologically, and 
it is only reasonable therefore to expect that the same is true of the much 
longer lists of clerics and monks. A brief examination of the names will 
make it clear that such is actually the case. Some modernisms of language, 
such as -ferth for -frith, or of orthography, such as -ht- for -ct-, are practically 
confined to the last parts of the lists, which may be by later hands 6 . But 
even within the parts certainly written by the first scribe archaic forms such 
as -iu- for -to- are more frequent at the beginning of the lists than later ; so 
also occasional -b- for -/-. Above all we may note the uncompounded names 
in -z, a type common in early Anglo-Saxon, but practically extinct after the 
eighth century. Fol. 24, the first in the clerics' list, contains eleven such 
names, while fol. 30 contains none ; fol. 34, the first in the monks' list, has 
eight, while fol. 38 has only one. 

Now we shall probably be well within the mark if we assume that one 
fifth of the names in each list 6 belong to persons born in the seventh 

1 37 (eleven), if we admit the emendation of the corrupt forms Vychga&n&. Vurmeri 
to Wydiga (Widia, Wudga) and Vyrmheri (Wyrmhere). See the Addenda. 

2 Ecglaf, Eadgils, Eomaer, *Eormenric, Frod(a), Hereric, *Hoc, *Hrothmund, 
Ingeld, Offa, Oslaf, Sigemund, *Aehha, Sigeferth, Aetla, *Hagena, Theodric, 
Waldhere, Becca, Witta, Wada, Oswine, Sigehere, *Sceafthere, Alewih, Aelfwine, 
Eadwine, Wulfhere, Frithuric ; perhaps also Herebald. The asterisk denotes names 
limited to persons of the sixth and seventh centuries. 

3 Eadgils, Eanmund, Heardred, Hygelac, Ingeld, Offa, Wermund, Weohstan, 
Wiglaf, Wada, *Scilling, Oswine, Sigehere, *Gislhere (perhaps Eomaer). 

4 *Aelfhere, Ecglaf, Eanmund, Heremod, Offa, Sigemund, Wermund, Weohstan, 
Wiglaf, Wulfgar, Garwulf, *Ordlaf, Sigeferth, Waldhere, Becca, Wada, *Hun, 
*Hringwald, Aelfwine, Eadwine, Wulfhere, Frithuric (possibly also Deor). 

5 Only the earlier lists, those printed in Sweet's Oldest English Texts^ p. 154 ff., 
are taken into account. 

6 Lines 159 192 and 332 362 in Sweet's text. 


century. On this basis we find that of the 35 (37) heroic names which occur 
in the Liber Vitae nine (ten) are limited to persons of the seventh century 1 , 
and twelve (thirteen) to persons of the eighth 2 . The total number of names 
in each century (cf. p. 43) may be obtained by comparing the evidence of 
the Liber Vitae with that of the other documents 3 . 

The fact that so many heroic names occur in the Liber Vitae has led 
several writers to conclude that the true home of English heroic poetry was 
in the north. But no such inference is really justified by the evidence. The 
number of personal names recorded for the south of England during 
the sixth and seventh centuries is very small ; yet it is only here that 
we meet with persons called Eormenric, Hoc and Hagena names which 
belong to quite different cycles of story. Moreover out of the 37 heroic 
names preserved in the Liber Vitae no less than 28 occur in place-names in 
various parts of England. The frequence therefore of heroic names in the 
Liber Vitae is to be attributed in part to the great abundance of the material 
and in part to its comparatively early date. 

Including the evidence of the Liber Vitae there are fifteen heroic names 
which seem to be borne only by persons of the eighth century or later times. 
Eight of these however occur also in place names*. Of the remaining seven 6 
all except one or possibly two 6 make their appearance during the eighth 
century. On the other hand it has already been mentioned that not less 
than nineteen heroic names 7 occur only in local nomenclature. 

We have still to mention a few heroic names which are not found in the 
extant remains of Anglo-Saxon poetry. Theodhere (Diether) is known only 
from the sixth century, Hild, Herding, luring, Omoling only from the 

1 tBeowulf, tBilling, fFolcwald, Frod, Heremod, Hereric, Oslaf, fWidsith, 
Alewih (fWidia?). Names marked with a dagger are confined to the Liber Vitae. 

2 Eadgils, tHildeburg, fHrothwulf, Wiglaf, Wulfgar, Garwulf, Aetla, Witta, 
fHeathuric, Sigeferth, Wulfhere, Frithuric (tWyrmhere?). The following names 
are found both in the early and late parts of the lists : Eanmund, fHama, Heardred, 
Hygelac, Ingeld, Offa, Sigemund, Wermund, Theodric, Wada, Aelfwine, Eadwine, 
fAegelmund ; perhaps also Herebald, if the abbot of this name is to be identified 
with the one mentioned by Bede (H. E. v 6). 

3 For the details see the preceding notes. 

4 Hildeburg, Hrothwulf, Wiglaf, Wulfgar, Ordlaf, Hun, Hringwald, Gislhere. 

5 Aelfhere, Weohstan, Garwulf, Scilling, Heathuric, Wyrmhere (?), Dior. 

6 Aelfhere and Dior. The latter (in the form Diar) occurs only once (Birch, 
Cart. Sax. 497) and may be a mistake for Diara (ib. 507). The name Diora need 
not be of heroic origin ; it may be an abbreviation from such names as Diorwald, 

7 Breca, Finn, Fitela, Hengest, Hnaef, Hrethel, Scyld, Weland, Guthhere, Geat, 
Gifeca, Heoden, Helm, Wald, Beaduca, Frithla, Secca, Gifeca to which we may add 
Waelse in Walsingaham. Widia is also to be added, if it is not allowed for the Liber 
Vitae. For the list of place-names (not the personal names) I am dependent upon 
Binz, Beitr. XX 141 223. 


seventh, Hildegyth and Blaedla from the seventh and eighth, Wulfheard 
from all periods, Ecga only from the eighth century, Ecgheard from the 
eighth and ninth, Sigesteb only from the ninth. Hild, Wulfheard and Ecga 
are found also in place'names. In some of these cases, e.g. in that of 
Hildegyth, the non-occurrence of the name in the poems is clearly due to 
mere accident ; but it would scarcely be safe to assume that all these 
characters were celebrated in Anglo-Saxon poetry. 


In my Studies in Old English 1 , published in 1899, I endeavoured to 
formulate a scheme for dating approximately the chief sound-changes which 
took place in English during the first few centuries after the invasion of 
Britain. In the course of these investigations I was led to the following 
conclusions (pp. 117, 253 fif.) : i. that 'palatal umlaut' in Northumbrian and 
the dialect of the Vespasian Psalter took place before 650 ; ii. that the 
change from x to e (in all dialects except West Saxon) was in operation 
about 650 680 ; iii. that the loss of intersonantal h (in all dialects) belongs 
to the same period or a little later ; iv. that contraction through loss of 
intervocalic h may be dated roughly between 680 710; v. that the loss of 
final -u after long syllables and in words of the form -""- took place in all 
dialects at a time approximately contemporaneous with the operation of 
palatal umlaut in Northumbrian (i.e. before 650). 

Prof. Morsbach in his paper Zur Datierung des Beowulfepos <i has dealt 
with several of the same problems and come to conclusions which differ 
widely from those at which I arrived. The chief differences are as follows : 
i. that after a long syllable which bore the chief accent -u was not lost before 
the end of the seventh century, though after a long ' nebentonig ' syllable 
the loss was somewhat earlier (p. 261 f.) ; ii. that intervocalic h was lost in 
Kentish by about 680, but in Mercian and Northumbrian the same change 
cannot be shown to have taken place before about 700 (p. 264) ; iii. that 
postconsonantal h (before vowels) was retained in Kentish in 679 ; its loss, 
at least in Mercian and Northumbrian, may be dated about 700, but after the 
loss of -u (p. 265). in summarising the results of his discussion (p. 273) he 
gives " about 700 " for the loss of postconsonantal h and " shortly before 700 " 
for the loss of -u. Incidentally he follows Biilbring {Elementarbuch, 146, 
528) in dating the origin of e (from 'West Germ.' a) before the breaking, 
and in placing the loss of h before / (in neolaecaii) anterior to the operation 
of 'palatal umlaut' (monophthongisation). 

1 Transactions of the Ca?nbridge Philological Society, Vol. iv, Part II. The page- 
references are to the figures in the outer corners. 

2 Nachrichten von dcr Kbnigl. Gesellschaft der Wissenschaften zu Gb'ttingen, 1906, 
pp. 251277. 


The importance of this discussion for our present purpose 1 lies in the 
dates proposed for the loss of -u and of postconsonantal h. Prof. Morsbach 
concludes that Beowulf cannot have been composed before 700, since it 
contains a number of half- verses which would have been metrically impossible 
before the operation of these changes, e.g. ofer fealone flod(u\ to ividan 
feor(ti}e. I have already expressed scepticism as to whether such inferences 
are really justifiable. This applies more particularly to the verses affected 
by the question of postconsonantal h, which are quite few in number. The 
date which Prof. Morsbach himself (p. 274) proposes for the composition of 
Beowulf is 700 730. He finds no difficulty in reconciling this with the 
statistics (given above, p. 45) for the use of the article. This seems to me 
rather strange ; yet the opinion of a scholar who stands in such deservedly 
high estimation cannot lightly be disregarded. 

Now let us examine the evidence on which these conclusions are based. 
First it will be convenient to take the loss of h. Prof. Morsbach holds that 
in Kentish intervocalic h was lost before postconsonantal h. The evidence 
is derived from a single charter issued by King Hlothhere in 679 (Birch, 
Cart. Sax. 45), which contains the place-name Vuestan ae beside the 
personal name Velhisd (Latin Gen.). But surely conclusions of this kind are 
admissible only when a number of examples can be adduced. On the same 
principle we might argue from the name Irminredi (in the same charter) that 
the change se > e had taken place and also from the name Aedilmaeri (again 
in the same charter) that it had not. And what should we do with the 
earliest East Saxon charter (Birch, 81), in which the grantor is called both 
Oedelraedus and Ho(dt]lredus ? Again, it is clear that Bede wrote his own 
name Baeda \ but will anyone venture to hold that this represents the current 
pronunciation of his name in 731 or indeed for some half a century earlier? 
In personal names we must clearly allow for traditional orthography. The 
form Irminredi may no doubt be used as evidence for the change & > ^, and 
similarly the form Vuestan ae may be used as evidence for the loss of h. But 
forms,especially personal names, like Velhisd and Aedilmaeri, which must long 
have been in use, may very well show an antiquated orthography one which 
correctly represented the pronunciation of thirty or forty years previously. 
A single instance of such a kind is totally insufficient ground for supposing 
that the Kentish dialect treated postconsonantal and intervocalic h differently. 

Next we must consider the date given for the loss of h in Mercian and 
Northumbrian (p. 263 f.). I find some difficulty here in following Prof. 
Morsbach's line of argument. In Northumbrian there is, admittedly, no 
evidence at all for the preservation of h, while cases of its omission are 
numerous in Bede's History (written in 731), in addition to one or two 
instances in probably earlier authorities. For Mercian 2 we are dependent 

1 Prof. Morsbach's paper raises a number of questions besides those mentioned 
above. But I am obliged here to confine my attention to those which have a bearing 
on the dating of Beowulf. 

2 The application of this term to the Epinal and Erfurt glossaries (or the arche- 
type) seems to me to be open to grave objection. 



on the Epinal, Erfurt and Corpus glossaries, the archetype of which is 
placed before 700 by Prof. Morsbach. In my Studies, p. 232, I came to the 
conclusion that in this archetype the cases of retention and omission of h 
were probably about equal in number. Prof. Morsbach replies that there is 
no necessity for such a conclusion, since all the extant glossaries themselves 
date from times when h was already lost. He himself decides 1 against the 
loss of h in the archetype for two reasons : (i) because postconsonantal and 
intervocalic h are treated alike in the glossaries and the former was still 
retained in Kentish when the archetype was written 2 ; (2) because the 
assumption of such an early date for the loss of h would be incompatible 
with his own date for the loss of -u. The first of these arguments, it will be 
seen, rests upon the dating of the loss of postconsonantal h in Kentish, on 
which enough has been said above. The second depends upon a hypothesis 
which we shall have to consider presently. 

My reason for concluding that the loss of h occurred in the archetype 
was that in at least eight entries (probably several more) all three glossaries 
agree in showing forms without h. It is to be remembered that in these 
glossaries we are dealing not with independent documents but with copies 
made, more or less mechanically, from one original. This remark applies of 
course much more to Epinal and Erfurt than to Corpus ; for in the latter the 
materials have been rearranged, as well as augmented from other sources, 
while incidentally the forms have been modernised to a considerable extent. 
In Epinal such modernisation is not unknown, but it is restricted within very 
narrow limits, as may be seen from the use of b and/ 3 . Further, it is to be 
remarked that we have no ground for assuming the language of the arche- 
type itself to have been consistent. The occurrence of numerous Dative 
forms and of expressions containing more than one word (e.g. per anticipa- 
tionem \orch obst} shows that the materials were derived largely from 
glosses in books, just as in the Leiden glossary 4 . Many of these glosses 
may have been written a generation or more earlier than the compilation of 
the archetype glossary. Whoever bears these facts in mind and at the same 
time compares the evidence for forms with and without h with that for/ and 
b will, I think, be forced to the conclusion that the forms with h do not 
represent the pronunciation of the compiler of the archetype, but that they 
were taken over by him from earlier sources. 

1 If I have interpreted his meaning correctly. But I admit that I have had great 
difficulty in understanding the argument in paragraph 5 of p. 263 (especially the 
"mit -h- " of line 12). 

2 Prof. Morsbach seems to regard Kentish as exceptional in its treatment of 
intervocalic h, rather than in that of postconsonantal h. I am not quite clear as to 
his reason for this. 

3 Cf. Studies in Old English, p. 240. 

4 This text represents a more primitive type of glossary than the others and, though 
it is not an ancestor of theirs, it has without doubt used a considerable number of the 
same glosses (especially in Sweet's XLV) which were incorporated in their archetype. 


Now we may take the evidence for the proposed date of the loss of -u. 
After enumerating (p. 253 ff.) a list of cases which have been suggested by 
various scholars Prof. Morsbach comes to the conclusion that the only 
certain example of a form in which -u is retained 1 is the wor&flodu in the 
inscription on the Franks casket As the whole theory largely depends on 
the value attached to this form we must consider it carefully. In my Studies, 
p. 156, I suggested that it should be regarded as an archaism and at the 
same time pointed out that -u is lost in another word (unneg) in the same 
inscription. Prof. Morsbach rejects this explanation of unneg, which he 
connects, rightly, I think now, with O. Sax. nah. But this form can come 
perfectly well from *nah( i w]u (earlier *nehwo}, if not from *ndh < wa (cf. Goth. 
nehwa, nehw\ That Ang.-Sax. neah, neh has lost an w-sound is, I contend, 
shown not only by the Gothic forms, but also by neolaecan and neowest (cf. 
Lind. genekwa^ etc.). Prof. Morsbach rejects my explanation of these forms 
also and adopts that of Prof. Biilbring, as stated above. But the latter is 
untenable ; for if e (from a) had come into existence before the operation of 
breaking, we should never find forms with ae, which as a matter of fact are 
fairly common in the earliest texts of all dialects. In particular we may note 
that the three extant coins of the Mercian king Aethelred (675 704) all have 
-rxd. Hence the change 3? > e can hardly have taken place much before 650. 

Apart from unneg z , there are three forms on the recently discovered right 
side of the casket which may show loss of -u. Prof. Napier (An English 
Miscellany, p. 375 f.) is inclined to regard the forms sser and dan (?), if not 
also has, as Nom. sg. fern. But the interpretation of this part of the inscrip- 
tion is still uncertain in many details. 

I confess that since the discovery of the new side I am less inclined to 
regard the form flodu as an archaism than as a mere blunder. Even in the 
more intelligible parts of the inscription we find a number of forms which 
present serious difficulty : Romivalus, Reumwalus*, gasric, Giu^easu. The 
last of these still seems to me to present the best illustration of flodn. If the 
one is due to the loss of some letters e.g. su for su(maz] the same may 
be the case with the other 4 . At all events an inscription which presents so 
many difficulties cannot be regarded as a safe authority on which to base a 
scheme for the chronology of sound-changes. 

The only other instance of -u on which Prof. Morsbach lays any weight 

1 The form scanomodu on the solidus need not be taken into account. It is 
improbable that coins of this type were minted after the sixth century. 

2 Prof. Morsbach further argues that even if my interpretation of unneg was 
correct it would prove nothing, since -u was probably lost after a long * nebentonig ' 
syllable earlier than after a long ' haupttonig ' syllable. But neither the -gar of the 
Bewcastle inscription (cf. p. 70) nor the felt of the East Saxon charter can be 
admitted as evidence for this hypothesis. 

3 In spite of what is said by Prof. Morsbach (p. 264 f.) these forms are scarcely 
intelligible unless h was already lost. 

4 E.g. perhaps fiod u(p}ahof. 


is the form aetgaru in the Erfurt glossary. He speaks of it as 'nicht 
unwahrscheinlich ' (p. 257), though 'fraglich' (p. 264). Many scholars cite it 
as an example of -u without reserve. Now in order to form a just estimate 
of the value of any form which occurs in the glossaries it is obviously 
necessary to take it in connection with the forms which the other texts show 
in the same entry. The entry in question (framea aetgaru} occurs in the 
Epinal and Corpus glossaries, as well as in that of Erfurt, though the two 
former have aetgaeru (aztgaeru] for aetgaru. There can be no doubt that 
the relationship between the three glossaries is as follows : 

x (Arch. I) 
y (Arch. II) 

Epinal Erfurt Corpus 

though we do not know exactly how many intermediate stages lie between 
the extant texts and the original archetype. It will be seen that the 
question at issue is whether the Erfurt glossary or the other two have kept 
the original form for if the archetype had contained both forms we may 
assume that some trace of the double entry would have been preserved (as in 
other cases). Now the Erfurt glossary is the latest of the three, it is the 
work of a foreign scribe and it is very carelessly copied. Moreover, no 
letter or combination of letters has suffered more than ae. Most usually this 
combination has been reduced to e ; but the loss of e is not infrequent, 
e.g. smal, hrad, nacthegelae. In view of these facts it is unintelligible to me 
how anyone can uphold the evidence of the Erfurt glossary against the other 
two. But in this case it is used to prove the existence of an archaic form for 
which none of the glossaries elsewhere present a parallel. Lastly, we may 
remark that though it is frequently assumed that the word gar was an ^-stem 
(*gaizu-} no evidence worth consideration has ever been adduced to prove 
it 1 . On all grounds therefore we are brought to the conclusion that the 
evidence for the preservation of -u in aetgaru is not merely open to question 
but entirely worthless. 

We must now notice certain early documents in which -u is clearly lost. 
Prof. Morsbach mentions the form felt in the earliest East Saxon charter 
(Birch, 81), which dates from 692 3. Here then -u was lost before the date 
in question 2 . But we can get back further than this, for the place mentioned 
is called Vuidmundes felt. Some considerable time must have elapsed after 
the loss of -u before a noun, even a proper name, could change its inflection 
and adopt the endings of ^-sterns. 

1 The place-name Wihtgarabyrg in the Saxon Chronicle, ann. 530 (B, C), 544 
(A, B, C) is more probably to be regarded as a corruption of Wiht-wara- through 
the influence of the personal name Wihtgar. 

2 Prof. Morsbach's explanation is that felt here is a long nebentonig syllable. But 
we have no evidence that the influence of * sentence-accent ' made itself felt in this 


Next let us take the Northumbrian evidence. The form -gar on the 
Bewcastle column can prove nothing. In the same inscription however we 
may find an example in Cyniburug ; for in view of hnutu etc. it is probable 
that consonantal stems used what was originally the Accus. sg. form also for 
the Nom. sg. (as in Old Norse). I cannot see any probability in the sugges- 
tion that this monument may date from some considerable time after 670 J , if 
it has been rightly interpreted. 

More important is the fact that no example of -u after a long syllable is 
preserved in Bede's Ecclesiastical History. It is to be observed that Bede 
seems to have scrupulously followed the orthographical peculiarities of the 
documents which he used. Thus in Papal letters dating from the first half 
of the seventh century we find such forms as Adilbercto, Audubaldi which 
are not used elsewhere in the work 2 . Now in the record of the proceedings 
at the Council of Hertford in 673, which is quoted in iv 5, we find the forms 
Herutford, Vilfrid, Vynfrid, Hrofaescaestir ; and in the similar record for 
the Council of Hatfield in 680, quoted in iv 17, we find the form Haethfelth. 
If -u had not been lost by this time the forms used must have been -fordu or 
-fordus, Vilfridu(s], etc., and it is most unlikely, in view of Bede's practice 
elsewhere, that he would have altered them. As a matter of fact the latter 
of these documents contains two forms Hymbronensium (or Humbr-) and 
Estranglorum which are not used elsewhere by Bede. Again, the same 
author almost always writes the name of the Northumbrian king Ecgfrith 
(r. 671685) as Ecgfrid (in the Nom.). That this represents the contem- 
porary orthography is shown by a coin of that king which bears the legend 
Ecgfrid rex. 

But further, there is a whole series of names, much used in Northumbria, 
which have as their second element -hae} from earlier -ha\u (e.g. Eadhaed). 
At the time when -u was lost here the change a > & was clearly still opera- 
tive. Will anyone suggest that this was the case after the middle of the 
seventh century ? Again, it can hardly be doubted that the form Osuiu, if 
not also Osuald, represents the pronunciation 3 current in the time of that 
king. In Bede's History, III 29, we have extracts from a Papal letter 
addressed to Osuiu (v. 1. Osuio] regi Saxonum. The form os- can scarcely 
have become current in compounds before -u was lost in the Nom., 
Accus. sg. 

It is surely unnecessary to enter into further details. We have seen that 

1 Prof. Morsbach would assign the monument to the time of Aldfrith, who reigned 
685705 (not 725, a printer's error in Victor's book). 

2 In his own narrative of course he often uses forms which must have been 
antiquated in his time (e.g. Vurligerno, Aeduini, Aeodbaldo] and also foreign forms in 
the names of persons of Continental origin (e.g. Agilberctus). But it may safely be 
assumed that all these cases are derived from earlier documents. 

3 I.e. Oswiu (Oswald) ; cf. Baduuini, i.e. Baduwini. I have not taken account of 
the possibility that -uiu originally contained an -h-. If that could be proved the 
present discussion would be practically superfluous. 


practically the whole evidence for the proposed chronology consists of two 
forms, Velhisci and flodu, one of which is incapable of proving what it is 
meant to prove, while the other is of exceedingly doubtful value ; and on the 
other hand that this chronology has opposed to it a large number of forms 
in the glossaries, in charters and in early Northumbrian authorities of various 
kinds. Now let us consider the various sound-changes in relation to one 

It is admitted, and necessarily so, that the loss of -u took place before the 
loss of h. For the sake of convenience we may apply the terms ' Period I ' 
to times anterior to the loss of -u and ' Period II ' to the interval between the 
two changes. From neither of these periods have we any texts surviving, 
unless we are to reckon the inscription on the Franks casket to Period I. 
Our earliest charters, and apparently also the lost archetype of the glossaries, 
were composed at a later time ('Period III') when // was no longer pro- 
nounced, though doubtless often written. But before the date of the earliest 
extant glossary (Epinal) a further change or changes had taken place which 
brought about the confusion of original # and f. It is clear from a com- 
parison of the glossaries that this confusion was later than the loss of h 
and also that it was almost, if not entirely, unknown to the archetype. So 
also in Northumbrian. In Bede's History we have no instance of h preserved 
in an English word, whereas examples of its omission are numerous. On 
the other hand it is clear that Bede usually retained the distinction between 
b (i.e. ) and f, although the latter has already largely encroached on the 
former in the Moore MS. 1 We may therefore constitute two subdivisions of 
the period subsequent to the loss of ^, namely 'Period III' prior to the 
confusion of t andyj and 'Period IV subsequent to this confusion. Now 
we can see clearly where to date the Franks casket, for it shows confusion of 
# and / in wylif according to Prof. Morsbach also in sefu. It belongs 
therefore not to Period I but to Period IV. 

Any attempt to fix an absolute chronology is of course rendered difficult 
by the absence of very early texts. We may probably assume that Period IV 
begins more or less about 700. The Kentish charter of 679 falls in Period III. 
Now when -u was lost, h (whether intervocalic or postconsonantal) must have 
been a spirant a fact which Prof. Morsbach seems to have entirely ignored. 
It is quite incredible that only a few years should elapse between that stage 
and the total loss of intervocalic h seen in the charter. The corresponding 
period in Germany lasted centuries, and I cannot conceive how the transition 
can have been accomplished anywhere in less than half a century. I con- 
clude therefore that the dates which I gave in my Studies were approximately 
correct. If there was an error it was in putting some of the changes slightly 
too late. I have little hesitation now in expressing my opinion that the loss 
of -u took place not later than the second or third decade of the seventh 

1 Cf. my Studies, p. 247. It will be seen that the number of cases in which 
M, B and C agree in f (for ) is very small. 



I am not aware that any serious argument has been brought forward to 
show that Beowulf was a literary production. It is customary indeed, 
especially among English scholars, to use the word ' write ' with reference to 
its composition ; but this is frequently due to mere carelessness. Neverthe- 
less there is undoubtedly a widespread reluctance to admit that the poem 
came into existence without the use of writing partly on account of its 
length and partly because its technique is of rather an advanced order. 
The first of these difficulties has now been definitely settled by the Servian 
poems, as we shall see in the next Note. Here we need concern ourselves 
only with the second. 

The most definite pronouncement on this subject known to me is 
contained in Prof. Ker's book, The Dark Aes, p. 250. "Beowulf and 
Walderc* he says, " are the work of educated men, and they were intended^ 
no doubt, as books to read. Theyltre not, like the Elder ^^/g^a_collecjiQii. 
of traditional oral po"erns." Here we have three distinct statements. That 
Beowulf and Waldriere are not a collection of poems, like the Edda, is 
manifest. Whether they are traditional oral poems at all is a different 
question, the answer to which depends in the first place on our attitude to 
Prof. Ker's second statement that they were intended as books to read. 
But this statement surely requires some evidence. The only argument 

brought forward is that "the Beowulf MS is intended as a book to be 

read, and is got up with some care. From the look of it, one places it 
naturally in the library of a great house or a monastic school ; and the 
contents of it have the same sort of association ; they do not belong to the 
unlearned in their present form." But, so far as the earlier part of this 
passage goes, the argument applies only to the tenth century. No one will 
deny that the earlier Anglo-Saxon poems were studied at that time ; indeed 
they had probably come to be regarded as, in a sense, classical. But have 
we any right to assume that scholars of the seventh or eighth centuries 
viewed these poems or their subjects in a similar light ? If so how are we to 
account for the total' absence of references to such subjects in the works of 
Bede? And what about Alcuin? Quid Hinieldus cum Christo? Is it 
likely that Alcuin would have regarded these pagani et perditi reges as 
suitable subjects for the attention of scholars? The natural presumption 
from his language is that he knew of them not from literary works, but only 
from street-minstrels whom he looked upon with disgust. Yet Bede and 
Alcuin can hardly have been ignorant of any important literary activity 
during their times, and it would be unfair to regard them merely as religious 
bigots. In view of their silence it seems to me a precarious hypothesis 
even that the poems were committed to writing much before the end of the 
eighth century. 


There is no doubt of course that the writing of English _was_in_QBimfln 
use during the early part of the ninth century. But the paucity of earlier 
evidence renders it probable that this was a recent innovation ; and the 
orthograprjTcal characteristics of eighth century documents point to the same 
conclusion. Laws were written in English from the beginning ; but we-may 
safely assume that this was done by professional scribes, in all probability 
ecclesiastics. Otherwise there is little definite evidence for the writing of 
the vernacular, except of course in glosses. The more learned clergy clearly 
preferred to use Latin ; for the less learned Bede states (Ep. ad Ecgb., cap. 5) 
that he had himself had to make translations even of the Creed and the Lord's 
Prayer, for them to learn by heart. Where was a reading public to be looked 
for in such a period 1 ? 

But we have yet to discuss the statement that " Beowulf and W alder e 
are the work of educated men." The question here is what is meant by the 
- N Nowadays the expression 'educated Chinese's used in 

more than one sense. Sometimes it is applied to those who have received a 
good education according to the traditional standard of that nation. Some- 
times however, especially in newspaper language, it is used only of those 
Chinese who have received a Western education. W T e need not doubt that 
the poets of Beowulf and Waldhere were among the*rj>est educated men__pf 
their day according to the traditional native~standard. If they were court 
minstrels a question we ^liall have tu discuss in llig~next~"ch apter they 
could hardly be otherwise. But this is not what I'rof. Ker means. The 
education whichhehas in view is ot foreign (Roman; type, as may"be seen 
by the latter part of the second of the quotations given above. Again (p. 252) 
he says : " The English epic is possibly due to Virgil and Statius ; possibly 
to Ju^encus^and other Christian poets, to truTauthors studieoTby Aldhelm' 
and^JBede.." If so'V is it not remarkable that no obvious trace of such 
influence can be pointed out? It must not be assym^ 

responsible for the composition or preservation of Beowulf would have, .any 

N. inclination to disguise their knowledge of foreign poetry. The use which 

Xthey have made of incidents derTvecIlrom the Bible is decisive evidence to 

the contrary, although their knowledge of this subject seems to have been of 

a most elementary description. In Widsith we actually have at least one 

1 The case of King Aldfrith shows that educated laymen were not entirely 
unknown ; but it is extremely unlikely that they were common. In one charter 
(Birch, 99) Wihtred, king of Kent, is made to say: signum sanctae crucis pro ignorantia 
litterarum expressi. This document exists only in a late copy ; but at all events it 
suggests that the practice of making the cross, instead of signing, was due to a wide- 
spread inability to write. 

2 I confess that I am strongly inclined to suspect that anyone imbued with Latin 
learning would havelackeoTnot 'GnTTTtrg-iircHualiuii ImtTdso the ability^c^compose 
such"~a~ poem as Beowulf. This hnwevpr^J^flTi_jTipininn whjch could only he snBT 
stantiated by a wider knowledge of the. history^o^poetry in various parts of the world 
than I caujnake any claimlVpossess. 


reference to a classical character (v. I5ff.). But Beowulf is entirely free 
from anything of the kind. 

Prof. Brandl 1 has likewise been attracted by the idea that the growth of 

., ...,.... i .. .., mi .,.,_.. * - _- . .. ** ..--. 

Anglo-Saxon epic poetry may have been due to Latin models. As a probable 
sourfMr-sf iuclv4nflu.ejie_Jie Jiasjixed i upon the Aeneid . and even indicated a 
number of passages in this poem which may have suggested certain scenes 
and incidents in Beowulf. Thus he notes that both poems begin with the 
story of a wanderer (Scyld, Aeneas) who came over the sea (feasceaft, primus 
et profugus) and founded a great dynasty or empire. Then he suggests 
a connection between the song of Hrothgar's minstrel on the Creation 
(Beow. 90 ff.) and a passage (Aen. I 742 ff.) which describes how Dido's 
minstrel lopas sang of the origin of men and beasts, among other cosmo- 
logical subjects. Further, he compares the whole of the scene which contains 
the latter passage with the account of Beowulf's reception at Heorot, noting 
the various stages in the arrival of the two heroes from their disembarkation 
to the feast with which they are welcomed in the palaces. Incidentally, he 
remarks that at the feast Wealhtheow hands the cup to Hrothgar and then 
to the visitors (Beow. 615 ff.), while Dido pays the same honour to Bitias 
(Aen. I 738). Lastly, he compares the racing after Grendel's overthrow 
(Beow. 864 ff.) with the' rowing contest in memory of Anchises (Aen. v 104 ff). 
I confess that, coming as they do towards the close of an admirable 
discussion of the subject, which no attentive student of Beowulf can fail to 
appreciate, the comparisons suggested by Prof. Brandl strike me as sur- 
prising beyond measure. The resemblances between the athletic contests, so 
far as they have any existence at all, are due to practices which are world- 
wide. Is there any reason for supposing that the act of courtesy ascribed to 
Wealhtheow was not in full accordance with early Teutonic custom? 
Parallels may be found, easily enough, in Old Norse literature. The arrival 
of the wanderer (Scyld, not Beowulf) has nothing in common with that of 
Aeneas. The one is a baby and probably alone ; the other is the commander 
of a fleet. Then, as to the resemblance between Beowulf's visit to Hrothgar 
and Aeneas' visit to Dido, I can only say that I fail to detect its existence. 
Prof. Brandl seems to lay most stress on this incident and points out 
certain parallelisms in the language : corripuere uiam qua semita monstrat 
(Aen. I 418) with stig wisode gumum aetgaedere (Beow. 320 f.), and coram 
quern quaeritis adsum Troius Aeneas (Aen. I 595 f.) with Beowulf is min 
narna (Beow. 343). But are these not purely accidental coincidences, such 
as one could find between almost any two narrative poems? When 
Prof. Brandl speaks of Aeneas' " Verhandlung mit Dido zuerst durch eine 
etikettegemasse Mittelsperson," I do not understand what is meant. 
Certainly this description applies to the entry of Beowulf. But Aeneas is 
present beforehand, shrouded in a cloud with which' Venus has covered him. 
In the midst of the scene the cloud is suddenly parted and Aeneas disclosed 
to Dido's eyes. It seems to me that no meeting could well be more different. 

1 Grundriss d. germ. Philol., II 1008. 


There remains then only the fact that the two minstrels treat a somewhat 
similar theme (though in Beowulf this does not take place on the occasion of 
the hero's arrival). It is no doubt a curious coincidence ; but the introduction 
of such a subject in Beowulf may be accounted for quite satisfactorily without 
the hypothesis of any acquaintance with Virgil. 

I cannot^quit this subject without remarking- how much more plausibje^a 
case couldbe made out for deriving Beowulf from the Hom^ic^jDp^nas^-- 
especially the Odyssey. Here there are Striking parallels both in diction 
and terminology, as we shall see in a later chapter. We may note especially 
the epithets applied to princes and the formulae with which speeches are 
introduced. If we wish to find a real parallel to the reception of Beowulf by 
Hrothgar, it is provided by the account of Telemachos' visit to Menelaos. 
Similar parallels are to be obtained for the minstrel's lays and many other 
incidents. Are we then to suppose that Beowulf is based upon the Odyssey ? 
That is a hypothesis which I will gladly leave for others to work out. For 
my own part I prefer the explanation that jsimilar poetry is the outcome i _Qr^ 
rather the expression, of similar social conditions. But in Beowulf and the 
Homeric poems, as against the Aeneid, we have additional common elements 
in the fact that the interest is centred in the actual characters not in the 
destiny of their descendants and in the vividness and reality of the 
narratives, in spite of Grendel, Scylla and the rest. The latter of these two 
common features seems to me to indicate that both the Greek and English 
poets were depicting types of life with whichTthey were themselves familiar, 
whereas no one will dispute that the Aeneid is a product of the library 

Half a century ago, when the study ol Teutonic antiquity was still young, 
there was a general eagerness to refer every institution and belief to a native 
origin. To-day we see the inevitable reaction a hypercritical attitude 
towards every explanation of this character, coupled with a readiness to 
accept theories of biblical or classical influence on the slightest possible 
evidence. It is this intellectual atmosphere which, naturally enough, has 
given birth to the chimaera of a literary Beowulf a creature which, if I am 
not mistaken, belongs to the same genus as certain well-known theories in 
N drthern mythology. 



IN the preceding chapters we have seen that the persons and 
events celebrated in the heroic poems apparently all belonged 
to the fourth, fifth or sixth centuries, and further that heroic 
poetry was flourishing among the Goths during the same period. 
For the existence of English, Scandinavian or German heroic 
poetry at this time we have no absolutely conclusive evidence. 
But the materials from which our poems are formed must largely 
be referred to the sixth century. This may be seen most clearly 
in cases where the poems of two or more nations not merely 
treat an identical theme but also agree in the motif or in 
comparatively small details, as in the stories of Ingeld, Waldhere 
and Svanhildr. A like age is probably to be attributed to 
resemblances in language, such as those shown by the hortatory 
addresses and the accounts of dragon-fights cited in the last 
chapter (p. 60 f.). The fact that these resemblances sometimes 
occur in stories relating to entirely different characters need not 
prevent us from believing that they spring ultimately from a 
common origin. 

It cannot of course be proved that the materials from which 
the heroic poems are derived were themselves always in poetic 
(metrical) form. In principle we must admit the possibility 
that they were transmitted from one generation to another in 
a more or less stereotyped form of prose narrative, such as we 
find later in the sagas of Iceland and Ireland. But in point 
of fact we have no evidence whatever for the cultivation of such 
traditional prose narratives among any of the early Teutonic 
peoples, whereas there is good reason, as we shall see shortly, 


for believing that narrative poetry was both ancient and widely 

In the first place we may note that English and German 
poetry down to the ninth century shared a common system of 
metre and that the FornyrSislag, which is used in most of the 
Edda poems, differed but little from this type, except of course 
that it was always arranged in strophes. The application of 
this common metre to narrative purposes can scarcely be re- 
garded as a recent innovation, for English and German poems 
frequently exhibit verses and half-verses of very similar con- 
struction. Thus in the Hildebrandslied speeches are generally 
introduced with the formula: Hadubrant gimahalta, Hiltibrantes 
sunu t which is almost identical with a formula used in Beowulf: 
VViglaf ma&elode^ Weohstanes sunn. In the same German poem 
(v. 42) we find the verse : dat sagetun mi seolidante ( c it has been 
told me by mariners '), with which we may compare Beow. 377 : 
\onne saegdon \aet saelfoende. Note should also be taken of 
such phrases as (v. 55) ibu dir din ellen taoc ('if thy prowess is 
sufficient') and definitely poetical expressions, like (v. 43) man 
wic furnam ('war carried him off'), as compared with Beow. 572 
^onne his ellen deah and 1080 wig ealle fornam Finnes \egnas. 
The number of such parallels might be greatly increased if 
we were to take into account passages from religious poems, 
especially the Old Saxon Heliand. 

For a very much earlier period direct evidence is furnished 
by the Roman historian Tacitus, who says {Germ. 2) that the 
Germani possessed ancient poems or songs (carmind) even in 
his time and adds expressly that they had no other means of 
preserving a historical record 1 . That these poems were partly 
of what may be called a 'heroic' character is clear from another 
passage {Ann. II 88), where it is stated that Arminius was still 
a subject of poetry among barbarian nations (canitur . . .adhuc 
barbaras apnd gentes). In both cases the reference is in all 
probability to the peoples of western Germany rather than to 
the Goths. 

On the whole then we need not doubt that the heroic 

1 celebrant carrninibus antiquis, quod unum apud illos memoriae et annalium 
genus est, etc. 


poetry which we find in England and Germany during the 
seventh and eighth centuries had a long history behind it. 
Of course as to the form of the poetry current in the first 
century we are entirely without information. Many scholars 
hold that it was exclusively choric, not only in Tacitus' time 
but for four or five centuries later. This is one of the questions 
which we shall have to bear in mind in the course of our 

The earliest historical reference to the cultivation of poetry, 
or rather perhaps minstrelsy, in England occurs in Bede's 
account of the poet Caedmon (Hist. EccL IV 24). In this 
story we are told that it was the custom that, when the villagers 
met together to drink and amuse themselves, everyone should 
take his turn in singing to the harp. Caedmon, who had never 
been able to learn a song, used to leave the festivities and 
make his way home as soon as he saw the harp coming in his 
direction 1 . No information is given as to the character of these 
songs. Probably they would as a rule be quite short perhaps 
not much longer than the hymn learned by Caedmon from the 
angel, which contains only nine verses. It is not unlikely that 
they resembled some of the metrical riddles more than any other 
form of Anglo-Saxon poetry which has come down to us. 
Longer songs, of a narrative type, may of course have been 
known. But it is a question whether such songs would deal 
with heroic themes or with folk-tales. We may think of the 
Scandinavian story of Svipdagr and MengloS, which is preserved 
in a number of different versions, ranging in date probably from 
the tenth century to the seventeenth or later. 

But we have already seen (p. 41 f.) that in the eighth century 
at least the recitation of heroic poetry was by no means un- 
known. Indeed we may infer from the language used by Alcuin 
(ridentium turtiam in plateis) that it enjoyed a good deal of 
favour with the general public. Another of his letters 2 speaks 

1 nil carminum aliquando didicerat. unde nonnunquam in conuiuio cum esset 
laetitiae causa decretum ut omnes per ordinem cantare deberent, ille ubi adpropinquare 
sibi citharam cernebat surgebat a media caena et egressus ad suam domum repedebat. 

2 Mon. Germ., Epist. Carol. Aeui, II 21 (ad Hygbaldum episc. Lindisfarnensem) : 
lectionis studium exercete. audiantur in domibus uestris legentes, non ludentes in 


to much the same effect. We may gather from the use of the 
word citharista that these recitations also were accompanied 
by the harp. But the language of the letters seems rather to 
suggest that the performers in such cases were persons who 
made minstrelsy more or less of a profession. A century earlier 
the existence of professional minstrels may be inferred from the 
well-known story of Aldhelm 1 that he used to take up his 
position on a bridge, like a professional minstrel (quasi artem 
cantitandi profession), and sing to the people in order to call 
them back to church. We are not informed as to the character 
of the poems he recited, but clearly they were of a type 
calculated to attract the country people. 

On the Continent we find very similar evidence. A passage 
in the Annals of Quedlinburg, to which we have already alluded 
and which dates perhaps ultimately from the tenth century, 
states that the country people used to sing of Dietrich von 
Bern 2 . From a much earlier period we have an interesting 
reference to a Frisian minstrel named Bernlef, who became a 
disciple of St Liudger. He had been blind for three years, 
when he was brought to the missionary, but " he was greatly 
loved by his neighbours because of his geniality and his skill 
in reciting to the accompaniment of the harp stories of the 
deeds of the ancients and the wars of kings 3 ." This incident 
appears to have taken place before 785. That minstrelsy was 
definitely recognised as a profession among the Frisians is 
shown by the last clause in the Lex Frisonum, which fixes a 
special compensation for injury to the hand of a harpist 4 . 

From all this we gather that in the eighth century there 
existed both in England and Germany a class of minstrels 
whose practice it was to play the harp and recite heroic poetry 

1 William of Malmesbury, Gesta Pontif., v 190 (from King Alfred's Handboc}. 

2 Amulung Theoderic iste fuit Thideric de Berne de quo cantabant 
rustici olim (Mon. Germ., Scr. in p. 31). 

3 Et ecce illo discumbente cum discipulis suis oblatus est cecus uocabulo Bernlef qui 
a uicinis suis ualde diligebatur eo quod esset affabilis et antiquorum actus regumque 
certamina bene noiierat psallendo promere, etc. Vita S. Liudgeri, n i (Mon. Germ., 
Scr. II p. 412). 

4 Qui harpatorem qui cum circulo harpare potest in manum percusserit componat 
illud quarta parte maiore compositione quam alteri eiusdem conditionis komini, etc. 
(Mon. Germ., Leg. m 699 f.). 


in the village-streets or on bridges or wherever they could 
gather an audience. Now if we turn to the poems themselves 
we find that they also contain references to professional minstrels ; 
but these appear to have been quite a different class of persons 
from those with whom we have been dealing. 

At the close of his elegy (v. 35 ff.) Deor gives the 
following account of himself: "With regard to myself I will 
say that formerly I was the bard (scop) of the Heodeningas 
and dear to my lord. My name is Deor. For many years 
I have had a good office and a gracious master. But now 
Heorrenda, a skilful poet, has received the domain which the 
king had before given to me." There may be some difference 
of opinion as to the precise meaning of the word londrykt 1 , but 
it is clear enough that the poet had been a court-minstrel and 
that he had been supplanted in the king's favour by a rival. In 
Beowulf also we find mention of a person who seems to hold 
a similar position. The word scop occurs three times in this 
poem (vv. 90, 496, 1066) always perhaps with reference to the 
same man. In each case he is represented as singing or reciting, 
and twice mention is made of the harp. On the last occasion, 
when he recites the story of Finn and Hnaef at the banquet 
(cf. p. 2), he is called Hroftgares scop, which seems to imply a 
sort of official position. 

The case of Widsith is somewhat different. The poet is a 
traveller who prides himself on the large number of nations 
he has visited. He states also that he served under various 
princes by whom he had been handsomely rewarded. The 
poem ends with some reflections on the life of wandering 
minstrels ; but these verses may be a later addition, like the 
introduction. At all events in v. 94 the poet speaks of his 
return home, when he presented to his lord, Eadgils prince 
of the Myrgingas, a valuable ' ring ' which had been given him 
by Eormenric. This present was a reward to Eadgils for his 
kindness in granting the poet the land formerly held by his 
father. It would seem then that the poet is represented as a 
man of good position. Whether we describe him as a wandering 

1 Cf. my Studies on Anglo-Saxon Institutions, p. 369. 


minstrel or not, his occupation is clearly to be regarded as 
court-minstrelsy and different therefore from that of Bernlef and 
the harpists mentioned by Alcuin. 

Apart from these personal notices there can be little doubt 
that the heroic poems which have come down to us were of 
courtly and not of popular origin. In the first place we may 
note their strongly aristocratic tone. This may be appreciated 
from the fact that all the women mentioned in the Anglo-Saxon 
poems are of royal birth, while the men are either princes or 
persons, apparently of noble or knightly rank, attached to the 
retinues of princes. On the rare occasions when persons of 
humbler rank are referred to, their names are not mentioned. 
In Beowulf no name is given even to the court-minstrel. Again 
the poems frequently refer to details of court etiquette, with 
which they seem to be well acquainted. In the later German 
poems this feature must of course be attributed to the conditions 
of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, when the poems were 
composed. But it is quite as marked even in Beowulf. We 
may note especially the long and detailed account of Beowulf's 
arrival at the Danish king's hall and the conversation which 
the chamberlain holds with the king on the one hand and the 
visitor on the other, before the latter is invited to enter. The 
chamberlain's exact position is remarked, when he approaches 
the king and it is added that u he knew the custom of knight- 
hood 1 ." Other members of the court also have their position 
or duties described (vv. 500 f., n6if., n65f., 1794 ff.) ; but 
most of all the poet loves to picture the movements of the king 
and queen (vv. 612 fT., 920 ff., 1 162 f.). 

Then again it should be observed that persons of royal rank 
are very seldom spoken of with disrespect. The rare exceptions 
to this rule probably all refer to persons of a remote past, 
Eormenric, Thrytho and Heremod, and in the last two cases 
the reprobation is qualified in a very marked way. Moreover 
the ground of censure is invariably violence, cruelty or treachery. 
Of immoral or unseemly conduct we have no mention. Indeed, 
except in the story of Weland which stands by itself in many 

1 Ctf$e he dugufte \eaw (v. 359). 


ways, as we shall see later such subjects seem to be studiously 
avoided. More than this the Anglo-Saxon heroic poems are 
entirely free from coarseness of language, such as we frequently 
find in Saxo's history, and indeed from references of any kind 
which could offend even the most fastidious taste. In general 
the same remarks are true also of the German and Scandinavian 
heroic poems, though not in the same degree. But the gnomic 
and theological poems of the Edda show a wholly different tone, 
which at its worst (e.g. in Lokasenna) verges on bestiality. 

Lastly, we must not overlook the fact that in dignity and 
polish of style the heroic poems far surpass any narrative works 
which the English language has to offer for many centuries 
later. It has been remarked that the composition of epic poetry 
requires a more or less professional training, and in the case 
of such poems as Beowulf this is doubtless true, not only on 
account of its length but also because a very large vocabulary 
is needed for the constant interchange of epithets which is one 
of its chief characteristics, while the allusions with which it 
abounds point to the possession of much historical or traditional 
lore 1 . At the time when it was produced the knowledge and 
leisure necessary for such composition is scarcely likely to have 
been found outside the entourages of kings. 

On the other hand we have seen that minstrelsy of some 
kind was cultivated even by peasants in Caedmon's time. We 
can hardly doubt that such was the case to a higher degree in 
court circles. In Beow. 867 ff we find a * king's thegn ' com- 
posing an account of the hero's adventure immediately after 
its occurrence, and utilising apparently by way of illustration 
the story of Sigemund. This person may be the court minstrel; 
but the identity of the two is scarcely certain. In a later 
passage (v. 2105 fc)> referring to the banquet after the fight with 
Grendel, we hear of the king himself taking his turn with the 
harp : " There we had poetry and music. The old Scylding 
(Hrothgar) related stories of old time out of his great store 
of information. Now the martial 2 hero would lay his hands 
on the joyous harp, the instrument that makes good cheer ; 

1 Cf. Brandl, op. /., p. 981 f. 

2 It is generally thought that all these sentences refer to the king. 



now he would recite a poem, true but sad ; now a story of 
marvel would be related in due course by the magnanimous 
king. Now again, bowed with age as he was, the old warrior 
would begin to lament that he had lost the martial vigour of 
youth. His heart surged within him as he called to mind the 
manifold experiences of a long life." It is held that the 
reference here is to lyrical effusions rather than to anything 
in the nature of epic narrative 1 ; but I am inclined to doubt 
if we are justified in totally excluding the latter. I would rather 
favour the view that the cultivation of minstrelsy, including 
narrative as well as lyric poetry, was a general accomplishment 
in royal households, and that the office of court-minstrel was 
an honour given to that member of the court who had attained 
the greatest proficiency in his art. 

The statements of the poems as to the prevalence of court- 
minstrelsy during the Heroic Age are fully confirmed by the 
testimony of contemporary Roman writers. Perhaps the most 
important reference is a passage in Priscus' account of his visit 
to Attila in the year 448. After describing the banquet given 
by the king to his guests he proceeds as follows 2 : " When 
evening came on torches were lighted and two barbarians stepped 
forth in front of Attila and recited poems which they had 
composed, recounting his victories and his valiant deeds in 
war. The banqueters fixed their eyes upon them, some 
being charmed with the poems, while others were roused in 
spirit, as the recollection of their wars came back to them. 
Others again burst into tears, because their bodies were en- 
feebled by age and their martial ardour had perforce to remain 

It will be noticed that this account bears a curious resem- 
blance to the passage from Beowulf which we have just quoted. 
Nothing is said as to the language in which the poems were 

1 Cf. Brandl, loc. cit. 

2 K. Miiller, Fragmenta Historicorum Graecorum, IV p. 92. eiri-yevofj.^* 5 
ecirtpas 5es avritftd-rjaav, d6o d dvTLKpti roD 'ArnjXa irapeXdovres pdpftapoi pcr/tara a t\eyov, j/kas aurou *ai ras Kara. 7r6\efj,ov pdovres dperds- ts oDs oi TTJJ 
euwx^cts dirtp\eirov, /cat oi jj,ei> TjdovTO rots iroir]fj.affu>, ol 5t TWJ/ TroX^/xwv di>a/JU/j.vr]0-K6fj.Vot 
SirjyelpovTO rotj <ppovififji,acri.v, dXXoi 5e i^^povv s ddKpva, uv itirb rov 


composed 1 , but at all events we need hardly doubt that in this 
as in other respects Attila was following Gothic custom. For 
the duet we find an interesting parallel in a passage of Widsith 
(v. 103 ff.) : " Then Scilling and I began to sing with clear voices 
before our victorious lord ; loudly rang out our music as we played 
the harp. Then it was openly confessed by many brave-hearted 
and experienced men that they had never heard a better song." 

Evidence for the cultivation of minstrelsy at Teutonic courts 
in Gaul is furnished by letters of Cassiodorus ( Variarum II, 40 f.) 
and Sidonius Apollinaris (Ep. I, 2).- The former document is 
an answer from the Ostrogothic king Theodric to a request 
from Clovis, king of the Franks (d. 511), who had asked him 
to send him a skilled minstrel. Sidonius' letter is a very full 
account of Theodric II, king of the Visigoths, who reigned 
from 453 to 466. He states that the king seldom admitted 
jesters when he was dining, and that he took no pleasure in 
music except when it encouraged manliness of spirit as well as 
pleased the ear. In neither of these cases however is it certain 
that the performers were Goths. 

A clearer case of Teutonic minstrelsy, dating from the same 
period, occurs in one of Sidonius' poems (Carm. I2 2 ), in which 
the author complains that he has to live among troops of long- 
haired and greedy Burgundians, listening with polite attention, 
in spite of his disgust, to their songs. More than a century later 
we hear of Frankish court-minstrelsy in a neighbouring district. 
In a poem addressed to Lupus, duke of Aquitaine, about the 
year 580, Venantius Fortunatus (Carm. VII 8. 61) says: "Let 
the Roman sound your praise with his lyre and the barbarian 
with his harp 3 "; and again : " Let us frame verses for you, while 
barbarian poets compose their lays ; thus the hero will be greeted 
with like honour, though in diverse strains 4 ." In the introduction 

1 The performers who followed are said to have used Gothic, Hunnish and Latin. 

2 Freely translated by Hodgkin, Italy and her Invaders'*, Vol. n, p. 363. That 
the songs were in the national language appears from the phrases Germanica uerba 
(v. 4), barbaricis abacta plectris... Thalia (v. 9 f.). 

3 Romanusque lyra plaudal tibi barbarus harpa. 

4 v. 67 f. nos tibi uersiculos, dent barbara carmina kudos: 

sic uariante tropo laus sonet una uiro. 

The word leudos is generally interpreted as in the next passage (Ang.-Sax. lecfo) ; 
but is it not possible that here it is an error for leudes (N. pi.) ? 


to his poems the same author complains of the constant buzzing 
of the harp, as it resounds to the barbarian lays 1 . 

A curious case of royal minstrelsy is recorded by Procopius 
( Vand. II 6) in his account of the siege of Mount Pappua 
(A.D. 534). Gelimer, king of the Vandals, wrote a letter to 
Faras, the Herulian chief who commanded the besieging army, 
begging him to send him a harp, a loaf and a sponge. The 
explanation given by the messenger was that the king had 
composed a song upon his misfortunes and as he was a good 
minstrel he was anxious to accompany it with a mournful tune 
on the harp as he bewailed his fate 2 . We are again reminded 
of Hrothgar, but perhaps still more of Hrethel's dirge over 
his son (Beow. 2460 f.). 

These examples are sufficient to show that minstrelsy was 
widely cultivated in the courts of the Teutonic princes who had 
established themselves in Roman territory. Taken together with 
the references in Anglo-Saxon poetry, which deals of course 
with the more northern peoples, they leave no doubt that the 
prevalence of court-minstrelsy was one of the characteristics of 
the Heroic Age. For the existence of professional minstrels 
the Roman evidence is not so clear, though we may regard in 
this light the two 'barbarians' mentioned by Priscus (p. 84). 
On the whole the impression which we gain from our authorities 
is that the cultivation of the art was more or less general as in 
the north. 

But it must certainly not be assumed that the poems of the 
period were always of an ephemeral character. Jordanes (cap. 5), 
in a passage to which we have already referred, says that the 
Goths " used to sing to the strains of the harp ancient poetry 
dealing with the deeds of their ancestors, Eterparmara, Hanala, 
Fridigernus, Vidigoia and others who are very famous in this 
nation 3 ." Again, when he mentions the migration of the Goths 

1 sola saepe bombicans barbaros leudos arpa relidens (Mon. Germ., Auct. Antiquiss. 
Tom. iv i p. 2). 

2 Ktdaptffrrj Se dya0(j) ovn ySi; TIS aury e ? s %vfj.(popa.v rr]v Trapov<rav TreTro^rat, T)V di) 
TTOOS Kidapav Bp-rjvTjffaL re /ecu air OK\O.V 00.1 eireLyerai. 

3 antique etiam cantu maiorum facta modulationibus cilharisque canebant, Respa- 
marae, Hanalae^ Fridigerni, Vidigoiae et aliorum quorum in hac gente magna opinio 
est, quales uix heroas fuisse miranda iactat antiquitas. 


to the Black Sea (cap. 4), he refers to "their ancient poems," 
where this event is commonly related in almost historical style 1 . 
From such expressions we must conclude that Jordanes knew, 
directly or indirectly, of Gothic poems which he believed to 
have been in existence for a considerable time. 

Jordanes' language may be compared with Einhard's refer- 
ence to the ' barbarous and very ancient poems ' collected by 
Charlemagne (cf. p. 62). But in reality there appears to be 
an essential difference between the minstrelsy of the Heroic 
Age and that of Charlemagne's time. In the latter period we 
hear only of ' very ancient poems ' or of poems dealing with 
' the deeds of the ancients,' as in the story of Bernlef. The 
two expressions may really be more or less equivalent, for there 
is nothing to show that Bernlef was an original composer. For 
the existence in his time of court-minstrelsy, or indeed of any 
poetry dealing with contemporary persons and events, we have 
no evidence which can be called satisfactory 2 . 

In the Heroic Age on the other hand we have references 
not only to 'ancient poems' but also to original compositions, 
dealing with the praise or fortunes of living men. The exploits 
of Attila, one of the leading figures of that age, were sung in 
his own presence, as we know from an eye-witness. We need 
scarcely doubt therefore that Beowulf truly reflects the spirit of 
the times when it makes one of the Danish king's thegns 
compose a poem on the hero's exploit immediately after the 
event. It is to such compositions that heroic poetry indeed 
in a sense we may say the Heroic Age itself owes its origin. 

The beginning of the process may be seen from a few 
passages in Widsith. At the end of the poem we are told that 
" he who wins praise (lof) shall have his glory (dom) established 
on high beneath the sky," The meaning of the first expression 
is explained by another passage (v. 70 ff.) : " I have been in 
Italy with Alboin. No human being, as far as my knowledge 
goes, had a readier hand than had Audoin's son for the winning 

1 quemadmodum et in priscis eorum carminibus pene historico ritu in commune 

2 For a passage in Saxo Poeta which seems to indicate the existence of such poems 
cf. p. 6, note. 


of praise, nor a heart more ungrudging in the distribution of 
rings and shining bracelets." We may compare also what the 
poet says of his patroness, the princess Ealhhild (v. 99 ff.): "Her 
praise spread through many lands, when I set myself to declare 
in song where under heaven it was that I knew of a gold-adorned 
queen who lavished presents in the noblest fashion." The chief 
object which the characters of the Heroic Age set before them- 
selves is to ' win glory ' to have their fame celebrated for all 
time. Thus in Beow. 13876. the hero says: "Let him, who 
can, win for himself glory before he dies ; that is the best thing 
which can come to a knight in after times, when he is no more." 
Such glory may be won by brave deeds, as when Beowulf says 
to Hrothgar before his second adventure (ib. 1490 f.) : "I will 
win for myself glory with Hrunting (a sword), or death shall 
take me," or again when the queen says to Beowulf (ib. 1221 ff.): 
"Thou hast brought it about that men shall esteem thee far 
and near and for all eternity, wheresoever the sea encircleth its 
wind-swept barriers." But the same object can be attained by 
generosity, which will ensure one's praise being sounded from 
court to court. 

Now perhaps we are in a better position to understand why 
the Heroic Age ends when it does. The latest person mentioned 
in the heroic poems is Alboin who died about 572. The last 
Roman author who mentions Teutonic court-minstrelsy is 
Venantius Fortunatus, who wrote apparently about ten years 
later. Is there a connection between these two facts ? It should 
be remembered that we have felt some hesitation in including 
Alboin among the characters of the Heroic Age, for though 
his praises were sung among the Saxons and Bavarians, as well 
as in England, he does not figure in any widely known story. 
We may reasonably expect that such stories would as a rule- 
not necessarily require a certain time in which to be elaborated. 
Is it possible that in Alboin's time the conditions favourable 
to such elaboration were no longer in existence that court- 
minstrelsy was dying out or had lost its creative power ? 

It will perhaps be urged that the absence of reference to 
court-minstrelsy after Venantius' time may be due to mere 
accident. But a short consideration of the political position 


will show that there is good reason for thinking otherwise. 
During the period which had elapsed since the time of Priscus 
and Sidonius we may say roughly about a century and a 
quarter the Teutonic world had undergone great changes. 
Many kingdoms had disappeared, among them those of the 
Huns, Rugii, Heruli, Alamanni, Thuringians, Burgundians, 
Vandals and Ostrogoths, and probably also the Warni and 
Gepidae. Of the nations which survived the Visigoths and 
Langobardi, and to a large extent the Franks also, were settled 
among alien peoples and thus exposed to denationalising in- 
fluences. This is partly true also of the Bavarians, and they 
moreover had become subject to the Franks before the middle 
of the sixth century. Probably the only other Teutonic 
kingdoms which remained on the Continent were those of the 
Frisians and the Danes, for there is no evidence that the Old 
Saxons were under kingly government at this time 1 . More- 
over the Danes were almost cut off from the western peoples 
by the irruption of the Slavs who now occupied the greater 
part of ancient Germany. Hence we may conclude that even 
if court-minstrelsy survived in a few places the poems had 
now no longer any chance of obtaining a wide international 

The change of faith is of course another consideration which 
must be taken into account. One of its effects was to cut off 
the Christian kingdoms from those of the Frisians and Danes. 
Probably also it had an adverse influence on the cultivation 
of court-minstrelsy, for there can be little doubt that this was 
>riginally permeated by heathen ideas. At all events we find 

later times surprisingly few traces of heroic poetry in the 
jrritories of the Franks, Visigoths and Langobardi. 

Of the purely Teutonic kingdoms, excluding Denmark, that 
)f the Frisians was the last to retain both its independence and 

religion. It can hardly be due to accident therefore that 
>me of the most important of the heroic poems, such as 
^udrun (cf. p. 34) and probably also the Norse version of 
story of SigurSr (cf. p. 59), appear to be derived from 

1 At all events they had no kings when we first obtain definite information about 
, towards the close of the following century. 


Frisian sources, though this region was not their original home. 
Further, we have noticed that in Frisian law a special compen- 
sation was fixed for injury done to the hand of a harpist. Still 
more significant is the fact that in the passage quoted above 
(p. 80) from the Vita Liudgeri, describing Bernlefs skill in 
reciting heroic poetry, one text adds the words more gentis suae. 
It would seem then that minstrelsy of this type was regarded 
as a distinctive characteristic of the Frisians and that heroic 
poetry retained its hold upon them at a time when it was little 
known elsewhere. 

In England the conditions appear to have been quite different 
from those with which we have been dealing, for at the end of 
the sixth century this country probably contained more Teutonic 
kingdoms than did the whole of western and central Europe. 
We have seen reason for believing that Beowulf was composed 
within about half a century of Venantius' time and that the 
other heroic poems may date from the same period. From the 
evidence which we have discussed above we should naturally 
conclude that court-minstrelsy lasted somewhat longer in England 
than elsewhere, although it dealt entirely with stories derived 
from abroad. It is true that there is no external evidence for 
such minstrelsy ; but that is fully explained by the fact that 
we have practically no literature of any kind before the last 
decades of the seventh century. Most probably its extinction 
was due to that wave of religious fervour which was started by 
the Kentish king Erconberht and which in the course of the 
following half century seems to have succeeded in enforcing 
conformity to the new faith throughout the whole country. 

It will be convenient now to consider briefly the court- 
poetry of the Viking Age. The history of heroic poetry in 
the North unfortunately cannot be traced in its entire course. 
We have seen that there is a long gap, extending over some 
two centuries and a half, in Danish tradition, and also that 
the poems which have come down to us are probably 
all of Norse (Norwegian-Icelandic) origin. Yet the social 
conditions of the Viking Age were very different from those 
which prevailed on the Continent during the same period and 


unquestionably nearer than the latter to those of the Heroic 
Age. It is not unreasonable therefore to expect that the 
court-poetry of the Viking Age may throw light on the earlier 

We saw in an earlier chapter (p. 1 5 f.) that, apart from the 
Edda, Old Norse literature is rich in narrative poems of the 
ninth and tenth centuries. These are usually the work of known 
authors and deal for the most part with contemporary persons 
and events, though they contain frequent references to characters 
of the Heroic Age, as well as to the ancestors of reigning 
princes. Many of the authors, such as ThioSolfr of Hvin, 
Thorbiorn Hornklofi and GoSSormr Sindri, were what we may 
call court-minstrels or rather court- poets, for the harp seems 
not to have been used by such persons, at least in the latter 
part of the Viking Age. But they can scarcely be regarded 
as professionals in any strict sense of the term. As a rule 
they appear to have been men of good family. ThioSolfr was 
a familiar friend of Harold the Fair-haired, who entrusted him 
with the education of one of his sons. GoSSormr Sindri, who 
composed poems for the same king, refused to receive any 
reward and had sufficient influence with Harold to insist on 
his being reconciled with his son Halfdan Svarti. Another 
poet of the same period, Einarr 1 , commonly called Torf-Einarr, 
was earl of Orkney and practically an independent prince. 
Eyvindr Skaldaspillir, who was attached to the service of 
Haakon I and Haakon, earl of Lade, was himself a descendant 
of Harold the Fair-haired. 

It has been mentioned that from the middle of the tenth 
century onwards most of the poems quoted in the sagas are 
of Icelandic authorship. A considerable number of them may 
be regarded as court-poems, since they were composed in honour 
)f princes whom the authors were visiting at the time. As 
example we may take a verse quoted by Gunnlaugs Saga 
)rmstungu (cap. 7) from the poem composed by the hero, 
'hen he visited London in 1001 : "The whole nation reveres 
England's generous ruler as a god ; all ranks, warrior prince 

1 Son of Rognvaldr, earl of More, and half-brother of Gonguhrolfr (Rollo), first 
rl of Normandy. 


and people alike, bow down to Aethelred." Such poems were 
often handsomely rewarded. Aethelred presented Gunnlaugr 
with a scarlet cloak, lined with fur and embroidered with lace, 
while Sigtryggr, king of Dublin, gave him a fur-lined cloak, 
a lace-embroidered tunic and a gold ring which weighed a mark. 
It happened very frequently that men like Gunnlaugr would 
enter a king's retinue and remain with him for months and even 
years. But they would seldom consent to recognise any lordship 
permanently, since as a rule they had lands of their own in 
Iceland, to which they eventually returned. 

It is hardly probable that any class of persons exactly 
corresponding to this existed in the Heroic Age itself, for with 
the somewhat doubtful exception of the Old Saxons we have 
no evidence for independent commonwealths during that period. 
In Widsith, it is true, we have the case of a minstrel who claims 
to have wandered far and wide and to have visited many princes 
by whom, like Gunnlaugr, he was handsomely rewarded. But 
Widsith had a lord at home to whom he subsequently returned. 
Indeed the introduction, if we may use it as an authority, seems 
to make him set out at first on a definite commission from that 
prince. The permanent lordless state was probably altogether 
foreign to the conditions of the Heroic Age. The lordless man 
in the poems is either one who has lost his lord, as in the 
Wanderer, or one who has been dismissed from his lord's service, 
like Deor. Until he finds another lord he has neither home nor 
:urity, and his condition is pitiable in the extreme. 

But it is by no means so clear how the court-minstrels of 
the Heroic Age differed from the Norwegian poets of the Viking 
Age. In Kudrun the minstrel Horant (Heorrenda) seems to 
hold a position quite comparable with that of ThioSolfr or 
GoSSormr Sindri ; indeed he is even described as a relative 
(mac) of the king 1 . Again, we may take the case of StarkaSr. 
He is commonly regarded as the type of a roving poet-warrior 
of the Viking Age. But in reality he seems to belong to the 
Heroic Age ; for however late the poems attributed to him may 
be in their final form, they had their counterparts in England 
probably as early as the sixth century. There is no conclusive 

1 In the Norse form of the story Hiarrandi is the name of HeSinn's father. 


evidence for denying either that he was the foster-father of 
Ingialdr (Ingeld) or that he entered the service of a number 
of different kings. 

The story of StarkaSr is bound up with the history of heroic 
poetry in the Viking Age a difficult problem, to which we 
shall have to refer again shortly. We may note here however 
that the poems of ThioSolfr and Hornklofi must have been 
preserved for some three centuries by oral tradition before they 
were committed to writing. There seems to be no reason 
therefore for denying in principle the possibility that poems 
may have survived even from the Heroic Age. It is to be 
observed that court-poets were expected to be able to recite 
old poems, as well as works of their own composition. Thus 
on the morning of the battle of Stiklestad (A.D. 1030) St Olaf 
ordered the Icelander ThormoSr Kolbrunarskald to recite the 
old Biarkamal. This story is interesting as it shows that 
the love of the heroic poems was strong enough to assert 
itself in an hour of supreme danger and under a most religious 

In the course of this chapter we have seen that one of the 
characteristics of the Heroic Age was the prevalence of court- 
minstrelsy of a certain type, namely the recitation of metrical 
speeches accompanied by the harp. The cultivation of such 
minstrelsy seems to have been more or less general, and it is 
certain that princes had their praises and exploits celebrated 
in poems of this kind during their lifetime and even in their 
presence. But with the close of the Heroic Age the evidence 
for minstrelsy of this type apparently ceases altogether. In the 
eighth century we hear only of wandering minstrels who are 
invited into houses or perform in the streets. The minstrelsy 
of this period seems not to have been creative. At all events 
it deals only with characters belonging to former times, Ingeld 
or Alboin or ancient kings in general. Between these two 
periods we have to set the composition of the English heroic 
poems and probably also those German poems which were 
regarded as ancient in Charlemagne's time. Lastly, we find 
in Germany a series of poems dating from the twelfth and 


thirteenth centuries in which the old stories are treated again 
but in a new form. 

It appears then that the history of heroic poetry falls 
naturally into four stages. To Stage I belong the court-poems 
of the Heroic Age itself; to Stage II the epic and narrative 
poems based on these; to Stage III the popular poetry of the 
eighth and following centuries ; to Stage IV the German poems 
of the twelfth and following centuries, composed at a time 
when heroic subjects had again come into favour with the 
higher classes. 

To Stage I we may assign not only laudatory poems dealing 
with the victories and valour of living princes, but also such 
compositions as Gelimer's dirge and choric songs like the 
funeral chant over Attila 1 . From this stage probably nothing 
has come down to us though it would be difficult to point 
out any essential difference between Gelimer's dirge and the 
Elegy of Deor. We can form an idea however of these earliest 
poems from the poetry of the Viking Age, which seems to have 
been composed under very similar conditions. As instances we 
may cite Gunnlaugr's poem on Aethelred II (cf. p. 91 f.) and 
Eyvindr's poem on the death of Haakon I, which we shall have 
to discuss later. 

Stage II is represented by the Anglo-Saxon poems, which 
are clearly products of court-life, as we have seen (p. 81 ff.). 
From its general resemblance to these it seems probable that 
the Hildebrandslied belongs to the same class. Some writers 
draw a distinction between Beowulf and Waldhere on the one 
hand and Finn and the Hildebrandslied on the other, classifying 
the former as epics and the latter as lays (Lieder). It may be 
granted that the style of the two latter poems appears to be 
more rapid and less diffuse than that of the others. Still I 
should prefer to speak of short and long epics, or rather perhaps 
of short and long narrative poems. Very probably the earliest 
narrative poems were comparatively short. It may be that 
poems on the scale of Beowulf were first composed in England 
though this can hardly be proved. But the difference between 
the two classes seems to me to be one of degree and not of 

1 Jordanes, cap. 49 ; cf. Beow. 3 1 70 ff. 


kind. At all events no one will suggest that the Hildebrandslied 
is even approximately contemporaneous with the events which 
it professes to describe. One would expect it to be at least as 
remote from them as is the case with Beowulf. 

Stage in is directly represented only by certain ballads such 
as the Seyfridslied, which in their present form date from a time 
considerably later than the poems belonging to Stage IV. Much 
indirect evidence however can be obtained from various sources 
of earlier date, e.g. from ThiSreks Saga af Bern, which is largely 
based on the popular heroic poetry of northern Germany, and 
from parts of Saxo's History which seem to be derived from 
Danish ballads. So far as we can judge from our authorities 
the popular poems seem to have differed in many ways from 
those which we have been discussing. They tended to simplify 
complex stories by the loss of minor characters and to amalga- 
mate stories which were originally quite unconnected. Again, 
they appear to have had a preference for biographical sketches, 
whereas the court poems are usually occupied with accounts of 
adventures which lasted only a few days. We may add also 
the absence of any detailed acquaintance with court-life and a 
general approximation to the characteristics of folk-tales, e.g. in 
the introduction of nameless characters and persons of humble 

It must be remembered of course that our authorities knew 
the popular poems only as they existed in the twelfth century 1 . 
We cannot say with any confidence that Bernlefs poems possessed 
the same characteristics. There is nothing to show that the 
Hildebrandslied was written down before his time, and it may 
be to persons of his type that we owe its preservation. The 
Anglo-Saxon poems may not have been committed to writing 
till a still later period. All that we can say is that they show 
no obvious signs of popular corruption and that their diction 
is much more archaic than that of poems which were composed 
in the eighth century. We have seen that in Iceland poems of 
a rather elaborate type could be preserved by oral tradition for 
over three centuries. This however was in a community which 

1 Ekkehard's Waltharius of course belongs to a much earlier period, but it is not 
always clear what has been added by Ekkehard himself. 


was largely given up to the cultivation of poetry. A knowledge 
of the old poems would be a necessary part of the training of 
those who hoped to win rewards for their art in foreign courts. 
Such favourable conditions can hardly have existed either in 
England or Germany. The process of disintegration which 
the poems underwent in the latter country points to their being 
preserved only by village minstrels, who as time went on became 
less and less expert in their profession. 

Stage IV is represented by the Middle High German epic 
poems, which both in form and spirit show all the characteristics 
of the age in which they were composed. In England this 
stage was never reached. There may have been a revival of 
interest in heroic poetry during the ninth and tenth centuries, 
but we have no evidence for the composition of new poems on 
these subjects. 

There can be no doubt that the poems of Stage IV are 
derived from those of Stage III. But the question may be 
raised whether the latter were necessarily derived from poems 
of Stages I and II whether some heroic poems may not have 
been entirely of popular origin. It may be freely granted that 
the poetry of Stage II was constantly exposed to popular in- 
fluence, especially in the form of folk-tales. Most scholars 
indeed hold that some of the best known heroic stories, such as 
those of SigurSr-Siegfried and Weland, are derived from popular 
mythology. With this problem we shall have to deal later. On 
the whole however I am inclined to doubt whether we possess 
a single heroic story which has not been treated in court-poetry 
at an earlier stage in its career. 

Again, the relationship between Stage I and Stage II is not 
so simple as the bare statement given above might seem to 
imply. In the first place it is only as a class that poems of 
Stage I can be regarded as the earlier. Individual poems may 
very well be later than others which belong to Stage II. Thus 
it is extremely probable that Gothic princes were listening to 
laudatory poems about themselves at a time when other Gothic 
poems, of a definitely narrative type, were coming to be regarded 
as ancient. Then again, poems of a more or less narrative type 
may have been composed quite soon after the events which they 


treat. HornklofVs Hrafnsmal and the poem on the battle of 
Brunanburh must be regarded as analogous to poems of Stage I, 
but it is only a short step from such works to purely narrative 
pieces. Indeed, in a sense, we may almost class among narrative 
poems Eyvindr's Hakonarmal, which describes the fall of 
Haakon I at the battle of Fitje. Yet the author was himself 
present at the battle. It is by no means clear then that poems 
belonging to Stage II necessarily presuppose the existence of 
earlier poems or indeed of materials of any kind beyond the 
author's personal knowledge and imagination. 

But, more than this, we are scarcely justified in denying the\ 
possibility that even epics may have been composed upon quite 
recent events. Few will deny that the poem on the battle of , 
Maldon has a good claim to that title, whatever its original ; 
length may have been. The extant portion contains nine / 
speeches, by seven different persons. Twenty-two warriors in ' 
the English army are mentioned by name, and in about a dozen 
cases the names of their fathers or other relatives are also given. 
The poem differs from the heroic type in the fact that it does 
not record the name of a single person among the enemy ; but 
that need not prevent us from regarding it as an epic. Yet 
there can be no reasonable doubt that it was composed within a 
few years, possibly even months, of the battle 1 . 

It is likely enough that the author of this poem was well 
acquainted with heroic poetry and that his treatment of the 
subject was affected thereby. But is that any objection to 
supposing that poems of this type may have been composed 
within the Heroic Age itself? We have no reason whatever for 
denying that this age was capable of such compositions. Indeed 
there is one piece of evidence which points very much to the 

This is a passage which occurs in Procopius' History of the 
Gothic War (IV 20). After describing the embassy sent to 
Justinian by the Utiguri in the year 551, the author goes on 
to state that ' about this time ' hostilities broke out between the 
nation of the Warni and the Angli ('Ayyi\oi) who inhabit the 
island of Britain (Bpirrta). Not long before the Warni had 

1 Cf. Liebermann, Arch, ci, p. 15 if. ; Brandl, Grundriss, n p. 106. 

c. 7 


been ruled by a king named Hermegisklos who, being anxious 
to establish his throne on a secure foundation, sought and 
obtained in marriage a sister of Theodberht, king of the Franks. 
By a previous wife he had an only son named Radiger, who at 
this time was betrothed to a sister of the king of the Angli and 
had paid her a large sum of money in furtherance of his suit 1 . 
One day, when the king was riding in a certain place with the 
chief men of his nation, he saw a bird sitting on a tree and 
croaking loudly. Now, whether it was that he really understood 
what the bird said, or whether he had some other source of 
information but pretended that the bird was uttering a prophecy 
which he understood at all events he declared on the spot to 
his companions that he would die forty days later, for this had 
been clearly foretold to him by the bird 2 . Thereupon he gives 
advice as to what should be done after his death, namely that 
Radiger should marry his widow, in accordance with national 
custom, and dissolve his engagement with the English princess. 
On the fortieth day the king died, and Radiger proceeds to 
carry out his injunctions. But the princess, infuriated at his 
conduct, gathers together a fleet of four hundred vessels and 
invades the land of the Warni with 100,000 men. Radiger 's 
army is completely defeated, and he takes refuge in a dense 
forest. The princess insists on his being taken alive at all 
costs, and eventually he is captured and brought before her. 
He expects to be put to death, but after explaining the cause 
of his action, he is pardoned on condition that he returns to his 
former engagement. 

This story contains a number of features, such as the 
prophecy of the bird, the payment of the ' bride-fee ' and 
Radiger's marriage with his stepmother, which show clearly 
that it was derived from someone who was well acquainted 
with the peoples of northern Europe. There is no ground for 
disputing that it has a historical basis ; but at the same time 

1 %/9i)yu.ara /neyaXa ri$ rrjs /j.vrj(rTelas avrfj 5e5a>/cws \6ytf}. 

2 ouros dvrip t-tov Qvapvw rots XoyL/uLCordrois ev ^wpty ry 'nnrev6fj.evos 6pviv riva eirl 
dtvdpov re'rjv el8e Kal TroXXa Kp&ov<rav. etre 5 TTJS opvidos TTJS <puvr)S jewels efre 
&\\o ptv Ti ^eiriffTa/uLevos, vveivcu 8e rrjs opvidos fj.avTVO/j.tvr)s Tepareva'd/j.ei'os, rots 
irapov<ni> fudvs tyaffKev u>s re^^^erai reffffapaKovra i)/ vtrrepov. TOVTO yap avrtp 
"Tf\v Tr)s opvidos ST/XOUJ' irpbpprjffiv. 


it is obviously much more than a mere record of facts. Apart 
from the incident of the bird and the gross exaggeration 
apparent in certain details 1 , the pictorial character of the 
narrative, especially in its earlier part, indicates a close affinity 
with heroic poetry. Un-heroic features are not wanting the 
introduction of nameless persons and the political reflections 
of Irmingisl but they may with probability be attributed to 
Procopius himself. I do not mean to suggest that his source 
of information was an epic poem, but I do think that the 
intellectual atmosphere which could produce such a story must 
have been exactly of the kind most favourable to the growth of 
such compositions. 

Procopius, as we have seen, places this war in or about the 
year 551, and we can certainly understand the course of events 
more easily if it took place after Theodberht's death (A.D. 548). 
Therefore, since Procopius' work appears to have been written 
within the next seven or eight years, the story had had little 
time to develop before it came to his ears. On the other hand 
we must remember that it refers to a distant region a fact I 
think not without significance for the history of contemporary 
narrative poetry. To persons who had themselves taken part 
in the events poems like that on the battle of Brunanburh would 
appeal much more strongly than purely narrative pieces. It is 
for persons who were either ignorant of the events or knew them 
only by hearsay that the latter would seem to be primarily 

In this discussion we have taken no account of the heroic 
poems of the Edda. There can be little doubt that these poems 
must be assigned to Stage IV of our scheme ; for though some 
of them are probably three or four centuries older than the 
German poems of this class, they bear fairly obvious marks of 
the disintegrating process which seems to characterise popular 
poetry 2 . It may be asked how such an opinion is compatible 

It is not clear whether the marvellous account of Britain which follows this story 
ics from the same source or not. 

2 They certainly resemble poems of Stage II both in form and spirit much more 
:losely than their German counterparts do. But this may be due partly to the fact 
lat Stage in was of much shorter duration in their case. 



with the view that the story of SigurSr was derived from the 
Continent during the seventh century (cf. p. 59). The true 
explanation is, I believe, that heroic poetry passed through 
Stage III after it became known in Norway. 

We noted in an earlier chapter (pp. 30, 33) that Norway plays 
no part in stories of the Heroic Age. On the other hand it has 
what we may call a Heroic Age of its own namely the Viking 
Age. We have no poems and few stories of any kind dealing 
with persons of Norwegian nationality who lived before that 
period. The remoteness, poverty and mountainous nature of the 
country doubtless retarded its development, not only politically 
but also in the cultivation of poetry. The strophic character 
of all Norse poetry is generally held to point to a choric origin, 
and it may very well be that this primitive type of poetry was 
the only one used in Norway when the heroic stories first became 
known there. Possibly it was to Frisian and Danish minstrels 
that the change was due 1 . But the conditions suitable for a 
flourishing court-poetry, like that of the Heroic Age, scarcely 
existed before the last years of the eighth century, when 
Norwegian princes had begun to enrich themselves with maritime 

1 A reminiscence of such minstrels may perhaps be preserved in the story of the 
unfortunate Heimir, who fled to Norway with the child Aslaug concealed in a harp 
and was murdered there by a peasant from whom he had sought hospitality ( Vols. 
Saga, cap. 43). 



THE nearest modern analogy, at least in Europe, to the types of poetry 
which we have been discussing is probably to be found among the various 
peoples of Serbo-Croatian nationality. As an example we may take the 
poetry current among the Mohammedan population of Bosnia 1 . Since the 
occupation of that province a large number of narrative poems have been 
collected and published, though only a few are as yet accessible in transla- 
tions. These poems afford an interesting illustration of our subject, not 
only because they deal with similar themes heroism in battle, single 
combats, love and revenge and often in quite as full detail, but also since 
the events with which they are concerned and the conditions they reflect 
belong to a well-marked historical period, which we may regard as a kind 
of Heroic Age. The period in question embraces the greater part of the 
sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, more especially the latter, a time when 
the Turkish Empire was at the height of its power, and when its armies 
were frequently engaged in hostilities with the Austrians in Hungary and 
Croatia. Many of the characters mentioned in the poems are well known 
historical persons. 

But beyond all this the value of the illustration lies largely in the fact 
that we have here what may be called a living heroic poetry, such as we 
hear of among the Teutonic peoples only through occasional notices in 
ancient records. As among the latter it is customary for the minstrel 
(pivac, dial, for pjevac} to accompany his recitation on a musical instrument, 
the tambura, a kind of guitar with only two metal strings. Among the 
Christian population the gusle, a primitive type of fiddle, is in use. 

The poems vary greatly in length. Out of 320 pieces collected by 
Dr Marjanovic thirty contained less than 100 verses, while fifteen exceeded 
2000, the longest of all amounting to over 4000. The average length of 
the pieces described as epic is given at 873 verses ; a hundred and three 
vary from 600 to 1000, and sixty-two from 1000 to 1500. These figures are 
especially important in view of their bearing on certain prevalent ideas as 
to the limits of oral poetry. It is to be observed that the ordinary Servian 
metre is decasyllabic, the verse not being appreciably shorter than the 
average Teutonic alliterative verse. The minstrel begins his recitation 
quite slowly, but after about a hundred verses he attains such a speed that 
not even a shorthand writer can keep pace with him. Such recitations are 
extremely fatiguing, and in the longer poems it is customary to allow 
intervals of rest for refreshments, questions and criticism. It will be seen 

1 The first part of this note is mainly derived from an interesting paper by 
Prof. M. Murko in the Zeitschrift des Vereins fur Volkskunde (Berlin), 1909, p. i3ff., 
to which the reader is referred for further information and authorities. The collections 
of poems published by Marjanovic and Hermann have not been accessible to me. 


that if carried out on these principles the recitation of a Teutonic poem of 
2000, or even 3000, verses would be nothing impossible in the course of a 
long evening's entertainment. 

In the * recitation ' great freedom is allowed. A minstrel need only hear 
a poem two or three times (once, if it is sung) in order to reproduce it ; but 
the reproduction is by no means given in the same words. To a certain 
degree, says Prof. Murko, every minstrel is a more or less creative poet 
('Nachdichter'). But even by the same man a poem is never repeated in 
exactly the same words. In the course of years changes may be introduced 
which apparently render it almost unrecognisable. Some minstrels are 
experts in particular lines, special popularity being enjoyed by those who 
know best how to describe a girl's dress or the trappings of a horse. The 
faculty for expansion and compression is also very marked. Cases are 
known of minstrels who have doubled and even trebled the length of poems 
which they had heard. In one instance two variants of a poem are known, 
of which one contains 1284 verses, the other barely 300. Such cases, as 
Prof. Murko remarks, supply interesting evidence for the origin of different 
recensions of epic poems particularly, we may add, for the relationship of 
lays and epics. 

From what has been said it will be clear enough that the poems are 
preserved by oral tradition. Vague rumours of written texts are heard of 
from time to time and, though none have yet been discovered, it seems 
probable that some poems have been committed to writing in the past. 
But the minstrels of the present day are invariably unable to read or write. 
As to the age and origin of the poems nothing is known for certain, though 
most of them are believed to be about two centuries old. Four minstrels 
knew of an authoress a certain ' pale-cheeked Ajka ' from the Lika (in 
Croatia) ; but regarding her little or no information seems to have been 
obtained. The other minstrels could only give the names of those from 
whom they had themselves heard the poems. 

The minstrels belong to various stations of life. Some are men of good 
family, but the majority are peasant proprietors or workmen. Not many 
carry on minstrelsy as a regular profession, except when they have fallen on 
bad times. The recitations are given in coffee-houses or at any holiday 
gathering. Very often too the minstrels are invited to the residences of the 
Begs 1 . The case is recorded of one minstrel who recited over a hundred 

1 Some interesting remarks relating to the prevalence of minstrelsy apparently 
among the Christian population during the eighteenth century are to be found in 
Fortis' Travels into Dalmatia (London, 1778). "A Morlacco travels along the 
desert mountains singing, especially in the night time, the actions of ancient Slavi 

kings and barons or some tragic event Although the Morlacchi usually sing their 

ancient songs, yet other poetry is not altogether extinguished among them ; and their 
musicians, after singing an ancient piece, accompanied with the guzla, sometimes 
finish it with some extempore verses, in praise of the personage by whom they are 
employed" (ib., p. 85). 


poems for a certain Beg within six weeks. The Mohammedan ladies are 
especially fond of such recitations. For his services the minstrel receives 
payment, sometimes in money, sometimes in corn or livestock, sometimes 
only in coffee and cigarettes. 

It will not escape notice that a good deal of what is said here might be 
applied with considerable probability to the Frisian minstrel Bernlef or the 
English minstrels mentioned by Alcuin. Indeed, apart from the coffee and 
cigarettes, there is scarcely a single feature in the description given above 
for which we should not expect to find parallels in Teutonic minstrelsy 
towards the close of the eighth century. We may therefore reasonably look 
for traces of those characteristics which distinguish Stage III in the history 
of Teutonic heroic poetry, and in point of fact there seems to be abundant 
evidence in this direction 1 . The action is usually spread over a considerable 
time. The characters mentioned by name are few in number and recur 
again and again in different stories, each district apparently having a 
favourite hero who is introduced as its representative on many different 
occasions 2 . Geographical indications are very frequently erroneous, while 
historical persons figure in quite unhistorical relationships. The unsympa- 
thetic characters are often guilty of atrocious brutality. Moreover, we 
constantly find repetitions of the same words or formulae in consecutive 
verses after the manner of ballads. Indeed the characteristics of the poems 
generally their merits as well as their faults are to a large extent those of 
popular rather than court poetry. 

But, though the poems show the characteristics which we associate with 
Stage in, it is questionable whether we are justified in including them in 
this category ; for there is no evidence that they have passed through any- 
thing corresponding to Stages I and II. Practically the only court which 
they know at all is that of Stamboul, and of this their knowledge is naturally 
slight and remote. The highest personages with whom they are really 
acquainted are the Begs. It is not unlikely that in the days of Turkish 
supremacy the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries the provincial nobility 
were much more wealthy and influential than they now are ; and it may be 
that some Begs then had minstrels attached to their own personal following. 
But their position can never have been comparable with that of even 
petty Teutonic princes. Hence, if we are entitled to suggest the previous 
existence of court-poetry at all, it can only be in a very restricted sense so 
far at least as the extant poems are concerned. 

On the other hand Servian poetry has without doubt had a long history, 
and even heroic poems are by no means the exclusive property of the 
Mohammedan population. Indeed some of the Christian poems 3 seem 

1 The following observations are based on the poems published in Krauss' 
Slamsche Volkforschungen. 

2 Thus in a number of poems the Beg Ljubovic appears as the representative 
of Hercegovina. 

3 Especially several of those dealing with the battle of Kossovo 1389), to which 
we shall have to refer in a later note. 


to exhibit the characteristics of Stage in to a far less degree than the 
Mohammedan ones ; and they frequently deal with much earlier events. 
It is likely enough that the beginnings of heroic poetry go back to the 
fourteenth or fifteenth centuries 1 , at which time its growth may have been 
fostered by conditions much more similar to those of the Teutonic Heroic 
Age. To this question we shall have to refer again. The subject as a whole 
however is one which must be left to experts. In order to form a sound 
opinion one would have to take account of the history of narrative poetry 
among the neighbouring peoples, more especially the Bulgarians and 
Slovenians 2 . The total change of subjects in the Mohammedan poems 
would be a necessary consequence of the change of faith ; that heroic poetry 
survived such a change at all is probably to be attributed to the fact that a 
large proportion of the nobility in Bosnia embraced Islam. 

Before we leave the subject however note must be taken of one more 
important feature in the poems. The Mohammedan Bosnians were religious 
fanatics, and the spirit of religious war is generally present. It is not 
absolutely universal ; some poems even represent Moslems and Christians 
in sworn brotherhood. As a rule however the world is regarded as divided 
into two hostile camps, one under the Sultan (Car), the other under the 
Emperor (Cesar). In this respect, as in several others, Bosnian poetry 
shows affinity with the Old French epics, whereas in early Teutonic poetry 
differences of creed, and even nationality, are scarcely recognised. 

In the north of Russia numerous ballads are still current which seem to 
be based on events much more remote than anything treated in Servian 
poetry. Many of them deal with stories relating to the time of Vladimir I, 
who ruled over Kiev about 980-1015, and their antiquity is rendered highly 
probable by the fact that the same king, together with his chief hero, Ilja of 
Murom, figures in ThiSreks Saga af Bern. In their present form these 
ballads show the characteristics of popular poetry to such an extent that 
they are scarcely distinguishable from folk-tales. Yet it is possible that 
they are in part descended from poems which might fairly be brought under 
Stages I and II of our scheme. 

At all events there is some reason for suspecting that in early times 
court-poetry was not unknown in Russia. Evidence to this effect is supplied 
by the Slovo o polku Igoreve (* Story of Igor's expedition '), which may be 

1 There are references to the existence of heroic poetry in the neighbourhood of 
Spalato and Sebenico as far back as the sixteenth century; cf. Murko, Arch. f. slav. 
PhiloL, xxvin 378. A much earlier reference has been traced in Nicephorus 
Gregoras' account (Hist. Byz., vm 14) of his mission to the court of Stephan Uros 
in the year 1326, where it is stated of his followers: 0wj/cus xP& t>TO Ka ^ /*^e<rt 
rpayLKois- y8ov d' apa K\ea avdpuv wv olov K\tos d/cotfo/*e' ovdt rot idftev. But it is 
extremely doubtful whether these persons were Servians. 

2 In the middle of the sixteenth century the Slovenians of Tolmino used to sing 
"di Mattia re d' Ungheria e di altri celebri personaggi di quella nazione" (Murko, 
Zeitschr. d. Vereins f. Volksk., 1909, p. 14, note). Matthias Hunyadi died in 1490. 


described as an epic, though it has no fixed metrical form. The subject is 
a disastrous expedition undertaken by Igor, the son of Svjatoslav, against 
the Polovtses on the Don in the year 1185. It is believed to be an 
absolutely contemporary work, composed within two years of the event. 
Both in language and spirit it shows rather a striking resemblance to 
Anglo-Saxon heroic poetry. " Igor leads his soldiers to the Don : the birds 
in the thicket forebode his misfortune ; the wolves bristle up and howl a 
storm in the mountain clefts ; the eagles screech and call the beasts to 

a feast of bones ; the foxes bark for the crimson shields The Russians 

bar the long fields with their crimson shields, seeking honour for themselves 
and glory for the Prince 1 ." There are frequent references also to mythical 
beings. It is held by many that this work was composed by a bard who 
belonged to the druzina or military following of the prince and that it is 
the last relic of what may once have been a considerable body of poetry. 
Certainly we may note that the author repeatedly refers to a certain ' Bojan 
the Wise, nightingale of ancient time,' a poet who is unknown from other 
sources, but who apparently lived nearly a century before the composition 
of the Slovo. This carries us back practically to what we may call the 
Russian Heroic Age, for Bojan is represented as singing the praises of the 
sons of Vladimir I. In their time the Russian courts still maintained 
intimate relations with the Scandinavian kingdoms. Vladimir indeed 
appears to have had Norwegians in his service, and Olafr Tryggvason 
is said to have been brought up at his court. It is scarcely impossible 
therefore that this early poetry may have been due, in part at least, to 
Scandinavian influence. 


In the history of the various Celtic peoples there is evidence for the 
existence of more than one Heroic Age. In the first place we have some 
traces of heroic poetry among the ancient Gauls, though unfortunately it 
has entirely perished, together with all their vernacular records. Then 
again Ireland has preserved a great body of heroic literature, referring to a 
remote period. But, whatever may have been their original form, these 
stories have come down to us for the most part only in prose. Moreover, 
the subject is beset with so many difficulties, both historical and linguistic, 
that it cannot be approached with safety except by an expert. We shall 
have to confine our attention therefore to the heroic poetry of the Cymry. 

Even here the difficulties to be encountered are sufficiently serious. Yet 
it is fairly clear that many of these poems deal with events which are 
referred by the chronicles to the sixth century and the first half of the 
seventh. We may note especially four groups of poems : (i) a few concerned 

1 Wiener, Anthology of Russian Literature^ I p. 84. 


with the exploits of Arthur and his heroes ; (2) a somewhat larger number 
referring to princes named Gwallawg, Urien and Rhydderch ; (3) certain 
poems dealing with Gododin and Catraeth ; (4) a few relating to Cadwallon. 
There are also two or three others, such as the elegy over Cynddylan, which 
seem to refer to the same period, though they cannot be classed under any 
of these headings. A number of the above poems, especially those included 
in the second and third groups, are attributed to two poets named Taliessin 
and Aneirin. 

There is no doubt that Cadwallon is the well known Welsh king who 
overthrew the Northumbrian king Edwin in 633 and was himself destroyed 
by Oswald in the following year. But the poems of the second group seem 
also to have a historical basis. In the Historia Brittonum (Harleian text), 
63, we hear of four kings, Vrbgen et Riderch Hen et Guallanc et Morcant^ 
who fought against the Northumbrian king Theodric and his successors, 
Frithuwald and Hussa. Urbgen is said to have besieged his opponents 
for three days in Lindisfarne (Metcaud), and to have perished eventually 
through the jealousy of Morcant. In another passage ( 62) we hear of 
Neirin et Taliessin among other poets who composed British poetry in the 
time of a king named Dutigirn 1 , who is made contemporary with Ida, the 
father of Theodric. The origin of these entries is unfortunately obscure. 
They are incorporated with an English genealogical document, dating 
apparently from the end of the eighth century ; but they may quite possibly 
be derived from earlier sources. In any case they cannot well be later than 
the first quarter of the ninth century. 

All the four kings mentioned in 63 are known to us also from 
genealogies of the tenth century. But one of them, Riderch Hen, is 
named in Adamnan's Life of St Columba, which is of course altogether 
independent of Welsh tradition. It is there stated (l I5 2 ) that Rodercus, 
king of Dumbarton, consulted St Columba as to his fate and received the 
answer that he would die a peaceful death in his house a prophecy which 
was subsequently fulfilled. As St Columba died probably in 597, the date 
given for Riderch Hen agrees well enough with what is stated in the 
Historia Brittonum ; for according to the most trustworthy records Theodric 
and his two immediate successors reigned from about 572 to 592 or 593. We 
have no ground for doubting that the references to Urbgen and the rest are 
based on equally good tradition. 

For the characters mentioned in the Gododin poems no such evidence 
is available. The poems themselves however contain references to the 
death of Dyvynival Vrych doubtless the Dalriadic king Domnall Brecc, who 
according to the Irish annals was killed by the Britons three years after the 
fall of Oswald, i.e. about the year 645. Unfortunately it is not made clear 

1 Tune Dutigirn in illo tempore fortiter dimicabat contra gent em Anglorum. tune 
Talhaern Tataguen in poemate claruit, et Neirin et Taliessin et Bluchbard et Cian, 
qui uocatur Gueinth Guaut, simul uno tempore in poemate Britannico daruerunt. 

2 De rege Roderco, filio Tothail, qui in Petra Cloithe regnauit. 


in what relationship this event stands to the main action of the poems 1 . 
The few identifications which can be made from the genealogies seem to 
be compatible with a date somewhere about this time. 

There can scarcely be any doubt that we are justified in regarding the 
period covered by the poems as a kind of Heroic Age. The story of Arthur 
was the one most elaborated in later times a process which must have 
begun before the ninth century, when it was incorporated in the Historia 
Brittonum ( 56). How much historical truth this story contains we do 
not know, though the chronicles refer Arthur to the early part of the sixth 
century, i.e. the beginning of our period. To a certain extent however the 
other stories have experienced the same process ; for, apart from the question 
when the poems under discussion were composed, there are others of un- 
doubtedly later date, such as the Englynion y Beddau, in which the same 
heroes are mentioned. Moreover it must not be assumed that these were 
the only persons of the same period whose praises were celebrated in 
poetry. Maelgwn, king of Gwynedd, who died about 548, figures prominently 
in traditions of later times, and it is likely enough that the beginnings of 
these stories were due to a similar cause. On the other hand there is 
apparently no evidence for the composition of poems dealing with the 
exploits of princes who lived in the latter part of the seventh century or 
for several centuries later. 

As to the origin of the poems discussed above we have no evidence 
which can be called conclusive. Some of the poems themselves claim to 
be the work of the poets Aneirin and Taliessin. At the present time 
however it seems to be generally held 2 that they are scholastic products 
of a later age, based upon chronicles and composed with the intention of 
glorifying the ancestry of some distinguished Welsh families. In support 
of this view it is contended that the language of the poems cannot possibly 
represent the form of Welsh spoken in the sixth or seventh centuries. But 
this argument is scarcely decisive ; for it is clear that parts of the poems 
ive undergone a certain amount of modernisation, and it is by no means 
icredible that the same process may have been in operation for centuries, 
find it difficult to believe that in order to celebrate the ancestry of certain 

lilies poems would be composed recording an action which is represented 

an overwhelming disaster for the British forces, such as that described in 
ic Gododin poems. And can it really be proved that many of the heroes 
ilebrated in these poems were claimed as ancestors by families in Wales ? 

At all events it is clear that the author of the entries in the Historia 
Jrittonum knew of ancient British poets. Neirin and Taliessin are only 
fo out of five names recorded by him, the rest apparently being altogether 

1 It is possibly worth noting that the Irish annals record a battle between Oswio 
id the Britons in the same year as Domnall Brecc's death ; cf. Skene, Chronicles of 

Picts and Scots, pp. 70, 348. 

2 This view is favoured by Prof. Anwyl in his Prolegomena to the Study of Old 
7 elsh Poetry (Trans, of the Hon. Soc. of Cymmrodorion, 1903-4), p. 7 f . 


unknown from other sources 1 . It is true that he places all these persons 
about a generation before Urien and Rhydderch Hen, but chronological 
accuracy is hardly to be expected in references to such a remote period. 
Certainly we should note that the last British king mentioned in these 
entries is a certain Cadafael (Catgabail Catguommed), who is said to have 
escaped alone from the battle in which Penda was killed (A.D. 655). The 
wording of this passage ( 65) seems rather to suggest acquaintance with 
a poem on the subject. 

We have seen now that the persons and events celebrated in the poems 
belong to a period extending roughly from 500 to 650 and that there are 
ancient records of famous British poets, who are referred to the earlier 
part of this period and of whom two are traditionally associated with the 
poems. Next we must notice that the poems themselves, even in the 
corrupt and often unintelligible form in which they are preserved, plainly 
show all the marks of Stage I of our scheme. Their characteristics are 
those of court-poetry, but they never attain to true narrative. For analogies 
to the poems which deal with Urien we can hardly do better than turn to 
the court-poetry of the Viking Age (cf. pp. 15 f., 91) ; for the Gododin poems 
perhaps the best parallels are to be found in the Battle of Maldon and the 
Story of Igor's Expedition, though in both the latter the narrative element 
is much more fully developed. Taking all the evidence into account, it 
seems to me that the choice lies between two alternatives : either the poems 
really are works of Stage I, which have survived from the Heroic Age itself, 
or they are exceedingly clever imitations of such works, composed at a time 
when the latter were still in existence. The decision between these two 
alternatives must of course be left to experts. In the meantime we shall be 
ready to admit that the poems are extremely corrupt, and that in some cases 
perhaps we have nothing more than disjecta membra of earlier pieces. But 
until conclusive evidence is brought forward it seems to me highly improbable 
that the original poems have been entirely lost 2 . 

The history of Cumbrian heroic poetry is easily intelligible when taken 
in connection with the national history. It is probable enough that on the 
withdrawal of the legions large portions of the country were occupied by 
northern Britons from beyond the Wall who are represented in tradition 
by Cunedda and his sons 3 . These were doubtless affected by Roman 

1 It has been suggested that Bluchbard (cf. p. 106, note) may be a corruption of 
the name Llywarch. Certainly the form Neirin (which is thought to be due to 
a misunderstanding of aneirin as et neiriri) seems to show that the scribe himself had 
no knowledge of Aneirin. 

2 The question of the antiquity of the poems must of course be distinguished from 
that of their authorship. If they are, even in part, the work of Taliessin and Aneirin, 
we must conclude that these poets are wrongly dated in the Historia Brittonum. 

3 In dealing with such traditions it is essential to remember that our authorities 
date from times when (apart from Strathclyde) the Cymry had long been confined to 
Wales and that they represent the point of view of writers living in Wales. If the 


influence to a very much less degree than the inhabitants of the province ; 
and the growth of heroic poetry during the sixth century may be satisfactorily 
accounted for by the wealth and prosperity which would naturally accrue 
to their princely families during the early days of their dominion. It was 
probably not until the time of Aethelfrith that their power was really broken. 
But the following half century was a most disastrous period, ending in the 
permanent obliteration of their nationality in a political sense throughout 
the whole region between the Dee and the Clyde. Any records which 
survived must owe their preservation, ultimately at least, to refugees who 
escaped into the Welsh highlands. 

Now we can see why so many place-names (Reged, Catraeth and dozens 
of others) are incapable of identification. But further, the conditions in 
Wales, the poorest and probably the most backward part of the province, 
were doubtless highly unfavourable to the development of heroic poetry. 
Under such conditions we should expect that narrative poems would rapidly 
disintegrate into the semblance of folk-tales ; and it may be that here we 
have the explanation of the medieval stories of Arthur. At all events they 
show a certain resemblance to the Russian stories of Vladimir and his 
heroes. But Arthur, as we have seen, belongs to the beginning of the 
Heroic Age. We have no evidence for the composition of poems, which 
can properly be called narrative, dealing with the later heroes. Here the 
original type of poem seems to have become stereotyped presumably 
because conditions favourable to development were no longer present. The 
only marvel is that so much has been preserved. 

kings of Gwynedd were really descended from the ' men of the north ' their settlement 
in that region is probably to be regarded as part of a much larger movement, of which 
the traces elsewhere were obliterated by the English conquest. 



MOST of the heroic poems and stories which have come down 
to us contain elements generally comprehended under the term 
'folk-tale' (Marchen), and it will be convenient at once to dis- 
tinguish tales of this class from popular tales in general. Under 
the latter term we may include all stories which are frequently 
repeated without being committed to writing. It is on such 
foundations probably that all the surviving heroic poems are 
built. The lapse of time between the events narrated and the 
composition of the poem may amount to weeks or to generations; 
in certain cases the story may be wholly fictitious but this 
does not affect our definition. When a story is put into metrical 
form by a skilful poet it becomes more or less crystallised and 
has a good chance of being preserved. In fact the result is 
somewhat similar to that of committing it to writing. Stories 
which are not put into poetic form are more liable to become 
obscured and forgotten. 

The term ' folk-tale 1 ' is of less wide application. Probably 
different scholars would define it in different ways ; but in 
this book it is applied only to stories dealing with anonymous 
characters. The hero or heroine (villain etc.) is described either 
(i) as 'the man,' 'the girl,' etc., or (2) by some common name 
such as Jack or Hans, which conveys no means of identification, 
or (3) by a name which is obviously made to suit his or her 
special circumstances or characteristics, such as Aschenbrodel 

1 Under this heading we may include metrical compositions. The term ' folk-song ' 
cannot conveniently be used here, as it has acquired a wider signification. 


or Sneewitchen. It will be seen that this limitation would 
not prevent us from regarding stories about the gods as folk- 
tales in origin ; for most of the gods bear descriptive names, e.g. 
Thunor, Frig, Balder, Frey. Yet by the time of our earliest 
authorities these names had come to denote definite personalities ; 
and consequently we must classify such stories in a separate 
category, namely as myths. On the other hand it must not be 
assumed that the presence of supernatural features, in some form 
or other, is a necessary characteristic of folk-tales. Such features 
do indeed occur very frequently ; but that is due merely to the 
fact that in illiterate societies the marvellous has a special 
attraction for men's minds. 

Into the origin of folk-tales in general we need not enter 
here. Some apparently spring from attempts to account for 
natural phenomena, social customs or religious rites. Others 
are probably founded on adventures, real or fictitious, of indi- 
viduals whose names have been forgotten. Thus, to take an 
instance, the story of Alfred and the cakes is not a folk-tale 
according to our standard ; but if the king's name had been 
forgotten we should have no hesitation in regarding it as such. 
Again, there can be no doubt that many modern folk-tales are 
derived ultimately from literary sources. In the same way we 
must regard it as possible that in earlier times many folk-tales 
were descended from heroic poems. 

Prof. Olrik 1 has pointed out that it is possible very often to 
distinguish between the Danish and Norse sources followed by 
Saxo in his History. One of the safest criteria is the presence 
or absence of characters whose names are not given. In stories 
of Norse origin, as in Old Norse literature generally, it is 
customary for every character to have a name a characteristic 
which also distinguishes the old heroic poetry. In stories derived 
from Danish sources on the other hand the characters mentioned 
by name are few in number. A good instance is to be found in 
the story of Ingellus (Ingeld), which in consequence of the loss 
)f proper names has been torn right away from its true con- 
ictions as may be seen by a comparison with Beowulf. Yet 
lere can be little doubt, as we have seen, that this story is 

1 Kilderne til Sakses Oldhistorie, p. 18 ff. 


ultimately derived from heroic poems. It would appear then 
that Danish tradition tended to approximate to the folk-tale. 

If heroic stories sometimes passed into folk-tales it is still 
clearer that the latter tended to make their way into heroic 
stories. We shall see shortly that even the early heroic poems 
relate a number of incidents which seem to be derived from 
folk-tales, while in the later forms of the stories such incidents 
become more and more frequent, most commonly in connec- 
tion with the childhood or ancestry of the hero. The same 
phenomenon occurs of course in stories of famous men which 
have nothing to do with heroic poetry. Thus there is a widely 
spread folk-tale (told of the god Thor in Old Norse literature), 
which relates how some animal, a goat, reindeer or calf, is killed 
and eaten, but care is taken not to break any of its bones. Then 
on the following day the hero restores the animal to life. In 
the Historia Brittonum (cap. 32) this story is related of 
St Germain, the well known bishop of Auxerre. 

It is a more difficult question and one which we shall have 
to discuss later whether any of the heroic stories are wholly 
derived from folk-tales. The story of Balder bears the stamp 
of a folk-tale, for the chief characters (Balder, HoSr, Nanna) 
have names with an obvious meaning. But it is only in Saxo's 
History that this story appears in a heroic setting ; and though 
his account seems to be more primitive in several respects than 
that given by the Norse authorities, there is some reason for 
suspecting that either he himself or one of his (comparatively 
recent) predecessors was responsible for the setting. It should 
be observed however that the occurrence of one or more names 
with obvious meanings does not in itself prove that a story is 
derived from a folk-tale. Thus in the story of HeSinn and 
Hogni the fact that the heroine (in contrast with the other 
characters) bears a name which means 'war,' does not of 
necessity involve her origin in a folk-tale any more than that 
of her namesake, the abbess of Whitby. 

Apart from the distinguishing feature with which we have 
/ been dealing folk-tales as a class have certain general charac- 
I teristics which may be appreciated by a comparison with those 
' of heroic poetry. In the last chapter (p. 82 f.) we gave a 


short list of the characteristics by which the latter is specially 
distinguished. To all these the typical folk-tale presents a 
marked contrast. Some of the leading characters, including 
either the hero or the heroine or both, are usually persons of 
humble birth. The opponents of the hero or heroine tend to 
be represented as monsters of cruelty or vice, even when they 
are of royal rank, as is often the case. There is no inclination 
to avoid horrible or coarse subjects. Above all we miss those 
detailed descriptions of court life upon which the heroic poems 
are so fond of dwelling. The life and thought which we find 
reflected in folk-tales is that not of the court but of the village.^ 

It would of course be rash to assume that folk-tales formed 
the sole intellectual pabulum of the peasantry in early times. 
No doubt we have to add * popular tales,' similar to those which 
formed the foundation of the heroic poems. But since these 
tales were not put into poetic form i.e. not into such poetic 
form as would ensure their preservation 1 they were always 
liable to disintegration and thus were constantly approximating 
to folk-tales. Hence, though we must make allowance for 
influence of the one upon the other, it is probably not so very 
far from the truth that what heroic stories were to the courts 
folk-tales were to the rest of the population. 

In Norway court poetry flourished down to Christian times, 
though in the generation before the conversion it had come 
mainly into the hands of Icelanders. But practically nothing 
is known as to the existence of court poets in Denmark ; and 
here we have, I think, the explanation of the peculiar character 
of the Danish sources used by Saxo. The old heroic poems 
had been largely forgotten, and what remained was preserved 
only in the form of ballads and popular tales which in some 
cases practically amounted to folk-tales. 

Lastly, we must note that the existence of a folk-tale 
sometimes be inferred when we have no knowledge of it in 
its uncontaminated form. Such is the case (e.g.) when we 
find the same adventure, especially if it be of a supernatural 
character, related of several different and unconnected persons, 
whose historical existence may be quite satisfactorily authenti- 

1 Ballads on heroic subjects may of course have begun quite early. 
c. 8 


cated. But such inferences must be used with caution, for it is 
not necessary to suppose that supernatural incidents in heroic 
stories are always due to the influence of folk-tales. They may 
often truly reflect the belief of an age which did not clearly 
distinguish between natural and supernatural. That the super- 
natural is less prominent in heroic poetry than in folk-tales is 
due doubtless to the fact that the courts of that period possessed 
a far higher degree of culture than the rest of the population. 
The same phenomenon is still more noticeable in Welsh 
literature than in Teutonic. In the early court poems the 
supernatural is comparatively little in evidence, whereas in the 
Mabinogion, which are largely made up of folk-tales, it is 
developed to a most astounding degree. 

Various kinds of supernatural beings are brought before 
our notice in heroic stories. In the Northern versions the god 
Othin is introduced not unfrequently. Thus, to give a few 
instances, the Volsunga Saga brings him into contact with 
Sigmundr on two occasions : first when he enters Volsungr's 
hall at the wedding feast and plants in the tree a sword which 
Sigmundr alone is able to draw out (cap. 3), and again in his 
last battle when the hero's sword is shattered at the touch of 
Othin's javelin (cap. n). Twice also the same saga makes him 
meet with SigurtSr: first when he chooses for him the horse 
Grani (cap. 13), and later when he accompanies him on his way 
to attack the sons of Hundingr (cap. 17; cf. also cap. 18). In 
all these cases alike the god's identity is not suspected, at least 
until after his departure. In the poem Reginsmal, from which 
the last of these incidents is taken, we find also a story of quite 
a different character and laid wholly in the realm of the super- 
natural, namely the adventures of the gods Othin, Hoenir and 
Loki with the otter and the dwarf Andvari. Of other divine 
or semi-divine beings we may mention HlioS, the daughter of 
Hrfmnir and adopted daughter of Frigg, who became the wife 
of Volsungr and mother of Sigmundr. As a last instance 
reference may be made to a passage from the lost Biarkamdl 
(Saxo, p. 66), where the hero suspects that Othin is present 
among the enemy and expresses his desire to attack him. 


In the German heroic poems, which are entirely Christian, 
we find no mention of the gods. Note should be taken however 
of an incident in the Rabenschlacht (v. 964 ff.), where Witege 
in his flight from Dietrich gallops into the sea and is rescued 
by the mermaid Wachilt. If we were dealing with a Greek story 
we should regard this person as a goddess without hesitation. 

In much earlier times a very good instance is furnished by 
the legendary history of the Langobardi. According to the story 
(cf. p. 9 f.) the Langobardi, who were then called Winniles, soon 
after their emigration from Scandinavia came into conflict with 
the Vandals. The Origo Gentis Langobardorum, an anonymous 
tract dating from the latter part of the seventh century, gives 
the following account of what happened : Ambri and Assi, the 
leaders of the Vandals, asked Wodan (Godan) that he should 
give them victory over the Winniles. Wodan replied, saying : 
"Whomsoever I shall first look upon, when the sun rises, to 
them will I give victory." Then Gambara with her two sons 
Ibor and Aio, who were chiefs over the Winniles, asked Fria 
(Frea), the wife of Wodan, that she should be gracious to the 
Winniles. Fria then gave counsel that the Winniles should 
come when the sun rose and that their women should let down 
their hair about their faces after the fashion of a beard and 
should come with their husbands. Then, as it became light, 
while the sun was rising, Fria turned the bed, on which Wodan 
lay, and put his face to the east and wakened him. And he 
looked and saw the Winniles and their women with their hair 
let down about their faces and said : " Who are those long- 
beards ? " And Fria said to Wodan : " As thou hast given them 
a name, give them also victory." And he gave them victory, etc. 

Woden is mentioned also in the Anglo-Saxon poem on the 
magic herbs, and Ing in the Runic poem. In strictly heroic 
pieces however the only possible case is the reference to the 
passionate love of Geat in the Elegy of Deor (v. I5) 1 . Indeed, 
were it not for the Langobardic story we might perhaps suspect 
that the introduction of the gods in heroic poetry was a Scandi- 

1 Elsewhere this name occurs only in the genealogies, where it is borne by an 
ancestor of Woden. It is possible however that in the Elegy some unknown hero of 
the Geatas may be meant (cf. Beow. 640, 1785 etc.). 



navian innovation. But as the case stands, although this story 

cannot properly be regarded as heroic, it is more likely that 

their non-appearance in the English heroic poems is due to 

. a process of expurgation or elimination. From such passages as 

fBeow. 1756. we may infer with probability that no definite 

; reference to the gods would be tolerated after the courts had 

become Christian (cf. p. 53f.). 

In the poems which have come down to us the supernatural 
element is represented chiefly by what we may call monsters. 
This is especially the case in Beowulf, the main part of which is 
devoted to encounters with such beings. We can hardly obtain 
a better example than the hero's adventures in the first part of 
the poem. But it will be well at the outset to guard against the 
assumption that the story of Beowulf was in any way typical of 
early heroic poetry. Thus we have no satisfactory evidence that 
either the story of Waldhere or that of Finn contained super- 
natural elements of any kind, while even in that of Siegfried 
they are comparatively unimportant. 

The story of Beowulf's adventures with the monsters seems 
to be derived from a folk-tale. In the Icelandic Grettis Saga, 
cap. 64 66, the famous outlaw Grettir, who died in icy, is 
credited with performing almost the same exploits. The re- 
semblance between the two stories indeed descends in some 
cases even to small points of detail. These, as well as the 
points of difference, may best be seen by giving an analysis of 
the two side by side. 

Beowulf learns that King Hroth- Grettir learns that Steinvor has 
gar's hall has been attacked by night lost her husband and a trusted 
for twelve years and many of his servant at two successive Christ- 
warriors carried off and devoured mases through mysterious nightly 
by the monster Grendel. He comes attacks on her house. He comes 
and offers his services. to her and claims hospitality at the 

third Christmas. 

He is left in charge of the hall at He is left alone in charge of the 

night with his fourteen companions. hall at night. 

Grendel (a male monster) attacks He is attacked by a huge female 

the hall, devours one warrior and monster and a desperate wrestling 

engages in a desperate wrestling struggle takes place, 
struggle with Beowulf. 




Grendel finds Beowulf too strong 
and eventually escapes, but with the 
loss of an arm which Beowulf tears 

Grendel's mother attacks the hall 
and carries off a Danish knight. 
Beowulf goes to the lake where the 
monsters were believed to dwell, in 
order to exact punishment. 

Beowulf dives into the lake and 
is seized by Grendel's mother who 
drags him into her cave, where there 
is a bright fire. Beowulf s followers 
and the Danes remain above on the 

The monster overthrows Beowulf 
and attacks him with a dirk (seax] ; 
but he succeeds in chopping her 
asunder with a huge sword which 
he finds in the cave. After slaying 
her he comes upon the dead Grendel 
and cuts off his head. He also sees 
a quantity of treasure. 

The lake is stained with the 
monster's blood. All think that 
Beowulf has perished, and the Danes 
return home; but Beowulf's followers 
remain on the bank. 

Grettir is dragged out of the 
house to a precipice over the river, 
where he eventually succeeds in 
chopping off one of the monsters 
arms. She falls over the edge. 

There is no further attack, but 
Grettir determines to examine the 
river from curiosity. 

Grettir dives off the cliff into the 
river, just below a waterfall. He 
climbs up beneath the waterfall and 
finds a cave there with a fire in it. 
The priest Steinn waits for him on 
the cliff. 

Grettir on reaching the cave is 
attacked by a huge male monster 
armed with a heptisax^. This snaps 
at the first thrust ; and as the monster 
reaches back for a sword which is 
hanging behind him, Grettir slashes 
him down the front. Afterwards he 
finds the remains of the two missing 
men in the cave. 

The river is stained with the 
monster's blood, and Steinn, think- 
ing that Grettir has perished, leaves 
the cliff. 

There can scarcely be any doubt that these two stories are 
connected in some way. Some scholars indeed hold that the 
Icelandic story is derived from the other ; but the discrepancies 
seem to me to be too great for this to be probable. Moreover 
there is another Scandinavian story which has to be taken into 
account. This is contained ( in Orms Thattr Storolfssonar 2 , a 
document which dates from the fourteenth century, and also in 
later ballads from Sweden and the Faroes. According to the 

1 This word is said to occur only here and in a following verse. From the 
description the weapon seems to have been a kind of dirk with a long wooden 

2 Fornmanna Sogur, in p. 204 ff. (especially p. -223 flf.). 


story Ormr was an Icelander who lived towards the end of the 
tenth century. Like Beowulf and Grettir he had a reputation 
for laziness in his youth. In his time an island called SauSey 
off the coast of Norway was inhabited by the monster Brusi 
and his mother who had the form of a black cat. One of 
Ormr's friends, a Dane named Asbiorn, lost his life in an 
attack upon them. Ormr then set out to avenge him. When 
he reached the monster's den the cat assailed him fiercely with 
her claws, but he ultimately succeeded in destroying her. 
Then he had an encounter with Brusi, whose head he tore 
open with his hands, afterwards cutting the ' blood-eagle ' upon 
his back. In the den he found a large amount of gold and 
silver. The later forms of the story add several features which 
recall the adventures of Beowulf, especially in regard to the 
situation of the den and the cannibalistic propensities of the 

Here again we have in all probability only another form of 
the same story. But it is to be observed that there is no special 
affinity between the two Scandinavian versions, while the setting 
and the names of the characters are entirely different in all three. 
Yet if one version was really the source of the others it is difficult 
to believe that every trace of its original connections could have 
vanished. With far more probability we may conclude that the 
story once existed independently, i.e. in the form of a folk-tale, 
and as a matter of fact we possess an Icelandic folk-tale which 
contains most of the principal features, though the hero has been 
split up into five brothers 1 . In its original form the tale was 
probably only a specialised variety of the type familiar to us 
through Jack the Giant-killer. Stories of this kind seem to 
have been particularly popular in Norway a fact due perhaps 
in part to the survival of isolated savage communities among 
whom cannibalism may not have been entirely unknown 2 . We 
meet with them sometimes in quite unexpected places. Thus 
in the account of Thoroddr Snorrason's mission to Jemtland in 

1 Cf. Brandl, Grundriss d. germ. Philol.' 2 , n p. 993 f. The following pages 
(995 f.) contain an admirable summary of the whole question. 

2 Cf. Hansen, Landnam i Norge, p. 160. For stories of monsters which suggest 
savages, cf. Ketils S. Haengs, cap. 2 f., and Grims S. Loflinkinna, cap. i. 


St Olaf's Saga (Heimskr.), cap. 151, we find a graphic and 
circumstantial story of a female monster who killed and 
devoured eleven merchants in the inn where the envoy was 
resting. Thor too, the chief Norwegian deity, came to be 
regarded essentially as a giant-killer, his origin in the thunder 
being entirely, or almost entirely, forgotten. 

It is no serious objection to our view that Grettir seems to 
be a perfectly historical character ; for no one will contend that 
the story of his doings at Sandhaugar is true, any more than 
a number of other exploits with which he is credited. The 
same remark applies to the story of Thoroddr, whose father, 
the magistrate Snorri (Grettir's contemporary), was perhaps the 
best known and most influential man in Iceland. We have seen 
that in the true folk-tale the hero is nameless ; but his adven- 
tures are liable to become linked with the names of historical 
characters just as in our own day everyone knows of remark- 
able persons who have had associated with them stories which 
really were in existence before their time. In Grettir's case 
exceptionally favourable conditions for such association were 
provided by the man's great strength, by the unruly disposition 
which he showed from his childhood and by the many thrilling 
adventures which he doubtless did experience during his long 
outlawry. Indeed, though the saga in its present form was not 
composed until nearly three centuries after his time, we might 
naturally expect that many untrue stories about such a person 
would be in circulation even before his death. 

Just as the folk-tale became attached to the historical Grettir, 
so it may have been associated with another person in earlier 
times. Now the only character in Northern tradition who has 
been identified with Beowulf is a certain BoSvarr Biarki, a 
warrior in the service of Hrolfr Kraki. The identification is 
denied by many scholars, but there are two points in the story 
of Biarki which seem to me to lend great probability to it. In 
the first place as Beowulf goes from the land of the Geatas 
(Gautar), where his uncle is king, to the court of the Danish 
king Hrothgar, so Biarki goes from the land of the Gautar, 
where his brother is king, to the court of Hrolfr Kraki, i.e. 
Hrothwulf, Hrothgar's nephew and colleague. Secondly, at 


a later time Biarki, like Beowulf, assists the Swedish prince 
ASils (Eadgils) in his victorious campaign against Ali (Onela), 
though he is represented not as king of the Gautar but as Hrolfr 
Kraki's emissary. 

On the other hand it is true that no resemblance to the story 
of Beowulf is shown by the Scandinavian accounts of Biarki's 
origin and death. In Hrolfs Saga Kraka 1 , which dates only 
from the fourteenth century, Biarki is said to have been born 
in Norway. His father was called Biorn ('bear') and his mother 
Bera (' she-bear '). The former indeed was actually turned into 
a bear by witchcraft. Further, from the time of his arrival in 
Denmark Biarki remained in the service of Hrolfr till the end 
and lost his life in the final attack made upon that king. A 
reminiscence of his ursine antecedents appears in the last scene. 
When the enemy are attacking the king's hall Biarki cannot be 
roused out of slumber, but a huge bear (the warrior's spirit) is 
seen fighting among the king's knights. 

Saxo says nothing about Biarki's origin and it may be that 
the story given in the saga was unknown in his time. At all 
events it is doubtless derived from a folk-tale. In the twelfth 
century Vita et Passio Waldevi 2 almost the same story is told 
of the father of Siward, the famous earl of Northumbria, who 
died in 1055, while a further parallel is to be found in the 
De Gestis Herwardi Saxonis 3 , another work of the same period. 
Both stories contain indications of Scandinavian origin and we 
can hardly doubt that the motif was a popular one in the folk- 
tales of the North. Indeed for the version of the story found 
in Hrolfs Saga, transformation into animal form through the 

1 A somewhat similar account of Biarki's origin is given in the (fifteenth century) 

2 Tradunt relaciones antiquorum quod uir quidam nobilis, quern Dominus permisit, 
contra solitum ordinem humane propaginis, ex quodam albo urso patre, muliere generosa 
matre, procreari t Ursus genuit Spratlingum ; Spratlingus Ulsium ; Ulsius Beorn, 
cognomento Beresune, hoc est filius ursi. Hie Beorn Dacus fuit natione, comes 
egregius et miles illustris. In signum autem illius diversitatis speciei ex parte generan- 
tium produxerat ei natura paternas auriculas, sive ursi etc. Michel, Chroniques 
Anglo-normandes, p. 104. 

3 Ilium maximum ursum cuius pater in silvis fertur puellam rapuisse et ex ea 

Biernum regent Nonveye genuisse. ib. p. 7 f. A similar story is told by Saxo (p. 345 f.) 
of the ancestry of Svend Estrithson. 


agency of a wicked stepmother, analogies are to be found in 
many parts of the world. 

In his account of the last fight Saxo quotes at great length 
from the lost Biarkamal ; but here again no reference is made to 
the bear motif 1 . We may note however that in this version no 
explanation is given of Biarki's behaviour in refusing to rise 
from his bed in response to the exhortations of his colleague 2 . 
It is scarcely safe therefore, I think, to assume that Saxo's 
account apart from the quotations which consist entirely of 
speeches necessarily represents an earlier form of the story 
than that given in the saga ; for in the latter Biarki's conduct 
is quite satisfactorily explained. There is surely at least as 
much to be said for supposing that the incident of the bear 
or something which gave rise to it has been ignored or for- 
gotten by Saxo. 

Now Beowulf is represented as an enormously strong man, 
but his strength is not altogether of a natural order. We are 
told that he was fated not to gain victory with the sword. It is j 
not only the struggle with Grendel which he wins by wrestling ; ; 
in v. 25o6f. we hear that he hugged or crushed to death the 
Frisian champion Daeghrefn a method of warfare appropriate j 
to a bear rather than to a man. The explanation is perhaps \ 
to be found in the curious phenomenon called berserksgangr*, 
which is so frequently mentioned in sagas and even in legal 
works. It is to be remembered that in popular belief this form 
of madness was connected with the werwolf idea, of which the 
bear form was a common variety. The transition therefore to 
the story found in Hrolfs Saga is nothing very strange. 

In conclusion mention must be made of an incident which 

1 Yet Hialti's third speech (p. 61) contains the words igne ursos arcere licet, the 
significance of which is obscure. It is curious, as Prof. Olrik (Danmarks Heltedigtning, 
p. 51) has pointed out, that Hrolfs Saga (cap. 33) refers to bears in a corresponding 
place, though the context is quite different. 

2 Prof. Olrik (op. cit., p. 45) says that Biarki's sleep is certainly of a super- 
natural character and suggests that it is due to magical arts on the part of the 

3 Cf. especially Yngl. S. 6 : Othin's men went to battle without mail-coats and 
were frenzied like dogs or wolves. They bit into their shields and were as strong as 
bears or bulls. They made slaughter of other men ; but neither fire nor iron took 
effect upon them. This is called berserksgangr. 


has been brought into connection with the fight between 
Beowulf and Grendel. In- Hrolfs Saga, cap. 23, it is stated 
that shortly after his arrival at the Danish court Biarki 
encountered and slew an animal demon which at two successive 
Yules had ravaged the live-stock in the king's farm. Saxo 
alludes clearly to the same story when he states that Biarki 
won great fame by killing a huge bear 1 . Now it should be 
observed that the representation of Grendel . is by no means 
clearly anthropomorphic, though the human element is much 
more apparent in the cave scene. The various accounts may, 
I think, be satisfactorily reconciled on the hypothesis that in 
the original story the hero killed a monster or demon (iotunri) 
in the form of a bear (biarnar kamr). In England this story 
must have been expanded and modified by the influence of the 
folk-tale of the two cannibal monsters which we have discussed 
above. In Scandinavian tradition however no such intrusion 
took place, though a totally different folk-tale became attached 
to the early history of the same hero. 

Two adventures with dragons are recorded in Beowulf. The 
first, that of Sigemund, is related quite briefly (vv. 884 900), 
but the second forms the subject of the latter part of the poem. 
The Older Edda (Fafnismdl), followed by the prose Edda and 
Volsunga Saga, gives an account of the killing of Fafnir by 
SigurSr ; and in the late Seyfridslied two adventures of the 
same kind are narrated in connection with the same hero. 
Dragons figure also occasionally in the German epics, especially 
in the story of Wolfdietrich. Here too we must mention Saxo's 
accounts of the dragons slain by the Danish kings Frotho I and 
Fridleuus II. The two stories are almost identical, but the 
former (p. 38) contains a description of the dragon and of the 
means to be used in attacking him, which is given in Latin verse 
and may very well be derived from an old poem. 

There are certain resemblances between Saxo's stories and 
the great dragon fight in Beowulf, and many scholars are 

] The identity of the two stories is shown by the fact that in both cases Hialti is 
made to drink the creature's blood a custom known in Norway in comparatively 
recent times (cf. Olrik, op. '/., p. 118). The Biarkarimur tell of two encounters, the 
first with a she-wolf, the second between Hialti and a bear. 


inclined to the view that they have a common origin. The 
former however in both cases ended successfully. Moreover 
in two points at least they agree rather with the adventure 
ascribed to Sigemund in Beowulf, namely (i) that the hero 
attacks and kills the dragon alone and (ii) that he carries away 
the treasure in a boat. On the other hand it is generally agreed 
that the stories of Sigemund and SigurSr must be connected, 
though opinion is divided as to whether the adventure was first 
ascribed to the father or the son. Beowulf is at all events by 
far the earliest of the authorities. Against this stands the fact 
that both Scandinavian and German tradition names SigurSr 
(Siegfried) as the hero. But this argument could have weight 
only if there was reason for thinking that the story was known 
in the North before the composition of Beowulf. 

FaTnir is called dreki in Volsunga Saga, but he seems always 
to be represented rather as a reptile than a dragon. It is not 
at all clear that he is a being of the same kind as the dragon 
encountered by Beowulf, which is said to fly and breathe fire. 
This is perhaps to be noticed, since the flying dragon is also 
known in the North ; we find it mentioned even in old poems 
such as Voluspa. The description of Sigemund's dragon is too 
brief to enable us to determine its character. It is once called 
draca and thrice wyrm ; but the latter word is used also of the 
flying dragon. On the other hand it is not certain that the 
word draca always denotes a supernatural being. The saedracan 
and niceras mentioned in Beowulf 1425 fif. would seem from the 
description to be animals of the seal-class. 

One feature however is common to all the English and 
Northern dragons, namely that they are represented as guarding 
hoards of gold. In the North this idea must have been very 
widespread, since expressions such as ' bed of the dragon ' 
(or 'snake') are among the commonest terms for gold in Old 
Norse poetry. In Anglo-Saxon poetry also it is generally 
recognised 1 . 

It has been mentioned above that many scholars connect the 
story of Beowulf's dragon-fight with that related of Frotho I by 
Saxo. To me the affinities of the latter seem rather to lie with 

1 Cf. the Cott. Gnomic Verses, 26 f. : draca sceal on hlaeive frod fraetitrum wlanc. 


Sigemund's dragon ; but the truth may be that for adventures of 
this kind there was a standard poetic description which could 
be applied to any number of cases. More important perhaps 
is the fact that genealogically Saxo's Frotho I corresponds to 
Beowulf the son of Scyld 1 . In common with practically all 
Scandinavian genealogical texts Saxo has the series Frotho 3 
Haldanus Ro (Hroarr) and Helgo corresponding to the 
Beowulf Healfdene Hrothgar and Halga of the poem 3 . 
Quite possibly therefore it is not without significance that this 
person is credited with having killed a dragon. 

We have seen that the two stories differ essentially in regard 
to the outcome of the adventure. Frotho's death is recorded by 
Saxo in quite a different connection and apparently long after- 
wards. But here we may turn to the story of the other Frotho, 
Saxo's Frotho III (the Peaceful), for there can be little doubt 
that the two characters were originally identical. According to 
Saxo this latter king was killed in his old age by a sorceress 
who had taken the form of a ' sea-cow ' (marituma bos}, though 
the author does not make clear what kind of creature he means 
by that term. It is at least a question whether this story does 
not belong to the same class as the others ; for whatever differ- 
ences there may be in other respects between a ' sea-cow' and 
a dragon, it may be observed that nearly all the dragons of 
Northern legends make their home by the sea. 

If there is a connection between the two stories the dragon- 
fight of Frotho I and the death of Frotho III their origin must 
surely be sought in myth. FrotSi the Peaceful (Frotho III) is 

1 It is generally held that this person's original name was Beowa or Beaw. The 
latter is the form given in the genealogy in the Chronicle (ad ann. 855) ; but in view 
of the many corruptions which this genealogy has suffered it may very well be due to 
a scribal error for Beowa. This again may be a hypocoristic form for Beowulf, though 
on the other hand it is by no means impossible that the name of the son of Scyld has 
been assimilated to that of the hero of the poem. But in any case there does not 
seem to be any adequate ground for the commonly accepted view that the adventure 
with Grendel originally belonged to this person. 

2 In Skioldunga Saga, Langfeftgatal etc. Halfdan's father is not FriSfro'Si (Saxo's 
Frotho I) but FroSi hinn froekni (Saxo's Frotho IV), the Froda of Beowulf. 

3 As .regards Frotho's parentage Saxo makes him son of Hadingus, son of Gram, 
son of Scioldus. In Skioldunga Saga, Langfeftgatal etc. Fri'Sfro'Si is son of Fri'Sleifr, 
son of Skioldr ; while Fro'Si hinn froekni is son of Friftleifr, son of Danr. 


the central figure of Danish legend and his fame became 
proverbial even in Germany. Moreover, though there is no 
evidence that he was regarded as a god, it is clear that he was 
the Danish counterpart of the god Frey. 

It may not be out of place here to cite one more of Saxo's 
stories (p. 29 f.). Hadingus, the father of Frotho I, while 
bathing in the sea off the coast of Helsingland encountered 
and killed a sea-monster of unknown species. As he was 
having it carried to his camp he met a woman who uttered 
a prophecy of dire woe, saying that he had killed one of the 
deities who was wandering about in a form not his own 1 . In 
order to propitiate the gods he instituted a sacrifice to Frey, 
which was to be repeated at regular intervals and which the 
Swedes call Froblod. This story seems to take us back to the 
days of theriomorphic religion or perhaps one should say to 
a time when certain marine animals were regarded as divine. 
But is it not also connected somehow with the story of Frotho's 
death ? 

We need not enter here into a discussion of these mythical 
stories, though it may be remarked in passing that therio- 
morphism plays a very prominent part in the religious practices 
and conceptions of primitive peoples, and, what is more, that 

re hear not unfrequently of a struggle between a god or 
national hero and some theriomorphic being whose sanctuary 

>r attributes he appears to have taken over 2 . But it is perhaps 

rorth noting that in Beowulf also the hero is repeatedly involved 
adventures with water-monsters. This feature is entirely 

ibsent from the story of Biarki and can hardly have a historical 

1 Tantitm pene uis celica pensat. 
quippe unum e superis alieno corpore tectum 
sacrilege necuere manus : sic numinis almi 
interfector ades. 

2 We may compare the case of Apollo and the Python at Delphi, and possibly the 
tory of Thor (MrtSgar'Ss veurr) and MiSgarftsormr. Note should also be taken of the 

dstence of a local tradition going back apparently to the Middle Ages to the effect 
the Isefjord was formerly haunted by a monster which demanded a human victim 

>m every ship that passed. It was finally expelled by the arrival of the relics of 
St Lucius, to whom Roeskilde cathedral is dedicated (cf. Sarrazin, Beowulf -Studien, 
p. 10 ff.). The traditional burial-place of Frofti the Peaceful is on the shore of the 
Roeskilde Fjord ; but the two fjords have a common entrance. 


basis. What I would suggest is that it is derived, in part at 
least, from the same group of legends which in Danish tradition 
are centred round the names Hadingus and Frotho. But in 
that case there is considerable probability that these stories 
have been transferred to the hero from his namesake, the son 
of Scyld, who belongs genealogically to the same group of 

This explanation will at all events account for the discrepancy 
between the English and Scandinavian accounts of the hero's 
death 1 . Only the latter properly comes into consideration for 
Beowulf the son of Ecgtheow. For the suggested transference 
we have a certain analogy in the various incidents which are 
connected sometimes with one Frotho, sometimes with the other. 
A much better case however occurs in an English work of later 
date, the Vitae Duorum Offarum. In that work Drida, the wife 
of Offa II (the Mercian king), is represented as a most desperate 
character, and incidents are related of her which seem to be 
totally incompatible with what we know of this queen whose 
real name was Cynethryth from contemporary sources. On 
the other hand they agree very well with the brief account given 
in Beowulf of Thrytho the wife of Offa I (king of Angel). We 
may compare too the hopeless confusion which prevails in the 
chronicles with regard to Anlaf the son of Sihtric (Olafr Kvaran) 
and Anlaf the son of Guthfrith. It can scarcely be doubted that 
heroic poetry was liable to mistakes of the same character, 
although the question has scarcely received as much attention 
as it deserves. 

In the explanation put forward above I do not mean of 
course to suggest that the dragon of northern heroic poetry is 
always a distorted form of some marine animal. My view is 
that this is one of the elements which have contributed to the 

1 It does not of course remove all difficulties. The chief of these perhaps is the 
presence of Wiglaf, who seems clearly to belong to Beowulf, the son of Ecgtheow. 
The discrepancy between the names Beowulf and FroiSi is of minor account, since the 
latter may very well have originated in a title (cf. Beow. v. 2928). On the other hand 
if this person is really a mythical national hero the name Beoiva (perhaps for an earlier 
form Eiowi) would seem more natural than Beowulf. Yet there may have been 
intermediate stages between the original hero and the person finally credited with 
the exploit. 


formation of the stories playing a part similar to that of the 
crocodile in the legends of southern lands 1 . Dragons endowed 
with supernatural or at least unnatural characteristics figure in 
the folk-tales of many nations throughout the world ; and such 
stories are by no means restricted to maritime populations. 
Very frequently no doubt they are handed on from one people 
to another, and their currency is perhaps assisted by works of 
art. We have to remember that the word draca is derived 
from Latin. Yet the conception itself is probably much older ; 
at all events the association of such monsters with hoards of 
gold can be traced back in northern regions to a very remote 
antiquity 8 . 

As regards the origin of this association which is clearly 
unnatural and not due in any way to the influence of marine 
animals it may be noted that the dragon's lair is often a tomb 
or barrow 3 , as in the case of the one encountered by Beowulf. 
An explanation of this phenomenon seems to be afforded by 
a story relating to the tomb of Charles Martel, which is found 
in a number of medieval chronicles. St Eucherius, bishop of 
Orleans, in a vision saw Charles in hell, and on coming to 
himself begged St Boniface and others to go and inspect the 
prince's burial place. On opening the tomb they saw a dragon 
dart out suddenly and found the grave all blackened as though 
it had been burnt up. Here it would seem that the dragon a 
fiery dragon, like the one in Beowulf was nothing else than the 
spirit of the dead prince, and it is permissible to suspect that 
such was the case elsewhere. At all events the fact that dragons 
are represented as inhabiting tombs is clearly to be taken in 
connection with their character as guardians of gold ; for in early 
times it was customary to bury with the dead a considerable 
amount of treasure. 

But there is another feature which deserves notice in the 

1 Thus upon some of these legends a good deal of light seems to be thrown by 
certain usages cited by Mr Frazer in his Lectures on the Early History of the Kingship, 
p. 1 80. 

2 Herodotus (ill 116, IV 13, 27) speaks of a region in the extreme north of Europe 
or Asia which was said to be inhabited by gold-guarding griffins (x/>wo0i/Xa/ces yptires, 
cf. goldweard, Beow. 3082). 

3 Cf. the reference to the Gnomic verses quoted on p. 123, note. 


story of Charles Martel's grave. The earliest document 1 in 
which it is found dates from the year 858, i.e. about a century 
after the incident is said to have taken place. But the closing 
words of the account 2 state quite definitely that the writer or 
writers had known persons who were present at the opening of 
the tomb. We have thus to deal with evidence which is strictly 
second-hand, as in the case of more than one remarkable story 
told by Bede. The explanation lies no doubt in the fact that 
the men of that age did not clearly distinguish between the 
supernatural and that which is merely unusual. At such a time 
if a person asserted that he had seen a fiery dragon, his state- 
ment would be received doubtless with wonder but not neces- 
sarily with incredulity. As a matter of fact we find it stated in 
the Saxon Chronicle 3 , sub anno 793, that in that year fiery 
dragons were seen flying in the air. It cannot therefore be 
assumed with safety either that the killer of a dragon must be a 
fictitious person or that the adventure itself must have been 
invented long after the hero's time. 

In conclusion we have to take account of supernatural 
properties possessed by beings which in themselves are natural. 
As an instance we may take the speeches of the birds (nut- 
hatches) which in Fafnismal 32 ff. warn SigurSr of the treachery 
prepared for him by Reginn. Similar stories occur elsewhere in 
Old Norse literature. Absurd as this belief may seem we have 
good contemporary evidence for its existence in Procopius' 
account of the Warni, which we discussed in the last chapter 

( P .97f-)- 

Under the same head may be mentioned the faculty ascribed 

to various persons of being able to change into wolves or bears. 
As instances we may mention the case of Sigmundr and 
Sinfiotli given in Volsunga Saga, cap. 8, and the story of Biarki 

1 Epistola Synodi Carisiacensis ad Hludowicum regem Germaniae directa (Mon. 
Germ., Legum Sect. II, Capit. Reg. Franc., Tom. II, p. 432 f.). 

2 nos autem illos uidimus qui usque ad nostram aetatem durauerunt, qui huic rei 
interfuerunt et nobis uiua uoce ueraciter sunt testati quae audierunt atque uiderunt. 

3 Texts D, E, F. This entry seems to come from the Northumbrian Gesta, which 
were probably composed not very long afterwards. The last entry which we can trace 
is for the year 806. 


discussed above. For the latter we have already suggested an 
explanation. But though the motif may not have been a 
common one in heroic poetry as compared with sagas relating 
to the Viking Age there can be no doubt that the belief in 
shape-changing goes back to a remote antiquity. It is of 
frequent occurrence in poems and stories dealing with the gods, 
while similar ideas are widely prevalent among primitive peoples 
at the present day. 

Among other supernatural characteristics may be mentioned 
that of invulnerability, through the use of magic which rendered 
all weapons harmless a feature found in Beowulf (in the case of 
Grendel) as well as in later works. Often too heroes are capable 
of superhuman powers of strength or endurance, as in Beow. 
377 fif., 544 ff. 1 , though many of these cases may be set down to 
mere exaggeration. On the whole however such characteristics 
are scarcely as prominent as they are in the heroic stories of 
other nations. 

The love of the marvellous is more strikingly displayed in 
Procopius' account of Britain (Goth. IV 20) than in any of the 
poems which have come down to us. In the first place he says 
that the whole country beyond the great wall (i.e. the Roman 
Wall) was inhabited only by snakes and wild beasts, and that if 
any man ventured there he would die at once from the pesti- 
lential atmosphere. Then he goes on to say that Britain was 
the dwelling place of the spirits of the dead, and describes in 
detail how certain people who dwelt on the Prankish coast 
ferried the souls across. As to the truth of this story Procopius 
himself expresses scepticism ; yet he states that he had heard it 
from numerous witnesses. It is scarcely permissible therefore 
to suppose that he had been victimised by a humorist. More 
probably he is reporting stories actually current among the 
Teutonic soldiery in the Roman army, which doubtless contained 
adventurers from many distant lands. In short we have here to 

1 A curious light on the enormous strength ascribed to Beowulf is thrown by 
a passage in the Liber Monstrorum (cf. p. 24). It is there stated that Hygelac 
(Beowulf's uncle) was of such immense size that no horse could carry him 
after he reached the age of twelve. His bones were shown as a marvel 
to visitors. 


do with folk-tales 1 which had been localised in Britain and were 
believed to represent its condition truly at the very time when 
Procopius was writing. It is exceedingly remarkable that such 
stories should obtain credence at a time when, as we know from 
more than one source, there was quite a considerable amount of 
communication between Britain and the Continent. Indeed 
Procopius hirriself says that large numbers of English emigrants 
had recently settled within the Prankish dominions. 

In the course of this chapter we have seen that many of the 
heroic stories contain elements derived from myth and folk-tale. 
The distinction which we have drawn between the two categories 
is that only the former deals with definite though unhistorical 
personalities 2 . It is commonly held that myth is a necessary 
element in heroic stories ; but this is a question which we must 
reserve for discussion in the next chapter. Further, we have seen 
that the presence of supernatural elements does not necessarily 
mean that the stories in which they occur were composed or 
modified long after the events which they relate ; that, on the 
contrary, such elements are to be found in contemporary or 
almost contemporary narratives. They must be taken as faithful 
reflections of the beliefs and ideas of an uncritical age. But it 
is scarcely correct to regard these elements as the distinctive 
characteristics of heroic poetry. Their chief domain in reality 
is the folk-tale, a far more primitive form of composition, which 
without doubt was in existence during the same period. The 
truly distinctive characteristics of heroic poetry are rather those 
which differentiate it from the folk-tale. 

1 The folk-tale represented by the second story may of course be derived ulti- 
mately from some ancient custom; cf. Beow. 26 52. 

2 Not, of course, personalities consciously invented by an individual brain ; these 
must be classed under fiction. On the other hand myth must be held to include per- 
sonifications of the heavenly bodies and natural phenomena as (e.g.) in Gylfaginning, 
cap. xoff. (from Vafbruftnismal, etc.), and certain Lithuanian folk-songs ('Dainos') 
in so far at least as su,cfi-personifications are of popular origin. 



WE have now to consider the question whether myth is a 
necessary element in the formation of heroic poetry. It has 
been noticed that historical persons figure in many stories of the 
Heroic Age, while others do not contain a single character whose 
historical existence can be authenticated. These latter stories 
are believed to be wholly mythical in origin, though they may 
not show any supernatural features in their final form. But 
even in stories of the former type it is held that some of the 
characters are almost always of mythical origin, and that their 
association with historical characters is a secondary development 
due to confusion or to poetic imagination. 

In the last chapter we put forward the view that Beowulf, 
the hero of the poem, has been confused with a mythical 
character of the same name, and that the adventure with the 
dragon originally belonged to the latter. It can scarcely be 
doubted that Scyld Scefing, the father of this earlier Beowulf, 
was also a mythical character. The only element in his story 
common to English and Scandinavian tradition is that he is 
regarded as the ancestor of the Scyldungas or Skioldungar, the 
Danish royal family, and all analogies suggest that he came into 
existence as their eponymus. The brief account of him given 
in the poem might, except in two particulars, be applied to 
almost any successful king of the Heroic Age. One exception 
relates to the story of the funeral ship, on which the dead king's 
body is sent out to sea. In spite of Prof. Olrik's doubts 1 

1 Danmarks Heltedigtning, p. 248 ff. With this subject I have already dealt in 
The Origin of the English Nation, p. 287 f. 



I cannot but think that this is a reminiscence of ancient custom. 
The other is the reference to his arrival as an infant, likewise 
by sea a story told more fully of Sceaf in certain English 
chronicles. The only question here is between myth and folk- 
tale. The story may fairly be classed under the latter head, 
though I think its origin is ultimately to be sought in a ritual 
myth. Scandinavian authorities, apart from Saxo 1 , record 
nothing distinctive of Skioldr, except that he was a son of Othin 
and the husband of the goddess Gefion 2 which again points to 

In Scyld-Skioldr we have the case of an eponymous ancestor 
appearing in the introduction to a poem which deals largely with 
the fortunes of his descendants. But there is no evidence that 
his own deeds ever formed the subject of an independent heroic 
poem. It would be somewhat hasty therefore to use this case as 
an argument for the origin of characters who are brought before 
us in the main action of heroic poems. 

Next we may take the story of Weland, as to the mythical 
origin of which nearly all scholars seem to be agreed. It has 
indeed a historical or semi-historical connection in the fact that 
Weland is represented as the father of Widia (Wudga), i.e. the 
early Gothic hero Vidigoia mentioned by Jordanes (cf. p. 27) ; 
but this is held to be a secondary element in the story. In its 
original form the story is believed to have dealt only with the 
incidents related in V6lundarkvi5a, viz. (i) the adventure with 
the swan-maidens, (ii) Weland's imprisonment by Nithhad and 
his revenge 3 . Behind the story itself however there lies a wide- 
spread belief in the existence of a supernatural smith of this 
name. Several places in Germany (Westphalia and Holstein) 
are reputed to be the scene of his operations, while in this 

1 Saxo (p. ii f.) records several incidents of which we know nothing from other 
sources. He represents Skioldr (Sdoldus) as a reformer of the laws, but not as the 
first king. 

2 This is stated only in Ynglinga Saga (cap. 5) ; but the question to be asked is 
whether it is likely that such a combination would be invented in late times. 

3 From Deor's Elegy and the picture on the Y ranks casket in the British Museum 
it is clear that almost all the main features of the second part of the story were known 
in England. Reminiscences of the first part occur in the medieval German poem 
Herzog Friedrich von Schwaben. 


country he is connected with the cromlech called Wayland 
Smith, near Ashdown in Berkshire. In its ultimate origin this 
belief is traced to the myth of a fire-demon. Certainly it is to 
be noted that the name Weland is of a very exceptional type 
apparently participial in form. One can hardly help suspecting 
that it once had a definite meaning, though this cannot now be 
determined with certainty 1 . 

Now there can be little doubt that the adventure with the 
swan-maidens is derived from a folk-tale. In this part of the 
story there is no indication of a fire-demon, or even of a smith, 
while analogies for the incident are fairly common both in 
Teutonic lands and much farther afield. We may confine our 
attention therefore to the second and better known part that 
which deals with Weland's imprisonment and revenge. 

It is manifest that this story departs very decidedly from the 
ordinary standard of heroic poetry firstly in the fact that the 
hero is here clearly represented as a smith, and secondly in 
the cruelty, treachery and vindictiveness ascribed to the chief 
characters. These are features which would be in place either in 
myth or folk-tale. But we may note further that there are 
analogies for part of this story, just as much as for the incident 
of the swan-maidens. As an example we may take Saxo's 
account of the robbing of Mimingus by Hotherus (p. 70 f.). 
Mimingus is a satyrus, i.e. clearly either an elf or dwarf, who 
dwells in a cave in an almost inaccessible forest. Hotherus 
surprises and binds him and then takes away his sword and a 
magical ring. A connection between the two stories is shown 
even in the name, for Weland's most famous sword is called 
Mimming 2 . For a more remote parallel we may compare the 
story of Loki and Andvari. Indeed the spoiling of a dwarf is 
quite a common motif in Northern tales, while at the same time 
such beings are constantly credited with extraordinary skill in 
metallurgy. The distinctive feature in the story of Weland, apart 
from the revenge, is that sympathy is on the side of the smith. 

It is the end of the story where Weland (Volundr) rises 
into the air and flies away that is supposed to point most 

1 It is usually connected with O. Norse vet, 'contrivance,' 'artifice.' 

2 Waldhere, I i f.; Thiflreks Saga, cap. 23 etc. 


clearly to a fire-myth. But this feature cannot be traced except 
in the Norse version 1 . Moreover here we have also the ad- 
venture with the flying swan-maidens, in whose case there is no 
suspicion of such a myth. Setting aside this incident the story 
is perfectly explicable as a folk-tale founded on actual experi- 
ence. There can be no doubt that in the Heroic Age and 
indeed in much earlier times princes were especially anxious to 
obtain slaves, whether foreigners or not, who were skilled in 
metallurgy. And it is by no means incredible that such slaves 
were sometimes lamed in order to prevent any attempt at escape 
although, quite apart from this explanation, smith's work may 
be regarded as a vocation natural to the lame man, just as 
minstrelsy to the blind. Further, it is likely enough that servile 
smiths, when cruelly treated, would take any opportunity that 
presented itself of avenging themselves on their masters. For 
the murder of Nithhad's sons we have a somewhat striking 
historical parallel in Eugippus' Life of St Severinus (cap. 8). 
Feletheus, king of the Rugii, who were settled on the Danube 
in the time of Odoacer, had a young son who one day was 
entrapped by some goldsmiths in the queen's service. They 
threatened to take his life ; but the saint intervened and rescued 
the boy on condition of the smiths obtaining their freedom 2 . 

What seems to me to be really the most remarkable feature 
in the story is that a person in this position should come to be 
made the subject of heroic or semi-heroic poetry ; for it is plain 
enough from many sources, especially Saxo's History, that smiths 
were generally regarded with deep aversion. In Deor's Elegy 
Weland is said to be a more distinguished man than Nithhad ; 
in VolundarkviSa he is called a chief of the elves, while the intro- 
duction makes him the son of a king of the Finns. Yet, except in 
the late ThiSreks Saga, his father's name is never given, and none 
of our authorities credit him with possessing a following of his own. 

1 In Thi'Sreks Saga, cap. 30, Weland flies away in a garment which he has made 
from feathers collected for him by his brother Egill. It is thought by some that the 
engraver of the Franks casket had the same story in mind, since a figure catching 
birds is represented behind the form of Beaduhild. 

2 It is commonly held that this account has been influenced somehow by the story 
of Weland. If so it is a valuable illustration of the process discussed in p. 1196*". above. 
But the view seems to me somewhat far-fetched. 


Now is there any real necessity for the assumption that 
Weland's relationship to Widia is a secondary development ? 
It is found in two of the three national versions of the story 1 , and 
hence dates back in all probability at least to the sixth century. 
It is not found in the VolundarkviSa ; but then Widia is alto- 
gether forgotten or unknown in Northern tradition. Moreover 
there is a distinct reference to offspring of Weland and Beaduhild 
at the end of the poem. Once grant that the relationship is old 
and the reason for the heroic treatment of the story becomes 
obvious. It is merely the reflection of the son's fame upon the 
father. As Widia is never said to be the son of anyone else 
the probability is that he was supposed to be illegitimate, and 
that a story was soon current as to his being the offspring of a 
union between a princess and a bondsmith. In such a case there 
would be a natural tendency to the accumulation of material 
from folk-tales about his parentage. 

If this view is correct the story must of course come 
originally from the Goths or some neighbouring people. I 
cannot see that the Westphalian traditions are any more con- 
clusive than the Berkshire cromlech as to its original home. 
If Weland was a character of folk-tale and his name had at 
one time a definite meaning, these local traditions may have 
been quite independent of the heroic story. The real difficulty 
seems to me to lie in determining the amount of material from 
folk-tale contained in the latter. We need not entertain any 
doubt as to the adventure with the swan-maidens. But what 
about Nithhad and Beaduhild? The latter name is not obviously 
framed to suit the character or circumstances of the unfortunate 
princess. Nithhad might be explained more easily in this way ; 
yet a Gothic prince of that name is recorded by Jordanes (cap. 22). 
At all events there is no conclusive evidence in either case that 
these characters did not originally belong to the story of Widia. 

Another story which is believed to be of wholly mythical 
origin is that of HeSinn and Hogni. In Kudrun it appears as 

1 Waldhere is the only English poem which mentions Weland as the father of 
Widia ; but I cannot admit that there is any ground for supposing this poem to have 
had a different origin from the rest (cf. p. 57 f.). The variant forms Widia Wudga 
may be explained by English sound-laws, while Nr&had, whatever its explanation, 
occurs also in Deor's Elegy. 


the introduction to a much longer story, from which point of 
view it bears a superficial resemblance to the story of Scyld and 
possibly to that of Weland. But since this feature is peculiar 
to the German poem and the second story seems to be entirely 
unknown from other sources, we can hardly do otherwise than 
treat the story of HeSinn and Hogni as an independent narrative. 
This must have been one of the most popular stories of the 
Heroic Age, since it can be traced in England, as well as in 
Germany and the North. None of the characters however can 
be traced in any historical work 1 , and the time to which it refers 
is quite uncertain. The Northern version of the story contains 
a supernatural element in the endless battle which forms its 
conclusion. It is generally held that this is the oldest element 
in the story and that Hild, whose name means * war/ was really 
a valkyrie. The whole story then is to be regarded as a myth 
of ' unceasing strife between conflicting powers 2 / But we may 
naturally ask whether it is truly scientific, when dealing with a 
story known from three separate national traditions, to regard 
as the original element a feature found in only one of the three. 
It may be urged of course that the reconciliation, which in 
Kudrun 3 takes the place of the tragic ending found in the 
Northern version, rendered it necessary to drop the mythical 
element ; and again that we have extremely little information 

1 Saxo (p. 158 ff.) connects the story with the reign of Frotho III (Frofti the 
Peaceful), and this may be an ancient feature, as Fruote von Tenemarke appears as 
one of Hetel's chief men in Kudrun. 

2 "Ein Bild des unaufhorlichen, allgemeinen, aber nie entschiedenen Kampfes 
entgegengesetzter Machte, des Aufgangs und des Niedergangs, des Entstehens und 
Vergehens, des Seins und Nichtseins" (Miillenhoff, ZfdA. xxx 229). Prof. Sijmons 
(Grundriss, III 711, where this interpretation is quoted with approval) regards the 
story as ' tiefsinnig.' I confess the interpretation is too deep for my comprehension. 
A totally different view is taken in Panzer's Hilde-Gudrun, where the origin of the 
story is traced to a folk-tale (p. 250 ff.). It seems to me that this theory is open to 
somewhat the same objection as the other, namely that it is founded too much upon 
features peculiar to one or other version. At the same time I doubt whether Wate's 
original connection with the story can be properly inferred from Wids. 21 f. The 
influence of folk-tales is clear enough in both versions of the story, but I think it is 

3 From a passage in Lamprecht's Alexander (v. 1321), a work of the twelfth 
century, it appears that Hagen (Hogni) was killed in the earlier German version of 
the story. 


about the English form of the story. The latter remark is 
certainly true ; but the little that we do know practically 
precludes the possibility of a mythical interpretation. Strictly 
speaking the passage in Deor's Elegy (cf. p. 56) is not a reference 
to the story at all, but a matter of fact statement by the poet 
that he had been in the service of the Heodeningas. Hence, 
in view of the fact that this passage together with Widsith, 
v. 21 is probably by far the earliest reference to the story 
which we possess, I cannot regard the mythical interpretation 
as anything more than an extremely doubtful hypothesis 1 . 

Thus far we have been dealing with stories which are 
supposed to be of entirely mythical origin. Now we have to 
consider certain cases in which elements undoubtedly historical 
are believed to be blended with myth. As examples of this 
type we may take the stories of Waldhere and SigurSr. In both 
cases the historical elements are practically the same. 

In the former case it should be mentioned that the mythical 
theory is by no means universally accepted. Those scholars 
however who do adopt this interpretation base their view upon 
a supposed connection between the story of Waldhere and that 
of HeSinn and Hogni. The chief points of resemblance between 
the two are as follows : (i) The heroine is called in the one 
case Hiltgund (Hildegyth), in the other Hildr (Hild). (ii) Both 
stories deal with abduction (so-called) and then with fighting, 
(iii) The man (Waldhere, HetSinn) who carries off the girl has 
in both cases to fight with a man called Hagen or Hogni. 
(iv) In both cases the combatants have previously been friends 
though strictly this feature applies only to the Northern version 
of the HeSinn story. Now the first consideration carries no 
weight at all ; for half the feminine names which occur in 
Anglo-Saxon heroic poetry contain the element -hild- (e.g. 
Beaduhild, Hildeburg\ while in the Continental and Scandinavian 
authorities also they are extremely common. Again, the last 
consideration obviously has little validity, except when taken 
in conjunction with the other two. But these (the second and 

1 For the endless battle there are a number of parallels; cf. Panzer, op. cit., 
p. 327 ff. (also Pausanias, I 32. 3, with Mr Frazer's note). 


third) points of resemblance are, it seems to me, altogether 
misleading. To begin with it is hardly correct to apply the 
term ' abduction ' to an escape of hostages, such as the story 
of Waldhere relates ; at all events the conditions have nothing 
in common. Then the fight which follows is not, as in the 
case of HeSinn and Hogni, with an aggrieved father, or indeed 
with a pursuing force of any kind ; it is an unprovoked attack 
made by a third party in the hope of plunder. Lastly, the part 
played by the person called Hagen (Hogni) is quite different 
in the two cases. In one he is the injured father who is wholly 
responsible for the fight; in the other he is a vassal of Gunther 
(Guthhere), who is only drawn into it, with great reluctance, 
through the obligation of avenging his nephew (Patufrit), who 
has already been slain. 

It is true that a different version of the story appears in 
ThiSreks Saga af Bern 1 . Here Hogni (Hagen) is represented 
as pursuing the fugitives on behalf of Attila, while Guthhere 
does not appear. Now it has been widely assumed that this 
version is an independent and more original form of the story 
than that contained in Ekkehard's work, in spite of the fact that 
it does not make its appearance till nearly three centuries after 
the latter and probably nearly six centuries after the composi- 
tion of the Anglo-Saxon poem. But the lapse of time in itself 
provides a perfectly adequate explanation of such divergencies, 
especially if we bear in mind the unfavourable conditions under 
which the heroic stories were preserved in Germany during the 
early Middle Ages. As the stones gradually became forgotten 
two tendencies are constantly observable : (i) to connect stories 
or incidents which originally were quite distinct, (ii) within the 
individual story to lose sight of all except the outstanding 
characters and incidents. Hence it is only in accordance with 
what we might expect that two different sets of opponents of 
the hero should be confused. For a parallel we may compare 
the late North German ballad on Eormenric's death (cf. p. 9), 
which describes how Theodric with eleven companions broke 
into the king's castle and slew him. It is generally agreed that 

1 There is also a Polish version which has several peculiarities of its own but 
shows no special affinity with the form of the story found in Thiftreks Saga. 


this ballad is due to confusion of some kind with the story of 
HamSir and Sorli 1 , who were likewise enemies of Eormenric, 
though not connected in any way with Theodric. 

The saga itself really contains evidence which points to an 
earlier form of the story agreeing with that given by Ekkehard. 
For the hero is called Valtari af Vaskasteini 2 , and there can be 
no doubt that this expression is to be explained by the rocky 
defile mentioned by Ekkehard (v. 490 flf.) in the Vosges (saltus 
Vosagus) on the confines of Guthhere's dominions. Further 
it is to be noted that the story is introduced as an episode in 
the relations of Theodric and Eormenric, and that the hero is 
represented as a nephew of the last named. All scholars are 
agreed that this is due to late combination and no doubt rightly. 
Yet Waldhere is associated with Theodric and Eormenric also 
in a number of German >oems which are quite independent of 
the saga, and consequently it is by no means improbable that 
these combinations both preceded and helped to bring about 
the disappearance of Guthhere from the story. 

In its earlier form the affinities of the story with that of 
HeSinn and Hogni are, as we have seen, scarcely worth con- 
sideration. Yet apart from this supposed connection there is 
no case for believing it to have a mythical foundation except 
the assumption that myth is a necessary ingredient in every 
heroic story. Whether it is to be regarded as history or fiction 
is of course quite a different question and one which we shall 
have to consider later. 

Of all the stories of the Heroic Age probably none has 
been more frequently referred to a mythical origin than that 
which deals with SigurSr (Siegfried). It is held by the great 
majority of scholars that the Nibelungenlied and the corre- 
sponding Edda poems or rather the earlier poems or legends 
on which both were based came into existence through the 

1 The early North German version of this story, represented by the Annals of 
Quedlinburg (cf. p. 37, note), apparently made Eormenric perish in the fight. 

2 It is held by many that this name was originally connected with Wascono lant, 
an early German name for Aquitaine (Gascony) and that the introduction of the 
Vosges ( Wasgunberg] was later and due to the confusion of two similar names. But, 
if there has been any such confusion at all, chronological considerations render it far 
more probable that the transference was in the reverse direction. 


amalgamation of an essentially mythical story with historical 
[traditions of Attila and the fall of the Burgundian kingdom 1 . 
The original elements of the former are believed to have been 
as follows : A young prince is brought up by a cunning smith 
in a forest, away from his father's home. On reaching manhood 
he gains an immense treasure by killing a dragon ; also he 
releases a maiden by overcoming difficulties and dangers, by 
fire or water, which were insurmountable to any other person. 
These two adventures are connected by many scholars. Later, 
the hero falls into the hands of foes, who slay him and take 
for themselves his wife and treasure. 

It is held that this story was originally a myth of light and 
darkness applying however to the course of the year as well 
as to that of the day. SigurSr himself is a ' light-hero ' and 
Brynhildr a ' sun-maiden ' whom he releases at the dawn, while 
the treasure represents the blossoms of summer which the light- 
hero likewise wins by destroying the dragon of winter. Then, 
in the evening or autumn, he has to yield to the powers of 
darkness or winter. The original name of these powers was 
Niflungar or Nibelunge, a name connected with Old Norse /#, 
'mist,' Niflheimr, 'Hades.' Their chief representative is Hogni or 
Hagen, who, like SigurtSr and Brynhildr, belongs to the mythical 
elements of the story. Many scholars also hold that the powers 
which destroyed the hero and appropriated his wife and treasure 
were originally identical with those from which he had won 
them at the beginning ; and this view seems to be more or less 
involved by the interpretation given above, since day and night, 
winter and summer are constantly alternating with one another. 

Now it will be obvious at once that the story as thus 
reconstructed differs greatly from both the forms in which it 
has come down to us. Indeed the only original feature preserved 
in both versions is the slaying of the dragon by SigurSr. But 
it is only in the Norse version that the hero gains the treasure 
thereby; in the Nibelungenlied this is obtained by a different 
encounter, with two princes named Schilbung and Nibelung, 
while in the Seyfridslied it really belonged to certain dwarfs, 

1 Among the exceptions mention may be made especially of an interesting paper 
by Prof. Mogk in Neue Jakrb ticker, I pp. 68 80. 


the sons of Nybling 1 . Again, only the Norse version records 
that SigurSr released Brynhildr from a perpetual sleep with 
which she had been punished ; the incident is not connected 
with the dragon adventure. The Seyfridslied does relate that 
the hero rescued a maiden from a dragon ; but here the maiden 
is Kriemhild, whom the dragon has carried off from her home. 
Further, it is only in the German version that Hagen kills the 
hero. In the Norse version the actual perpetrator of the deed 
is Gutthormr, but the instigator is Brynhildr herself. Lastly, 
neither version of the story makes Brynhildr or the treasure 
return to their former owners, although in the German version 
only the first owners of the treasure bear the same name as 
those into whose possession it comes after the hero's death. 

It appears then that the original form of this story has been 
greatly obscured in both versions. The explanation given is 
that, through confusion with a historical tradition, the Burgundian 
kings, Gunnarr (Gunther) and his brothers, have taken the place 
(as well as the name) of the Niflungar. Hence, in order to form a 
just estimate of the theory it is necessary to examine the various 
mythical characters separately. These are in addition to the 
dragon Brynhildr, SigurSr and the Niflungar, including Hogni. 

The evidence for believing that Brynhildr was originally a 
mythical character lies chiefly 2 in the identification of her with 
the valkyrie Sigrdrifa (cf. p. 13), who is mentioned only in the 
Norse version. The identity of the two characters is clearly 
recognised in the HelreiS Brynhildar and also in the prose 
authorities. On the other hand it is not recognised in Gripisspa, 
which is supposed to be a late work, while the other poems 
leave it uncertain. The evidence therefore on the whole is not 
very strong. 

1 It is stated however that Seyfrid thought that it belonged to the dragon. Hence 
this story is often connected with the Norse version. 

2 The only German evidence worth consideration is the fact that certain rocks in 
the Taunus and the Palatinate are called the ' bed ' or ' chair of Brynhildr ' (lectulus 
Brunnihilde, Brinholdestut) in medieval documents. But I do not see how these 
names can prove anything more than the popularity of the story. In all lands it is 
customary to adopt such names from remarkable characters, whatever their origin 
may be. We may think of the cave of Frederic Barbarossa at Berchtesgaden or the 
numerous places called after Robin Hood in England. 


In the case of Sigurftr the evidence, apart from the valkyrie 
incident, rests upon his being the slayer of the dragon. But 
it is agreed that this part of the story must be connected 
with the similar adventure attributed by Beowulf to Sigemund 
(Sigmundr) ; so that the question at issue is whether the exploit 
was first related of the father or the son. We have already 
seen (p. 123) that the argument in favour of the latter based 
on the agreement of the Norse and German authorities is in 
reality misleading. Hence the balance of probability is in 
favour of believing that the incident has been transferred to 
SigurSr from Sigemund. 

In the case of the Niflungar the evidence depends upon the 
interpretation of the name. The use of the name is certainly 
somewhat curious. In the Seyfridslied (Part II) the dwarfs are 
called sons of Nybling. In the first half of the Nibelungenlied 
Nibelung is the name of one of the brothers slain by Siegfried 
in his youth, while the people who become subject to him, 
together with the treasure, on the death of the brothers, are 
collectively called Nibelunge. In the latter half of the poem 
however the same name is applied to the Burgundians. In the 
Norse version Niflungar always means Gunnarr and his people 
(i.e. the Burgundians), except perhaps in the expressions arfi 
Niflunga, hodd Niflunga (in AtlakvitSa), by which the prose 
authorities at all events understood the treasure which SigurSr 
had taken from Fafnir. The explanation given for this double 
use of the name is as follows. Originally it belonged to the 
mythical enemies of SigurSr, i.e. Hogni and his people whether 
these were identical with the former owners of the treasure or 
not. Later, when Hogni became associated with the historical 
Burgundian kings (Gunnarr etc.), the use of the term was 
extended so as to embrace them also. But it is to be observed 
that the interpretation of the name Niflungar as ' children of 
mist ' or ' darkness ' is not free from difficulty. In the Edda it 
is twice written Hniflung- 1 , and on both occasions the H- 
alliterates, whereas alliteration with n- is never found. This 

1 Helgakv. Hund. I 48, Atlamal 88. In the former case the name is used quite 
generally, like Ylfingar in the same poem. In the latter Hniflungr is the name of 
Hogni 's son. 


fact suggests that the original form of the name was Hniflungar 
and that the form without H- is due to later influence pre- 
sumably on the part of scribes from German sources, where 
of course the H- (before --) would regularly be lost at a much 
earlier date. If so the name cannot originally have had any 
connection with O. Norse nifl, etc. 

In all these three cases then the evidence for the mytho- 
logical interpretation of the story seems to be at best inconclusive. 
But we have yet to consider the case of Hogni ; and here it 
must be remarked that the demonic character of Hogni is quite 
essential to the mythological theory. In the Norse version 
Gutthormr is a mere instrument and the person really respon- 
sible for the murder is Brynhildr herself a feature obviously 
incompatible with the interpretation which we are discussing. 
Hogni's mythical origin is as necessary for this interpretation 
as that of SigurSr or Brynhildr. In order to maintain the 
theory the mythical character must be vindicated in all three 
cases alike. 

Now it has been remarked that Hagen (Haguno, Hagano 
etc.) is not uncommon as a personal name even in quite early 
times. This is a curious fact if the name had such associations 1 . 
But there is a much more serious difficulty. It is altogether 
contrary to reason or probability to separate Hagen the vassal 
of Gunther in the Nibelungenlied from Hagen the vassal of the 
same Gunther in the story of Waldhere. His character in the 
two cases is certainly quite different. He is brave in both ; but 
in the former he is both faithless and cruel, whereas in the 
latter he is an honourable man who is reluctantly drawn by 
circumstances into a course of action of which he heartily 
disapproves. But this is precisely the character borne by Hogni 
in the Norse version of the story of SigurSr a fact which is the 
more remarkable since this type of character is extremely rare 
in heroic poetry. The agreement between the story of Waldhere 
and the Norse version seem to me to render it overwhelmingly 
probable that the character which they ascribe to Hogni was 
that which he originally bore. 

1 There was of course another heroic character of the same name ; but this does 
not meet the objection. 


I am not arguing now to prove that Hogni was a historical 
person. He may be of fictitious origin or even mythical (though 
the latter seems to me extremely improbable). But if so clearly 
he must have been taken either from the story of SigurSr into 
that of Waldhere, or from the story of Waldhere into that of 
SigurSr. Which of the two he belonged to originally is a 
question of minor importance. The essential point is that an 
earlier German form of the story of SigurSr must be the link 
between the Norse version and the story of Waldhere ; for there 
is no evidence that the story of Waldhere itself was ever known 
in the North. The conclusion to which we are naturally brought 
is that in this earlier German form of the story Hogni bore the 
same character which is attributed to him in the Norse version. 
This character however is of course totally incompatible with a 
demonic origin ; and here, it seems to me, the interpretation 
which we are discussing hopelessly breaks down. 

I cannot help thinking that the investigation of the whole 
story has been greatly prejudiced by the application of wrong 
methods. There can be no doubt that a story of some kind 
in which the adventures of SigurSr were already combined with 
those of the historical Burgundian princes was in existence 
long before the date of the earliest extant records, and that 
from this story, whether it was embodied in a single poem or 
consisted only of a mass of lays or legends, both the Norse and 
German versions are ultimately derived. It seems to me that, 
before trying to ascertain the origin of the various elements 
contained in the story, the object should be to determine the 
main features of this common foundation. The way to achieve 
this end is surely not by arbitrarily selecting one feature from 
the Norse version and another from the German, but by bringing 
together all the various features which the two have in common. 
To carry out such a process systematically would be quite 
beyond the scope of this book, but a brief outline of the scheme 
may not be out of place here. 

First then we will take the part of the story relating to the 
hero's early adventures, which is preserved mainly in a different 
set of authorities from the rest. The chief German authority 
is the late Seyfridslied which, as we have seen, is really made 


up of two different ballads, inconsistent with one another. The 
Nibelungenlied contains only allusions to this part of the story, 
the action proper beginning shortly before the hero's arrival at 
Worms. The Norse version is given in the trilogy, Reginsmal, 
Fafnismal and Sigrdrifumal, as well as in Volsunga Saga, which 
is derived from these poems. The account given in ThiSreks 
Saga is mainly a combination of the German and Norse versions, 
though it has one or two features peculiar to itself. 

In this part of the story the common elements are very few 
in number, (i) SigurtSr kills a dragon; (2) SigurSr gains a great 
treasure. In the Norse version the two adventures are combined, 
but in the Nibelungenlied the treasure belonged to Nibelung 
and his brother who had quarrelled and who are both killed by 
the hero. It may be noticed that Reginn and Fafnir are also 
brothers who have quarrelled over a treasure, and they too are 
both killed by SigurSr; but Fafnir has become a dragon or 
perhaps a reptile. The Seyfridslied, Part I mentions only the 
killing of a dragon (serpent;, while Part II unites the acquisition 
of the treasure with the killing of a dragon a fiery dragon 
but states that the hero erroneously thought that the treasure 
belonged to the dragon. Really it belonged to the three sons 
of the dwarf-king Nybling, who are friendly to the hero and 
not killed by him. As a further common element we may 
mention (3) that SigurSr is brought up by a smith. This story 
is found in the Seyfridslied, Part I, and in ThiSreks Saga 
practically also in the Edda, since Reginn is represented as a 
smith. Again, (4) both in the ballad and in Norse prose 
authorities SigurSr breaks the smith's anvil, though the circum- 
stances are quite different. It is doubtful whether we should 
connect the eating of Fafnir's heart, which enabled the hero 
to understand the birds, with the German story that he became 
invulnerable by bathing in the dragon's blood. Further, we 
have seen that the awakening of the valkyrie in Sigrdrifumal 
has practically nothing in common with the rescue of the 
maiden (Kriemhild) from the dragon related in the ballad 
(Part II). Lastly, it is to be observed that though the hero's 
father has the same name (Sigemund) in all authorities, there 
is great discrepancy as to his childhood. In the Edda he is 
c. 10 


posthumous but knows his parentage, in the Nibelungenlied 
he is brought up at his father's court, in the ballad, Part I, 
he leaves his home and goes to the smithy, in Part II and 
ThiSreks Saga he does not know his parentage in the latter 
indeed he is a foundling and suckled by a hind. It will be seen 
that this part of the story is permeated throughout by the super- 
natural and marvellous. 

From the time of the hero's arrival at the Burgundian court 
we may take the Nibelungenlied for the German version, while 
the Norse one is best represented by the poems from the 
fragmentary SigurSarkviSa I to Atlamal. For the earlier portion 
we have also to use Volsunga Saga and the prose Edda in place 
of certain poems which are lost (cf. p. 13). In this part of the 
story the elements common to the two versions are far more 
numerous and striking, (i) SigurSr comes to the Rhineland 
(Worms in the German version) and marries a sister (GuSrun, 
Kriemhild) of King Gunnarr (Gunther). (2) SigurSr in super- 
natural disguise wins Brynhildr for Gunnarr. (3) SigurSr again 
in supernatural disguise sleeps with Brynhildr and takes from 
her a ring 1 . (4) Brynhildr quarrels with SigurSr's wife, and 
the latter shows her the ring 1 . (5) Brynhildr bitterly resents 
the treatment she has received and devises the hero's death. 
(6) SigurSr is killed by treachery ; but the versions differ in 
regard to the perpetrator of the deed. (7) The hero's widow 
is for a long time irreconcilable, but eventually is married to 
Atli (Etzel). (8) Gunnarr with Hogni and many others are 
invited to Atli's home. (9) The gold is sunk in the Rhine. 
(10) Gunnarr and Hogni are captured alive and the rest killed 
in Atli's land, (i i) A demand for the gold is made and refused. 
(12) Gunnarr and Hogni are killed. 

It will be seen that the supernatural is here confined to (2) 
and (3); indeed these are almost- the only incidents in which it 
occurs in this part of the story. There is a difference between 
the two versions in regard to the character of the supernatural 
disguise. In the Norse version, where the two incidents are 
combined, SigurSr and Gunnarr have exchanged forms ; in the 
German Gunther is present in both cases, though Siegfried, who 

1 On both these occasions the Nibelungenlied mentions also a girdle. 


has rendered himself invisible, is the real actor. Several other 
important differences between the two versions have already 
been noted (p. 13 f.). In addition to these each version has of 
course many characters and incidents peculiar to itself. 

Of the discrepancies enumerated on p. 13 f. the fifth is by far 
the most important, since Kriemhild's revenge for Siegfried 
forms the central motif of the second half of the Nibelungenlied. 
In the Norse version no such central motif is to be found. In 
the prose piece Drap Niflunga Atli's conduct is attributed to 
revenge for the death of Brynhildr, while in Volsunga Saga it is 
ascribed to his lust for SigurSr's gold. But in the poems them- 
selves no real explanation is given, and the connection between 
this part of the story and that relating to SigurtSr is scarcely 
more than a personal one viz. that GuSrun, Gunnarr and Hogni 
figure in both. This however is a phenomenon for which parallels 
are to be found in other heroic stories, e.g. those of Beowulf and 
Weland. It is now held and doubtless rightly by the majority 
of scholars that the unity of interest imparted to the Nibelungen- 
lied by the motif of Kriemhild's revenge is a later improvement 
on the somewhat disconnected story given in the Edda. For 
our present purpose however the question is immaterial, since it 
is not contended that this part of the story is of mythical origin. 

In spite of the discrepancies noted above it cannot be denied 
that the two versions contain a remarkable number of identical 
features in this part of the story a fact which renders all the 
more striking the very slight amount of agreement in the part 
dealing with the hero's early adventures. Unless all analogies 
are misleading the conclusion to which we are driven is that the 
original story began more or less where the Nibelungenlied 
begins, and that the hero's youthful adventures are later accre- 
tions, such as we see gathering round the childhood or ancestry 
of other heroes, e.g. Biarki (cf. p. 120). We may add also 
the cases of StarkaSr, Hagen in Kudrun and perhaps Witege 
(cf. p. 135). They appear to be derived, in part at least, from 
folk-tales. One of these affecting probably only the Norse 
version may be identified with the Scandinavian story of 
Svipdagr and MengloS (cf. p. 12), a variety perhaps of that 
of the Sleeping Beauty. "Another is that of the forest dwarf 

10 2 


who forges or preserves a magical sword. We may note that in 
ThiSreks Saga the smith is called Mimir, a name which recalls 
Saxo's Mimingus (cf. p. I33) 1 . The story of the treasure-guarding 
dragon may also be included in this category, though strictly 
perhaps it belongs rather to popular belief than to folk-tale. 
From the fact that some of these elements are common to both 
versions we may probably infer that the process of accretion 
had begun before the story reached the North. Yet there do 
seem to be some indications of a reflex influence 2 from the 
North or some region exposed to Northern influence upon the 
development of the story in Germany. 

In addition to folk-tales we must take into consideration 
also a tendency which is often associated with them the desire 
to account for an obscure name. This seems to be the most 
reasonable explanation of the names Nibelung and Nibelunge in 
the first part of the German epic and Nybling in the ballad all 
denoting the original owners of the treasure. We have seen 
that in the Norse version, as well as in the latter half of the 
Nibelungenlied, Niflungar means the Burgundians. May we 
not suppose that it was really a dynastic name 3 like Scyldungas, 
Uffingas, Merewioingasl In that case of course hodd Niflunga 
(Jiort der Nibelunge} ought to mean the family treasure of the 
Burgundian kings. But is it quite certain that AtlakviSa does 
not use it in this sense ? That it is identified with Fafnir's 
treasure in later authorities may be due to subsequent German 
influence. As for the fact that the name Nibelunge is used for 
the Burgundians only in the second half of the German epic, 
may not this spring from some stylistic peculiarities of the 
'common foundation'? It is not necessary to suppose that 
the latter was all the work of one author or even of one 

In dealing with questions such as these we cannot hope to 
get beyond a reasonable hypothesis, since the paucity of common 

1 It seems likely that Mimir was the dwarf's original name and that Saxo has 
given him a name which properly belonged to his sword ; cf. the phrase Hoddmimis 
>&<?#( VafSr. 45), etc. 

2 E.g. the name Schilbung and the references to Norway. The story of Sigemund 
and the dragon also belongs to a maritime region. 

3 Cf. Skaldsk. 42 : " Gunnarr and Hogni are called Niflungar and Giukungar." 


features between the two versions admits of few definite con- 
clusions. But from the time when the hero arrives at the 
Burgundian court the case is quite different. In spite of certain 
discrepancies there is no difficulty in determining the main out- 
line of the story. Even in the most important point of all the 
true cause of the hero's death the two versions are really in full 
agreement. Gutthormr does the deed in one version, Hagen in 
the other; but in both alike it arises out of the bitter resentment 
cherished by Brynhildr, owing to the deception which has been 
practised upon her. We have seen that this motif is incompat- 
ible with the current mythological interpretation of the story. 
But more than this, it is plainly not a motif derived from 
mythology at all, but from real life. 

It must not be overlooked that the Brynhildr and Hogni of 
the Norse version are in the nature of character-studies. Both 
appeal to our sympathies, though we do not approve of the 
actions which they commit or allow. Here we are in a region 
of thought as alien as possible to that of the folk-tale. But it is 
also alien to that period of thought, which was most open to the 
influence of folk-tales, the period which we have called Stage in 
in the history of German poetry. In such a period the person 
who destroyed the hero must necessarily be a villain as black as 
Hell. Between the instigator of the deed and the perpetrator, 
who by this time was Hagen whether this was so originally 
or not is immaterial the choice was made, not unnaturally in 
the circumstances, in favour of the latter, while the former was 
allowed, awkwardly enough, to drop out of the story. Thus the 
peculiarities of the German version may be explained quite 
naturally as modifications of an earlier form similar to the other 
modifications necessitated by the conditions under which 
heroic poetry was preserved in Germany. The effect produced 
is somewhat similar to that which would be obtained by con- 
verting a modern problem play into a popular melodrama. 

The conclusion then to which we are brought is that the 
supposed traces of myth, so far as they have any foundation at 
all, are due to late accretions to the story, while the central 
motif in both versions alike is by no means of a mythical 
character, but essentially human. Consequently the story of 


SigurSr stands quite on a line with the other stories of the 
Heroic Age. Most of them contain elements which may be 
interpreted as mythical ; but these elements are always most 
prominent in the latest forms of the story. It must not escape 
notice that those scholars who most strongly uphold the mythical 
interpretation base their arguments chiefly on such works as the 
Seyfridslied and ThiSreks Saga af Bern. The explanation is 
that myth is a growth which requires time to develop. Even 
Beowulf is no real exception to the general rule, for in the latter 
part the hero is probably confused with a namesake whose story 
may have been of considerable antiquity, while the only character 
in the poem who is quite clearly of mythical origin is the first 
^ancestor of the Danish royal family 1 . 

1 Cf. Schiitte, Oldsagn om Godtjod, pp. 35 38, where it is well pointed out that 
all the clearest cases of myth in early Teutonic records belong to stories dealing with 
the origin of nations or dynasties. "Den eneste udtrykkelige Myte, der udenfor 
specielt religiose G^remal har vseret episk frugtbar i Folkevandringstiden er Ophavs- 



THE question how far the use of fiction was permitted in 
heroic poetry is of course one to which we cannot possibly hope 
to give a definite answer. All poetry which deserves the name 
claims to do something more than provide a bare record of facts. 
According to the ancient definition 1 its proper function is to 
express the universal rather than the particular what may 
happen or may have happened rather than what has happened. 
Some freedom of play for the imagination is therefore essential. 
These remarks hold good for early Teutonic poetry just as much 
as for Greek. If we could recover the poems recited in Attila's 
presence (cf. p. 84) we should doubtless find that they contained 
far more than a mere statement of facts. In the works which 
have come down to us however the degree to which freedom is 
allowed to the imagination varies very greatly from case to case. 
Thus in the poem on the battle of Brunanburh it is restricted 
within comparatively narrow limits, while in the almost con- 
temporaneous Hakonarmal the historical fact on which the poem 
is based is very largely obscured by a wholly fictitious narrative. 
We may naturally expect that the authors of heroic poems 
likewise differed in the treatment of their subjects, though not 
necessarily to the same degree. 

As an instance of a poem which obviously contains a large 
amount of fiction we can hardly do better than take the Anglo- 
Saxon Widsith. The greater part of this poem consists, as we 

1 Aristotle, Poet, ix: 6 yap i<rropiK6s Kal 6 Tron]TT]s...5ia^pov<nv...Ty rbv plv ra 
\tyeiv, rbv 5 ola av ytvoiro. 5td KOU 0i\o<ro0e6re/30J' Kal airovSaibrepov 
yap iroi-rjo'is fj,a\\ov ra KaB6\ov, TJ 5' iffTopLa TO, ttad' 


have seen, of a speech by a minstrel enumerating the various 
peoples and princes with whom he was acquainted. Amongst 
others he states that he had visited the Gothic king Eormenric 
(who died before 3/5), the Burgundian king Guthhere (who died 
about 437) and the Langobardic king Aelfwine (who died about 
572). Now it is commonly held that the poem is of composite 
formation, and there can be little doubt that additions have been 
made to it from time to time. This will account for statements 
such as those given above and, though it does not prevent them 
from being fictitious, it may enable us to form some idea as to 
how fiction was used. Poets of the seventh century probably 
possessed no chronological tables, and consequently they may 
not have been aware that the foreign princes of whom they were 
speaking belonged to quite different ages. Yet without such 
knowledge the visits of the minstrel may ctearly be placed 
among the 'things which may have happened.' What these 
poets certainly did know was that Eormenric was a prominent 
figure in some traditional stories, Guthhere in others. It did 
no violence to the story (//,#o?) itself to bring an anonymous 
character into contact both with Eormenric and Guthhere, 
although doubtless no one would have done this while either 
of the two was alive or indeed for some time after their death. 
But we must not in such cases apply the principle that, since A 
comes into contact with both B and C, therefore B may come 
into contact with C and conclude from it that poets of the 
seventh century thought it right to bring Eormenric and 
Guthhere together in the same story. That is a more advanced 
stage and one for which we have no satisfactory evidence in 
Anglo-Saxon poetry 1 . 

Now, if we turn to the Old Norse poems, which date of course 
from a much later period, we certainly find this stage reached. 
Here GuSrun, the sister of Gunnarr (Guthhere), is represented as 
the mother of Svanhildr, the wife of lormunrekr (Eormenric), as 
well as of HamSir and Sorli who attacked that king. It is to 
be observed that there is no hint of a connection between this 

1 In Wids., v. 112 ff. we find a list of Gothic heroes belonging to various ages 
introduced by the expression innweorud Earmanrices ('Eormenric's household-troop'); 
but this expression need not be interpreted literally with reference to the whole list. 


story and that of the Burgundian family except in Norse litera- 
ture. Even here GuSrun is the sole connecting link between the 
two stories, and there can be little doubt that the confusion is 
due to a mistaken identification of two different women. In the 
account of lormunrekr given by Saxo, who apparently knows 
nothing of the Norse version of the story of SigurSr, GuSrun is 
the name given not indeed to the mother of HamSir and Sorli 
but to a sorceress consulted by them. If the wife of SigurSr had 
originally the same name the difficulty would be capable of 
explanation ; and it is to be remembered that the evidence for 
believing that she was originally called Grfmhildr (Kriemhilt) is 
by no means of a conclusive character. For the identification 
of persons bearing the same name we may compare the con- 
fusion which pervades Scandinavian tradition in regard to the 
various kings called FroSi 1 . 

In other cases where we find two stories which seem to be 
wholly irreconcilable with one another, the difficulty can be 
traced to the misinterpretation of an epithet. Thus the re- 
lationships and adventures of the Swedish kings mentioned in 
Beowulf differ a good deal from what is recorded of the same 
persons in Norse literature. In Beowulf the Swedish king 
Ongentheow has two sons Onela and Ohthere, the former of 
whom is married to a sister of the Danish kings Hrothgar and 
Halga 2 . Strife breaks out between Onela and his two nephews, 
Eanmund and Eadgils, the sons of Ohthere (who is perhaps dead) ; 
Eanmund is slain, but Eadgils with the help of Beowulf succeeds 
in defeating and killing his uncle and gaining for himself the 
throne. In Norse tradition Aftils (Eadgils) is the son and 
successor of Ottarr (Ohthere), but the grandfather is called Egill 
and there is no mention of Eanmund. ASils again is married to 
Yrsa, who is both the wife and daughter of Helgi (Halga) 
which is hardly compatible with the -account given in Beowulf. 
He engages in war with a king Ali (Onela) whom he defeats 
and kills with the help of Biarki (Beowulf) and other warriors 

1 Frotho I and Frotho III were no doubt originally identical; but the confusion 
extends also (especially in Skioldunga Saga) to Frotho IV (the Froda of Beowulf), 
who cannot reasonably be connected with the others (cf. p. 124, note). 

2 The MS. here (v. 62) is defective, but no other interpretation is probable. 


sent to him by his stepson Hrolfr Kraki. But AH is said to be 
a Norwegian, and there is no hint of any relationship on his 
part to either the Swedish or the Danish royal family. 

In this story it seems clear that the Norse tradition has been 
led astray by a misinterpretation of the expression hinn Upplenzki 
(' the man of the Uplands '), which is applied to Ali. There was 
a district called Upplond in Norway, but it was also the name 
of the Swedish province in which the capital (Upsala) was 
situated. Since, according to Beowulf, Onela was the actual 
king of the Swedes, there can be no doubt that it was the latter 
to which the title originally referred. The erroneous identifi- 
cation with the Norwegian district natural enough in Norse 
tradition led to the idea that Ali was an invader, and hence to 
further dislocations in the story. 

In the group of stories which cluster round Dietrich von Bern 
we find a number of unhistorical situations, which may largely 
be due to similar mistakes rather than to deliberate invention. 
Thus when Dietrich appears at Etzel's court, as in all German 
authorities, including ThiSreks Saga af Bern, it is probable that 
the hero has been confused with his father (Theodemir), who, 
as we know from Jordanes. was really subject to Attila. This 
situation cannot be traced in Anglo-Saxon poetry, while in Old 
Norse literature (apart from ThiSreks Saga) it is limited to GuSru- 
narkviSa III 1 and the prose introduction to GuSrunarkviSa II, 
which is believed to be derived from the other poem. The 
association of Dietrich with Siegfried occurs only in ThiSreks 
Saga and some of the later German poems, which seem to invent 
combinations quite freely 54 . 

But a much larger number of authorities, including the Annals 
of Quedlinburg, bring Dietrich into connection with Ermanrich 
and the early Gothic hero Wittich ; and this combination is 
believed to be of much greater antiquity, as the names Theodric 
and Widia are associated also in the Anglo-Saxon poem 
Waldhere. Here we are confronted with a question of great 

1 The MS. once has ThioSmar, as against two examples of Thioflrekr in the verses 
and one in the introduction. Is it really impossible that the name has been altered 
by a scribe familiar with Thiftreks Saga? Cf. Jonsson, Oldn. Litteraturs Historic, I 295. 

2 This tendency is doubtless due largely to the influence of romantic poetry. 


difficulty. The association of Theodric and Eormenric is un- 
known to all the early Scandinavian authorities, and even in 
Germany it cannot be traced back beyond the end of the tenth 
century; in the old Hildebrandslied Dietrich's enemy is called 
Otachar, i.e. Odoacer. Further, apart from the passage in 
Waldhere, there is little or no decisive evidence for a knowledge 
of the story of Dietrich von Bern in England 1 ; for the statement 
in Deor that Theodric possessed the Maeringa burg for thirty 
years may just as probably be applied to the exile of Wolfdietrich 
with Berchtung of Meran 2 . Now Dietrich and Wolfdietrich must 
be confused to some extent in German tradition, since they are 
both credited with an exile of thirty years. Perhaps this con- 
fusion goes deeper than is generally recognised. The true 
explanation may be that a considerable portion of Wolfdietrich's 
story has been transferred to his namesake. I cannot admit 
that the identification of Wolfdietrich with the Prankish king 
Theodberht is anything more than a very doubtful hypothesis ; 
he may really have been an early Gothic prince 3 . Certainly the 
name was extremely common in that nation, for we meet with 
four Gothic kings called Theodric within half a century of one 

So far we have been dealing with stories which have been 
distorted apparently in quite late times either by mistaken 
identifications or by an erroneous interpretation of some title 
or incident. The lapse of time in itself will account for some 
of these changes, especially if we bear in mind the influence of 
Stage III (cf, p. 94 ff.), through which the stories have passed both 
in Germany and in the North. Fiction of a type however, 
especially the tendency towards combination, is certainly not 

1 Prof. Brandl, Grundriss, II 953, calls attention to the fact that the Bernician 
king Ida is said to have had two sons called Theodric and Theodhere. But is not the 
date rather early? The occurrence of the name Sigesteb in the council of Ecgberht, 
king of Wessex (Birch, 395), is perhaps stronger evidence. The name Omulnng 
which is found more than a century earlier (Birch, 76, 116) scarcely necessitates 
acquaintance with the story of Dietrich von Bern. 

2 The case would be different if it could be proved that the person described as 
skati Marika (Maringa) in the inscription of Rok was Dietrich von Bern. 

3 It is worth noting that in Widsith, v. 115, Seafola and Theodric (i.e. Saben and 
Wolfdietrich) appear among the Gothic heroes. 


wanting. In the medieval German poems indeed it is widely 
used and on a scale far more ambitious than what we have 
observed in Widsith. Here however we have to take into 
account the influence of romantic poetry. The nature of the 
use of fiction in the North is not so clear. If it could be proved 
that such stories as those of Oddrun and the ordeal of GuSrun 
originated in the North we should certainly have to grant that 
it was of a fairly advanced type. 

Now we must consider certain cases which seem to have 
originated in much earlier times. As an instance we may take 
the Norse story that Atli was murdered by GuSrun. Now this 
story conflicts with what appear to be the true facts in two 
distinct points : (i) that Attila was murdered at all ; (ii) that the 
person who was present with him when he died was anyone 
whom we can identify with GuSrun. The story that Attila was 
murdered by a woman is, as we have seen, one of great antiquity; 
but there is nothing to show that this woman was GuSrun. It is 
true that Norse and German tradition agree in stating that 
Attila married a sister of Guthhere. This is a statement which 
cannot be proved, though there is nothing intrinsically improb- 
able in such a marriage. But both traditions represent Attila 
and his Burgundian wife as married for a number of years, and 
both speak of their children. Yet there can be little doubt that 
according to the original story Attila was murdered by his brid^ 
(Ildico) on the night of the wedding. Hence we must sure 1 
trace the origin of the Norse story to a combination betwec .1 
two much earlier traditions: (i) that Attila married a sister of 
Guthhere ; (2) that Attila was murdered by his wife. In view 
of the story of Guthhere's death which is common to both 
traditions and undoubtedly ancient it required but little poetic 
imagination to identify the two women and to represent the 
murder as an act of vengeance. I see no ground for supposing 
that this combination took place before the Viking Age. The 
other story is of course much older ; but the evidence seems to 
me to point to an origin in common report rather than in poetic 

The story of HamSir and Sorli is a somewhat different case. 
Here again, as we have already seen, Guthhere's sister was drawn 


into the story only in the Norse version and probably quite late. 
But even before this time it contained features which cannot 
be regarded as historical. In the Danish (Saxo's) version also 
Svanhildr appears as the wife of lormunrekr ; but there is no 
satisfactory evidence for this except in the North, and it is 
clearly contrary to Jordanes' account. Again, the North 
German form of the story 1 agreed with the Northern versions 
in stating that the king lost both his hands and both his feet in 
the encounter. Consequently this feature may be regarded as 
at least comparatively ancient ; but it seems not to be known to 
Jordanes. As in the last case, therefore, we can trace the gradual 
development of the story more or less clearly. In its earliest 
known form, as given by Jordanes, Svanhildr is said to have 
been the wife of a man (apparently the prince of a dependent 
tribe) who deserted Eormenric (perhaps by joining the Huns). 
To punish his disloyalty the king had her tied to wild horses 
and thus torn to pieces. In an attempt to avenge this outrage 
her brothers gave him a serious wound, which was partly the 
cause of his death 2 . In the last point Jordanes may have 
been trying to combine the tradition with another account of 
Eormenric's death which he knew from historical sources. 
Otherwise the story contains nothing incredible 3 . Yet the 
element of fiction was probably present from the beginning. 
In the earlier stages its influence may be detected at least in 
the elaboration of the incident and in exaggeration of its effects, 
whereas in later times it shows itself in the invention of relation- 
ships and in false combinations. 

1 This version (represented by the Ann. Quedl., cf. p. 37, note), like the Norse, 
added a third brother, though he bears a different name. But the person killed, 
whose name is not given, is said to have been the father of the brothers, not their sister. 

2 Hermanaricus rex Gothorum . . ,de Hunorum . . .aduentu dum cogitat, Rosomonorum 
gens infida, quae tune inter alias Hit famulatum exhibebat, tali eum nanciscitur occa- 
sions decipere. dum enim quandam mulierem, Sunildam nomine, ex gent e memorata, 
pro mariti fraudulent o discessu ^ex furore commotus equis ftrotibus inligatam incitatis- 
que cursibus per diuersa diuelli praecepisset, fratres eius Sarus et Ammius germanae 
obitum uindicantes, Hermanarici latus ferro petierunt ; quo uulnere saucius, aegram 
uitam corporis imbecillitate contraxit. . . inter haec ffermanaricus tarn uulneris dolorem, 
quarn etiam Hunorum incursiones nonferens...defunctus est (cap. 24). 

3 The Frankish queen Brunhild was put to death in a similar way in the year 613. 
We may also compare the Thuringian atrocities described by Gregory of Tours (ill 7). 



L Next we will take the story of Beowulfs death, which has 
the great advantage of being preserved in an early form. This 
story may be regarded in a sense as pure fiction. Strictly 
speaking however it consists of at least three distinct elements : 
(i) Beowulf's encounter with the dragon, (ii) the hero's funeral, 
(iii) incidental references to the past history of the Geatas. The 
last element is in part, and probably to a very large extent, 
founded on fact ; so we will confine our attention to the other 
two. The account of the hero's funeral is a good illustration 
of Aristotle's dictum as to the true function of poetry to 
express the universal rather than the particular. We have no 
reason for supposing that the poet had any information regarding 
Beowulf's real funeral. The description which he composed is 
that of such a funeral as might reasonably be expected for a 
man of Beowulfs rank and reputation. But the same remark 
is largely true also of the first element. Grant that the latter 
part of Beowulf's career was really unknown and that, through 
confusion with an earlier hero, it had come to be said that he 
perished in an encounter with a dragon nearly all the rest 1 can 
be attributed to the same faculty for elaboration which we find 
in the funeral scene. More imagination perhaps was required in 
this case ; but it must not be supposed that our author was the 
first to describe an encounter of this kind. Far more probably he 
\ was working upon a theme which in his time was already well worn. 

We have now seen that fiction in early times shows itself 
especially in the way of elaboration, or perhaps we may say in 
the structure of the story 2 . The subject itself (the /u,0#o9) may 
be based upon fact or upon common report or rumour which 
was clearly false or even totally incredible, as in the last instance. 
But I know of no story, dealing with historical characters, which 
can be shown to be the product of deliberate and conscious in- 
vention. We have still however to consider the most important 
question of all. Did the use of fiction include the invention of 
characters ? 

1 The chief exception is the part played by Wiglaf ; possibly also the incident of 
the cowardly knights. 

2 i) TUV Trpay/jbdruv (ri/0-Tcwts (Aristotle, Poet. VI 9). 


It is not safe to assume this. We know that some of the 
characters are historical in most of the heroic stories. On the 
other hand it is not obvious that a single one of the characters 
mentioned in the primary authorities is fictitious 1 . This being 
so it is unreasonable to take the view that characters should be 
regarded as fictitious, unless they can be proved to be historical 2 . 
On the contrary, until the use of fictitious characters is proved 
there is a decided presumption in favour of believing any given 
character to be historical unless of course his name or some 
other special circumstance gives clear ground for suspicion. 

Wiglaf is a character known to us only in connection with 
the story of Beowulf and the dragon. Consequently he may 
be regarded with a certain amount of suspicion. But in one 
passage it is stated that his father, Weoxtan, had served under 
the Swedish king Onela and slain Eanmund, the brother of 
Eadgils. Now in the Kalfsvisa (cf. p. 20) we find a Vesteinn 
mentioned among those who accompanied Ali (Onela) to the 
' ice,' i.e. to the battle on the frozen lake Vener, in which that 
king lost his life. This can hardly be a different person. But 
if we grant the identity chronological considerations render it 
highly improbable that he is a fictitious character. 

A somewhat different case is presented by another of the 
characters which figure in Beowulf, namely Unferth, the Danish 
king's ' spokesman.' The name does not occur elsewhere in 
English works, and it is of an unusual, though by no means 
unknown, type 3 . According to the current explanation name 

1 For the case of Widsith see p. 56 f. Supernatural beings, such as Grendel, and 
mythical personages of the past, such as Scyld, cannot fairly be regarded as excep- 
tions, since it is not at all likely that they were invented by the poet himself. They 
figure largely in skaldic poems of the Viking Age (e.g. Hakonarmal) which probably 
never introduce fictitious contemporary characters. On the other hand some of the 
characters in the Edda poems may have been invented in the North. 

2 This must be emphasized because one constantly finds theories of fictitious origin 
introduced with some sentence such as the following: 'It has not yet been proved that 
this story has any historical foundation.' Such an attitude seems to me not only 
unreasonable but wrong in principle. 

3 Cf. Unwona, the name of a bishop of Leicester who died about the beginning of 
the ninth century, and Unwine (Un-wenes, Gen.), the name of Eastgota's son (Wids. 
114). The name Unfrid itself occurs in Germany during the eighth and ninth 


and character are alike fictitious, the former being framed to 
express the man's malevolent disposition. He is said (vv. 587 f, 
ii67f.) to have killed his brothers, and on Beowulf's arrival he 
soon proceeds to wrangle with him 1 . But against this stands 
the fact that his father is called Ecglaf, an ordinary unsymbolical 
name, while his quarrel with Beowulf is afterwards amicably 
settled. It seems to me therefore that the hypothesis is at 
best uncertain. We may note that Hrothgar's other retainers 
(Wulfgar, Aeschere, Yrmenlaf) bear names which betray no 
special significance. 

A somewhat similar interpretation, though on a more 
ambitious scale, is applied to the story of HamSir and Sorli 2 . 
The name Sunilda (for Sonahildi or Sonihilds) is supposed to 
have been chosen for Eormenric's victim in order to express 
the fact that her death was an ' expiation ' (O. High Germ. 
suona) of the offence committed by her husband, while HamSir 
and Sorli themselves have got their names from their armour 
(O. Norse hamr, A.-S. kama, etc. ; Goth, sarwa, A.-S. searu). 
Now an interpretation of this kind deserves careful consideration 
when it provides a reasonable and more or less simple expla- 
nation of the names involved ; but not otherwise. In this case 
it is held, contrary to all analogies, that the name Hamftir (for 
Hama-tyus*) is extended from an earlier Gothic form Hamjis 
(Jordanes' Ammius). But even then the etymology is hardly 
rendered any more probable ; for ham- by itself can only mean 
* dress,' ' covering.' It is only when compounded with words 
meaning ' war ' (as in A.-S. gift-hama) that it can be used in 
the sense of ' mail-coat.' Again, Sorli is regarded and this is 
probably correct as a diminutive of Sams, which is held to 
represent Goth, sarws, though no such word is known (in any 
Teutonic language) except as a proper name. What is important 

1 Prof. Olrik (Danmarks Heltedigtning, p. 25 ff.) suggests further that he was the 
instigator of a quarrel between Hrothwulf and Hrothgar or his sons. But I cannot 
help thinking that his interpretation of vv. n66ff., ingenious as it undoubtedly is, goes 
a good deal beyond what the passage actually warrants. 

2 Cf. Jiriczek, Deutsche Heldensagen, I 63 f., Sijmons, Grundriss, ill 2 683. 

3 The true form is probably Hami-. It is surely far more probable that Ammius 
is a shortened (hypocoristic) form from the compound name (cf. A.-S. Hemma, Hemmi}. 
But in that case of course we shall have to conclude that the name had been familiar for 
some time before it came to Jordanes' knowledge. 


to notice however is that a Gothic prince of this name was 
fighting in Italy in the year 405, i.e. little more than thirty 
years after Eormenric's death. Lastly, we may note that there 
appears to be no satisfactory evidence for regarding Svan- (in 
Svanhildr) as a transformation (' Umformung') of Son- 1 . Such 
a change would be intelligible enough if the name had become 
known through a document written in Latin letters ; but that 
is a hypothesis which we need not discuss. As the evidence 
stands, considering the extremely corrupt state of the proper 
names given by Jordanes, it is far more probable that his form 
has lost an -a-, than that the Northern name has been changed. 
The conclusion therefore to which we are brought is that, 
whether the story be fictitious or not, its interpretation must 
be considered without regard to such etymological speculations 
as these 2 . 

I am far from denying of course that the etymological 
interpretation is applicable in its proper sphere. We have a 
reasonably safe instance in the name Widsith (cf. p. 44), as 
well as in the case of characters derived from folk-tale or myth. 
In particular we have the eponymous ancestors of families and 
even nations. But these are not characters invented by the 
poet himself. Further they are always referred to a more or 
less distant past, and their occurrence in heroic poetry is not 
very common. 

Next we will take the stories of Waldhere and SigurSr. 
Here again the etymological interpretation is often brought 
forward, especially in connection with the women's names ; but 
on the whole it is of minor importance. Now we have seen 
that several of the chief characters, Guthhere, Hagena and 
Attila, are common to both these stories. There is no question 
of course that Guthhere. and Attila are historical persons ; but 

1 No argument can be based upon the name Snanailta which is found in a docu- 
ment at St Gall dating from 786 (in conjunction with other names which show 
a knowledge of the story of Eormenric), for it may contain either swan- or son-. It is 
admitted that the name Swanahilt was in use. 

2 With how much greater plausibility could the name Eormenric be accounted 
for ! Had it not been for the incidental reference to this king in Ammianus 
Marcellinus' history, nothing could possibly have saved him from being regarded 
as a purely fictitious personage. 

C. II 


for Hagena this cannot be proved. If he is fictitious, then one 
of the two stories necessarily presupposes the other. But it is 
by no means clear to which of them we should assign the 
priority. There is no valid reason for doubting that both of 
them go back to the Heroic Age. 

The story of Waldhere contains no feature which can be 
regarded as intrinsically improbable if allowance be made firstly 
for poetic elaboration, and secondly for the influence of Stage III 
(cf. p. 94 ff.). To the first we may perhaps assign the account 
of the single combats ; to the second probably the somewhat 
grotesque conclusion of the last fight, as given by Ekkehard, 
and certainly the discrepancy which prevails in regard to the 
hero's origin. Ekkehard 1 says that his father (Alpharius) was 
king of Aquitaine, while the medieval German poems speak 
both of Spanie (Spain) and Lengers (Langres) as his home. 
Now the name Aquitani cannot be taken from an old native 
poem, and the same remark is probably true of Spanie. More- 
over, if we were to suppose that the hero belonged to either 
of these regions we should have to conclude that he was a 
Visigoth. As a matter of fact this conclusion is generally 
accepted ; but it involves, obviously enough, many difficulties. 
Langres however is scarcely open to any such objection, and it 
further has the advantage of proximity to Chalon-sur-Saone, 
which according to Ekkehard was the home of Hiltgund. These 
districts must have been occupied at some time by settlers from 
the lower Rhine, as appears from the names Pagus Attoariorum 
and Pagtis Amauorum, the former of which lies directly between 
Chalon and Langres. We have no definite evidence as to when 
the occupation took place, but probably ' it was considerably 
anterior to the time of Clovis 2 . Small Teutonic communities 
of this kind were doubtless too insignificant to be mentioned 
in the scanty chronicles of that age ; but there is nothing 
unlikely in the story that children belonging to their princely 
families were given as hostages to the Huns. 

1 In Ekkehard's case the influence of Stage in is supplemented or amended by 
erudition. The national names which he gives (Franci, Burgundia, etc.) are accommo- 
dated to the political divisions of his own time. 

2 Cf. Zeuss, Die Deutschen und die Nachbarstdmme^ p. 582 ff., where a much 
earlier date is suggested. 


The case of SigurSr must be considered independently of 
the hero's youthful adventures, which, as we have seen, are 
probably to be regarded as later accretions to the story. Hence 
it is practically only in connection with the Burgundian royal 
house that the hero is known 1 , and as soon as we lose sight 
of this we drift at once into fruitless speculation. The story 
represents SigurSr as wealthy, brave and personally attractive ; 
but it does not credit him with achievements which changed the 
destiny of nations. Consequently he is riot the type of person 
whom we could reasonably expect to find mentioned in the 
chronicles of that period. GuSrun (Kriemhild) again is unknown 
to history; we do not even know that Guthhere had a sister. 
But we are certainly not justified in assuming either that such 
a person never existed or that she could not have married a 
prince from the Netherlands. The same remarks, mutatis 
mutandis, apply to the case of Brynhildr, the king's wife. 

From the analysis given on p. 146 it will be seen that the 
original story appears to have contained two features which 
we may more or less safely regard as fictitious. One of course 
is the disguise ; the other is the incident of the ring. In the 
former case the two versions differ from which we may perhaps 
infer that this feature was not very clearly indicated in the 
original form of the story. The incident of the ring also is 
introduced in quite different circumstances. But at the same 
time it is really the central feature of the plot ; for the ring is 
the instrument chosen to bring about the dva<yvtopicri<s the 
recognition by Brynhildr of the deception which has been 
played upon her. This is an incident such as we frequently 
find in modern works of fiction. Yet it cannot by itself be 
held to prove the fictitious origin either of the characters or 
of the story as a whole, It may equally well be regarded as 
a device for explaining the subsequent course of events, in 
which case we may set it down as an instance of poetic 

Perhaps the objection may be raised that the sequel 

1 It is impossible here to enter into a criticism of theories such as those brought 
forward in Boer's Untersuchungen iiber den Ursprung und die Entwickelung der 

II 2 


Brynhildr's resentment against SigurSr necessarily presupposes 
the deception practised upon her and that this deception is in 
both versions of a supernatural character. That is doubtless 
true ; but the explanation is not far to seek. Both versions 
of the story are really aware of a previous acquaintance between 
SigurSr and Brynhildr. In the Volsunga Saga 1 we hear of 
two distinct meetings, firstly when he awakens her from the 
enchanted sleep (cap. 20 f.) and again when he woos her 
on his visit to Heimir (cap. 24). If Brynhildr is really to be 
identified with the sleeping valkyrie, these two accounts may 
be regarded as variants of one original story. On the other 
hand the Gripisspa treats the two events separately, like the 
saga, though unlike the saga it does not identify Brynhildr with 
the valkyrie. Both forms of the story however agree that there 
had been some meeting, through which Brynhildr had been led 
to expect marriage with SigurSr. Now the Nibelungenlied says 
nothing of a relationship of this kind. But at the same time it 
states more than once without any explanation that Siegfried 
had known Brunhild and her dwelling. There is some ground 
therefore for suspecting that a portion of the story has been 
suppressed or lost in the German version. If so, then the 
explanation of the supernatural disguise becomes clear enough. 
It is a device, doubtless an ancient device 2 , for saving the hero's 
character. Then also we obtain a much stronger motive for 
Brynhildr's resentment. It was a case not merely of deception 
but of faithlessness. There is nothing incredible in that, though 
in real life the dvayvwpio-is would probably come about in a 
different way. 

If the story is fictitious i.e. if SigurSr, Brynhildr, Hogni, 
GuSrun (Kriemhild) and all their doings are creations of fancy- 
one conclusion at all events must, I think, be accepted. Such a 
story must be the product of the brain of one gifted poet ; it 

1 Owing to the great lacuna in the MS. of the Edda (cf. p. 13) the poems which 
dealt with this part of the story are lost. 

2 The story may have come to the North in two different forms, one of which 
related the wooing of Brynhildr by SigurSr, while the other, a later form, contained 
the incident of the supernatural disguise. But it is also possible that even the original 
poem or poems on the subject dealt with this incident, though without altogether 
suppressing the previous relations between SigurSr and Brynhildr. 


cannot be the result of a fortuitous concourse of lays by different 
authors. The analysis shows that the strength of the story lies 
chiefly in that element which is common to both versions. Here 
we have the character-studies of Brynhildr and Hogni ; for even 
in the Nibelungenlied, greatly defaced as they are, the original 
outlines can still be traced. The plot too conforms to the 
highest standard of tragic art. It has complete unity in itself 1 ; 
all the characters are more or less sympathetic ; and the hero's 
downfall is due not to any villainy (fj,o^0r)pia) on his own part, 
but to a great error (d/jLapria). Lastly, whatever view may be 
taken as to the fate of Brynhildr a point in which the versions 
differ nothing could be more tragic than the grief of GuSrun 
(Kriemhild), which is common to both. For the creation of a 
story possessing all these features a story too which lived in 
different parts of Europe for many centuries under somewhat 
unfavourable conditions we must surely assume not only a 
talented poet but also a poem of some considerable length. 

I do not of course regard this as a conclusive argument for 
believing that the story is based on fact. For even in that case 
its presentation would require epic form, as well as poetic talent. 
The decision between the two interpretations rests ultimately 
on the question whether such a story is more likely to have 
been invented or drawn from life. It seems probable that some 
of the characters added in the Norse version are products of 
fiction. But here we have to deal with a period removed by 
many ages from the times to which the story relates, and with 
a people who had developed the cultivation of imaginative 
poetry to a very high standard. The origin of the story how- 
ever must surely date from a period when Guthhere and the 
Burgundian kingdom on the Rhine were still remembered. In 
that period we have no positive evidence for the composition 
of fiction at all, much less for fiction of this extremely elaborate 
type. On the other hand we have in Procopius' account of 
Irmingisl and Radiger (cf. p. 97 ff.), written within six or seven 
years of the events, practically all the materials for the com- 
position of an epic poem on a very similar subject. Indeed 

1 There is no need to assume that the story of Guthhere's death was embodied in 
the same poem, though the two were doubtless connected from quite early times. 


they can hardly be called merely crude materials ; for certain 
incidents are depicted, in poetic fashion, rather than related, 
and even the supernatural element is not wanting. The evidence 
of this passage seems to me to tell decidedly in favour of the 
view that the story of SigurSr is founded on fact 1 . 

In the course of this chapter we have examined a number 
of heroic stories with a view to determining how and to what 
extent fiction has been employed in their composition. We 
have seen that in early times its influence was shown chiefly in 
the imaginative presentation or structure of stories, some of 
which were founded on fact, others on popular report or 
rumour which frequently introduced elements from folk-tales, 
occasionally even from myth. All such cases however may be 
included among the ' things that may have happened,' if we 
take into account the spirit of the times. On the other hand 
for the composition of wholly fictitious narratives narratives 
which the author himself knew to be fictitious and more 
especially for the deliberate invention of characters there seems 
to be no conclusive evidence in the stories which we have 
considered ; and I am not aware of any others for which a 
^stronger case could be made out. I am not prepared of course 
to state dogmatically that such fiction was not known. The 
case is far too uncertain for such a statement as that ; there is 
no question here of such gross improbabilities as those which 
beset the hypothesis of ( rationalised myth.' One is certainly 
entitled to doubt whether all the characters even in early 
poems, such as Beowulf, are taken from life. But if we grant, 
as I think we must, the existence of earlier poems dealing with 
the Danish court, there is nothing incredible in the supposition. 

These remarks apply of course only to poems belonging to 
Stage I and Stage II. The effect of Stage III was to disintegrate 
the stories and to introduce unhistorical elements of all kinds. 

1 It would be difficult to doubt its historical origin if it could be proved that the 
hero's father was originally identical with Sigemund the son of Waelse (Volsungr), 
who figures in Beowulf; for the two stories are almost entirely independent of each 
other arid refer to quite different regions. The adventure with the dragon, which 
is related both of Sigurftr and Sigemund, shows that they were connected in very 
early times. Still I know no real proof of original identity. 


Hence in poems of Stage IV we meet with numerous situations 
which are quite incompatible either with history or with the 
older forms of the traditions. In the same period we find also 
many fictitious characters, not only in the German poems, where 
they may be ascribed to romantic influence, but also probably 
in those of the North. 

There is one type of fiction which we have not taken into 
account in our discussion. Various scholars from time to time 
have put forward the theory that some of the chief charac- 
ters of the Heroic Age are really well-known historical persons 
under fictitious names. Thus SigurSr has been identified with 
a number of famous princes from Arminius to Sigebert. It 
cannot be said that any one of these identifications is of a 
nature to carry conviction ; in no case indeed have they gained 
wide acceptance. But I cannot help thinking that an error 
in principle underlies the whole theory. It was scarcely through 
the greatness of their power, much less through the effects of 
their achievements on after generations, that the characters of 
the Heroic Age acquired celebrity ; it was far more through the 
impression made upon their neighbours and contemporaries by 
their magnificence and generosity, by their personality, and 
perhaps above all by the adventures and vicissitudes of fortune 
which fell to their lot. This is a question to which we shall 
have to return in a later chapter. 



THE literary records of the Heroic Age of Greece resemble 
those of the northern Heroic Age in several respects. Both 
literatures alike begin with heroic poems which, as we shall see 
later, possess many common characteristics. Then, at a much 
later date, we find in both literatures a new series of narrative 
works dealing again with the old stories. Lastly, in both cases 
works of all periods, both poetic and prose, contain frequent 
incidental references to the same stories, testifying thereby to 
their popularity. In Greek literature indeed such references 
occur more frequently than in that of the Teutonic peoples a 
fact doubtless due to the preservation of great poems of the 
former period, which at an early date came to be regarded as 
classics or something more. Among the northern peoples, as we 
have seen, it was only in England that any considerable amount 
of the early heroic poetry was preserved ; but here the continuity 
of literary development was broken through political causes, and 
consequently all memory of the Heroic Age was practically 

On the other hand we have no evidence for the Heroic Age 
of Greece in any way comparable with those more or less con- 
temporary Roman works which enable us to identify many of 
the characters and incidents of the northern Heroic Age. In 
Greece the Heroic Age had passed away long before the date of 
the earliest historical documents which have come down to us ; 
while though inscriptions of a remote antiquity are still in 
existence, none prior to the seventh, or possibly the eighth 


century, have as yet been deciphered. Further, the monuments 
of the surrounding countries, such as Egypt or Assyria, make no 
reference to Greece beyond the occasional bare mention of a 
geographical or tribal name. Hence it comes about that we 
cannot with certainty pronounce any single person or event of 
the Heroic Age to be historical. All that it has been possible as 
yet to verify is the existence of ancient centres of civilisation in 
certain localities which figure prominently in stories of the 
Heroic Age. Archaeological investigation has shown that some 
of these places possessed at one time an extraordinary amount 
of wealth and splendour, though within the historical period 
they were inconsiderable or even uninhabited. 

Of the early heroic poetry very little has come down to us 
except the two great epics, the Iliad and the Odyssey, which 
between them contain nearly 28,000 verses. These poems are, 
strictly speaking, anonymous, though from very ancient times, 
at least from the seventh century, the name Homer has been 
associated with them. In the Alexandrian age there were 
critics who believed that the Iliad and Odyssey were the work of 
different authors ; but it is only within modern times that they 
have been considered to be of composite formation. At present 
it is probably the most prevalent view that the Iliad was formed 
gradually in the course of the ninth century and that it attained 
substantially its present form about the middle of the eighth 
century. The Odyssey is generally thought to be a later work. 
Its date is set by many as late as the seventh century, though it 
is believed to have used and probably incorporated earlier 
poems, of the ninth or eighth century. There are however still 
a number of scholars who both deny the composite authorship of 
the poems and also believe them to be of greater antiquity than 
the dates here given. 

Apart from the Iliad and Odyssey the only early heroic poem 
which has come down to us is the Shield of Heracles, a work 
containing 480 verses and giving an account of the single combat 
between Heracles and Cycnos. It has been attributed to Hesiod 
by various writers, at least since the Alexandrian period ; indeed 
the Argument cites Stesichoros as authority for this belief. At 


the present time however most scholars regard it as the work of 
an unknown poet of the seventh century 1 . 

In ancient times there were a considerable number of other 
early epic poems, of which only a few insignificant fragments 
now remain. Some of these, the Cypria, Aithiopis, Little Iliad 
('IXm? fiiKpa), Iliu Persis and Nostoi, dealt with the same cycle 
of story as the Iliad and Odyssey. They seem however to have 
been of much smaller compass and to have treated their subjects 
in a far less detailed manner. It is thought by many that the 
Cypria was composed as an introduction to the Iliad and the 
others as continuations of it the Nostoi connecting on to the 
Odyssey. At all events they were utilised by the authors of the 
prose rcv/choi, in Alexandrian and Roman times, for the purpose 
of presenting a connected account of the whole story 2 . 

The authorship of these poems is attributed in late writings 
to a number of persons Stasinos of Cyprus, Arctinos of Miletos, 
Lesches of Lesbos and Agias of Troizen of whom nothing 
definite is known, but who are believed to have lived either in 
the eighth century or in the early part of the seventh. In early 
times however indeed probably down to the fourth century- 
it seems to have been the general belief that several, possibly all, 
of them were by Homer. Herodotus (II 117) expresses his dis- 
belief in Homer's authorship of the Cypria ; but his words imply 
that he was contesting a commonly accepted view. On the other 
hand Hellanicos 3 , who was approximately contemporary with 
Herodotus, is said to have attributed the Little Iliad (including 
possibly the Iliu Persis) not to Lesches or Arctinos but to a cer- 
tain Cinaithon of Lacedaemon, who is said to have lived before 
the middle of the eighth century. Lastly we must mention the 
Telegoneia, a sequel to the Odyssey, which is said to have been 
composed by Eugammon of Cyrene 4 , probably in the sixth century. 

1 Chiefly because the description of the shield (vv. 139 320) appears to corre- 
spond to the art of that period. 

2 The KikXoi embraced much more than the story of Troy ; cf. W. v. Christs 
Geschichte d. griech. Litteratur 5 , 47 f. The relationship of these works to the poems 
may be compared with that of Volsunga Saga to the heroic poems of the Edda. 

3 Schol. to Euripides, Troades, 822. 

4 Eusebius, Chron., ad Olymp. 53. The same authority however also attributes 
it to Cinaithon of Lacedaemon (ad Olymp. 4). 


Apart from the series of poems dealing with the siege of 
Troy the most famous of the early epics was the Thebais, which 
gave the story of the legendary kings of Thebes. This poem 
was attributed to Homer by Callinos of Ephesus 1 who lived early 
in the seventh century which probably implies that it was 
not of recent composition even then. It had a sequel called 
Epigonoi, which likewise seems to have been attributed to Homer, 
though Herodotus (IV 32) again apparently felt doubtful. In ad- 
dition to these mention may be made of the Oidipodeia, which 
also dealt with the Theban story, and of the Oichalias Halosis 
and Phocais, which were concerned with adventures of Heracles. 

All the poems mentioned above were probably composed in 
quite early times, though we have practically no trustworthy 
data as to their age or authorship. A number of other epics 
bore the names of persons who were attributed to the eighth or 
seventh centuries, such as Cinaithon (see above), Eumelos of 
Corinth and Asios of Samos. These however seem to have been 
rather of a genealogical than heroic character. Peisandros of 
Rhodes, the author of an epic on Heracles, is also referred, 
though on rather doubtful authority, to the close of this period. 
But the other epic poets whose names have survived seem to 
have belonged to a considerably later time. The didactic epos 
began, under Hesiod, apparently before the end of the eighth 
century, while early in the following century there arose new 
types of poetry, elegiac and iambic, concerned chiefly with 
present topics and the personal interests of the poets, and seldom 
even referring to the Heroic Age. The last remark is true also, 
though to a less extent, of the early lyric poetry. But in the 
early part of the sixth century Stesichoros of Himera began to 
utilise it for presenting stories of the Heroic Age in a new form. 
In Pindar's odes too, nearly a century later, the allusions to 
heroic stories are very frequent and often of considerable 
length. One ode indeed contains almost an epos. 

In the fifth century however the Heroic Age figures most 
prominently in Athenian tragedy. Of the seven extant plays of 
Aeschylus four or five 2 deal with the Heroic Age and one with 

1 Fragm. 6 (Bergk), from Pausanias, IX 9. 5. 

2 The Suppliants is hardly to be reckoned as a heroic play. It is referred to 


contemporary history, while the last is concerned exclusively 
with supernatural beings. Of the two later dramatists, Sophocles 
and Euripides, all the surviving plays 1 take their subjects from 
the Heroic Age. Further, we know the names of a large number 
of lost plays, both by these and other authors, and from them it 
appears that the surviving pieces are fairly representative, so far 
as choice of subjects is concerned. During the same period we 
hear of a few epic poets whose works are now lost. Some of 
these, such as Panyasis and Antimachos, dealt with stories of the 
Heroic Age and some, as Choirilos, with contemporary history. 
About two centuries later heroic epic poetry was cultivated at 
Alexandria, especially by Apollonius Rhodius. 

Among incidental references to the Heroic Age one of the 
most interesting occurs in Hesiod's Works and Days (vv. 156 
170), where an age of the heroes 2 who fell at Thebes and Troy is 
introduced between the bronze age and the iron age. Herodotus' 

a time many generations before the siege of Troy and all the characters appear to be 
personifications of nationalities. Regarding the epic Danais little information seems 
to be obtainable. 

1 The Ion and Bacchai are perhaps rather to be regarded as pre-heroic ; the 
former deals with a story which apparently belongs to the same type as Aeschylus' 

avrdp eirel /cat TOVTO yevos Kara yaia Kd\v^/ev, 

aurts ^T' dXXo reraprov iri xdovl irov\v(3oTeLpr] 

Zeus Kpovidijs Troiyve diKai6repov /cat apeiov, 

avdp&v yp&wv detov yevos, ot /raXe'cwTat 

i)fj.ldoi, Trpor^pif] yevty /car' direipova ycuav. 

/cat robs pkv 7r6Xe/nos re KO.KOS /cat 0tfXo7rts alvT] 

TOVS peit v<f> eTrTa-mjXii} O^/S??, Kad/m-rjidi yair), 

uiXecre /u,apj>a / ueVois ^rfKuv eveK OiSnrodao, 

TOVS de /cat ev v^effcriv virep ^ya \aiT/Jt.a ^aXdcrar;? 

4s Tpofyi/ ayayuv 'E\vr)S ^e/c' ^u/c6/xoto. /c.r. X. 

In this passage the word rjpias seems to have already begun to acquire its later 
meaning, viz. a distinguished man of the past (generally of the Heroic Age) who was 
honoured with worship, though not as a god. For such worship Teutonic records 
naturally furnish few parallels, since most of the Teutonic peoples became Christian either 
during the Heroic Age itself or soon after. We may compare however what Jordanes 
(cap. 13) says of the Goths: proceres suos, quorum quasi fortuna uincebant, non 
pur os homines sed semideos, id est Ansis, uoca^^erunt. In Old Norse the name cesir 
(*anstz) is applied only to the gods (Othin, Thor, etc.) ; but we do hear occasionall) 
of worship paid to heroes of the Heroic Age, as well as to distinguished persons 
later times. An instance of the former (in the case of Hrolfr Kraki) occurs in 
Yngl. S. 41. 


history abounds with references to the Heroic Age, and even 
Thucydides refers to it not unfrequently, though in a more 
critical spirit. In later times we have to notice especially 
antiquarian writers such as Strabo and above all Pausanias. 
The last-named derived his information very largely from local 
tradition and consequently the stories which he gives may often 
be independent of the poems. 

We may now consider briefly the chronological aspect of the 
Greek Heroic Age. It has already been mentioned that a passage 
in Hesiod's Works and Days speaks of an age of heroes inter- 
mediate between the bronze and iron ages, and that it further 
defines these heroes as those who fought at Thebes and Troy. 
To the latter number belong no doubt the various characters of 
the Iliad and Odyssey and the other poems (Cypria, etc.) which 
dealt with the Trojan cycle of legend, while the deeds of the 
former must have been treated in the Thebais and the Epigonoi. 
In the surviving Attic dramas which deal with the Heroic Age 
the distribution of subjects is as follows. Sixteen plays (three 
by Aeschylus, three by Sophocles and ten by Euripides, including 
the Cyclops and Rhesos) treat of the heroes of the Trojan war or 
their children ; six plays (one by Aeschylus, three by Sophocles 
and two by Euripides) deal with the Theban story ; and six 
plays (one by Sophocles and five by Euripides) are concerned 
with the doings of Heracles, Theseus or lason. It is to be 
observed that the heroes of the Theban story are always repre- 
sented as belonging to the generation immediately preceding 
that of the heroes of Troy, while Heracles, Theseus and lason 
are all loosely connected with one another and made roughly 
contemporary with the Theban heroes. The remaining three 
plays (Aeschylus' Suppliants and Euripides' Ion and Bacchai), 
if we are justified in regarding them as heroic at all, refer to 
persons much farther back in the genealogies. 

It appears then that the characters who figure most pro- 
minently in stories of the Heroic Age were, with few exceptions, 
ascribed to a period covering not more than three or four genera- 
tions. There are, it is true, a number of stories referring to 
much earlier generations in addition to those treated in the 


three plays mentioned above but they seem to have been 
distinctly less popular than the others. On the other hand there 
is scarcely any reference to persons later than the children of the 
heroes who fought at Troy. 

With the evidence at our disposal it is impossible to fix any 
absolute dates for the Heroic Age. All that we can say is that 
the end of that age appears to coincide with the movement or 
series of movements, traditionally known as the Return of the 
Heracleidai, to which the Dorian states in the Peloponnesos 
were believed to owe their origin. According to the story, the 
Return took place in the second generation after the siege of 
Troy, and the grandsons of Agamemnon, the Achaean leader at 
the siege, were killed or expelled by the Dorians. Certainly it 
is to be noted that the scheme of tribal or political geography 
presented to us in the Homeric poems seems to show no trace 
either of Dorians in the Peloponnesos or of Ionic settlements in 
the eastern Aegean another series of movements which are said 
to have been brought about by the Dorian conquest. 

The great majority of scholars apparently regard the story of 
the conquest as containing at least a nucleus of truth, though it 
refers to times long anterior to what we should call the historical 
period. The ancients themselves dated the events in question 
back to the twelfth or eleventh century (B.C.). But the evidence 
on which their conclusions were based is not of a very satisfactory 
character and will require careful consideration. 

Before entering upon this question it will be convenient to 
notice briefly the scenes of the stories and the localities and 
peoples to which the various characters belong. The scene of 
the Iliad is laid in the north-west corner of Asia Minor, a short 
distance south of the Dardanelles. But the stories introduced 
incidentally refer for the most part to places on the mainland of 
Greece, less frequently to localities in Asia Minor or Thrace. 
The distribution of the principal heroes is as follows: Agamem- 
non's territories, according to the Catalogue of Ships (II. II 569 fT.), 
lie in the north-east of the Peloponnesos, including the north- 
western part of what was later called Argolis and at least the 
eastern half of Achaia. Elsewhere (II. IX 149 ff., 291 ff.) he 


appears to have possessions in Messenia. His brother, Menelaos, 
rules over Sparta and other places in Laconia. Nestor's kingdom 
is on the western side of the Peloponnesos, to the south of Elis. 
Idomeneus belongs to Crete, Achilles to southern Thessaly 
(Phthiotis), Aias, the son of Telamon, to Salamis, his namesake 
to the eastern Locris, Diomedes to the eastern and southern 
parts of Argolis and Odysseus to the Ionian Isles. It must not 
be overlooked that most of these districts were of little or no 
political importance during the historical period and, further, that 
the territories of the kingdoms appear not to have coincided as a 
rule with the political divisions which we find in later times. 

The scene of the Odyssey is laid chiefly in the Ionian Isles, 
to a much smaller extent in the Peloponnesos. The wanderings 
of the hero himself appear to lie chiefly in regions to the west of 
Greece, though there may be reminiscences of the Black Sea. 
Some scholars relegate them largely or altogether to the realm 
of fairyland. Incidental references occur to Thesprotis (Epeiros) 
and the Aegean, as well as to more distant lands such as 

Thebes was doubtless the scene of the lost Thebais and 
Epigonoi. The story of Pelops seems to have been connected 
chiefly with Elis and that of Perseus with Mycenae and Tiryns, 
while Minos belonged to Crete and Theseus to Athens. lason's 
home was in eastern Thessaly, but his story is largely taken 
up with journeys in the Black Sea and other distant regions. 
Heracles' adventures are spread over the greater part of Greece 
and many other lands, though Boeotia and Malis are perhaps 
the districts most prominent in his story. The scene of the 
Shield of Heracles is laid in Phthiotis. 

It appears then that the heroic stories are distributed over 
the greater part of the ancient Greek world. Certain districts 
however are excepted, and to these special attention should be 
given. In the first place we have practically no reference to 
Greek cities in Italy or Sicily or to heroes belonging to them, 
though we do hear occasionally of travellers' acquaintance with 
these countries. More important is the absence of any mention 
of Greek cities in Asia Minor 1 and the adjacent islands, except 

1 In the Nostoi after the departure from Troy some of the Achaeans (Calchas, 


those off the coast of Caria. The legends which speak of 
colonies led to Lesbos by Penthilos the son of Orestes or to 
Miletos and elsewhere by the sons of Codros are hardly to be 
reckoned among heroic traditions. The names indeed, at least 
in the first case, are taken from this source, but they form the 
subject of no connected story. Miletos is mentioned in the 
Trojan catalogue (II. II 868), but it is said to be in the possession 
of the Carians. To Chios there is only a geographical reference 
(Od. Ill 170 ff.), and though Lesbos is mentioned more frequently 
its inhabitants are treated as enemies by the Achaeans. The 
only real exceptions are the southern islands, several of which, 
such as Rhodes and Cos, send contingents to Agamemnon's 
army, Cyprus too seems to be fairly well known and its princes, 
though they take no part in the expedition, are on friendly terms 
with the Achaeans a fact which renders the absence of reference 
to the Ionic cities all the more striking. In Greece itself nearly 
every district has a story connected with it. Attica however is 
one of the least prominent and possesses no hero of much note 
except Theseus. 

For the tribal distinctions which figure so prominently in 
later Greek history there is extremely little evidence in stories 
of the Heroic Age. The name AtoXee? is not mentioned in the 
Homeric poems, while Awpte'e? occurs only once, as the name of 
one of the five peoples of Crete, and 'lao^e? once as that of a 
people (perhaps the Athenians) associated with the Locrians 
and Boeotians. On the other hand the most frequently used of 
all national designations is 'A^aiot, a name which in later times 
was borne only by the inhabitants of two comparatively unim- 
portant districts, Phthiotis and the north coast of the Pelopon- 
nesos. In the Homeric poems it appears to be a collective term 
for the inhabitants of Greece and the surrounding islands. In 
the same sense we find also Aavaoi, a name which later is used 
only in archaistic poetry. 'Apyeioi and "EXX^z/e? seem properly 
to be geographical terms, though the former occurs frequently 
(the latter only once 1 , in the form IlayeXX^^e?) as a synonym 

Leonteus and Polypoites) were made to arrive at Colophon. The story of Calchas' 
contest with Mopsos perhaps comes from the same source. 

1 Once also, together with 'Axcuoi (II. n 684), as a name for the subjects of 


for 'A^a^H. Names of peoples, such as "A/3ai/T9, ' 
AtrcoXot, are of course frequently used ; but they denote com- 
paratively small sections of the nation. 

Though the term 'A^atot is used for the inhabitants of 
Greece collectively, it may of course really be the name of a 
tribe or people which was regarded as dominant at the time. 
At all events in Od. XIX 176 we find the Achaeans mentioned 
as merely one of five peoples which inhabit Crete. As an in- 
stance of a people who were apparently never included among 
the Achaeans we may take the Pelasgoi mentioned in the same 
passage. Here however we are faced with a question of nation- 
ality, for Herodotus speaks of the Pelasgoi of his own time as 
a barbarous people 1 , though at the same time he holds that 
several Greek peoples, especially the lonians and Athenians, 
were sprung from them. No indication is given in the Homeric 
poems that the Pelasgoi spoke a foreign language ; but this 
remark is true also of many Asiatic peoples, including the 

On the question of Greek nationality there is unfortunately 
very little evidence either in the Homeric poems or in other 
stories relating to the Heroic Age. We cannot even tell 
whether the population of the Greek mainland was believed 
to be homogeneous. Only in the case of Crete is detailed 
ethnographical information given. In a passage cited above we 

Achilles, or rather Peleus. 'EXXcts is used sometimes for a place or district in Peleus' 
kingdom, sometimes apparently in a wider sense. 

1 He states (i 57) that in his time they inhabited Placia and Scylace, on the south 
coast of the Sea of Marmara, and K/srjoTwi'a ir6\tv, probably in the Chalcidian 
peninsula (though some scholars emend this name to Kpbrwva, i.e. Cortona in 
Tuscany). Down to the fifth century they are said to have also occupied Lemnos 
and Imbros (iv 145, v 26, VI 138 ff.), and in early times Samothrace (u 51), while 
their name was preserved at Antandros, in the Gulf of Adramyttion (vn 42). Later 
writers speak of the Pelasgoi as having formerly inhabited many other regions. Into 
the difficult problems connected with this name we need not enter here ; for the most 
recent and perhaps fullest discussion of the subject reference may be made to 
Prof. Myres' paper in \hzjourn. Hell. St. 1907, p. 1706. As regards the etymology 
analogies indicate that HeXaayol represents an earlier form * Pelag-skoi. If this is 
a Greek word the most probable meaning is 'people of the sea' (though another 
explanation has been proposed ; cf. Kretschmer, Glotta I 16 f.). But it may really be 
a national name (cf. HeXdyoves). In that case we may note that the use of the suffix 
-sko- in national names is Indo-European, though not Greek. 

C. 12 


are told that this island contained five peoples, namely the 
Achaeans, Eteocretes, Cydones, Dorians and Pelasgoi. The first 
and fourth of these are well-known sections of the Greek nation, 
but we have no satisfactory evidence as to the nationality of the 
others. Herodotus (l 173) says that the Lycians came originally 
from Crete and adds that the whole of the island was once 
possessed by barbarians. Interesting light on the latter state- 
ment has been thrown by the recent discovery of certain inscrip- 
tions at Praisos, in what is said to have been the Eteocretan 
part of the island. These inscriptions are written in forms of 
the Greek alphabet which were current in the sixth and fourth 
centuries (B.C.) respectively, but the language is not Greek. 
Besides these numerous inscriptions dating from much earlier 
times have been found at Cnossos and elsewhere ; but they 
have not yet been deciphered. All that can be said at present 
is that we have no reason for discrediting Herodotus' statement. 
In Greece itself we have not such clear evidence for the 
prevalence of a non-Greek language. Here we are dependent 
on somewhat doubtful inferences from place-names. Yet the 
majority of scholars would not admit that the language was 
indigenous. Indeed the tendency at present is to believe that 
Greece and the Aegean islands were originally inhabited by 
peoples of one stock, the existence of which can be traced back 
in Crete for many thousands of years, and that these peoples 
were ultimately overwhelmed and absorbed perhaps in the 
course of the second millennium by invaders from the north. 
Asia Minor is supposed to have had a somewhat similar history. 
Originally it is believed to have been occupied by various 
kindred peoples, of which the most prominent were the Hittites 
of Cappadocia. Eventually about 1200 B.C. according to the 
most recent view 1 ttyere took place a great irruption of Thraco- 
Phrygian peoples from the north-west, who became dominant 
throughout the larger part of the peninsula 2 . 

1 Meyer, S.-B. d. Akad. zu Berlin, 1908, p. 18. 

2 Into the linguistic affinities of these various peoples we need not enter here. 
It will be sufficient to notice that the Thracian and Phrygian languages are commonly 
believed to have belonged to the eastern division of the Indo-European group. 
Certainly this is the case with the language of the Armenians, who according to 
Herodotus (vil 73) were an offshoot (&TTOIKOI) of the Phrygians. The evidence of the 


In the Iliad the forces ranged in defence of Troy are drawn 
from a wide area, extending from the Axios (Vardar) on the 
west to Paphlagonia on the east and Lycia on the south. The 
nationalities represented seem to be chiefly of Thraco-Phrygian 
stock, though a few, such as the Lycians and perhaps the 
Carians, belong to the indigenous population. On the other 
hand there is no reason for supposing that any of the peoples 
represented in Agamemnon's army were of other than Greek 
nationality. The story may therefore be regarded as one of 
national conflict. Yet it cannot be said that this feature is ever 
emphasised in the poems themselves, although the point of view 
throughout is that of an Achaean. 

For local or tribal patriotism the Homeric poems furnish us 
with little or no evidence. No Greek communities and few even 
of their princes are described otherwise than in terms of respect. 
We may point also to the old controversy regarding Homer's 
birthplace a controversy which owes its very existence to the 
absence of any local patriotism in the poems. In this respect 
it will be seen that Greek heroic poetry agrees with Teutonic. 

We must now return to the consideration of the chronological 
problem. In ancient times, especially during the Alexandrian 
period, various attempts were made to calculate the exact date 
of the siege of Troy. Of these the most generally accepted was 
that of Eratosthenes, which was based on the length of the 
reigns ascribed to the kings of Sparta. This calculation brought 
the foundation of the Dorian kingdom at Sparta to the year 
1104-3, and eighty years were added to obtain the date of the 
fall of Troy. But it has long been pointed out that the figures 
given for the reigns of the early kings are so greatly above the 
average that they cannot be regarded with any confidence. 

Phrygian inscriptions themselves is unfortunately somewhat ambiguous. To the same 
eastern division belonged the ancient Illyrian languages, if the present dialects of 
Albania are descended from them. On the other hand the languages of the indigenous 
peoples throughout Asia Minor and the Aegean area are commonly believed to have been 
non- Indo-European. Yet Prof. Conway {British School at Athens, Ann. vui, p. 141 ff.) 
holds that the inscriptions of Praisos belonged to a language of this group. If this should 
turn out to be the case with the earlier Cretan inscriptions current views as to the early 
history of the Indo-European languages would require considerable modification. 

12 2 


Thus the first Olympiad (B.C. 776-5) was made to coincide with 
the tenth (or eleventh) year of Alcamenes and Theopompos. 
Alcamenes was the ninth in succession from Eurysthenes and 
Theopompos the eighth from Procles, and the number of years 
ascribed to the previous reigns amounts on the average to over 
thirty-five years for one dynasty and over thirty-nine for the 
other. But in kingdoms for which we have reliable information 
extending over a long period of time the usual average length 
is apparently between twenty and twenty-five years 1 . Hence, 
if the lists of kings themselves are to be trusted and even this 
is very doubtful in view of the fact that they are almost identical 
with the genealogies it is difficult to avoid suspecting that the 
total period ascribed to their reigns collectively is more than a 
century too long. 

More reliance is perhaps to be placed on the genealogies of 
the two royal families given by Herodotus (VII 204, VIII 131). 
Leonidas (r. 488 480) and Leotychidas (r. 491 469), with 
whom we are on sure historical ground, are represented as 
fifteenth in descent from Eurysthenes and Procles respectively. 
According to all analogies therefore we should expect that the 
two latter flourished not very long before the middle of the tenth 
century. In other words the date given by Eratosthenes for 
the 'Return of the Heracleidai ' would seem to be from a 
century to a century and a half too early. A very reasonable 
explanation of the difficulty has been suggested by Prof. Meyer 
who points out that several passages in Herodotus' history seem 
to imply the reckoning of a generation at forty years 2 . Among 
the figures given we find (II 145) Heracles dated about 1330. 
Cleomenes, his descendant in the twentieth generation, was born 
about 530, or at all events not much later. For Eurysthenes 
and Procles, in the fifth generation from Heracles, this would 
give about 1130, which is not very far from the date fixed by 

1 For England from its unification under Alfred the Great to the present time the 
average is about twenty years; for France from 840 to 1793 it is between twenty- 
three and twenty-four years. 

2 Forsch. z. alien Geschichte, p. i7of. The reckoning is not due to Herodotus 
himself but taken over by him from an earlier writer. Prof. Meyer suggests as its 
author Hecataeus, who was a contemporary of Cleomenes. 


It is to be remembered in the first place that the date fixed 
for Eurysthenes and Procles is apparently that of their birth, 
and, secondly, that Eratosthenes' scheme is probably only a 
modification of a previously existing system, other varieties of 
which are quoted by Prof. Meyer 1 . Indeed it would not require 
any great exercise of ingenuity to point out traces of a more or 
less symmetrical distribution of the period covered by the reigns 
of the early Spartan kings 2 . But, apart from any such specu- 
lations, we can hardly doubt, in the light of Prof. Meyer's 
showing, that the date for Eurysthenes and Procles is derived 
ultimately from a calculation based on the genealogies rather 
than from any contemporary written record or tradition. The 
genealogies themselves of course may represent tradition, so far 
as they are not interpolated 3 , but they point, as we have seen, to 
a much later date than that which we have been discussing 4 . If 
we substitute 32 x 15 for 40 x 15, starting from the birth of 
Cleomenes, we are brought to about the year 1000. That must 
be regarded as the date really indicated by Spartan tradition 
for the birth of Eurysthenes and Procles. 

We may now turn for a moment to the genealogies of the 
other Heraclid families, namely those of Argos, Messenia and 
Corinth. The first of these places Pheidon in the sixth genera- 
tion, according to one version, in the ninth according to another, 

1 Op. dt. p. i78ff. 

2 Eratosthenes reckons nearly 320 years from the accession (birth) of Eurysthenes 
to that of Alcamenes in the ninth generation, while the reigns of the father, grand- 
father, great-grandfather and great-great-grandfather of the latter make up 159 years. 
Sosibius, who reckoned by the Eurypontid dynasty, appears to have had a similar 
period of 3-20 years from Procles to Theopompos, although his dates were different 
from those of Eratosthenes 1091/0 to 771/0 according to Prof. Meyer (op. cit. 
p. I79f.). The accession of Theopompos was equated with that of Alcamenes by 
Eratosthenes. Possibly these periods were originally sub-divisions of a longer period 
of 640 years, reckoned from the fortieth year of Cleomenes (or Leonidas?). 

3 Two names (Prytanis and Eunomos) in the Eurypontid list are generally 
regarded with doubt, but none of the Agiad names is really of a suspicious character. 
The fact that Agis and Eurypon are not the first names in the genealogies ought not 
to be used as an argument against the trustworthiness of the tradition. In many 
Teutonic genealogies e.g. the Gothic, Frankish (Merovingian), Kentish, East 
Anglian and Mercian the name which performs patronymic function is not that 
which stands first in the list. 

4 Prof. Meyer's view is not that the chronologists fixed too early a date for the 
Dorian invasion, but that the early parts of the genealogies themselves are unhistorical. 


from Temenos, the uncle of Eurysthenes and Procles. Unfor- 
tunately different dates are assigned for Pheidon. The earliest, 
which is not generally accepted, places his reign about the 
middle of the eighth century. But even this, taking the longer 
form of the genealogy, does not carry us appreciably farther 
back than the Agiad list. The Corinthian genealogy places 
the last king, who is said to have been killed in 747, in the 
thirteenth generation from Heracles. This would agree with 
the longer form of the Argive genealogy ; several of the names 
however are generally regarded as suspicious. The Messenian 
genealogy is materially shorter. 

Apart from these Dorian genealogies there are some notices 
relating to the ancestry of persons belonging to other parts of 
Greece, which must not be ignored. Herodotus (II 143) states 
that Hecataeus, who was a prominent man at the beginning of 
the fifth century, claimed to be descended in the sixteenth (i.e. 
fifteenth) generation from a god. This probably takes us back 
to the Heroic Age, when divine parentage is common, whereas 
later it appears to be almost, if not entirely, unknown 1 . Again, 
it is believed that the genealogy of the Philaidai at Athens, 
which actually survives, though only in a corrupt form 2 , placed 
Philaios, the son of Aias, in the twelfth generation above 
Hippocleides, who was archon in 566. Further, according to 
Pausanias (l 11), Tharypas, king of the Molossoi, who was 
born soon after the middle of the fifth century, claimed to be 
descended in the fifteenth or sixteenth generation from Pyrrhos 
the son of Achilles. It will be seen that, though these genea- 
logies do not agree exactly, the discrepancy is not very great. 
They seem to indicate the existence of a belief that persons who 
flourished in the first half of the fifth century were removed by 
about fifteen generations from the Heroic Age. 

On the other hand Pindar (Pyth. IV 9 ff.) in an ode written 
in 466 and addressed to Arcesilaos IV, king of Cyrene, places that 
king's seventh ancestor, Battos I, in the sixteenth generation 

1 Prof. Meyer (op. cit. p. 173 and note) cites the case of Telamon the son ol 
Poseidon, ancestor of the priests of Poseidon at Halicarnassos, whom he places after 
the Return of the Heracleidai. But the question is a complicated one. The 
genealogy cannot be used for our purpose, as we do not know where it ends. 

2 Cf. Topffer, Attische Genealogie, p. 278 f. ; Meyer, op. cit. p. 174, note. 


from Euphemos the Argonaut, a contemporary of Heracles. 
This exceeds even the Agiad reckoning, for Pleistarchos, the 
representative of that family reigning in 466, was only in the 
twenty-first generation from Heracles. From the other non- 
Heraclid genealogies we should have expected that the number 
of generations to Arcesilaos would be about what is recorded 
for Battos I 1 . 

Whatever may be the explanation of this case, it will be 
seen that the other non-Heraclid genealogies are shorter than 
that of the Agidai by at least three generations if we equate 
Philaios, Pyrrhos (Neoptolemos) and the grandson of Hecataeus' 
god with Aristomachos the grandfather of Eurysthenes. The 
dates which they indicate for the ' floruit ' of these persons are 
in no case earlier than the middle of the tenth century. As to 
the relative value of the two traditions we have nothing to guide 
us, and the same remark applies to the Greek genealogical 
evidence in general. Two points however must be insisted upon : 
(i) that the calculations of scholars of the Alexandrian age, or 
even earlier times, are not to be interpreted as evidence of 
tradition ; (ii) that the evidence of tradition, whatever be its 
value, brings the end of the Heroic Age at least towards the 
close of the eleventh century. 

Apart from the evidence discussed above, unsatisfactory as 
it doubtless is, chronological data for the Heroic Age itself 
seem to be entirely wanting. We know however that a highly 
advanced civilisation flourished in the Aegean in early times, 
and that it was succeeded by a long period in which both art 
and general culture were at a very low ebb. This latter period, 
which is commonly known as ' geometrical ' from the type of 
art which prevailed in it, lasted, so far as one can judge, until about 
the end of the eighth century, at which time oriental influence 
began to make its appearance. The ' orientalising ' period again 
continued down to the beginning of the classical age. It is a 
common and natural hypothesis to equate the low-watermark 
of culture early in the geometrical period with the generations 

1 Battos I is believed to have founded Cyrene about 630. It may be observed 
that the interval between that date and 466 is surprisingly short for the lapse of 
seven generations. 


immediately following the Dorian conquest of the Peloponnesos. 
But unfortunately we cannot thereby obtain any certain date 
for the latter, since Greece appears to have had little contact 
with the outside world during the geometrical period. 

In recent years some advance has been made through the 
operations carried out by the British School at Sparta, which is 
perhaps the most important site for our purpose. From the 
stratification of the deposits Mr Dawkins, the director, has come 
to the conclusion that the earliest temple and altar at the 
sanctuary of Artemis Orthia date from the ninth or even the 
tenth century 1 . The temple, which must have been one of the 
earliest known, appears to have been a narrow and unpretentious 
structure of crude brick and timber. Some geometrical sherds 
were found beneath the floor, a fact which shows that the 
sanctuary had been in use somewhat earlier. If the sanctuary 
was founded at the beginning of the Dorian settlement at Sparta 
it is obvious that this result agrees well enough with the date 
indicated for the conquest by tradition. No relics of pre- 
geometrical times appear to have been found. 

When we turn back to the times of the earlier civilisation it 
is much easier to establish chronological equations ; for the 
presence of Egyptian objects among Aegean remains and of 
Aegean objects or representations of Aegean objects in Egypt 
shows that there was frequent communication between the two 
areas. Thus there is little doubt that certain Cretan remains 
date from periods contemporaneous with the twelfth and Hyksos 
dynasties. Others again clearly belong to the period of the 
eighteenth dynasty at all events the earlier part of it. As to the 
date of the destruction of the Cretan palaces opinions still differ 
considerably; the most recent statement by Dr Evans is in 
favour of about I35O 2 . But this catastrophe did not bring the 
Aegean civilisation to an end. We find inscriptions dating 
from the subsequent period (Late Minoan III) apparently quite 

1 British School at Athens, Ann. XIV, pp. 3, 18 f. 

2 Cf. Hawes, Crete the Fore-runner of Greece, p. 18. A much later date is favoured 
by Dr Ddrpfeld (Ath. Mitteilungen, xxxii 602), whose views on Cretan chronology 
differ greatly from those of English archaeologists. To this question we shall have to 
refer again in a later chapter. 


similar to those discovered in the earlier stratum, and the 
various artistic types, though decadent, show no breach of con- 
tinuity. Indeed 'Mycenean' influence seems to have been more 
widespread (e.g. in Thessaly and Italy) at this time than in any 
earlier period. In Egypt vases of the same type are depicted 
in the wall-paintings on the tomb of Rameses III, who died 
about 1170. After this time however traces of Mycenean influ- 
ence are rarely found in that country. 

Within the last few years it has come to be noticed that the 
deposits dating from the last Mycenean period fall into two 
well-marked groups. The remarks made above, as to the art of 
Late Minoan III being a continuation of that of the preceding 
period, apply properly only to the first of these groups repre- 
sented by the cemeteries of Zafer Papoura (Cnossos) and 
Phaistos, the late Mycenean megaron at Hagia Triada (also 
in Crete) and the late palace at Phylakopi in Melos. Other 
deposits, represented by the tombs found at Mouliana, Milatos, 
Kavousi and Erganos (all in Crete), though they have certain 
features in common with the former group, yet at the same time 
show a number of characteristics which are entirely new. Of 
these the most important are the practice of cremation and the 
use of fibulae and iron weapons, all of which are unknown in the 
Aegean before this time. From a careful study of the pottery 
found in these deposits Dr D. Mackenzie 1 has come to the 
conclusion that it belongs to the same period as the famous 
' Warrior Vase ' from Mycenae. This again is obviously con- 
temporary with a painted stele, likewise representing warriors, 
which was found in one of the latest graves in the lower town 
at the same place. Fibulae also were found here in the same 
group of graves. The importance of these observations lies in the 
fact that the armature of the warriors depicted on the vase and 
the stele corresponds in all essentials to what is described in the 
Homeric poems. This had already been pointed out by Prof. 
Ridgeway 2 ; but many scholars have attributed both objects to 
a much later period. Now however in view of the sequence 

1 British School at Athens, Ann. xill, p. 423 ff. 

2 Early Age of Greece, p. 317. Representations of both the Vase and the Stele 
are given in the same work (p. 313 f.). 


which Dr Mackenzie has succeeded in tracing, in Cretan pottery 
and other articles, from the time of the destruction of the 
palaces onwards, it appears that the latter view can hardly be 
maintained. Lastly, Dr Mackenzie has pointed out that all the 
above deposits differ radically from those of the strict geo- 
metrical period found in cemeteries at Cnossos and Courtes and 
in the 'beehive' tomb near Kavousi (all in Crete). There are 
clear indications that all the latter belong to a subsequent time. 

As a result of his investigations then Dr Mackenzie has 
come to the conclusion that three well-marked periods can be 
distinguished in Cretan history, after the destruction of the 
palaces. But further, he believes that each of these periods 
coincides with a new settlement in the island the true geo- 
metrical period with the Dorian settlement, the ' sub-Mycenean ' 
with that of the Achaeans, and the last true Mycenean period 
(Late Minoan III) with a settlement of Pelasgoi. The evidence 
of the deposits found at Sparta and elsewhere tends distinctly 
to favour the first of these identifications. For, though geo- 
metrical art was by no means confined to the Dorians, it may 
be presumed that their settlement was the latest of those which 
took place in Crete. Some scholars hold that they came there 
from the Peloponnesos, while others place their settlement in 
the island prior to the invasion of the peninsula and ancient 
authority can be obtained for both views. But in either case it 
is improbable that the two events were separated by a long- 
interval. Again, the identification of the second or sub-Mycenean 
period with that of Achaean settlement is rendered extremely 
probable by the resemblance which deposits of this period show 
to objects and customs described in the Homeric poems, e.g. in 
regard to armature and the use of fibulae and cremation. In 
the poems the Achaeans are clearly represented as dominant 
even in Crete, while in Greece itself, as we have seen, the exist- 
ence of other nationalities is practically ignored. 

In regard to the earliest of the three settlements Dr Mac- 
kenzie's theory may be open to more serious question. The 
ethnical affinities of the Pelasgoi are still quite obscure. Again, 
although new types, apparently derived from the mainland, do 
occur at this time, the break of continuity with the preceding 


age does not seem to be anything like so marked as in the 
subsequent periods. It is scarcely impossible that the destruction 
of the palaces may be due to naval warfare or piracy on a 
large scale, or even to commotions within the island itself. For 
our purpose however this part of Dr Mackenzie's theory is of 
minor importance 1 . 

In other respects at all events the theory seems to provide a 
very satisfactory explanation of the phenomena. We have seen 
that the Spartan evidence, whether traditional or archaeological, 
affords no justification for dating the Dorian invasion very 
long before or after 1000 B.C. Now we find very good 
evidence for two distinct periods of culture between that event 
and the destruction of the Cretan palaces, which took place 
probably in the fourteenth century. The later of these periods 
is the one with which we are chiefly concerned ; for Greek 
tradition universally places the Heroic Age in times immediately 
preceding the Dorian invasion. It is therefore a fact of great 
significance that the deposits of this age agree in so striking a 
manner with the evidence of the Homeric poems. As to the 
relative duration of the two periods (Late Minoan III and sub- 
Mycenean or Achaean) archaeologists apparently have not as 
yet ventured to express an opinion. But it may be observed 
that the poems themselves give no indication that the Achaean 
dominion was believed to be of recent growth. The Cretan 
king Idomeneus is one of the oldest leaders at Troy, and his 
grandfather is said to have reigned at Cnossos before him. The 
evidence of the poems then favours the idea that even in Crete 
Achaean dominion lasted at least a century. 

This brings us back nearly to times when, fortunately, 
historical evidence is available once more, namely from the 
Egyptian monuments. During the thirteenth and twelfth cen- 
turies Egypt was threatened on several occasions by formidable 
armies. During the reign of Merenptah, probably about 1220, 

1 Dr Mackenzie's theory would certainly gain in probability if it could be shown 
that the Pelasgoi were identical with the Pulesatha or Philistines (cf. p. 188). The 
arguments in favour of such an identification are obvious enough ; but they are 
scarcely of such a nature as to carry conviction. The appearance of -st- for -gsk- in 
the name is perhaps hardly to be regarded as an insuperable difficulty ; for we know 
nothing of the languages involved or of the sound-changes to which they were subject. 


it was attacked by a host of Libyans and " foreign soldiers of 
the Libyans " whom " the miserable Libyan had led hither 1 ." 
The names given to the confederates are Akaiuasha, Thuirsha 
(Turusha), Shakalesha (Shakarusha) and Shardina. Very early 
in the next century, during the reign of Rameses III, a fresh 
attack was made from the same quarter. A few years later 
Rameses encountered both by land and sea a great host coming 
from the north. " The Isles were restless, disturbed among 
themselves at one and the same time. No land stood before 
them, beginning from Kheta (Cappadocia and Cilicia), Kedi (the 
'circling' of the Syrian coast at the Gulf of Iskanderun), Car- 
chemish, Arvad and Alashiya. They destroyed them, and 
assembled in their camp in the midst of Amar (Amurru\ Pales- 
tine) 2 ." The invaders here are called Shardina, Pulesatha (or 
Purusatha), Vashasha, Tchakaray (Zakar) and Danaau (or 
Danauna) 3 . Other Shardina appear to have been fighting on the 
side of the Egyptians. About a century earlier the Hittites 
brought a great confederacy against Rameses II. Among the 
names given here are Luka, Pidasa, Kalakisha, Dardenui and 
Masa 4 . On this occasion also we find Shardina in the Egyptian 
army. In the Tell-el-Amarna tablets, which date from shortly 
before the middle of the fourteenth century, we hear of Sirdana 
(apparently the same people) serving under the Egyptians in 
Palestine, and of attacks made upon the coast by Lukki, who 
are believed to be identical with the Luka 5 . 

Unfortunately scholars have not yet been able to come to 
any general agreement as to the identification of most of these 
names. It is commonly held that Pulesatha and Luka denote 
the Philistines and Lycians respectively. Many writers also 
identify the Shardina with the Sardinians and the Shakalesha 
with the Siceloi, but others connect these names with Sardis 

1 Cf. Hall, The Oldest Civilization of Greece, p. i8of. ; Ann. of the Brit. School 
at Athens, vm, p. 180; Petrie, History of Egypt, p. roSff. 

2 Hall, Ann. of the Brit. School, VIII 183 ; cf. also Breasted, Ancient Records of 
Egypt, iv, p. 37f. 

3 Prof. Breasted (I.e.] gives these names as Peleset, Thekel (i.e. Zakar), Shekelesh 
(omitted above), Deny en and Weshesh. 

4 Cf. Hall, op. cit. p. i77f. 

5 Cf. Breasted, History of Egypt, pp. 336, 386 ; Hall, op. cit. p. i?6f. 


and Sagalassos in Asia Minor. Other identifications which 
have received more or less assent are those of Akaiuasha, 
Thuirsha, Danaau, Dardenui and Masa with the Achaeans, 
Tyrrhenians, Danaoi, Dardanoi and Mysians, and of Vashasha 
and Pidasa with the inhabitants of Oaxos (in Crete) and Pedasos 
(in Caria) respectively. It has been supposed also that the 
Tchakaray, who are mentioned occasionally as mariners in later 
times, likewise belonged to Crete. 

In spite of the large element of doubt attaching to most of 
these identifications one important conclusion may be drawn with 
safety, namely that several of the nations mentioned had come 
from a considerable distance. Even those scholars who deny 
the references to Sicily and Sardinia hold that nearly all parts 
of the Aegean are represented in the lists. The inscriptions 
frequently speak of the invaders as coming from the sea or from 
islands. Thus the Pulesatha are said to be " in the midst of the 
sea." Again the king "slaughtered the Danauna in their isles 1 ." 
We find also the expressions " Vashasha of the sea," " Shardina 
of the sea," " Thuirsha of the sea 2 ." Such terms are said to be 
often used loosely; but under the eighteenth and nineteenth 
dynasties the territories of the Hittite kingdom in Syria and 
Cappadocia had become so well known to the Egyptians that it 
is incredible that any of the peoples of that region can be 
meant. The appearance too and the armature of the Shardina, 
as portrayed on the monuments, are quite incompatible with the 
supposition that they belonged to any of the countries round 
the south-east of the Mediterranean. 

We have seen that the northern invasion repelled by 
Rameses III was preceded by 'disturbances in the isles,' while 
the lands of the Hittites and their neighbours had apparently 
been overrun by the invaders before the attack upon Egypt. 
Now it has been noted that the great Hittite kingdom (in 
Cappadocia) appears to have been destroyed about the same 
time. In explanation of this the theory has recently been put 
forward 3 that the invasion repelled by Rameses III was closely 

1 Cf. W. M. Muller, Asien und Europa, pp. 361, 363 ; Petrie, History of Egypt, 
ill, p. 150. 

2 Cf. W. M. Muller, op. cit. pp. 361, 371 ; Petrie, op. cit. pp. 151, 162. 

3 Cf. Meyer, S.-B. derAkad.zu Berlin, 1908, p. i8f. 


connected with that irruption of Thraco-Phrygian peoples into 
Asia Minor to which we have already referred (p. 178). It 
will be seen that this theory has an important bearing on the 
Homeric question ; for in the Iliad we find the Thraco-Phrygian 
peoples already fully established in Asia Minor, and no hint is 
given that their settlement there was believed to be in any 
sense recent. 

But it is by no means impossible that the ' disturbances in 
the isles ' may refer to a displacement of population in a different 
quarter which may or may not be connected with the Phrygian 
settlement in Asia Minor. The movement against Egypt was, 
in part at least, a maritime one, and when Rameses is said to 
have slaughtered the invaders in their islands the reference 
can hardly be to the old Hittite kingdom, which had long been 
known to the Egyptians. Surely it is more natural to connect 
the 'disturbances' with those national movements in the southern 
Aegean which eventually brought the Mycenean civilisation to 
an end. We have seen that the last period of this civilisation is 
believed to have begun in the fourteenth century and to have 
lasted some considerable time. The convulsions of Rameses' 
time (the early years of the twelfth century) may therefore mark 
a stage in the movements which brought about its destruc- 

In any case it is from the Egyptian monuments of this period 
that we obtain the clearest evidence for contact between the true 
Mycenean civilisation and that ' sub-Mycenean ' or * Achaean ' 
type which followed it. The warriors of the invading forces 1 are 
represented as armed with swords of the regular Mycenean 
pattern or with spears of no very great length. Some of them 
the Pulesatha and Tchakaray wear a peculiar head-dress, 
apparently made of feathers 2 , which recalls the type used in later 
times by the Lycians according to Herodotus (VII 92). On 
the other hand the Shardina are depicted with very elaborate 

1 A considerable number of the figures are reproduced in W. M. Muller's Asien 
und Europa (cap. 27, 28) ; many also in the Histories of Egypt by Meyer and Petrie. 

2 This head-dress is figured on a discus recently found at Phaistos (Crete) among 
deposits dating from * Middle Minoan III' (cent. xvii?). The discus, if not actually 
of Cretan origin, is said to come clearly from some district under the influence of 
Cretan civilisation. Cf. Meyer, S.-B. ct. Akad. zu Berlin, 1910, p. 1022 ff. 


helmets 1 , which, except that they have no plumes, are almost 
identical with those borne by the figures on the Warrior Vase 
(cf. p. 185). The Shardina and many of the Pulesatha also 
carry round shields, held in one hand, as in the case of the 
warriors represented on the Vase 2 and the Stele. This fact is 
especially noteworthy, since the round shield seems to have 
been totally foreign not only to the Egyptians themselves, but 
also to the Hittites and all neighbouring peoples 3 , while even 
in the Aegean area it was apparently not used in centres of 
Mycenean civilisation 4 . On the other hand both these features 
correspond to the type of armature described in the Homeric 
poems. It would not be correct of course to say that the 
portraits of the Shardina might be taken as faithful representa- 
tions of Homeric warriors. We find no trace of greaves, while 
the body-armour is of a less elaborate type than that described 
in the poems 5 . The Homeric type of armature represented by 
the Warrior Vase as well as in the poems belongs clearly to a 
later stage of development than the Shardina type, and therefore 
probably to a later age than the early part of the twelfth century. 
Yet there is sufficient resemblance between the two to render it 
more than likely that the one is descended from the other. 

Whatever may have been the causes which brought about 
the movement encountered by Rameses III, some of the other 
references point distinctly to bands of mercenary soldiers, rather 
than to national migrations. This is especially clear in the case 

1 They are said to be white ; but it is difficult to believe that they are not metal 
possibly bronze overlaid with tin (cf. II. xxm 560 ff.). 

2 The shields figured on the Vase (apparently also those on the Stele) seem to 
have a section cut out of them ; but they can hardly be regarded otherwise than as 
round shields. Cf. Lippold, Miinchener Arch. Studien, p. 406. 

3 Except the Assyrians (cf. p. 203, note) ; but there the evidence comes from 
much later times. 

4 It occurs probably on the discus from Phaistos (cf. Meyer /. c.) and on a porcelain 
fragment from the third shaft-grave at Mycenae (cf. Reichel, iiber horn. Waffen, p. 58) 
both times in conjunction with head-dresses of the Pulesatha or Shardina types as 
well as on ivory objects from Enkomi in Cyprus (cf. Evans, Journ. Anthr. Inst., 
xxx 209), here also in conjunction with similar armature, though only the lower part 

j of the helmet is visible. 

5 Many of the figures, both Shardina and Pulesatha, wear body-armour of some 
[kind. Greaves are first found at Enkomi. 


of the Shardina, who are mentioned for the first time as serving 
under the Egyptians in Palestine. But the earliest reference 
in the Tell-el-Amarna letters carries us back to the destruction 
of the Cretan palaces, if Dr Evans' date for this catastrophe is 
correct. It has been remarked that, in striking contrast with 
Mycenae and other early centres of civilisation in Greece, the 
Cretan palaces were almost entirely unfortified ; and the expla- 
nation commonly given of this fact is that their owners ruled 
the seas. If this is true we must conclude that the earliest 
maritime expeditions of the Shardina and their confederates did 
not take place without their consent. 

In the course of this discussion we have seen that, though 
historical evidence for the Greek Heroic Age is entirely wanting, 
later tradition points to the eleventh century as the time to 
which the poems and legends refer; and further, that, unsatis- 
factory as it doubtless is, this evidence is corroborated to a 
considerable extent by the results of archaeological investigation. 
In much earlier times various parts of the Greek world possessed 
a high civilisation, which has left remains of magnificent palaces 
and many elaborate works of art. The evidence of these remains 
does not correspond at all to the state of society revealed in the 
poems. But at the close of this earlier period many new objects 
belonging, it would seem, to a new population make their 
appearance ; and these latter do fulfil the conditions required. 
Lastly, it is of interest to note that from the fourteenth to the 
twelfth century Egypt and the Levant were frequently visited 
by bands of soldiers, who seem to have come from the Aegean 
or neighbouring regions and who outwardly bear a somewhat 
striking resemblance to the warriors described in the poems. It 
would appear that at this time the East must have been more 
familiar to the Greek world than Greek records would lead us 
to expect. This is the more noteworthy since during the 
following centuries the Greeks seem to have had but little 
contact with foreign nations. 



IT has been mentioned that, according to the theory now 
most commonly accepted, the Homeric poems were not the work 
of one author or even of one generation that on the contrary 
they grew up gradually in the course of several hundred years, 
reaching their final form (in the case of the Odyssey) perhaps 
not before the middle of the seventh century. We must now 
review briefly the evidence on which this theory is based. 

The earliest historical references to the poems reach back 
only to the beginning of the sixth century, and even these are 
not altogether satisfactory. Cleisthenes, tyrant of Sicyon, 
according to Herodotus (v 67) prohibited rhapsodists from 
reciting the Homeric poems, because they were full of the praises 
of Argos and its people. But the reference here is perhaps 
rather to the Thebais or Epigonoi than the Iliad. Again, it is 
said that when Athens and Megara were disputing about the 
possession of Salamis, both parties appealed to the authority of 
Homer in support of their contentions. If this story may be 
trusted it is of importance as showing that the poems were 
generally venerated at such an early date. And though all the 
evidence is late 1 , the form in which the passage in question 
(II. II 557 f.) has survived does clearly suggest Athenian in- 

References in the works of other poets carry us back to a 
considerably earlier period. It has already been mentioned that 
Callinos is said to have attributed the Thebais to Homer, from 
which we may infer that poems under this name were already 

1 Plutarch, Solon, cap. 10 ; Diogenes Laertius, Solan, cap. 48, etc. In some form 
or other the story was known to Aristotle (Rhet. 115). 

C. I 


known. Archilochos, who likewise flourished before the middle 
of the seventh century, seems to have attributed the Margites to 
Homer 1 . The extant fragments of his works also contain 
several passages which apparently show Homeric influence 2 . 
Terpandros, probably an older contemporary of Archilochos, is 
said to have invented a musical accompaniment for the Homeric 
poems 3 . In Hesiodic poetry we find a number of references to 
heroic subjects. The Catalogue appears to have dealt with 
certain adventures of Odysseus, which were probably derived 
from the Odyssey 4 . 

This evidence, vague and somewhat uncertain as it is, renders 
it probable that Homeric poetry was in existence before the 
seventh century. Further than this we cannot hope for any 
direct external evidence, for the authors cited are the earliest of 
whom we know anything worth mention. Indeed the age of 
the various Hesiodic poems themselves is very problematical. 
It is customary now to attribute the Theogony and the Works 
and Days to the close of the eighth century and the other 
poems to the seventh. But Herodotus (II 53) referred Hesiod, 
as well as Homer, to a period about 400 years before his own 
time, i.e. to about the middle of the ninth century. 

Turning now to the internal evidence, we may at all events 
regard one fact as established, namely that the subject-matter 
was determined at a period considerably anterior to those of 
which we have been speaking. It is not merely that the persons 
mentioned are uniformly referred to the Heroic Age, for we 
have yet to discuss the possibility that all the characters of this 
age are fictitious. But we have also to take into account the 
ethnographical indications contained in the poems. There is no 
hint of the presence of Dorians in the Peloponnesos, nor of the 
existence of Ionic states in Asia Minor or even in the Cyclades 5 ; 
indeed the scheme of tribal or political geography which they 
present is far removed from anything we find even in the earliest 

1 Archilochos, Fragm. 153 (in Bergk's Poetae Lyrici Graeci). 

2 Cf. Croisset, Rev. des deux Mamies, 1907, 5, p. 605. 

3 Plutarch, De Musica, III 9. 

4 Hesiod, Fragm. 65 f. (in Rzach's edition, 1902). 

5 In Od. vi 162 ff. there is a reference to the sanctuary of Apollo in Delos. 


records of the historical period. We shall see later that the same 
remark holds good with regard to the system of government 
depicted in the poems, e.g. in the universal prevalence of king- 
ship, and so also with their indications as to social organisation, 
religion and even ethical standards. Then there is the fact that 
in references to weapons bronze is far more frequently mentioned 
than iron ; yet it is generally agreed that iron must have been in 
common use by the tenth century, while some scholars would 
refer its introduction to a much earlier date. Lastly, we may 
take note of certain passages and expressions which seem to 
contain reminiscences of the prehistoric civilisation of the Aegean 
a civilisation which, as we have seen, had passed its zenith in 
the fourteenth century and which was probably altogether sub- 
merged in the convulsions which accompanied the Dorian and 
Ionic migrations. Among such reminiscences we may probably 
count the descriptions of the palaces of Menelaos and Alcinoos 
and the use of such terms as icvavos. Of course it is not to be 
supposed that any part of the poems goes back to the period of 
the early civilisation. Yet the features noted above seem to me 
to point quite clearly to a time when some of the ancient palaces 
were still known and perhaps still inhabited. Hence it is not 
merely the case that the poems are concerned exclusively with 
characters of the Heroic Age. We are bound to conclude further 
that the environment in which these characters are placed is in 
general such as belonged to the same period. This of course 
involves the existence of a verbal tradition practically from the 
Heroic Age itself. Indeed, we may say that it probably involves 
a poetic tradition, for we have no evidence for the existence of 
traditional prose narratives, whereas references to the cultivation 
of poetry in early times are fairly numerous. 

Now it is generally agreed that the Heroic Age or perhaps 
we should say the type of civilisation and the ethnographical 
conditions with which this age is associated cannot have lasted 
much beyond the close of the eleventh century. Hence the date 
accepted by many scholars for the completion of the Odyssey 
(cf. p. 169) involves a period of more than three centuries, during 
which the Homeric poems were in process of formation. That is 
a long period for continued composition in one subject, and it 



will be well now to review briefly the evidence on which this 
theory rests. 

Kirchhoff l dated the 'later redaction' of the Odyssey between 
OL 30 and Ol. 50, or at all events not much before Ol. 30 
(B.C. 656). To this conclusion he was led primarily by the 
reference to the voyage of the Argo in XII 59 72. It is probable 
enough that this passage implies acquaintance with a poem 
dealing with lason's adventures ; but the same can hardly be 
said of KirchhofFs further suggestion, viz. that this lost poem 
must have been composed some considerable time after the 
colonisation of Cyzicos 2 . The accounts which we have of the 
travels and adventures of the Argonauts can scarcely be said to 
indicate that the earliest poems on this subject were composed 
at a time when the Black Sea was already familiar to the Greeks ; 
on the other hand travellers from time to time may have 
penetrated into that region centuries before the foundation of 
Cyzicos 3 . 

, Others have sought to show that the later parts of the poem 
betray an intimate acquaintance with the western seas, such as 
would be possible only after the development of Corinthian 
maritime enterprise about the close of the eighth century, 
whereas the knowledge of the same regions shown by the earlier 
parts is of the vaguest description 4 . Here the evidence is 
derived chiefly from the references to Sicily (Zifcavirj) and the 

1 Die Composition der Odyssee, p. 85 f. ; Die horn. Odyssee^, p. 287 ff. 

2 The references to the spring 'Aprct/d?; (cf. Od. X 107 f.) cannot be regarded as 
conclusive, since such connections are capable of more than one explanation even if 
we bear in mind the name of the adjacent mountain ('A/jrci/o/). The mountain itself 
may have been known to the Greeks from early times. 

3 In view of the evidence pointed out at the close of the last chapter one will do 
well to hesitate before denying the possibility of such distant expeditions in early 
times. But any communication which may have existed must have been interrupted 
by the invasions of the Bithynoi and Treres, probably in the ninth and eighth 
centuries. Note may also be taken here of what is said about the Cimmerioi in 
Od. XI 14 19 ; cf. Meyer, Geschichte des Alterthums, II, pp. 367 f., 445 f. 

4 Cf. especially Wilamowitz-Mollendorff, Horn. Unt. p. 24 ff. The theory that 
the Ephyre of II 328 must be a different place from the Ephyre of I 259 seems to me 
very problematical if the author of the second book had only a vague knowledge of 
the geography of western Greece. Again, if Ilos Mermerides (l 259) is taken from 
the story of the Argo, is it really necessary that the source should be a different one 
from that referred to in xn 69 ff. ? 


Siceloi, Alybas (traditionally placed in the Gulf of Otranto, but 
perhaps rather a coined name) and Temesa, which is identified 
with Tempsa in Calabria. This theory seems to me to be open 
to much the same objections as the other. It is clear now that 
in prehistoric times the south of Italy was intimately connected 
with the eastern coast of the Adriatic, and we have no ground for 
denying that the former may have been known to Greek traders 
or pirates long before the date of the earliest colonies. 

A third argument, and one which has exercised a much wider 
influence, is based on the relationship of certain portions of the 
poems to the lost Cyclic poems (Cypria, etc.). It is held for 
instance that the Catalogues in II. II, at all events the Trojan 
catalogue, were taken from the Cypria, and again that in the 
Nekyia (Od. XI) and elsewhere use has been made of the Little 
Iliad and the Nostoi, as well as the Cypria. But, granting the 
correctness of these hypotheses, no conclusions as to date can be 
drawn from them unless the dates of the lost poems themselves 
are established. We have seen however that such is not really 
the case ; it is admitted that the attribution of these poems to 
Arctinos, Lesches and others does not occur until very late times. 
All that can be said is that they appear to have contained certain 
4 post- Homeric' features, such as purification for manslaughter 
(in the Aithiopis). With these we shall have to deal later. 
There is no need however to suppose that the lost poems were 
any more homogeneous than the Iliad and Odyssey. 

Again it is thought that certain passages betray the influence 
of Hesiodic poetry, while others indicate genealogies or relation- 
ships which are at variance with statements contained in the 
latter 1 . Among the former we may note especially the list of 
women in the Nekyia (Od. XI 235 327 2 ), which is compared 
with the Hesiodic Catalogue of heroines. This evidence would 
be useful for chronological purposes if we knew (i) when Hesiod 
lived, (ii) that he was the first to compose catalogues of this kind. 

1 From this it has been argued that the ' Odyssey ' known to Hesiod must have 
differed greatly from the poem which has come down to us. But it is to be remem- 
bered that there are quite as noticeable discrepancies between the Odyssey and the 

2 We shall have occasion later to notice more than one point in which this 
passage departs from the customary Homeric standards. 


But unfortunately neither of these propositions can be admitted. 
To the first we have already referred. The majority of scholars 
hold that Hesiod cannot have lived much after the end of the 
eighth century. But there is nothing to show that he did not 
live before that time ; for no sound argument can be founded 
on the last verses of the Theogony. As for the Catalogue it 
belongs to a class of poetry of which the beginnings may 
go back to a remote antiquity. The presumption is that it 
originated in times when descent was still traced through the 

On internal grounds many arguments have been brought 
forward for the purpose of showing that the poems in their 
present form have undergone a long process of development. 
With discrepancies in the narrative itself we need not concern 
ourselves. They are doubtless of importance for determining 
the question of single or composite authorship, but they do not 
necessarily point to authorship of quite different ages. For 
instance, one poet may have conceived of the Achaean camp as 
fortified, another as without fortifications. But that does not 
prove that the two poets were not contemporary, for it will not 
be disputed that the people of the Heroic Age were capable of 
building fortifications. Again, it may be that the original poem 
on the * Wrath of Achilles ' did not originally contain Books II 
VII. But, apart from one or two details which we shall discuss 
presently, there is nothing to suggest that these books are the 
product of an entirely different period. 

We may even take what is perhaps the most extreme case, 
that of the Doloneia. This book is joined on very loosely to 
what precedes, and its contents are practically disregarded in 
the rest of the Iliad 1 . Some critics even in ancient times seem to 
have believed that it did not originally belong to the poem. 
Moreover it contains a number of features peculiar to itself and 
several expressions which are regarded as indications of lateness. 
In particular there are some striking parallels to the passages in 

1 Except probably in xiv gff., as has been ingeniously pointed out by Mr Lang 
(Homer and his Age, p. 276 ff.). In the same chapter Mr Lang shows that several 
features in the Doloneia which have been interpreted as marks of lateness may very 
well be due to the peculiar circumstances of the situation. 


the Odyssey, and it is held that in certain cases they are due to 
direct influence from the latter 1 . But, granting all this, we are 
still not in a position to decide whether the chronological differ- 
ence between the Doloneia and the earlier parts of the Iliad is to 
be reckoned at three centuries or two or one 2 . 

As no definite results can be attained from such considera- 
tions as these we will now confine our attention to arguments 
which are founded upon real or supposed differences of culture. 
The most important class of evidence for our purpose is that 
which relates to the use of the metals. Both bronze and iron are 
frequently mentioned and there can be no doubt that both were 
well known. But it has been observed that weapons are nearly 
always said to be of bronze (%aX/co?, ^a\Keov ey%o?, etc. 3 ), whereas 
iron is usually mentioned either as a substance or in reference to 
tools, especially hatchets 4 . Only in seven verses do we hear of 
iron weapons, even if we include in this category the knives 
mentioned in II. XVIII 34 and xxm 30. Two verses (ib. VII 141, 
143 f.) speak of an iron club and one (ib. IV 123) of an arrow- 
head, while the other two (Od. XVI 294, XIX 13) refer to the 
arms in Odysseus' house collectively. 

The obvious inference from the statistics is that iron tools 
came into use before iron weapons, and though this was long 
thought incredible it has recently been shown that there is some 

1 Gemoll, Hermes, xv 557 flf. (cf. xvm 308 ff.)- Cf. also Shewan, Class. Quarterly ', 
IV 73 ff., where this view is rejected. 

2 Mr Lang (Homer and his Age, p. 265 ff.) has called attention to the fact that in 
v. 261 ff. Odysseus is represented as wearing a cap of a type which appears to have 
been in use during the Mycenean age. If it could be shown that the article in 
question was peculiar to that period, the lateness of the book would certainly be open 
to serious question. 

3 Bronze is mentioned 279 times in the Iliad and 80 times in the Odyssey. In 
a large proportion of these cases the reference is to weapons. Cf. Helbig, Das 
homerische Epos, p. 329 ff. 

4 Iron is mentioned altogether 48 times. In nine cases it is spoken of merely as 
a substance a possession or article of trade. To these we may add fifteen more in 
which the word is used metaphorically as a standard of hardness, etc., and one 
(Od. ix 393) which refers to the testing of iron in water. Iron tools or implements 
are mentioned thirteen times, apart from the two references to knives given above. 
We hear also of iron chains (Od. I 204), the iron axle-tree of a (divine) chariot-wheel 
(II. v 723), and the iron door of Tartarus (ib. vm 15); cf. Cauer, Grundfragen der 
Homer-kritiP, p. 281 ff. 


evidence for the prevalence of such conditions in Palestine 1 . 
Moreover a somewhat striking confirmation of the Homeric 
evidence was furnished by the excavations at Troy, where a small 
lump of unwrought iron was found among deposits belonging 
apparently to the fifth stratum 2 . It has been compared, and 
doubtless rightly, with the lump mentioned in II. XXIII 826 ff., 
though the latter must have been much larger. The presumption 
is that, like this, it was intended for some tool or agricultural 
implement ; for all the weapons found at Troy few as they were 
unfortunately up to the seventh stratum were of bronze. It is 
probable therefore that the use of the metals not only in the fifth 
stratum but also in the sixth the great Mycenean fortress- 
was similar to that which is indicated in the Homeric poems. 
For those who believe that these poems are the work of a 
single author the words " Iron does of itself attract a man 3 " 
(Od. XVI 294, XIX 13) present a serious difficulty. I cannot 
believe in view of the evidence given above that iron weapons 
were regularly employed in the Heroic Age 4 and that the use of 
the word %aX/co? is a piece of traditional poetic archaism. Other- 
wise however there is no alternative but to regard the Odyssey 
verse as an interpolation 5 . But in reality it is no great step from 
iron knives and arrow-heads to the use of the same metal for 
spears or even swords. If we were to adopt the view that the 
age of the composition of the Homeric poems coincides with the 
period of transition between the first use of iron for cutting and 
piercing instruments to its general employment for weapons of 
all kinds, we should not necessarily require much more than a 
century for their development. Indeed the presence of iron 

1 Cf. Macalister, Palestine Expl. Fund, Quart. Rep., 1903, p. 199 ; Lang, Class. 
Rev. xxn, p. 47. 

2 Cf. Dorpfeld, Troja und Ilion, p. 368. 

3 airros yap ^A/cerai avdpa (ridrjpos. Cf. Burrows, The Discoveries in Crete, p. 2 1 4 ff. 

4 Cf. Ridgeway, The Early Age of Greece, p. 294 f. Prof. Ridgeway allows the 
occasional use of bronze swords, e.g. in the case of Euryalos the Phaeacian 
(Od. vni 403 6). But the swords of Paris, Patroclos, Achilles and Odysseus 
(II. ill 334 f., XVI 135 f., Xix 372 f., Od. X 261 f.) are described in very similar terms 
(i0os dpyvp6-n\ov xdXrcoi'). Further, the tendency of bronze swords to snap off short 
at the hilt is well illustrated by the case of Lycon in II. xvi 338 f. 

5 Cf. Lang, Homer and his Age, p. 192 f. 


swords in graves of the sub-Mycenean period in Crete (cf. p. 185) 
would seem to show that the transition had begun within what 
may be regarded practically as the Heroic Age itself. 

Again, it is held that many anachronisms or chronological 
inconsistencies appear in the battle scenes of the Iliad. Some- 
times we find descriptions of armour and tactics which are 
thought to be copied from those of Ionic hoplites in early 
historical times and to be irreconcilable with the type of warfare 
depicted in other passages. Many of the chief men are repre- 
sented as armed with breastplates, for which, it is said, there is no 
evidence in the Mycenean age 1 though this statement is more 
than doubtful 2 . In regard to the form of the shield also there 
is a discrepancy. Sometimes it is described as being of great 
length, ' like a tower ' or ' reaching to the feet ' terms which 
would suit the long shields often depicted on objects of the 
Mycenean age. Sometimes on the other hand we hear of 
* round ' shields, which suggest the comparatively small circular 
shield of the historical period. 

These inconsistencies only concern us in so far as they are 
supposed to point to widely different ages. Unfortunately our 
information regarding the geometrical period is still very defective 
and we do not know how far its characteristics were the same in 
all parts of Greece. The same remarks apply with still greater 
force to the preceding or sub-Mycenean age. Hence, though it 
may be true that the round shield does not make its appearance 
in Attica till the close of the eighth century, we cannot argue 
from this that it was unknown in other parts of Greece 3 . In the 
more northern parts of Europe it appears to be the earliest form 
of shield which has been found. More important however is the 
fact that the Shardina and their confederates used the round 
shield as far back as the thirteenth century, while the shields 
represented on the Warrior Vase and the Stele from Mycenae 
(cf. p. 185) can hardly be regarded otherwise than as a variety of 
the same type. Hence, whatever may be the connection between 

1 Cf. Reichel, Uber homerische Waffen (Abh. d. arch.-epigr. Seminares d. Univ. 
Wien, Heft xi), p. 79 ff. 

2 Cf. p. 191 and Evans, Journal of the Anthropological Institute, XXX 

3 Cf. Ridgeway, op. cit. pp. 324 f., 475. 


the disappearance of the long shield and the growing use of 
body armour, there is not the slightest justification for sup- 
posing that the round variety was not used in the Heroic Age 

The commonest type of Mycenean shield, the oval type con- 
tracted in the middle, belongs to a class of shields which occur in 
various parts of the world. It is probably akin to the Zulu shield,, 
though in this the lateral contraction has lost its meaning and 
almost disappeared. The primary purpose of the whole class 
appears to be for defence against missile weapons (epro? dtcovrcov)* 
whether light javelins or arrows. But the special characteristic 
of the Mycenean variety is the use of a suspending strap 
(re\afjLc0v l ) in place of a handle. The object of this was to leave 
both hands free for the use of a long spear in fighting at close 
quarters as we see in the representation of a lion-hunt engraved 
on a dagger-blade found at Mycenae. But it is to be observed 
that the method of fighting most commonly employed by 
Homeric warriors is of quite a different character. First the 
spear was hurled apparently with one hand (cf. II. XXII 320) 
and then an attack was made with the sword. For both these 
movements the Mycenean shield was obviously ill adapted. 
Indeed for the second, which required agility above everything, 
it would be more of an encumbrance than a protection. But 
even when the spear was used for thrusting there is nothing to 
show that it was usually held in both hands 2 . Hence we can 
hardly avoid concluding that the Homeric tactics were due to 
the use of a different type of armature, which included a com- 
paratively small and mobile shield. We need not suppose of 
course that the Mycenean shield was unknown or even un- 
common. It seems fairly clear that Aias the son of Telamon 
uses one of this type 3 , and so also Periphetes the Mycenean 

1 This strap seems to have been used for carrying even comparatively small 
shields down to a much later period. It is not found apparently in the representa- 
tions of the Shardina, though they have an arm-strap as well as a handle. 

2 The Shardina on the temple of Medinet Habu and the warriors represented on 
the Stele hold their spears poised in their right hands, precisely at the same angle. 
But it is not quite clear to me whether a cast or thrust is intended. 

3 <f>tpwv ffditos -?)VT Trvpyov (II. xii 219, etc.). There is a reference no doubt to 
the hero's great stature. 


whose shield reached to his feet and caused him to stumble 
(II. xv 645 ff.) 1 . 

A further suggestion is that the Homeric use of the chariot 
was due to the long shield 2 . The argument in this case is that 
such shields could not be carried on horseback, while their weight 
was too great to allow them to be borne for any distance on foot. 
This is an extremely dubious theory for two reasons. In the 
first place the Homeric use of the chariot is a problem which 
concerns not Greece alone but a considerable part of Europe, 
including countries where there is no evidence for the Mycenean 
shield 3 . Secondly, it may be regarded as a general rule that 

1 Very recently the history of Greek shields has been treated at length by 
Dr G. Lippold (Miinchener Archaologische Studien, pp. 399 504). This work is 
largely taken up with a criticism of Reichel's theories, and in the course of the 
discussion it is pointed out that the latter are in many points insufficiently supported 
by evidence. Dr Lippold (pp. 406, 474) seems to have no hesitation in assigning the 
Warrior Vase and its congeners to the late Mycenean age he does not distinguish 
between 'Mycenean' and ' sub-Mycenean ' and he also recognises (p. 461 ff.) that 
two kinds of shields figure in the Homeric poems. The ' tower ' shield however 
is identified by him with the Dipylon shield, from which he believes the ' Boeotian ' 
shield to be descended. He holds that the round shield was of Oriental origin, since 
it was used by the Assyrians in the ninth century, and that it was first introduced into 
Greece towards the end of the Mycenean period ; then, after being banished for 
a while from the Greek mainland by the Dipylon shield, it was re-introduced, in 
a somewhat modified form, towards the end of the Dipylon (Geometrical) period. 
The Homeric poems are held to reflect the time of transition when it was re-intro- 
duced ; but no date appears to be given except that it was before the eighth century 
(p. 468). This explanation seems to me to be open to a serious objection, namely 
that the Homeric shields will then have to reflect a different age from that indicated 
by the Homeric evidence on the use of the metals ; for the latter clearly belongs to 
the close of the Mycenean or rather ' sub-Mycenean ' period. So far as I can see, 
it is only by Dr Mackenzie's equation of the Homeric poems with the Warrior Vase 
and certain East Cretan graves (cf. p. 185) that we can obtain a consistent and 
intelligible sequence. Of course it may very well be that the round shield was 
banished for a time from the Greek mainland by the Dipylon type. On the other 
hand the suggestion that the former was of Assyrian origin surely requires evidence 
earlier than the ninth century ; for we find it used by the Shardina, who cannot 
properly be regarded as Oriental, as far back as the thirteenth century. I have to 
thank Mr A. B. Cook for calling my attention to Dr Lippold's work. 

2 Cf. Reichel, op. cit. p. 53 f. 

3 Long shields were regularly used during the La Tene period by the Celtic 
peoples, and also by many of the Teutonic peoples probably much later. But they 
seem to have been of a totally different type from the Mycenean. In late times they 
were certainly of great length (cf. Diodorus, v 30, and the figures on the bowl of 


those peoples which use the long shield not only fight but also 
go to battle on foot. Moreover the evidence of the poems them- 
selves does not really bear out the suggested connection. Thus 
there is no instance of the long shield more clear than that 
belonging to Aias the son of Telamon, and this hero is one of 
the few leading men who are never said to wear breast-plates. 
But he is also apparently one of the very few who do not possess 
chariots. Indeed a better case could probably be made out for 
connecting the chariot with the breast-plate. 

The Homeric use of the chariot gives rise to another question 
which probably deserves more careful consideration. In the 
action itself driving appears to be universal ; at most we have 
only one doubtful case of riding (II. X 513). But there are at 
least two incidental references (II. XV 6796^, Od. v 371) which 
betray acquaintance with the latter art. It is quite possible 
therefore that the knowledge of riding was a comparatively 
recent accomplishment which the poet or poets knew to have 
been foreign to the Heroic Age. Unfortunately the history of 
equitation is a very obscure subject. In more eastern countries 
the use of chariots which here were war-chariots in the true 
sense continued until quite late times. In Cyprus we hear of 
them at the beginning of the fifth century; and in Italy they 
were introduced, or re-introduced, still later. But we do not 
know when riding began. In the wall-sculptures at Karnak 1 
which commemorate the victories of Sety I and date from 
towards the close of the fourteenth century several Hittites are 
shown on horseback. The scene represents a battle, and it may 
have been the artist's intention to depict what was not a normal 
custom but the last resource of fugitives whose chariots had 
broken down. But even then the possibility remains that in 
emergencies or under special conditions riding may have been 
practised by the Greeks long before it was in regular use. The 
whole subject however requires further investigation, in particular 

Gundestrup) ; but the earliest examples (e.g. the oval shields depicted on the 
Hallstatt sword-sheath) may really be modifications of the round shield. 

1 Cf. Ridge way, The Origin and Influence of the Thoroughbred Horse, p. 510. A 
similar case occurs in a painting representing the victory of Rameses II over the 
Hittites, figured in Meyer's Geschichte des alien Aegyptens (plate following p. 290). 


the question whether there is reason for supposing the Hittites 
to have been more skilled in horsemanship than other nations. 

Another series of inconsistencies has been pointed out in 
references to marriage customs, particularly in regard to the use 
of the word ee&va (e&va). In several passages this word evidently 
denotes the sum paid by the bridegroom to the bride's guardian ; 
but in others it seems to mean presents given to the bride at 
marriage by her own relatives. We can scarcely doubt that a 
difference of custom is involved in these usages ; but it does not 
necessarily follow that the second group of passages belong to a 
later period than the first. Account must be taken of local 
divergencies, for there is hardly any subject in which early 
Teutonic custom varied so much as in this, even from the time 
of our oldest records. Again, it has been suggested 1 with con- 
siderable probability that the inconsistencies of the Odyssey are 
to be attributed to a change of custom not in the sense that the 
earlier parts of the poem reflect one form and the later parts 
another, but that the poem as a whole belongs to an age of 
transition when different forms of matrimonial arrangements 
were in vogue. This is a question with which we shall have to 
deal more fully in a later chapter. 

We have yet to consider certain inconsistencies in regard to 
religious observances. Once only (II. VI 303) is mention made 
of the figure a seated figure of a deity, and consequently it is 
held that the passage in question must be late. Recent dis- 
coveries however have tended to throw doubt on this view; for a 
number of statuettes, apparently representing deities, have come 
to light in deposits belonging both to the Mycenean and 
Geometrical periods, while primitive female figures, often in a 
sitting position, are quite common. The finding of a larger 
image would now scarcely call forth much surprise, though it 
cannot be supposed that such statues were of frequent occur- 

In references to sanctuaries we sometimes hear of temples 
(vijol), but more frequently only of shrines or sacred groves. The 
most certain examples 2 of the former are those of Apollo and 

1 Cauer, Grtmdfragen d. Homer- krititP, p. 294 ff. 

~ It is uncertain whether the sanctuaries of Apollo at Pytho (Delphoi) and of 


Athene at Troy (II. V 446, vi 88, VII 83, etc.) and another of 
Athene at Athens (II. II 549, Od. vn 81). The sanctuary of 
Apollo at Chryse is also once described as a temple (II. I 39^ 
though the account of the sacrifice (ib. 440 ff.) suggests an open- 
air shrine. Besides these we have a general reference to temples 
among the Phaeacians (Od. VI 10) and a vow made by Odysseus' 
followers to construct a temple to Helios on their return home 
(ib. XII 346). Now it is held that all these passages belong to a 
late stage in the growth of the poems and that in their original 
form temples were unknown. Sanctuaries of the earlier period 
are described only by such terms as aXcro? or re/ze^o? /3a>//.o<? re 
Bvrjei,^. There can be little doubt that the grove and the open- 
air shrine represent more primitive types of sanctuary than the 
temple. But the advocates of this theory seem to have over- 
looked the fact that among many peoples the more primitive 
and the more developed forms of sanctuary are found existing 
side by side 1 . Thus beside the great temple at Upsala, the chief 
sanctuary of the North, there stood a grove which appears to 
have been regarded with still greater veneration, even down to 
the very end of heathen times. Close by was a spring in which 
human victims were sacrificed 2 . This case shows how entirely 
unjustifiable it is to assume the non-existence of a temple, when 
only a shrine or sacred grove happens to be mentioned. We 
may cite as an example the proposed sacrifice to Spercheios in 
II. XXIII 145 fT. 3 In general however the Homeric evidence 

Poseidon at Scheria (II. IX 404 f., Od. vm 798"., VI 266 f.) are regarded as temples ; 
cf. Cauer, op. cit. p. 301 f. In the former case however it is decidedly probable. 

1 Many well-known survivals of such usage occur in Greece itself. 

2 Adam Brem. IV 27 : corpora autem suspenduntur in lucum qui proximus est 
templo. is enim lucus tarn sacer est gentilibus ut singulae arbores eitis ex morte uel 
tabo immolatorum diuinae credanlur. Cf. also the (contemporary) schol. 134: prope 
illud templutn est arbor maxima late ramos extendens, semper uiridis in hieme et 
aestate^ cuius ilia generis sit nemo sett, ibi etiam est fons ubi sacrificia paganorum 
sclent exerceri et homo uiuus immergi. qui dum non inuenitur ratum erit uotiirn 

3 27re/>xef , dXXws ffoL 76 irar^p rip^ffaro Hri\etis 
/cetW yue voarrjaavTa tpiXrjv ^s Trarpida yaiav 
<roL re KhfJ-yv Kfpteiv p^eiv 6' lepjjv 
irevriiKOvra 6" Zvopxa Trap avrddi /mijX' i 

& 71-77701$ 6'0t rot T^uevcs /3w / w6s re 


clearly suggests that temples and the same may possibly be 
the case with images were chiefly to be found in cities, while 
the more primitive forms of sanctuary remained in less populous 

I cannot but think that to any student of comparative religion 
the argument derived from the references to sanctuaries will 
appear entirely worthless. The argument against the antiquity 
of the round shield also can hardly be maintained. Of the rest 
all except the one based on the use of the metals contain a 
certain element of doubt. But even if we grant their validity in 
every case it cannot be said that either individually or collectively 
they necessitate the lapse of a long interval between the earlier 
and later portions of the poems. If the interval had amounted 
to anything like three centuries discrepancies of a far more 
striking character must have come to light. 

As yet we have taken no account of linguistic inconsistencies. 
The poems as we have them present a medley of forms belonging 
to different ages and different dialects. But these inconsistencies 
appear everywhere; it is not the case that certain portions of the 
poems contain only early forms and others only late ones. The 
Odyssey is said to contain a certain number of apparently late 
usages, especially of prepositions and conjunctions, which are 
wanting or only occur rarely in the Iliad. It is held also that 
within the poems themselves earlier and later portions can be 
distinguished to a certain extent by similar differences of usage. 
But the evidence on the whole is slight and generally somewhat 
ambiguous 1 ; and consequently linguistic criteria have as a rule 
played only a subordinate part in the attempts which have been 
made to determine the stratification of the poems. We must 
conclude then either that the later parts were composed in an 
artificial type of language, thoroughly permeated with archaisms, 
or that the earlier parts, have undergone a very considerable 
amount of modernisation. Indeed the latter explanation must 
be admitted to some extent in any case ; for relatively modern 
forms occur frequently in what are usually regarded as the very 

1 The Appendices in Miss Stawell's Homer and the Iliad (pp. 238 326) suggest 
that many of the instances commonly cited are due to insufficient consideration. 


earliest parts of the poems. But if the preservation of the poems 
was dependent on oral tradition for any considerable length of 
time it is very difficult to set a limit to the operations of such a 
process. In Anglo-Saxon poems even in those which were not 
entirely dependent on oral tradition modernisation prevailed to 
such an extent that archaic forms disappeared practically every- 
where, while substitutions of one word for another were very 
frequent. The more elaborate character of Greek metre doubtless 
acted as a check on this tendency to change, but at the same 
time I cannot help thinking that its importance in the history of 
Homeric poetry has been greatly underrated. 

On the question of dialect something more must be said. It 
is true no doubt that the language of the poems as we have them 
must be regarded as Ionic but only with certain reservations. 
In the first place we have to note the regular preservation of /z-, 
which in strict Ionic the language of the Asiatic coast was lost 
in the seventh century, if not earlier. Again, we find a con- 
siderable number of forms which cannot be assigned to any 
Ionic dialect, e.g. such as contain -a- (Xao9, 'ArpeiSao, al^^rawv). 
Special attention must be paid to forms which are definitely 
Aeolic, such as iriavpes, ap^e, epefiewos. Whatever may be the 
explanation of the preservation of h-, it is universally agreed that 
the Aeolic element is deeply rooted in the history of Homeric 
poetry. Some scholars indeed hold that the poems were 
originally composed in Aeolic and that their present form is 
practically an Ionic translation. The more general view how- 
ever is that Ionic was the language of epic composition from the 
beginning and that such forms as iricrvpe^ and a^fjue are derived 
from early Aeolic lays on which the epics were for the most part 

The legends as to Homer's birthplace are perhaps not with- 
out significance for this question. In ancient times, from Pindar 1 
downwards, Smyrna's claim to this honour was the one most 
generally recognised, and the majority of modern scholars are 
inclined to the view that the birthplace of Homeric poetry is to 
be sought in or around that city. Now Smyrna was originally 

1 Fragm. 189, Boeckh. 


an Aeolic state, but was captured by the lonians of Colophon 1 , 
apparently towards the close of the eighth century, from which 
time onwards it appears as Ionic. The mixture of dialect found 
in the poems an older stratum of Aeolic underlying a later 
stratum of Ionic would therefore be perfectly in accord with 
what we know of the history of the city, although unfortunately 
no early inscriptions are extant 2 . 

The most serious competitor of Smyrna was Chios, the claim 
of which found favour with several of our earliest authorities. 
Especially important is the fact that in a fragment published 
among the remains of Simonides of Ceos (fragm. 85, Bergk), but 
now frequently attributed to Semonides of Samos, who lived 
about the middle of the seventh century, a verse of the Iliad 
(VI 146) is ascribed to the 'man of Chios.' In this island also 
there dwelt in later times a clan called 'QpripiScu 3 who claimed 
descent from the poet. But here again there is a tradition that 
the population was at least in part Aeolic 4 . Moreover, though 
the language of the earliest extant inscriptions is Ionic in its 
main features, it possesses certain Aeolic characteristics, especially 
the change of on to oi 5 before s (e.g. Tr/^fotcrt, \dfiwicn, against 
Ion. Trprj^ovai) \d(3a>cn). There is no record of an Ionic conquest 
of the island, as in the case of Smyrna, but we know that it did 
not enter the Ionic confederation until a comparatively late 
period, probably the seventh century 6 . 

It appears then that the peculiarities of Homeric language 
can be satisfactorily accounted for by the history of either 
Smyrna or Chios 7 . But now we are confronted with a very 

1 Cf. Mimnermos, fragm. 9. 5 f . (Bergk), Herodotus, I 150, etc. According to 
Pausanias (v 8. 7) Smyrna had become Ionic before the year 688 ; cf. Wilamowitz- 
Mollendorff, S.-B. der Akad. der Wiss. zu Berlin, 1906, p. 52. note. 

2 Acquaintance with the district round Smyrna is shown by the reference to the 
figure of ' Niobe' on Mt Sipylos in II. xxiv 614 ff., although the identification of this 
figure is still disputed. 

3 On the problems connected with this name see Allen, Classical Qttarterly, 
1 *35 ff- 

4 Stephanus Byzant. s. v. BoXtao-os. 

5 But not the corresponding change of an to ai (cf. rds, traaa). 

6 Cf. Wilamowitz-Mollendorff, op. cit. p. 52 f. 

7 The Ionic states of Clazomenai and Phocaia, to the west and north-west of 
Smyrna, seem to have been founded at a comparatively late period, though probably 

C. I 4 


grave difficulty. The same scholars who hold that Smyrna was 
the birthplace of Homeric poetry yet insist that the language of 
the epics themselves was never anything else than Ionic, although 
they allow that the Iliad was nearly complete some considerable 
time before the conquest of Smyrna. This position is quite 
incomprehensible to me. The only explanation offered, so far 
as I am aware, is that the language of this district may have 
been of a mixed character 1 . It is no doubt true that when the 
coast was first occupied settlers may have come from many 
different quarters. But when Mimnermos speaks of the capture 
of ' Aeolic Smyrna ' we are surely not justified in assuming that 
the city had become lonicised before that time. On the other 
hand the supposition that the two dialects were not yet 
differentiated to any considerable extent appears to me to be 
irreconcilable with the evidence of the poems themselves as well 
as with all that we know of the history of the Greek dialects. 

The question which we are discussing is one which concerns 
not only the Iliad and Odyssey, together perhaps with certain 
Hymns and other Homeric poems, but also the various works 
attributed to Hesiod. In particular we may note the Works and 
Days and the Theogony, both of which claim to be of Boeotian 
origin. Whether by chance or not they contain few forms 2 
which are peculiar to Aeolic proper, i.e. the dialect of Asiatic 
Aeolis. But in all other respects their language is of the 
Homeric type, i.e. generally speaking Ionic, though with certain 
reservations, notably that f is generally kept and frequently 
occurs before o, co. Now it cannot be contended seriously that 
this extraordinary mixed dialect sprang up naturally on both 
sides of the Aegean. The only alternative however is to suppose 
that Boeotian poets borrowed it from Asia. But is this really 
probable at such a time ? 

Before leaving this subject we must notice briefly the 

in the eighth century. Since the promontory ofApyevvov, opposite Chios and to the 
south-west of Erythrai, has an Aeolic name, it is possible that the whole of the coast 
north of Teos was once occupied by Aeolians. 

1 Cf. Wilamowitz-Mollendorff, op. cit. p. 75 and (for a criticism) Cauer, Grund- 
frageri-, p. 181 ff. 

2 The Shield of Heracles contains a number of clearly Aeolic forms (#/*/", 



alternative theory that the Homeric poems were originally com- 
posed in Aeolic. According to the form in which this theory has 
become most widely known they were translated into Ionic at a 
comparatively late date towards the close of the sixth century 1 . 
It is rather a serious objection to this hypothesis that the poems 
contain no trace of late Aeolic characteristics, such as the change 
of n to i before s (e.g. ro/9, Trala-a). Further, if the poems had 
been known so long in Aeolic, though doubt might have pre- 
vailed as to Homer's birthplace, the fact that he was an Aeolian 
could never have been called in question. Above all it is diffi- 
cult to see how the need of a translation could have arisen at 
such a date, for the Aeolic dialect was then well known through- 
out the Greek world through the poems of Alcaeus and Sappho. 
On the other hand there can be no possible objection in prin- 
ciple to the idea that the poems have undergone a change of 
dialect. We have seen that a large proportion of Anglo-Saxon 
poetry has passed through a similar process, generally from one 
English dialect to another, but occasionally, as in the case of 
Genesis (vv. 235 851), from a continental to an English dialect. 
In some few cases we still have parallel texts preserved in 
different dialects 2 . Indeed, when the poetry of one community 
becomes current in another community, it would seem that 
under certain conditions such changes were not merely possible 
but even inevitable. This is a question to which we shall 
have to return in the course of the next few pages. 

There is still one vexed question which we have not as yet 
touched upon, namely the relationship of the Homeric poems 
to the art of writing. Wolf and his immediate successors held 
that the art was unknown when these poems came into existence. 

1 Cf. Fick, Die homerische Odyssee (1883), and Die homerische Ilias (1886), where 
the poems are reconstructed in their original Aeolic form. 

2 E.g. the two texts of Riddle xxxvi (both printed in Sweet's Oldest English 
Texts, p. isof.) and the texts of Caedmon's Hymn from the Moore MS. of Bede's 
Eccles. History (ib. p. 149) and the Anglo-Saxon version (iv 24). Reference may 
also be made to the Dream of the Cross and the extracts given in the inscription on 
the Ruthwell Cross. A portion of the Old Saxon Genesis is printed, together with 
the Anglo-Saxon version, in Cook and Tinker's Translations from Old English Poetry, 
p. i8 4 f. 



Among more recent scholars however the general tendency has 
been to regard this view as mistaken.. Some leading authorities 
even hold that considerable portions of the poems were written 
down from the time of their composition. 

The poems themselves contain only one reference to writing, 
namely in II. VI 168 ff., where it is stated that Proitos sent 
Bellerophon to Lycia " and gave him baneful tokens, writing 
many deadly things in a folded tablet, which he bade him show 
to his (Proitos') father-in-law, with a view to his own destruc- 
tion 1 ." So long as no further evidence was forthcoming there 
was a natural inclination either to regard this passage as an 
interpolation or to interpret it as denoting something which 
could not properly be called writing. But of late years archae- 
ological investigation has brought to light, especially in Crete, 
numerous inscriptions dating from very remote times, and there 
cannot now be any question as to the antiquity of writing in the 
southern Aegean. Moreover the Homeric poets themselves can 
hardly have been ignorant of the existence of such an art, for 
rock-hewn figures with inscriptions dating from pre- Homeric 
times including one which has been identified with the figure 
of 'Niobe' mentioned in II. XXIV 614 ff. are to be found quite 
close to the Asiatic coast. 

Yet in spite of all this it is a very remarkable fact that the 
whole 28,000 verses of the Iliad and Odyssey contain only one 
reference to writing. The significance of this may be appre- 
ciated by turning to modern Servian poetry, which abounds 
with allusions to letters and written orders, although the min- 
strels themselves are quite ignorant both of reading and writing. 
It is true that in Beowulf we find only one direct reference to 
writing. But the Iliad and Odyssey together contain nearly nine 
times as many verses as Beowulf. 

On the whole it seems to me that the evidence for the anti- 
quity of writing given above does not prove exactly what it is 
commonly supposed to do. The inscriptions on the rock-hewn 
figures are Hittite. The ancient Cretan inscriptions have not 

[juv Avxlyvde irbpev 5' 6 ye (7^/x.ara \vypa, 

irivaKt. TTTVKT< dv/jiO(j)66pa TroXXa, 
5etcu 5' iiv&yfiv y irevdepip o<pp' dt7r6XoiTO. 


yet been deciphered, and in view of the later inscriptions found 
at Praisos the probability as yet is distinctly against their being 
in the Greek language. But in any case they date from ages 
long anterior to Homeric times, and there is nothing to prove 
their continuity with the writing of the historical period. With 
regard to the passage in II. VI 168 ff. it is to be observed firstly 
that Proitos is one of the very earliest persons mentioned in the 
poems some three generations removed from the characters of 
the Trojan story and secondly that the curious phraseology 
seems rather to suggest that the poet was speaking of something 
which he did not clearly understand. On the whole then it is 
much to be doubted whether writing was a current and native 
practice during the period when the poems were composed. 

A reservation should perhaps be made with regard to the 
latest elements in the poems. Although definite evidence is 
wanting, the beginnings of the Greek alphabet may quite pro- 
bably go back to the ninth century, and it may very well be that 
the poems had not then attained their final form. But it should 
not be assumed that the alphabet was introduced simultaneously 
throughout the Greek world. Some districts may have acquired 
it generations before others, and Aeolis (including even Chios 
and Smyrna) was probably not one of the more advanced. 
Further, we must admit that in all probability its use was at 
first very limited. From all analogies we should expect that 
it was employed for inscriptions, correspondence, etc. for a very 
long time before it was made to serve any literary purpose. 
Such apparently was the case with the alphabet of ancient 
Rome and with the Runic alphabet almost throughout its 
history. Unless the conditions in Greece were quite exceptional 
we should not expect the alphabet to come into contact with 
heroic poetry for a considerable time. 

The theory that certain portions of the poems were written 
down from the beginning presupposes of course a use of writing 
quite different from that which is brought before us in the story 
of Bellerophon. This theory 1 is, and necessarily must be, bound 

1 The analysis of the Odyssey given by Prof. v. Wilamowitz-Mollendorff admittedly 
postulates a written text (Horn. Unters-uch. p. 293). But I cannot assent to the 


up with another theory, which we have already discussed, that 
these portions date from a period not earlier than the seventh 
century. Our discussion has led us to the conclusion that the 
evidence for the latter theory is unsatisfactory. But, apart from 
this, it is inconceivable that the 'literary' portions, which are said 
to amount to several thousand verses, should contain no refer- 
ence, direct or indirect, to the use of writing. In Beowulf we 
find only one direct reference to writing (v. i694f.) an inscrip- 
tion in Runic letters such as had long been in use. But in the 
Christian additions or ' interpolations ' we meet with three 
examples of the verb serif an {for serif an, gescrifan from Lat. 
scribere), which of course is indirect evidence for the use of 
writing, though in a different language 1 . If large portions of 
the Homeric poems were really of literary origin the authors 
could scarcely have failed to betray themselves by usages of 
this kind, even though they deliberately avoided all mention of 

In addition to this general consideration we have to take 
account of the linguistic difficulties discussed above. We have 
seen that Hesiod's works show almost the same form of language 
as the Homeric poems, although the Boeotian dialect was quite 
different from anything spoken on the other side of the Aegean. 
Did Hesiod,who lived in the eighth century, probably before the 
Ionian conquest of Smyrna, really employ the ' impure Ionic ' in 
which his poems have come down to us ? He himself says 
(W. and D. 650 ff.) that he had never crossed the sea except 
(once apparently) to Chalcis. Presumably then his knowledge of 
heroic poetry was derived either from Boeotia, where he lived, 
or from Cyme in Aeolis, from whence his father had emigrated. 
But Cyme never came into Ionian hands. Are we to sup- 
pose then that either here or in Boeotia poets were already 
employing as their vehicle a form of language which according 
to the theory under discussion owed its existence (whether in 

proposition that the Catalogue of Ships in itself must come from a written source. 
This list scarcely differs in principle from the catalogues of Widsith. 

1 Further indirect evidence, of native origin, is supplied by the word facenstafas 
(O. Norse feiknstafir} in v. 1018, if the original meaning of this compound was 
'harmful runes' (used magically). Cf. also vv. 317, 382, 458, 1753. 


ordinary speech or only in poetry) to certain political changes 
in a third district changes too which had hardly begun much 
before the time of Hesiod ? This hypothesis seems to me quite 
incredible 1 . 

On the other hand if Hesiod's poems have undergone a 
change of dialect since their original composition may not the 
Homeric poems have passed through the same process ? In 
this case of course such a change would come about quite 
naturally if Smyrna or Chios was the original home of the 
poems. But here we must notice a curious feature in the 
' epic dialect ' to which we have already referred. Except in 
Aeolic forms and this exception deserves to be remarked 
the poems almost always preserve initial h-' 2 . This is a char- 
acteristic which the * epic dialect ' shares with western or Euro- 
pean Ionic but not with the language of the Asiatic coast 3 . Its 
presence raises a distinct difficulty in the way of supposing that 
the poems were lonicised in their original home. 

Now if the Homeric poems had been written down in Aeolic 
and preserved in literary form we can hardly doubt that they 
would have retained their original dialect, just like the works 
of Alcman, Alcaeus, and Sappho. It must not be argued that 
Ionic was the proper language of the epic, Doric and Aeolic 
of the lyric; for if the Homeric poems had become generally 
known in Aeolic nothing could have prevented this dialect 
from becoming the language of the epic also. We may assume 
then that they were not transmitted in written Aeolic. But the 
same argument really militates against the theory that they were 
written in Asiatic Ionic 4 , though in this case the difference of 
dialect is less striking. 

1 It may be added that we really know nothing of the Ionic of Hesiod's time. 
It is quite uncertain how far it had already developed those characteristics which we 
find in our texts. 

2 The few exceptional forms such as (r') ov\ov (Od. xvn 343) may be due to fairly 
late scribes familiar with (eastern) Ionic texts. 

3 We may note also the absence of the literary Ionic forms /c6re, KUJJ, etc. 

4 It is true that we do not know exactly when h- was lost. But before that 
change took place H cannot have been used for e ; consequently a wholesale 
fjieTaypa^fMaTLfffJi^ would be involved (doubtless also affecting the representation of <?), 
iust as in the case of Athens. 


A form of language practically identical with that of the 
epics appears in the remains of several poets of the seventh 
and sixth centuries, such as Archilochos and Solon. The only 
noticeable difference is in the proportion of non-Ionic forms 
which they use. Now since these authors belonged to quite 
different districts we must, if we are to trust our evidence, 
infer the existence of a kind of literary language at this time. 
Its difference from Asiatic Ionic is of course comparatively 
slight, and in the texts which have come down to us it is not 
always carefully observed 1 . Still there is a sufficient amount of 
regularity to show that it was generally recognised. 

The true home of this literary language must not be sought 
in Athens, but rather in Euboea or the Cyclades; and we may 
probably attribute its spread, in part at least, to the influence 
of the poems of Archilochos. But it certainly affected the 
writing of Attic for some two centuries, and there can be little 
doubt that it was thoroughly domiciled in Athens at quite an 
early date probably in the seventh century. I cannot see any 
objection therefore to supposing that it was in Athens that both 
the Homeric and Hesiodic poems acquired those peculiar lin- 
guistic characteristics which we comprehend under the term 
' epic dialect.' This of course brings us back to the story that 
the poems were collected or written down by order of Peisis- 
tratos. The evidence for the story is late, and its truth is hotly 
contested by many scholars. But at all events it has the merit 
of providing a satisfactory explanation of the linguistic pheno- 

Certainly, if we may judge from the analogy of other peoples, 
heroic poetry would not by any means be among the first species 
of literature to get committed to writing. There is no reason 
whatever for supposing that anything of this kind was written 
down in England before the eighth century, i.e. at least a century 
after the language was first applied to literary purposes, in 
Aethelberht's time. The same remark seems to be true of 
Ireland, Germany and the North, while Bosnian heroic poetry 
is being written down only in our own generation, and not by 
natives of the country. It is only natural therefore to expect 

1 Cf. Hoftmann, Griech. Dial, in, p. 549 f. ; Fick, Neue Jahrbucher, I 504 ff. 


that the Homeric poems would be written down according to an 
orthography which was already well established. 

This orthography no doubt represents more or less truly the 
form in which the poems were recited in Athens at the time. 
But does it also represent the form in which they were recited 
at (let us say) Sicyon ? That is a question upon which we have 
no direct evidence. But it is worth noting that in Doric and 
other non-Ionic states we find a number of ancient inscriptions 
in hexameters or elegiacs which contain epic words and forms. 
We may note especially the Gen. sg. ending -oto, e.g. icacriyveToio, 
oBoio, Apa60oio, and above all false imitations of epic forms, 
such as TXacr/aafo 1 . But in all these inscriptions Ionic char- 
acteristics are conspicuously absent 2 . Does this mean that 
wherever the heroic poems were introduced the rhapsodists 
tried to accommodate them, as far as possible, to the language 
of the district ? But if so, is it possible that the Ionic element 
in our texts is wholly due to the rhapsodists ? A Chalcidian 
or Naxian or Athenian audience would certainly experience at 
least as much difficulty in following a purely Aeolic Iliad as a 
southern English audience would have in listening to a purely 
Northumbrian or Mercian Beowulf. On the other hand an 
Iliad lonicised in Chalcis or Naxos would be easily intelligible 
in Athens 3 . 

1 Cauer, Delectus Inscr. Grace. 83, 84, 91. We may compare also such epic 
expressions as evpvxopo, yatas airo irarpidos, jro\v/j.e\o, K\efos airdiTov (tb. 54, 83, 445, 
202), and, more particularly, an inscription on a bronze discus from Cephallenia 
(cf. Cook, Class. Review, XIII 77 f.) : 

Ex^oida fj. avedeKe Ai/bs Qopoiv fJ-eyaXoio 
Xo.\Kov hoi vixaffe Ke0aXavas fj.eyadvjji.os 
(cf. Horn. Hymn, xxxm 9; II. II 631). 

2 The same remark is true of heroic names occurring in Doric inscriptions, 
e.g. /"e/cajSa, Kefiptovas, Acu0o/3os on a vase (Cauer, op. cit. 78) found near Caere. So 
also with the heroic names used by Pindar and other non- Ionic poets not to 
mention the Latin forms. Yet these poets use the Ionic forms of foreign names, such 
as M?)5ot (Cypr. Ma-to~i}, which had come to them presumably through Ionic 
channels. On the other hand we find in inscriptions on Chalcidian vases more 
purely Ionic forms, e.g. Ai^eej (ib. 545), than those preserved in our text. These 
seem to count against any place except Athens as the home of the final form of the 
' epic dialect.' 

3 From the fact that Pindar and other non-Ionic authors use what is apparently an 
Ionic form indeed, strictly speaking, a western Ionic form in the poet's name 


At all events we have seen that there is a very serious 
objection on chronological grounds to the view that Hesiod's 
poems were composed in a form of ' impure Ionic ' borrowed 
from the Asiatic coast. In this case it is surely far more 
probable that the Ionic element is due to the rhapsodists, 
whether in Chalcis or Athens. But is there any real reason 
for denying that the Homeric poems may have had a similar 
experience? This is a question which I do not feel qualified 
to answer. But it seems to me to deserve more attention from 
scholars than it has received as yet. 

In this chapter we have seen that the Homeric poems con- 
tain elements of great antiquity. Although we have no means 
of fixing an exact date for these elements, we can hardly doubt 
that they originated at a time before iron had come into general 
use for weapons. According to the prevailing opinion of archae- 
ologists this innovation cannot have taken place after the tenth 
century. We need not suppose that any considerable portions 
of the poems in their present form date from such an early 
period. But the ' type ' must have been fixed by that time, and 
to a considerable extent also the subject-matter. 

Still more clearly we have seen that there is no ground for 
supposing that the earlier and later elements are separated from 
one another by a wide interval. For the idea that the earlier 
elements reflect the conditions of the last age of Mycenean 
splendour probably about the thirteenth century while the 
later elements betray acquaintance with conditions of the seventh 
century, we have not been able to find any justification. The 
period intervening between the Mycenean age and the beginning 

), while they give the names of the heroes themselves in non-Ionic form, we 
are justified in concluding that they had acquired the former from a different 
(presumably literary) source. Certainly the earliest references to the poet come from 
Ionic authors. Again, Thucydides (in 104) is clearly recording a generally accepted 
opinion when he quotes the Hymn to the Delian Apollo under Homer's name ; and 
I can see no reason for doubting the identity of Semon ides' X?os dvrjp (cf. p. 209) 
with the author of this poem (v. 172 : rv<t>\6s O.VTJP, olKei 5e XLy &u ira.(.ira\oaa-g). The 
Hymn dates probably from the period when Chios was in process of becoming 
lonicised. At such a time the repertoire of a Chian minstrel would have an exception- 
ally favourable opportunity of gaining currency (naturally under his own name) in 
Ionic circles in the Cyclades probably as well as in Ionia itself. 


of the classical age is certainly one which has as yet yielded com- 
paratively little to archaeological research. But our discussion 
has led us to infer that the conditions of life reflected in the 
poems throughout belong to some part of this period, rather 
than that they are due to a combination taken from the pre- 
ceding and following ages 1 with a more or less blank interval 
of some five or six centuries. 

I have spoken advisedly of earlier and later ' elements ' 
rather than of earlier and later ' portions ' in the poems. Ela- 
borate analyses, such as that proposed for the Odyssey by 
Prof, von Wilamowitz-Mollendorff, are admittedly hopeless 
unless we assent to the hypothesis that the person responsible 
for the final form of the poem possessed a written text; and 
we have seen that this hypothesis is open to grave objections. 
The existence of different strata in the work must doubtless be 
conceded. We may even allow that it is built up out of shorter 
epics. But I cannot admit that such a poem as the Odyssey 
can be successfully constructed out of shorter ones by stringing 
the latter together, even if we do grant that the additions made 
by the editor amount to a sixth part of the whole 2 . It is ques- 
tionable therefore whether we are justified in regarding the last 
stratum as the work of an 'editor* whether we ought not rather 
to regard this person as the 'author' of our poem. He must 
have used earlier pieces, and he may have incorporated them 
in large mass in his work. But we have no guarantee that he 
did not greatly expand his materials as well as provide con- 
necting links between them. 

In the Iliad we are confronted to a certain extent with the 
same problems. But the process of unification does not appear 
to have been carried out so thoroughly and the proportion of 
early matter incorporated is probably much greater. The point 
however which I would especially emphasise in both cases alike 

1 Cf. Reichel, op. cit. p. 59: "Das Epos schildert, wie in alien Dingen, auch hier 
die altere Prachtzeit," and pp. 63, 102 f., where the first appearance of the round 
shield (of which the knowledge is granted, p. 55 if.) is referred to the middle of the 
eighth century, and that of breast-plates to about the beginning of the seventh century. 

2 Prof. v. Wilamowitz-Mollendorff holds that the editor was a person of inferior 
ability and that the poem as a whole is not a success; but this view is scarcely 
in accordance with the generally received opinion. 


is that the unification process cannot be used as an argument 
for lateness of date. If we bear in mind the undoubtedly archaic 
character of both poems, the paucity of inconsistencies points to 
an entirely opposite conclusion. The greater the amount of 
matter which we attribute to the last strata, the shorter must 
be the period during which the poems grew until they reached 
their final form. 

Lastly we have seen that though the linguistic evidence 
agrees very well with the tradition that 'Homer' belonged to 
Smyrna (or Chios), there are very serious objections to the 
view that the poems were originally composed in the Ionic 
dialect 1 . They may have been subsequently lonicised in their 
original home, but even that is scarcely certain. The form in 
which they have come down to us belongs properly to the 
western Ionic of the islands, which in early times was used as 
a literary language in Athens. 

1 It is worth noting that these objections apply even to what are commonly 
regarded as among the latest parts of the poems. Thus in Od. xxiv 305, where 
Odysseus describes himself as uioy 'A^eiSajros Ho\wjrr)ij.ot>Ldao &VO.KTOS, the point is 
entirely spoilt by the Ionic form. That the true form should be Aeolic ( is 
rendered more than probable by such names as 'AXiH/wip, Ro\v8ep<reidvj of which at 
least the second likewise belongs to the ' later ' portions of the poem. 



IN Chapter V we saw that four well-marked stages may be 
distinguished in the history of Teutonic heroic poetry. The 
first is that of strictly contemporary court poetry, dealing with 
the praises or the adventures of living men. The second is that 
of epic or narrative court poetry, which celebrates the deeds of 
heroes of the past, though not of a very remote past. The third 
is the popular stage, during which the same stories were handled 
by village minstrels. The last stage is that in which the old 
subjects again found favour with the nobility in Germany and 
were treated in a new form which reflected the conditions of the 
age of chivalry. We must now see whether any such stages 
can be traced in the history of Greek heroic poetry. 

For the first stage plenty of evidence is supplied by the 
Homeric poems. In the Odyssey we meet with several persons 
who seem to be professional court minstrels. Such are Demo- 
docos at the court of Alcinoos and Phemios at that of Odysseus, 
while others are mentioned at the courts of Agamemnon and 
Menelaos. Both Demodocos and Phemios are represented as 
singing of recent events, namely the adventures of the Achaeans 
on their return from Troy, though the former also produces one 
song upon a mythical subject. The song or recitation is in- 
variably accompanied upon a lyre, probably much in the same 
way as the Teutonic minstrel used his harp 1 . 

As among the Teutonic peoples, we hear also occasionally 

1 In Od. IV i7ff. two acrobats give a performance while Menelaos' minstrel is 
singing, and in vin 261 ff. Demodocos' song on the love of Ares and Aphrodite is both 
accompanied and followed by dancing. More usually however the minstrel's song 
and music is the only form of entertainment. 


of royal minstrels. Paris appears to be a skilful musician 
(II. Ill 54), while Achilles is amusing himself by singing the 
'glories of heroes' (/c\ea dvpv) when he is visited by Aias 
and Odysseus (ib. IX 189). But the status of even the pro- 
fessional minstrel was, sometimes at least, one of considerable 
importance. Agamemnon, on his departure to Troy, is said 
to have entrusted his queen to the care of a certain minstrel 
(Od. Ill 267 f.) a case which may be compared with several 
Teutonic stories relating both to the Heroic Age and the 
Viking Age. The Phaeacian minstrel Demodocos is blind, like 
the Frisian Bernlef; but, unlike the latter, he seems to have a 
recognised position at Alcinoos' court He is evidently regarded 
as a person of distinction ; in VIII 483 we find him described 
as r)po)$, a term frequently applied to princes. For minstrels 
of Bernlef s type we have no clear evidence in the Homeric 
poems. In Od. XVII 382 ff. we hear of invitations given to 
minstrels ; but the reference may be to persons of Widsith's 
class. The same seems to be true of the Thracian minstrel 
Thamyris mentioned in II. n 595 ff. ; for it is stated that he was 
coming from Eurytos of Oichalia when disaster befell him. 

On the whole then the court minstrelsy of the Homeric 
poems bears a striking resemblance to that of the Teutonic 
Heroic Age. We cannot, it is true, obtain any corroborative 
evidence for its existence from contemporary historical docu- 
ments. But the negative evidence is almost as decisive. Even 
in the earliest times of which we have record no trace of such 
an institution is to be found in Greece. We hear of rhapsodists 
at Sicyon as early as the beginning of the sixth century; but 
they are clearly persons of Bernlef s type, reciting * Homeric ' 
poems, i.e. stones of ancient times. Moreover they were viewed 
with disfavour by the ruler. Another type of professional poet 
may be seen in such persons as Alcman. These were what 
may be called * state-poets ' ; sometimes they were trainers of 
the state choruses. But there is nothing to show that they were 
court poets. We hear also of poets, sometimes men of noble 
birth, like Eumelos, who composed hymns for festal occasions. 
But these too worked for the glorification of the state, or indeed 
for that of any state which employed them, and their position 


was essentially different from that of the court minstrel who 
composes for his lord's gratification. Minstrelsy of the Homeric 
type is conceivable only in an age of real kingship, and it is 
incredible that such a type could have been invented after that 
institution had ceased to exist. Indeed the nearest Greek 
analogy to it is probably to be found in such poets as Anacreon 
who flourished at the courts of the later tyrants. Their poems 
however dealt with an entirely different class of subjects. 

It is true that minstrels are mentioned beside kings in a 
passage in Hesiod's Theogony (v. 94 ff.), both being said to derive 
their endowment from divine sources 1 . But there is nothing to 
show that these were court minstrels. At all events it is clear 
enough from another passage in the same poem (v. 22 ff.), as 
well as from the Works and Days, that Hesiod himself was not 
a man of this type. Moreover, the subjects with which the 
minstrels are said to deal are the ' famous deeds (glories) 
of men of old ' (/eAeea Trporepwv avOpwircov). The reference then 
is to heroic poetry, but in a stage not earlier than Stage II of 
our scheme. The passage however is undoubtedly interesting as 
showing a stage intermediate between Homeric minstrels and the 
later rhapsodists. From the word KiOapidrai we may perhaps 
infer that the musical accompaniment, which the latter seem to 
have discarded, was still in use. 

Probably no one will suggest that the Homeric poems them- 
selves are products of the type of minstrelsy (Stage I) which we 
have been considering. Now therefore we must try to ascertain 
which of the other three stages they correspond to. Curiously 
enough no such question as this appears to have been discussed 
in any of the numerous Homeric researches which the last half 
century has produced. Nearly all writers have completely 
ignored the existence of the Anglo-Saxon heroic poems. On 
the other hand medieval German poems, such as the Nibel- 
ungenlied, have been freely used in illustration of Homeric 

K yap ^/Lovffduv KOI eKTj/36\ou ' 
avdpes aotSoi Zaviv tiri ^dova KO.L Kidaptcrrai' 
K 6 At6s ^SacrtX^es' 6 5' oX^Stos ftvTtva MoOcrat 
y\vKep~q ol airb oro/uaros ptei 


problems, and there can be no question that in many respects 
the supposed analogy has had far-reaching influence on their 
interpretation. In the application of these illustrations as a rule 
no account whatever has been taken of what we may call the 
stratification of Teutonic heroic poetry. 

Let us now consider briefly the history of the Nibelungenlied. 
We have seen that the origin of the story is to be sought in 
poems composed probably within memory of certain events 
with which it deals, and that the subject appears to have been 
worked up into a somewhat elaborate form within the next two 
centuries. It can scarcely be doubted that these early poems 
were products of court-minstrelsy and that their form was that 
of the old Teutonic alliterative verse. Later however there 
came a time when all heroic poetry passed out of fashion among 
the higher classes, and when this story, like the rest, must have 
been preserved only by village minstrels. Then, after a lapse 
of several centuries, it appears again in an entirely different 
metrical form, and permeated through and through with the 
ideas and customs of the age of chivalry. Little beyond the 
bare outlines of the story can have been inherited from the 
original poems, and even these appear to have undergone con- 
siderable modification. 

Now if the history of Homeric poetry is really parallel to 
this, we shall have to suppose that the stories were first treated 
in court poetry about the close of the pre-migration period ; that 
after flourishing for a while they fell out of favour in royal circles 
and were preserved only by village minstrels, at whose hands 
they underwent a long process of disintegration ; and that 
finally they formed the basis of new aristocratic poems some 
six or seven centuries after they first saw the light In order to 
present a complete parallel the later poems must use a new 
metrical form, of foreign derivation, which will preclude the 
possibility of their containing a single verse of the original poems. 
The customs and ideas too which they reflect must be wholly, 
or almost wholly, those of their own period, and not those of the 
Heroic Age. 

But it is manifest that this description will not fit the 
Homeric poems in any way. According to the opinion held 


by the majority of scholars the customs and ideas reflected by 
the Homeric poems are inconsistent sometimes they are those 
of the Heroic Age, sometimes those of the poets' own age. 
Indeed many scholars hold that the former type predominates. 
Personally I am not ready to admit that the difference between 
the two ages was anything like so great as is commonly assumed. 
But in any case it must be granted that in some respects, e.g. in 
regard to political geography and the use of the metals, the 
conditions of the Heroic Age are truly reflected almost every- 
where. Further it is commonly held that considerable portions 
of the poems go back, more or less in their present form, not 
perhaps to the Heroic Age itself, but at all events a long 
distance in that direction. We must conclude therefore that, 
unless modern criticism has gone hopelessly astray, the Nibel- 
ungenlied presents no true analogy to the history of the 
Homeric poems. 

Now let us take the Anglo-Saxon heroic poems. It is 
obvious enough that here there is at all events a superficial 
resemblance between the two cases, although the Greek poems 
are on a much larger scale. Both sets of poems are the work 
of colonists who had crossed the sea, and both equally suppress 
all reference to the existence of such settlements. It is true 
that the scene of the Iliad is laid in a district not far from 
that in which it appears to have been composed. But this 
district is represented as being in possession of an alien people. 
The compatriots of the poets who clearly speak from the 
Achaean side are uniformly represented as dwelling on the 
west of the Aegean. But these after all are merely accidental 
coincidences. Far more important for us is the fact, which we 
have already noted, that both sets of poems carry the history of 
heroic poetry back to court minstrels who are represented as 
living in the Heroic Age itself. The question which we have to 
face is whether or not the Iliad and Odyssey likewise resemble 
the Anglo-Saxon poems in being themselves products of court- 
minstrelsy in direct continuation of that which they depict as 
existing in the Heroic Age. 

If this question is incapable of being answered we must, I 
think, conclude that the historical study of early Greek poetry 
c. 15 


is futile. No impartial observer can fail to have been struck by 
the immense strides made within the last generation by Greek 
archaeology, as compared with the very small amount of pro- 
gress made from the literary side at least if progress is to be 
judged by the attainment of any general consensus of opinion. 
Experienced archaeologists can now very soon determine 
whether the remains which they find are those of a village or a 
palace, and whether they belong to (let us say) the classical or 
the geometrical or the Mycenean period. Again, in the case 
of sites long occupied they can easily detect the existence of 
different strata especially if a palace has been built on the site 
of an earlier "village, or if a village settlement has intervened 
between two 'palace-periods.' Is it really impossible to dis- 
tinguish such strata in the history of poetry, or is the absence 
of progress which we have noted to be attributed to other 
causes perhaps that the criticism has been of too subjective a 
character ? 

Now it is almost universally agreed that the Homeric poems 
are considerably older than any other form of Greek literature 
which has come down to us. Some scholars indeed hold that 
the latest portions of the Odyssey belong to the seventh century; 
but we have seen that the evidence for this view is by no means 
satisfactory. Certainly by the middle of the seventh century, 
and probably somewhat earlier, we meet with totally different 
types of poetry. In the first place we find a number of new 
metrical forms, elegiac, iambic and trochaic, not to speak of the 
numerous varieties of lyric metre. In matter and in spirit too 
the difference is just as marked as it is in form. The new poets 
are primarily concerned with the affairs of their own day. 
Callinos and Tyrtaios are inspired by national patriotism. 
Their fragments may be compared with the poem on the battle 
of Brunanburh, though even this is nearer to the heroic spirit. 
Archilochos again is almost entirely taken up with his own 
experiences and passions. A good analogy for his case is to be 
found in the Icelandic adventurer Egill Skallagrimsson. In all 
respects then the poetry of this age is as far removed as possible 
from the heroic type of poetry. 

Yet traces of an intermediate or transitional stage are not 


altogether wanting. From the fragments of the Hesiodic Cata- 
logue and other works which are attributed to the close of the 
eighth and the early part of the seventh centuries it is clear that 
apart from hymns the old hexameter metre was retained for 
a time in a class of poetry which appears to have been largely 
genealogical in character. In matter also, as well as in form, 
this class had certain elements in common with Homeric poetry, 
since both were concerned with the far past. But in spirit its 
affinities were rather with the poetry of the following age ; for 
its object seems clearly to have been the glorification of the 

These observations lead us to conclude that a sequence can 
be traced in the history of poetry, as in that of art. It is at 
least a natural hypothesis that the great development of original 
poetry in the age of Callinos and Archilochos was connected in 
some way with those political and social movements which so 
greatly affected the Greek world during the eighth and seventh 
centuries changing almost every kingdom into a republic. 
Moreover the existence of the transitional (genealogical) type 
of poetry which we have noted is altogether favourable to this 
idea ; for the form of government which took the place of 
kingship was at first that of a strictly limited aristocracy. But 
have we any ground for believing that heroic poetry was the 
poetry of the age of kingship? How far is such an equation in 
accord with the chronological data at our disposal ? In Greece 
itself kingship generally seems to have come to an end about 
the middle of the eighth century. In Aeolis however, with which 
we are primarily concerned, the change was in all probability 
somewhat later ; for the Phrygian king Midas (Mita of Muski), 
who perished in the Cimmerian invasion about the beginning of 
the seventh century, is said to have married a daughter of 
Agamemnon, king of Cyme. But few will deny that the great 
bulk of Homeric poetry was in existence by this time. The 
equation therefore seems to be fully justified. Survivals and 
imitations may occur in later times, as in the case of art ; but, 
broadly speaking, it appears that heroic poetry is properly the 
poetry of the age of kingship. 

We must not assume forthwith however that it was the only 


type of poetry which existed during this age. Certain passages 
in Hesiod's poems (Theog. 80 ff, W. and D. 38 f.) render it 
clear that kingship in some form or other still existed when 
they were composed ; yet they differ very greatly from the 
Homeric type. Our next object therefore must be to try to 
ascertain the true provenance of Homeric poetry. Was it court 
poetry or popular poetry, or are we to trace its origin to con- 
ditions which cannot well be brought under either of these 
categories ? 

It cannot seriously be contended, I think, that the Homeric 
poems are of popular origin. In the first place their length is 
scarcely compatible with such a hypothesis 1 . Their metrical 
form also is clearly the product of a long artistic development ; 
it is inconceivable that popular poetry could be capable of 
creating anything so elaborate. Again they are by no means 
in the nature of biographical sketches (cf. p. 95) ; in spite of 
their great length the action in both cases extends over quite 
a brief period of time. Further, there is little or no definite 
evidence certainly none which can be called conclusive for 
that confusion of different stories which characterises popular 
poetry. The heroes who figure in the Homeric poems are 
scarcely the most famous representatives of their states. Most 
of them are little known elsewhere. Popular poetry could 
hardly have failed to introduce into the action such persons as 
Heracles, Theseus, Peirithoos, Minos, lason or Adrastos. Then 
again we may note the presence of nearly all those features 
which distinguish the heroic poetry of the Teutonic peoples (cf. 
p. 82 f.). The characters brought before us in the Iliad are 
almost invariably either princes or persons attached to the 
retinues of princes, and themselves apparently of what we may 
call knightly rank. The chief exception (Thersites) is described 
in a way which only proves the rule. It is true that this prin- 
ciple is not so strictly observed in the latter part of the Odyssey. 

1 Cf. Breal, Pour mieux connaitre Homer, p. 24 : *' Attribuer a la poesie populaire 
une composition en vingt-quatre chants, quelle folie ! " But one must bear in mind 
the length sometimes attained by Bosnian poems (cf. p. 101). I may remark here 
that this work like many others dealing with the Homeric poems frequently uses 
arguments which would not have been put forward if attention had been paid to the 
heroic poetry of other European peoples. 


Several persons of humble rank are introduced here, though it 
is to be noted that the most prominent of them (Eumaios, the 
swine-herd) is said to be of princely birth. In other respects 
however the Odyssey conforms to the rules of Teutonic court 
poetry just as much as the Iliad. Thus it is fond of describing 
in detail the movements of kings and queens in their palaces 
and the conventions observed in the reception of strangers. 
Again, persons of princely rank are seldom spoken of with 
disrespect in either poem. Dialogues must of course be ex- 
cepted, and also references (especially in the Nekyia) to persons 
of the far past precisely as in Teutonic poetry. But in 
general there is a noteworthy absence of any display of feeling 
against the opponents of the poet's heroes as much in the case 
of Penelope's suitors as in that of the Trojans. Perhaps the most 
striking instance is the semi-apologetic account of Clytaimnestra's 
conduct given by Nestor (Od. Ill 263 272), a passage which 
may be compared with the story of Offa's wife in Beowulf. 
We may note also the surprisingly lenient treatment of Paris in 
the Iliad. Indeed the characters represented in the most un- 
favourable light are gods a phenomenon for which we have 
analogies in Old Norse poetry. Lastly, we must observe the 
strict avoidance of coarseness and of things not mentioned in 
polite society. 

Before we proceed further it will be convenient to turn for a 
moment to Hesiod's poems. For these also early Teutonic 
literature presents a number of fairly close parallels. In par- 
ticular the proverbial part of the Works and Days has many 
analogies in gnomic poetry, both English and Scandinavian. As 
an example we may cite the first and last portions of Havamal. 
Again the precepts on husbandry and the calendar resemble 
several Anglo-Saxon works both in prose and verse. For the 
Theogony the closest Teutonic parallel and it is very close 
is the prose Gylfaginning ; but earlier poetical works, such as 
Voluspa and HyndlulioS, run on somewhat similar lines. There 
is evidence too that subjects of the same kind were once popular 
in England 1 . Lastly, the verses (22 ff.) which relate how the 

1 Cf. especially a letter from Daniel, bishop of Winchester, to St Boniface, written 
about the year 720 (Jaffe, Bibliotheca Rerum Germanicarum, ill 71 ff.). 


poet received his inspiration may be compared with the story of 

Now if we compare the characteristics of Hesiodic and 
Homeric poetry we cannot fail to notice that they present a 
very striking contrast in several respects, even apart from the 
absence of a common theme. In the first place Hesiod takes 
no pains to conceal his personality. Again, his poems contain 
little in the way of detailed description, except where the 
occupations of a farmer's life are discussed. Thirdly, they show 
no tendency to avoid indelicate subjects. Lastly, they betray 
no acquaintance with court life. Kings are occasionally men- 
tioned, though not by name, but all the references are to their 
public appearances, as judges or mediators. We may notice too 
that though in the Theogony (v. 80 ff.) they are spoken of with 
respect, in the Works and Days (v. 38 f.) the title is coupled 
with an opprobrious epithet (Stopo^dyovs). No one can fail to 
observe that in nearly all these respects 1 ^Hesiod shows the 
characteristics which commonly distinguish popular poetry. 

But we have to remember that in spite of all these differences 
Hesiod uses the same metrical form and to a large extent the 
same style of language as the Homeric poems. There can be 
little doubt that priority lies with the latter ; indeed Hesiod 
frequently betrays acquaintance with Homeric poetry. But it 
must not be assumed that his themes were new ; they are far 
more primitive than anything of the heroic type. If Hesiod was 
the founder of a new era in poetry we must conclude that his 
innovation consisted in the application of the forms of heroic 
poetry to purposes for which they had not previously been used. 
The heroic hexameter is the only form of metre which can be 
traced back beyond the seventh century, and we can hardly 
doubt that it is the oldest form of cultivated Greek poetry. But 
less elaborate forms of verse perhaps rude precursors of the 
iambic and lyric metres must also have been in popular use for 
ages in ballads, songs and hymns. We may infer then that 
what Hesiod did was to turn to popular use the form of poetry 
which represented the highest standard of art in his day. 

1 The suppression of the poet's personality is not a mark of heroic poetry as such,, 
but of epic or narrative heroic poetry. 


But what were the conditions which produced this elaborate 
and highly artificial type of poetry? The characteristics of 
Homeric poetry enumerated above are conclusive evidence that 
it was not of popular origin. Some of them are extremely 
difficult to account for unless its true home was in the king's 
courts. It may be objected that Hesiod was familiar with 
Homeric poetry, though he knew nothing of court life. But 
Hesiod probably belonged to the last days of the kingly period, 
when that institution was losing its power and popularity. It 
is only in accordance with what we might expect that in such 
an age court poets in view of Theog. 94 f. we should perhaps 
say minstrels would frequently try to get a hearing from a 
wider circle. Hesiod's own activity falls in with this explanation 
perfectly well. His popularity was due to the fact that he pre- 
served the artistic form of court poetry, while at the same time 
he discarded its conventions and turned to subjects which were 
more in accordance with the tastes and interests of his own class. 

Apart from the courts it is difficult to see where conditions 
favourable to the growth of Homeric poetry could have existed. 
Aeolis in the eighth century must have differed very greatly 
from the city states of the sixth and fifth centuries. Hesiod 
himself belonged to a family which was possessed of some 
property. His father was a merchant; but we can hardly 
suppose that this class was either numerous or wealthy, in a 
land which consisted essentially of agricultural communities. We 
shall hardly go astray, I think, in believing that the conditions 
here at the time of which we are speaking bore far more resem- 
blance to those which prevailed in Teutonic kingdoms some 
twelve or thirteen centuries later than to those of cities like 
Miletos or Athens at their prime. There as here the wealth 
was probably to a large extent in the possession of the kings. 
Indeed from the story of Midas' relations with Agamemnon of 
Cyme (cf. p. 227) we may perhaps infer that the kings retained a 
certain amount of influence even in the latter part of the eighth 
century. On the other hand the name of this king may certainly 
be taken as evidence that the courts were interested in heroic 
poetry l . 

1 Unfortunately there seems to be hardly any material which might enable us to 


We have now seen that Homeric poetry goes back to the 
age of kingship and that it is not of popular origin (Stage III), 
but in all probability a product of court life. Our next object 
must be to consider whether this poetry was a direct continua- 
tion of the court-minstrelsy of the Heroic Age (Stage l), 
represented by Demodocos and Phemios in which case of 
course it will correspond to Stage II of our scheme or whether 
it is rather a secondary outgrowth from popular poetry (Stage 
IV). The problem, it will be seen, is essentially one of stratifi- 
cation. If we may, in archaeological language, speak of the 
Homeric poems as a 'palace-structure' it ought surely to be 
possible to determine whether traces of a 'village settlement' 
lie immediately beneath it. 

It has been pointed out above (p. 224 f.) that the Nibelungen- 
lied cannot furnish any true analogy to the history of Homeric 
poetry. The other type of Stage IV which we have considered 
(p. 99 f.) is that of the Edda poems. But I do not think that 
anyone will seriously expect to find a strict parallel here. In 
that case we should have to suppose that heroic poetry was 
originally unknown to the Aeolians, whether in Asia or Thessaly. 
But the Thessalian element including as it does such striking 
conceptions as the location of the gods on Mount Olympos is 
too deeply engrained in this class of poetry to render such a 
hypothesis probable. We shall see shortly that a better analogy 
for the history of the Edda poems is perhaps to be found in 
quite a different quarter. 

The theory which obtains most currency at the present time 
is that Homeric poetry grew up in the Greek settlements on the 
Asiatic coast on the basis of ballads derived from Thessaly 
perhaps also from other parts of Greece. This theory does not 
exactly answer to our definition of Stage IV ; but we may treat 
it under the same heading, as it likewise involves the develop- 
ment of heroic poetry out of popular poetry. According to any 
explanation of this kind we must of course assume that the 
court-minstrelsy depicted in the poems is a reflection of court 

estimate the popularity of heroic names in Greece in early times (cf. pp. 42 ff., 64 ff.). 
Note however may be taken of the existence of a prince named Hector in Chios, 
perhaps shortly after the time of Agamemnon of Cyme. 


life in the Asiatic settlements. This is conceivable enough in 
itself, provided that the requisite conditions are carried back at 
least to the ninth century. But is the theory probable? No 
one will suggest, I suppose, that the wealth or culture of the 
Aeolic settlements during the tenth and ninth centuries was 
superior to that of the Greek kingdoms in general towards the 
close of the Achaean period. Briefly stated then the current 
theory comes to this : the wealthier and more cultured period 
produced nothing but popular ballads, while the poorer and 
ruder period produced a most elaborate and magnificent court 

We have seen that Homeric poetry possesses certain charac- 
teristics which are incompatible with the idea that it is itself of 
popular origin. But a closer inspection will show that some of 
these characteristics are almost as difficult to account for on the 
hypothesis that it was a recent outgrowth from popular poetry. 
In particular this is true of their metrical form, if we are justified 
in believing that the Homeric type of verse presupposes a long 
artistic development. Again, the confusion of different stories 
which characterises popular poetry (Stage in) will not be 
removed in its more cultivated successor (Stage IV) ; Dietrich 
von Bern (Theodric) remains by the side of Etzel (Attila) in the 
Nibelungenlied. The same remark too applies to those changes 
of character which popular poetry is apt to produce. In the 
Nibelungenlied Hagen remains as cruel and Kriemhild as 
passionately vindictive as popular fancy had painted them. The 
poets of a later age will not trouble themselves to save the 
characters of persons who lived long ago. We shall see shortly 
that this is true of Greek poetry just as much as of German. 
But the Homeric poems except perhaps in the Nekyia will 
not supply us with examples. 

Finally, we must bear in mind those reminiscences of 
Mycenean or rather ' sub-Mycenean ' splendour which the 
poems contain and their almost invariable use of bronze as the 
material for weapons not to mention the fact that the political 
and national boundaries which they record are totally different 
from those which existed in the ninth century. Will anyone 
seriously maintain that such traditions could be preserved 


through the medium of popular ballads alone ? I confess that 
such a hypothesis is altogether incredible to me. 

Now let us take the alternative explanation, suggested by 
the Anglo-Saxon poems. It is generally agreed that the Aeolic 
settlements are older than the Ionic in Asia ; but since even the 
former are ignored in the poems it is hardly probable that they 
came into existence until towards the close of the Achaean 
period. When the storms broke upon Greece crowds of refugees, 
not only from Thessaly but also from many other parts of the 
country, fled to the new Aeolic settlements across the Aegean. 
Among them, according to the suggested analogy, were many 
court minstrels, of the type represented by Demodocos and 
Phemios, who brought with them not only a poetic technique 
matured by long experience but also a number of poems, of 
which the newest would probably be the most in favour. This 
poetry was developed and expanded by the court minstrels of 
subsequent generations ; but the subject-matter became stereo- 
typed and precisely as in England everything relating to the 
new settlements was completely ignored. This is the conclusion 
to which all the evidence at our disposal seems to me to point. 

We must now turn for a moment to the Cyclic poems. And 
here it is to be remembered in the first place that our information 
is very defective, if not actually misleading. Herodotus (ll 117) 
doubted Homer's authorship of the Cypria on the ground that 
it contained a statement in direct contradiction with the Iliad, 
namely that Alexandros arrived at Troy with Helen on the 
third day after leaving Sparta, whereas it is stated in the Iliad 
(VI 290 ff.) that he wandered out of his course (to Sidon) when 
he brought her. But the epitome of the Cypria which has come 
down to us states expressly that Alexandros -did go to Sidon. 
Hence we can only conclude that its trustworthiness as an 
authority for the contents of the poem is open to serious doubt. 

Taking the evidence as it stands we can detect at once an 
important difference between the Cypria and the Nostoi on the 
one hand and the Iliad and the Odyssey on the other. In the 
two former poems the action seems to have been spread over a 
considerable number of years, while in the latter it was limited 


to a few days or weeks. Again, as far as we can judge, the two 
former treated a much larger number of events, in proportion to 
their length events too which were not so closely connected 
with one another. Indeed they seem to have been almost in 
the nature of chronicles. These however are characteristics of 
popular rather than court poetry. 

The story of the Cypria, as we know it, bears a curious 
resemblance to the Edda trilogy Reginsmal Fafnismal 
Sigrdrifumal (cf. p. 13). Both the Cyclic poem and the trilogy 
served as introductions to famous stories. Both stones were 
essentially concerned with the adventures and passions of human 
beings ; but in both cases the introduction begins with the gods, 
and the origin of the tragic events which follow is traced 
ultimately to irresponsible, not to say mischievous, conduct on 
the part of certain deities. There can be no doubt that the 
whole theme of the Northern poems is a late addition to the 
story of SigurSr, and that the poems themselves were composed 
as an introduction to this story. Is it not possible that the Cypria 
was of somewhat similar origin ? The latter part of the poem, 
if we are to trust the epitome, contained some extraordinary 
features. The story of Odysseus' pretended madness and how 
he was eventually compelled to join the expedition is difficult to 
reconcile with the general tone of Homeric poetry. Again, the 
army is represented as assembling twice at Aulis and twice 
starting for Troy. The account of the first of these incidents 
agrees with what is stated in the Iliad (II 303 ff.), while the 
second contains the story of the sacrifice of Iphigeneia, according 
to the version in which she was rescued by Artemis. On the 
other hand it is worth bearing in mind that the poem is said to 
have ended with a catalogue of the Trojan allies, presumably the 
same list which we find in the Iliad (II 816 fT., or perhaps 840 fT.) 
and this can hardly be regarded as a late composition. 

The chief characteristic of the Nostoi seems to have been 
absence of unity. Beginning with the departure of the Achaeans 
from Troy, it narrated the adventures which befell various heroes 
on their return. These formed, as far as we can tell, a number 
of quite distinct stones, unconnected with one another except at 
the beginning. If we may judge from the number of books 


contained in the poem five as against eleven in the Cypria 
these stories must have been very short, and consequently it is 
perhaps questionable whether we are justified in regarding the 
Nostoi as an epic at all, except in the same sense in which that 
term is applied to Hesiodic poetry. Indeed it seems to have 
had an affinity with the latter in more than one respect ; for the 
stories of the various heroes were probably not uninfluenced by 
genealogical interests. In the same light we may perhaps 
regard the fact that one scene is laid in an Ionic city (Colophon). 
All these features suggest that the poem came into existence at a 
fairly late period. If the Cypria was designed as an introduction 
to the story of the siege of Troy there can be little doubt that 
the Nostoi was composed as an epilogue to the same. On the 
other hand many scholars hold that it has been used by the 
Odyssey. But it is at least questionable whether the references 
in question do not come from the sources of the poem rather 
than the work itself 1 . 

The other poems of the Trojan series the Aithiopis, Little 
Iliad and Iliu Persis resembled the Cypria and the Nostoi in 
the fact that they dealt with a considerable number of separate 
episodes 2 . But the resemblance was perhaps only superficial ; 
for these episodes were apparently represented as following one 
another in regular sequence. If we had only a fragmentary 
epitome of the Iliad we might gather from it much the same 
impression. All these poems were on a small scale, eleven 
books in all ; but, unlike the Cypria and the Nostoi, the action 
covered only a short interval of time. Several incidents which 
they related are referred to or even told at length in the 
Odyssey; but we have not sufficient information to enable us 
to determine whether the references are taken from the poems 
themselves. The chief argument to the contrary is that these 
poems seem to have contained certain * post-Homeric ' features, 
notably the rite of purification from bloodshed, in the Aithiopis, 

1 Athenaeus (281 b, 395 d) mentions a poem called Kd0o5os 'ArpeiSwv, of which 
nothing seems to be known elsewhere. As it contained at least three books it can 
hardly have formed part of the Nostoi. 

2 Cf. Aristotle, Poet, xxm 4, where it is stated that the Iliad and Odyssey 
provide material for only one or two tragedies each, the Cypria for many and the 
Little Iliad for eight. 


and the sacrifice of a virgin (Polyxene), in the Iliu Persis. The 
former case is especially significant, because in striking contrast 
with the spirit of later Greek poetry the ideas of pollution 
and purification seem to be entirely ignored in the Iliad and 
Odyssey 1 . 

These so-called post- Homeric features are of course really 
characteristics of a more primitive religion, and it would be 
better to describe them as * non-Homeric ' or ' non-heroic.' But 
the fact that such practices are ignored in the Iliad and Odyssey, 
while later poets had a special affection for them, renders it 
probable that their presence in the Cyclic poems is due to 
popular influence. Are we then justified in assigning these 
poems to Stage IV of our scheme? That is a question which, 
considering the evidence at our disposal, I feel a good deal of 
hesitation in answering. Certainly they cannot have differed 
from the Iliad and Odyssey in anything like the same degree 
that the medieval German poems or even the heroic poems of 
the Edda differ from Beowulf. They may actually have incor- 
porated a good deal of ancient matter. On the whole the 
balance of probability seems to me to incline towards the view 
that the Cyclic poems are derived ultimately from the same 
body of early heroic court poetry upon which the Iliad and 
Odyssey themselves are based ; but that their composition took 
place in later times, when the 'Homeric' standard was no longer 
preserved in its purity. 

Whatever may be the case with the Cyclic poems there are 
other poetic works which may be assigned to Stage IV without 
hesitation. For our purpose it will perhaps be best to take an 
illustration from the drama ; for, though such works are only 
secondary authorities, they are on the whole less open to ob- 
jection than lost poems on which our information may be 
misleading. A good example is furnished by Aeschylus' 
Oresteia, a series of plays which deals with a subject treated 
at some length in the Odyssey. The chief incidents are the 
murder of Agamemnon by his wife Clytaimnestra, the vengeance 
taken upon her by her son Orestes, the persecution of the 

1 The 'purification' of the house of Odysseus (Od. xxn 437 ff.) is of an essentially 
different character : cf. Harrison, Prolegomena to the Study of Greek Religion, p. 24 f. 


matricide by the Erinyes, his purification by Apollo, and his 
trial by Athene and the citizens of Athens. In the Odyssey 
the first of these incidents, the murder, is ascribed to Aigisthos, 
Clytaimnestra's paramour. As regards the second we have 
nothing but a passing reference to Clytaimnestra's funeral. 
The other incidents are not mentioned at all. Again, in 
Aeschylus' work prominence is given to an attempt on Cly- 
taimnestra's part to placate the dead Agamemnon, to an 
invocation of him for vengeance by his children, and to the 
instigation of the Erinyes by Clytaimnestra's ghost. These 
features too are unknown in the Odyssey; indeed they are 
directly opposed to all that we know of Homeric religion. 
Then again we find frequent and detailed allusions to tragic 
events which had occurred previously in the history of Aga- 
memnon's family especially the ' banquet of Thyestes ' and 
the sacrifice of Iphigeneia. On these matters too both the 
Iliad and the Odyssey are completely silent. Yet in the latter 
case this silence cannot be due to accident. Either the poets 
were ignorant of the story, or they deliberately suppressed it. 

Few modern readers can fail to appreciate the Oresteia as 
an almost unrivalled masterpiece of poetic art, in spite of the 
fact that the ideas with which it is permeated are largely strange 
and unreal to us. But what would have been the effect if such 
a work had been recited at one of those courts in which Homeric 
poetry was patronised in early times ? There can scarcely be 
any doubt, I think, that the recitation would not have been 
tolerated. To such an audience the poet's religious conceptions 
would have been intelligible enough, but only as products of a 
degraded and baneful superstition, while his skilful presentation 
of various painful incidents in the history of a royal house the 
most distinguished in Greece would have appeared not merely 
an offence against good manners but rather a wanton insult to 
the kingly class in general. 

The social conditions and the ethical standard of Aeschylus' 
time differed no doubt very greatly from those of the Homeric 
age. This is a subject with which we shall have to deal later. 
It should be observed however that nearly all the special features 
which characterise Aeschylus' treatment of this story can be 


paralleled from Scandinavian works which we may assign to 
Stage IV. A very close analogy for the ' banquet of Thyestes ' 
is furnished by the story of GuSrun, Atli and their children ; 
and it is to be remembered that, though Atli at least was a 
historical character, this story cannot possibly have any found- 
ation in fact. The persecution of Orestes by the Erinyes may 
be compared with Saxo's story (p. 246) of the curse inflicted 
upon Haldanus 1 , likewise as a result of the shedding of ' kindred 
blood.' With the sacrifice of Iphigeneia we may compare that 
of Vikarr in Gautreks Saga (cap. 7), which was also brought 
about by the prevalence of contrary winds. Invocation of the 
dead is not uncommon in such works. On the other hand it is 
extremely doubtful whether any of those features would have 
been permissible in early heroic poetry. They do not occur in 
the extant poems of Stage II. 

There is sufficient evidence that most of the characteristic 
features of Aeschylus' story were not invented by him, though 
as to his sources our information is not very satisfactory. The 
lost Oresteia of Stesichoros was doubtless one of his chief 
authorities, and there is some reason for believing that the 
version given in this work differed from the Homeric account 
quite as much as that of Aeschylus. Beyond Stesichoros we 
may perhaps think of the Cyclic poems, especially the Nostoi ; 
but it is very doubtful if they would have furnished such a very 
markedly divergent form of the story. Stesichoros himself is 
said to have treated his authorities with great freedom. But 
some of the non- Homeric features can hardly be due to 
deliberate alteration. We may notice especially the differences 
in the personal relations of Agamemnon's family. In the 
Iliad he is the son of Atreus ; Stesichoros and others call him 
son of Pleisthenes. In the Iliad he has three daughters, Lao- 
dice, Chrysothemis and Iphianassa; Aeschylus gives him two, 
Electra and Iphigeneia, the latter of whom seems to have figured 
also in the Cypria 2 . There is also a good deal of discrepancy 

1 This incident may also be compared with a passage in the Iliad (ix 453 ff.). 
Phoinix' speech (perhaps designedly) shows a nearer approximation to this type of 
religion (cf. also v. 568 ff. ) than any other part of the Homeric poems. 

2 The version of the sacrifice given in the Cypria (cf. p. 235) is probably to be 


in regard to the scene of the events. In the Iliad and Odyssey 
Agamemnon belongs to Mycenae; in Aeschylus' account this 
place is forgotten and the story transferred to Argos, while 
Pindar, apparently also Stesichoros and Simonides 1 , placed it 
at Amj'clai (close to Sparta). Now these are just the kind 
of corruptions and discrepancies which characterise popular 
poetry everywhere. Taken together with the other non-Homeric 
features discussed above they seem to me to afford ground for 
suspecting that Stesichoros and his followers drew upon a 
popular and perhaps Doric or Peloponnesian version of the 
story 2 which was independent of Homeric poetry. Their work 
then would be similar in more than one respect to that of those 
Norse poets who rehabilitated the old story of SigurSr and 
Guftrun after the (strophic) type of their own national poetry. 

The course of our discussion has led us to conclude that 
the Homeric poems are products of court poetry or minstrelsy 
in direct continuation of that type of minstrelsy which we con- 
sidered at the beginning of the chapter. As yet however we 
have expressed no definite opinion as to the length of time 
involved in their development, although we have noticed that 
the evidence commonly adduced in favour of a long interval 
between the earliest and latest portions of the poems is highly 
unsatisfactory. It must be admitted that beyond a certain point 
the evidence at our disposal does not admit of anything more 
than an estimation of probability. 

We have seen that there is good reason for believing that 
the history of heroic poetry in Aeolis and in England proceeded 
on similar lines in several respects, and also that the chief monu- 
ment of English heroic poetry was probably composed within 
not much more than a century after certain events which it 

regarded as later than the other, although it occurred in what was doubtless a much 
earlier poem. 

1 Cf. Pindar, Pyth. xi 32 ; Stesichoros (Bergk), fragm. 39. 

2 The Spartans possessed a tomb of Agamemnon at Amyclai (cf. Pausanias, III 
19. 6). Indeed, from Herodotus, vn 159, it would seem that they claimed him as 
one of their own kings as far back as the time of Xerxes. It has been suggested that 
a similar version of the story is implied in Od. iv Ri4f. ; but the inference is doubtful. 
Aigisthos rules Mycenae (after Agamemnon's death in in 305. 


records. Now in any comparison between English and Greek 
heroic poetry we must of course leave out of account the frequent 
Christian allusions which occur in the former (cf. p. 47 ff.); for 
there is no reason whatever for supposing that any change 
comparable with the introduction of Christianity came over the 
Greek world during the times which saw the development of 
Homeric poetry. Apart from this element anachronisms are 
not very numerous or marked; but they do occur. Thus the 
road which leads to the Danish king's dwelling is described 
as a Roman road (straef), paved with stone (Beow. 320), while 
the members of the same king's court (ib. 768) are termed 
' inhabitants of a Chester ' (ceasterbuendum). Such cases may be 
compared with the Homeric inconsistencies discussed in the 
last chapter e.g. perhaps the occasional use of iron for weapons. 
It can hardly be maintained, I think, that the latter are of greater 
significance than the anachronisms in English heroic poetry. 

This absence of striking anachronisms decidedly favours the 
view that the period involved in the development of Homeric 
poetry was not very long. Against such a conclusion it may 
of course be urged that there is a constantly recurring phrase 
(oloi vvv fipoToi elcri) which contrasts the * men of the present 
day/ i.e. the men of the poet's own time, with the heroes of the 
siege of Troy, emphasizing the superior strength of the latter. 
But it is quite unnecessary to suppose that a long interval of 
time is intended here. The old Nestor uses almost the same 
expression in II. I 272 (rcov dl vvv ftporoi eiaiv fttt0owof) 
when he compares the men among whom he was then living 
with those he had known in his youth. Again, in Od. VIII I22f., 
Odysseus contrasts the * men of the present day ' (ocrorot, vvv 
ftporoi elcnv CTTL %6ovl) with the f men of old ' (dvSpdai, Trpore- 
poicriv)', but by the latter phrase he means persons belonging 
to the generation next above his own (Heracles and Eurytos). 
The same usage occurs elsewhere. Thus in II. IX 524 Phoinix 
speaks of the ' glories of those heroes that were of old ' (TMV 
TTpoaQev 7r6v06fA60a K\ea dvSpcov rjpaowv)', but the story which 
he proceeds to relate is of Meleagros, the uncle of Diomedes. 
Indeed persons of more than two generations back are seldom 
mentioned in the Homeric poems. 

c. 16 


An expression very similar to the one last quoted is used by 
Hesiod (Theog. 99 ff.) when he speaks of the minstrel as sing- 
ing the " glories of men of old and the blessed gods who hold 
Olympos 1 ." Here of course the reference is not to persons of 
the last generation, but to the heroes of Homeric poetry. In 
the Works and Days, vv. 1566., 1746., the Heroic Age is 
distinguished with all possible clearness from the period in 
which the poet himself lived. It is not to be overlooked that 
antiquarian interest forms a prominent feature in all Hesiodic 
poetry. Even in the Works and Days it is obvious enough, 
although such topics have little in common with the main 
theme of the poem. In the Catalogue we meet with such 
characters as Hellen and Doros, who owe their existence to 
speculations in tribal origins. The poetry of the following 
period seems to have been essentially of a genealogical character. 

For such antiquarian interest the Homeric poems furnish 
no evidence, except perhaps in the Nekyia. Not only are the 
genealogies of the heroes seldom carried back more than two 
generations, but what is more important there is scarcely 
any reference to their descendants, beyond the first generation. 
Again, Achilles is said to have been singing the 'glories of 
heroes' (icXea dvSpwv) when he received the embassy (II. IX 
189); but it is not stated that these were heroes of former times. 
The songs of Demodocos and Phemios deal with the adventures 
of the Achaeans at Troy and on their return home. That this 
is no accident is shown by Od. I 351 1, where Telemachos pleads 
in excuse for Phemios that " men always prize that song the 
most which rings newest in their ears." No sentiment could 
well be more foreign to the tone of Hesiodic or post-Hesiodic 
poetry than this. If any poet of that school had interested 
himself in contemporary history our knowledge of the eighth 
century would not be the blank which unfortunately it is. 
Clearly the only heroic poetry known to them was the K\eea 
Trporepcov dv0pa)7ra)v. That means very much the same thing 

el ydp TIS Kol irtvdos 

Afyrai KpadlTjv d/cax^/*^o$, avrap 

Movo r dwj' Oepdirwv K\^ea irpoTtpwi' 

re Qeoirs ot "OXvpirov xov(nv, /c.r.X. " 


as Einhard's neterum regum actus et bella or the antiquorum 
actus regumque certamina sung by Bernlef (cf. pp. 80, 87). At 
such a time if anyone was composing a heroic poem it would 
probably have seemed natural enough to use the formulae with 
which several of the Edda poems begin : " It was long ago," or 
" It was in early times that," etc. On the other hand Tele- 
machos' remark would be perfectly appropriate in the earlier 
stages of Teutonic poetry. We have seen (p. 85) that in 
Beowulf one of the Danish king's knights begins to compose 
a poem on the hero's adventure within a few hours of the event. 
Procopius' account of Hermegisklos and Radiger (p. 97 ff.) must 
also be borne in mind, although this story may not have attained 
the form of an epic poem. 

The conclusion then to which the Teutonic evidence leads us 
is that at all events the type of narrative was fixed very early. 
The growth of the Homeric poems may or may not have taken 
longer than that of their Teutonic counterparts. Records of 
the eighth century B.C. speak of K\eea Trporepwv av6pG>Tra>v', 
records of the eighth century A.D. speak of antiquorum actus. 
But in neither case do the poems themselves give expression 
to a consciousness of the antiquity of the events which they 

1 6 2 



In the last chapter we have endeavoured to estimate in general terms 
the position of the Homeric poems relatively to the poetry of the Heroic 
Age itself on the one hand and to Hesiod and genealogical poetry on the 
other. I have avoided entering into details in regard to the relationship 
between the extant poems and the lost Cyclic poems because I did not wish 
to load the discussion with matter which, owing to the fragmentary nature 
of the evidence, must largely be of a hypothetical character. At the same 
time I am inclined to think that the Trojan Catalogue (II. II 8i6ft~) does 
contain some indications which may permit the date of its composition to 
be determined with a fair amount of probability. 

According to Proclus' Chrestomathy 1 the Cypria contained (apparently 
at the end) a naraXoyos ra>v rols Tpoxrt o-v/i/ia^o-aj/rcoi/, and it is commonly 
believed 2 that this is the list which has been incorporated in our text of the 
Iliad. Proclus' words, taken literally, would seem to indicate that the list 
did not include the Trojans themselves. The ' allies ' proper begin perhaps 
at v. 840, and consequently it has been held that vv. 816 839 are a later 
addition. Considering the nature of the evidence, this view can scarcely be 
regarded as beyond question. But there certainly are noticeable differences 
between the first and second portions of the list, apart from the fact that the 
former contains no national names except Tpaes and AapSaVioi. The first 
part is much more dependent on the Iliad than is the second. Thus all 
the personal names which occur in it are to be found in other parts of the 
poem, while several passages (eight verses 3 out of the twenty-four) have 
been borrowed practically verbatim. On the other hand, out of the twenty- 
five persons mentioned in the second part of the list eleven are not met with 
elsewhere in the Iliad, while four of the others are not elsewhere associated 
with the nations (Mysians, Phrygians and Meiones) to which they belong 
here. Again, though several verses show acquaintance with other passages 
in the Iliad, there is apparently no single verse which has been borrowed 
entire. The most striking fact however is that in two cases we have 
references to heroes who are said to have been slain by Achilles in the 
river. Neither of these persons is mentioned in the account of the river 
fight given in the Iliad. In explanation of this it has been suggested that 
another scene of this kind occurred in the Aithiopis ; but we have no evidence 
to this effect, and it is surely at least as probable that they are derived from 
a different version of the river fight described in the Iliad. 

1 Cf. Kinkel, Epicorum Graec. Fragmenta, p. 20. 2 See the Addenda. 

3 v. 822 f. from xii 99 f., vv. 831 4 from xi 329 332, v. 838 f. from xn 96 f. 
The borrowing of vv. 831 4 can hardly be ascribed to the same man who took 
Amphios (the son of Selagos) from v 612. Ignorance of the contents of the poem 
such as we find here is very rare ; its occurrence therefore in what is probably a very 
late addition to the text deserves to be noticed. 


In both parts of the list we meet with a considerable number of 
geographical names of cities, rivers and mountains many of which (five 
in the first part and twelve in the second) do not occur elsewhere in the 
Iliad. The majority of the names mentioned belong to the immediate 
neighbourhood of the coast, and it is a fact worth noting that these 
almost all fall into three distinct groups in Paphlagonia, the Troad and 
Caria respectively. There is a great gap covering apparently the whole 
of the Bithynian coast and another embracing the coast of the Aegean 
from Troy itself to Mycale. In explanation of this fact it has been sug- 
gested 1 that the names in the coast-districts are derived from an early 
poem or poems on the voyage of the Argo. This hypothesis might certainly 
account for the mention of the Paphlagonian names in v. 852 ff. But they 
are the only names in the second part of the list for which it gives any 
explanation ; for the suggestion that the references to the Carian localities 
in v. 868 f. are connected in any way with the story of the Argo can hardly 
be taken seriously. Hence, if we are to trust the hypothesis in any form, 
it is more probable that v. 853 ff. are a subsequent addition to the list. 
But even in the first part the evidence in its favour is of the most slender 
description 2 . Of the thirteen place-names which occur in this section eight 
are found elsewhere in the Iliad ; of the rest only two apparently are 
mentioned in the accounts of the voyage of the Argo which have come 
down to us. What is more important however is that these accounts do 
mention a considerable number of Bithynian localities 3 , both on the coast 
of the Sea of Marmara and on that of the Black Sea, as well as several 
peoples who do not appear in the Catalogue. We must conclude then that 
this hypothesis in no way accounts for the peculiarities of the Catalogue. 

The true explanation is not far to seek. It was well known to the 
ancients that the Bithynians were an intrusive Thracian people who had 
crossed over from Europe. Again, the Aegean coast, at all events from 
the Gulf of Adramyttion southwards 4 , was covered with Aeolic and Ionic 
settlements. Greek tradition unanimously held that these settlements were 
planted subsequently to the Trojan War, and we have no reason for sup- 
posing that the author of the Catalogue thought differently. At the same 
time we may infer from his silence that he did not claim to know what 
peoples had occupied these regions previously. On the other hand he did 

1 Cf. Niese, Der homerische Schiffskatalog, p. 53 ff. 

2 The argument that Abydos and Sestos cannot have been connected except in a 
TreplirXovs (cf. Niese, op. cit. p. 54) is one which will appeal probably to no student of 
early Teutonic history. 

3 Cf. Apollon. Rhod. I 1 164 ff., n 649 ff., 720 ff., 901 ff., etc. 

4 It is held that the Aeolic settlements in the south of the Troad were established 
at quite a late period, probably in the seventh century. But we are not justified in 
assuming that no such settlements existed previously. It is highly probable that the 
whole of this district was devastated by the barbarians whose remains have been 
found at Troy (cf. p. 295, note). 


claim such knowledge of the previous occupants not only of the Troad but 
also of the Carian coast. 

This fact surely furnishes the means of dating the composition of the 
Catalogue with a fair amount of probability. It is generally agreed that 
the Ionic settlements were later than the Aeolic ; but probably no one will 
contend that the Greek occupation of Miletos and Mycale began appreciably 
later than the end of the tenth century. It is not necessary of course to 
suppose that these places were still in Carian hands when the Catalogue 
was composed. But at the same time the memory of their former possessors 
is not likely to have been perpetuated in an incidental reference like this 
much more than a century after they became Greek settlements. The more 
northern part of the list contains at all events nothing incompatible with 
the view that it was drawn up in the first half of the eighth century. The 
excavations in the Troad have certainly brought to light the fact that that 
district was overrun by barbarians. But there is nothing to show that this 
took place at the time of the Bithynian invasion, whether the two movements 
were connected in any way or not. The evidence on the whole seems to 
indicate that the barbarian occupation occurred not very long before the 
foundation of the Ionic colonies on the Hellespont. There is nothing very 
remarkable in the fact that the places mentioned in the Catalogue lie chiefly 
on the coast ; for such places would naturally be the most familiar to the 
Asiatic Greeks, who must have been a seafaring people to some extent from 
the beginning. 

Now in other parts of the Iliad we find mention of several peoples which 
apparently occupied the districts left blank in the Catalogue. Thus in X 429, 
xx 329 we hear of the Caucones, who seem to have belonged to Bithynia 1 . 
In xxi 86 f., vi 396 f. (cf. II 691, etc.) we meet with peoples called Leleges 
and Cilices, the positions of which are quite definitely stated. The former 
are said to have dwelt in the valley of the Satnioeis, in the south of the 
Troad, the latter somewhat further to the east, about the Gulf of Adramyttion. 
Again, in Od. XI 5196*". we hear of a certain Eurypylos the son of Telephos, 
chief of the Ceteioi. Telephos and his son figured in the Cypria and the 
Little Iliad ; and Greek tradition placed their home (Teuthrania) in the 
region between the Gulf of Adramyttion and the Hermos. The name 
K^reioi has been connected with that of the Hittites (Kheta) ; but without 
going into this question we may probably follow Strabo (xill i. 70) in tracing 
a reminiscence of them in the name of a stream called Ceteios, a tributary 
of the Caicos. The Catalogue contains no reference to any of these peoples, 
presumably because their names were not familiar to the author. In later 
times we hear no more of the Ceteioi, while Cilices are found only in Cilicia. 
The Leleges indeed are mentioned frequently and on both sides of the 
Aegean, but only as a people of the past. 

It is an easy and popular method of interpretation to discredit evidence 
for which no obvious explanation is forthcoming ; and following this method 

1 Cf. especially Strabo xii 3. 5. 


many scholars have regarded the names under discussion as phantoms. 
The point against which adverse criticism has chiefly been directed is the 
location of the Cilices in the Gulf of Adramyttion. It is to be remembered 
however that we have no evidence earlier, than the seventh century for 
the presence of a people called Cilices in the land which ultimately bore 
their name. In the eighth century this people apparently dwelt to the 
north of the Taurus. In earlier times we hear of them, so far as I am 
aware, only in the ' Poem of Pentaur,' a work which celebrates the battle 
fought at Kadesh early in the thirteenth century, between Rameses II and 
the Hittites. It is there stated that the "chief of Kheta had come, having 
gathered together all countries from the ends of the sea to the land of Kheta, 
which came entire 1 ." In addition to a number of Syrian names which occur 
in the accounts of earlier wars the poem contains a group of new names 
of peoples, consisting of Pidasa, Dardenui, Masa, Kalakisha and Luka^ 
with two others 2 . The last two of these names are almost universally 
identified with the Cilices and Lycians, and the first is usually connected 
with the name nrjdao-os or n^dao-a, while many scholars accept the identi- 
fication of the second and third with the Dardanoi and Mysians respectively. 
If the names Pidasa and TlTj8aaros are connected we are brought to the 
Aegean, where we find both Pedasos on the Satnioeis and Pedasa 3 in Caria. 
Evidence to the same effect is furnished by the procession of ten warriors 
depicted on one of the monuments 4 . Of these five are of the Hittite type 
and two Semitic ; but the other three are of Aegean physiognomy and wear 
different varieties of that feather headdress which is known in Crete from 
much earlier times 5 . When we find that this earliest reference to the Cilices 
associates them with a group of peoples 6 , of whom some clearly belong to 
the west of Asia Minor, and some quite probably to the north-west corner 
of the peninsula, it must be admitted that we have no valid ground for 
discrediting the evidence of the Iliad as to their presence around the Gulf 
of Adramyttion. 

1 Cf. Breasted, Ancient Records, Egypt, ill p. 138. 

2 One of these names has been variously read as Maunna or Ariunna (Arwena) 
and identified with the M^oi/es and *I\ioj> of the Iliad, as well as with Oroanda and other 
places. The other, Keshkesh, seems to bear the same relationship to the cuneiform 
Kasku which the Eg. Kalakisha (Kelekesh in Breasted's orthography) bears to the 
cuneiform Hilakku (beside Hilak). If -ku is a suffix Kasku may possibly be con- 
nected with Rapes (which seems to represent an earlier JKa(s)-ar~). 

3 Perhaps also called Pedasos (cf. Herod. V 121). According to Strabo (xm i. 59) 
this place also belonged to the Leleges who, he says, once possessed a considerable 
part of Caria and Pisidia. 

4 Reproduced in W. Max Miiller's Asien u. Europa, p. 361. 

5 Cf. p. 190, note a. 

6 There is no question here of a national migration on the part of these peoples. 
They were mercenaries hired by the Hittite king, who " left not silver nor gold in his 
land (but) he plundered it of all his possessions and gave to every country, in order to 
bring them with him to battle." (Cf. Breasted, op. at., pp. 129, note, 138.) 


On the other hand it must not be overlooked that later authorities know 
nothing of Cilices in this region ; neither do they mention Leleges in the 
south of the Troad or Ceteioi anywhere. If these peoples had survived 
the Aeolic invasion it is difficult to believe that they could have perished 
subsequently without leaving some trace of their existence in Greek tradition. 
The Pelasgoi of Larissa in the valley of the Hermos 1 appear to have been 
remembered in tradition, although their territories were occupied by the 
Aeolians probably at quite an early date. The presumption then is that 
the other peoples had already been destroyed by Greek raids as is stated 
in the Iliad or else that they had been expelled or absorbed by the sur- 
rounding nations before the Greek colonies were fully established. In either 
case we shall have to carry back the poetic traditions relating to them 
practically to the beginning of the first millennium. 

We have seen that it is difficult to date the composition of the Trojan 
Catalogue at all events the latter part of it after about the middle of the 
eighth century. I am not aware of any valid reason for denying that 
the Cypria as a whole may have been composed about this time or for 
supposing that the Catalogue ever existed independently. It is in the 
preceding period presumably between the eleventh and eighth centuries 
that we must place the composition of the Iliad, though its form may not 
have been finally settled when the Cypria came into existence. Any more 
definite conclusion is rendered difficult by the unsatisfactory nature of our 
information regarding the Cypria. But the general impression conveyed by 
the epitome is that an appreciable portion of the poem was derived from 
incidental references in the Iliad, and that as a whole it possessed to a 
considerable degree the characteristics of popular poetry. If this im- 
pression is correct we must conclude that heroic court-poetry was in its 
decadence when the Cypria was composed ; and consequently we shall do 
well to place the flourishing period, which produced the great epics, at least 
a century earlier. 

1 Cf. Strabo xin 3. 3 f. I see no reason for doubting the existence of traditions 
relating to the presence of Pelasgoi in this region. The identification of Larissa 
Phriconis with the Larissa of the Iliad (n 841, xvn 301) seems to be at least as likely 
as any of the others which have been proposed. 



IN Chapter VI we saw that the heroic poetry of the Teutonic 
peoples was very largely affected by folk-tales ; that supernatural 
beings were frequently introduced, while ordinary human beings 
or animals were credited with supernatural properties in short 
that the distinction between natural and supernatural was not 
clearly drawn. We saw further that these features were by no 
means confined to the later stages of heroic poetry that on the 
contrary some of them were prominent even in the Anglo-Saxon 
poems, while the others appeared to be of equal antiquity. 

The same phenomena appear in Greek heroic poetry. 
Mythical beings and features obviously derived from folk-tales 
figure quite as frequently as in the Teutonic poems. Their 
presence is often regarded as a proof that the stories into which 
they enter and the persons with whom they are brought into 
contact are themselves products of myth or fiction. This is a 
question with which we shall have to deal in the following 
chapters. For the present it will be sufficient to quote what 
may be regarded as a typical expression of the attitude of more 
cautious scholars towards the problem of the story of Troy 1 : 
" It is fantastic to treat the siege of Troy as merely a solar myth 
to explain the abduction of Helen by Paris as the extinction 
of the sunlight in the West, and Troy as the region of the dawn 
beset and possessed by the sunrise. It is equally fantastic, and 
more illogical, to follow the rationalising method to deduct the 
supernatural element, and claim the whole residuum as historical 

1 Jebb, Introduction to Homer, p. 147. 


fact. Homer says that Achilles slew Hector with the aid of 
Athene. We are not entitled to omit Athene, and still to affirm 
that Achilles slew Hector." 

It may be observed that the gods are introduced in the 
Homeric poems in many different ways. The incident just 
cited where Athene takes the form of Deiphobos (II. XXII 
226 ff.) belongs to one of the commonest types, and one which 
requires comparatively little imagination, if we are prepared to 
grant the existence of a belief that the gods were capable of 
disguising themselves in human form. Sometimes again deities 
render themselves visible only to certain individuals out of a 
crowd, as in II. I 194 ff, where Athene intervenes in order to stay 
Achilles from drawing his sword upon Agamemnon. Another 
type is the disguise of gods as birds, as when we find Athene 
and Apollo sitting upon an oak in the form of vultures, before 
the combat of Hector and Aias (ib. VII 5 8 ff). On other occasions 
birds are sent by a god as a sign of his favour or protection, 
as in II. XXIV 315 ff. and many other passages. Somewhat 
akin to this type is the dream sent by Zeus to Agamemnon 
in II. II 5 ff. 

It has been remarked that in such cases as these a sceptical 
person might have accounted for everything that passed without 
reference to any intervention on the part of a deity. But there 
are a number of other cases where the action is affected by gods 
in ways which could not be accounted for on any rationalistic 
hypothesis. We may refer to II. Ill 380 ff, where Aphrodite 
snatches Paris away from Menelaos and conveys him to his own 
house in Troy. Or again to several passages in the Diomedeia 
where deities show themselves almost or quite without disguise 
and even take an active part in the fighting. A still greater 
amount of imagination perhaps is required for the scenes which 
depict the quarrels and amusements of the gods in Olympos, 
and their schemes for helping or destroying the combatants. 
It has been held that all such passages as these belong to a 
later period than those of the less imaginative types described 

'In Teutonic stories of the Heroic Age, as we have already 
seen, very few notices relating to the gods have been preserved 


The appearances of Othin in Volsunga Saga (cf. p. 1 14) may be 
compared with those of Apollo in the Iliad or Athene in the 
Odyssey ; for his divinity is not recognised at once, though he 
does not take the form of a person known to his favourites. 
Again, though I know no exact Homeric parallel to the incident 
in Sigmundr's last battle, when the hero's sword is shattered at 
the touch of Othin's javelin, the idea is in complete harmony 
with several passages in the Diomedeia (e.g. V 129 ff., 438 ff., 
VI 128 ff., 306 f.). It is true that we do not know whether these 
incidents in Volsunga Saga are based on old tradition or not 
But a good parallel for the last of the Homeric types is furnished 
by the Langobardic story of Wodan and Fria and the victory 
granted by them to the Winniles (cf. p. 115). The similarity 
between this story and the incident related of Zeus and Hera 
in II. XIV 153 353 gives us some ground for suspecting that 
the heathen poetry of the Teutonic Heroic Age may have 
possessed decided ' Homeric ' characteristics in its treatment 
of the gods. 

As the case stands however we shall have to take our 
illustrations from stories of the Viking Age. A somewhat 
curious parallel to the incident of Athene and Hector in 
II. XXII 226 ff. is to be found in the story of Haraldr Hilditonn, 
as told in Saxo's History, pp. 255, 263. Haraldr had a con- 
fidential servant named Bruno, whom he employed to drive his 
chariot and to carry messages to his nephew Ringo (SigurSr 
Hringr). This man eventually was drowned ; but Othin took 
his place and form, and exerted himself to sow discord between 
the two kings. It was not until the battle at Bravalla had 
begun that Haraldr had any suspicion of the treachery which 
had been played upon him. Then suddenly recognising the 
identity of his charioteer he begged him to grant him victory. 
But Othin threw him out of the chariot and slew him. 

The story of Haraldr Hilditonn refers, it is true, to times for 
which we have no historical records. But a still more graphic 
story of intervention on the part of divine beings occurs in con- 
nection with a well-known event the expedition made against 
Norway by the Jomsvikingar. In the latter part of the tenth 
century a number of Scandinavian adventurers had established 


and fortified a settlement at Jomsborg on the island of Wollin 
at the mouth of the Oder. About the year 994 their leaders, 
Sigvaldi and Bui, made a vow to attack Haakon, earl of Lade, 
who then ruled Norway. The earl was taken by surprise and 
had not been able to muster all his forces when he encountered 
the hostile fleet at Hidrungavagr, near the mouth of the 
Romsdal Fjord. The battle at first went against him ; and, 
according to the story, he took advantage of a respite in the 
fighting to retire to one of the islands and pray to ThorgerSr 
HolgabruSr. He was not able to obtain her assistance until 
he had sacrificed to her his youngest son. When he resumed 
the fight, the weather, which had been hot, underwent a complete 
change. A snow-storm came from the north and beat in the 
faces of the pirates, so that they were numbed with the cold and 
could neither move nor see. But worse was to come. " It is 
said that HavarSr, one of Bui's companions, was the first to see 
ThorgerSr in Haakon's fleet ; but soon she was seen by many, 
both those who had second sight and those who had not. 
When the snow abated a little they saw also that arrows were 
flying, as it seemed, from every one of the demon's fingers, and 
each arrow brought about a man's death." Then they tell 
Sigvaldi, who says : " It seems to me that we have got to fight 
to-day not against men, but against the worst of devils." Still 
he continues the fight. When Haakon saw that the snow was 
abating he cried with all his might to ThorgerSr and her sister 
Irpa, reminding them how much he had given up to them in 
sacrificing his son. Then the storm began again, and soon 
HavarSr saw two female figures on Haakon's ship, both acting 
as the one had done previously. Then Sigvaldi said that he 
would now take to flight and that all his men were to do likewise, 
for they had made no vow to fight against devils 1 . 

Here also we may cite a story connected with another 
historical event, which took place about ten years before the 
battle of Hiorungavagr. Eric the Victorious, king of Sweden, 
expelled his nephew Styrbiorn from the kingdom ; and the latter 

1 Jomsvikinga Saga, cap. 44 (Fornmanna Sogur, xi p. 136 ff.) ; Flateyiarbok, 
i 191 f. Snorri gives a different account of the battle in the Heimskringla (Olafs 
S. Tryggv. 43 ff.) ; but he was acquainted with at least part of the story given above. 


invaded the country with the help of the Danish king Harold 
Blue-tooth. On the eve of the battle Eric went into Othin's 
temple and in order to obtain victory promised to give himself 
up dead at the end of ten years. Soon afterwards he saw a big 
man with a long hood, who put a cane into his hand and told 
him to throw it over Styrbiorn's army saying : " You all belong 
to Othin." When he threw the cane it seemed to turn into a 
javelin and brought blindness upon Styrbiorn and all his host. 
On the same occasion Thor was seen in Styrbiorn's camp 1 . 
Such cases are by no means isolated. Olafr Tryggvason, who 
reigned over Norway from 995 to 1000, is said to have been 
visited both by Othin and Thor 2 . 

Of dreams perhaps the most interesting case is a story told 
of an Icelander named Glumr, a contemporary of Earl Haakon 
of Lade. A certain Thorkell possessed an estate which he was 
compelled to sell to Glumr. Before leaving he went to Frey's 
temple, sacrificed an ox and prayed that Glumr likewise might 
be forced to give up the estate. This actually came to pass. 
But before he left, Glumr dreamed that he saw a great crowd on 
the river banks coming to see Frey, who was seated on a chair. 
In his dream he asked who they were. They replied that they 
were his departed relatives and that they were praying Frey that 
he (Glumr) should not be driven from his estate. But it was of 
no use ; Frey answered curtly and angrily, remembering the ox 
which Thorkell hacV given him 3 . 

For the action of Homeric deities in sending birds as a mark 
of favour or omen of success a good parallel is to be found in 
another incident in the life of Earl -Haakon of Lade. When 
Jutland was invaded by the Emperor Otto II in 974 Harold 
Blue-tooth summoned Haakon to his assistance. After the 
campaign the Danish king adopted Christianity and compelled 
Haakon to do likewise. But the latter set off with his fleet as 
soon as possible and, landing on the coast of Ostergotland, 
proceeded to offer a great sacrifice. Thereupon there came two 

1 Styrbiarnar Thattr, cap. 2 (Fornm. Sog., v p. 250). 

2 Olafs S. Tryggv. A (Heimskr.), cap. 71; Olafs S. Tryggv. B, cap. 213 (Fornm. 
Sog., ii p. 182 f.). 

3 Viga-Glums Saga, cap. 9, 26. 


ravens flying by and screaming loud. The earl interpreted this 
as a sign that Othin had accepted the sacrifice and that he would 
have a favourable time for battle 1 . 

The importance of the last case is enhanced by the fact that 
it is derived from a contemporary poem, the Vellekla (cf. p. 16), 
in which the ravens are mentioned. In the other cases given 
above no such early authority is extant, and our texts themselves 
are separated by a period of from two to three centuries from the 
events which they relate. But there is no reason for doubting 
that the stories had long been in existence. It is questionable 
indeed whether the account of the battle of Hiorungavagr could 
have been invented after all recollection of Haakon and his 
religious observances had died away. The earl's devotion to 
the worship of ThorgerSr HolgabruSr is known from other 
sources ; but she seems not to have been a generally recognised 
member of the Northern Pantheon. 

However that may be, no doubt can be entertained with 
regard to the poem Hakonarmal, which deals with the death of 
King Haakon I at the battle of Fitje in 961 (cf. p. 15). The 
author, Eyvindr Skaldaspillir, was himself present at the battle. 
The poem relates how Gondul and Skogul were sent by Othin 
to select a prince of Yngvi's line, who should go and dwell with 
him in Valholl. Then, after a short account of the battle, we are 
told that " the princes sat with their swords drawn, with scarred 
shields and mail-coats pierced ; in no cheerful mood was the 
host which had to make its way to Valholl. Then said Gondul, 
as she leaned upon her spear : l Now will the forces of the gods 
be increased, since they have summoned Haakon to their abodes 
with a great host.' The prince heard what the noble Valkyries 
were saying. Thoughtful was their mien, as they sat on their 
steeds, with helmets upon their heads and holding their shields 
before them. * Why hast thou thus decided the battle, Skogul ? 
Surely we have deserved success from the gods.' 'We have 
brought it about that thou hast won the day and that thy foes 
have fled. Now,' said the mighty Skogul, ' we must ride to the 
green homes of the gods, to tell Othin that a monarch is coming 

Olafs S. Tryggv. (Heimskr.), cap. 27 f. 


to enter his presence.' " Then the scene changes to Valholl ; 
and Othin sends Herm6Sr and Bragi out to meet the king and 
bid him welcome 1 . 

Such poems as Hakonarmal and Eiriksmal must be regarded 
as products of vivid poetic imagination. They are clearly in the 
nature of conscious fiction, though it should not be assumed that 
the pictures of the gods and their abode which they present 
were conceptions altogether unreal to the poets' audiences. I 
suppose that ultimately this type of composition is derived from 
visions or dreams, such as the story of Glumr given above. 
For, though the latter in its present form dates from a period 
at least two centuries later than Hakonarmal both referring 
to persons who lived more or less about the same time it 
will probably be agreed that the conception there is far more 

Now we have good evidence that visions which took the form 
of visits to the home of the gods did really obtain credence in 
the Viking Age. When St Ansgar visited Sweden for the 
second time, not long after 850, he found that the success of his 
mission was seriously endangered. A man had come to Birca 
(Biorko, on the Malar), where the king, Olaf, was residing, and 
stated that he had been present at an assembly of the gods, who 
had sent him to deliver a message to the king and nation. This 
was to the effect that the gods had long been gracious to the 
Swedes and had preserved their land in peace and prosperity. 
Yet now the Swedes were abandoning their accustomed sacrifices 
and introducing a strange god. If they wished to retain their 
favour the sacrifices must be resumed on a larger scale, and the 
new god must be refused admittance. " But if you desire to 
have more gods, and we are not sufficient for you, we unanimously 
enrol in our body Eric who was formerly your king, so that 
he shall be counted among the gods." This story created a 
profound impression among the inhabitants. "They founded 
a temple in honour of the above-mentioned king, who had 

1 This latter part of the poem is copied from Eiriksmal (cf. p. 15), in which Othin 
sends out Sigmundr and Sinfiotli to meet Eirikr. We do not know either the date or 
the author of Eiriksmal; but it would seem from the Saxon Chronicle that Eirikr was 
still alive about the year 954. 


long been dead, and began to offer prayers and sacrifices to 
him as a god 1 ." 

The Life of St Ansgar, from which this story is taken, is 
practically a contemporary authority. It was written by 
St Rembert, one of Ansgar's disciples, who succeeded him as 
Archbishop of Hamburg in 865 and died in 888. In face of 
such evidence we have no reason for doubting that stories such 
as that of Glumr would readily obtain credence. Indeed it seems 
scarcely impossible that the doings of ThorgerSr HolgabruSr at 
Hiorungavagr may have been believed by persons who were 
alive at the time. Yet credulity was no special characteristic of 
the Northern peoples. We learn from inscriptions that Asclepios 
was in the habit of showing himself to pilgrims in his temple 
at Epidauros. Still more striking evidence is furnished by 
Herodotus' story (I 60) that Peisistratos recovered the tyranny 
at Athens by dressing up a woman to personate Athene and 
accompanying her in a chariot to the city. Herodotus himself 
remarks that this took place at a time when the Greek race had 
long been distinguished from the rest of mankind by its superior 
sagacity and freedom from silly credulity and in a state too 
which was held to be intellectually supreme among the Greeks. 
Whatever doubt may be entertained as to the truth of the story it 
is significant enough that Herodotus should record it, apparently 
without any hesitation, in less than a century after Peisistratos' 
death. Some four centuries earlier men may well have been 
ready to hear that the gods took an active part in the battles of 
their fathers or grandfathers, while the latter themselves may 
have been quite as ready to attribute their success or failure 
to the disguised agency of the same powers. 

It is clear at all events that the Scandinavian evidence fails 
to provide any justification for the view that poems which 
introduce the gods must date from times far removed from the 
events which they claim to commemorate. In the contemporary 

1 Porro, si etiam plures decs habere desideratis, et uobis non sufficimus, Ericum, 
quondam regent uestrum, nos unanimes in collegium nostrum asciscimus, ut sit unus 

de numero deorum Nam et templum in honore supradicti regis dudum 

defuncti statuerunt, et ipsi tanquam deo uota et sacrificia offerre coeperunt. Rem- 
bertus, Vita S. Anscharii^ cap. 23. 


Hakonarmal we find two of the most advanced Homeric types. 
First, we have deities participating without disguise in battle ; 
then a change of scene carries us to the actual home of the gods. 
The second scene in Hakonarmal which is likewise the scene 
of Eiriksmal may be compared both with the various 'Olympic' 
episodes and also with the two Nekyiai. For, since Othin is 
a god of the dead, his abode corresponds in a sense both to 
Olympos and the home of Hades. On the whole perhaps the 
nearest affinities of the two Norwegian poems are with the 
second Nekyia (Od. XXIV i 204), which is commonly regarded 
as one of the latest portions of the Odyssey. 

Lastly, the Scandinavian evidence gives no support to the 
belief that the more imaginative types of divine intervention 
necessarily belong to a later date than the others. In principle 
of course it may be admitted that they are less primitive. But 
in Old Norse literature it so happens that they occur in both 
earlier and more nearly contemporary works. The explanation 
lies doubtless in the fact that the theological apparatus of Norse 
poetry was fully developed before the time of our earliest 
authorities. So far as I can see, there is no good reason for 
denying that the same remark holds good for the Homeric 
poems. But if so it is futile to use evidence of this kind as 
a criterion for determining the date of the various portions. 

Monsters and theriomorphic demons are by no means 
unknown in Greek heroic stories, though in the poems which 
have come down to us they figure prominently only in episodes 
dealing with past events. The nearest Homeric analogies to 
Beowulf's adventures are perhaps to be found in the stories of 
Bellerophon and Meleagros 1 (II. VI 178 ff. ; IX 538 ff.). It may 
be that these stories and others, such as that of Perseus, them- 
selves once formed the main themes of heroic poems, and that 
the backward position which they ultimately came to occupy, as 
compared with stories of anthropomorphic deities, is due to the 
growth of poetic art and humanistic tendencies. But on the 

1 The first stage in the growth of such a story as this may be illustrated from the 
message of the Mysians given by Herodotus, I 36. The development which it may 
ultimately attain can be seen from the story of Kilhwch arid Olwen. 

C. I 7 


)ther hand we have to remember that heroic poetry is always 
iable to the intrusion of folk-tales, in which adventures with 
nonsters form one of the favourite themes. 

The chief store-house of folk-tales in the Homeric poems 
is the narrative of his adventures given by Odysseus to the 
Phaeacians (Od. IX xil). This narrative contains a consider- 
able number of incidents, of which ten may be regarded as 
more or less distinct : (i) the encounter with the Cicones, (ii) the 
visit to the land of the Lotus-eaters, (iii) the adventure with 
Polyphemos, (iv) the two visits to Aiolos, (v) the disaster in the 
land of the Laistrygones, (vi) the two visits to Circe, (vii) the 
journey to the home of Hades, (viii) the singing of the Sirens, 
(ix) the adventure with Scylla and Charybdis. (x) the slaughter 
of the cattle of Helios. 

The first of these incidents bears no obvious traces of de- 
rivation or influence from a folk-tale ; but it is the only one 
of the series of which this can be stated with any confidence. 
The adventures with the Lotus-eaters and the Laistrygones 
should perhaps be regarded rather as travellers' stories founded 
possibly on actual experience of foreign peoples yet the latter 
at least contains certain distorted features which may fairly 
bring it within our category. As to the origin of the adventure 
with Polyphemos there can be little doubt. It appears to be 
found with slight variants in many different parts of the 
world 1 . 

The last incident of the series is perhaps the one least widely 
known; but a parallel may be cited from one of Saxo's stories 
(p. 286 f). A certain Danish king named Gormo 2 was an 
ardent explorer. Above all he desired to visit the abode of 
Geruthus (GeirroSr), which lay beyond the ocean in a land of 
perpetual darkness. Taking with him as guide an experienced 
traveller, named Thorkillus, he set sail with three ships and 
made his way beyond Halogaland (the north of Norway). 
There, having lost its way in a storm, the expedition came to be 

1 Cf. Macculloch, The Childhood of Fiction, p. 279^ 

2 The historical connections of this story are somewhat obscure. But this is 
immaterial for our purpose, as the part with which we are dealing is clearly derived 
from folk-tales. 


in want of food. Eventually they arrived at an island which 
contained herds of extremely tame cattle. Against the advice 
of Thorkillus the mariners slaughtered a large number of these. 
The following night they were attacked by monsters, one of 
whom declared that they would not be allowed to sail away 
until they made compensation for the losses they had inflicted 
on the herd of the gods. In order to save themselves they had 
to give up one man from each ship. 

It will be seen that this incident bears a general resemblance 
to the slaughtering of the cattle of Helios, and we need scarcely 
hesitate to regard both stories as variant forms of a folk-tale. 
As to its origin we are not altogether without evidence in the 
Northern case. In Alcuin's Vita Willebrordi, I cap. 10, it is 
stated that a certain island (now Heligoland) was entirely sacred 
to a god named Fosite. So great was the sanctity with which 
it was regarded that no one ventured to touch any of the animals 
which grazed upon the island. The violation of the sanctuary, 
in this and other respects, cost one of St Willebrord's com- 
panions his life. Hence there is no need to doubt that a basis 
of fact underlies the stories of islands in which animal life was 
held sacred just as in holy woods throughout the north of 
Europe. It is scarcely impossible that similar island sanctuaries 
may once have been known in the Mediterranean. 

The subsequent course of the story has a certain affinity 
with that of Circe. After leaving the island Gormo and his 
men sailed in safety to the farther part of Permland, where they 
were met by a giant named Guthmundus 1 , the brother of 
Geruthus, who invited them to his house. Thorkillus strictly 
enjoined his companions to abstain from all food and drink 
offered them, even from the fruits which grew in the garden, and 
to avoid contact with members of the household. Those who 
yielded to temptation, as a few eventually did, would have to 
spend the rest of their lives among monsters. There is no 
actual transformation as in the story of Circe; but this in itself 
is a widely known incident in folk-tales. 

When the travellers at length reach the abode of Geruthus 

1 Guftmvmdr of Glaesisvellir is a well-known figure in the unhistorical parts 
of sagas. 



the scene, though horrible in every way, seems to be a variety of 
the Enchanted Castle rather than a parallel to the home of 
Hades 1 . We have seen above that the poems Hakonarmal and 
Eiriksmal may in a sense be compared with the two Nekyiai ; 
for Valholl is the abode not only of the chief god but also 
of the spirits of fallen warriors. But here we have to deal with 
elaborate conceptions of court poetry which are further removed 
from the spirit of the true folk-tale than either of the passages 
in the Odyssey 2 . A better parallel to the first Nekyia is perhaps 
to be found in another of Saxo's stories (p. 31). Once upon 
a time, when King Hadingus was feasting, there appeared to him 
a woman who was carrying hemlocks. She wrapped him in her 
mantle and took him with her underground in order to show 
him where the hemlocks grew. On the way they passed through 
a dark cloud and then along a well-worn path, where they saw 
many men richly attired. After viewing the sunny regions 
where the hemlocks grew, they crossed a rapid river and then 
saw two armies engaged in desperate conflict. The woman told 
Hadingus that these were men who had been slain by the sword 
and continually rehearsed the manner of their death. They are 
obviously to be connected with the einheriar of Old Norse 
poetry the slain warriors who dwell in Valholl and spend their 
days in combat though possibly this passage represents a more 
primitive form of the idea It is to be observed that Saxo himself 
explicitly interprets the story as a visit to the region of the dead. 
Stories of this kind are to be found in many parts of the 
world among peoples as widely apart as the Algonquins, the 
Zulus and the Maoris 3 . There can be little doubt that to a large 
extent the first Nekyia belongs to the same category. At the 
same time of course I do not mean to imply that it is wholly to 
be regarded as a folk-tale. In the interview with Agamemnon 
and his companions (vv. 385 564) we find ourselves in much 
the same world of ideas as is presented to us in Eiriksmal and 

1 A better parallel is perhaps furnished by Thorkillus' subsequent visit to the 
abode of Ugarthilocus (p. 292 ff.). The description of this place recalls that of 
Nastrond in Voluspa 39, Gylfaginning, cap. 52. 

2 The home of Hades resembles the abode of Hel rather than Valholl. To this 
also we have a visit (by the god HermoiSr) in Gylf. 49. 

3 Cf. Tylor, Primitive Culture*, I p. 346, II p. 50 ff. 


Hakonarmal. Again, it is to be remembered that the object of 
Odysseus' journey was to consult the spirit of Teiresias, and 
this is perhaps the original kernel of the story. Such an idea 
however may be derived from ancient religious observances 
rather than from a folk-tale. Herodotus (V 92) records that 
Periandros, tyrant of Corinth, about the close of the sixth 
century, sent an embassy to the oracle of the dead (ve/cvo- 
/jLavrrjlov) on the river Acheron in Thesprotis, in order to consult 
the spirit of his wife Melissa. After making all allowance for 
antiquarian and etymological speculation 1 it seems probable 
that this oracle did influence the conceptions of the home of the 
dead current in Greek poetry. 

It would appear then that in the composition of the first 
Nekyia we have to take account of the influence of at least 
three different elements court poetry, folk-tale and religious 
(necromantic) observances. If we are right in supposing that 
Aeolis was the true home of all Homeric poetry, the absence of 
any precise geographical indications is easily accounted for. 
During the centuries which intervened between the end of the 
Heroic Age and the beginning of the historical period there is 
extremely little evidence, whether traditional or archaeological, 
for communication with distant lands; and it is likely enough 
that at that time Thesprotis was as unfamiliar as Egypt to 
the inhabitants of Aeolis. Few scholars will dispute that the f\/i 
geographical indications throughout the story of Odysseus' .j 
wanderings are both vague and contradictory. Sometimes he < 
appears to be in the west ; sometimes again he is following the 
track of the Argo presumably in the Black Sea. That is after 
all the kind of confusion which might reasonably be expected M 
from poets who were dealing with traditions of voyages made 
long before in regions now altogether forgotten. 

The ascription of supernatural properties to men or animals 
is not a very striking feature in Homeric poetry unless we 

1 As seen (e.g.) in the application of the name KW/CUTOJ to a tributary of the 
Acheron. The presumption is that this name was originally a creation of poetic 
fancy, just as much as TLvpufrXeytduv. The diffusion of the names Acheron and 
Acherusia in other regions (Italy, the Black Sea, etc.) is doubtless due to the influence 
of poetry or tradition. 


include under this head stories of exaggerated prowess. As an 
example we may cite II. XIX 404 ff, where one of Achilles' 
horses speaks and prophesies his master's death. Incidents 
such as the flame on the same hero's head in II. XVIII 205 ff. 
and the changes in Odysseus' appearance (Od. XIII 429 ff., etc.) 
are attributed to the direct action of deities. On the other hand 
exaggeration is common and often carried out systematically. 
Among such cases we must include the feats of valour performed 
by some of the combatants, and also presumably the numbers 
of the forces stated in the catalogues, if we admit that the story 
of the siege of Troy has any historical foundation. 

On the whole it appears that those elements in the Homeric 
poems which may quite safely be derived from myth or folk-tale 
resemble the corresponding elements in Teutonic heroic poetry 
very closely. We may perhaps doubt whether the gods ever 
figured so conspicuously in Teutonic poetry as they do in the 
Iliad and Odyssey ; but the difference between the two cases is 
one of degree only. In the use made of folk-tales the difference 
is very slight. It remains for us now to consider whether the 
remaining elements in the poems their main groundwork in 
fact should be regarded as of similar origin in both cases. 



IT is commonly held that history, myth and fiction have all 
contributed to the formation of the Greek heroic stories ; but 
opinions differ widely as to the relative importance to be 
attributed to the three elements. Among modern scholars 
the general tendency has been to assign the chief weight to 
myth. By many indeed the heroes of the Trojan War are 
believed to be as mythical in origin as the gods themselves. 

One conclusion may safely be drawn from the Northern 
evidence discussed in the last chapter : we must definitely dis- 
miss the argument that the Homeric heroes cannot have been 
men of flesh and blood because they are brought into contact 
with the gods. No one will be so hardy as to suggest that 
King Haakon or his namesake, the famous earl of Lade,, were 
products of myth or poetic imagination. Yet Gondul is as 
much responsible for the death of King Haakon as Athene is 
for that of Hector. There is certainly this difference between 
the two cases, that we have no historical evidence for the 
existence of the Homeric heroes. But the fact that deities 
participate in their destruction does not in itself prove that 
they are themselves products of myth or fiction. 

There was a time, not so very long ago, when most of the 
characters of the Greek Heroic Age were believed to owe their 
origin to nature-myth personifications of light, darkness and 
so forth. At the present time however it is only in some few 
cases that this view is generally maintained. Its chief strong- 
hold is the case of Achilles ; and here we are invariably referred 
for proof to the story of SigurSr. The two characters have of 


course a good deal in common. Both are more or less idealised 
types of youthful strength and valour, and both die prematurely. 
But it would be pure folly to regard these features as in them- 
selves proofs of mythical origin. In order to prove this it is 
necessary to point to features which can only be mythical, and 
to show that such features formed an original element in the 

Now we have seen (p. 140 ff.) that the current explanation 
with regard to SigurSr is open to the most serious in my 
opinion fatal objections. On the other hand there certainly 
was a tendency for myth to grow up in later times round this 
hero. As an instance we may take his invulnerability, a feature 
which is peculiar to the German version of the story. Achilles 
possesses the same characteristic but not in the Iliad or Odyssey. 
It is as much unknown in the Homeric account of Achilles as 
in the Norse account of SigurSr. Indeed the only essentially 
mythical feature which the poems themselves record in the case 
of AcRiTles and it is by no means peculiar to his case is that 
he is the son of a deity 1 . But divine descent was claimed also 
by many Teutonic princes, though the heroes of our stories are 
usually separated from their divine ancestors by two or three 
generations 2 . Whatever may be the explanation of this 
phenomenon it is doubtless to be connected with the stories 
of conjugal relations between human and divine beings which 
we find both in Greece and in northern Europe. This is a 
subject to which we shall have to return in a later chapter. 
Above all, however, we have to take account of the influence 
of folk-tales 3 and popular beliefs, which, as we have seen from 

1 Achilles himself was worshipped as a deity in certain localities ; and the same is 
true of some other heroes. We may refer to the story of St Ansgar, quoted above 
(p. 255 f.). With such cases as that of 'Zeus Agamemnon' we shall have to deal later. 

2 According to Volsunga Saga, cap. 2, Sigmundr, the father of Sigurftr, had a 
divine mother (cf. p. 114). 

3 Some resemblance to the case of Peleus and Thetis is shown by a story in Hrolfs 
JS. Kraka, cap. 15, where an elf- woman bears a daughter to Helgi, the father of 
: Hrolfr Kraki. Such incidents are not uncommon in folk-tales. We may note 

especially those cases' in which the supernatural bride is a mermaid, perhaps re- 
presenting the Swan-maiden of earlier times. Thetis has a good deal in common 
/ with the latter class of beings. 


the Teutonic evidence, may make itself felt even in the descrip- 
tion of very recent events. 

The story of the abduction of Helen is another case for 
which many scholars still claim a mythical origin. It is perfectly 
true that stories of (e.g.) the abduction of the sun or the incon- 
tinence of the moon 1 do occur, though examples of this type 
are by no means so common or widespread as many writers 
have assumed 2 . But what is apt to be overlooked is that these 
stories arise from a personification of the sun or moon, and that 
it is in consequence of this personification that the heavenly 
bodies are believed to be exposed to perils and passions such as 
affect human beings. It is surely nothing less than an inversion 
of the natural order of things to suppose that the numerous class 
of folk-tales which deal with the abduction of a girl or wife 
originated in the type a comparatively rare type in which 
this motif is applied to the sun. There can be no reasonable 
doubt that the prevalence of such folk-tales is due to the in- 
numerable occurrences of abduction in real life. But the theory 
we are discussing involves not merely the personification of 
heavenly bodies and natural phenomena but their complete 
anthropomorphisation 3 a very doubtful process in the best 
of cases whereas the story which it seeks to explain bears no 
trace even of derivation from a folk-tale. In other words we 
are asked to assume a most complex and precarious hypothesis 

1 Cf. Aeneas Sylvius, Hist, de Eur., cap. 26, and the first Daina in Schleicher's 
Handb. d. litau. Sprache. Night and day or dawn are also frequently personified 
the last especially where, as in Greece, the sun is regarded as a male. But none 
of these lend themselves so readily as the sun and moon to the development of 
mythical stories. The personification of light, darkness, etc. in the abstract seems 
to belong to a much more advanced stage of thought. 

2 Eclipse-myths (usually of a simple character) are widespread and fairly common. 
A probable example is to be found in Gylfaginning, cap. 12 (cf. also Tylor, Primitive 
Culture 4 , i p. 328 ff.). But a good deal of scepticism is justifiable in regard to the 
interpretation of stories which are supposed to have originated in myths of sunrise 
and sunset. This remark applies even to those Polynesian and Red Indian stories 
which are commonly regarded as among the best examples of their class. 

3 The personification of the sun and the dawn in the Homeric poems is very 
similar to what we find in the north of Europe, e.g. in Gylfaginning, cap. 10 f., and 
the first four Dainos in Schleicher's Handbuch. The most important difference is 
that the Dawn-goddess, like other deities, has sexual relations with mortals (see the 
Addenda). But her true character is not for a moment forgotten. 


in order to account for a story for which parallels are to be 
found very frequently in almost all stages of human society. 

Of course I do not mean to say that the story of Helen is 
entirely devoid of mythical elements. On the contrary, it is 
a most instructive example of the growth of myth, and as such 
it furnishes an interesting parallel to the history of similar 
stories in the north of Europe. In the Iliad Helen possesses 
no mythical characteristics, except that she is the offspring of 
a divine father. In the Cypria she had apparently also acquired 
a divine mother (Nemesis). By the seventh century we find her 
figuring in quite a different story of abduction a story which 
seems to have been treated by Alcman and Stesichoros, as well 
as on the * Chest of Cypselos.' This time she is carried off by 
Theseus, with the help of Peirithoos, and rescued by her brothers, 
the Dioscoroi 1 . Somewhat later we find a new version of the 
story of her abduction by Paris. Now it is said to be only her 
iSco\ov which is carried off by Paris ; Helen herself is taken by 
Hermes to Egypt 2 . There seems to be little reason for doubting 
that the etScoXoy was a deliberate invention of Stesichoros, though 
in other respects this version of the story may well have been 
influenced by the Egyptian version, recorded by Herodotus 
(II 112 ff.). The latter again comes in all probability from Greek 
settlers in Egypt, who connected the narrative of Helen's sojourn 
in Egypt, related in the Odyssey (IV 125 ff, 351 ff), with a cult 
which they found existing in that country. This version of the 
story then should perhaps be regarded as a product of fiction 
rather than myth. The other story however that of Theseus, 
Peirithoos and the Dioscoroi is doubtless of popular origin. 
It is important to notice that both these pairs of heroes are 

1 There is probably an allusion to this story in II. in 144, although a different 
explanation is quoted by Plutarch (Theseus , cap. 34) from Istros. But the verse in 
question was condemned by some ancient, as well as modern, scholars. It is 
'inorganic' (cf. Od. II 331) and due in all probability to the same process as II. 
II 831 ff. (cf. p. 244, note). 

2 This list is by no means exhaustive. We may mention also the story of Helen 
and Achilles in the 'White Isle' (cf. Pausanias III 19. n) and that of Ariston's wife, 
related by Herodotus (vi 61). The Rhodian story (cf. Paus. Ill 19. 10) is obviously 
due in part to the influence of the Homeric poems ; but it is at least questionable 
whether this "E\vq Aepfytrts was originally identical with the other Helen. 


connected with other stones of abduction 1 . Moreover in both 
cases these stories have certain elements in common with that of 
Persephone. There can be little doubt therefore that we have 
to deal with a folk-tale. The introduction of Helen into the 
story may be due partly to her kinship with the Dioscoroi and 
partly to the influence of the story of her abduction by Paris. 

At the present time it appears to be the more general 
opinion that the Homeric heroes originated mainly not in 
personifications of natural phenomena, but in tribal divinities 
or personified conceptions of peoples (' hypostasierte Volks- 
individualitaten '). Now we have seen (p. 131 f.) that in Teutonic 
heroic poetry we occasionally meet with the mythical eponymous 
ancestors of families, though such persons are referred to the 
past and not introduced into the main action of the stories. 
Similar characters are to be found in the Homeric poems. 
Perhaps the best example occurs in a speech of Aineias (II. XX 
200 ff.), where the names AdpSavos, Tpw? and ^IXo? are included 
in the hero's genealogy. The Cadmos of Od. V 333 is probably 
to be regarded, in some sense or other, as the eponymous an- 
cestor of the Cadmeioi, though he is not mentioned in connection 
with Thebes. Again, in Od. XVII 207 we have a reference to 
eponymous heroes of places, Ithacos and Neritos. They are 
perhaps creatures of the poet's own imagination, i.e. fictitious 
rather than mythical beings ; but it is probable that they were 
modelled upon existing types. Other examples of both types 
may be found elsewhere in the poems 2 . Yet it cannot be said 
that they are common. In Greece, as in northern Europe, the 
true home of eponymous ancestors (Hellen, Doros, Achaios, etc. 3 ) 
is to be found in post-heroic, or at least non-heroic, literature. 

In recent years however several scholars have put forward 
the theory that the characters who figure in the main action of 

1 Attention should be paid not only to the case of the Leucippides but also to the 
story of Phormion (Paus. ill 16. 3). 

2 In II. II 828 ff. (if the name "ASp^crros is taken from vi 37 ff. or xvi 694) we 
have apparently the case of an already existing character being turned to account as 
an eponymous hero. 

3 A.lo\id-r)s occurs occasionally as a patronymic for individuals. The * keeper of 
the winds ' seems to have no connection with these characters. 


the Iliad are tribal heroes in disguise. For a simple example 
of this theory we may refer to the interpretation put upon 
II. V 43 ff., where the Cretan leader Idomeneus is represented 
as slaying a man named Phaistos (<J>a<rTo?). Now there was 
in Crete a well-known city called Phaistos (<f><zto-ro?). According 
to Prof. E. Bethe (Neue Jahrbucher, VII 669) it cannot be dis- 
puted that the man Phaistos is the * eponym ' of the city and 
that we have here the remains of an ancient Cretan heroic lay. 
But the origin of the man is stated explicitly enough in the 
poem (/. .) : he is the son of Boros the Maeonian and had come 
from a place called Tarne. Before we can assume that he was 
the ' eponym' of a Cretan city we must surely ask how he came 
to be represented as a Maeonian (Lydian). Is it inconceivable 
that a name identical with that of a city should be borne by 
anyone except the eponymous hero of the city ? 

This is not the only case of the kind which has been brought 
forward. In II. v 706 we hear of an Aetolian named Trechos 
slain by Hector and in II. XX 455 of a Trojan named Dryops 
slain by Achilles. Here we are said to have ' eponyms ' of 
Trachis and the Dryopes. In England during the centuries 
immediately following the Heroic Age we find mention in 
historical documents of princes or ecclesiastics called Walh, 
Cumbra, Seaxa, Dene, Fronca, etc. Are we to suppose that 
these persons are the eponymous heroes of the Welsh or Cymry, 
the Saxons, Danes and Franks? But national names of this 
type seem to have been just as frequently used by the Greeks, 
at least in historical times. We may mention Achaios of Eretria, 
Ion of Chios and Dorieus the brother of Leonidas. Is there any 
reason for denying their use in earlier times 1 ? 

The evidence of these names has been brought forward in 
support of a far-reaching theory that the conflicts which we 
find described in the Iliad are echoes of tribal struggles which 
once took place in Greece, and that the warriors, Trojans as well 
as Greeks, are in reality mythical heroes in whom the various 

1 In the Homeric poems it is in the case of minor characters among the Trojans 
and their allies that names of this type are most common. In this case the use of 
such names may be accounted for with considerable probability under the head of 
fiction (cf. p. 300, note). 


contending tribes have become personified. If this theory is 
sound it will be obvious that the resemblance between Greek 
and Teutonic heroic poetry must be merely superficial that 
the two groups of poems spring from essentially different sources. 
It will be well then to examine somewhat carefully the evidence 
on which the theory is based. 

The first argument in its favour is derived from a story 
quoted by Plutarch (Theseus, cap. 34) from Istros, a writer of 
the third century, to the effect that Alexandros (Paris) was 
overcome by Achilles and Patroclos on the banks of the 
Spercheios. In confirmation of this story it is pointed out 
that the warriors with whom Paris fights in the Iliad mostly 
belong to Thessaly, while his sister Alexandra (Cassandra) 
was worshipped by the Locrians. Another argument rests 
on a story derived from the Little Iliad, that Andromache 
was brought to Pharsalos after the fall of Troy. The inference 
that she belonged originally to this region is supported by the 
proposed identification of Thebe Hypoplacie, her home in the 
Iliad, with the Phthiotic Thebes, to the east of Pharsalos. Yet 
a further argument relates to Hector. It is noted that he was 
worshipped as a hero at Thebes in Boeotia, and that most of 
the persons associated with him, either as friends or foes, are 
connected with Boeotia, Thessaly and the intervening districts. 
In Prof. Bethe's words " Hector's tracks lead from southern 
Thessaly, through Phocis and Boeotia, to the Cadmean Thebes." 
"In other words Hector, or rather the tribe which honoured 
Hector as their hero, migrated by this road. More accurately, 
the tribe gradually, in how many centuries none can tell, moved 
in a south-easterly direction, driven by a pressure which was no 
doubt exerted by the Aeolic tribe represented in the Epos by 
Achilles 1 ." 

Now it is manifest that the argument derived from Istros' 
story can have validity only if it can be shown that there is 
reason for believing it to be based on genuine native tradition, 
independent of the Homeric poems. For everyone who has 
studied the history of Teutonic heroic poetry knows that in the 
later forms of the stories the scene is liable to be changed to 

1 Murray, Rise of the Greek Epic, p. 197 (from Bethe, N.Jahrb., vn 672). 


entirely different countries. Thus the fight of HeSinn and 
Hogni is located in the Orkneys in the Norse version of their 
story, while in Kudrun Hagen is made a king in Ireland. Again, 
in the Vitae Duorum OfTarum the whole story of Offa and his 
single combat is transplanted to the English Mercia, the home 
of the hero's descendants. Yet in the case of Istros' story the 
requisite evidence seems to be altogether wanting. If the story 
really comes from local tradition it may very well be due to 
an imperfect acquaintance with the Homeric poems. But the 
context, which mentions Hector as well as Paris, suggests 
rather that Istros was referring not to the story of the Iliad 
at all but to an early adventure of the two brothers 1 presum- 
ably one of those accretions to the old heroic cycles, for which 
so many parallels can be found in late Teutonic authorities like 
ThiSreks Saga af Bern. 

The argument relating to the Locrian cult of Alexandra 
(Cassandra) need scarcely be considered at length ; for, however 
ancient this cult may have been, it was always connected with 
the sanctuary of Athene at Troy 2 . The cult of Hector at 
Thebes likewise seems to have been derived from the same 
quarter, perhaps in comparatively late times 3 . Again, the 
identification of Andromache's home with Thebes in Phthiotis is 
admittedly nothing more than a conjecture. 

One argument still remains for consideration, namely that 
the persons brought into contact with Hector come chiefly from 
the north-eastern parts of Greece and those encountered by 
Paris chiefly from Thessaly. Now it is to be observed that 
several of the persons whose names figure in Prof. Bethe's 
lists (op. cit., p. 670 ff.) are not said to come from Thessaly, 
Boeotia, etc. in the Iliad itself. That they were derived from 
this quarter is merely an inference from the fact that other 
persons belonging to Thessaly, Boeotia, etc. bear the same 
names. It cannot for a moment be suspected that in V. 705, 
XV. 547 ff. the poets themselves were thinking of Orestes the 
son of Agamemnon or of Melanippos the famous Theban hero. 

1 Cf. Crusius, S.-B. d. k. bayer. Akad., 1905, p. 774 f. 

2 Cf. Bruckner, Troja und Ilion, p. 557 ff. 

3 Cf. Crusius, op. tit., p. 761 ff. 


But surely nothing can be more absurd than the proposition 
that persons who bear the same name must necessarily be 
identical in origin. In the Teutonic Heroic Age we know from 
historical sources of five kings named Theodric, all of whom 
were living within half a century of one another. Have we 
any reason for supposing that the ancient Greeks were more 
careful to avoid the use of names which had already been 
appropriated P 1 

Again, the lists given by Prof. Bethe contain merely a 
selection of the warriors encountered by Paris and Hector. 
The former fights in the Iliad not only with the Thessalian 
heroes Machaon, Eurypylos and Menesthios, but also with 
Menelaos from Sparta, Diomedes from Argos and Euchenor 
from Corinth. Hector's antagonists include, among others, Aias 
from Salamis, Stichios from Athens, Periphetes from Mycenae, 
Lycophron from Cythera and Amphimachos from Elis. On the 
other hand Melanippos is merely one, and by no means the 
most conspicuous, of the same hero's supporters. Considering 
the evidence as a whole therefore I fail to see that this argument 
is worth any more than the others. 

It appears then that the evidence adduced in favour of the 
theory which we are discussing is open to serious objection at 
every point 2 . But, leaving questions of detail, we have yet to 
notice that the theory as a whole consists of two main proposi- 
tions. The first of these is that the warriors of the Iliad are 
really ' tribal heroes/ i.e. in some sense or other personifications 
of tribes. In other words the contests described in the poem were 
originally conflicts of tribes and not of individuals. The second 
proposition is that these conflicts must have taken place between 
neighbouring tribes. It will be seen that this proposition 

1 As a matter of fact the name Melanippos is borne by three Trojans and one 
Achaean in the Iliad. Nothing is stated regarding the home of the Achaean. 
The name Orestes is borne by one Trojan and one Achaean, besides the son of 

2 I have dealt with only one of the groups of names treated by Prof. Bethe ; but 
it is the one which he has discussed most fully. A second (Laconian) group is treated 
by him on p. 672 f. On this it will be sufficient here to refer to Crusius, op. cif., 
p. 771 ff., where it is pointed out that the chief argument rests apparently on a 


depends very largely upon the first. If the conflicts of the 
Iliad really took place, as the poem states, between individual 
warriors or bands of soldiers, there is no occasion for supposing 
that the combatants were necessarily neighbours. As far back 
as the twelfth and thirteenth centuries Egyptian monuments 
testify, as we have seen, to enterprises far more distant than 
the expedition against Troy. 

Now the first proposition is of course nothing new in itself. 
On the contrary, Prof Bethe's theory is an outgrowth from a 
view which has been long and widely current that the conflicts 
recorded in the Iliad are a reflection of the Aeolic settlement of 
the Asiatic coast. His purpose has been to show that only a 
comparatively small portion of the story comes from this source 1 , 
and that the bulk is derived from reminiscences of earlier tribal 
struggles in Greece, which have become embedded in the story 
of Troy. The two theories differ very greatly in the explanations 
which they give of the origin of various incidents and characters. 
But it is not to be overlooked that the principle of interpretation 
is the same in both cases. 

No one will deny that the personification of tribes and 
nationalities is to be found in both the poetry and the prose 
literature of many peoples. In certain passages of the Old 
Testament this principle of interpretation has been recognised 
from ancient times. But the authorities in which these passages 
occur cannot be described as heroic poems. Again Greek 
literature itself also yields plenty of obvious examples, such as 
the stories of Hellen and his sons and Danaos, several of which 
can be traced back to quite early poems. But these poems 
appear to have been of the Hesiodic, and not of the Homeric 
school. If we turn to the Teutonic peoples, evidence for such 
personification is abundant, and some of it belongs to our very 
earliest records. But, except in genealogical references such as 
we have dealt with above (p. 267), examples are not to be found 
in heroic poetry. The idea that the characters who are brought 
before us in the poems let us say Beowulf or SigurSr or Witege 
are themselves personifications of tribes is one which probably 
no scholar would entertain. 

1 Cf. Neiiejahrb., vil 6629; xin i ff. 


Now in the Homeric poems, as we have them, just as much 
as in Teutonic heroic poetry, the interest of the poets lies in the 
fortunes of individual heroes, not in those of the communities to 
which they belong. Even in those Teutonic stories which have 
the least claim to be regarded as historical there is no reason for 
doubting that such was the case from the very beginning. On 
the other hand the current hypothesis with regard to the origin 
of the Greek heroic stories postulates what can only be described 
as a complete revolution in the interests of the poets and their 
audiences. This however is a postulate which ought not to be 
accepted, unless decisive evidence is forthcoming in its favour. 

In the first place it must be observed that the existence of a 
poem or story which deals with reminiscences of tribal conflicts 
necessarily presupposes an absorbing interest in tribal history. 
It will probably be admitted by everyone that this interest can 
hardly have been of an academic character; indeed, we may 
assume, I think, that it must be inspired by patriotic motives. 
If so, the foremost place will naturally be taken by that tribe or 
community with which the story originated. Now it is generally 
agreed that the Homeric poems contain both Aeolic and Ionic 
elements. Further, though opinions differ widely as to the 
relative importance of the two, there is a practical unanimity 
in believing that the Aeolic element is the earlier one. The 
tribal interest then, at least in the earlier elements in the poems, 
should be essentially Aeolic. For ' Aeolic ' we may practically 
say Thessalian (using the term of course in a geographical 
sense); for the Aeolic settlements, mainly at least, had proceeded 
from Thessaly. But Achilles, the chief hero of the Iliad, himself 
belongs to Thessaly ; and so all is well. Further, many scholars 
hold that the later or Ionic elements in the poem are marked by 
the introduction of Nestor. There was, apparently, a tradition 
current in Colophon that the inhabitants of that city had 
originally come from Pylos. Nestor therefore may be regarded 
as typifying the later or Ionic interests of the Iliad, just as 
Achilles typifies its earlier or Aeolic interests. This opinion 
however is by no means so widely entertained as the other. 

So much for the Iliad ; now let us turn to the Odyssey. 
Here we are confronted with a serious difficulty. Odysseus is 
c. 18 


at least as much the hero of the Odyssey as Achilles is of the 
Iliad. But Odysseus belongs to the Ionian Isles ; and there is 
no trace of either an Aeolic or an Ionic population in these 
islands. It is not surprising then that the Odyssey is put aside 
by the advocates of the theory which we are discussing. The 
tendency is to regard it as a later work originating perhaps at 
a time when tribal interests had become forgotten. We must 
confine our attention therefore to the Iliad. 

As applied to the Iliad the theory was long ago seen to be 
open to one serious objection. Achilles is the only one of the 
chief Achaean leaders who can be referred to Thessaly. His 
nearest neighbour is the Locrian Aias ; but the Locrians, in 
spite of their connection with Troy, cannot be regarded as an 
Aeolic people. All the other Achaean leaders who may be 
termed ' heroes of the first rank ' belong to the southern and 
western parts of Greece. Their positions geographically cannot 
be reconciled with the theory of Aeolic tribal wars. In order to 
obviate this difficulty various suggestions have been put forward. 
On the one hand we have Prof. Bethe's hypothesis which brings 
the Trojan leaders, Hector and Paris, to the north-eastern parts 
of Greece. Upon this enough has been said above. On the 
other hand there is an older and still very popular hypothesis, 
according to which some of the southern leaders, Agamemnon 
in particular, originally belonged to the northern parts of the 
country. It is to this that we must now turn our attention. 

In the Iliad Mycenae is represented as being the home 
of Agamemnon. But it has been observed that this place 
is comparatively seldom mentioned, and that sometimes 
Agamemnon is said to rule over ' Argos.' Unfortunately there 
is a considerable amount of ambiguity in the use of the latter 
name. Occasionally it denotes the well-known city in Argolis ; 
but more often it is clearly used in a much wider sense, for the 
Peloponnesos or the whole of Greece. Once however (II 68 1) 
we find the expression TO HeXaayi/cov "Apyo? as a name for 
the home of Achilles. In ancient times the meaning of this 
expression was not known. Some authorities believed it to be 
the name of a city, while others understood it as a designation 
for the plain of Thessaly. Many modern scholars have adopted 



the latter interpretation. But further, they hold that this was 
the original Argos, and that the application of that name to the 
Peloponnesos or any part of it is due to a misunderstanding on 
the part of later (Ionic) poets, by whose time the northern Argos 
had been forgotten. 

In favour of this view Prof. Cauer 1 brings forward the 
following arguments. " If Agamemnon, as well as Achilles, 
belongs to the oldest elements in the story, he also must come 
from a land in which Aeolic was spoken ; and indeed not Aeolic 
in the extended sense which the ancients gave the term where 
the name includes Elean and Arcadian but Lesbian-Aeolic. 
This was, as inscriptions show, the language of the original 
inhabitants of Thessaly." Again "Agamemnon started with 
his fleet from Aulis....He was associated with Achilles in the 
story from the beginning. His Argeioi are the companions of 
the Achaeans led by Achilles. The two tribal names are used 
for one another indifferently, and either of them can be employed 
as a designation for the forces which fought at Troy. Conse- 
quently the Argeioi and the Achaeans must have been 
neighbours." Further, it is urged by Prof. Cauer that the 
epithet ITTTTO^OTOV as applied to the Peloponnesian Argos is 
inappropriate. This state possessed no cavalry in the fifth 
century, and none of consequence at any time. On the other 
hand it is a very suitable epithet for the plain of the Peneios ; 
Thessalian cavalry were famous. Lastly, it is argued that the 
expression KCL& (av) 'EXXaSa ical f^ecrov "Apyos, which occurs 
four times in the Odyssey, must originally have denoted two 
neighbouring districts, though in the passages in question it is 
used in a very wide sense perhaps for all Greece. 

The last argument does not seem to me to have any decisive 
bearing upon the question under discussion. If we admit, as I 
think we must, that Homeric poetry is essentially Aeolic and 
that Aeolis was settled mainly from Thessaly, it is only natural 
that the poems should preserve traces of traditional Thessalian 
phraseology, just as they preserve poetic conceptions which 
must have originated in the same country. But, though we 
grant that the phrases in question may possibly have been used 

1 Grundfragen der Homerkritik?, p. 223 ff. 

18 2 


originally of the Thessalian Argos mentioned in II 68 1, we are 
not bound thereby to conclude that this was the only Argos 
known to the earliest poems on the siege of Troy. Again, it is 
scarcely inconceivable that the traditional epithet LTTTTO^OTOI' 
may have been transferred from one Argos to the other, though 
on the other hand there seems to be good reason for doubting 
whether the application of this term to the Peloponnesian Argos 
is as much out of place as has been alleged 1 . Still less cogent 
is the argument relating to Aulis. For the assembling of such a 
fleet as the story describes the choice of a convenient central 
position in sheltered waters would be suggested by the most 
elementary notions of strategy. 

All these however are comparatively minor considerations. 
I doubt if they would have been seriously brought forward 
except as reinforcements to the main contention viz. that 
Agamemnon, like Achilles, must have come from an Aeolic 
district, if he belongs to the oldest elements in the story. It is 
t surprising to see how this principle appears to have commanded 
the assent of Homeric scholars. To anyone who has made a 
study of Teutonic heroic poetry such an argument seems nothing 
less than absurd. Out of 132 personal names which occur in 
the Anglo-Saxon heroic poems only three or four, so far as we 
know, belong to persons of English nationality (cf. p. 32 ff.). 
Beowulf is concerned almost exclusively with the doings of 
princes of the Danes, Gotar and Swedes. In Waldhere, another 
English poem, the characters are Burgundians and (perhaps) 
Franks ; in the German Hildebrandslied they are apparently 
Goths. The Norse poems of the Older Edda are occupied 
chiefly with the adventures of Huns, Burgundians and Goths. 
What need then is there for supposing that Agamemnon must 
have belonged to the same branch of the Greek race as Achilles ? 
And what need is there for supposing that an Aeolic poem must 
contain any Aeolic characters at all ? In the Odyssey it is not 
the case. In the Iliad, as we have it, only a small proportion 
of the characters at most can be regarded as Aeolic' 2 . 

1 Cf. Crusius, S.-B. der k. layer. Akad., 1905, p. 755 ff. 

2 It must be clearly understood that I am using the term ' Aeolic ' in the modern 
(linguistic) sense. I am under the impression that Prof. Cauer uses the term in the 



The reason why Agamemnon must belong to an Aeolic 
district is clearly to be found in the assumption that both he and 
Achilles were originally not individuals but personifications of 
tribes. Starting from this assumption we become involved in a 
series of hypotheses each of which is dependent upon the pre- 
ceding one. i. The sources of the Iliad were concerned only, 
or at least chiefly, with the fortunes of tribes (though in point of 
fact the Iliad, as it stands, is concerned only with the fortunes of 
individuals), ii. These tribes belonged to adjacent districts 
(though in fact the heroes of the Iliad are represented as coming 
from nearly all parts of Greece), iii. Since Achilles belongs to 
an Aeolic district, Agamemnon and the Argos over which he 
rules must be located in the same quarter. But the third 
hypothesis is by no means the only one which is dependent 
upon the second. Menelaos must have been transferred from 
the north, i.e. from Thessaly, with his brother. Again, Pylos 
lies far away from any Aeolic district. Here we have a choice 
between two hypotheses. Some hold that Nestor, like 
Agamemnon, belonged originally to Thessaly (the district of 
the river Enipeus) ; others that he is a late and Ionic addition 

same sense. The only difference, so far as I can see, between his terminology and 
mine is that in accordance, I think, with general usage I would include Boeotian 
as well as Thessalian and Lesbian- Aeolic in this category. Some ancient writers of 
course use the terms AtoXets and AfoXis in a totally different sense. Thus Thucydides 
(in 102) applies the name AioXls to the district about Pleuron and Calydon, and 
again (iv 42) he speaks of the ancient inhabitants of Corinth as AioX^s. There may 
be some difference of opinion as to whether the use of these names in such cases is 
due to the influence of genealogies in the former case through Aethlios and 
Endymion, in the latter through Sisyphos or whether the genealogies themselves are 
due to a current use of the names AioXe?s, Alo\is, etc. The form\idr)s in II. vi 154, 
Od. XI 237 rather suggests that these names may have belonged to a family (or 
possibly a clan) before they came to be applied to a people ; but into this question 
we need not enter. The term * Aeolic ' (in its linguistic sense) belongs properly to 
the Asiatic Aeolis, and this name itself is derived in all probability from the Thessalian 
Aeolis (cf. Herod, vn 176), the fatherland of the Asiatic Aeolians. There may 
possibly have been some connection between the reigning families of the Thessalian 
Aeolis and those at Calydon, Corinth and elsewhere which claimed descent from 
Aiolos ; but there is not the slightest evidence that an Aeolic dialect (in the modern 
sense) was ever spoken at either Calydon or Corinth. It may be added that nothing 
but confusion of thought can arise from introducing into this discussion the terminology 
of writers of the Roman age (cf. especially Strabo Vin i. 2), who apply the name 
4 Aeolic ' to every dialect which is not Attic, Ionic or Doric. 


to the story. With Diomedes the case is somewhat similar. 
He cannot have ruled over Argos even in the second stage of 
the story ; for then, before Mycenae was introduced, Argos 
belonged to Agamemnon. Either then he has been transferred 
from Aetolia, the home of his ancestors ; or he is a late addition, 
due to Ionic poets. Again, Idomeneus' case is due to 'attraction' ; 
originally he belonged to quite a different cycle of story, like 
Tlepolemos. Aias, the son of Telamon, is clearly a ' doublet * 
of the Locrian Aias ; and so forth. By this process we are 
enabled to dispose satisfactorily of all the southern Greek 

It will be seen that according to some scholars only a few 
of the leading heroes belonged to the original form of the 
story, and that their number has grown by gradual accretions. 
According to others the majority were there from the beginning; 
but they belonged originally to the northern parts of Greece, 
more especially the Aeolic districts. With reference to this 
latter view it may be observed that the Aeolic districts are by 
no means unrepresented in the Iliad as we have it. On the 
contrary we find a considerable number of leaders both from 
Thessaly and Boeotia ; but they are all what we may term 
' heroes of the second rank.' Are we to suppose that these 
are ' Ionic ' substitutions for the original heroes, when the latter 
were transferred to the southern parts of Greece ? 

But we have yet to consider a more important question than 
this. In the Iliad itself only two of the leading heroes, namely 
Achilles and the Locrian Aias, are represented as coming from 
the northern parts of Greece. But the Locrians cannot be 
regarded as an Aeolic people. Achilles then is the only leading 
hero whose Aeolic nationality rests on any solid evidence, and 
it is, as we have seen, chiefly owing to their association with 
him that the same nationality is claimed by hypothesis for 
Agamemnon and the rest. But before we bring our discussion 
to a close it will be well to ask whether Achilles' nationality 
really is established beyond question by the evidence. 

It has been mentioned above that ' the Pelasgian Argos ' is 
said to be the home of Achilles, though unfortunately neither 
ancient nor modern scholars have been able to determine with 


certainty what is meant by that name. Of the other places 
recorded in the same context (II. II 68 1 ff. 1 ) viz. Alos, Alope, 
Trechis, Phthia and Hellas all except the third are involved 
in somewhat similar obscurity. Phthia whether it be a city or 
a district was generally located between Mt Othrys and the 
Malian Gulf. Hellas was believed to be in the same neighbour- 
hood, if not actually identical with Phthia ; some placed it on 
the north side of Othrys, a short distance away. The names 
"AXo9 and 'A\o7nj were borne in historical times by places in 
Locris, and also by other places in Phthiotis, on the Pagasean 
Gulf and the Malian Gulf respectively. Opinion was divided 
as to which of these were the places mentioned in the Iliad. 
Trechis (Trachis) lay on the south of the Spercheios. 

It must not be overlooked that, except the indefinite Hellas 
and Phthia, all these places, including * the Pelasgian Argos,' are 
mentioned only in the Catalogue of Ships, a section of the poem 
which is commonly regarded with very little respect. Indeed 
the same scholars who lay so much stress upon the Pelasgian 
Argos as the home of Achilles have no hesitation about rejecting 
the evidence of the Catalogue as to the homes of Agamemnon, 
Menelaos, Nestor, Diomedes and others. Yet the Thessalian 
section of the Catalogue is admittedly far more difficult to 
understand than any other. It is scarcely credible that the poet 
responsible for it can have been personally acquainted with the 
places he was enumerating. Now in other parts of the poem 
Achilles and his followers are associated with the Spercheios or 
Ellada ; from XVI 173 ff., XXIII 144 ff. it is quite clear that his 
home was supposed to be in the immediate neighbourhood of 
that river. According to IX 484 his vassal Phoinix rules over 
the Dolopes, a people who, at least in historical times, inhabited 
the mountainous country to the north-west 2 . These indications, 
it will be seen, agree perfectly well with the only place in 

vvv av roi)s, 6<r <T 01 TO HeXaffyiKOv "A/ryos tvcuov, 
o'i T' "A\ov o'i T 'A\6TTi)v o'i re Tpyxiv' ^V^/JLOVTO, 
o'i r dxov QQ'i-yv yd' 'EXXdSa /caXX^tfvatKa, K.r.X. 

In v. 68 1 Zenodotos read : 

ol 5' "Apyos r elxov TO HeXaffyiKov, oZdap dpotipys. 

2 This passage seems to indicate that the poet included the basin of the Spercheios 
in Phthia. 


the Catalogue which can be identified with certainty, namely 
Trechis. On the whole also they favour the view that 
' Alope ' is the Phthiotic Alope. Achilles' country then is the 
basin of the Spercheios, together probably with the coast lands 
on the Malian Gulf between the mountains of Oite and Othrys. 
It may have included the northern slopes of the latter, in the 
territory of the Dolopes ; but neither the evidence of the 
Catalogue itself nor references in other parts of the Iliad give 
us any warrant for supposing that it extended into the plain of 
Larissa 1 . 

Now there is not a particle of evidence that an Aeolic dialect 
was ever spoken either in the basin of the Spercheios or in the 
districts bordering on the coasts of the Malian Gulf. A form 
(Ma^aio<;) which may be an Aeolic patronymic occurs in an 
inscription from Melitaia 2 ; but the inscription in other respects 
is definitely non- Aeolic, although Melitaia lies to the north of 
Othrys. A similar form (Ev/3iorei,a) occurs in an inscription 
found near Pteleon 3 , which is too short for us to determine its 
character ; but Pteleon lies in the extreme east of Phthiotis, 
outside the Malian Gulf, and according to the Catalogue belonged 
to Protesilaos. The only inscription of definitely Aeolic (Thes- 
salian) character as yet found in Phthiotis comes from near 
Eretria, just inside the boundary. This place is not mentioned 
in the Catalogue, or elsewhere in the Iliad ; but Strabo (IX 5. 10) 
conjectured that it belonged to Achilles' territories. If we are 
to follow the indications given by the Catalogue the question 
would seem to lie between the territories of Protesilaos and 

1 So far as I can see, the identification of ' the Pelasgian Argos ' with the plain 
of Larissa rests merely on a conjecture, of the truth of which even Strabo himself 
(IX 5. 5) was not confident. It may very well have been suggested by the name 
(Pelasgiotis) borne by this district in later times. The oracle quoted by Prof. Meyer 
(Forsch., p. 30, note i) proves nothing, and there is no evidence that the name was 
used in historical times. On the other hand the fact that the citadel of the Pelo- 
ponnesian Argos was called Adpura (cf. Pausanias II 24. i) does suggest a connection 
between this name and "Apyos. But if so, it is more natural to think of Larissa 
Cremaste, which according to Strabo (ix 5. 13, 19) was also called Pelasgia. This 
place is much nearer to the Spercheios than the northern Larissa, and in spite of 
Strabo (ix 5. 14) may quite possibly have been included within the same territory. 

2 Cauer, Delectus*, No. 388. 

3 #., No. 390. 


those of Eurypylos ; there is nothing to show that Achilles' 
country was believed to extend so far. It is most surprising 
therefore to find Prof. Cauer 1 concluding from such evidence as 
this that " we are justified in claiming the valley of the 
Spercheios also as an Aeolic district and Achilles as a hero 
of Aeolic nationality." 

For the language of Achilles' country itself we are by no 
means without evidence. Fairly long inscriptions have been 
found at Hypate in the valley of the Spercheios and at Lamia, 
to the north of the Malian Gulf to which may be added an 
inscription, apparently of the Oitaioi, at Drymaia in Phocis. 
All these show the form of language usually known as ' north- 
west Greek/ and the same is true of other inscriptions found 
in the north and east of Phthiotis. Although they are all late, 
there is no valid reason for doubting that this language is 
indigenous 2 . Only two inscriptions 3 , so far as I know, contain 
references to Aetolian magistrates. The dialect is almost 
identical not only with that of the Aetolian inscriptions, but also 
with those of the Locrians and Phocians, the former of which is 
well known from much earlier times. Greek communities as 
a general rule were slow to change their language, and the 
influence of the Aetolian League was scarcely of such a 
character as to favour the permanent extension of its dialect 4 . 

1 Gmndfragen der Homerkritik"* , p. -214. 

2 By this of course I do not mean that the inscriptions give an absolutely faithful 
reproduction of the local pronunciation, any more than do those of the Aetolians. 
From the fourth century onwards ' phonetic spelling' appears to have been superseded 
in most parts of Greece. No earlier inscriptions, representing the Achaean dialect 
in its purity, have been found as yet. From Thetonion however, near Cierion in 
Thessaliotis, about twenty miles north of the border, we have an inscription of the 
fifth century (C. I. G., xn ii 257) in a curious mixed dialect, which combines north- 
western Greek and Thessalian (Aeolic) characteristics in the proportion of about 7 : 3 
(or 4 ). The evidence of this inscription seems to me to dispose definitely of the 
hypothesis that the introduction of north-western Greek into this region was due 
to the influence of the Aetolian League. Even the dialect of Pharsalos is not quite 
pure Thessalian. 

3 Cauer, Delecttts z , Nos. 239, 386. The former is included by Prof. Cauer, no 
doubt rightly, among the Aetolian inscriptions. 

4 The extension of the Dat. pi. ending -ots to consonant-stems etc. has often been 
quoted as a mark of Aetolian influence. But in reality it is common to all the 
dialects of western Greece. The earliest examples apparently occur in Elean and 
Locrian inscriptions. 


If we are to trust all the evidence which we possess Othrys, 
and not Oite, was the southern limit of the Aeolic (Thessalian) 
dialect. The communities of Phthiotis were politically dependent 
upon Thessaly, but they seem never to have been subjugated in 
the same way as the Aeolic population north of the mountains 1 . 
They had their own troops and sent a separate contingent to 
Xerxes' army. Indeed Herodotus (vil 173, 196 ff.) clearly 
distinguishes between ( Thessaly ' and ' Achaia ' (i.e. Phthiotis), 
Moreover it appears to have been the general opinion among 
the Greeks themselves that this district was the original home 
of the Achaeans of the Peloponnesos. Pausanias (vil i. 6) traces 
the Peloponnesian Achaeans to Archandros and Architeles, the 
sons of Achaios, who had come from Phthiotis 2 . Herodotus 
(II 98) was evidently familiar with some form of this story, 
though he calls Archandros son of Phthios and grandson of 
Achaios. The supposed connection therefore goes back at least 
to the fifth century. How far these genealogies were constructed 
upon linguistic affinities is a question which needs some dis- 
cussion. We may remark in passing however that the dialect 
of the Peloponnesian Achaia, so far as it is known to us 3 , shows 
but little difference from the dialects north of the Gulf of 
Corinth. It is commonly included in the list of 'north-west 
Greek' dialects. 

In the meantime we may notice an argument which has 

1 According to the generally accepted view, which there seems to be no reason 
for doubting, the language of the Thessalian (Aeolic or ' North-Thessalian ') in- 
scriptions belonged originally to the indigenous population. The name ' Thessalian * 
however, properly speaking, belonged to the invaders, regarding whose language we 
have no information. 

2 Strabo (vin 5. 5) likewise connects the Peloponnesian Achaeans with Phthiotis; 
but he attributes their settlement in the Peloponnesos to an invasion by Pelops. In 
this passage (as in many others) it is greatly to be questioned whether Strabo (or the 
authority whom he followed) was recording genuine tradition whether he was not 
rather endeavouring to provide an explanation of the traditions. 

3 The inscriptions are late ; but their evidence as to the general character of the 
dialect is confirmed by some short but early inscriptions from the Achaean settlements 
in Italy. It is assumed by many scholars that Arcadian was the original language of 
the Peloponnesian Achaeans ; but I am not aware that any evidence worth con- 
sideration has been adduced in support of this view. No ancient authorities, so far as 
I know, connect the Arcadians with the Achaeans, nor do the Arcadians themselves 
appear to have claimed such a connection. 


sometimes been brought forward in support of the hypothesis 
that Aeolic was once spoken much further south. This is the 
presence of an Aeolic or semi-Aeolic form of language in 
Boeotia. The ancients themselves believed that the Boeotians 
were not indigenous. Thucydides (I 12) states that they had 
been expelled by the Thessalians from ' Arne ' after the Trojan 
War; but this was not the only form of the story. On the 
other hand many modern scholars have adopted the view that 
the 'north-western' dialects of Locris and Phocis were intrusive 1 , 
and that the non- Aeolic characteristics of the Boeotian dialect 
itself were due to an extension of the same movement in short 
that Aeolic was the earliest form of Greek spoken throughout 
the whole region from Thessaly down to the borders of Attica. 
For such a displacement of population 2 no evidence is to be found 
either in history or tradition. Moreover this hypothesis has 
opposed to it the evidence of what may be called linguistic 
geography. The Ionic dialects of Euboea and Attica have 
much more in common with the ' north-western ' dialects of 
Locris and Phocis than they have with Boeotian. The latter 
indeed stands quite isolated in many respects among the dialects 
of this part of Greece. It will be sufficient here to notice the 
close pronunciation of e (e.g. in Gen. sg. /zefz/o?) and the open 
pronunciation of o (e.g. in Ace. pi. r&>?) both of which are 
probably to be regarded as Aeolic characteristics the use of 
Aeolic patronymics in -ios (e.g. "lirirwv 'AOavo&wpios) and more 
especially the Aeolic tendency to change labiovelar explosives 
into labials before e, which we find exemplified at both ex- 
tremities of the Boeotian area (BeX^ot, ITeuyLtarro?). The last 

1 This theory is of course quite distinct from the theory which traces the language 
of the Phthiotic inscriptions to the influence of the Aetolian League. The two are 
scarcely reconcilable if it be held that the Locrians and Phocians came from the 
north-west ; for in that case their route must have lain through the valley of 
the Spercheios, a district which would not readily be neglected by peoples seeking 
new territories. 

2 I.e. in times subsequent to the Heroic Age. I do not mean of course to suggest 
that the north-west Greek dialects belonged originally to these districts ; but I see no 
reason for supposing that the previous language was Aeolic. The Ainianes may have 
moved southwards later. But the language of their inscriptions (at Hypate) is indis- 
tinguishable from that of the surrounding peoples. It is to be remembered also that, 
according to the common tradition, the Dorians themselves had come from a district 
within this area. 


peculiarity is doubtless one of the earliest cases of dialectal 
variation which can be traced in the Greek language; but it 
is impossible to date. All this evidence tends to show that 
Aeolic was the intrusive element in other words, to confirm 
the tradition that Boeotia was at some time invaded by settlers 
from an Aeolic-speaking district 1 . 

In recent years there has been a tendency to classify the 
Greek dialects in two main groups * East Greek ' and ' West 
Greek.' In the former are included Arcadian, Cypriot, Ionic 
(with Attic) and the Aeolic dialects, i.e. Thessalian and Lesbian- 
Aeolic, together with the Aeolic element in Boeotian. To the 
latter are referred the remaining dialects, i.e. the Doric dialects 
and all the dialects of the mainland of Greece except Arcadian, 
Attic, Thessalian and Boeotian, so far as Boeotian can be 
regarded as Aeolic. It may be doubted whether this classi- 
fication is altogether satisfactory, since the affinities of Aeolic 
with Ionic and Arcadian are by no means close ; as much 
perhaps might be said for a division into * North Greek' (Aeolic) 
and ' South Greek ' (non-Aeolic). But there can be no doubt 
that the ' West Greek ' dialects, i.e. Doric and north-western 
Greek, except perhaps Elean, do really form a homogeneous 
group. Indeed it can hardly be maintained that the Doric 
dialects as a whole show any divergence from the other members 
of the group 2 , though there are marked differences between one 
Doric dialect and another. It is this West Greek group which 
specially requires our attention, for according to all the evidence 
we possess it included the dialects of both the Phthiotic Achaeans 
and the Peloponnesian Achaeans. 

1 It may be added that the fertile plains of Boeotia are more likely to have 
attracted invaders than the mountainous lands to the north-west. 

2 Cf. Meister, Sachs. Ges. d. Wiss. AbhandL 1906, Nr. 3, summarised p. 96 fT., 
where it is pointed out that the characteristics commonly described as Dorian 
belong in reality also to Achaean and that in general they are rather to be ascribed 
to the latter. At the same time it is to be noted that some of the characteristics here 
claimed as specifically Dorian are shared also by Cypriot, a fact which rather suggests 
that they may be indigenous to the south-east of the Peloponnesos. If the Dorians 
came from the same quarter as the Achaeans and not very many generations later 
it is intelligible enough that the two groups of dialects should be difficult to distinguish, 
even apart from the fact that an Achaean stratum however insignificant numerically 
underlies the Dorian practically everywhere. 


Now let us return to the genealogical problem. We have 
seen that Herodotus was familiar with a story which traced 
the descent of the Peloponhesian Achaeans from Phthios the son 
of Achaios. The same writer elsewhere (I 56, etc.) draws a 
distinction between ' Hellenic' and ' Pelasgian' peoples. Among 
the former he includes the Dorians ; among the latter the 
Athenians (I 56, vm 44), the lonians (vil 94), the Arcadians 
(l 146) and the Aeolians (VII 95). By AtoXee? he means here 
the inhabitants of the Asiatic Aeolis. But in view of other 
passages (i 57, VII 176) it can scarcely be doubted that he 
would have included the earlier population of Thessaly in the 
same category. 

Now Herodotus himself believed the Pelasgoi to have been 
a barbarous nation. The peoples of whom he is speaking here 
were regarded by him as ' Hellenized ' Pelasgoi. Some modern 
writers think that he was mistaken in this view, and that the 
Pelasgoi were a Greek people from the beginning 1 . Some 
hold also that the term HeXaayoi in most of these cases is due 
simply to the influence of genealogies 2 . It is a serious objection 
to this latter view that the well-known genealogy in which the 
descent of Ion, as well as Aiolos, is traced from Hellen, goes 
back at least two or three centuries before the time of Herodotus. 
But we are not primarily concerned here with Herodotus' 
opinions ; for it is clear from the expressions which he uses 
(e.g. VII 95 : TO iraXat, K.a\e6^evoi HeXao-yoi, o>9 e R\\ijv(ov Xo^yo?) 
that the distinction between He\ao-yoi and "EXX^z/e? was one 
which was generally recognised in his time. Some of his con- 
temporaries may have regarded the Pelasgoi as Greeks, others 
as barbarians. What was generally agreed was that the term 

1 Cf. especially Meyer, Geschichte des Alterthums, II p. 55 f., Forsch. zur alten 
Geschichte, I p. 112 ff. ; Ridgeway, Early Age of Greece, p. 6596"., etc.; Kretschmer, 
Glotta, I 17 ff. Prof. Meyer has subsequently abandoned this view (Gesch. d. Alt. z , 
I p. 687). 

* 2 Cf. Meyer, Forsch. I (passim}. The genealogical explanation seems to me to 
be pressed too far here. The case of the Arcadians is the one in which it is most 
probable, since apart from genealogies there is no real evidence that this people 
was connected with the Pelasgoi in any way. Yet even here the cause assigned (to., 
p. 53 ff.) is scarcely adequate. One might rather suspect a confusion or identification 
of the names Avuduv and Awccuos ; but I have no inclination to propound a theory on 
the subject. 


was originally applied only to a portion of the in- 
habitants of Greece. We may refer to Thucydides (i 3 l ) : " The 
different tribes, of which the Pelasgian was the most widely 
spread, gave their own names to different districts. But when 
Hellen and his sons became powerful in Phthiotis, their aid was 
invoked by other cities, and those who were associated with 
them gradually began to be called Hellenes, though a long 
time elapsed before the name prevailed over the whole country. 
Of this Homer affords the best evidence ; for he, although he 
lived long after the Trojan War, nowhere uses this name 
collectively, but confines it to the followers of Achilles from 
Phthiotis, who were the original Hellenes." In a certain sense 
therefore we may regard TleXacryoi as a term of negative value, 
i.e. ' non-Hellenic.' 

Herodotus does not expressly describe any people as 
' Hellenic,' in the narrower sense, except the Dorians. But we 
are surely not justified in concluding from this that he regarded 
the Dorians as the only true Hellenes 2 . He is interested in 
pointing out that certain Greek (Hellenic) peoples were believed 
to be of Pelasgian origin. Doubtless he considered it unneces- 
sary to say that those for whom no such origin was claimed 
were really Hellenes, except in such a passage as I 56, where 
a ' Hellenic ' and a ' Pelasgian ' people are specially contrasted 
with each other. In general then the presumption is rather 
that a people was believed to be truly Hellenic, unless we have 
a statement to the contrary. In particular however it is incredible 
that the Achaeans were regarded as Pelasgian, for it was in the 
Achaean Phthiotis more properly perhaps in * Phthia ' that 
traditional belief located the eponymous Hellen. Thucydides, 
as we have seen, observes that this belief was confirmed by the 
evidence of the Homeric poems. The term ' Hellenic ' belongs 
essentially to the followers of Achilles (oiVep KOI 

It can hardly be contended either that the story of Hellen is 
derived from the Homeric usage, or that the Homeric usage is 

1 Quoted from Jowett's translation. 

2 Cf. Meyer, Forsch., I p. 115; yet in another passage (ib., p. in, note) con- 
siderations are pointed out which can hardly have been unfamiliar to Herodotus. 


derived from the story of Hellen. Both alike are based on the 
common knowledge or belief that the names r 'EXX7?i/e<? and 
< E\Xa9 belonged originally to Phthia. It is not difficult to see 
why names from such a district, obscure and remote as it was, 
should come to be applied to the whole nation. The valley of 
the Spercheios was regarded as the gate of Greece. Certain 
peoples, such as the Boeotians and Eleans, may have come into 
possession of their territories by maritime invasions. But there 
can be little doubt that in pre-historic, as in historical times 
we may refer to the Persians and the Gauls great invasions 
usually made their way through the pass of Thermopylai. That 
is true probably not only of the later invasions of the ' West 
Greek ' peoples (the Achaeans, Locrians, Dorians, etc.) but also 
of those much earlier movements by which the first Greek 
populations the ancestors of the lonians and Arcadians were 
introduced into the peninsula. But if we are to trust all the 
evidence at our disposal it was with the later movements that 
the names 'EXXa? 1 and f/ EXX?7z/e5 2 were originally connected. 

The results of our discussion may now be summarised as 
follows : (i) According to current hypotheses the language of 
the Achaeans of Phthiotis was Aeolic, while that of the Pelo- 
porinesian Achaeans was perhaps Arcadian ; but in point of 
fact all the linguistic evidence which we have from both districts 
(including the colonies of the Peloponnesian Achaeans) is 
definitely West Greek. In all probability the valley of the 
Spercheios was one of the first, if not actually the very first, 
of the districts occupied by the West Greeks in the eastern and 
southern parts of the peninsula, (ii) According to a belief current 
in the fifth century certain Greek peoples were truly ' Hellenic,' 
while others were of ' Pelasgian ' origin. The former category 
coincided, at least to a large extent, with the ' West Greek ' 
linguistic division, the latter with the ' East Greek ' division, or 
to speak more accurately with the northern, eastern and 

1 It is to be remembered that the name i) fj.eyd\-r] 'EXXds appears to have come 
from the Achaean colonies in Italy. 

2 It is worth noting that stems in -an-, as names of peoples, seem to have been 
specially characteristic of north-western Greek ; e.g. A/waves, 'Afla^caves, 
Ke0aXXaves, ' 


southern groups of dialects. In certain cases, owing to the 
silence of our authorities, it may be permissible to doubt whether 
a people was regarded as * Hellenic ' or * Pelasgian' ; but no such 
doubt applies to the followers of Achilles, 'who were the original 
Hellenes.' It was in Phthia that much earlier tradition located 
the eponymous Hellen ; and from the same district came 
Archandros and Architeles, the legendary progenitors of the 
Peloponnesian Achaeans, several generations before the Trojan 
War. It is clear then that the ' West Greek ' language of the 
extant inscriptions is in perfect agreement with the belief of 
the fifth century Greeks that this community was essentially 
Hellenic. We may dismiss therefore as totally without founda- 
tion the hypothesis that Achilles was an Aeolic (or Pelasgian) 
hero 1 . 

Now let us drop hypotheses and consider briefly the evidence 
actually furnished by the Iliad. The poem leaves us in no doubt 
as to who are regarded as the principal persons in the Achaean 
army. In II 404 ff. Agamemnon is represented as calling 
together " the elders, the chiefs of the whole Achaean host " 
(yepovras dpio-rfjas Havana MV). They are Nestor, Idomeneus, 
Aias the son of Telamon and his Locrian namesake, Diomedes, 
Odysseus and Menelaos. In another council (x 194 ff.) we find 
the same party together with three additional persons, Thrasy- 
medes, Meriones and Meges. In the debates, which occur so 
frequently, the leading speakers are almost always Agamemnon, 
Nestor, Diomedes, Odysseus and Menelaos. In the battle 
scenes the aged Nestor naturally does not play an active part. 
The other four heroes however, together with Idomeneus, Aias 
the son of Telamon and (to a somewhat less extent) the Locrian 
Aias, are by far the most conspicuous figures in the army. In 
response to Hector's challenge, from which Menelaos has been 
forced to retire, all the other six come forward, together with 
Meriones, Eurypylos and Thoas. There can be no doubt then 

1 It is scarcely necessary to notice the subsidiary arguments which have been 
adduced in favour of the hypothesis e.g. that Achilles had been instructed by the 
Centaur Cheiron and that his spear had come from Pelion. They are sufficiently 
accounted for by the fact that the poems are of Aeolic origin. The suggestion that 
Peleus himself is the eponymus of Pelion belongs to a class which has been sufficiently 
discussed above (p. 267 ff.). 

22 Long. E.of Greenwich 2^ 

illustrating the ' Catalogue of Ships ' 

The numerals denote cities or territories belonging to the 
chief leaders of the Achaeans. 

1 possessions of Odysseus 

2 ,, Nestor 

3 ,, Menelaos 

4 ,, Agamemnon 

5 possessions of Diomedes, etc. 

6 ,, Aias son of Telamon 
,, Aias son of Oileus 



22 Lonjj.E.of Green \vic-h 2H 

showing the distribution of the dialects in historical times 

Aeolic (Thessalian and Boeotian) |||jj|j|| 

Ionic (with Attic) 


West Greek dialects not shaded. 


that the eight leading men are Agamemnon and his brother, 
Nestor, Idomeneus, the two Aiantes, Diomedes and Odysseus. 
To these we must certainly add Achilles, who is in retirement 
throughout the greater part of the poem. 

Hypothesis after hypothesis has been tried in order to- claim 
an Aeolic or Ionic origin for most of these heroes. The plain 
fact is that all except one 1 belong to communities which in the 
fifth century were regarded as truly * Hellenic ' or at all events 
to districts where dialects of the West Greek type prevailed 
in historical times. The leading Aeolic hero is Eurypylos ; but 
he ranks only with Meriones, the Cretan second-in-command, 
Thoas the Aetolian and Nestor's sons. The other Aeolic and 
Ionic leaders are distinctly less prominent. 

From the evidence at our disposal it seems to me that, if the 
poets of the Iliad, or rather their predecessors, were interested 
in any nationality at all, that nationality must have been West 
Greek or ' Hellenic.' Of the two chief leaders one belongs to 
Achaia Phthiotis, the other to the Peloponnesian Achaeans ; 
the Catalogue of Ships (II. II 569 ff.) assigns to him territories 
which in the main coincide with the later Achaia, though they 
cover a somewhat larger area. We have scarcely any evidence 
worth consideration that either Achaia Phthiotis or the Pelopon- 
nesian Achaia was ever held by a different nationality within the 
period embraced by history and tradition 2 . The territories of 
the other chief Peloponnesian leaders were occupied in historical 
times by the Dorians. But it was the unanimous belief of the 
ancient world that the Dorian period had been preceded by an 
age of Achaean domination in the east, south and west of the 
peninsula. Lastly, the Odyssey (XIX 175), in a passage which 
is commonly believed to preserve a true ethnographical record, 

1 The exceptional case is that of Aias the son of Telamon. But we have no 
information relating to Salamis before its conquest by the Athenians in the sixth 
century. It may have been under Achaean rule in early times. 

2 In the case of the Peloponnesian Achaia it is conceivable that a genuine tradition 
of a conquest of earlier (loflfc) inhabitants may be preserved in Herod. I 145. But 
the story that this conquest was connected with the Dorian invasion can hardly be 
due to anything but ' combination ' ; and traces of such a process can be distinguished 
plainly enough in Herodotus' account. The important fact is that the author of the 
Catalogue of Ships evidently knew nothing of the story. 



speaks of the presence of Achaeans in Crete. Thus at least six 1 
of the nine principal leaders come from regions with an Achaean 
population. In view of this fact is it any wonder that 'A^atot 
is by far the commonest term applied in the poems to the Greeks 
collectively 2 ? This then must be the nationality in which the 
poets were interested. But the Achaeans of historical times, as 
we have seen, everywhere used a form of language which is West 
Greek. Moreover, it is to the northern Achaeans that we first 
find the name "EXX^e? applied (II. II 684). The facts noted 
seem to indicate that the Achaeans were the dominant people 
of the West Greeks indeed, we may say, of the Greeks generally 
during the Heroic Age, a position in which they were 
eventually succeeded by the Dorians. 

But the poems themselves are of Aeolic origin. It is this 
fact supported by speculations of writers of the Roman period, 
who included under the term 'Aeolic ' every dialect not obviously 
Doric, Ionic or Attic 3 which has led to the unfortunate equation 
( Achaean' = ( Aeolic.' In reality the heroes and the poems 
belong to two entirely different sections of the Greek nation. 
Shall we then set up another hypothesis that the original 
poems were Achaean ? But then we should only be repeating 
the old error of building hypothesis upon hypothesis. For it is 
a hypothesis, and nothing more, that the original poems were 
concerned with tribal or national interests ; the poems which 
have come down to us deal with the fortunes of individuals. 
Moreover we should not thereby save the theory that the Iliad 
is a reflection of the Greek settlement of the north-western coast 
of Asia Minor ; for that settlement was not Achaean but Aeolic. 
The truth is that the initial hypothesis is entirely unjustified. 
We have no more reason for supposing that the heroes must be 

1 We may probably add Odysseus. In the Odyssey the hero's subjects are 
regularly described as 'AxcuoL They are not called 'Apyeioi or Acwctoi, although the 
three names are used interchangeably as collective terms for the Greek army before 
Troy. Regarding the national affinities of the inhabitants of the Ionian Isles in later 
times we have little information ; but the language was clearly of the ' north-west 
Greek ' type. Indeed Aias the son of Oileus is the only one of the nine heroes in 
whose case Achaean nationality is distinctly improbable. 

2 The figures for the Iliad are : 'Axoaoi 605, 'A/ryeiot 176, Aavaoi 146 ; cf. Cauer, 
Grundfragen? 1 , p. 220. 

3 Cf. especially Strabo, vm i. 2. 


Aeolic if the poems are Aeolic or that the poems must be 
Achaean if the heroes are Achaean than we have for assuming 
that the Anglo-Saxon poems were of Danish or Gothic origin 
because Danes and Goths figure in them more prominently than 
persons of English nationality. It is likely enough that poems 
once existed dealing with Aeolic heroes, such as lason, perhaps 
also Peirithoos and others. But the reason for the prominence 
assigned to Achaean heroes, at all events in the poems which 
have survived, is to be found not in the national sympathies or 
interests of the poets, but in the fact that during the Heroic Age 
the Achaeans were the dominant people in Greece. 




WE have now to consider briefly how far the use of fiction, 
i.e. of conscious, deliberate invention, was permitted in the 
composition of Greek heroic poetry. This question gave us 
considerable difficulty when we were discussing the Teutonic 
poems. It is assuredly not less difficult here. The higher 
artistic level of the Greek poems cannot but pre-dispose us in 
favour of the view that their use of fiction is of a more advanced 
type. This expectation is fully realised in the elaborate pre- 
sentation of many of the scenes, whether the actors be human 
beings who may or may not have taken part in the events 
described, or divine beings whose mythical origin no one will 
dispute. In the o-vo-rao-is TWV Trpaj/jbdrcov the art of poetic 
invention is developed to a high degree of perfection. 

The chief difference between our present problem and the 
one which we had to consider in Chapter VIII lies in the fact 
that here we are entirely without that contemporary historical 
evidence which enables us to recognise some characters or 
events in nearly all the Teutonic poems. The way lies open 
therefore for regarding the whole story of the siege of Troy as 
a product of fiction ; and this is a view which many modern 
scholars have adopted. For an example we can scarcely 
do better than quote the words of the late Sir R. C. Jebb 
(Introduction to Homer, p. 147): "The tale of Troy, as we 
have it in Homer, is essentially a poetic creation ; and the poet 
is the sole witness." The same scholar was prepared to grant 
that " some memorable capture of a town in the Troad had 
probably been made by Greek warriors"; but, he adds, "beyond 


this we cannot safely go." This attitude is doubtless perfectly 
correct from the historian's point of view. But if we approach 
the problem from the ethnologist's side we cannot rest satisfied 
with an attitude of scepticism owing to the absence of historical 
evidence. Our duty includes the question how far we are justi- 
fied in admitting the use of fiction. The Iliad would still be 
a great monument of human genius even if all the characters 
and events in it could be proved to be historical. But if it is 
wholly, or almost wholly, a work of fiction we shall have to 
conclude that the Homeric poets had developed the inventive 
faculty to a degree which has scarcely been equalled even in 
our own days. That is a conclusion which we shall do well 
to adopt only after careful consideration, seeing that we are 
dealing with the earliest monument of European literature. 
Scepticism is required in this direction therefore just as much 
as in the other. 

At the outset we are confronted by two considerations which 
amply justify this attitude. The first is the evidence of the 
Teutonic poems. Here, as we have seen, myth and folk-tale 
both play their parts, the latter often a very important part. 
But we have no proof that any one of the stories is a product 
of conscious fiction. Wherever we can put it to the test, the 
setting is found to be historical, at least in the earlier forms of 
the stones. In medieval poetry we meet with many fictitious 
stories of wars waged by imaginary kings of, let us say, Byzan- 
tium or Britain. But in poetry which is entirely free from 
scholastic influence, such, as the old heroic poems or the poems 
of the Viking Age, we shall look in vain for trustworthy 
examples. The same remark is probably true of Slavonic 
and Cumbrian heroic poetry. 

The other consideration is still more serious. It is the 
opinion of the ancient Greeks themselves. Here again we may 
quote Sir R. C. Jebb's work (p. 84) : " They held that his events 
and his persons were, in the main, real....Thucydides differs 
from Herodotus in bringing down the Homeric heroes more 
nearly to the level of common men. But the basis of fact in 
Homer is fully as real to Thucydides as to Herodotus." The 
current hypothesis assumes that both were deceived, and with 


them the universal consensus of educated Greek opinion. But 
is not this a strange assumption ? Those who hold that the 
Homeric poems are wholly the work of one author may cherish 
the belief that this person was so gifted as to be able to per- 
petrate a hoax upon his countrymen which in their most enlight- 
ened days they never succeeded in detecting. But I do not see 
how any such idea can be reconciled with the theory of evolution. 
The story was invented, we must presume, by the first poet and 
elaborated by his successors. Were these latter persons cognisant 
of the deception? If not, we must regard their contributions as 
negligible ; and consequently we are brought back virtually to 
the theory of single authorship. And yet no one will suggest that 
the poets of several generations were accomplices in such a 
deception. The only alternative then, which remains, is that 
the poets invented and elaborated a romance, which they did not 
intend to be taken seriously. How greatly then has the history 
of Greek thought been misunderstood ! It appears now that 
the period between the ninth and the fifth centuries was 
characterised not by intellectual emancipation but by the 
growth of credulity. 

In view of these considerations the burden of proof must be 
held to lie with those who hold that the story is fictitious. Until 
such proof is forthcoming it seems to me that the only reasonable 
course is to follow the opinion of the ancients, except in so far 
as we have good reason for believing that they were mistaken. 
The ancients not only accepted the siege of Troy as a historical 
fact ; they were prepared also to point out the site of the city. 
The correctness of this identification was indeed disputed by 
Demetrios of Scepsis, a native antiquary of the second century, 
who fixed upon another site, some four miles away ; while 
modern scholars until recently believed that both were wrong. 
This is why in the passage quoted above Sir R. C. Jebb used 
the expression "a city in the Troad." But about five or six 
years after the publication of his book the traditional site was 
fully vindicated by the excavations of Dr Dorpfeld, which 
brought to light the remains of a fortress dating, approximately 
at least, from the period indicated by the story. It was made 
clear also that this fortress had been destroyed, presumably by 


enemies. That the destroyers were Greeks could not of course 
be proved by the excavations. But the evidence of the poems 
in this respect is confirmed by the fact that the district was 
inhabited by Greeks in later times 1 . 

It is held by many scholars that the story of the siege of 
Troy is a reflection of the Aeolic colonisation of the Asiatic 
coast. We have already discussed the principle underlying this 
theory and found no evidence in its favour. But it does not 
follow from this that the two events were unconnected. One of 
the most famous stories 2 recorded by Scandinavian tradition is 
that of the expedition to England which was undertaken by the 
sons of Lothbrok for the purpose of exacting vengeance for their 
father's death. Now we have an account of this invasion from 
a contemporary historical work (the Saxon Chronicle), which 
gives the names of two of the princes (Inwaer and Healfdene), 
as well as that of the Northumbrian king Aella against whom 
the expedition was directed. We know also that Lothbrok's 
sons were by no means contented with the overthrow of Aella ; 
that on the contrary they ravaged the greater part of England. 
Long after they were all dead or departed the eastern half of 
the country remained Scandinavian territory. According to the 
Iliad Achilles did not confine his energies to Troy ; he is said 
to have ravaged Lesbos and several places in the country round 
the Gulf of Adramyttion. Is there any valid reason for denying 
that the Greek occupation of these lands may have originated 
in such events ? We need not suppose of course that the con- 
quered lands were fully occupied at once. But the first settlers 
may well have secured enough to serve as a refuge for those of 

1 It has been held that the Aeolic settlements in the Troad itself date only from 
the seventh century (cf. Meyer, Geschichte des Alterthums^ II pp. 203, 463 f.), and 
there is some evidence that movements of this kind were in operation about that 
time. But the excavations at Troy brought to light the fact that the district had 
been occupied, in times long subsequent to the destruction of the fortress, by a 
semi-barbarous people, apparently from the region of the Danube. The evidence 
at our disposal seems to indicate that there were Greek settlements in existence before 
this time, but that they were temporarily overthrown by the barbarians (cf. Bruckner, 
Troja und Ilion, p. 567 ff.). At all events it is clear that the Homeric poets were 
familiar with the district. 

2 For a full account of this story see Mawer, Ragnar Lothbrok and his sons 
(published in the Saga-Book of the Viking Club, Jan. 1909). 


their countrymen who fled from the Thessalian invasion, probably 
no long time afterwards. A good parallel is furnished by the 
Scandinavian settlements in the British Isles, which served as 
a retreat for many Norwegians who refused to bow to the en- 
croachments of Harold the Fair-haired. 

The Greek settlements in this region were Aeolic, a fact due 
probably, as we have said, to the Thessalian invasion. But 
Achilles was an Achaean, and the same is true of most of the 
other chief heroes. The Iliad does not represent Troy as being 
attacked merely ' by Greeks/ but by an army gathered together 
from nearly all parts of Greece. This is one of the features in 
the story to which objection has been taken most generally. 
We may grant freely that no parallel for such an undertaking 
is to be found in historical times. Indeed, the objection itself 
contains a weak point here ; for from all that we know of the 
earliest historical period it is scarcely credible that such an idea 
could have suggested itself, even in a work of fiction. On the 
other hand in the thirteenth and twelfth centuries the monuments 
of Rameses II, Merenptah and Rameses III give us information 
of expeditions which were on at least as large a scale and 
covered much greater distances. We have no reason for doubt- 
ing that such an undertaking was possible also in the eleventh 

But if the expedition itself is nothing incredible in such a 
period, what shall we say with regard to its motive? The reason 
assigned by the poem that it was brought about by Paris' 
escapade is one of those features which have been put aside by 
modern scholars as unworthy of consideration. This attitude is 
due partly to the application of modern political theories to a 
state of society in which they are quite out of place. With this 
question we shall have to deal in the following chapter. But it 
is due still more to the absurd hallucination that a story of 
abduction must have originated in the ' hypostasis ' of natural 
phenomena. According to Scandinavian tradition the expedition 
of Lothbrok's sons was inspired by a purely personal motive 
the desire to exact vengeance for their father's death. But in 
the Heroic Age itself we have from a strictly contemporary 
authority (cf. p. 97 f.) the story of the great expedition of the 


Angli against the Warni, which was caused by a breach of 
promise of marriage. 

It appears then on examination that the central feature of 
the story, namely the destruction of Troy, rests upon fact, while 
the other main features gain in probability the more one takes 
into account the conditions of the age and the analogies furnished 
by similar stories elsewhere. These considerations tend to 
support the view that the employment of fiction is to be seen 
rather in the presentation than in the conception of the story. 
But the term * presentation ' here, just as in Chapter VIII, must 
be interpreted in a very liberal sense. 

What has been said above applies of course properly only to 
the Iliad. With the Odyssey the case is quite otherwise. In 
the first place we have to note that the ancients themselves took 
a different view with regard to this poem at all events that 
part of it which relates to the hero's wanderings. The credibility 
of the various incidents was frequently and warmly debated ; 
but many of them were defended only by an allegorical inter- 
pretation. Then again the conditions are similar to those in 
which we find the most pronounced use of fiction in early 
Teutonic poetry. Sigemund is expressly said to have been 
alone when he attacked the dragon, and most of Beowulf's 
marvellous exploits are performed when he is either alone or 
with a single companion. The motif of the lonely wanderer in 
distant lands is not prominent in the remains of our poetry, but 
from what is said of Sigemund in Beow. 876 ff. we can scarcely 
doubt that it would have been utilised for the exercise of the 
inventive faculty. 

Now we have seen (p. 258 ff.) that the hero's narrative in Od. 
IX XII is evidently derived from an accumulation of folk-tales. 
Here the art of fiction is shown chiefly in the poet's adaptation 
of this material to his own purpose. But there are other parts 
of the poem notably the preceding three books (vi VIll) 
which obviously require a different explanation. It is frequently 
assumed that the Phaeacians are wholly a creation of the poet's 
fancy. Without going so far as this 1 we may seriously doubt 

1 Cf. Baudicr]. 7r6\i5 TT/S Xaovlas. 'EKCITCUOS. /c.r.X. (Steph. Byz., s.v.) From 
this notice we gather that at the beginning of the fifth century (or earlier) the Greeks 


whether they were a Greek people and whether there was any 
foundation in history or tradition for the account given here 
with a quite exceptional amount of detail of their princes, their 
city and institutions. If this part of the story is to be regarded 
as fiction it is certainly a more elaborate type of fiction than 
anything which we meet with in the early heroic poetry of the 
Teutonic peoples. But the false stories told by Odysseus in 
the latter part of the poem at all events go far towards 
showing that such fiction was not beyond the power of 
Homeric poets. 

According to our explanation the extensive use of fiction in 
the story of Odysseus is due to the fact that in this case the 
poet or poets had a free hand, whereas elsewhere, more particu- 
larly in the Iliad, they were bound down by tradition. It is not 
to be overlooked however that the Iliad itself contains many 
incidents which may similarly be regarded as products of 
invention additions to the story which did not conflict with 
anything that had been 'handed down/ As a likely instance of 
this kind we may cite the Doloneia. But since we can seldom 
or never get beyond a hypothesis with such cases, it will be 
more profitable, I think, now to turn our attention to another 
question, namely whether the use of fiction also included the 
invention of characters and if so to what extent. 

In our consideration of the Teutonic stories we came to the 
conclusion that there was no really satisfactory evidence for 
such invention. In the Homeric poems the evidence is much 
stronger. We will first take the case of names which appear to 
have been coined with an obvious meaning. A good example 

knew of a city or state called Baiace in Chaonia, i.e. opposite the island of Corfu, 
which was usually identified with Scheria in ancient times. It has been remarked by 
several scholars that the name BCUCIK?; is obviously independent of Homeric poetry. 
We may infer also (i) that it was derived from a non-Greek source and (ii) that if 
Bcua/c- and 3>cu77/c- are identical the latter name must have become known to the 
Greeks in very early times. It is not impossible that in the Heroic Age the Greeks 
may have been familiar with more than the name of this people ; but there is no 
evidence, so far as I am aware, for the existence of a prehistoric civilisation on the 
Albanian coast such as we find depicted in Od. vi vm. Until such evidence 
is forthcoming probability is in favour of the view that the picture drawn of the 
Phaeacian community in the Odyssey is derived from a different region most likely 
from the Aegean. 


occurs in Od. VIII in ff., where the Phaeacian athletes are 
enumerated : 

KOL 'EXarpets 

Naureur re Hpvpvfvs re *at 'Ay^t'aXoy KCU ' 
Hovrfvs re Hpa>pevs re, 0oa>i/ ' 
'A/i^iaXds $' vlos Ho\vvi']ov 
av 8e KCU EvpvaXos /3/joroXotya) lo-os 

Other Phaeacians have names of the same type, e.g. 
Navvi/cda, r/ AXfo^, KXvrovrjo^, 'E^ez^o?, HOVTOVOOS. In such a 
case as this the poet can scarcely have intended to deceive his 
audience. Indeed the principle is clearly admitted in another 
passage (XXIV 305), where Odysseus in a false story describes 
himself as f/o? 'AfaiSavros HoXvTrrj^ovLSao aW/cros. We need 
not doubt then that other names are constructed on the same 
plan, e.g. that of the minstrel, QIJ/JLIOS TepTTia'S???, perhaps also 
those of the shipowner, NO^/AQJI^ son of <&p6vios, and Menelaos' 
pilot, <J>p(Wfc9 'OvrjTopiSris. Similar cases may be found also in 
the Iliad 1 , e.g. (V 59 ff.) <$>ep6K\ov...TeKTovos vlov 'Ap/j,oviSea) y 
09 xepalv eTTiararo &ai$a\a irdvra review, or the name of a 
Trojan herald (XVII 323 f.) TiepLfyavn 'HTrvriSy, probably also 
the spy AoXo>i> Ey/A^Seo? u/o? (x 314). This list of course makes 
no claim to be exhaustive. But on the whole it can hardly be said 
that the type is really common in either poem, except the section 
dealing with the Phaeacians. 

It is far more difficult to form an opinion with regard to the 
origin of characters whose names bear no such obvious mark. 
Few probably would be inclined to doubt that the names of 
Helen's handmaidens (Od. IV 123 ff.) were coined by the poet. 

1 Possibly 0ep<ri'r?7s is another example of this type. It seems to me more 
probable however that it is a nickname, similar to *Ipos (Od. xvin 6 f.). It has 
been well connected with Q-rjpiras, a Laconian name for Ares or Enyalios (cf. Usener, 
S.-13. d. Akad. zu Wien, cxxxvn, p. 53). But I cannot see any justification for the 
hypothesis (#., p. 57) that the practices described by Pausanias (in 14. 8 f.; xix 7 f.; 
xx 2. 8) represent a contest between Enyalios and Achilles, or for connecting them 
in any way with the story of the killing of Thersites by Achilles in the Aithiopis. 
Achilles was worshipped elsewhere in connection with athletic practices (cf. Pausanias, 
vi 23. 3; also the A/ao/m 'AxtXX^ws mentioned by Arrian, Peripl. 21. i), probably for 
the same reason that worship was paid to famous athletes of the past (cf. Pindar, Isth. 
vii 37, 59 ff.). 


But what shall we say with regard to the suitors of 
Penelope 1 ? The argument may not be a sound one, but it 
is not easy to see under what conditions historical names 
could have been preserved in such a connection. And again, 
what about the numerous names which figure in the dvSpo- 
KTacricu ? Even though many of the names do recur again 
and again, their number is surprising 2 . It is difficult to doubt 
that the poets gave free rein to their inventive faculties in such 

But what limits are we to set to this process ? If we regard 
the chief heroes themselves as products of fiction we shall be 
involved in much the same difficulties as if we interpreted the 
story as a whole in this way. In a sense indeed the difficulties 
will be increased ; for it is scarcely conceivable that a heroic 
story should come into existence without heroes 3 . No one can 
reasonably doubt that the list of Phaeacian athletes is the 

1 Curiously enough the most suspicious names are those of the two chief characters, 
Efyfytaxos son of II6Xi;os, and 'Avrivoos son of ~EiVTrei6rjs. 

2 Under the head of fiction I think we may probably include many national 
names and names derived from cities, rivers, etc. It has been remarked above 
(p. 268, note) that these names occur chiefly among the Trojans and their allies, 
e.g. Tpws (son of Alastor), AdpSavos (son of Bias), ~M.\jy5uv, 'A<ri<dvios, Aptfoi/', A6\oi/', 
Tetftfpcts, Il^Satos, "Ifj.f3pt.os, 'ISatos, ^Ka/^avSpcos, 6?7/3cuos, 6i/Aij3/>cuos. I do not mean 
of course to suggest that all such names are necessarily fictitious. The type doubtless 
was ancient, but it possessed obvious facilities for the formation of names for fictitious 
characters of foreign nationality. 

3 This point seems to me to be of fundamental importance ; but it is apparently 
not always recognised. Prof. Meyer (Geschichte des Alterthums, n p. 207) holds, 
rightly as I think, that there is no valid reason for doubting that Troy actually was 
destroyed by a king of Mycenae. Yet elsewhere (ib., p. 186 f., etc.) he regards 
Agamemnon himself as a Spartan deity and most of the other chief Achaean heroes 
as mythical or fictitious or at least unconnected originally with the story of Troy.' 
According to my view the interest in heroic poetry, Greek as well as Teutonic, Welsh 
or Servian, was from the beginning essentially bound up with individual characters, 
e.g. not with a (nameless) king of Mycenae which is comparatively seldom men- 
tioned (cf. p. 274) but with King Agamemnon. It is true that under certain 
conditions one name occasionally does displace another in heroic stories ; but we 
have seen no reason for believing that the conditions favourable to such changes 
ever prevailed in the histoiy of Greek heroic poetry. Neither the name 'Aya/x^ui/wj' 
nor the later references to Zetfs 'Ayojuljuw seem to me to afford any valid ground 
for doubting that Agamemnon was the king of Mycenae originally concerned in the 


invention of one man 1 . In the case of Penelope's suitors this is 
not so clear. Yet personally I cannot understand the Odyssey 
if it is not, in its present form, largely the work of an individual 
brain, however much it may have utilised and even incorporated 
older matter. This ' redactor ' or ' author ' or whatever he may 
be called may well have invented the names of most of the 
suitors ; they are not essential to the story. But how can any 
such explanation be applied to the heroes of the siege of Troy ? 
These were not obscure chieftains in a distant group of islands 
without external connections. Many of them are represented 
as rulers of what were once certainly the chief states in Greece, 
and they were universally recognised as historical persons from 
the earliest times of which we have any record. In some cases 
they were even honoured with worship, and distinguished 
families claimed to be descended from them. Mythical char- 
acters, such as Scyld or Dardanos, may come to be regarded 
as historical. But these are products of many minds rather than 
of one, and of reflection rather than imagination. Their personi- 
fication is a gradual process, and even when it is accomplished 
they figure only in the background of heroic stories, without any 
definite individual characterisation. The hypothesis which we 
are now testing has no relation to such figures as these for 
Agamemnon, Achilles and their companions are not eponymous 
heroes. If they are creations of one man's imagination we 
must ask how this person, however gifted he may have been, 
succeeded in passing off his romance as history. On the other 
hand if they were gradually ' evolved ' by a succession of poets 
we must ask at what stage and by what process so great a 
misunderstanding of their real character originated. 

It is a great assumption that every local record relating to 
the heroes of the Trojan War owes its origin, directly or in- 
directly, to the influence of Homeric poetry ; and yet that is 
what is involved by the hypothesis under discussion. There 

1 Note should be taken also of the fact that the peculiar type of nomenclature 
which we find among the Phaeacians (cf. p. 299) is not confined to the list of athletes 
but spread over the whole of this section of the poem. It is quite possible of course 
that the few exceptional names, such as 'A\Klvoos, may be derived from tradition or 
from an earlier poet. 


is no doubt that heroic poetry can influence local tradition in 
an age given to antiquarian speculation ; but where shall we 
find any parallel for such a result as this ? Pausanias (II 16. 5) 
states that the tombs of Agamemnon and his household were 
to be seen at Mycenae. It is likely enough that in this case 
the local belief was derived ultimately from the poems, although 
it seems to have contained some unorthodox features. But in 
Pindar, Aeschylus and other early poets we find forms of the 
story which differ much more widely from the Homeric 
account. These authorities also give us a good deal of in- 
formation regarding other members of the family, Pelops, Atreus 
and Orestes persons who seem not to have figured prominently 
in any Homeric poems that we know of. Particularly we should 
notice that according to Pausanias (HI 19. 5) the Spartans also 
possessed a tomb of Agamemnon (at Amyclai), and that in 
early times they appear to have claimed him as one of their 
own kings. To this we have already referred (p. 240). The 
problem as a whole is surely one which requires considerably 
more investigation than it has yet received. But I should be 
much surprised if such investigations, carried out in an impartial 
spirit, did not bring to light many traces of stories relating to 
the Heroic Age, which were independent of anything that we 
may fairly call ' Homeric ' poetry. 

Perhaps it may be said that we can safely claim a fictitious 
origin for some of the leading characters without committing 
ourselves to the view that all of them were sprung from this 
source. The case of Agamemnon, which we have mentioned 
above, is scarcely one of the most promising. We will now 
take what is generally regarded as the most certain case, namely 
that of Aias 1 . There are two heroes of this name, of whom one 
is a Locrian, while the other belongs to Salamis. The theory 
now most usually held is that one of the two preferably the 
latter is a fictitious character, derived from the other. This 
theory rests on the following arguments : (i) that the two heroes 
are often found together, (ii) that Salamis is only mentioned 
in two passages, (iii) that, apart from his brother Teucros, the 

1 Cf. Robert, Studien zur Ilias, p. 406 ff.; Bethe, N.Jahrb., XIII p. i ff.; Cauer, 
Grundfragen*, p. 197 ff. 


connections of Aias of Salami's are themselves obviously 
fictitious. The distinctive characteristic of this Aias is his 
enormous shield ; and this gave birth both to the name of 
his father TeXa/xwi/ (* Strap '), and to that of his son, Evpuo-d/ctj^ 
(' Broad-shield '). The appropriateness of the latter name is 
evident enough ; but it does not occur in the Homeric poems. 
The evidence seems to indicate that this person is a genea- 
logical creation of much later times possibly due to the 
misunderstanding of an epithet. On the other hand the force 
of the name Te\a/jua)v does not strike me as particularly obvious. 
Aias' distinguishing characteristic was not his shield-strap, .but 
the shield itself. Several heroes, Agamemnon, Diomedes and 
others, are said to have shield-straps ; indeed from II. II 388 f. 
we may infer that they were commonly, if not generally, used. 
Moreover the word reka^v does not necessarily mean ' shield- 
strap'; we find it used also, in several passages, for 'sword-strap.' 
Its original meaning appears to have been 'supporter' ; and we 
have no reason for supposing that such a word was inadmissible 
as a proper name 1 . Again, the argument that Salamis is only 
mentioned twice loses its force when the general usage of the 
Iliad is taken into account. Except in three cases due largely 
to certain stereotyped formulae it is not customary to refer to 
the home or nationality of the Achaean leaders 2 . Even if the 
genuineness of II. VII 199 be doubted, there can scarcely be any 
question that Aias was localised at Salamis by the time when 
the Homeric poems first obtained general currency in Greece ; 
for the post-Homeric (or non-Homeric) genealogy of the 
Aiacidai and their connection with Aegina go back probably 
beyond the seventh century. There remains then only the fact 
that two friends and colleagues have the same name. That is 

1 It is to be remembered that as a patronymic TeXa/wwvtos is an Aeolic formation. 
The rareness of forms of this type renders it highly improbable that a nickname thus 
formed should have been misinterpreted as a patronymic. As a nickname too should 
we not rather have expected TeXa/uwj'etfj ? 

2 Two passages mention Aoicpot in connection with the other Aias ; three mention 
\da.KT) or Ke^aXX^i/es in connection with Odysseus. "LirapTfi and Aa/ceSat/uwj' are men- 
tioned in connection with Menelaos only in the Catalogue. References to Eurybates 
and Helen are of course not included here. The only leading Achaean heroes whose 
home or nationality is frequently mentioned are Achilles, Nestor and Idomeneus. 


doubtless a curious coincidence ; but not more curious than 
many such cases which occur in real life. On the whole I 
cannot help thinking that the readiness with which this theory 
has been received is due to the prevalent enthusiasm for such 
hypotheses. When soberly considered the evidence in its favour 
is of the slightest. 

In conclusion we must take account of another hypothesis, 
which seems to be particularly popular at present namely that 
many characters have been attracted into the Trojan cycle from 
different quarters, some from other cycles of heroic poetry, and 
some from local tradition. Strictly speaking we have here to 
do with two different hypotheses ; but they may conveniently 
be taken together. Both are credible enough under certain 
conditions. In the first place we must assume the existence of 
a nucleus of original matter sufficient to provide the ' attractive * 
force. Secondly, the poets' audience must not have such know- 
ledge either of the original or the subsidiary stories as would 
check their readiness to allow the amalgamation. Thus no 
audience of the fifth century would have consented to see 
Heracles introduced into a drama dealing with Orestes. But 
medieval German poems do bring Dietrich von Bern into as- 
sociation both with Attila and Eormenric, although we know 
that the three heroes belonged originally to quite distinct 
stories. This parallel has frequently been urged in support 
of the contention that Agamemnon or Nestor or Idomeneus 
may once have belonged to separate stories before they were 
associated with Achilles or Aias the Locrian or whoever it was 
who was first connected with the siege of Troy. 

In Chapter XI we discussed the supposed analogy between 
Homeric and medieval German poetry and came to the con- 
clusion that it had no foundation. The roots of the latter 
doubtless go back to court-poetry. But for centuries it was 
preserved only by popular minstrels ; and during this period 
it underwent not only a process of disintegration in regard to 
subject-matter, but also a complete change both in spirit and 
metrical form. Our discussion led us to conclude that there 
was no ground for supposing the Homeric poems to have 
passed through such a stage as this that on the contrary 


they appear to have been preserved by court poets until they 
attained their final form. But heroic court-poetry is everywhere 
bound by convention. The poet must be a master of traditional 
lore as well as of form ; but he must not be a revolutionary. 
He may borrow descriptions, incidents, probably also minor 
characters, from other stories and even from folk-tales especially 
when he is dealing with the adventures of a solitary wanderer 
in unknown lands 1 . But, since his audience likewise consists 
of persons who are more or less trained in the same kind of 
lore, he will find considerable difficulty in transferring a 
well-known hero from one story to another more difficulty 
indeed than in inventing the hero outright. He would 
probably have just about as much chance of success as a 
modern dramatist who wished to introduce Cromwell into a 
serious play dealing with Napoleon Bonaparte. We must 
have good evidence before we can believe that the court 
poets of ancient Greece were able to indulge in such flights 
of imagination. 

But no such evidence appears to be forthcoming 2 . One of 
the cases most commonly cited is the fight of Tlepolemos and 
Sarpedon. This case rests partly on the fact that the two 
combatants are represented as coming from districts, both re- 
mote from Troy but not very distant from one another, and 
partly on the groundless assumption that opponents must be 
near neighbours. Unfortunately Sarpedon himself is killed by 
Patroclos, a hero from Phthiotis. To meet this difficulty we 
find a further hypothesis, which need not be discussed here. 
I do not say that it is impossible that Tlepolemos and Sarpedon 
have been taken from a different story. My view is that until it 

1 For folk-tales cf. p. 258 ff. The same conditions are probably favourable both to 
transference and invention. The latter faculty is perhaps first displayed in lists of 
supernatural beings, such as those of the Nereids in II. xvm 39 ff. and Theog. 
242 ff. (which differ a good deal). We may compare the list of dwarfs given in 

2 We need not discuss the identification of the Adrestos and Amphios of II. u 830 
with the famous Adrastos and Amphiaraos of the Theban story (cf. Usener, S.-B. der 
Akad. zu Wien, 1898, p. 37 ff.). The strangest feature in this 'discovery' is the 
fascination which, in spite of its obvious untenability, it seems to have exercised on 
subsequent writers. 

C. 2O 


is supported by evidence 1 such a conjecture does not deserve 
serious consideration. The same remark applies to the case of 
Idomeneus which has likewise been cited in this connection. 
Indeed it is surely a fatal objection to this hypothesis as a 
whole that, with one exception 2 , the heroes of the Iliad are 
persons who are known practically only in connection with the 
siege of Troy. The force of this objection may be appreciated 
by the fact that both poems contain many incidental allusions 
to heroes who are well known to us from other sources, as well 
as to persons of whom we know little or nothing at all. If the 
personnel of the Iliad has really grown up through a process of 
attraction how is it that Heracles, lason, Peirithoos, Theseus, 
Minos and Adrastos have not been drawn into the net ? Some 
of them certainly have sons or grandsons who figure in the 
Iliad ; but it deserves to be remarked that, with the exception 
of Idomeneus, these are all persons of little importance. On 
the other hand the fathers of the principal heroes are themselves 
in no case unless we count Tydeus ' heroes of the first rank/ 
Can any one seriously argue that such a result as this would be 
produced by an artificial scheme a scheme, that is to say, in 
the framing of which poets had a free command of their 
material ? On the contrary the only conclusion, I think, to 

1 The evidence of the grave-mound in Lycia, cited by Prof. Murray (Rise of the 
Greek Epic, p. 191, note), can hardly be taken seriously. Indeed Prof. Murray 
himself seems to consider Sarpedon's Lycian connections at least as illusory as his 
connection with Troy. 

2 Diomedes no doubt figured in the story of the second attack upon Thebes. It 
has been suggested that this hero was also originally identical with the Bistonian 
Diomedes, who fed his mares with human flesh and was killed by Heracles. The 
value of this identification depends largely upon the question whether the Doloneia 
formed an original part of the story of the Iliad. That is a view which would 
probably gain the assent of few scholars even of those who believe that the Doloneia 
is not much later than the rest of the Iliad in its final form. The other arguments 
are of little consequence. Diomedes displays a propensity for capturing chariots 
a feature which perhaps gave rise to the adventure with Rhesos ; but the same remark 
is true of Antilochos. He fights also with the ' Thracian ' god Ares, as well as with 
Aphrodite. But it is clear that the feud with these deities really belongs to Athene, 
Diomedes' hereditary guardian. In later stories, relating to the east of Italy, there 
may have been a confusion between the two heroes ; and it is scarcely impossible 
that here and there Diomedes of Argos took over a cult belonging to his namesake. 
If so we shall have to suppose that the Bistonian Diomedes was originally an Illyrian 
rather than a Thracian hero. 


which an unbiassed study of the evidence can lead, is that 
the poets never enjoyed such freedom ; that the later poets 
were bound by the work of their predecessors, and these again 
by something which bears a suspicious resemblance to facts of 
real life. 

In the course of this and the preceding chapters we have 
reviewed briefly a number of hypotheses which have been 
brought forward from time to time with the object of ex- 
plaining the origin of the characters and events treated in 
the Homeric poems. These hypotheses may be grouped 
summarily under four headings : (i) nature-myths, (ii) tribal 
heroes, (iii) fiction, (iv) transference. In dealing with the 
first group we have restricted ourselves to the consideration 
of two cases which appear as yet not to have fallen into the 
same discredit as the rest. Our conclusion however is that 
they rest on equally unsubstantial foundations. The second 
group is more popular just now, and this we have examined 
at length. We find that apart from some genealogical names 
this group of hypotheses rests upon a number of assumptions, 
some of which are incapable of proof, while others are demon- 
strably incorrect. The third group has a much better case. 
We find that the use of fiction appears to be shown not only 
in the presentation of the stories (as in Teutonic poetry) but 
also in the invention of minor characters. The extent to which 
it is used is a problem which requires further investigation. The 
last remark applies also to the fourth group. In principle it is 
only reasonable to expect that both characters and incidents 
may have been transferred from one story to another. But 
the instances which have been suggested are tainted with the 
' tribal hero ' hypothesis and the evidence on which they rest is 
altogether inconclusive. Lastly, we have noted that, if our view 
of the history of Homeric poetry is correct, the use of both 
fiction (invention) and ' transference ' must have been confined 
within certain limits 1 . 

1 The most highly developed use of fiction occurs probably when the poets are 
dealing with unknown regions or peoples, as in the story of Odysseus (cf. p. 297 f.). 
But I am not aware that there is any evidence for the existence of poems on wholly 
fictitious subjects. 

20 2 


It may perhaps be said that these conclusions show an 
inadequate recognition of the results attained by modern in- 
vestigations in the history of Greek heroic tradition. But we 
may fairly ask how many definite results have been attained 
in this field results, I mean, which command the unanimous 
approval, or anything like the unanimous approval, of present- 
day scholars. It is a common opinion, at least in this country, 
that the general effect has been rather to obscure than to solve 
the real problems presented by the poems. If we put aside the 
opinions of more conservative scholars we may indeed find a 
common element namely the belief that the attitude of the 
ancients themselves to stories of the Heroic Age was mistaken. 
But this belief cannot be regarded as a result established by the 
investigations ; it is rather their starting point. 

By 'the ancients' I do not mean merely the poets and 
mythographers of antiquity. It is admitted that " the basis of 
fact in Homer is fully as real to Thucydides as to Herodotus." 
Now the work undertaken by Thucydides was not a history of 
the Trojan War ; but he had evidently considered that story. 
Apparently it did not occur to him to doubt that the war had 
taken place, or even that the expedition had been commanded 
by Agamemnon, king of Mycenae. What he 'had reflected on 
was the question whether the expedition was really on so large 
a scale as is stated in the Iliad ; and the result to which his 
reflections brought him was that there was not a sufficient case 
for scepticism (OVKOVV aTria-reiv et/co?). We are at liberty to form 
a different opinion. Yet Thucydides was a man no whit inferior 
intellectually to the best of modern scholars. Moreover he had 
the advantage of being a native ; and he was separated from 
the Heroic Age by some six centuries, whereas we are separated 
from it by nearly thirty. There can be little doubt that many 
sources of information were open to him traditions, poems and 
even monuments which are entirely lost to us. It seems to me 
therefore that before we disregard the opinions of such persons 
we shall do well to consider carefully in what respects we are 
better qualified for forming a judgment. 

So far as I can see we have the advantage in two respects 
only. Firstly, there is the evidence of the Egyptian monuments 


and of that pre-hist6ric Aegean civilisation which has been re- 
vealed to us by the discoveries of Schliemann, Dorpfeld, Evans, 
Halbherr and many others. It is at least improbable that 
Thucydides was as well acquainted with either of these sources 
of information as we are. If he had seen Dr Dorpfeld's ex- 
cavations at Troy he might perhaps have modified his opinion 
about the numbers of the Achaean army, although he had 
noted the dimensions of Mycenae. But that after all is a 
trifle. Can it be said that the general effect of the new evidence 
has been to discredit the tradition ? The records of Rameses II 
and his successors have definitely disposed of the idea that 
Agamemnon's expedition was anything impossible, while the 
discoveries in Crete have shown once for all that ' early ' does 
not mean the same thing as ' primitive.' It is a significant fact 
therefore that in many investigations of the type we are dis- 
cussing little or no use has been made of this new evidence. 
The evidence on which they rely is evidence which was at least 
as accessible to Thucydides as it is to us. 

Secondly, it is in our power, probably far more than it was 
in that of Thucydides and his contemporaries, to compare the 
Homeric stories with others of the same type. It is here that 
our great advantage lies. But can it be said that this advantage 
has been turned to account by modern writers ? Many works 
contain no reference to any poetry other than Greek and Latin 
the latter of which, owing to its dependence upon Greek, is of 
little value for our purpose. Many others, it is true, have used 
the evidence of Teutonic heroic poetry. But only by taking 
a single poem belonging to the latest stratum, without reference 
to its history or its connections in the poetry of other Teutonic 
peoples, and by using precarious hypotheses as to the origin of 
the story as a foundation for similar hypotheses in relation to the 
Homeric stories. The earlier strata of Teutonic heroic poetry 
have been ignored as much as the heroic poetry of other European 

I have no doubt that much which is obscure in Homeric 
poetry and tradition may be illuminated by a historical study 
of heroic poetry elsewhere not merely Teutonic but also Celtic, 
Slavonic and even non-European. For the story of the Iliad in 


particular I suspect that a fairly close parallel perhaps the 
closest of all is to be found in those Servian poems which 
deal with the battle of Kossovo 1 . My object however in this 
book is to bring to light the relations of Greek and Teutonic 
heroic poetry or rather to make a start in that direction, for 
the object is by no means one which can be accomplished in a 
single attempt. So much however may be said with confidence 
even now : all that we know, apart from hypotheses, with regard 
to the origin of the Teutonic heroic stories corresponds to the 
views held by Thucydides and his contemporaries. 

With the affinities between Homeric poetry and the old 
Teutonic court-poetry we shall have to deal in the next chapter. 
I do not think that any true analogy to the medieval German 
poems is to be found in Greek literature ; but I have ventured 
to suggest (p. 239 f.) that the poems of the Edda have something 
in common with those of Stesichoros and his followers. Apart 
from the poems however, Greek literature preserves numerous 
records of the Heroic Age, frequently, though not always, in the 
form of local traditions. Some of these are doubtless due to the 
influence of Homeric or * Stesichoric ' poetry ; but we have no 
right to assume that this is universally true. There are a 
number which appear to be of popular origin, whether they 
come from poems of Stage III (cf. p. 94 ff.) or from poems 
which were ' popular ' from the beginning or from stories which 
never were clothed in poetic form. 

As an example we will take the story of Minos. So far as 
I know, there is no evidence that this hero figured prominently 
in any early poems of which we have record, though incidental 
allusions to him occur both in the Iliad and the Odyssey. Yet 
there is no doubt that the Greeks regarded him as one of the 
very greatest figures of the far past. The most striking tradition 
recorded of him is that he possessed a powerful fleet, which 
enabled him to subdue the islands, to put down piracy and thus 
to secure safety for navigation. This thalassocracy is mentioned 
both by Herodotus (I 171, III 122) and Thucydides (l 4, 8) ; and 
the former adds that no such attempt to command the sea was 
made again until the time of Polycrates of Samos, in the latter 

1 On this subject see Note VII. 


part of the sixth century. Later writers relate the famous story 
of the Minotaur ; they represent Minos also as the founder of 
cities, including Cnossos and Phaistos, the great prehistoric 
palaces lately excavated, and as a legislator or judge. In what 
is commonly regarded as one of the latest additions to the 
Odyssey (XI 568 fT.) we find him giving judgments among 
the dead. 

It is obvious enough that the story of Minos contains many 
mythical features. But do these features constitute the original 
kernel of the story, or are they accretions, due to folk-tales or 
popular belief? We need not enter here into the story of the 
Minotaur, upon which Dr Evans' discoveries have thrown such 
a curious light. But there are other features in the story which 
may be illustrated from medieval beliefs regarding Dietrich von 
Bern. Sometimes we find this hero represented as the leader 
of the ' Wild Hunt,' the army of ghosts 1 a position elsewhere 
occupied by Wodan or other mythical beings. In medieval 
German homilies and other religious works he is credited with 
having been the founder of several famous Roman buildings, 
such as the Amphitheatre at Verona and the Castle of St Angelo 
at Rome 2 . In such beliefs we have a close enough parallel to 
the traditions of Minos. There is no reason for supposing that 
the Greeks were better acquainted with the prehistoric Cretans 
than the Germans were with the ancient Romans. In both 
cases doubtless it seemed natural to attribute the foundation 
of venerable buildings to a prominent hero of their own race 3 . 

1 Cf. J. Grimm, Teutonic Mythology* (Engl. Transl.), p. 936 f. 

2 Cf. W. Grimm, Deutsche Heldensage, p. 40 (and passim) ; J. Grimm, op. cit., 
p. 1183. 

3 Prof. Meyer (Gesch. d. Alt.\ I p. 680 ff.) has pointed out that, while Thucydides 
seems to have regarded Minos as a Greek, Herodotus apparently held a different 
view. Such is certainly the natural inference to be drawn from the language of the 
two historians, though the evidence is perhaps not quite conclusive in either case. 
But Herodotus, at all events in vn 171, clearly derived his information from the 
people of Praisos a community which cannot have been wholly Greek even in his 
time. Their account seems to have been due to an attempt to reconcile Greek and 
native traditions, Homeric influence being shown by the sentence rpirrj Se yever) /ierd 
MI'VOJCI TeXevT^ffavTa yevtvdai ret Tpwi'/cd, K.r.A. We may compare the Egyptian story 
of Helen (cf. p. 266). In the Homeric poems themselves Idomeneus is descended 
from Minos, and no hint is given that either of them was regarded as non-Greek. The 
same remark appears to be true of Greek tradition elsewhere. 


But Dietrich von Bern (Theodric, king of the Ostrogoths) was 
not originally a mythical being. 

Nor need the tradition of Minos' thalassocracy be regarded 
as altogether incredible. We have seen that in the reigns of 
Merenptah and Rameses III Egypt and the neighbouring lands 
were invaded by large forces from the Aegean or even more 
remote regions. After the time of Rameses III we hear little 
of these peoples, though it is clear that they had formed settle- 
ments on the coast of Palestine. From the following centuries 
we have apparently only one detailed piece of information 
relating to the Mediterranean, namely the story of a certain 
Unuamen (or Wenamon), an official belonging to the temple 
of Amen at Thebes, who had been sent to the Lebanon to buy 
timber 1 . From this story we may infer with some probability 
that the eastern end of the Mediterranean was policed or con- 
trolled by the fleets of some Aegean nation 2 . The time to 
which the story refers is either the reign of Herhor or that of 
his predecessor Rameses XII 3 about the beginning of the 
eleventh century. That seems to be approximately the time 
indicated for Minos by Greek tradition ; for according to II. 
XIII 451 f. and Od. XIX 178 ff. he was the grandfather of 
Idomeneus. It is scarcely impossible that an ambitious Greek 
prince of this age may have been animated by the desire of 
regaining the supremacy of the ancient Cretans, just as Theodric 
was inspired by the idea of restoring under Gothic rule the 
power formerly held by the Roman emperors. 

1 Cf. Petrie, History of Egypt, in 197 ff. ; Breasted, Ancient Records (Egypt], 
iv 274 ff. Prof. Breasted believes that this document is Wenamon's authentic report 
of his expedition. 

2 In the course of an adventurous journey the envoy was intercepted by some 
ships of the Zakar (Tchakaray), a people mentioned among the Aegean confederates 
who fought against Rameses III (cf. p. 188 ff.). These Zakar brought him before 
the prince of Byblos and demanded that he should be arrested. Prof. Petrie speaks 
of them as Cretan * pirates,' but neither their own behaviour nor that of the prince 
seems to me to be reconcilable with such a view. According to Prof. Breasted's 
reconstruction of the story where the papyrus is defective the envoy had himself 
been guilty of lawless conduct previously. Incidentally it appears from the story 
that a considerable amount of traffic was being carried on at this time both in 
Egyptian and Syrian ships. 

3 Herhor is mentioned in the story, but not as king. 



IT has been mentioned above (p. 310) that for the story of the Iliad a 
fairly close parallel is to be found in those Servian poems which deal with 
the battle of KOSSOVO l . This parallelism has long been noticed, but unfortu- 
nately it has given rise to an unnecessary controversy. Servian writers, 
inspired by patriotic zeal, have sought to make an 'Iliad' by stringing their 
national poems together, while scholars of other nations have denied that 
the Servians possess anything which deserves to be called epic poetry. We 
need not concern ourselves here with a discussion about terms. It is clear 
enough that Servian heroic poetry bears little resemblance to the Homeric 
poems as we have them. But we may strongly suspect that at an earlier 
stage in the history of Homeric poetry the resemblance would be much 
closer, although the art of heroic poetry in Greece had doubtless been 
elaborated for centuries to a far higher degree than was ever attained by 
Servian poets. 

It is to the treatment of the story however, and not to the qualities of the 
poetry, that I wish to call attention. Beowulf, Finn, Waldhere and the 
Hildebrandslied all deal with fighting of various kinds, but we do not know 
how early Teutonic poetry treated a story of actual war. The Servian 
poems resemble the Iliad chiefly in the comparatively large number of 
prominent characters which they introduce and in the fact that they deal 
with a series of more or less distinct episodes, in which various heroes from 
time to time play the leading part. Lazar's council or court furnishes an 
interesting parallel to that of Agamemnon the more instructive because we 
can here check the evidence of the poems by historical records, some of 
which are practically contemporary, while many date from within a century 
of the battle. 

King Lazar himself and his opponent, Sultan Murad I, are of course 
well-known historical persons. There is no doubt also with regard to Vuk 
Brankovic, the chief of Lazar's followers or allies. In the poems he is repre- 
sented as the husband of Mara (Maria), the king's daughter ; but in this 
case there may be some confusion. According to Ducas (p. I7 2 ) Lazar had 

1 My object in this note is to call attention to a subject which appears to have 
been strangely neglected by English Homeric students. I cannot claim to possess the 
requisite qualifications, linguistic and historical, for an independent investigation of 
the subject. English translations of many of the poems are to be found, together 
with a historical introduction, in Mme Mijatovich's KOSSOVO (London, 1881). For 
a more critical study the reader may be referred to the introduction to Pasic's Narodne 
Pjesme o boju na Kosovu godine 1389 (Agram, 1877), to which I am much indebted. 

2 The references to Laonicos' and Ducas' histories, as well as to the translation of 
the latter, are to the pages in Niebuhr's edition. It may be that Ducas was mistaken 
with regard to the name of Bajazet's wife ; cf. Engel, Geschichte von Serwien, p. 332. 


a daughter of this name who was married to Bajazet, the son and successor 
of Murad, after the conclusion of the war. Vuk Brankovic was however 
a son-in-law of Lazar according to Laonicos Chalcocondylas (p. 53). Again, 
Jug Bogdan, represented in the poems as Lazar's father-in-law 1 , is believed 
to be identical with a certain prince named MTroydavos (ndy8ai/os), who, 
according to Laonicos (p. 28), was granted by Dusan the territories between 
Pherrai and the Axios (Vardar), and who about 1372 submitted to Murad 
together with the other Servian princes in this region. To these we may 
add the vojvoda Vladeta ; for there can be little doubt that this person is to 
be identified with that Vlathico Vlagenichio who, according to the anonymous 
translation of Ducas' history (p. 352), was sent by his uncle luathco (Tvrtko), 
king of Bosnia, to support Lazar with 20,000 men. 

On the other hand some doubt has been expressed with regard to Milos 
Obilic (or Kobilovic) the chief Servian hero of the story. He is not men- 
tioned apparently by any strictly contemporary authority. Yet the traditional 
account of Murad's death is known to the two Greek historians Ducas and 
Laonicos, both of whom are believed to have written within about three 
quarters of a century after the battle. The latter (p. 54) states that accord- 
ing to the Greek version of the story a Servian nobleman named M^Xois- 
rode fully armed into the Turkish camp, representing himself to be a 
deserter. Murad gave orders that he was to be allowed to come near and 
say what he wished. But when he reached the door of the Sultan's tent he 
threw his spear and slew Murad, meeting with his own death immediately 
afterwards. Laonicos however also says that the Turks gave quite a different 
account of the affair namely that as Murad was pursuing the enemy a 
Servian (av8pa Tpt/SaXXdv), who was on foot, turned and transfixed him with 
a javelin. Ducas' version of the story (p. 15) resembles that given by the 
poems in the fact that the assassin uses a dagger. His name is not given, 
but he is said to have been a young and distinguished Servian and to have 
asked to see Murad as a deserter with important information. 

Closer affinity with the poems is shown by the anonymous translation of 
Ducas' history (p. 352 ff.), which contains much additional matter. Indeed 
it is scarcely possible to doubt that the additions are partly derived from 
poems, though these may not have been exactly identical with any which 
are now extant. When Milos ('Milos Cobilichio, capetanio de Lazaro') 
reaches the Sultan's tent we are told, as in the poems 2 , that he is bidden to 

1 I do not know whether this is historically correct. There seem to be a number 
of historical references to Milica, Lazar's queen; cf. Engel, op. cit., pp. 311, 

33 1. 346 f- 

2 Cf. Pasic, op. cit., vi v. 13 ff. (p. 92). This passage is taken from a Croatian 
poem (Nr 6, v. 166 ff.) published by Miklosich, Denkschriften d. k. Akademie 
d. Wissenschaften (Vienna), Xix p. 73 ff., from a MS. collection at Ragusa dating 
from about 1728. Mme Mijatovich's poem on the same subject (p. 120 ff.) differs 
a good deal from this and bears a closer resemblance to the Italian in one or two 


kiss Murad's foot 'according to the usage of his kingdom 1 .' Far more 
striking however is the account of the banquet on the preceding day, which 
in places appears to be little more than a free translation of a fragmentary 
poem published in Karadzic's collection 2 : "El zorno precedente a quello 
che segui la iniqua et infelice bataglia, Lazaro convocati tutti i signori et 
principal! del suo imperio 3 , comando che se aparechiasse una sdraviza 
secondo la usanza dela sua corte ; in laquale, come gratioso et benigno 
signore, a tutti porse la sdraviza con sua mano. Quando la volta tocco a 
Milos, se fe dar una grande taza d' oro piena de pretioso vino 4 ; la qual 
porzendoli disse a Milos : ' Excellentissimo cavalier, prendi questa sdraviza, 
che con la taza te dono...sdravize per amor mio. Ma molto mi doglio che 
ho inteso una mala novella, che al tuo dispoto sei facto ribello' 5 . Al qual 
Milos, reverentemente presa la taza con chiara faza, disse : ' Signer dispoto, 
molto te ringratio della sdraviza et taza d' oro che m' ai donata. Ma molto 
mi doglio dela mia dubitata fede 6 . Doman de matina, se dio dark effecto al j 
alto pensier mio, se cognoscera se io son fidele o ribello dela tua Signoria." 

This translation is believed to be of Dalmatian origin 7 and, according to 
Prof. Bury 8 , itself dates from the fifteenth century. We are bound to con- 
clude therefore that Milos' exploit was treated in poems from which some 
of the extant pieces are ultimately descended within a century of the battle. 
The earliest direct reference to poems dealing with Khobilouitz (i.e. Milos 

1 ' Secondo la usanza del suo imperio ' (cf. Miklosich, 6. 167 : ' Ovaki su zakoni, 
Milosu, u zemlji mojoj,' etc.). 

2 Vuk Stef. Karadzic", Srpske Narodne Pjesme, Vol. n (Vienna, 1875), 50 iii 
(p. 310 ff.). This is translated, with a few slight changes, in Mme Mijatovich's 
piece ' The Banquet before Battle ' (p. 116 ff.). A somewhat different account of the 
same incident and showing less resemblance to the Italian occurs in Miklosich, 
6. 116 ff., a passage which is not used by Pasic or Mijatovich. 

3 Cf. Karadzic, n 50 iii, v. 3 f. : 

Svu gospodu za sofru sjedao (scil. Lazare), 
svu gospodu i gospodiice. 

4 Ibid., v. 13 : 

Car uzima zlatan pehar vina, etc. 

5 Ibid., v. 31 ff. : 

Zdrav Milosu, vjero i nevjero ! 
prva vjero, potonja nevjero ! 
Sjutra ces me izdat' na Kosovu, 
i odbjeci Turskom car-Muratu ; 
zdrav mi budi ! i zdravicu popij : 
vino popij, a na cast ti pehar. 

6 Ibid., v. 39 ff.: 

Vala tebe, slavni knez-Lazare ! 
Vala tebe na tvojoj zdravici, 
na zdravici i na daru tvome ; 
al' ne vala na takoj besjedi ; etc. 

7 Cf. Pasic, op. cit., p. 26. 

8 Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, VII p. 327. 


Kobilovic) goes back to the first half of the sixteenth century, at which time 
they are said to have been numerous 1 . It may be however that the accounts 
given by Ducas himself and by Laonicos are also derived ultimately from 
poems 2 . But if so the poetic treatment of the subject must have begun 
within living memory of the battle ; for it is clear from the evidence of these 
authors that by the middle of the fifteenth century the story had come to the 
Greeks in more than one form and that it had even attained great celebrity 
among them 3 . 

The Kossovo poems certainly give us some evidence for the phenomenon 
which we have above (p. 307) called 'transference.' In one poem (Karadzic, 
II 46, v. 59 ff.) we find it stated that King Vukasin entered into the battle 
and met with his death. In reality he was killed at (or shortly after) the 
battle of the Marica in 1371. The same poem also, immediately afterwards 
(v. 71 ff.), introduces Erceg Stepan, who lived nearly a century later. 
But this poem 4 is of a very peculiar type distinctly non-heroic and it is 
not legitimate to draw conclusions from it as to the poems in general. It 
would be of far more importance for our purpose if we knew that Jug 
Bogdan was attracted into the story. He must certainly have been an old 
man in 1389, since he had his territories granted to him by Dusan, who died 
in 1356. But he is regularly described as 'the old' (start) in the poems. 
The fact also that he had been a vassal of Murad from 1372 onwards is 
hardly conclusive; for it is clear that a great effort was made in 1389 to 
unite the various Servian princes. On the whole the evidence, so far as it is 
known to me, does not seem to indicate that attraction or transference has 
played an important part in the story. 

For the invention of characters there is, so far as I know, no absolutely 
decisive evidence. But probably few would be inclined to regard such a 
person as Vaistina, the servant or squire (sluga) of Music Stefan 5 (Karadzic, 

1 Cf. Murko, Geschichte der dlteren siidslaw. Litteraturen, p. 205. 

2 This is perhaps rather suggested by one or two of Laonicos' sentences, e.g. 

<f>acriv) uirXur ov eXai^eiv crvv r< I'TTTT^ tiri TO ' A/movparew ffTparoiredov, us av 
ovvTa euro r&v ivavrluv (p. 54); and more . especially by the speech which 
Ducas (p. 15) attributes to Milos : "BotfXo/ucu TOVTOV IdeTv /ecu \6yovs rti/as {fjro\f/i.6vpi(rat 
us yicpaTT]S yevtffdai. rovrovt TOV woX^ttov ^e/ca yap TOIJTOV cnrr6/xoXos eX^Xutfa." With 
the last sentence we may compare Miklosich, 6. 164 : 

Ja sam ti se odvrg'o od vojske Lazara kneza. 

3 Cf. Laonicos, I.e.: "EXX^es... \yov<nv dvdpa yevvcuoTarov dde\rj<rcu 

ayuva. /cdXXtcrroi' di) rCov iruiroTe yevoptvuv, and again, below : 6/o^V 

4 The first part of this poem (vv. i 44) corresponds to Mijatovich, p. 104 ff. ; 
the second part (v. 47 ff.) to Mijatovich, p. 126 ff. In such cases as this it is much 
to be regretted that Mme Mijatovich did not adhere to Karadzic's text. If the 
explanation be that her version is derived from a different source and not due to 
arbitrary transposition this should have been made clear. 

5 In Miklosich, 6. 158, which deals with the same story the squire is called 
Oliver, while his master's name appears as Busic Stjepane. 


II 47), otherwise than as a product of fiction ; and the same remark applies 
to the squire Milutin who brings the news of Lazar's death to the queen 
(ib. 45. 146 ff.). It is a more difficult matter to form an opinion as to whether 
any of the more important characters are fictitious. Several of them appear 
to be unknown from contemporary historical works. Among these we may 
mention Music Stefan himself and more especially Banovic Strahinja, the 
hero of the longest poem in the cycle (ib. 44). So far as I know, the earliest 
reference to the latter is in the Chronicle of Tronosa, which mentions inci- 
dentally the destruction of his palace 1 . Again, according to the poems 
Milos was accompanied on his errand to Murad by two of his friends, Milan 
Toplica and Ivan Kosancic. Both these persons are mentioned in the same 
connection by the Chronicle of Tronosa, which adds that at the banquet on 
the preceding night they, as well as Milos, had been charged with disloyalty 
by the king. This chronicle is believed to be derived from a MS. of the 
sixteenth century; but there is practically no doubt that it has drawn largely 
from poetic sources. Our earliest authorities, Laonicos and Ducas, together 
with the translation of the latter, seem to imply distinctly that Milos carried 
out his exploit alone. That however does not prove that the characters 
themselves are fictitious. On the whole, considering the limited amount of 
information which early records furnish, it would probably be wise to hesitate 
before adopting the view that any of the more important characters are 
invented at all events those which can be traced back to within two cen- 
turies of the battle. 

There seems to be no evidence for the introduction of what can properly 
be called mythical beings in poems of the Kossovo cycle 2 . But sometimes 
we certainly find supernatural incidents. In Karadzic, n 45. 119 ff. two 
crows from the field of Kossovo bring to the queen the first news of the 
battle and of Lazar's death. A more extravagant case occurs in the opening 
verses of (ibid.) II 46 a poem to which we have already referred. Lazar is 
here made to receive a letter dropped by a swallow (which is carried by a 
falcon) offering him the choice between the heavenly and earthly kingdoms. 
In another (Croatian) poem (Karadzic, II 48 3 ) the mother of the Jugovici 
prays that she may receive the eyes of a falcon and the wings of a swan. 
Her prayer is answered, and she flies to the field of Kossovo and sees the 
dead bodies of her sons and husband. This poem is largely taken up with 
the marvellous throughout and has little in common with heroic poetry. 

But it is from the point of view of their presentation of the story that the 
Kossovo poems chiefly merit our attention. This presentation contains 
many features which may be included under the head of fiction. Yet in 

1 Quoted by Pasic, op. cit., p. 30. 

2 Other poems, both Christian and Mohammedan, frequently introduce Vile, 
i.e. nymphs or elf- women. 

3 Not included in the collections of Pasic and Mijatovich. A slightly variant form 
(apparently of Montenegrin origin) is published, together with a translation, in Krauss' 
Slavische Volkforschungen, p. 289 f. 


certain cases it is a question whether we have not rather what may be called 
a growth of myth. By this I mean the introduction and development of 
motives which, though incorrect historically, can hardly be regarded, at 
least in their entirety, as conscious inventions of an individual. They 
would seem rather to have originated in rumour and popular misconceptions. 
As examples we may take what are perhaps the two most salient features in 
the story the exploit of Milos -and his confederates and the treachery of 
Vuk Brankovic. 

We have already dealt with the first of these incidents. The poems 
make Milos and his companions perform prodigies of valour before they are 
overcome. But our earliest authorities state that Milos was killed almost 
immediately ; and they imply that he was alone. Indeed we know that the 
Turks gave quite a different account of Murad's death. It is not at all clear 
that between the two the Servian account possesses the greater probability. 
But it may very well have been believed among the Servians from the very 
beginning, whether its origin is to be traced to genuine information derived 
from the Turkish camp or merely to idle rumour. 

Again, the treachery of Vuk Brankovic is proclaimed again and again in 
the poems. But there is no evidence earlier than the sixteenth century to 
substantiate the charge l . The first reference to treachery in Lazar's army 
occurs in the translation of Ducas' history (p. 354) ; but here the traitor is 
called 'Dragossavo Probiscio, capitaneo del campo del dispoto.' It has 
been suggested that Vuk's unenviable celebrity in the poems is due to the 
unpopularity of his son, George Brankovic, who ruled over Servia from 
1427 to 1457 2 . 

The above brief sketch will probably be sufficient to show that these 
poems are capable of throwing a good deal of light upon the origin and 
development of a heroic story. The period is one for which, comparatively 
speaking, a fair amount of information is available ; and quite, possibly more 
might be obtained by a careful investigation of the documents of that age. 
It is to be remembered of course that after the middle of the fifteenth 
century nothing like court poetry can have existed in Servia. We should 
expect then that from this time onwards the poems would become more and 
more permeated by those characteristics which we have assigned to Stage in 
of our scheme. As a matter of fact some of the poems show these charac- 
teristics only to a comparatively slight degree. This is especially the case 
with the poem on the banquet (Karadzic, II 50 iii) ; but part of this poem, as 
we have seen, can be traced back to the fifteenth century. On the other 

1 Prof. Murko (op. cit., p. 202) states that Vuk "in der Schlacht in hervorragender 
Weise seine Pflicht erfiillt und sich dann mit den Tiirken gar nicht ausgesohnt hat wie 
Lazar's Sohn Stefan." I do not know the authority for the first part of this statement ; 
but according to the Turkish account (cf. Engel, Geschichte von Serwien, p. 346) the 
(right) wing of the Servian army which was commanded by Vuk was successful. 

2 Cf. Pasic, op. cit., p. 42. 


hand the characteristics of Stage in are very strongly marked in Karadzic 
II 46 and 48. I should expect that these poems are late compositions. 

So far as I have been able to deal with the subject the result of the 
discussion has been that there is little or no definite evidence for the inven- 
tion of characters. That is a result which can scarcely be regarded as 
surprising, in view of the history of -Servian poetry. On the other hand the 
conditions were such as we should expect to be exceptionally favourable to 
the development of transference or attraction. Yet there is but little satis- 
factory evidence in this direction. I am inclined therefore to think that the 
force of this principle has been considerably overestimated by recent writers. 
What the Kossovo poems do seem to suggest is not that the characters of 
the Iliad were invented or attracted from other quarters, but that their 
exploits and their relations with one another may in reality have been very 
different from what we find depicted in the poem. 



OUR review of the Homeric poems has led us to conclude 
that their origin and early history was in many respects analo- 
gous to that of the English heroic poems ; and further, that 
there is no valid reason for regarding the stories with which 
they deal as mythical or fictitious, although we cannot, as in the 
case of the English poems, actually prove that they rest upon a 
historical basis. We must now endeavour to see what common 
elements the two series of poems contain in regard to style and 
srjirit. This will enable us to determine whether the term 
' Heroic Age,' as applied to the two cases in common, can be 
held to mean anything more than an age of 'heroes/ whose 
deeds were celebrated in poetry. 

The most cursory glance at the two groups of poems will be 
sufficient to show that they contain many common features in 
regard to style. In both we find the constant j^petidpn_of the 
- ' jame formulae a _e.g.^ in _the in trQductionjof_ speeches. Thus in 
Ihe first part of Beowulf eight speeches out of thirteen by the 
hero himself are introduced by the formula : Beowulf mafrelode 
beam Ecgpeowes, while three of Hrothgar's seven speeches follow 
the words : Hrcfogar mafrelode helm Scyldinga. In thejliad we 
may compare the constant repetition of such formulae as : TOV 8' 
a7ra/j,i/36fjievo<; Trpoae^rj /cpeiwv 'Arya/ue/jivcov or : TOV S' rj/ueifieT 9 
7retTa Teptjvtos iTTTrora Neo-ro>/>. The explanation of such 
formulae is probably to be found in the fact that both sets 
of poems were designed for preservation by oral tradition. In 
literary poems such as the Aeneid they seem to be avoided. 


Indeed the words introducing a speech are here seldom allowed 
to occupy a whole verse. 

Another feature common to the two groups of poems is the 
J love of describing somewjiajLmmutely the detajls jpXa transaction 
whichjn itself is nothingjinusuaL Often in such cases they use 
very similar language. Thus in Od. IV 778 ff. Antinoos' pre- 
parations are described as follows: "With these words he picked 
out twenty men who were the best, and they went on their way 
to the swift ship and the sea-shore. First of all they pushed out 
the ship into deep water ; and they placed the mast and the 
sails in the black ship and made ready the oars in the leathern 
rowlocks, each in its proper place, and spread out the white 
sails. And high-hearted squires carried their arms. The ship 
they moored afloat in the roadstead ; but they themselves dis- 
embarked. There they took their supper and waited for the 
approach of evening." With this passage we may compare 
Beow. 205 ff. : "The hero had with him picked champions of the 
men of the Geatas, the bravest he could find ; so with fourteen 
companions he made his way to the vessel. A skilful pilot was 
the man who pointed out the features of the coast. When due 
time had elapsed the ship was afloat beneath the lee of the cliff, 
and the warriors all prepared ascended the prow, where the 
waves of the sea were playing upon the sand. Into the bosom of 
the craft men bore their bright treasures, even their resplendent 
armour. The company pushed off their timbered craft and 
started on the adventure of their choice." 
Again the movements of royja 

are sometimes rather carefully noted. In Od I 328 ff. we are 
told that " Icarios' daughter, thoughtful Penelope, became con- 
scious of the glorious song in her upper chamber ; and she 
descended the lofty staircase of her dwelling, but not alone, for 
two attendant maidens accompanied her. Now when the noble 
lady drew near the suitors she stood beside the pillar of the well 
built house, holding her shining veil before her face ; and one of 
her trusty attendants stood by her on either side." With this 
we may compare .Beow. 921 ff. : "As for the king himself, the 
guardian of the ring-hoards, famed for his sterling qualities he 
likewise strode majestically from his bedchamber with a great 
c. 21 


following ; and with him his queen traversed the ascent to the 
mead-hall, accompanied by a band of maidens. When Hrothgar 
arrived at the hall he stood by the pillar (?), gazing on the lofty 
roof, adorned with gold, and on Grendel's arm." 

Both poems_alsp elaborate^the various stagesjin the arrival 
aruj_rprgpj-ion of visitors. As an example we may~tateThe 
account of Telemachos' arnyai_at__Mejielaos' palace in Od. IV. 
20 ff.: "At this time the hero Tetemachos and Nestor's dis- 
tinguished son had drawn up with their horses in the vestibule 
of the palace. Now the lord Eteoneus, renowned Menelaos' 
active squire, came forward and saw them. And he went on his 
way through the building to give the news to the shepherd of 
the people; and standing beside him addressed him with winged 
words." Menelaos replies that the strangers are to be brought 
in at once. The arrival jpJLJB..amiIf .at the Danish ^kjjlgJLpalace 
is described at much greater length. First, he is greeted by 
Wulfgar, the king's herald and henchman. Then he replies, 
and Wulfgar promises to take his message. " Quickly then 
he sped to where Hrothgar was sitting, aged and grey-haired, 
among his retinue of nobles. Exulting in his prowess he 
passed on until he took his stand at the side of the prince of the 
Danes ; for he knew the usage of chivalry." After this we have 
still three more speeches first by Wulfgar to the king, then the 
latter's reply and finally Wulfgar's answer to Beowulf before 
the visitors enter. 

We may compare also the ^formulae used in greetings^ jto 
strangers. Thus in Od. l 169 ff. Telemachos addresses the dis- 
guised Athene as follows : " Now come, tell me this and declare 
it plainly : Who of men art thou, and whence ? Where are thy 
city and thy parents ? And (tell me) upon what sort of a ship 
thou hast come" with several other questions. Another case 
occurs in III 71 ff., where Nestor is greeting Telemachos: "Sirs, 
who are ye, and whence do ye sail the watery paths ? Is it 
upon some enterprise, or do ye wander over the sea at random, 
like pirates who rove, risking their lives and bringing evil to 
men of other lands ? " Beowulf receiyes_a_ jomewh at similar 
greeting from the Danish coastguard, when he lands (v. 237 ff.) : 
" What warriors are ye that thus have come clad in coats of 


mail, bringing hither your lofty ship over the waters along the 
high road of the sea?" And again, shortly afterwards (v. 251 ff.): 
" Now must I know your origin, before ye start hence and pro- 
ceed further as spies into the land of the Danes. Ye dwellers 
afar, ye who traverse the sea, hear now my fixed resolve. Best 
is it with speed to make known whence ye are come." 

Again, both poerns like to dwell upon the emotions felt in 
greeting or bidding farewell to friends. Thus in Od. XVI 14 ff. 
it is stated that Eumaios " came up to his lord and kissed his 
head and both his fair eyes and both his hands, and the hot 
tears fell from him. As an affectionate father greets his son 
when he returns from a distant land after nine years absence 
an only son and well loved (?), for whose sake he has endured 
many hardships even so then did the noble swineherd kiss god- 
like Telemachos all over and embrace him as one escaped from 
death." With this we may compare the account of Hrothgar's 
farewell to Beowulf (v. iS/off): "Then did the king of noble 
lineage, the prince of the Scyldingas, kiss that best of squires 
and clasp him round the neck. Tears fell from him, as he stood 
there with his grey hair. Aged and venerable as he was, he 
felt uncertain, indeed he thought it unlikely, that they would 
ever meet again in spirited converse. So dear was this man to 
him that he could not restrain his heart's emotion ; but in his 
breast, fast bound within his heart, a secret longing for the 
beloved man burnt in his blood." 

The frequent use of similes, as in the last passage from the 
Odyssey, is one_j^the_^hieJLjeal!irs^^ 

J3oetry jjffers_jrqm Teutonic. Sometimes however the same 
kind of picture is brought before us in a different way. Thus 
among the commonest HomericLgimiles are those derived from 
hunting scenes. A typical example occurs in II. XV 271 ff. : 
" As when hounds and men of the country chase a horned stag 
or a wild goat, and it is saved by a precipitous rock or dense 
wood, and they cannot succeed in finding it," etc. With this 
may be compared a passage in^ Beowulf describing the pool in 
(which the demons had made their lair (v. 1369 ff.) : "Though 
the heath-ranger, the stag of mighty horns, may make his way 
'to the forest when beset by hounds after a long chase, he will 

21 2 


yield up his spirit and his life on the brink before he will be 
willing to shelter his head therein." 

Occasionally we meet with similes of a more ambitious, not 
to say extravagant, character, as in II. II 455 ff., where the 
gleam arising from the bronze armour of the Achaean army is 
compared to the blaze produced by a forest fire. For this also 
we find parallels in Teutonic poetry, e.g. Finn 35 f. : "A gleam 
arose from the swords, as though Finn's fortress were all on 

In the use of epithets ajndjroej^ical expressions many remark- 
able parallels are to be found. Some of these are merely of a 
descriptive character, e.g. aicpias r)V/jboeo-(ra<; (Od. XVI 365) 
beside windige naessas (Beow. 1359), and some are little more 
than circumlocutions, e.g. we? 'A^at&>z/, Geata beam, for 'A^au, 
Geatas. In other cases however a distinct metap_hor is involved, 
as when ships are called d\o$ LTTTTOI, (Od. IV 708), corresponding 
to the Anglo-Saxon brimhengest, which is probably an epic 
word, though it does not occur in the extant fragments. In 
particular note should be taken of the metaphorical terms 
applied to kings, e.g. TTOL^V \awv which may be compared with 
folces hyrde, eptco^ 'A^at^v with eodur Scyldinga, and perhaps 
also ot>po9 'A^atcof with the very common expression eorla hleo. 

The characteristics which we have been discussing up till 
now affect only the language and style of the two groups of 
poems. But it is to be observed that they possess also certain 
Common features which appear to be of deeper__significance. 
Thus such expressions as o\fiov eVe/cXwaay or wigspeda gewiofu 
(' the webs of success in war ') are probably to be traced to a 
primitive^ relig^jas_coriceptiQn, which may be seen more clearly 
in Od. VII 196 ff. : "There he shall experience afterwards what- 
ever Fate and the stern KXwtfes ('spinning women') spun for 
him when he was born 1 ." For the prevalence of similar ideas 
among the Teutonic peoples we may refer to Helgakvi'Sa 
Hundingsbana,! 3 f., Gylfaginning, cap. 15, Nials Saga, cap. 157, 
and above all to the Saga af Nornagesti (cap. 11), which 

1 We may compare such expressions as me \aet wyrd gewaef in the Anglo-Saxon 
Rhyming Poem (Cod. Exon.), v. 70. 


presents such a remarkable parallel to the story of Althaia and 

Somewhat clearer evidence of a common religjous^conception 
is furnished by Beow. 2124 ff., a passage which we have already 
quoted (p. 54). The rite of 'paying the due of fire' (XeXa^wcrt 
Try/ao?) to a dead man is often mentioned in theTIiad (e.g. VII 
79 f., XXII 342 f., XXIII 76; cf. XXIV 37 f.) and undoubtedly 
had a religious significance. This may be seen especially from 
the speech of Elpenor in Od. XI 71 ff.: "There I exhort thee 
then, my lord, to be mindful of me and not to leave me behind 
unlamented and unburied, abandoning me when thou goest 
away, lest I bring down wrath from the gods upon thee. But 
burn me up with my arms, all that I possess, and construct for 
me a barrow upon the shore of the grey sea, the memorial of an 
unfortunate man, so that I may be known even to those who 
shall be hereafter." 

It will be observed that this passage, apart from its religious 
bearing, expresses a desire on the part of the speaker that his. 
memory may not be forgotten. Here we are brought to one of 
the most striking characteristics of heroic poetry, both Greek 
and Teutonic, namely the constantly expressed thirst for fame, 
both _durin Acme's, own life and in after times. As a typical 
example we may take a passage from Hector's speech before 
his combat with Aias (II. VII 85 ff.) : " I will give up his body to 
the longhaired Achaeans, so that they may take him to the well- 
decked ships for burial and construct for him a memorial barrow 
by the broad Hellespont. So shall it be said in time to come 
by some one who lives in after days, when he sails his many- 
oared ship over the dark sea: 'This is the memorial of a man 
who died long ago, who once upon a time was slain in his 
prowess by glorious Hector.' So shall it be said in time to 
come ; and my fame shall never perish." In Od. XXIV 80 ff. 
Agamemnon's spirit describes how such honours had been paid 
to the remains of Achilles : " Then over them our sacred host 
of warriors from Argos constructed a great and splendid grave- 
mound, upon a projecting headland above the broad Hellespont 
so that it might be conspicuous to men upon the sea, both those 
who are now alive and those who shall be hereafter." With both 


these passages we may compare the dying words of Beowulf 
(v. 2802 ff.) : " After the pyre is consumed command my famous 
warriors to construct a splendid grave-chamber where the head- 
land juts into the sea. It shall tower aloft on H rones Naes as 
a memorial for my people so that in after days the name of 
' Beowulf's Barrow ' shall be familiar to manners who ply their 
tall ships from afar over the dark waters." 

The summit of a hero's ambition ~is~ta._. have his glory eel er 
brated_jvery.whf:rf: and JQt_all. .time,. Odysseus himself says 
(Od. IX 20) that his glory reaches to heaven. His wife bewails 
her troubles in the following words (ib. IV 724) : " Before this I 
lost my brave lion-hearted husband who was preeminent among 
the Danaoi for every kind of excellence. Far and wide was that 
brave man's glory spread, throughout Hellas and mid Argos." 
The extent of Beowulf's fame is proclaimed in more extravagant 
terms. One passage (v. 1221 ff.) has already been quoted (p. 88). 
We may compare also v. 856 ff.: "There was Beowulf's fame 
celebrated. Frequently and by many was it declared that 
whether to the south or north, between the two seas, on earth's 
broad expanse and beneath the canopy of heaven, there existed 
no nobler warrior nor one more worthy to govern." 

This love of glory is held up as an incitement to bravery in __ 
ctira1 situations,. as in Wald. I 8 ff., where Hildegyth encourages 
the hero as follows : " O son of Aelfhere, a day is come which 
without doubt has in store for thee one or other of two issues 
either to lose thy life or to possess lasting glory among mortals." 
For the alternative form of expression, though used from a 
different point of view, we may compare Socos' speech in II. XI 
430 ff. : " O far-famed Odysseus, today thou shalt either be able 
to boast over two sons of Hippasos that thou hast slain such 
men as we are and robbed us of our arms or smitten beneath 
my spear thou shalt lose thy life." 

The last passage introduces us to another prominent charac-_ 
teristic_gfjberoic poetry, namely the boasting oJLwarriQrs^over _ 
their own personal prowess and the deedsjthey_haye i_ger formed,., 
or firp gning tp rjgrfnrm Sometimes this is represented as 
taking place in the banqueting hall, as in II. XX 83 ff, where the 
disguised Apollo thus taunts Aineias:' 1 Aineias, thou counseller 


of the Trojans, where now is thy boasting, in which thou didst 
vow to the princes of the Trojans, when quaffing thy wine, that 
thou wouldst try thy strength in open battle against Achilles 
son of Peleus ! " We may compare Beow. 480 ff. : " Often 
enough have scions of combat vowed over the ale-cup, when 
drunken with beer, that they would abide Grendel's onset in the 
hall with their terrible swords." Beowulf himself indulges in a 
similar boast (v. 636 ff.) : " I am resolved to perform a deed of 
knightly prowess or to meet with my life's end in this mead- 

Again, it is by boasting of much the same kind that warriors 
make themselves^ known to one another when they meetjn_ 
.battle. A typical example occurs in Finn 24 ff. : "Sigeferth is 
my name. I am a prince of the Secgan and a rover known far 
and wide. Many hardships and stern encounters have I endured. 
Here too thou shalt have for certain (i.e. I shall not draw back 
from) whichever course (i.e. war or peace) thou dost prefer to 
take with me." We may compare II. XIII 448 ff, where 
Idomeneus makes himself known to Deiphobos : " Now stand 
forth thyself to face me, that thou mayest see what sort of a 
scion of Zeus is come here. First Zeus begat Minos to be ruler 
of Crete, and Minos again begat the blameless Deucalion ; and 
Deucalion begat me to be lord over many men in broad Crete. 
But now have ships brought me hither with consequences evil 
to thee and to thy father and the rest of the Trojans." 

It will be seen that in this passage Idomeneus prides himself 
as much on his ancestry 1 as on his own prowess. The idea of 
inherited valour finds expression again in II. V 252 ff, where 
Diomedes says to Sthenelos : "Exhort me not to flight, for I am 
sure thou wilt not persuade me. Nowise inbred in me is it to 
fight a runaway battle, neither to cower in fear. My courage is 
steadfast still." Practically the same idea appears in Beow. 

1 We may compare a passage from the poem on the battle of Maldon, which 
largely follows heroic poetry (cf. pp. 3, 97). In v. 216 ff. Aelfwine, one of 
Byrhtnoth's knights, boasts as follows: "I will make my lineage known to all, 
that I come of a great Mercian house. My grandfather, Ealhhelm by name, was 
a wise earl and blessed with worldly prosperity. Not against me shall knights bring 
public reproach, that I am willing to leave this army and make my way home, now 
that my prince lies slain in battle." Ealhhelm held office in the reign of Edmund I. 


2694 ff. : " Then, as I have been told, in the national king's dire 
need the knight stood upright and showed forth his prowess 
strength and valour such as was inbred in him." 

The feeling of pride ina noble family becomes clearly inotice- 
able also on occasions when the family is threatened with 
extinction. Beowulf s farewell _words_tq_ Wiglaf are (v. 2814 ff.): 
" Thou art the last remnant of our house, even of Waegmund's 
line. All my kinsmen in their knightly prowess has Fate swept 
off to their doom. I myself must follow them." We may com- 
pare Od. XIV 1 80 f., though here the speaker, Eumaios, is only 
a dependent of the house : " On his return home the illustrious 
suitors are lying in wait for him, in order that the seed of 
godlike Arceisios may vanish nameless from Ithaca." 

h e h Pimc_gpirit-^hQws_its.el in the .exhortations of 

princes to their followers. As an instance we may quote a verse 
which occurs several times, in speeches of Hector and Patroclos: 
" Be men, my friends, and set your minds upon impetuous 
valour." The same exhortation, though in a more elaborate 
form, occurs in Finn 10 ff. : " But awake now, my warriors, have 
your hands ready (or 'take your mail-coats'), be mindful of your 
prowess, leap forth in the forefront (?), be stout of heart." 

It is true that these last two passages would in themselves 
be appropriate in any martial poetry. But we must take the 
context into account. Patroclos immediately (XVI 271 f.) adds 
the words "in order that we may do honour to the son of Peleus, 
who is by far the best of the men of Argos." So in Finn 40 f. 
we are told that " never was a nobler recompense paid for sweet 
mead than was (then) rendered to Hnaef by his bachelors." The 
same thought occurs elsewhere in the English poems, e.g. in 
Beow. 2634 ff., where Wiglaf is exhorting his comrades : " I 
remember the time when we were receiving mead, when in the 
beer-hall we pledged ourselves to our lord who gave us these 
bracelets, that if need like this befell him we would repay the 
battle-harness, the helmets and sharp swords." And again, 
shortly afterwards (v. 2646 ff.) : " Now is the day come that our 
liege-lord needs the strength of brave warriors. Let us draw 
near to help our war-chief, so long as the heat of the fierce and 
terrible flames shall last." 


The underlying idea is clearly that which is described by 
Tacitu's \Gcrm. 14) in his account of the comitatus of the ancient 
Germans : " The principes fight for victory, but the comites fight_ 
for the*'**^" And this description is probably true of the 
Homej^c Greeks just as much as of the Teutqnicjieroes. The v 
terms used in the two sets of poems (OepaTrav pegn, i.e. comes ; 
ava% dryhten, \&. princeps\ seem to correspond to one another 
almost exactly, though it is not easy to find a satisfactory render- 
ing for them in modern English. For kings too, especially such 
as are of preeminent position, we find in each case a very similar 
expression (ava% avbp&v eorla dryhteri), which properly denotes 
the relationship of liege-lord. 

In both cases alike the leading idea of the Heroic Age may 
be fittingly summed up in the phrase K\ea di>8pa)v. This is 
practically equivalent to the Anglo-Saxon dom, with which we 
have dealt above (p. 87 f.). It is essential to notice that the 
object so much prized is personal glory. In Hector's speech 
before his combat with Aias (cf. p. 325) the glory which would 
result from the combat to the hero or his opponent is the only 
subject touched upon. No consideration is taken of any effect 
which might be produced thereby upon the fortunes of the war. 

The same characteristic appears throughout the passages 
which we have quoted and countless others. Occasionally we 
hear also of pricje of familj^but^scarcely ever of any truly 
.national feeling. Patroclos exhorts his men to bravery (II. XVI 
270 ff.) in order that they may win glory not for the Achaean 
nation but for their own personal lord ; and he adds further that 
by so doing they will bring shame upon the national leader. 
Achilles himself retires from the conflict owing to a personal 
wrong, and only returns to it in order to avenge his friend. The 
same phenomena appear in the English poems. That Wiglaf 
whose bravery is said to be ' inbred ' (cf. p. 328) was the son of a 
certain Weohstan, whose great achievement was the slaying of 
the Swedish prince Eanmund. Yet Eanmund was at this time 
apparently under the protection of Heardred, king of the Geatas, 

1 iam uero infame in omnem uitam ac probrosum superstitem principi suo ex acie 
recessisse. ilium defendere, tueri, sua quoque fortia facta gloriae eius assignare prae- 
cipuum sacr amentum est. principes pro uictoria pugnant, comites pro principe. 


who also lost his life in the same war. Weohstan however, 
though he belonged to the Geatas, was in the service of Onela, 
their enemy. It would seem then that he was fighting against 
his own nation. Such cases appear to have been by no means 
uncommon in the Teutonic Heroic Age. For it was customary; 
at that time for young noblemen to take service under foreign 
princes ; and the obligations which personal service imposed 
were held to be superior to all others. 

Lnv ofhorne^and zeal jn its jiefence are of course frequently 
mentioned in both groups of poems. We may refer to the 
common phrase (f)i\rjv 9 TrarptSa yalav. Most frequently how- 
ever, as we might expect, these features appear in connection 
with the Trojans. In II. XII 243, when Pulydamas has urged 
retreat in consequence of an omen, Hector replies: "The best of 
all omens is to fight in defence of our country." Priam uses the 
same expression (ib. t XXIV 499 f.) when he comes to plead with 
Achilles for his son's body : " He preserved my city and its 
inhabitants, even Hector whom thou hast now slain as he fought 
in defence of his country." These feelings may be regarded as 
forms of patriotism ; but it is patriotism of a distinctly practical 
kind, as may be seen from II. XV 494 ff., where Hector is 
addressing his followers : " Now fight in close formation at the 
ships. Whosoever of you through shot or blow meets with death 
arid fate, let him die. Not unseemly is it for him to die fighting 
in defence of this country. He will leave his wife and children 
in safety, his house also and his estate unharmed, if the Achaeans 
depart with their ships to their own dear fatherland." Much the 
same feelings are expressed in the English poems. As an 
example we may take Beow. 520 fT., where Unferth is describing 
the return of Breca after his swimming contest ; " Welcome to 
his subjects was he when he made his way to his own dear 
home, the land of the Brondingas and his beautiful sacred city 1 
where people, city and treasures belonged to him." We may 
refer also to Widsith, v. 119 ff.: "I have visited Wulfhere and 
Wyrmhere. Often enough did they wage war unceasing, when 

1 freef&oburh, lit. 'city of peace.' The expression probably springs from the 
sacred peace attaching to the king's dwelling, to which we find frequent allusions in 
the laws (Ine, 6, Alfred, 7, etc.). 


around the forest of the Vistula the Gothic army with their sharp 
swords had to defend their ancient domain 1 from Attila's 
subjects." And again (ib. y v. 127 ft.): " Often enough did the spear 
fly whistling and shrieking, from that troop into a hostile army, 
when Wudga and Hama guarded their golden treasures and (the 
lives of) their men and women." 

Such passages as these afford abundant evidence for patriotism 
of the practical kind. But this is not the same thing as national 
pride^ We shall best be able to appreciate the special character- 
istics of heroic poetry in this respect by comparing it with other 
martial poems, dating from later times. An excellent example 
of national pride is furnished by the well-known epitaph on 
Leonidas and the Spartans who perished at Thermopylae We 
may also quote the ' Laconian Embaterion ' commonly included 
among the fragments of Tyrtaios : " O ye youths, whose fathers 
have been citizens of Sparta, the home of heroes, come, hold 
forth the shield in your left hand and cast the spear with good 
courage. Regard not your life, for so to do is not Sparta's 
ancestral custom." Other good examples may be found in the 
works of the early elegiac poets. 

What perhaps deserves notice above all in poetry of this 
type is the use. ^oF. the first person plural with r^fppnr fi fa 
exjDlpits performed by the poet's nation in bygone times a 
form of speech which seems to be quitejbreign to heroic poetry. 
An example occurs in Tyrtaios' Eunomia (fragm. 2): "This city 
has been given to the Heracleidai by Zeus himself, the son of 
Cronos and husband of fair-crowned Hera. Together with them 
we forsook breezy Erineos and made our way to Pelops' broad 
island." Here the reference is to the first arrival of the Dorians 
in the Peloponnesos. Another case may be found in the poem 
on the Messenian war (fragm. 5): "...our king Theopompos 
dear to the gods, by whose help we captured spacious Messene 
...Round about it (or * for its sake') war was waged for nineteen 

1 ealdne e\elstol. If this expression is to be interpreted in a local sense ('seat of 
authority ') it is possible to read the idea of patriotism as a sentiment into it ; but my 
impression is that the poet means no more than defence of home. A different 
interpretation of the passage is given by Prof. Heusler (S.-B. d. Akad. d. Wiss. zu 
Berlin , 1909, p. 926), according to whom it means " Verteidigung des eald e\elstol, 
des alten Erbthrones (nicht Stammsitzes)." 


years, ever without ceasing, by the fathers of our fathers, warriors 
who possessed the spirit of endurance." A similar usage ap- 
pears in Mimnermos, fragm. 9 : " On quitting steep Pylos, the 
town of Neleus, we came in ships to the pleasant land of Asia, 
and at fair Colophon with overmastering strength we took up our 
abode, beginning the arduous assault. Thence in turn, starting 
from the river Aleis, by the will of the gods we took Aeolian 
Smyrna 1 ." Both the foundation of Colophon and the capture 
of Smyrna took place long before the poet's time. 

The same patriotic sentiment is to be found in the martial 
poetry of later times in England. Thus in the poem on the 
battle of Brunanburh (v. 20 ff.) we are told that "throughout the 
whole day the West Saxons with troops of horse pressed on in 
pursuit of the enemy's forces. Fiercely they cut down the 
fugitives from behind with swords sharpened on the grindstone. 
Nor did the Mercians refuse stern hand-to-hand combat to any 
of the warriors who in the ship's bosom had followed Anlaf over 
the rolling waters to our land, to meet their doom in battle. On 
the field of action lay five young kings stretched lifeless by the 
sword ; and with them seven of Anlaf s earls, and a countless 
host both of the seamen and the Scots." And again (v. 65 ff.) : 
" Never in this island before now, so far as the books of our 
ancient historians can tell us, has greater slaughter been made 
of an army by the edge of the sword since the time when the 
Angles and Saxons made their way hither from the east over the 
wide seas, invading Britain, when warriors eager for glory, proud 
forgers of war, overcame the Welsh and won for themselves 
a country." 

We need not hesitate to interpret the last part of this quota- 
tion as an expression of national consciousness, just as much as 
/in the poem of Mimnermos given above, although it does not use 
the first person with reference to the achievements of the Saxon 
invaders. But the poem as a whole differs essentially from the 
^ heroic type owing to the fact that though the princes are 
mentioned incidentally it is permeated throughout by the sense 
v of national rather than individual glory. 

1 For .the translation of this fragment I am indebted to the kindness of 
Mr A. B. Cook. 



Thus far we have been dealing with individual passages in 
the poems. Now we must consider briefly the motives of the 
stones and the characteristics for which the heroes are celebrated. 
The story of Beowulf consists of a series of adventures in which i 
the hero seeks to display his prowess in encounters with monsters./ 
The story of Finn, if we may form an opinion from the frag- 
mentary evidence at our disposal, dealt with a fatal quarrel 
between two brothers-in-law, followed by revenge. The theme 
of Waldhere's story is the elopement, or rather escape, of lovers 
and the bravery shown by the hero in defence of his bride. The 
term elopement may more properly be applied to the story of 
HeSinn and Hogni, whatever was the original form of its ending. 
A counterpart to this is furnished by the story of HagbarSr and 
Signy, which ended tragically in the death of the lovers. The 
story of SigurSr deals with a woman's revenge, brought about 
by disappointed love. The theme of the story of HamSir and 
Sorli is the revenge undertaken by them for the death of their 
sister. Revenge is likewise the theme of Ingeld's story in this 
case for the death of a father. The story of Offa is an instance 
of heroism in single combat. In the various stories connected 
with Dietrich von Bern attention is centred chiefly on the 
bravery, loyalty and resourcefulness of the hero and his knights. 

It will be seen that throughout the heroic poetry of the 
Teutonic people.^ in episodes as well as in the main stories, the 

chief motif is almngfr invariably 1nv<* nr revpngp or pprg(7jTaj_ 

bravery. The same remark applies obviously enough to Greek 
jieroic poetry to the TliaH and Odyssey^s well as to the stories 
of Heracles, lason and the rest. The characteristics too for 
which the heroes are distinguished are on the whole very much 
the same in both cases strength, courage^ resourcefulness, 
generosity, hospitality. The characters of Beowulf and Hrothgar 
may appeal to us more than those of Achilles and Nestor, but 
the main outlines are very similar. If there is any difference 
worth noting in this respect between the two sets of poems it is 
that the, Greek attach more importance to personal^beauty a 
feature which only becomes prominent in the later forms of the 
Teutonic stories. 

Now let us turn for a moment to the heroes of ' post-heroic ' 


times. During the centuries which immediately followed the 
Heroic Age we hear of many princes and other persons who 
rose to fame both in England and on the Continent. Sometimes 
this fame was acquired through successful warfare ; but it is as 
generals rather than as warriors that such persons are celebrated. 
More frequently they are known to us as legislators, founders 
of institutions, promoters of religion and protectors of the public 
peace. In this country we may think of such persons as the 
Kentish king Aethelberht, the Northumbrian kings Edwin and 
Oswald, the Mercian king Offa, and, above all, of Alfred the 
Great not to mention numerous prominent ecclesiastics. In 
Greece the number of names known to us during the correspond- 
i ing period is extremely small. Yet the most prominent names 
| which we meet with at the dawn of the historical period are 
I those of legislators and public benefactors, such as Zaleucos and 
\ Solon. In earlier times by far the best known name is that of 
x the Spartan legislator Lycurgos, whether he was really a historical 
person or a character of mythical origin. We may perhaps 
compare him with that Wiger Spa, 'a heathen in the heathen 
age,' whose authority is referred to in King Byrger's preamble 
to the Law of the Uppland Swedes. 

A similar character is borne by the traditional heroes of 
nations which have no Heroic Age. We may instance Bruteno 
and Widowuto the legendary founders and legislators of the 
state of the ancient Prussians. The same is true of the early 
kings of Rome, Romulus, Numa, Servius Tullius and the 
founders of the Republic. The essential feature which dis- 
tinguishes these characters from those of the Heroic Age is the 
fact that they are known chiefly, not for what they performed or 
experienced during their lives, but for the effects of their doings 
upon later generations. 

The explanation of this difference is no doubt to be sought 
largely in the nature of the records. For a modern analogy to 
the stories of SigurSr or Achilles we should turn naturally to a 
romance or novel ; for those of Offa or Lycurgos analogy would 
be sought rather in the biography of a statesman 1 . But it must 

1 This analogy applies perhaps also to the objects aimed at in the two sets of 
records. Within certain limitations it may be said that the object of the heroic stories 


be clearly recognised that the difference here does not lie be- 
tween historical and unhistorical. Attila was a man of flesh and 
blood, no less certainly than Offa, while the historical existence 
of Lycurgos is as much debated as that of Achilles. And what 
shall we say with regard to such a character as Romulus ? The 
difference lies rather between political and non-political, or to 
speak more accurately between national and non-national. 
Offa's fame is inseparably bound up with the aggrandisement 
and reorganisation of the Mercian kingdom. Lycurgos and 
Romulus are scarcely conceivable without Sparta or Rome. 
But SigurSr and Achilles might belong to any Teutonic or Greek 
community ; in the former case indeed the hero's nationality is 
not known for certain. We have seen that the heroic poetry of 
the Teutonic peoplgsjiad what may be called an international 
circulation from the beginning ; and we have no reason for 
doubting that in the Heroic Age itself the same was the case in 
Greece. On the other hand the memory of the later heroes and 
their achievements was preserved only, or almost only, in the 
records and traditions of individual states. The interest to which 
stories of this latter group appeal is in general limited to the 
hero's own state ; we have no evidence that such stories were 

is to entertain and that of unheroic records to instruct. The latter remark holds good 
not only for historical works but also for tribal traditions and tribal law. It is likely 
that opportunity was taken to impart instruction of this type at festal gatherings. We 
may quote a passage from Praetorius' Deliciae Prussicae (ed. Pierson, p. 24) relating 
to a festal gathering of young people at a time when the Prussian Lithuanians had not 
yet been entirely converted. "Darauf haben sie sich um die Eiche und Stein 
niedergesetzt, der Weydulut aber uf den Stein das Fell gelegt, sich darauf gesetzet, 
einen Sermon gehalten von ihrem Herkommen und alten Gebrauchen, Glauben p. p., 
den Zemyna, den Perkuns und andere mehr genennet." There is abundant evidence 
for the existence of similar traditions among the Teutonic peoples from the earliest 
times for which the reader may be referred to Dr Schiitte's interesting book Oldsagn 
om Godtjod (especially pp. 118 197). But in heroic poetry, whether Teutonic or 
Greek, references to the early traditions of a nation are extremely rare and practically 
limited to the ancestors of the royal family, while ' law ' is the will of the ruler. For 
Greek parallels we must turn to works of the Hesiodic school and the elegiac poets. 

With regard to historical works we have to remember that all records dating from 
the Heroic Age are of foreign origin. But it is certainly to be noted that the interest 
of the stories given by Gregory of Tours and other writers of the sixth century in so 
far as they relate to persons of Teutonic blood is essentially personal, and similar to 
that which characterises the poems. This is the more noteworthy since these stories 
are related from a totally different point of view (cf. p. 338 f.). 


international property 1 . It is the fact that the interest of the 
heroic stories was both individual and universal i.e. that it lay 
in individuals not essentially bound up with a given community 
which fitted them for international circulation. 

But this difference of interest is itself a matter which calls 
for explanation. If we are to trust the evidence of the records 
it is due to differences in the ideas which animated heroic and 
non-heroic society 2 . Among these we may note especially an 
essential difference in the conception of the state. With this 
question we shall have to deal more fully in a later chapter. It 
may be indicated here however that in the Heroic Age the state 
appears to have been regarded as little more than the property 
of an individual or rather perhaps of a family, which itself was 
intimately connected with a number of other families in similar 

1 Except in so far as (in the case of Teutonic stories) they are connected with the 

2 I would call attention here to an interesting paper by Prof. Heusler (S.-H. 
d. Akad. d. Wiss. zu Berlin, 1909, p. 920 ff. ), in which he seeks to show that the 
historical element in Teutonic heroic poetry has been exaggerated. The evidence 
adduced in favour of this view consists in the first place of unhistorical situations, 
chronological dislocations, etc. Most of the examples are taken from the later forms 
of the stories (Stage IV of our scheme). We have already discussed these phenomena 
(p. 152 ff.), and here I would only add that the observation quoted from Prof. Murko's 
paper on p. 936, note, may be applied, mutatis mutandis, to chronological as well as 
geographical relations. What interests us here however is the second piece of evidence 
brought forward by Prof. Heusler (p. 924 f.). He fully recognises and admirably 
expresses the individualistic, non-national spirit of Teutonic heroic poetry as con- 
trasted with that of the Old French epics : " Es herrschen in unsrer Sage die 

personlichen Ideen" "Die germanische Sage kennt keinen Nationalfeind," etc. 

Yet apparently he regards this phenomenon ('die personliche Fabel') as a characteristic 
of the poetry only, and not of the society which produced it. Now in order to prove 
that this is an ' unhistorical ' element evidence must be brought to show that the 
attitude of the poems the early poems (Stage II) does not faithfully reflect the 
spirit of the age. I know of no evidence to justify so startling a conclusion ; on the 
contrary we shall see in the following chapters that contemporary historical works 
frequently testify to the prevalence of the same ideas which we find expressed in the 
poems. Even the statement that Teutonic heroic poetry is ' unpolitical ' seems to me 
to require some reservation. Certainly it knows nothing of modern ideas of politics. 
But have we any ground for disputing that it represents the politics current in the 
courts in which it grew up? Lastly, objection must be taken to the contrast drawn 
on p. 933 between Teutonic and Greek heroic poetry. So far as the Homeric evidence 
is concerned the observations made here apply not to the poems as we have them but 
to certain hypotheses regarding their ' pre-history,' with which we have dealt above 
(p. 267 ff.). 


positions. The decline and disappearance of kingship in Greece 
during the eighth century presupposes of course that such a 
conception had long ceased to retain its vitality. And even 
among the Teutonic peoples, which usually preserved the insti- 
tution of kingship, we find abundant evidence for a similar 
change of view. Among the Franks kingship had long been a 
mere shadow when the non-royal Pippin took the throne in 752. 
In England we do not meet with non-royal kings until more 
than a century later ; but even by Bede's time it is clear that the 
kingdom had come to be looked upon as something more than 
the property of the royal family. 

When once thejcharacteristics of the spirit of the Heroic Age 
have been fully recognised they will be found to explain several 
features in the stories which have often been regarded as in- 
credible. One of these is the fact that wars arf 

represented as arising out of the personal quarrels or jealousies 
of princes, or out of wrongs perpetrated by one prince upon 
another. Thus it has been assumed by many scholars that the 
story of the abduction of Helen is of mythical origin, not on 
account of any intrinsic improbability contained in it, but because 
it is founded on a motif which is extremely common in folktales. 
But it has been pointed out above (p. 265) that the reason why 
the abduction motif is common in folktales lies in the fact that 
under unsettled social conditions such occurrences were common 
in real life. The conditions of the Heroic Age, whether Greek 
or Teutonic, were doubtless not normally so unsettled that the! 
abduction of a queen or princess could fail to attract attention./ 
In the case of the wife of a distinguished king it can scarcely be 
doubted that such an event would produce a profound sensation ; 
and it is to this, we may presume, that the story in the first 
place owed its celebrity. But the_ paxt-^layejd, Jby:, worn en in 
international^uarrelsjduring the Teutonic, Heroic Age .must not 
be_pverlooked. In addition to the stories of which love adven- 
tures form the main theme (cf. p. 333) we may allude to such 
cases as Beow. 2930 ff., where Haethcyn is said to have carried 
off the Swedish queen with consequences disastrous to himself. 
Above all however it is well to bear in mind the story of the 
c. 22 


war between the Angli and the Warni (cf. p. 97 f.), a war which 
owed its origin to Radiger's repudiation of his marriage contract 
with the English king's sister. We have seen that this story 
comes not from a poem, but from the work of a strictly contem- 
porary Roman historian. 

Nor can it be said that this case stands alone. According to 
Gregory of Tours (III 6) the overthrow of the Burgundian king- 
dom was due to the instigation of Hrothhild, who implored her 
sons to exact vengeance for the murder of her parents a case 
not unlike the Norse version of the story of HamSir and Sorli. 
Hildeberht's invasion of Spain was undertaken in answer to 
messages from his sister Hlothhild, who had been illtreated by 
her husband, the Visigothic king Amalaric (ib. t III 10). The 
dissensions which eventually brought about the downfall of the 
Thuririgian kingdom had their origin in the proud and jealous 
character of Amalaberga, the wife of Irminfrith (ib. t III 4). 

1 Unless we are prepared to shut our eyes to the plain evidence 
of history we are bound to recognise that the personal feelings 
of queens and princesses were among the very strongest of the 
factors by which the politics of the Heroic Age were governed. 

There has undoubtedly been a tendency among modern 
historians to neglect the personal element in early Teutonic 
history and to concentrate attention upon the movements of 
peoples and upon 'constitutional' changes. The feature with 
which we have just been dealing is only one of several which 
owing to this neglect have been regarded as essentially ' poetic ' 
motives, the origin of which must be sought in myth or fiction. 
Decisive evidence to the contrary is furnished by writers of the 
sixth century. Certainly the picture of Teutonic ,Qoujt Jife 
which they give produces a differenfimpression from that which 
we gain from the poms. The atmosphere suggested by the 
latter is one of adventure and romance, whereas the former 
convey an idea of reckless brutality. Yet it is only necessary to 
place the two sets of records side by side in order to see that the 
one is complementary to the other that the difference lies not 
in the subjects treated but in the point of view from which they 
are regarded. Gregory (li 28) records without comment or 
explanation that the Burgundian king Gundobad slew his brother 


Hilperic (Hrothhild's father) with the sword and drowned his 
wife with a stone tied to her neck. If this incident had been 
treated in heroic poetry we should doubtless gain a very different 
impression. Different too would be the impression conveyed by 
the story of SigurSr, if we had it from a Roman historian. But 
when the two stories are compared it cannot be said that the 
picture which the poems present of the Burgundian kingdom 
under Guthhere is incompatible with the picture which history 
gives us of the Burgundian kingdom under Gundobad, some 
fifty years later. No true impression of the Heroic Age can be 
obtained by crediting the youthful kings of unlearned com- 
munities with a knowledge of political principles which we have 
acquired from long study of the history of many nations; and it 
is equally futile to seek for grounds of policy in actions which 
very frequently were dictated solely by passion. Ambition was 
no doubt a factor, as in all stages of society. But the form 
which it seems to have taken as a rule was purely personal and 
directed towards the acquisition of wealth or glory rather than with 
any view of establishing the kingdom upon a permanent basis 1 . 

Another feature to which exception has been taken is the 
fact that in battle scenes the fighting is generally represented as 
a series of single_c_Qriibats between the various leading men. 
Here again the objection seems to be based on a misunderstand- 
ing of the conditions of heroic warfare. In the first place we 
have no reason for doubting that in both the periods with which 
we are dealing the leaders were far better armed than the rank 
and file of the forces. In hand to hand fighting the possession 
of defensive armour, helmet and mail-coat, constitutes an over- 
whelming advantage. Secondly, the passion for personal glory, 
which is so prominent in the poems, must have prompted the 
ambitious man to pick out the most distinguished opponents. 
If he was a 'squire' success would bring rich rewards 2 . But 

1 As a typical case we may cite the story of the Frankish prince Hlothric (Greg. 
Tur., II 40), who at Clovis' suggestion caused his own father to be murdered. He 
offered Clovis a share of the treasures, but was himself killed by the envoys of the 
latter while he was bending over his father's treasure-chest. 

2 In Beow. 2991 ff. we are told that Eofor, who slew the Swedish king Ongentheo, 
was rewarded by Hygelac with the hand of his only daughter and an enormous grant 
of land and treasure. 

22 2 


even the leaders themselves, as among the Germans of Tacitus' 
time 1 , were doubtless expected to distinguish themselves by pre- 
eminence in bravery, rather than by skilful generalship. Thirdly, 
and this is the most important point, the general object aimed 
at in a battle was not to gain a strategic advantage but to kill 
the leaders. Very often this meant the destruction of the 
enemy's organisation. At times indeed it appears that the death 
or capture of a king led forthwith to the end of hostilities. Thus 
in the battle of Strassburg in 357, when the Romans captured 
the Alamannic king Chonodomarius, his personal retinue, to the 
number of two hundred, gave themselves up voluntarily to share 
his captivity 2 . And in Beowulf we see from more than one 
\ passage that when the king was slain the heart of the resistance 
' was broken. Under such conditions we may well believe that 
the direction to * fight neither with small nor great, save only 
with the king,' was a piece of perfectly sound policy. 

We have to take account moreover of another element, 
somewhat strange to modern ideas, namely the intense eagerness 
tojret possession of a fallen enemy's arms. In the battle scenes 
of the Iliad this feature is constantly to the fore ; indeed the 
most severe conflicts usually take place over the bodies of 
warriors. In the English poems it is much the same. We may 
quote Beow. 2985 ff. : " Thereupon the warrior (Eofor) despoiled 
his opponent. He took from Ongentheo his iron mail-coat and 
his sharp and hilted sword, together with his helmet, and brought 
the old man's accoutrements to Hygelac." And again v. 2613 ff.: 
" To him (Eanmund) Weohstan brought death in combat by the 

1 Cf. Germ. 14: cum uentum in aciem turpe principi uirtute uinci, turpe comitatui 
uirtutem principis non adaequare. It is not to be doubted that princes of the Heroic 
Age did seek to display their prowess in single combats. The story of Theodric's 
combat with an Avar champion named Xerxer (Fredegar, Chron. II 57) appears to be 
based on an exploit for which we have contemporary evidence in Ennodius' Panegyric 
(p. 266 in Hartel's edition; cf. Jiriczek, Deutsche Heldensagen, I p. 140 f. ), where 
the defeated warrior is called Bulgarum ductor. It is well known also that the 
princes of the ancient Gauls were in the habit of engaging their enemies in single 
combat. There is satisfactory historical evidence for two cases in which distinguished 
Romans proved victorious in such encounters (cf. D'Arbois de Jubainville, La 
Civilisation des Celtes, p. 17 ff.). The period to which these notices refer may be 
described as a Gaulish Heroic Age (cf. p. 427 ff.). 

2 Cf. Ammianus Marcellinus, XVI 12. 60. 


sword's edge ; and to his kinsmen he presented the burnished 
helmet, the ring-formed mail-coat and the ancient sword of 
giant workmanship though the latter was returned to him 
by Onela." It will be seen that the Teutonic warriors, who 
in both these cases are 'squires,' render up the spoils to their 
lords, whereas the Greek princes keep them for themselves ; 
but we need not doubt that they expected an equivalent reward. 

The article chiefly coveted seems to have been the coat of 
jriaiL In Wald. II 1 6 ff. the hero says to Guthhere : " Take from 
me the grey mail-coat, if thou dare ; for thou seest how I am 
worn out with battle. Upon my shoulders here stands an 
heirloom from Aelfhere ; good it is and..., adorned with gold, a 
superb garment for a prince to possess, when his hand is defending 
life's treasure from his foes." Such articles were doubtless very 
costly, and often, as in this case, they were handed on from 
generation to generation. Beowulf's coat of mail had belonged ) 
to his grandfather, and was believed to be the workmanship of 
Weland. Before his encounter with Grendel he charges the 
king of the Danes to send it back to Hygelac in the event of his 
death. A coat of mail which was found intact at Vi in Fyn 
contains about twenty thousand rings, and it has been calculated 
that such an article would take a single workman nearly a whole 
year to- make 1 . 

It is to be remembered further that wealthy princes, prompted 
no doubt by Iovej2f_display, were in the habit of carrying about 
their persons a considerable amount of gojd. Glaucos indeed is 
said to have gone to battle in golden armour worth a hundred 
oxen (II. VI 235 f.). Hygelac, when he was slain, was wearing 
the magnificent necklet which Wealhtheo had given to Beowulf 
(v. 1 195 ff.). Historical records give evidence to the same effect 2 ; 
and there can be little doubt that the spoils of such kings often 
amounted to a considerable fortune. If, in addition to spoils of 
this kind, account is taken of the chances of booty and ransoms, 

1 Cf. S. MUller, Nordische Altertumskunde, II p. 128. 

2 Cf. especially Procopius' description of Totila at his last battle (Goth. IV 31) : 
TT]v re yap r&v &ir\uv crKvr]v KaraKopus T<$ xP Vfrt ? /careiX^/t/t^j'Tjj/ fj/j.Tria'Xf'o Kal TWV oi 

KO<T/J.OS $K re TOU irL\ov /ecu TOV doparos a\ovpy6s re /ecu dXXws /SacriXe? irptirwv 


not only after a general victory but also in incidental and more 
or less private forays 1 , it will be seen that warfare of the 
heroic type offered very substantial inducements, apart from 
the acquisition of glory. 

It is not to be supposed that such warfare was really of an 
effective character. Even in the Iliad itself (VI 67 ff.) a warning 
is raised against it by the old Nestor, who is represented 
(ib. II 555) as an exceptionally skilful general, but his advice 
{ seems to be unheeded. Between two armies of the heroic type 
| the issue had to be decided, if at all, by a pitched battle. 
Sheltered behind fortifications, even an inferior army had not 
much to fear. In that case the people most exposed to danger 
were what we should call non-combatants not only the women 
and children and unwarlike dependents of the combatants them- 
selves 2 , but also any neighbouring communities who might be 
caught unawares by bands of hungry warriors. 

On the other hand against organised forces, like those of the 
later Spartans or the Romans, at all events if commanded by 
generals who followed a definite plan of campaign, the Homeric 
Achaeans would have had no chance after the first encounter. 
This may be seen especially from the history of the campaigns 
against the Italian Gauls, who appear to have employed a very 
similar method of warfare. The Saxons and other northern 
peoples owed their successes largely to the rapidity of their 
movements, combined with the fact that they had command of 
the sea. But, so far as we know, they seldom or never had to 
deal with any considerable Roman army. In Britain their pro- 
cedure was probably similar to that followed by the Scandinavian 
invaders in the Viking Age ; but the latter were unable to cope 

1 Even in time of peace merchants might turn into freebooters (cf. Od. xiv 262 ff.). 
Piracy indeed was scarcely regarded as disreputable (ib. ill 72 ff. ; cf. p. 322). The same 
conditions prevailed during the Viking Age and doubtless also during the Teutonic 
Heroic Age. 

2 As illustrations of the barbarities associated with warfare of this type we may 
refer to the speech of Theodric, king of the Franks, given by Gregory, III 7, and to 
the behaviour of Theodberht's army in Italy, recorded by Procopius (Goth, u 25). 
At such a time the atrocities which Greek tradition relates in connection with the fall 
of Troy would have caused little comment. Yet the early heroic poems give less 
evidence even than the Homeric poems for cruelty of this kind. 


with prolonged and organised resistance, such as was offered by 
Alfred the Great. The armies of the Goths at the height of 
their power were doubtless more formidable ; but they had 
probably learnt much from long experience of the Romans, 
both as foes and allies. It is not to be forgotten however that 
supremacy came ultimately to the Franks, who of all the 
Teutonic peoples seem to have been least affected by the spirit 
of the Heroic Age. 



AK^ THE evidence of the German poems for the social and 
political conditions of the Heroic Age cannot be regarded as 
trustworthy owing to the lateness of the period in which they 
were composed. In principle the same is true also of the Norse 
poems. These reflect the conditions of the Viking Age rather 
than those of the Heroic Age, though, as we have already noted, 
the difference here is less marked. On the other hand, in addi- 
tion to the Anglo-Saxon poems and the works of contemporary 
Roman historians, such as Ammianus Marcellinus, Jordanes and 
Procopius, we have valuable evidence from the early Teutonic 
codas of law. Some of these, such as the Lex Salica and the 
Lex Burgundionum, date from the first half of the sixth century 
or earlier, i.e. from the Heroic Age itself, while a number of 
others in particular we may note the earliest English laws 
belong to the following two centuries and show probably little 
deviation from the custom of the Heroic Age. All the codes of 
course contain certain Roman or Christian elements ; but this 
influence in some cases goes back to the fifth century or even 
J^ further. 

The chief forces which governed the social system of that 
age were the bonds of kinship and allegiance. The influence of 
the former extended not merely, as with us, to rights of succes- 
sion and duties of guardianship over children and women. It 
was also the power by which the security of the property and 
person of each member of the community was guaranteed. If a 
man received injury or insult, his kindred were bound to assist 
him to obtain redress. If he were slain they had to exact 


vengeance or compensation from the slayenx'On the other hand 
not only the slayer himself but every member of his kindred 
became liable to vengeance, and each had to pay his quota 
towards the compensation (wergeld), just as it was divided 
among the kindred of the slain the proportion varying in both 
cases according to the degree of relationship. In case of blood- 
shed a certain sum had also to be paid to the king, even in the 
earliest times of which we have record ; but this sum seldom 
exceeded half the wergeld, and as a rule amounted to con- 
siderably less. 

The character and size of the kindred appear to have varied 
in different nations. Some laws speak of claims to succession 
as remote as the seventh degree, while the rights and duties 
connected with the payment and receipt of wergelds seem gene- 
rally to have extended as far as third cousins, i.e. the descendants 
of great-great-grandparents. Again, we hear sometimes of royal 
or noble families which bore a common name derived from some 
ancestor, real or mythical, from whom their power or preroga- 
tives were believed to be inherited. Such were the Oescingas, 
the Wuffingas and the Icelingas, the royal families of Kent, 
East Anglia and Mercia respectively ; so also the Scyldungas 
(Skioldungar) among the Danes, the Merovingi among the 
Franks, and the Agilolfinga and other noble families among the 
Bavarians. Persons belonging to these families had probably 
in some cases certainly special wergelds ; and the throne or 
principality seems to have been regarded as in some sense 
family property. Some writers believe that kindreds in general 
were permanent organisations of this kind, and that originally 
they held land, and possibly other property also, in common. 
But this view goes a good deal beyond what the facts warrant, 
at all events for the period with which we are dealing. JLt is.. 
clear that at this time kinship on both sides was recognised 
everywhere ; maternal relatives shared in the payment and 
receipt of wergelds with those on the father's side, though not 
always in the same proportion. Moreover the idea that the 
inclusion of the maternal relatives was due to an innovation 
cannot be maintained. Thus, in spite of the fact that the 
Prankish kings claimed the throne by direct descent in the male 


line from Merovechus, there are clear indications that Prankish 
law in its earliest form gave priority to the mother's side. No 
doubt on the whole the agnatic system of relationship had 
become predominant almost everywhere in the Heroic Age ; 
but sufficient traces of the opposite system remain to render it 
probable that a change had taken place not so very far back 1 . 

Any such change of course involves or rather perhaps 
implies a weakening in the force of the bonds of kinship ; and 
of this we have very clear evidence in the Heroic Age. Now it 
has often been pointed out that early Teutonic custom seems to 
have made no provision for the case of homicide within the 
kindred. In such a case the persons on whom vengeance 
devolved would be identical, in part at least, with those against 
whom it would be directed and so also with the compensation. 
It is generally held that homicide of this kind was extremely 
rare and that, when it did occur, the slayer was outlawed. That 
would no doubt be in accordance with primitive custom. Indeed 
in a state of society based on blood-relationship the life of a 
kinsman must be sacred above all else. Further, it is clear 
enough that the shedding of kindred blood was regarded with 
abhorrence in the Heroic Age. Thus Procopius (Goth. II 14), 
describing the euthanasia practised by the Heruli, states that 
when the dying man has been laid upon the top of the pyre, one 
of his countrymen goes up with a dagger and stabs him ; but he 
adds explicitly that this man must not be related to his victim 2 . 
Again, to take another point of view, perhaps the saddest 
passage in Beowulf is that which relates how Herebald was 
accidentally killed by his brother Haethcyn. But the aspect of 
the case which first strikes the poet is not one which would 
appeal to a man of modern times. " That was a slaughter 
without compensation," he says (v. 2441 ff.), "the prince had to 
lose his life unavenged." 

Yet, in spite of all this, instances of the slaying of kinsmen 
seem to have been by no means uncommon in the Heroic Age. 

1 Cf. The Origin of the English Nation, p. 327 ff. 

3 li^epj) yap ai/ry TOV (ftovta. eft/at ofl flouts. Cf. Greg. Tur., II 40, where Clovis 
says: nee -enini possum sanguinem parentum meorum effundere, quod fieri nefas est. 
But this is represented as mere hypocrisy; cf. n 41, ad fin. 


In Beowulf the spokesman of the Danish kings, Unferth, is said 
to have killed his brothers, and though the fact was a reproach to 
him, it apparently did not prevent him from holding an im- 
portant office at court. In the same poem we hear of dissensions 
within the Swedish royal family, which ended in death for both 
Onela and Eanmund. According to the legends preserved in) 
Ynglingatal this family had had a very bad record for such 
quarrels in the past. Among the Goths we have the case of 
Eormenric, who put his nephews Embrica and Fritla to death. 
And it is by no means only in poetry or tradition that we meet 
with such cases ; historians also furnish numerous examples. 
Thus according to Gregory of Tours (ll 28) the Burgundian 
king Hilperic was killed by his brother Gundobad, while Sigis- 
mund, son of the latter, had his own son, Sigiric, put to death 
(ill 5). The Thuringian king Irminfrith slew his brother Berht- 
hari (ill 4) ; the Prankish king Sigiberht was murdered by the 
orders of his son Hlothric (n 40). Clovis is said to have put to 
death a number of his relatives, while his sons and grandsons 
were repeatedly involved in deadly strife 1 . 

In view of such evidence we must conclude that the primitive 
sanctity of the family was giving way in the Heroic Age. For 
the change of feeling which was taking place one passage in 
Beowulf is particularly instructive. In the struggle between ' 
Onela and Eanmund the latter was slain by one of the king's 
knights named Weohstan. He stripped the dead man of his 
arms and brought them to Onela who presented them to him 
and "said nothing about that deed of guilt although it was 
his brother's son whom he (Weohstan) had laid low 2 ." To the \ 
modern reader the poet's reflection seems strange ; for Onela 
had been relieved of a dangerous foe, who was trying to deprive 
him of the kingdom. Yet there can be no doubt that according 

1 In some cases the deed was certainly done by the relative's own hand. Such 
was the case with Lothair and the sons of Chlodomer (Greg. Tur., in 18). 

2 Beow. 2618 f.: 

no ymb "&z faehfte spraec, 
\>eah &e he his brt&or beam abredwade. 

Many scholars here understand Kafaeft&e to mean not the encounter between Eanmund 
and Weohstan, but the hostility (vendetta) which devolved upon Onela as Eanmund's 
kinsman ; but I think the idea is rather that of * bloodguiltiness ' (towards Onela) 
incurred by Weohstan. Eanmund was the son of Ohthere, Onela's brother. 


to primitive tribal custom he ought to have taken vengeance 
upon his knight. 

\/ It is clear then that primitive custom was breaking down 
even in countries far removed from contact with Christianity 
and Roman civilisation. We cannot tell indeed how far the 
change was general, since our knowledge is practically limited 
to the princely families. It is by no means unlikely that the 
lower strata of society were more conservative in many respects. 

The principle which had now become dominant, at least in 
the higher ranks, was that of personal allegiance. This principle 
was of course by no means new. Even in Tacitus' works we 
hear of the comites who lived and fought in their lord's service 
and thought it a disgrace to survive his death. In the Heroic 
Age however it is probable that among the more northern 
peoples every man, except the king himself, had a lord. In the 
Anglo-Saxon laws the lord shares with the kindred the duty of 
protecting his men, and when one of them is slain he receives a 
special payment (the manbof) when the wergeld was paid to the 
relatives. Also, when any of his men die, at all events a man of 
the higher classes, he is entitled to the heriot, i.e. the arms of 
the dead man, which in theory at least the latter had originally 
received from him 1 . 

But in the poems, as is natural, wejiear most frequently of 
the knights who formed the courts and retinues of kings jmd 
princes. As a summary of the services rendered by such persons 
tcTtheir lord, Tacitus' brief description (Germ. 13) still holds 
good : their presence gave him dignity in time of peace and 
protection in war. They dwelt and served him at his court and 
joined him in hunting and other amusements, while he rewarded 
their services with gifts of treasure and arms. In the descrip- 
tions of kings which we meet with in the poems there is no. 
characteristic not even personal bravery which receives more 
commendation than that of generosity to their followers. In 
return the knight was expected to give up to his lord whatever 

1 It may be observed that in Beow. 452 if. the hero requests the Danish king to 
send his mail-coat to Hygelac, if he should be killed by Grendel. This mail-coat 
(described as Weland's handiwork) is said to have belonged formerly to Hrethel, 
Hygelac's father ( Beowulf s grandfather). 


he gained by his own exploits just as Beowulf renders up to 
Hygelac and his queen the valuable gifts which he had received 
from the king of the Danes. As an instance of personal devo- 
tion in time of war we may cite the surrender of Chonodomarius' 
retinue at the battle of Strassburg an incident to which we 
have already referred (p. 340). So also in the various accounts 
of the fall of Hrolfr Kraki given by Scandinavian authorities 
the king's knights are said to have perished to a man. The 
same spirit survived in England in later times, as we see from 
the story of Cynewulf's death, when in each of the two en- 
counters only one member of the defeated party was left alive. 
It was also thoroughly in the spirit of the Heroic Age that 
Edwin's knight, Lilla, acted when he threw himself between the 
king and the assassin and received a mortal wound in so doing. 

It was customary for the sons of noble men to enter the. 
king's service at an early age. Beowulf went to Hrethel's court 
when he was only seven years old ; but this case may have been 
exceptional, as he was the king's grandson. Wh en they reached 
manhood 1 the king was expected to provide them with estates 
or_jurisdiction over land, which would enable them 'to marry 
and support a household of their own. Thus Beowulf, after 7 
proving his prowess at the Danish court, is presented by Hygelac 
on his return with seven thousand hides a considerable pro- 
vince together with a residence and a prince's authority. The 
grant is accompanied by the gift of a sword, signifying that the 
bond of personal allegiance was still preserved. Beowulf in 
turn presents his young relative Wiglaf with the dwelling-place 
of their family and the public rights appertaining thereto. The 
court minstrels Widsith and Deor receive grants of land from 
their lords. In two of these cases (those of Wiglaf and Widsith) 
we are told that the estate had previously been in the possession 
of the recipient's father; and we may probably assume that such 
cases were not uncommon. Yet it is plain that such practices 
must very largely have destroyed the tribal custom of su^c^- * 
sion at least in the higher ranks of spcietv. 

1 In the seventh century it appears to have been customary to make these grants 
I when the recipient was about twenty-four or twenty-five years old ; cf. Bede, Hist. 
Abb., i, 8; Ep. adEcgb., u. 


Those who had received grants of land or jurisdiction did 
not thereupon cease to attend the court. In the English courts 
of the seventh century Bede distinguishes between the comites, 
who already held office, and the ministri or milites, who seem in 
general to have been young knights without such official posi- 
tions. The Anglo-Saxon version of the Ecclesiastical History 
translates comes by gesfa and minister or miles by pegn. In 
poetry both these words are of frequent occurrence, though they 
appear to be used more or less indiscriminately. It should be 
observed that the word pegn means properly no more than 
'servant 1 ' though (like knight in later times) it came to be 
specialised, while gesift is almost an exact equivalent of comes*. 
In Beowulf however we meet with the same classes under the 
collective terms geogo^ and dugiffi, i.e. youths and men of tried 
valour respectively. To the latter may be assigned such persons 
as Aeschere, Hrothgar's "confidant and counsellor," who had 
stood by his side on the battlefield ; but the former class were 
probably as a rule in the majority. 

Another characteristic of these retinues, which deserves 
notice, is the fact that they were not always composed of born 
subjects of the king. Bede (H. E. Ill 14) says that Osvvine, the 
popular king of Deira, attracted young noblemen to his service 
from all sides ; and in the Heroic Age such cases appear to 
have been frequent. Perhaps the most striking case in the 
poems is that of Weohstan, who took service under the Swedish 
king Onela and consequently became involved in hostilities 
against his own nation. It is probably due to the same custom 
that we find so many Teutonic chieftains serving under the 
Romans during the Heroic Age. Among them we may men- 
tion Arbogastes, Stilicho, Ricimer and Odoacer. Most frequently 
perhaps the men who sought service abroad were those who had 
either lost their lords or had had to leave their homes through 
vendetta. Such cases occur frequently in the Anglo-Saxon 
poems ; we may refer especially to the Wanderer and the 

1 We may compare the use of the word sluga in Servian heroic poetry (cf. p. 316) ; 
its ordinary meaning is ' servant.' 

2 The same word is used in a similar sense in the Langobardic laws ; gasindus (or 
gasindius), ' Gefolgsmann,' and so also gasindium, ' Gefolgschaft ' ; cf. Bruckner, 
Quellen und Forschungen, LXXV p. 205. 


Husband's Message. Further, it appears from the story of 
Waldhere and Hagena that even hostages were expected to 
fight for the prince to whom they had been given. In later 
times we may compare the case of the British hostage who was 
wounded in the fight following Cynewulf's murder. But there 
are a number of other stories which seem to indicate that it was 
at one time a regular custom for young princes to set out from 
their homes, on reaching manhood, and to seek the court of 
some foreign king with a view to marrying his daughter and 
thereby acquiring a share in the sovereignty. Such incidents are 
of the commonest occurrence in folktales ; and we find them 
also in works, such as Hervarar Saga and Ynglinga Saga, which 
claim to be based on genuine tradition. It is in this light too 
that all northern authorities represent the position of SigurSr at 
the home of GuSrun. 

What has been said above applies primarily of course to the 
more northern peoples. The Goths were early exposed to 
Christian and Roman influence, and the same is true also of the 
Burgundians, especially after their settlement in Gaul. The 
Franks were no doubt less affected at first ; but their customs 
seem from the beginning to have differed a good deal from 
those which we have been considering. They too had retinues 
of warriors (antrustiones or homines in truste regis) attached to 
the kings by personal service ; but the prevalence of lordship 
in the lower ranks of society is by no means so clear. The 
possession of land also seems to have been governed at first by 
tribal principles and later by that of succession in the male 
line without reference to the will of a superior. These differ- 
ences are doubless connected with certain features which distin- 
guished the social organisation of the Franks from that of the 
other Teutonic peoples. 

Every one of the early Teutonic nations possessed a more or 
less elaborate social system, with various class gradations. These 
gradations may be seen most clearly in the sums of money fixed 
for wergelds, for the compensations fixed for various injuries 
and insults and for fines ; in some cases also they show them- 
selves in the relative value attached to oaths. Apart from slaves, 
who do not come into consideration in these matters, the classes 


usually met with are those of nobles, freemen and freedmen. 
Sometimes however a class is subdivided ; sometimes again one 
class is wanting altogether. Thus in the Anglo-Saxon king- 
doms, except Kent, there were two grades of nobility, apparently 
landowning and landless, while freedmen did not form a distinct 
class. Among the Franks on the other hand we find no noble 
class. In general the freeman's wergeld is about double that of 
the freedman, while that of the noble is twice or thrice as great 
as the former; and the other payments usually follow more or 
less the same proportion. The actual sums fixed in the various 
laws differ greatly in each case, owing to the employment of 
different systems of currency. But it may be regarded as 
extremely probable that the normal wergeld of the freeman was 
originally a hundred head of cattle. Some nations, further, had 
special wergelds for certain high officials. Among the Franks 
persons in truste regis had threefold wergelds, and the same 
applied to the ordinary freeman when engaged in military 
service. In England the existence of special official wergelds 
is uncertain, at least before the great Danish invasion, though 
such persons were entitled to higher compensations in other 
respects. But in this country members of the royal families 
had wergelds six times as great as those of the higher class of 

All the above classes (excluding officials of course) seem to 
have been as a rule hereditary. In some nations indeed the 
descendants of freedmen did become freemen. But it is scarcely 
probable that this class everywhere consisted only of manu- 
mitted slaves or their offspring. Sometimes we find the terms 
litus, latus, lazzus (laet in the Kentish laws) in place of libertus ; 
and there is good reason for believing that this class was largely 
derived from subject populations. Its numbers seem to have 
been very large. As to the numbers of the nobility there was 
apparently great difference between one nation and another. 
Among the Bavarians it consisted only of six families, including 
that of the duke, whereas in England it appears to have formed 
a considerable element in the population. The term applied to 
it here was gesfocund^ i.e. of gesfo origin (cf. p. 350), which indi- 
cates clearly a hereditary official or rather military class. Indeed 


the evidence seems to show that the population consisted of two 
clearly defined classes, which we may describe as military and 
agricultural, and that all serious fighting was left to the former. 
This is another feature in which Anglo-Saxon custom differed 
from that of the Franks, whose armies in the sixth century appear 
to have been of a more truly national or even tribal character. 
With regard to the other nations we have less information ; but 
it is probable that the military organisation of the Danes and 
other Baltic peoples approximated more nearly to the English 

In Homeric society we find the same forces operative as in 
that of the Teutonic Heroic Age. The duty of protecting or 
avenging one's relatives is frequently mentioned. Thus in 
Od. XVI 97 f. the disguised Odysseus says to Telemachos : 
" Hast thou fault to find with thy brethren, for it is in them 
that a man trusts to do battle, even if a great quarrel takes 
place ? " Telemachos replies (v. 115 ff.) : " Nor have I fault to 
find with my brethren, in whom a man trusts to do battle, even 
if a great quarrel takes place. For our family has been reduced 
to one man by the son of Cronos, as I will tell thee. Arceisios 
begat one only son Laertes, and Odysseus again was the only son 
begotten by his father ; but Odysseus begat me only and left me 
in his palace without profit to himself. Hence there are now 
innumerable enemies in our house." 

The duty of vengeance is clearly recognised by Nestor in 
Od. in 196 ff. : " How good a thing it is for even a dead man's 
child to survive ! For he (Orestes) also took vengeance on his 
father's slayer, the crafty Aigisthos, who killed his famous 
father." It was in order to escape such a fate that Theoclymenos 
besought Telemachos to take him on his ship (ib. XV 272 ff.) : 
" I also have left my country, having killed a man of my own 
tribe (or ' people'). And in Argos, the pastureland of horses, he 
had many brethren and kinsmen who hold great authority 
among the Achaeans. I have taken to flight and so evaded 
death and black fate at their hands ; for it is still my lot to 
wander among men. Now take me on thy ship, since I have 
come to thee as a fugitive and suppliant, lest they kill me 
c. 23 


outright ; for I am sure they are in pursuit." We are reminded 
here of the story of Ecgtheo, the father of Beowulf, who fled for 
protection to the Danish king Hrothgar owing to a similar 
cause (Beow. 459 ff.). Another case of such exile occurs in 
II. XIII 695 ff. (XV 334 ff.) : " He (Medon) dwelt in Phylace, away 
from his own fatherland ; for he had slain a man, the kinsman 
of his stepmother Eriopis, whom Oileus had to wife." We may 
compare also II. XV 430 ff. where Hector slays " Lycophron, the 
son of Master, the Cytherian squire of Aias, who dwelt with 
him ; for he had slain a man in divine Cythera." 

Among the Homeric Greeks, as in northern Europe, com- 
pensation for manslaughter could be made to the dead man's 
relatives. Thus in II. IX 632 ff. Aias says to Achilles: "And 
yet one accepts compensation from a man who has slain one's 
brother or for the death of a son. Hence it comes to pass that 
the one, when he has paid a large compensation, remains in 
his own land, while the other, after he has accepted the com- 
pensation, restrains his feelings and his proud spirit." Again, 
in the description of Achilles' shield we find a scene (ib. XVIII 
497 ff.) representing a dispute over the payment of a wergeld. 
" The folk were gathered in the assembly place ; for there 
a strife was arisen, two men striving about the blood-price 
of a man slain ; the one claimed to pay full atonement, 
expounding to the people, but the other denied him and would 
take naught; and both were fain to receive arbitrament at 
the hand of a daysman 1 ." In this case the transaction takes 
place before certain elders, one of whom is to receive a payment 
of two talents, apparently as a reward for bringing about an 
agreement. There is no mention of any payment to the king 2 . 

From the passage relating to Theoclymenos quoted above 
(v. 273 : TTO\\OI /cacriyvrjTOi re erai re) we may probably infer that 
the duty of vengeance extended beyond the brothers of the 
slain man ; and evidence to the same effect is given by the story 
of Tlepolemos (II. II 66 1 ff ). But it is not at all clear how many 
degrees of relationship were either involved in this duty or 
entitled to compensation. Indeed the poems give us very little 

1 Quoted from the translation by Lang, Leaf and Myers. 

3 The interpretation of Hesiod, W. and D. 38 f., need not be discussed here. 


information regarding the character of the kindred. Patronymic 
forms such as 'Ar/oe^??? 1 are very common and correspond in 
use to Anglo-Saxon forms such as HreSling, Wonreding. But 
they are almost always used of individuals or of a pair of 
brothers ('ArpetSa, Soiol c l7T7rao-/Sat). Collective names for 
families, such as 'HpafcXeiSat,, IleXo-Tr/Sat, seem not to occur in 
the Homeric poems 2 . Indeed the patronymic is nearly always 
derived from the name of the father. Cases where they are 
taken from the grandfather's name, e.g. Ata/a'S??? for Achilles, 
appear to be quite exceptional. This is a feature in which 
Homeric usage differs not only from Teutonic but also, still 
more, from that of later times in Greece, where we frequently 
find families or kindreds bearing patronymic names derived 
from a remote ancestor. As examples we may mention the 
Aigeidai at Sparta and the Philaidai at Athens. 

But the difference between Homeric and later usage in this 
respect does not seem to be one of nomenclature only. At 
Athens we find later an elaborate system of ' tribes ' ((f>v\al), 
phratries or c clans ' (<f>parpai) and ' kindreds ' (76^77), of which 
the last at all events were supposed to rest on a basis of blood- 
relationship, involving common religious rites. Divisions of a 
more or less similar type seem to have existed in the other 
Greek states. In the Homeric poems however we find extremely 
little evidence for anything of this kind. The clearest case is in 
II. II 362 f., where Nestor instructs Agamemnon as follows : 
" Divide thy men according to tribes and clans, Agamemnon, 
that clan may render succour to clan and tribe to tribe 3 ." In 
the battle scenes we hear little of any such organisation, though 
this may be due to the fact that attention is entirely concen- 
trated upon the leaders. But it is worth noting that the word 

1 The other types (e.g. HrjXelwv , TeXa/i^j/tos) are less frequent. 

2 Ka5/xe?ot, KaSywetapej are at best very dubious examples, for Cadmos is probably 
to be regarded as an eponymous national hero, like Dardanos. 

jr/wr avdpas KO.TO. <f>v\a, Kara <f>pr]Tpa.s, ' Ayd/j.e/j.voi>, 

us <pp~qrpii (pprjTpTjfav ap^yrj, 00\a d 0tfXots. 

Cf. Tacitus, Germ. 7 : quodque praecipuum fortitudinis incitamentum est, non casus 
nee fortuita conglobatio turniam aut cuneum facit sed familiae et propinquitates. But 
the context shows that the conditions here are of a totally different character from 
those in the Iliad. 



occurs only in this passage 1 . Again, <f>v\r} does not 
occur at all, except possibly in the form Karafyv^aSbv (II. II 668), 
while (f>v\ov is a word of very vague significance, ranging from 
<f>v\a dvOpMTTcov etc. to the $v\ov 'Apiceurtov, i.e. the descendants 
of a man whose son is still alive 2 . The same is true also of 
yevos. Lastly, there is no evidence for any religious rites 
peculiar to certain families or clans. 

It would be rash of course to conclude from this that the 
clan and family system of later times was unknown in the age 
of the poems ; for in itself it bears every mark of antiquity. 
But there must be some reason for the neglect with which it 
is treated in the poems. If we examine individual cases we 
find that scarcely any heroes claim an ancestry of more than 
three generations. The Achaean families with the longest 
history are those of Agamemnon and Odysseus; but, if we 
are to believe post-Homeric tradition, the former changed its 
territories after the time of Pelops. 

This brings us to the question of succession. In Ithaca 
the throne seems to pass in the regular paternal line; and, 
though there is really no king after the retirement of Laertes, 
it is generally expected that the young Telemachos will even- 
tually take his place (Od. I 386 f., II 14). Similarly Nestor has 
succeeded his father Neleus, while Idomeneus apparently occu- 
pies the throne formerly held by his father's father, Minos. On 
the other hand, according to the story told by Glaucos (II. VI 
I92f.), Bellerophon, a stranger, received half the kingly rights 
in Lycia with the hand of the king's daughter. Moreover all 
post- Homeric authorities agree that Menelaos received the 
throne of Sparta by marriage, from his father-in-law Tyndareos. 
Similar stories are told of Tydeus, Telamon, Peleus, Teucros 
and many others 3 . It is to be observed that, though these 
stories do not occur in the Iliad and Odyssey, they do not 
conflict with any evidence to be found there. Many of them 

1 But cf. II. IX 63, where the word dQp-rjTup occurs, apparently with reference to 
the same institution. 

2 The meaning of the word t(j,<j)v\ov in Od. XV -273 seems to be quite ambiguous. 

3 Cf. Frazer, Lectures on the Early History of the Kingship, p. 238 flf. The story 
of Peleus and Eurytion bears rather a close resemblance to that of Bellerophon. 


can be traced back to the seventh century, indeed probably to 
the eighth. 

If we are to trust post- Homeric authorities it would seem 
that the wife remained in her parents' home quite as often as 
she went to that of her husband. This state of things however 
points to the prevalence of a cognatic organisation of society. 
In the case of Bellerophon indeed there can scarcely be any 
doubt; for the Lycians reckoned descent through the mother 
down to the time of Herodotus. The historian himself (l 173) 
remarks on the custom as strange and without parallel elsewhere 
from which we may probably infer that it had disappeared 
altogether from Greece before his time. Yet in one Greek 
community we have evidence almost as explicit. According 
to Polybius, XII 5, the Epizephyrian Locrians stated that with 
them all ancestral honours were derived from women and not 
from men, and that even then (i.e. in the second century) their 
nobility traced their descent from certain women of 'the hundred 
families,' who had taken part in the foundation of the colony. 
'The hundred families' were those which before this time had 
been selected by the Locrians (i.e. the Hypocnemidian Locrians) 
as the families from which they were to choose the virgins who 
were to be sent to I lion. This story seems to imply that cognatic 
organisation survived in Locris down to the beginning of the 
seventh century 1 . In other states 2 , so far as I am aware, we find 
only traces of the former existence of such an institution. Some 
of these however suggest that the change may not have been of 
any very great antiquity 3 . 

The Homeric poems themselves contain some further evi- 
dence, which points in the same direction. We may note that 
a number of heroes are said to be sons of gods. But it can 
hardly be without significance that the Lycian prince Sarpedon 
(daughter's son of Bellerophon) is the only son of Zeus, who 
belongs to the story of the Trojan war, whereas in the earlier 

1 It is to be borne in mind that the Epizephyrian Locrians were one of the first, if 
not the very first, of all Greek communities to obtain a codification of their laws 
probably indeed within half a century of the establishment of the colony. This fact 
may perhaps account for the survival of primitive institutions among them. 

2 Except perhaps in Cos ; but the evidence here is ambiguous. 

3 Cf. Ridgeway, The Origin of Tragedy, p. 190 ff. 


generations examples are comparatively common. In post- 
Homeric genealogies the succession of son to father seems to 
become less frequent the farther one goes back. 

In regard to marriage customs the poems show a remarkable 
absence of uniformity. The story of Bellerophon is by no means 
the only case in which the wife remains at home, even if we leave 
out of account such marriages as those of Menelaos and Tydeus, 
upon which the poems themselves are silent. Alcinoos proposes 
a union of this kind to Odysseus (Od. VII 311 ff.) 1 , and the wife 
of Iphidamas the son of Antenor appears to remain with her 
father (II. XI 225 f.). On the whole however the other type 
seems to be decidedly more common. Then we have to take 
into account the use of the word eeSva. It is commonly held 
that this originally denoted the 'bride-price,' paid by the bride- 
groom to the relatives of the bride ; and there is no doubt that 
the word is so used in several passages. In others however it 
may at least equally well denote presents made to the bride 
herself; occasionally indeed it appears to mean presents (i.e. a 
dowry) given by the bride's parents. By far the most prominent 
case of course is that of Penelope ; and here the question is com- 
plicated apparently by a doubt as to the proper person entitled 
to bestow the bride who is presumed to be a widow. Some- 
times the decision seems to rest with her son, Telemachos, 
sometimes with her father never with Laertes; but in the end 
she takes the matter into her own hands, after exacting presents 
for herself from all the suitors. It has been well suggested 2 that 
the ambiguity in the situation is due to a real change of custom. 
But I am by no means convinced that the ancient custom, now 
being superseded, was one of real purchase. It is made fairly 
clear (Od. I 396 ff., XV 518 ff., XXII 49 ff, etc.) that at least some 
of the suitors have ulterior objects in view. That the throne 
should be conveyed through Penelope seems to us no doubt il- 
logical ; for Odysseus himself had not acquired it by his marriage. 

1 The nature of Agamemnon's proposal to Achilles in II. ix 144 ff. (286 ff.) is not 
quite clear. Achilles is to choose one of Agamemnon's daughters and take her to 
Peleus' home. But with her Agamemnon is to give seven cities, situated apparently 
in Messenia, which in future are to be subject to Achilles. Possibly v. 149 is to be 
understood as introducing a new (alternative) proposal. 

a Cf. Cauer, Grundfragen d. Homer kritik' 2 , p. 292 ft. 


But, if we are right in believing that the type of marriage 
represented in the story of Bellerophon is earlier than the other, 
the situation depicted in the Odyssey is one for which ancient 
custom could not have made provision; indeed in such a situa- 
tion traditional feeling might very well incline towards regarding 
the queen, even though a stranger, as the proper channel for 
conveying the succession. Add to this the practical considera- 
tion that Penelope is apparently the person actually in command 
of the treasury; and we have no reason, so far as I am aware, for 
doubting that treasury and kingdom were as closely bound up 
together in Heroic Greece as they were in the Heroic Age of 
the northern peoples 1 . It has often been remarked that the 
position of women in the Homeric poems appears to be one 
of greater influence and responsibility than anything we find 
in later times. But nowhere is this responsibility made so clear 
as in the absence of all evidence for the constitution of a regency 
when the king is away from home. 

If the view put forward above is correct we must conclude 
that a change had been taking place in the organisation of 
society, and indeed that it was as yet by no means complete 2 . 
We have noticed that the conditions seem to have been some- 
what similar in the Heroic Age of the Teutonic peoples. But 
we saw also that there the change was apparently accompanied 
by a relaxation in the bonds of kinship, which shows itself es- 
pecially in fatal strife between relatives. The same phenomenon 

1 We may compare Beow. 2369 ff., where in a situation somewhat analogous to 
that of the Odyssey Hygelac's widowed queen offers both treasury and kingdom to 
the chief surviving prince, distrusting the ability of her young son to hold his own. 

2 That the type of organisation which prevailed during the growth of Homeric 
poetry was agnatic may be inferred from the regular use of the word Trdrprj and the 
(probably older) expression irarpls youa, which perhaps originally denoted 'land of 
one's father ' (the faeder eKel of Widsith, v. 96). But according to Plato (Republic, 
575 D) the Cretans used n^rpls for irarpts. Evidence for the prevalence of cognatic 
organisation in early times is furnished by certain words denoting relationship, 
especially d5e\06s (originally 'uterine brother'), and a relic of the feeling that this 
form of relationship was closer seems to be preserved in II. XXI 95. We may also 
take into account the formation of patronymics in -t5a, which appear to be extended 
from the feminine suffix -id- by another suffix (-d-) also properly feminine. In the 
north-western dialects these names were declined as feminines (e.g. N. sg. Ex^oiSa, 
G. sg. II/>oK\eiSas). One can hardly help suspecting that these names belonged 
originally to genealogies of the Lycian type. 


appears in the Homeric poems. Thus according to II. II 662 f. 
Tlepolemos slew his father's mother's brother, Licymnios, and 
had to leave his country in consequence. Among Achilles' 
followers (ib. XVI 570 ff.) was a certain Epeigeus who had taken 
refuge with Peleus because he had killed a cousin or kinsman 
(avetyios) in his own city. Again in II. IX 566 f. it is at least 
implied that Meleagros slew his mother's brothers (in accordance 
with the story found later). In the same speech (V 458 ff.) 
Phoinix confesses that he had been on the point of killing his 
own father. Then there is the tragic history of the house of 
Pelops. The facts stated in the Odyssey are that Aigisthos 
slew Agamemnon, his father's brother's son, and that Orestes, 
the son of Agamemnon, eventually slew Aigisthos. The most 
important feature in this story is that here we have not only 
homicide but also vengeance within the kindred. It is not 
actually stated that Orestes slew his mother; but from Od. Ill 
310 we may infer at least that she perished at the same time 
as Aigisthos. This is one of the cases in which I suspect that 
disagreeable incidents connected with royal families have been 
suppressed (cf. p. 238). Later authorities add many more in- 
stances of homicide within the kindred. Some of these, such as 
the ' banquet of Thyestes/ bear a close resemblance to Teutonic 
stories which we know to be unhistorical. Others again may 
have been invented to account for the presence of heroes in 
districts far from their native place. Yet from the fact that this 
motive is so frequently employed we may conclude that the 
murder of relatives was nothing very rare. 

In this respect then the Greek evidence agrees entirely with 
the Teutonic. In both cases alike the bonds of kinship seem to 
have lost their force to a great extent 1 . But it is to be remem- 
bered that among the Teutonic peoples we have in general 
no evidence except for the families of kings and royal officials ; 
in other ranks of society the kindred may have retained much 

1 It is possibly due to the same cause that we meet with some curious marriages. 
Thus Alcinoos is married to his brother's daughter, and Iphidamas to his mother's 
sister. The former case offends against the principle of agnatic organisation, the latter 
against the cognatic. Some other heroes (e.g. Diomedes) seem to be in somewhat 
similar positions. 


more vitality as indeed the laws seem to imply. Such may 
also have been the case in Greece ; for the Homeric poems are 
concerned almost exclusively with persons of princely rank. 
Certainly the strength and sanctity possessed by the kindred 
in early historical times is most easily to be explained on the 
supposition that the tendency which we have been discussing 
affected only a limited element in society 1 . 

The second of the two principles which we find dominant 
in early Teutonic society, namely that of_personal allegiance^ 
seems at first sight to play by no means so important a part 
in the life of heroic Greece. But for the lack of prominence 
assigned to it there are special reasons a different reason in 
the case of each poem. In the Iliad, which deals with campaign 
life, the stage is so crowded with kings that there is little room 
left for persons of humbler station. The only force indeed of 
which we have any account at all is that of Achilles. This was 
divided into five troops, each under a leader of its own, in addi- 
tion to Patroclos and Automedon. We saw in the last chapter 
that the speech in which Patroclos exhorts his men to battle is 
entirely in the spirit of the Teutonic comitatus. The appeal 
which he makes to them is not to any feeling of patriotism, 
but entirely to the effect that they should show their devotion 
to their own lord. We may note that several of the chief men, 
at all events Patroclos, Automedon and Phoinix, seem to share 
Achilles' hut. The passionate friendship of Achilles and Patro- 
clos appears to be a stronger bond than any other relationship 
that we meet with in the Homeric poems. But even if we set 
this on one side as something exceptional, the devotion shown 
to Achilles by Phoinix is quite in accordance with the best 
traditions of Teutonic thegnship. 

The Odyssey presents us with the picture of a king's house 
in time of peace. But, though Penelope has not less than fifty 
women in the house, the only men apparently, besides the suitors 
and their followers, are Telemachos himself, the herald Medon 
and the minstrel Phemios, together with the swineherd, neatherd 
and goatherd who come with provisions each day from a distance. 

1 The Locrian case quoted above (p. 357) suggests that the kindreds may, some- 
times at least, have been organised on a cognatic basis. 


But the conditions here are abnormal; the king himself has 
been away from hofne for many years, and his son is only just 
reaching manhood. It is scarcely credible that a Teutonic 
comitatus could have existed under such conditions. Menelaos 
appears to have something of a retinue at his court. In IV 22 f. 
we hear of a OepaTrwv named Eteoneus, who seems to be a person 
of some rank, as he is called /fpeiwv. In v. 2i6f. another Oepd- 
TTWV, Asphalion, is mentioned, while v. 37 f. speak of several of 
such persons, though their number is not stated. All that is 
said of them seems to indicate that their position was much 
the same as that of the thegns in early Teutonic courts. The 
picture of the Phaeacian court also bears a general resemblance 
to that of the Danish court as described in Beowulf. 

The use of the word Oepdircav appears to correspond almost 
exactly to that of fregn 1 . In both cases the general meaning is 
'servant'; but, just as we find Beowulf described as Hygelaces 
pegn, so in the Iliad the term OepaTrcov is applied to such distin- 
guished persons as Meriones and Patroclos. The converse term 
ava% also seems to correspond almost as closely to the English 
dryhten. Like the latter it is used for the master of a slave 
(e.g. Od. xv 557), while on the other hand it is applied, again 
like dryhten, to the most important kings and even deities 
in relation to all who recognise their authority. We have already 
noticed (p. 329) that the phrase aval; dvp>v seems to correspond 
very closely to the English phrase eorla dryhten. 

There is little or no evidence to show whether it was cus- 
tomary for the sons of leading men to be brought up at the 
king's court. Patroclos was declared to be the Oepdirwv of 
Achilles at an early age (II. XXIII 89 f); but the circumstances 
were exceptional. Certainly the Oepd-rrovre^ often came from 
beyond the king's dominions. Thus Patroclos had come from 
Opus (ib. XXIII 85 fF.) and Lycophron, Aias' squire, from Cythera 
(ib. XV 430 f.). It is true that both these persons had had to 
leave their homes owing to homicides which they had com- 
mitted; and no doubt many such cases were due to circum- 
stances which rendered a change of abode advisable. Thus 

1 There is a certain amount of parallelism also between eratpoj and gesift (cf. 
p. 350). But the former has scarcely the same technical significance as the latter. 


Phoinix had sought the protection of Peleus owing to a deadly 
quarrel with his father. Yet apart from such emergencies the 
protection and friendship of a wealthy and powerful king 
probably offered considerable attractions. We may refer to 
a somewhat remarkable passage in the Odyssey (IV 174 ff.), 
where Menelaos says that it had been his wish to bring 
Odysseus to his own country, with his son and his followers 
and possessions, adding that in order to make a home for 
him he would have ejected the inhabitants from one of the 
neighbouring cities which were under his lordship. 

Menelaos' intention seems to have been to put Odysseus 
in the position of a dependent prince. We have seen that 
Teutonic kings were in the habit of rewarding their knights 
with grants of jurisdiction; and the same appears to have 
been the case with the kings of Homeric times. Thus in 
II. IX 483 f. Phoinix says that Peleus had made him rich and 
granted him many followers, and that he had made his dwelling 
in a frontier district as lord over the Dolopes. This passage 
seems to furnish almost an exact parallel to the treatment of 
Beowulf by Hygelac (cf. p. 349). A similar case perhaps was 
that of Medon, the son of Oileus, who according to II. II 727 
commanded the forces from Methone and the adjacent dis- 
tricts, in the absence of Philoctetes, and who, like Phoinix, was 
a fugitive from his native land (cf. XI II 695 ff.). Here too we 
may mention the case of Phyleus, who had left his own country 
and gone to Dulichion owing to a quarrel with his father (ib. 
II 629), and whose son Meges commanded the forces from that 
island. In many such cases of course there may have been a 
marriage with a princess of the native royal family; but it is 
hardly necessary to assume that this was universal. In the 
case of Phoinix indeed such an assumption is improbable. 

There seems to be no actual record of a Homeric hero who 
left his home except under stress of circumstances; and hence, 
after making all deductions, we are bound, I think, to conclude 
that the system of the comitatus was not so highly developed 
as in the north of Europe. This is in full conformity with the 
fact that kingly families were apparently much more numerous 
Among the suitors of Penelope twelve princes belong to Ithaca 


alone, an island of no great size and probably never thickly 
populated 1 . 

For a class of nobility distinct from the princely families 
we have no clear evidence 2 . Persons like Eteoneus, the squire 
of Menelaos, may belong to such a class ; but it is quite possible 
that they are princes. We may refer also to the false story told 
by Odysseus in Od. XIII 256 ff., from which it appears that 
chiefs with small followings might be expected to place them- 
selves in the position of Oepairovres to more powerful chiefs. 
But Odysseus does not here make clear what rank he claims to 
have possessed in Crete. Quite possibly the practice referred 
to might be somewhat analogous to what we find in the Saga 
of Harold the Fair-haired, where a number of petty kings 
submit to Harold and take the rank of earls. 

The same want of definiteness occurs in regard to the 
humbler ranks of society. Even the slave's status is not made 
particularly clear, while there is no reference to the existence 
of freedmen or to the practice of manumission 3 . Slaves are 
apparently able to buy other slaves on their own account 
(cf. Od. XIV 449 ff.). In other respects however their position 
seems to be very similar to that of slaves in early Teutonic 
society 4 . Still less do we hear of differences of rank or status 
within the free population 5 . But it should be observed that 
the Anglo-Saxon poems give us no more information on such 
matters. Were it not for the early laws and foreign authorities 

1 Assuming the Homeric Ithaca to be identical with the Ithaca of later times. 
If 'Same' is the later Ithaca, the number of suitors furnished by this island is 

2 Cf. Fanta, Der Staat in der Ilias und Odyssee, p. 26 f., where a distinction is 
drawn between higher and lower nobility the /ScunXT/es being only a portion of the 
dpiffrrjes ; but the evidence seems to me inconclusive. 

3 Yet the promise made by Odysseus to the herdsmen in Od. XXI 213 ff. may 
perhaps be analogous to the change of status involved when a Teutonic slave was 
made a freedman. 

4 In both cases the household slaves seem to have been almost entirely women, 
who were occupied for the most part in grinding corn. 

5 From Od. iv 644 and vi 489 f. it seems probable on the whole that there existed 
a class of landless freemen corresponding to the Ang. -Sax. geburas. But no information 
apparently is given with regard to the K\f)pos whether it corresponded at all to the 
hide of the gafolgelda (roughly comparable with the Athenian frvyt-nqs) or whether it 
represented normally a much larger estate. 


we should know nothing of the distinction between land-holding 
and landless peasants, nor even of the great classes of noble, 
freeman, slave, etc. The true explanation seems to be that 
both sets of poems alike are interested only in persons of 
royal rank. 

No light is thrown on the social system by the passages 
which mention the payment of wergelds; for we are not in- 
formed whether these were fixed by custom or whether they 
formed the subject of bargaining in each individual case. In 
II. XXI 79 f. Lycaon says that Achilles had sold him into 
Lemnos for a hundred oxen and that he had been ransomed 
from thence for three hundred. Even the smaller of these 
sums is of course much too great for an ordinary slave's price. 
In the light of Teutonic custom it is possible that both repre- 
sent standard wergelds, regarded as man-values in general ; but 
one can hardly say that it is more than a possibility. The 
silence of the poems upon this subject is nothing surprising, 
for the Teutonic poems yield us no more information. 

We may now briefly summarise the results of this dis- 
cussion. The salient characteristic of the Heroic Age, both 
in Greece and in northern Europe, appears to be the disinte- 
gration of the bonds of kinship, a process which shows itself * 
chiefly in the prevalence of strife between relatives, and which 
in both cases is probably connected with a change in the 
organisation of the kindred agnatic relationship having come 
gradually to take the place of cognatic. How far this process 
affected society as a whole we cannot tell, since our evidence 
is generally limited to the royal families. The binding force 
formerly possessed by kinship was now largely transferred to 
the relationship between 'lord' and 'man' (dryhten fregn, aval; . 
Oepdirtov), between whom no bond of blood-relationship was r 
necessary. The comitatus was probably not developed in Greece 
to the same extent as it was in northern Europe; indeed in 
regard to social development generally the conditions in Greece 
seem to have been more primitive. Yet in individual cases the 
bond between lord and man was apparently the strongest force . 
of which we know. 



DURING the Heroic Age of the Teutonic peoples kingship 
appears to have been practically universal. The Old Saxons 
may have formed a solitary exception to the general rule ; but 
our knowledge of this people really begins only towards the 
close of the seventh century. 

Much has been written about the various powers possessed 
by the kings, but it is still by no means clear what they could 
not do, so long as they had a powerful and contented body of 
personal followers. If they forfeited the allegiance of their 
retinues by violence or outrage their power of course was gone 
at once. In the course of the eighth century several English 
kings were killed or expelled by their retinues ; and in Beowulf 
(v. 902 ff.; cf. v. 1709 ff.) we hear that a former king of the 
Danes named Heremod had met with a similar fate. But in 
early times such cases do not seem to have been common. 
Again, the numbers of the retinue might decrease through want 
of generosity or excessive love of peace on the king's part, and 
he would then be exposed to the attack of any aggressive neigh- 
bour or of some member of his own family whom he had offended. 
The only definite statement however which we possess regarding 
a limitation of the king's authority is a passage in Ammianus 
Marcellinus' history (XXVIII 5. 14) referring to the Burgundians 
before their conversion according to which kings were 
regularly deposed as a consequence of unsuccessful war or 
famine. The context, though not plainly expressed, seems to 
suggest that this deposition was carried out by the decision or 
through the agency of a high-priest whose authority was per- 


The statement that the kings of the Burgundians were 
deposed on account of famine points to the survival of a primi- 
tive idea of kingship, which credited the ruler with superhuman 
powers. The kings of the Swedes also, according to Ynglinga 
Saga, cap. 47, were believed to have control over the seasons 1 , 
like the god Frey from whom they claimed descent ; and it is 
said that two of them were sacrificed in times of famine. In 
the same saga, cap. 20, it is stated that the members of this 
dynasty individually were called Yngvi, a name of the ancestral 
god 2 which seems to indicate that they were regarded as his 
representatives. How far such ideas were general during the 
Heroic Age it is impossible to say, owing to the fact that we 
have few records dating in their present form from heathen 
times. Note may be taken however of the peculiar position 
occupied by the later Merovingian kings 3 . During the last 
century of their existence as a dynasty their power was entirely 
taken from them and transferred to a viceroy (commonly known 
as maior domus) whose office became practically hereditary in 
one family. The only duties which were retained by the kings 
were certain ceremonial functions, which point to a more or less 
sacral character, so far as was possible in a Christian community. 
We may note further that in the North there is no evidence for 
a specifically priestly class ; temporal and spiritual power were 
apparently united in the same person. Among the Angli on 
the other hand there was such a class, though, in contrast with 
the Burgundians, the high-priest seems to have been subordinate 
to the king 4 . 

1 For analogies to this belief cf. Frazer, Lectures on the Early History of the 
Kingship, p. 112 ff. Especially interesting parallels are to be found in the region 
of the Congo ; cf. Pinkerton, Voyages and Travels, Vol. XVI. pp. 330, 577. 

2 Frequently used in poetry. The god's full name seems to have been Yngvifreyr 
or Ingunarfreyr, both of which occur occasionally (cf. The Origin of the English 
Nation, p. 231). 

3 We may compare Ibn Fadhlan's account of the king of the (Scandinavian) 
Russians, who never put his foot to the ground. His duties also were discharged 
by a viceroy. Cf. Fra'hn, Ibn Foszlarts und anderer Araber Berichte iiber die Russen 
dlterer Zeit, pp. 21, 23. 

4 The priesthood figures very prominently in Tacitus' Germania. But it is not 
safe to assume that the conditions described there are necessarily more primitive than 
those which we find in much later times in the North. 


In Sweden there was a form of election for kings, which may 
have had a religious significance. The electors (the lawman 
and twelve others from each province) stood on huge stones 
(Morastenar), fixed in the earth, which may still be seen at 
Hammarby near Upsala. Saxo (p. 10 f.) records the former 
existence of a similar custom in Denmark. On the other hand 
the Prankish custom of hoisting a new king on a shield probably 
meant no more than a proclamation of lordship, as may be seen 
from the first recorded instance 1 . Whatever the formalities 
employed, it appears that in practice the reigning king was 
usually able to secure the succession for his son ; but failing 
such the nearest male relative acceptable to the court would 
normally be chosen 2 . It was not an unknown thing even for 
minors to succeed 3 . Frequently we find the kingdom shared 
by two or more brothers, just like any other property ; and on 
the death of one of them his son was sometimes allowed to take 
his place, as in the well-known case of Hrothgar and Hrothwulf. 
On the other hand the survivor might, and apparently often did, 
refuse any such concession ; and consequently struggles between 
relatives for the possession of the throne were of not infrequent 

National or tribal assemblies figure prominently in Tacitus' 
account of the ancient Germans, and among several of the Con- 
tinental Teutonic peoples they survived down to the seventh or 
eighth century. At this time they were generally held in the 
early spring whence the name Campus Martins applied to the 
assembly of the Franks. After the adoption of Christianity 
however they had come to be little more than military reviews 
for the most part, though at the same time a meeting of digni- 
taries, lay and ecclesiastical, was held for the transaction of 
business. In much later times we meet with national assemblies 

1 Tacitus, Hist., iv 15. 

2 Among the Ostrogoths during their war with the Romans (from 535 onwards) 
we meet with several kings of non-royal birth ; but the conditions were altogether 
abnormal. One king (Eraric) was a Rugian and appointed apparently by his own 

3 E.g. Athalaric the grandson of Theodric and Walthari the son of Waccho, king 
of the Langobardi. Aethelberht, king of Kent, must have succeeded as a child. 
Heardred, the son of Hygelac, is represented as very young. 


in the North also, especially in Sweden, and there can be little 
doubt that these had long been in existence. They were used 
by the kings for the purpose of publishing proclamations, and 
at the same time they presented an opportunity for coercing or 
overthrowing a king who had aroused popular resentment in 
any way. But they appear to have been primarily religious 
gatherings, for the great annual sacrifices at the chief national 
sanctuary. It is more than probable however that such was the 
case also with the assemblies of the ancient Germans 1 . At all 
events there is nothing to show that, apart from special emer- 
gencies, they met more than once, or possibly twice, in the year. 
In England evidence seems to be altogether wanting for any 
assemblies which could properly be called national ; nor do we 
find any reference to such an institution in the poems. 

It is true that we hear not unfrequently of discussions and 
deliberations in works dating from the Heroic Age. But 
although precise information as to the size and constitution of 
these meetings is seldom given, they appear to be those of 
comparatively small bodies, similar to the royal councils of the 
Anglo-Saxon kingdoms. The latter however were nothing more 
than meetings of the court from the earliest times to which our 
records go back. When important questions were discussed 
care may have been taken to summon all the leading men ; and 
no doubt age and high rank ensured priority of hearing, as in 
the assemblies of Tacitus' day. But still they remained essentially 
meetings of the king's personal dependents. So far as I am 
aware, there is no reason for supposing that gatherings like that 
described by Procopius ( Vand. I 22), when Genseric received the 
embassy from his compatriots in Europe, differed in any way 
from the meeting called by Edwin in 625 to discuss the adoption 
of Christianity. Often indeed the persons present are described 
as ol Xoyi/Jiot, or \oyi^raroL. Again, in Beowulf we hear more 
than once of Danish councillors (witan Scyldinga\ but there 
is nothing to show that these were a different body from the 
members of the court who entertained Beowulf; and it is clear 
from vv. 778 ft, 936 ff. that their meetings were held in the same 
building. The old and distinguished councillor who persuaded 

1 Cf. especially Tacitus, Germ. 39; Ann. I 51. 
C. 2 4 


Genseric to reject the petition of the envoys would seem to have 
been just such another person as Aeschere, Hrothgar's trusted 
adviser (cf. p. 350). In the story of Hermegisklos and Radiger 
also (cf. p. 97 f.) it is clear that the same ' distinguished men of 
the nation ' (ol \6<yi/jLoi,, Xoyi/jLcorarot,) act both as companions of 
the old king and advisers of his young successor. 

In spite of what has been said above there is some evidence 
for the existence of councils consisting of a fixed number of men, 
namely twelve, whose position may have differed somewhat 
from that of the ordinary members of the court 1 . The Old 
Saxons had a council of twelve which met annually at a place 
called Marklo, on the Weser ; but this case stands by itself, as 
the Old Saxons had no king. In Sweden however we meet with 
such councils both in tradition and in historical times, and what 
we know of them indicates that they were composed of the chief 
men. Moreover councils of twelve for judicial purposes occur 
both in provinces and small districts in various parts of the 
Scandinavian peninsula, as well as in the Scandinavian settle- 
ments in the British Isles. The gods too were credited with pos- 
sessing a council of twelve which had both judicial and sacrificial 
duties 2 a fact which is interesting as it points to a connection 
between the councils of which we have been speaking and bodies 
of twelve with sacrificial duties, of which we hear in stories 
relating to heathen times. If we take into account the legend 
of the twelve Frisian judges (asegen) and the fact that councils 
of twelve are known to have existed among the Celts and other 
European peoples, we can scarcely doubt that this type is of 
great antiquity. Yet there is nothing to show that such councils 
were at all general during the Heroic Age ; in England they 
seem to be entirely unknown before the period of Scandinavian 
influence. It is probable therefore that in this, as in other 
respects, the Swedes had preserved an institution which other 
kingdoms had discarded. 

From the stories quoted above we see that it was customary 
for the king to consult his council or court when any question 
involving difficulty or danger arose ; and there can be little doubt 

1 For references see Folk-Lore, xi, pp. 280, 282 f., 300. 

2 Cf. especially Gylf. 14, Yngl. S. 2, Gautreks S. 7. 


that he would feel his position strengthened by so doing. But 
we have no reason for supposing that the opinion of the council 
possessed anything more than moral force ; and consequently 
it would depend upon the king's strength of character or the 
security of his position whether he felt himself bound to follow 
their advice or not. Procopius (Goth. I 2) states that Amala- 
swintha was coerced by the leading men of the Goths with regard 
to her son's education ; but she was only a regent at this time. 
Again, in another passage (ib. IV 27) he relates how Hildigisl, 
a claimant to the Langobardic throne, fled for refuge to Thorisin 
(Turisindus), king of the Gepidae. Audoin, king of the Lango- 
bardi, demanded that he should be given up ; and his request 
was supported by Justinian. Thorisin consulted his distinguished 
men (pi XO^L^OL), but they replied that it would be better for the 
whole nation of the Gepidae to perish than to commit such an 
act of sacrilege. The king now, says Procopius, felt himself to 
be in a great difficulty. For he could not carry out what was 
demanded against the will of his subjects, and at the same time 
he was afraid to go to war against the Romans and Langobardi. 
So he contrived to get the fugitive murdered secretly, obtaining 
a quid pro quo in the murder of one of his own rivals. It must 
be observed that Thorisin himself had obtained the throne by 
violence. So the young Radiger, when he was captured and 
brought before the English princess, pleaded that he had been 
forced to renounce his promise to her by his father's commands 
and the insistence of the leading men (rrjv rwv dpxovrcov (nrovSijv). 
Genseric on the other hand dismissed the envoys in accordance 
with the old councillor's advice ; but we are told that both of 
them were ridiculed by the rest of the Vandals for so doing. 
Plainly then there was no question of having to follow the 
opinion of the majority. 

It might naturally be expected that the authority of the 
council would make itself felt most on the occasion of the king's 
death ; and the story of Radiger seems to bear this out. Yet 
it is worth noticing what is recorded in Beowulf on an occasion 
of great emergency. Hygelac, king of the Geatas, lost his life 
in the disastrous expedition against the Frisians and left an only 
son, Heardred, who seems to have been scarcely more than a 



child. Beowulf escaped from the slaughter, and on his return 
(v. 2369 ff.) " Hygd offered him the treasury and the government, 
the rings and the throne. She trusted not that her child would 
be able to hold his patrimony against foreign nations, now that 
Hygelac was dead." There is no reference to any action on 
the part of the council or court ; but the queen offers the throne 
to the late king's nephew. The whole passage seems to indicate 
that the throne with all its rights was regarded very much like 
any ordinary family property. Its disposition is arranged by 
the family itself, without any notion of responsibility to others ; 
and the members of the court are not taken into account any 
more than the servants in a private household. 

It may perhaps be argued that court poets would be apt to 
exaggerate the power of the royal family and consequently 
that the picture of its authority given here is misleading. Yet 
Amalaswintha, who was a contemporary of Hygelac, appears to 
have acted on her own authority when she associated Theodahath, 
the nephew of Theodric, in the sovereignty with herself after her 
son's death. There is other evidence also which goes to show 
that this passage truly reflects the spirit of the times. In the 
story of Radiger we see how a young princess was able to gather 
together a huge army and bring about a sanguinary struggle 
between two nations on account of an insult offered to her by 
a neighbouring king. Again, Paulus Diaconus (Hist. Lang. I 20) 
states that the war between the Heruli and the Langobardi was 
due to the murder of the Herulian king's brother by a Lango- 
bardic princess. Even if this story is untrue, it is significant 
enough that it should obtain credit. To the prominent part 
played by women in determining the destinies of nations we 
have already alluded (p. 337 f.). In particular we may call 
attention to the position of Fredegond and Brunhild, who after 
the deaths of their husbands practically ruled the kingdom of 
the Franks. In the seventh century Hygd's action in disposing 
of the kingdom is easily outdone by Sexburg, the widow of the 
West Saxon king Coenwalh, who is said to have kept the throne 
for herself. 

There is no doubt of course that the ease with which kings 
and princes were able to draw their nations into war was due 


largely to the restless spirit which animated their retinues. 
Sometimes indeed they appear to have been drawn into war 
against their own inclination. Procopius (Goth. II 14) differs 
from Paulus Diaconus in the cause which he assigns for the out- 
break of the war between the Heruli and Langobardi. According 
to him it was due entirely to the fact that the Heruli could not 
endure a peace of more than three years duration, and conse- 
quently forced their king into hostilities. The Prankish king 
Lothair I is said by Gregory (IV 14) to have been driven into 
a disastrous campaign against the Saxons from the same cause. 
In this direction then we may certainly recognise the influence 
of the court ; but the pressure probably came not from the old 
councillors, but from the younger men who hoped to gain riches 
and glory thereby. 

This brings us to the question of international relations. 
What is said in the opening verses of Beowulf regarding Scyld 
Scefing, the eponymous ancestor of the Danish royal family, 
may probably be taken as a standard description of a typical 
successful king of the Heroic Age : " He deprived many dynasties 
of their banqueting halls... and gained glory after glory, until 
every one of his neighbours across the whale's road had to obey 
him and pay him tribute." With increasing wealth however the 
love of peace frequently reasserted itself, especially perhaps 
towards the end of the period, by which time the kingdoms 
had materially decreased in number and consequently increased 
in size. We now see alliances more and more taking the place 
of conquest. Theodric organised an alliance not only with the 
Visigoths but also with the kings of the Thuringians, Heruli and 
Warni, which extended his influence from the Mediterranean to 
the North Sea; and his name seems to have carried weight as 
far as the eastern part of the Baltic. In Beowulf too we see 
the nations of the Baltic dealing with one another for the most 
part on friendly terms. 

That such alliances were primarily of a personal rather than 
a national character is shown in two ways. In the first place 
they were often cemented by marriage. Thus two of Theodric's 
daughters were married to Alaric, king of the Visigoths, and 
Sigismund, king of the Burgundians, respectively, his sister to 


Thrasamund, king of the Vandals, and his niece to Irminfrith, 
king of the Thuringians, while Theodric himself married a sister 
of Clovis. We have seen (p. 98) that similar marriages were 
contracted by the kings of the Warni, while the Prankish royal 
family was intermarried with those of practically all the sur- 
rounding nations. In the North the same custom seems to have 
prevailed, for in Beowulf one of the Swedish kings, probably Onela, 
is married to a sister of the Danish king Hrothgar. The term 
frfouwebbe (usually interpreted as ' weaver of peace '), which we 
find applied to ladies of royal rank in Anglo-Saxon poetry, probably 
owes its origin to this bond of union between kingly families. 
Such marriages seem to have sometimes taken place after a war, 
as in the case of Ingeld and Freawaru in Beowulf. 

Secondly, we hear of kings entering into a relationship called 
' fatherhood ' and ' sonship ' with other kings. For an example 
we may cite one of Cassiodorus' letters ( Var. IV 2), addressed 
to a king of the Heruli and informing him that Theodric creates 
him his 'son in arms ' (filius per arma), which is a great honour 1 . 
The letter is accompanied by a valuable present of arms and 
horses. Parallels are to be found in much later times. We may 
refer to the Saxon Chronicle, ann. 924, where the Scottish king 
(Constantine II) and several other princes in northern Britain 
accept Edward the Elder as ' father and lord.' It is scarcely 
to be doubted that in such cases the ' son ' is expected to render 
assistance to the ' father ' when required. The king of the Heruli 
appears to have been in alliance with Theodric 2 , while Malcolm I, 
the successor of Constantine II, was under an engagement with 
Edmund to be his "cooperator both by sea and by land 3 ." The 
imperium which Bede (//. E.\\ 5) ascribes to several English 
kings in all probability involved somewhat similar obligations ; 
and it rested without doubt upon an acceptance of lordship, if 
not of fatherhood. 

1 In Beow. 946 ff. (cf. 1175 f.) Hrothgar pays a similar compliment to the hero, 
who is not a king at this time. Probably the intention is to do Beowulf a quite 
exceptional honour. 

2 Cf. Cassiodorus, Var. Ill 3. 

3 Cf. Chron., ann. 945. For the form of agreement entered into upon such 
occasions reference may be made to ann. 874, 921 (ad fin.) etc. The terms probably 
varied from case to case. 


After the establishment of overlordship the next stage is 
that in which the smaller kingdoms are annexed and incor- 
porated by the larger ones generally in consequence of a revolt. 
The place of the native king or kings is often taken at first by 
a member of the victorious dynasty; but such arrangements 
were seldom lasting, and before long the national organisation 
was abolished. The completion of this process on the Continent 
belongs of course to times subsequent to the Heroic Age, while 
in this country it took place still later. But we can see such 
changes going on within the Heroic Age itself. At the end of 
the period the number of Teutonic kingdoms on the Continent 
was quite small. Several however, such as those of the Alamanni, 
the Burgundians and the Thuringians, had disappeared within 
the last half century ; in the fourth century they were probably 
far more numerous. Many of them may have been quite in- 
significant, like the petty kingdoms which are said to have 
existed in Norway eight apparently in the district of Trondhjem 
alone down to the time of Harold the Fair-haired. Several of 
the nations which figure prominently in Tacitus' works had 
perhaps disappeared still earlier. At all events they are never 
mentioned either in historical works or traditions referring to 
the Heroic Age. 

The reverse process cannot be traced so clearly. The 
division of a kingdom between brothers or other relatives does 
not seem as a rule to have led to a permanent partition. Very 
often indeed it was apparently no more than a temporary dis- 
tribution of estates and spheres of jurisdiction, not necessarily 
in solid blocks 1 . In such cases the kingdom was still regarded 
as one property, of which the kings were joint possessors. But 
there can be no question that many kingdoms established on 
alien soil, e.g. in Britain, were offshoots from other kingdoms. 

This consideration brings us to the much debated question 
of the relationship between kingdom and nation. It has been 
assumed by many scholars that among the Teutonic peoples 
the kingdom was a comparatively late outgrowth from the 
nation or tribe. It reality this problem seems to me to have 

1 For the case of the Prankish kingdom see Waitz, Deutsche Verfassungsgeschichte*, 
II, p. 145 ff. ; Brunner, Deutsche Rechtsgeschichte, II, p. 25 f. 


much in common with that of the hen and the egg. With the 
earliest kingdoms of all we are not concerned here ; it will be 
enough to mention that our earliest historical notices testify to 
the prevalence- of kingship, though not always to monarchy in 
the strict sense of the term. In the Heroic Age however we 
certainly find kingdoms springing up where no nation or tribe, 
properly speaking, can be said to have existed previously. We 
may cite the case of Odoacer, who in 476 made himself king in 
Italy with the help of his troops. In principle we may regard 
him as the princeps of a comitatus. Then we have to consider 
the various Anglo-Saxon kingdoms. The Mercian royal family 
traced their descent from Offa, the ancient king of Angel, while 
the West Saxon dynasty claimed to be sprung from that Wig, 
the son of Freawine, who was earl of Slesvig under Offa's father, 
according to the story preserved by Saxo. But to the origin of 
the rest the genealogies give us no clue. If they were all of royal 
origin and apparently they did claim divine descent the Angli 
must have possessed a numerous royal class ; and we are scarcely 
justified in denying that this may have been the case 1 . On the 
other hand it is by no means impossible that some of them were 
sprung from foreign peoples, such as the Danes, Swedes or 
Warni. But what we may regard as practically certain is that 
the individual kingdoms did not rest upon a national or tribal 
foundation. There is not the slightest ground for supposing 
that (e.g.) the East Anglians as a people belonged to a different 
nation or tribe from the Northumbrians. It is scarcely credible 
that the first kings were anything else than principes in command 
of comitatus, whether they set out from the homeland in this 
position or established themselves at a later date by severing 
their allegiance from other kings in Britain itself. 

Nor is there any reason for supposing that this phenomenon 
was peculiar to Britain. The story of Waldhere tells of the 
presence of small Teutonic communities in eastern Gaul, each 

1 In the account of Wulfstan's voyage given in King Alfred's translation of 
Orosius (p. 20 in Sweet's edition) it is stated that the land of the Este (in East 
Prussia) contains very many fortified places (btirh, i.e. probably stockaded villages) 
and that in each of these there is a king. But it is scarcely probable that such primitive 
conditions survived among the Angli even four or five centuries before Alfred's time 
(cf. p. 380, note). 


under a royal family of its own. And not only heroic stories 
but also historical works relating to the earlier part of the Heroic 
Age frequently refer to comparatively small bands of warriors 
such as that led by the Goth Sarus in Stilicho's time in various 
parts of the Roman empire, and even beyond its borders 1 . Such 
bands may very well have produced communities like the one 
ruled by Waldhere's father 2 ; but it would be absurd to speak 
of them as nations or tribes. They have clearly far more in 
common with the military kingship established by Odoacer. The 
peculiarity of his position indeed lies only in the magnitude of 
the power to which he attained. 

In brief we have to distinguish between two classes of 
kingdoms in the Heroic Age. In the new kingdoms, settled 
on foreign soil, we find an essentially military kingship, an , 
imperium vested in a particular family. These kings either 
established themselves in Roman cities, such as Ravenna, 
Langres or York, or moved about from one royal estate to 
another. Of national assemblies we have frequently no trace 
at all, while the council is identical with the comitatus and 
consists of relatives and nominees of the king. Such kingdoms 
often rest on no national or tribal foundations ; the king and his 
comitatus form the nucleus of the organism. On the other hand 
the older kingdoms, especially in the North, retained many 
features of a more primitive constitution. The king's position 
had a religious significance, and his capital, e.g. at Leire or 
Gamla Upsala, was the chief national sanctuary, at which 
assemblies, primarily religious but possessing considerable 
political influence, took place from time to time. It is likely 
too that the councils here were originally permanent bodies 
with more or less fixed prerogatives essentially religious, but 

1 It is only in this way that we can account for the more or less simultaneous 
appearance of Heruli in Gaul and on the Black Sea in the latter part of the third 
century. In the fifth century this nation had a powerful kingdom in Central Europe. 
We may refer also to the traces of various peoples (Angli, Warni, etc.) which we find 
in the basin of the Saale, as well as to the kingdom of the Suabi in Spain, the Goths 
in the Crimea, etc. Abundant parallels are to be found in the history of the Viking 

2 It is quite possible that many of the leading characters in the heroic stories may 
belong to such communities, e.g. Hnaef, Sigmundr and SigurSr, HeSinn, Harnflir 
and Sorli, Haki and Hagbarftr. 


yet by no means without political power. Between these two 
types of kingdoms we find others of an intermediate character, 
especially in nations which had migrated en masse \ and there 
can be little doubt that during the Heroic Age even the most 
conservative of the older kingdoms were influenced by the newer 
type. It is the newer type of course which we must regard as 
^ truly characteristic of the Heroic Age. 

In post-heroic times again we find a reversion to the national 
idea of a kingdom, though on a much larger scale. In English 
history this tendency can be traced from the seventh century 
onwards. In Bede's works it is clear that such an expression 
as Merciorum gens (Myrcna maeg]y) had come to mean something 
more than the royal family of the Mercians with their property 
and dependents. By the ninth and tenth centuries however this 
feeling is much more clearly perceptible. We may cite King 
Alfred's will, where it is clearly recognised that the kingdom 
should not be divided up as a family property. But it is not 
until the time of Aethelred II that the full sense of the king's 
responsibility to the nation finds expression in definite terms. 

The form of government which we find depicted in the 
Homeric poems seems to be not unlike that which we have 
discussed above. Here too kingship is universal apparently 
also without any recognised constitutional limitations to the 
royal authority. The murder or expulsion of a prince is not 
unknown ; but such cases are due to strife within the royal 
family. Any differences which we can detect between the 
authority of Homeric kings and that wielded by early Teutonic 
rulers may be ascribed partly to the much smaller size of the 
kingdoms and partly to a social feature noted in the last chapter 
(p. 363 f), namely that in many Greek communities kingly or 
princely rank seems to have been claimed by a number of 
different families. 

The last consideration is especially prominent in the Odyssey 1 . 
The throne of Ithaca has been in the possession of one family 

1 In explanation of this phenomenon the view has been put forward (cf. Finsler, 
N. Jahrb. xin 319 ff., 396 ff. ; summarised 410 ff.) that the form of government 
depicted in the Odyssey is really an aristocracy, whereas the evidence of the Iliad is 
inconsistent owing to traditional reminiscences of a time of real kingship. Thus in 


for three generations. Yet in I 394 ff. Telemachos says that 
there are many kings of the Achaeans, both young and old, 
in the island, and he expects that one of them will take the 
sovreignty, now that Odysseus is dead. In Scheria also we 
hear of twelve sceptre-bearing kings under Alcinoos ; but to 
this case we shall have to return shortly. That a king was not 
necessarily a person of great magnificence may be inferred also 
from one of the scenes depicted on Achilles' shield (II. XVIII 
556 ff.), where we find a king in the harvest-field watching the 
work of the reapers and feasting on the spot. We are reminded 
here of the story of the Norwegian king SigurSr Syr who was 
summoned from the harvest-field to greet his step-son, St Olaf, 
and whose state-robes had to be sent to him there in order to 
enable him to make a suitable appearance 1 . 

In this connection it is perhaps worth noting that according 
to the Catalogue of Ships the contingents supplied by several 
communities were under a number of different princes. Thus 
the Epeioi have four leaders and the Boeotians five, without 
counting those from Orchomenos and Aspledon. The troops 
from Argolis (exclusive of Agamemnon's dominions) are led by 
three princes, all of whom according to later authorities were 
related two of them, Diomedes and Sthenelos, being sons of 

the latter poem fiacriXefa (in the singular) is generally used only of Agamemnon, 
though there are exceptions, e.g. I 331, where it is applied to " Achilleus, dem der 
Titel, streng genommen, nicht zukommt, da Peleus noch lebt" (p. 404 f.). I do not 
think that this explanation is likely to carry conviction to anyone who has studied 
early Teutonic history. It is clear that in early times throughout the Teutonic area 
in England down to the end of the seventh century and in the North much later 
the title of king was applied to sons and other relatives of kings, as well as to dependent 
princes. The only qualifications for the title were (i) royal birth, (ii) the possession 
of some kind of authority or 'lordship' (rt/x??). How small this authority might be 
can be seen from St Olafs Saga (Heimskr.), cap. 4, where we are told that Olaf had 
the title of king given to him by his followers ; "for it was customary that herkonungar 
(i.e. Viking chiefs) who were engaged in piracy should take the title of king at once, 
if they were of royal birth, although they governed no territories." The qualification 
of royal birth however was essential. The title was not taken even by so great a man 
as Earl Haakon of Lade, who had kings practically dependent on him. I see no 
reason for regarding the conditions depicted in either of the Homeric poems as 
different from what we find in the North, although, owing presumably to the small- 
ness of the kingdoms, all the important characters appear to be persons of royal birth. 
1 St Olafs Saga (Heimskr.), cap. 30 ff. 


Adrastos' daughters, while the third, Euryalos, was his brother's 
son 1 . Diomedes is said to be the commander-in-chief, but as 
Sthenelos is his charioteer the relations between them are 
evidently of an intimate character. It is not stated whether 
all these princes were actually reigning kings, or merely leaders 
selected for the expedition ; but Diomedes and Sthenelos at 
least have no fathers living. 

There is no evidence, so far as I am aware, for any form of 
election for kings. In the case of Bellerophon we are told that 
"the Lycians apportioned him a demesne" (re^ei'o? ra/juov)', but 
it was the king who granted him half the royal rights. And 
similarly in all other cases the kingly power seems to have been 
obtained from some relative by blood or marriage. This renders 
it more easily intelligible that the plural kingship if such it 
was of which we have spoken above, may be due ultimately 
to family arrangements. It is scarcely necessary to suppose 
that in such cases the kingdom was always divided into geo- 
graphical halves and quarters. As to the relationship between 
the various kings under such an arrangement e.g. whether the 
phrase o-vfjuTravrcw rjyelro applied to Diomedes in II. II 567 
means a formal recognition of lordship on the part of his 
colleagues we have apparently no precise information. 

The religious aspect of kingship is not very prominent in 
the Homeric poems. When the armies are gathered together 
to perform a sacrifice Agamemnon acts as priest (II. in 271 ff.) 
with the cooperation of Priam, and Nestor seems to take the 
chief part in sacrifices at Pylos (Od. Ill 444 ff.). There is no 
reason for supposing that such cases are exceptional ; as in the 
North (cf. p. 367)'the king or chief person seems likewise to have 
acted as priest. We do occasionally hear of priests of sanctuaries, 
such as Chryseus at the opening of the Iliad ; but no mention is 
made of state-priests or tribal priests. In historical times the 

1 This passage offers at least a partial explanation of the phenomenon which we 
have been discussing. If royal rank is traced both on the male and female sides the 
kingly class will inevitably be numerous. Such may have been the case among the 
Angli also at one time. But it is not unlikely that at least in the remoter parts of 
Greece each ' city ' or small district may have retained a royal family of its own, like 
the communities visited by Wulfstan {cf. p. 376, note). We may refer to such a 
passage as II. ix 395 f., if dpHTrfuv here means dependent princes. 


case was otherwise. Thus Athens possessed a state-priest known 
as y8ao-fcXev9. The name of the office itself shows that it was a 
relic of the kingship which had been gradually stripped of all 
except its religious duties. Political power here was transferred 
at first to an official called o ap%&>i>, whose origin may have been 
similar to that of the Prankish maior domus. We may note also 
that at Sparta, where the institution of kingship was preserved 
in a modified form, priestly functions were among the chief 
duties preserved by the kings. 

The poems themselves do not make it clear that the religious 
aspect of kingship amounts to more than priestly position, for 
such phrases as tfeo? <w9 rtero Srffj,<p are scarcely free from am- 
biguity. But later authorities give us much more information 
in this respect. In the first place we may notice certain legends, 
such as that of the impious king Salmoneus, who aspired to 
the functions of Zeus a story which is now thought by many 
scholars to have arisen from a misunderstanding. More than 
one of the early Attic kings also seem to have been regarded as 
at least partly divine 1 . But above all we have to take into 
account the statement of Clement of Alexandria (Protr. II 38) 
that the Spartans worshipped a certain Zev? ' Aya^fjLi>(ov y which 
has led some writers to assume that Agamemnon was originally 
a god. In all probability the true explanation is furnished by 
Tzetzes 2 , who says that in early times kings regularly bore the 
name Zeu?. We have an interesting parallel here to the usage 
of the ancient Swedes 3 , whose kings are said to have been called 
Yngvi (cf. p. 367). In both cases we may probably infer that 
the king was regarded in some sense as the god's representative ; 

1 Cf. especially Cook, Folk-Lore, xv 385 f. 

2 Chil. i 474 (TOUS jScuriXets 8' av^Kade Ates eicaXovv ir&vras) and elsewhere. On 
this subject see Cook, Class. Rev. xvn 409, and Folk-Lore, xv 303 f. (cf. 301), where 
full references are given. 

3 The parallel must not be pressed too far of course. According to Tzetzes all 
kings were called Zeus. But apparently not all kings were descended from Zeus; 
Nestor, for example, was sprung from Poseidon according to Od. xi 254 ff. We 
may refer however to Hesiod, Theog. 96, where kings are said to derive their authority 
from Zeus, and to the Homeric epithet Storpe^s (possibly also dioyev^s) which is 
commonly applied to kings. Frey on the other hand was an ancestral god but not 
the chief of the gods, though he is sometimes in poetry called folkvaldi gcfta, which 
Saxo translates by satrapa deorum. 


possibly he personated him on certain occasions. Yet it must 
be remembered that this aspect of kingship is not brought 
forward in the poems 1 . If our sketch of the history of Homeric 
poetry is correct in its main outlines, we must conclude that the 
divinity of kings was not a doctrine to which supreme importance 
was attached in the courts themselves. 

National or tribal assemblies are not often mentioned. In 
Od. vin 26 fT. Alcinoos addresses the Phaeacians in their 
assembly (dyoptf) and declares to them his resolve to assist 
Odysseus. Again, in II 6 ff. Telemachos calls an assembly 
in Ithaca. But on this occasion the first speaker, Aigyptios, 
says that the assembly has not met since the departure of 
Odysseus, some twenty years before, and further that he wonders 
who it is who has called them together now. The former 
statement seems to indicate that such meetings were not held 
regularly, while the latter at first sight suggests that it was open 
to anyone to call them, and consequently that they were of a 
quite informal character in spite of certain rules of procedure 
which seem to have been usually followed. But the conditions 
here are abnormal. The king has disappeared and no one has 
yet taken his place ; Aigyptios is perhaps scarcely prepared to 
expect that the young Telemachos would summon the assembly. 
It is true that in II. I 54 ff. the Achaeans are called together by 
Achilles, not Agamemnon ; but here we have to deal with a 
confederate army in the field 2 , and with a prince who shortly 
afterwards sets Agamemnon's authority at open defiance. There 
is scarcely sufficient ground for supposing that a similar course 
would have been possible at home, when the king was on the spot. 
Further, it is to be noted that on all the above occasions the 
notice served is so short that only those in the immediate neigh- 
bourhood could attend. On the whole then we are probably 
justified in doubting whether any definite rules existed as to 

1 A trace of the belief that kings had power over the seasons (cf. p. 367) may 
perhaps be found in Od. xix 109 ff. 

2 I cannot help thinking that evidence derived from the Achaean gatherings in 
the Iliad is somewhat precarious ground on which to build up a theory regarding 
the constitutional rights possessed by the dyoprj at home. The same remark applies 
to such a passage as Od. XII 297, where an important constitutional change (cf. Fanta, 
op. cit., p. 91) has been inferred from the mutinous behaviour of a ship's crew. 


when the assembly should be called, and indeed whether this 
body had much in common with the constitutionally regulated 
assemblies of historical times 1 . It seems rather to be a more or 
less fortuitous gathering called together on the spot by criers 
when the king wishes to bring something before the notice of 
the public 2 . 

In Od. in 5 ff. we certainly do hear of a great public gathering 
indeed we may probably say a national gathering of a kind 
which can only have taken place at definitely fixed times. But 
it is clear that this was essentially a religious festival 3 . Such 
gatherings may of course have been used for political purposes, 
as in the North ; but we have no information on this subject. 

The Achaean ' council of elders ' (/3ov\r) yepovrcov) in the 
Iliad seems to be a body of quite as informal character as the 
assembly. On several occasions Agamemnon calls together a 
small number of princes, namely Nestor, Idomeneus, the two 
Aiantes, Diomedes and Odysseus, together with his brother 
Menelaos. This number of course forms only a small proportion 
of the leading men in the army. Occasionally however we find 

1 It cannot fairly be argued from Od. n 192 f. that the assembly (apart from the 
king) has a right to impose fines, for the suitors here are relying not upon any 
* constitutional ' rights but on force majeure. It is to be remembered too that 
Eurymachos appears to have designs upon the throne (cf. p. 358 f.). 

2 It has been suggested that the true name for such a gathering was QOWKOS (0w/cos) 
and that this was something different from the dyop^ (cf. Fanta, op. cit., p. 77) ; but 
the evidence for such a distinction is very far from convincing. We may refer to 
such passages as Od. XII 318 and, more especially, to v 3 (dwndvde), which is clearly 
parallel to II. XX 4 (ayo(yf]v8e). Cf. Finsler, N.Jahrb., XIII 327. 

3 In the Hymn to the Delian Apollo, v. 146 ff., mention is made of a festal 
gathering of lonians at Delos, apparently on a considerable scale. Similar gatherings 
may have been in existence quite as early, or even earlier, in other parts of Greece. 
For the festival at Pylos however much better parallels are to be found in the great 
religious gatherings which took place every nine years at Leire and Upsala, the old 
Danish and Swedish capitals. Cf. Thietmar of Merseburg, Chron. 19: est unus in 
his partibus locus... Lederun nomine... ubi post nouem annos, mense Ianuario...omnes 
conuenerunt et ibi diis suismet XCIX homines et totidem eqtios cum canibus et gallis pro 
accipitribus oblatis immolant. And Adam of Bremen, IV 27 : solet quoque post nouem 
annos communis omnium Sueoniae prouintiarum sollempnitas in Ubsola celebrari. ad 
quam uidelicet sollempnitatem nulli praestatur immunitas. reges et populi omnes et 
singuli sua dona transmittunt ad Ubsolam. It does not appear however that on these 
occasions in contrast with the festival at Pylos any of the victims were eaten. In 
this respect they are probably to be compared rather with the great quadrennial 
sacrifices of the Gauls ; cf. Diodoros, v. 32. 


others summoned, such as Meges and even Thrasymedes and 
Meriones, who are not the chiefs of contingents. The council of 
an expeditionary army however is an exceptional case. On the 
Trojan side we hear of a number of Sri/jboyepovTes with Priam 
(II. ill 146 ff.), seven of whom are named. Three of them are 
brothers of the king, while others are fathers of the most dis- 
tinguished Trojan warriors. They are described as eloquent 
orators, but no account is given of their deliberations. In the 
Odyssey references to councils are very rare. No mention is 
made of such a body in Ithaca. In Scheria however Alcinoos 
has twelve kings under him (vni 390 f.), who clearly form his 
council and are to be identified with the ' leaders and rulers of 
the Phaeacians ' (Qai^Ktov 777^x0/369 rj&e yueSo^re?) who feasted in 
his hall (VII 98 f, 1 86; VIII 26, 41, 46 f), though on Odysseus' 
arrival they were apparently not all present (VII 189). It may 
be observed that in the account of the Phaeacian assembly 
Alcinoos uses the same formula as when he is addressing the 
princes in his hall : " Hearken, ye leaders and rulers of the 
Phaeacians." His speech then is directed primarily to the 
princes a fact which seems to indicate that council and as- 
sembly were not very clearly distinguished. In this connection 
we may note that in the assemblies of the Iliad, as in those of 
the ancient Germans, the speaking is almost invariably left to 
the princes. 

So far as the councils of the Iliad are concerned little can 
be said against the view that Agamemnon calls together from 
time to time those of the leaders in whom he has most con- 
fidence. The same may be true of Alcinoos' council 1 . But on 
the whole it seems more probable that this is a permanent 
institution, with definitely fixed numbers and privileges. The 
'sceptre-bearing' under-kings are twelve in number, like the 
councils of so many European peoples in ancient times. The 
agora where they meet, with its polished stones, is clearly a place 
specially constructed for such functions and similar apparently 

1 It is scarcely capable of proof that the picture of the Phaeacian community in 
the Odyssey is derived from a Greek model (cf. p. 297 f. and note) ; but I believe I am 
following the generally accepted view in assuming this to be the case. The features 
noted here are such as we might expect to find in a Greek community if we take into 
account the evidence of later times. 



to the one described in the trial scene depicted on Achilles' 
shield (II. XVIII 497 ff.), where the elders are seated on polished 
stones ' in a sacred circle.' We are reminded here of the Northern 
council of the gods especially as described in Gautreks Saga, 
cap. 7 1 and of the 'circle of judgement' (domkringr), which 
we find at ' chief-places ' (i.e. centres of jurisdiction) in Iceland. 
Possibly too we should refer to the stones used in the election 
of Scandinavian kings (cf. p. 368). If we take the evidence as 
a whole it can hardly be denied that the Phaeacian council does 
seem to show the characteristics of a primitive communal organi- 
sation 2 . But it would be unwise to assume that councils of this 
type were universal in the Heroic Age. 

The actual power possessed by the council, whatever its 
constitution, does not seem to amount to much. Agamemnon 
is often ready to take advice from some of his colleagues, 
especially Nestor; and in Od. VII 167 ff. Alcinoos acts on 
the suggestion of the old Echeneos. Both these cases may 
be compared with the story of Genseric (cf. p. 369 f. 3 ). But it 
is clearly as individuals that the councillors have influence. In 
the Iliad Achilles acts on his own initiative and withdraws from 
the war in open defiance of Agamemnon. But even in the case 
of home councils I mean councils of the kingdoms we never 
hear of organised action. In Ithaca, where the king is away, no 
council seems to exist. Nor is any mention made of a council 
in the story of Agamemnon's death and Orestes' vengeance. 
This fact deserves to be remarked all the more because we find 

1 We may refer also to the rokstolar (judgement-seats) on which the gods sit 
when they gather in session (Voluspa, sir. 9, 23, 25). 

2 For a true analogy we must of course turn to councils which were attached to 
the king's court. Such appears to have been the case with the twelve chiefs of the 
Uppland Swedes who, according to St Olaf's Saga (Heimskr.), cap. 96, constantly 
attended the Swedish king, sitting in judgement with him and giving him advice in 
matters of difficulty. If the meaning of Od. xm 130 is that the Phaeacians in general 
are descended from Poseidon, we have a further analogy with the same community, 
who appear to have claimed descent from the god Frey. Cf. Saxo, p. 260 (in the 
catalogue of Ringo's warriors at Bravalla) : At Sueonum fortissimi hi fuere...qui 
quidem Fr$ dei necessarii erant et fidissimi numinum arbitri. . . iidem quoque ad Frj 
deum generis sui principium referebant* 

3 For Genseric's disregard of the general opinion of those present a parallel is 
presented by Agamemnon's conduct in II. i 22 ff. 

C. 2 5 


apparently just the same phenomenon in Anglo-Saxon poetry, 
e.g. in Beowulf where the proceedings after Hygelac's death are 
related. The natural inference to be drawn from the evidence 
is that the councillors were essentially advisers to the king and 
that after his death or disappearance their standing was gone. 
But here again caution is necessary. It is difficult to believe 
that such a description can be true of a council like that of the 
Phaeacians, however ready they may seem to follow the king 
in ordinary circumstances. 

The cases of emergency arising out of the misfortunes of 
Odysseus and Agamemnon bring to our attention another 
curious feature, again possibly analogous to the conditions 
described in Beowulf, namely that the king does not seem to 
appoint a regent in his absence 1 . Odysseus has entrusted his 
household to Mentor (Od. II 226 f), and Agamemnon has put 
his wife in charge of a minstrel (ib. Ill 267 f.) ; but nothing is 
said of the kingdom in either case. Are we to suppose that 
the queen is the person in authority ? Presumably, like Hygd, 
she has command over the treasury ; for (as also perhaps in the 
North) the treasury seems to be connected with the queen's 
chamber. If it be objected that the absence of any national 
control apart from the king's (or queen's) personal authority 
must have been productive of strife, we have only to refer to 
the stories to see that dissensions, especially between members 
of the same family, were by no means of rare occurrence. 

With regard to international relations warfare between 
different kingdoms does not seem to be particularly common. 
Apart from the siege of Troy we hear incidentally of a number 
of struggles, such as the two expeditions against Thebes, the 
war of the Aetolians against the Curetes, and those of the 
Arcadians and the Epeioi against Pylos, while references to 
buccaneering exploits are frequent. But on the whole the 
normal state of relations between the various kingdoms is one 
of peace. 

As in the Teutonic Heroic Age, we hear frequently of 
marriages between different royal families. Agamemnon's offer 
of one of his daughters to Achilles is part of his attempt at 

1 Cf. Seymour, Life in the Homeric Age, p. 81. 


reconciliation and may be compared with the marriage of Ingeld 
and Freawaru. Menelaos marries his daughter to Achilles' son. 
Both these cases show that such marriages were not limited to 
neighbouring families. So also Penelope the daughter of Icarios 
(whose home is not stated in the poems) has married the king 
of Ithaca, while her sister is the wife of Eumelos at Pherai in 
Thessaly (Od. IV 795 ff.). Such marriages would doubtless do 
much towards promoting friendly relations between the various 
royal families. Indeed visits paid by one prince to another 
seem to be nothing very unusual 1 . Autolycos visits his son-in- 
law Laertes in Ithaca, and Odysseus later goes to stay with 
Autolycos in the neighbourhood of Parnassos. Helen recognises 
several of the Achaean princes from the walls of Troy and 
remarks (II. Ill 232 f.) that Idomeneus had frequently been 
entertained by Menelaos in her old home. 

Again, it can scarcely be doubted that the expedition against 
Troy involves the existence of relations of some kind between 
Agamemnon and the other kings. But the character of 
Agamemnon's position in Greece itself is never clearly defined 
in the poems. According to Od. XXIV 115 ff. he has consider- 
able difficulty in persuading Odysseus to take part in the 
expedition. On the other hand in II. XIII 669 we hear of 
a fine (Oayrj) for those who refused to serve 2 . This passage 
however refers to a native of Corinth, who was doubtless a 
much nearer neighbour. Indeed the Catalogue of Ships (II. II 
569 ff.) represents the Corinthian contingent as under Aga- 
memnon's immediate command. According to this section of 
the poem Agamemnon's own territories consist of the north- 
western part of Argolis, together with at least the eastern half 
of Achaia, while the rest of Argolis belongs to Diomedes and 
his colleagues. But in IX 149 ff. (291 ff.) it is clear that 

1 It may be observed here that we often hear also of journeys for trade and other 
purposes, as in Od. ill 366 ff., where Athene, disguised as Mentor, says she is going 
to the land of the Caucones to collect a debt. Voyages even to countries as distant 
as Egypt and Phoenicia are not unknown. 

2 Cf. xxin 296 ff., where a certain Echepolos (presumably a fictitious character) 
is said to have given Agamemnon a mare in order that he might be excused from 
the expedition. This person belongs to Sicyon, another adjacent city and likewise 
included in Agamemnon's domain in the Catalogue of Ships. 



Agamemnon possesses part of Messenia, bordering apparently on 
Pylos (the territory of Nestor). Further, we have to take into 
account that, apart from the Catalogue, neither poem gives 
evidence for the existence of anything which can fairly be 
called a kingdom in the Peloponnesos, except Pylos, Elis and 
the territories of the two brothers 1 . Taking the positive and 
negative evidence together it seems probable that Agamemnon 
and his brother were regarded as ruling over the greater part 
of the peninsula, though certain cities and districts remained 
in possession of native princes, perhaps in a dependent position. 
Again, I am not aware that there is any evidence apart from 
the Catalogue for supposing that the territories of the two 
brothers were regarded as definitely marked off from one 
another. From II. IX 149 ff., taken together with the references 
to Sparta and Mycenae, we may infer the contrary. On the 
whole it seems more probable that we have here to do with 
a case of divided kingship, as so frequently among the Teutonic 
peoples, rather than with two separate kingdoms. In that case 
too we shall obtain a satisfactory explanation of the later 
tradition (cf. p. 240) which claimed Agamemnon for Sparta 
or Amyclai. 

Beyond his own territories Agamemnon's authority does 
not seem to be represented as anything more than a somewhat 
indefinite hegemony comparable probably with the relationship 
of Theodric the Ostrogoth to his northern allies (cf. p. 373 f.). 
The army which he leads against Troy is furnished partly by his 
own subjects and partly by a number of princes whose positions 
may have varied from complete dependence to something which 
may best be described as alliance. A good parallel is to be 
found in the army led by the Mercian king Penda against Oswio, 
which according to Bede (H. E. Ill 24) consisted of thirty legiones 
under regii duces. Among these were the king of East Anglia 
and several Welsh kings. 

1 The evidence of the Catalogue as to the dimensions of Diomedes' dominions is 
not corroborated elsewhere in the Iliad. The author may of course have derived his 
information from other sources, e.g. from poems dealing with the story of Adrastos 
and the expedition against Thebes. But it is at least equally possible that he was 
influenced by the desire of providing each king with dominions comprised in a com- 
pact geographical area. 


How Agamemnon acquired his imperial position we are not 
told ; for scarcely anything is recorded of his doings before the 
Trojan war. From II. n 104 ff. we may perhaps infer that his 
family had held a preeminent position before him 1 , although 
Pelops was located by later tradition in a different part of the 
peninsula 2 . Nor again is it made clear whether the hegemony 
remained with the family after Agamemnon's death. All that 
can be said is that the Odyssey represents Menelaos as a very 
wealthy king and that neither the poems nor later tradition give 
any hint of the rise of a new power in the Peloponnesos before 
the ' Return of the Heracleidai.' What may be regarded as 
certain is that no individual Greek prince attained to such a 
supremacy again, for many centuries after the close of the 
Heroic Age. 

In conclusion we must consider briefly the question how far 
the Homeric kingdoms rested upon a national or tribal basis (cf. 
p. 375 ff.). Upon this question the nomenclature of the poems 
seems to throw some light. In the north of Greece, except the 
plain of Thessaly, the inhabitants of the various kingdoms bear 
what are apparently national or tribal names, e.g. Botwrot, 
Ao/cpoi, AoXofre?, 'Ewrjz/e?, Mayz/^re?, AiTOffXol, "A/3az/re? 
probably also Ota/oje? and Mup/uSoz/e? ("EXXf^e?). The same 
is true of kingdoms outside Greece, e.g. ^a^/ce?, T/aaJe? and the 
various Trojan allies. But in the Peloponnesos the only names 
of this type are 'E7reH, 'AptcdSes and Kavtcwves ; for HV\LOL and 
'Ap7e?o are not primary national names but derivatives of II^Xo? 
and "Ap709, while 'A^atot is a name, like Engle> applied to the 
inhabitants of many kingdoms. This evidence, so far as it goes, 
tends to indicate that the southern kingdoms rested on a political 
or military rather than a tribal basis which is natural enough 

1 The passage suggests that the a-Krj-n-Tpov is regarded as a symbol of authority. 
Thyestes here appears between Atreus and Agamemnon. In Od. IV 517 f. Aigisthos 
is said to have dwelt where Thyestes had formerly dwelt, though unfortunately the 
locality is not stated. The two passages however are not necessarily inconsistent, 
for it does not follow that Agamemnon, when he took the imferium, would deprive 
his relative of the estate on which he lived. For the method of succession which 
was of course extremely liable to produce strife many Teutonic parallels might be 
cited. We may refer to the events which took place on the death of Alfred the Great. 

2 Thucydides (i 9) relates how Atreus acquired the sovereignty at Mycenae ; but 
his account seems to be largely in the nature of a conjecture. 


if we are right in believing that the Peloponnesian Achaeans 
were an offshoot from the Achaeans of northern Greece. It 
would seem then that these kingdoms are to be compared with 
the newer kingdoms of the Teutonic Heroic Age, the nucleus 
of which consisted of the kings with their military followings ; 
and I am not aware of the existence of any evidence inconsistent 
with this view. I do not mean of course that these kingdoms 
were necessarily areas carved out by the sword, like the Anglo- 
Saxon kingdoms. What I mean is that we have no reason for 
supposing that Agamemnon's subjects believed themselves to 
be of a different nationality from Nestor's subjects or the rest 
of the Achaeans and that each of these kingdoms had a separate 
tribal organisation and tradition of its own. 

If our observation is correct it is important to notice that 
several of the chief Achaean leaders belong to kingdoms which 
apparently rest on a non-national basis. Among them we have 
to include not only Agamemnon, Menelaos and Nestor, but also 
probably Idomeneus ; for the name Kpfjres in the Homeric 
poems can scarcely mean anything else than inhabitants of 
Crete. The followers of Diomedes and of Aias, the son of 
Telamon, likewise appear to bear no national names. The 
case of Odysseus is doubtful, since his subjects are described 
both as 'A%cuol and Ke(/>aXX?;i>e9. The question is whether he 
is king of the Cephallenes in general or only king of Ithaca, 
with a temporary lordship over the rest of the nation. The 
only 'heroes of the first rank' who clearly represent national 
kingdoms are Achilles and Aias the son of Oileus. 

In the course of this chapter we have noticed many remark- 
able resemblances between the Homeric and the early Teutonic 
systems of government. Not all of these however can be regarded 
as characteristic of the Heroic Age ; some have been inherited 
in all probability from an earlier stage of development. Such 
are the religious type of kingship, the council of twelve and the 
national gathering for religious (sacrificial) purposes 1 . The form 

1 Among the Teutonic peoples we have records of such gatherings from the first 
century (cf. p. 369, note) to the eleventh (at Upsala; cf. p. 383, note). There is 
evidence also for similar festivals among the Lithuanians and Prussians ; cf. Matthias 


of government truly characteristic of the Heroic Age in both 
areas alike is an irresponsible type of kingship, resting not upon 
tribal or national law which is of little account but upon 
military prestige. Such kingdoms are often of recent origin 
and without roots in any national organisation. The assembly 
here, so far as it exists at all, is a gathering summoned at the 
king's pleasure, while the council consists of an indefinite number 
of his trusted followers, whose advice he may wish to have 
from time to time. Lastly, we may observe in both cases a very 
strong tendency to develop intercourse between one kingdom 
and another partly by royal marriages and partly by the 
cultivation of personal relations between the kings., which 
generally take the form of a recognition of overlordship, though 
in varying degree. \ The general effect of this intercourse must 
have been to produce something in the nature of an international 
royal caste, and to break down tribal and local prejudices, at 
least in the highest ranks of society. 

With the end of the Heroic Age the lines followed by 
Teutonic and Greek political history part company. In both 
cases, it is true, we find a revival of national feeling. Among 
the Teutonic peoples however the kingdoms constantly tend to 
decrease in number and increase in size partly by the process 
sketched above (p. 375) and partly by pressure from without. 
In Greece on the other hand this tendency was brought to an 
abrupt end 1 by the Thessalian and Dorian conquests, by which, 
the richest parts of the country were brought into the power of 
populations in a lower stage of civilisation and governed largely 

a Michov, De Sarm. Europ., Lib. II (in Grynaeus' Novus Orbis Terrarum, etc., 
Basel 1537, p. 519) : insiiper prima Octobris die maxima per Samagittas in syluis 
praefatis celebritas agebatur, et ex omni regione uniuersus utriusque sextis conueniens 
illuc populus cibos et potus quilibet iuxta suae conditionis qualificationem defer ebat ; 
quibus aliquot diebus epulati diis stiis falsis, praecipue deo lingua eorum appellate 
Perkuno, id est tonitru, ad focos quisque suos offerebat libamina. 

1 It is important to notice that the tendency appears to have been by no means 
so far developed as in the Teutonic Heroic Age. We cannot tell, it is true, how far 
the various dependent cities and districts remained in the hands of native royal families 
and how far they were governed by officials. In the latter category we may include 
such a person as Phoinix (II. IX 483 f.). But it is clear that the royal families form 
a much larger proportion of the population than was the case among the Teutonic 
peoples of the fifth century. 


by tribal principles and prejudices. The general effect of these 
movements was to isolate the various communities not only 
in the conquered provinces but also in those districts, such as 
Attica, which remained entirely or comparatively untouched. 
This isolation in turn was probably favourable to the growth 
of internal dissensions. In the end at all events no king suc- 
ceeded in maintaining a personal lordship over the rest of his 
class 1 , even within the smallest communities. The title came 
to denote an official with constantly diminishing powers, often 
indeed of an exclusively religious character, while the allegiance 
formerly owed to an individual was now transferred to the state 
and its constitution 2 . At a later date, it is true, most of the 
Greek states again came for a time into the power of individual 
rulers. But it is not until the days of Philip II, king of the 
Macedonians, that we find any single man holding an authority 
over the Greek world such as the poems attribute to Agamemnon. 

1 Teutonic analogies occur, though they are not common. We may instance 
Bede's account (H. E. iv 12) of what took place after the death of Coenwalh, king 
of Wessex (about 673) : acceperunt subreguli regnum gentis et diuisum inter se tenuerunt 
annis cirdter X, after which deuictis atque amotis subregulis Caedualla suscepit imperium. 
The Saxon Chronicle certainly gives a different impression ; and from Eddius, Vita 
Wilfridi) cap. 40, it appears that Centwine's authority was recognised at least to 
some extent. Reference may also be made to Procopius' statement (Goth. II 14) 
that early in Justinian's reign the Heruli slew their king, ctXXo ovdev eTreveyKores 
77 #ri dj3affi\evToi TO \onrov fiotiXovrai elvai ; but the interregnum was of short duration. 
Earlier cases may be found among the Cherusci and other peoples of western Germany 
during the first century where it is to be noted that Tacitus' prindpes and regnum 
correspond to Bede's subreguli and imperium respectively. I cannot help thinking 
that much confusion has been introduced into early Greek history through failure to 
distinguish between kingship and lordship. 

2 This is true even of Sparta. We may quote Herodotus' account (vn 104) of 
Demaratos' speech to Xerxes : \eij6epoi yap e6t>res (sc. ol Aa/ce daifjt,6vioi) ou iravra 
\e66epoi dffi" ZtreffTi yap <r<pi 5eo-7r6r?7S v6/J.os, rbv virodei/j.aivov<ri TroXXy tn /ActXXoi/ 
17 ol ffol at. It is the recognition of this impersonal force not of course any sense 
of universal right, but the ' law ' of the community which perhaps most clearly 
distinguishes post-heroic and pre-heroic society from that of the Heroic Age. The 
existence of such a force operating, under religious sanction (cf. p. 366), as a restraint 
upon the king's freedom of action is implied by Tacitus, Germ. 7, n. But it is 
a strange misunderstanding which has led several scholars to compare the former of 
these passages with Beow. 73, where the limitations stated are those of Hrothgar's 
generosity, not of his power. 



IN the course of the Heroic Age many of the Teutonic 
peoples were converted to Christianity. The change of faith 
began among the Goths soon after the middle of the fourth 
century and must have spread very quickly to the Vandals. 
The Gepidae and Langobardi seem to have followed the example 
of these peoples in the course of the following century. At the , 
time of Justinian's accession the Heruli were probably the only 
Teutonic people in eastern central Europe who remained heathen. 
In the west the Burgundians accepted Christianity apparently 
about the beginning of the fifth century, and the Franks before 
its close. The conversion of England took place in the seventh 
century ; that of the Frisians and Old Saxons for the most part 
in the eighth. The Northern Kingdoms in general were little 
affected by the change until towards the close of the tenth 
century, though the first missionary efforts in Denmark and 
Sweden began before the middle of the ninth. In parts of 
Sweden the heathen religion lingered on until late in the 
eleventh century. 

In the Nibelungenlied it is clearly recognised, perhaps through 
scholastic influence, that the multitude assembled at Attila's court 
included both Christians and heathens ; but no such distinction 
is drawn in the English and Norse poems. In the former all I 
the characters are made to speak as Christians, though they 
observe heathen rites ; in the latter no indication is given that 
any of the characters were Christians. In point of fact there 
can be little doubt that most of the persons who figure in the 
heroic stories were heathens. In all probability such was the 


case with the earlier Goths, Eormenric and his contemporaries, 
as well as with all the characters of the Danish cycles. On the 
other hand the later Goths, Theodric and his contemporaries, 
were certainly Christians, and so also were the Burgundians, 
Guthhere and his brothers, as well as Alboin, king of the 

With the Christian religion we are not concerned here ; for, 
greatly as it influenced the Teutonic peoples, it was in no sense 
native. It is to the religion which Christianity displaced that 
we must give our attention. Unfortunately however the records 
which have come down to us from the Heroic Age itself are 
entirely of foreign authorship, and on the whole they give us 
extremely little information on this subject. We are bound 
therefore to base our account of Teutonic religion upon the 
comparatively abundant evidence preserved in Scandinavian 
literature, though we must not assume that the religion of the 
Heroic Age possessed the characteristics which we find in the 
North some five centuries later. When we have given a brief 
summary of the chief features of this later religion we shall 
have to discuss in somewhat more detail the small amount of 
information available for the earlier period. This is rendered 
all the more necessary by the fact that in works dealing with 
the subject the religion of the Heroic Age has not generally 
been distinguished from that of the Germans of Tacitus' time. 

Now the feature which will probably strike any one most 
forcibly from a careful study of Northern religion is an extra- 
ordinary discrepancy between the mythical stories contained 
in the Edda and elsewhere on the one hand and references to 
actual religious observances on the other. In the former we 
find the gods grouped together in an organised community, 
of which Othin is the recognised head. Frigg is his wife, Thor 
and many of the other gods his sons. Most of the mythical 
stories deal with Othin's exploits and adventures, and serve 
to illustrate his power and wisdom. On the other hand the 
references to religious rites point in quite a different direction. 
In Iceland, for which our records are most full, there is practi- 
cally no evidence for the worship of Othin. Thor is by far the 
most prominent figure, and after him Frey ; occasionally also 


we hear of Niorftr 1 . References to the worship of other super- 
natural beings, elves and landvaettir (genii locorum), are not 
unfrequent. In notices referring to Norway the evidence is 
not very different. We do indeed sometimes hear of worship 
paid to Othin, especially in legendary stories, relating to early 
times ; but in references to what may be called the historical 
period the tenth and eleventh centuries Thor and Frey are 
distinctly more prominent. 

Two explanations have been given of this curious pheno- 
menon. One is that the cult of Othin was introduced into the 
North at a comparatively late period and that it had not yet 
obtained a real hold at the time when Iceland was settled. 
This explanation has no foundation in tradition. Indeed the 
evidence of the stories points to an entirely opposite conclusion. 
Moreover it is worth noting that according to Procopius (Goth. 
II 15) the inhabitants of 'Thule' (i.e. Scandinavia) worshipped 
' Ares ' more than any other god. Since Othin is essentially 
a god of war it is natural to suppose that he is the deity meant, 
rather than the somewhat obscure Tyr. 

The other explanation is that the cults of Othin and Thor 
belonged to two different classes of the community, the former 
to princely families and their retinues, the latter to the country 
people, more especially the (non-official) landowners. This 
explanation seems to be in complete accordance with the facts. 
There is no evidence for the worship of Othin either in early or 
late times except by princes or persons attached to their courts, 
while there are very few instances of the worship of Thor by 
such persons. Further we may note that while names com- 
pounded with Thor- (e.g. Thorkell, ThSrolfr) are about the 
commonest type of all among the ordinary free population, both 
in Norway and Iceland and such names are significant since 
they denote that the persons who bore them were dedicated 
to the god they are practically unknown in royal families. 

1 These are the three gods mentioned in the solemn oath which, according to 
Landnamabok, iv 7 (Hauksbok), had to be sworn on the sacred bracelet at all legal 
proceedings : hialpi mtr svd Freyr ok Niorftr ok hinn almdttki Ass, etc. In the later 
Melabok (a compilation of the seventeenth century) it is suggested that Ass here 
means Othin ; but I do not think this explanation is generally accepted. It is scarcely 
credible that Thor should be ignored on such an occasion. 


It will be convenient now to give a short sketch of the two 
deities and their cults. 

Thor is represented as a middle-aged man of immense bodily 
strength. He is well disposed towards the human race and 
looked upon as their protector against harmful demons, to 
whom he is an implacable foe. In the poems ThrymskviSa 
and HymiskviSa and in a number of prose stories we have 
descriptions of Thor's adventures with giants, in which he is 
generally represented as breaking their skulls with his hammer. 
He uses no weapon except the hammer, and when he travels 
he either walks or drives in a car drawn by goats. When he 
comes to the assembly of the gods he is said to wade through 
certain rivers on the way. His escort never consists of more 
than three persons ; very often he goes alone. The picture 
which the stories give us is clearly that of an idealised Norwegian 
countryman of primitive times. There are scarcely any traces 
of his original connection with the thunder, though in Sweden 
it was clearly remembered. 

The portraiture of Othin offers the greatest possible contrast 
to that of Thor. He is represented as an old man, generally 
with one eye, and he gains his ends not by bravery or physical 
strength but by wisdom and cunning. Sometimes we find him 
coming, usually in disguise, to giants or witches, in order to 
gain from them some magical power or knowledge of the future ; 
sometimes he imparts his knowledge, again generally magical, 
to men. He presents his favourites with weapons and instructs 
/mem in the art of war. Above all he is the god who gives 
victory in battle. 

,_. Othin's chief dwelling is called Valholl (the 'hall of the 
slain '), and all persons who fall in battle were believed to go to 
him there. Hence we find such expressions as * to go to lodge 
with Othin ' or * to go to Valhalla ' used as euphemisms for ' to 
be killed.' Before joining battle it is said to have been customary 
to throw a javelin over the enemy with the words 'Othin has you 
all.' After a battle prisoners were commonly sacrificed to Othin, 
and on such occasions, and indeed at all human sacrifices, the 
formula regularly used was : * I give thee to Othin.' The usual 
method of sacrifice was by hanging or stabbing or a combination 


of both. With this practice we may probably connect a some- 
what obscure myth recorded in Havamal, str. 138, according to 
which Othin was sacrificed to himself, by hanging and stabbing, 
on the world-tree. Certainly it is to be noted that the sacrifices 
to Othin seem to have been invariably human. They were 
clearly rites of quite a different character from the sacrificial 
feasts frequently mentioned in the sagas, where the victims 
consisted of horses, oxen and other edible animals, part of which 
was offered to the gods, while the rest was consumed by the 
worshippers. We do sometimes hear of horses being sacrificed 
with men, but on such occasions dogs and hawks are also 
mentioned, and there is no evidence that any of the victims 
were eaten. There are very few records of human sacrifices 
to any god except Othin. 

The picture of Valhalla presented to us in the poems is a 
glorified copy of a military king's court 1 . The vast number of 
slain warriors assembled there in Othin's service spend their 
days in single combats and their evenings in feasting. Beside 
them we find the Valkyriur (' choosers of the slain '), Othin's 
adopted daughters, who distribute ale to the feasters. These 
also are sent out by Othin to decide the issue of battles and 
to select warriors for Valhalla. It is noteworthy that the term 
Valkyriur seems to be applied both to supernatural beings 
what may perhaps be called minor divinities and also to living 
women endowed with supernatural powers, such as that of 
flying. Thus both Brynhildr and Sigrun, the wife of Helgi 
Hundingsbani, are called Valkyries; and it was for deciding 
a fight contrary to Othin's command that the former was 
punished with perpetual sleep. 

In Ynglinga Saga, cap. 8, Othin is said to have ordained 
" that all dead men should be burnt and brought on to the pyre" 
with their property. He said that every dead man should come 
to Valhftll with such property as he had on the pyre.... But the 
ashes were to be cast out into the sea or buried down in the 

1 The description in Grfmnismal, str. 23, curiously recalls what is said of Egyptian 
Thebes in II. IX 383 f. The nearest approach to Valhalla to be found among 
Northern kingdoms is Ibn Fadhlan's account of the Russian court ; cf. Frahn, I.e. 
(p. 367, note). 


earth." Valhalla seems to be represented as a spirit world, 
somewhat far away and not connected at all with the burial- 
place. This observation brings us to another remarkable jdis- 
crepancy between the traditions and the customs which we find 
actually prevailing in the^North. We know both from descrip- 
tions in the sagas and from discoveries made in modern times 
that in the last few centuries before the adoption of Christianity 
it was customary to bury the dead in their ships or in elaborately 
constructed wooden chambers the whole being covered with 
a barrow of considerable size. In the Prologue to Snorri's 
Heimskringla this custom is said to be of later date than the 
one attributed to Othin ; first was the age of burning, then the 
! age of barrows^ Now there is evidence both from the dis- 
coveries and from the sagas themselves that the barrows were 
regarded as sacred and that the spirits of the dead were believed 
to dwell either within them or in the immediate neighbourhood. 
Not unfrequently we hear of persons coming to a barrow to 
consult the spirit. Sometimes the ghost, embodied in the corpse, 
even defends his property against grave-robbers. The activities 
of the dead are often represented as injurious ; but this is by no 
means always the case. On one occasion we hear of a dispute 
between several different districts for the possession of the body 
of a king whose reign had been distinguished by great prosperity. 
On the whole then it is clear that the cult of the dead was 
practised in the North very much as in most other parts of the 
world. Yet modern discoveries have brought to light abundant 
evidence for cremation in the early iron age^sometimes in 
spots~~which are marked by no external monument so that 
the gtajgrflents of Vngljriga Saga may be regarded as based on 
good tradition. We are driven to conclude therefore that_in_ 
their conception of immortality, as in their theology, the in- 
habitants of the North held two wholly inconsistent views or, 
perhaps it would be more correct to say, two entirely opposite 

to die desirability of retaining the souls of the~ 
In Iceland tKe__2ractice_ot cremation seems^to^have been 
exlremelyrare. butjwhen it was resorte5j:o trie "object is said 
to have beentCige^ rid of a troublesome ghost. The one view 
of immortality was by no means so closely bound up with the 


cult of Thor as the other was with that of Qthtn. But it 
certainly prevailed among Thods-worshippers. 

The next most important deity after Othin and Thor was Frey. 
His cult was widely spread in Norway and Iceland ; yet accord- 
ing to tradition its true home was Sweden 1 . The Swedish royal 
family and nobility traced their descent from Frey, and Upsala, 
their capital and the chief sanctuary of the North, was believed 
to have been founded by him. In Ynglinga Saga, cap. 12 f, 
we have an account of him which is worth quoting as an illustra- 
tion of Northern manes-worship. Frey is here represented as a 
prince whose reign was characterised by unparalleled prosperity. 
His death was concealed for three years. But when it became 
known, the Swedes would not burn him ; for they believed that 
prosperity and peace would last as long as Frey was in Sweden. 
They made a great barrow for him therefore and poured into it 
the tribute which they had been wont to pay him ; and they 
worshipped him for prosperity and peace ever afterwards. 
A very similar account is given of the Danish king FroSi the 
Peaceful from which we may infer that in Frey we have to 
deal not with a deified man but with a mythical character 
a * king of the golden age.' His name originally seems to 
have meant 'prince' or 'lord' (Ang.-Sax. frea, cf. W); very 
probably it was at one time a title of the Swedish kings 2 . 

Frey appears to be regarded as a youthful god. The 
blessings for which he was worshipped were peace and fertility, 
both of the crops and livestock, as well as of the human race. 
His power of controlling the weather may be accounted for by 
his association with the Swedish kings (cf. p. 367) ; but it is 
clear that his character contains elements drawn from more than 
one source. His father NiorSr, who is sometimes associated with 
him, possesses much the same characteristics, though he appears 
to be more particularly connected with the sea. There can be 
little doubt however that both he and his son have inherited 
the attributes of an ancient earth-goddess. Although there has 

1 Frey's connection with Sweden appears in Saxo's History (frequently) as well as 
in sagas, but not in the Edda. 

2 The full fornij Yngvifreyr or Ingunarfreyr, is clearly connected with Ingwina 
frea, a title borne by the king of the Danes in Beowulf; cf. p. 367 and note. 


been a change of sex, NiorSr's name is identical with that of 
Nerthus (id est Terra Mater), a deity who according to Tacitus, 
Germ. 40, was worshipped on * an island in the ocean ' in all 
probability Sjaelland. NiorSr also has a daughter called Freyia 
(i.e. avatrua, Ae<77rowa), who is represented as a female counter- 
part of Frey. It is worth noting that she is sometimes associated 
with the next world. According to Grimnismal, str. 14, she 
shares the slain equally with Othin. 

The deities with which we have just been dealing were 
collectively known as Vanir. They were held to be of a quite 
different stock from the Aesir, to whom Othin and Thor 
belonged, and according to the mythology had been given 
to the latter as hostages. Of the other deities those who figure 
most prominently in mythical stories are Frigg (Othin's wife), 
Ullr, Hoenir, Tyr, Heimdallr, ISun, Gefion and Balder ; but we 
seldom hear of worship paid to any of these. 

In the Edda all the gods together form a regularly organised 
community. Their home is called AsgarSr, and they hold their 
meetings beside the ' world-tree,' Yggdrasill's Ash. It is to be 
observed that AsgarSr is a totally different conception from 
Valhalla 1 ; it is not an abode of the slain. Indeed in this 
connection Othin himself does not appear to be represented as 
a god of the dead. But apart from AsgarSr each god ^has a 
special abode of his own Thor at ThruSheimr, Ullr at Ydalir, 
NiorSr at Noatun, Balder at BreiSablik, etc. All these localities 
are mythical or at all events incapable of identification. It is 
a striking characteristic of Northern mythology that the gods 
are not associated with any known localities. Practically the only 
exceptions are Frey and Gefion, who are connected by tradition 
with Upsala and Sjaelland respectively; and neither of these 
connections is preserved in the poems of the Edda. In order to 
understand this feature we must of course bear in mind the fact 
that our mythological records are almost entirely derived from 
Iceland, which lies far away from the old national sanctuaries. 

1 The two conceptions are sometimes confused, e.g. in Voluspa, str. 34. But the 
eschatological conception involved by the story of Balder is that of the 'house of Hel '; 
and there can be no doubt that this conception itself is ancient, although the descrip- 
tion of Hel in Gylf. 34 is probably quite late. 


It is probably due to the same cause that we hear but little 
of special cults. In Iceland the only noteworthy exception is 
that, beside the more usually prevailing cult of Thor, we find a 
number of persons who are devoted to the service of Frey. 
Certain chiefs bear the title Freysgcfoi (' priest of Frey ') ; in one 
case a whole family bore the surname FreysgySlingar. Temples 
apparently sometimes contained the figures of a number of gods, 
though Thor's or Frey's is usually the only one mentioned by 
name. In Norway however the case is somewhat different. We 
hear frequently of temples and statues of Thor, occasionally 
also of those of Frey. But in addition to these there are notices 
of sanctuaries belonging to other deities though not to Othin. 
In FriS]?i6fs Saga, cap. I (and passim), mention is made of a 
temple and image of Balder in the district of Sogn. It is the 
fashion to treat this incident as a product of antiquarian specula- 
tion ; but there is little in the story itself to justify such a view, 
and the fact that the worship of Balder is not found elsewhere 
proves nothing. More important however is the fact that in a 
number of records we hear of statues and temples of ThorgerSr 
HolgabruSr, with whom her sister Irpa is sometimes associated. 
There can be no doubt that under the rule of Earl Haakon of 
Lade the cult of ThorgerSr was more prominent than that of 
any other deity, at least in the district of Trondhjem. This fact 
is the more remarkable because ThorgerSr and Irpa are never 
associated in any way with the rest of the gods ; in the poems 
of the Edda and even in Gylfaginning their existence is ignored. 

A very interesting illustration of the practice of special cults 
occurs in Nials Saga, cap. 88, which describes a temple owned 
in common by Earl Haakon and GuSbrandr, a powerful hersir 
(hereditary local chief) in the highlands. This temple contained 
figures of ThorgerSr and Irpa and also of Thor in his car 1 . We 
know from other sources that the cult of Thor was hereditary in 

1 The text does not say (as is stated in several works on Northern mythology) that 
Thor occupied the central position, but merely that he was robbed after ThorgerSr 
and before Irpa. This is the only mention, so far as I am aware, of a cult figure of 
Thor in his car a feature which occurs in HymiskviSa and Gylfaginning and may 
possibly have some ethnological significance. It is somewhat remarkable that in the 
tract Fra Fornioti (in Hrafn's Fornaldar Sogur, n p. 6f.) the ancestry of Guftbrandr 
is traced to the giant Thrymr, Thor's antagonist. 

C. 26 


the family of GuSbrandr. Indeed it appears to be generally 
true that families adhered to the same cult from generation 
to generation 1 , though in one case we do hear of an Icelander 
bearing the title FreysgoSi, who belonged to a family dis- 
tinguished for its service to Thor. 

The relations between the worshipper and his deity were 
of a personal and intimate character ; he regarded the latter 
as friend, counsellor and protector. Where the two are of 
different sexes the relationship is apt to take a conjugal form. 
Thus in the Flateyiarbok, I p. 107 f., Olafr Tryggvason, after 
robbing one of Earl Haakon's temples, and carrying off the 
image, calls out in derision : " Who wants to buy a wfe ? 
I think Thorkell and I are now responsible for this woman, 
since she has had the misfortune to lose her husband who 
was exceedingly dear to her." One of the bystanders then 
addresses the image : " How is it, ThorgerSr, that thou art now 
so humiliated and stripped in unseemly wise of the splendid 
app'arel wherewith Earl Haakon had thee clothed when he 
loved thee ? " So in the poem HyndlulioS Freyia speaks of 
her devoted worshipper, Ottarr the son of Innsteinn, as her 
husband. We may compare with this the fact that in the 
Flateyiarbok, I 337 f, the priestess in charge of Frey's temple 
in Sweden is said to have been called his wife. I see no reason 
therefore for supposing that Snorri was giving rein to his imagi- 
nation when he stated (Yngl. Saga, cap. 5) that Gefion was the 
wife of Skioldr who, though a mythical character (cf. p. 131 f.), 
was not a god. 

Sometimes again we meet with a definitely hostile attitude 
towards a deity generally Othin and it must not be supposed 
that such ideas first arose after the introduction of Christianity. 
In Saxo's translation of the lost Biarkamal the hero suspects 
that Othin is among the enemy and expresses his eagerness to 
attack him. If once he can catch sight of him, he says, the god 

1 Cults peculiar to certain families appear to have been common among the 
Lithuanians and kindred peoples; cf. Lasicius, De diis Samogitarum (Respublica... 
Poloniae, etc.; Leyden, 1642, p. 280) : sunt etiam quaedam ueteres nobilium familiae, 
quae peculiares colunt deos, ut Mikutiana Simonaitem, Micheloviciana Sidzium-, 
Schemietiana et Kiesgaliana Venlis Rekicziovum> aliae altos. 


will not escape from Leire unharmed 1 . Such ideas can only be 
explained by a vivid anthropomorphic conception of the deities. 

The same attitude appears elsewhere. In Gautreks Saga, 
cap. 7 a story which contains many archaic features we find 
the destiny of a man being determined by Othin and Thor, 
the former of whom is friendly to him, the latter hostile. In 
the introduction to Grimnismal as the result of a disagreement 
with Othin Frigg plays a trick upon him which leads him into 
serious trouble. Nor is the married life of NiortSr and SkaSi 
as happy as might be wished. But the chief cause of discord 
among the gods is the malicious Loki. In the poem Lokasenna 
he charges most of the chief goddesses with unfaithfulness or 
unchastity, while at the same time he reproaches the gods with 
unseemly conduct or with being involved in humiliating positions. 
The picture of the divine community which the poem presents 
to us is anything but pleasant. No doubt Loki is representing 
every circumstance in the most unfavourable light possible ; but 
there appears to be a definite mythical foundation for most of 
his charges. 

Loki serves as a connecting link between the gods and the 
iotnar ('giants'), a class of beings who are represented as generally 
hostile to both gods and men. Yet there are exceptions to this 
rule ; and some of the gods, e.g. NiorSr and Frey, have wives 
from the iotnar. Next to them we must mention the dwarfs, 
who are distinguished for their cunning and skill in metallurgy. 
Neither of these classes however can properly be regarded as 
objects of worship. Elves were certainly worshipped, but only 
collectively, as far as we know. In early records they are 
scarcely ever spoken of as individuals. Most probably their 
origin is to be sought in animistic conceptions, connected with 
the cult of the dead. On this last subject enough has been said 

1 p. 66 : Et nunc ille ubi sit qui unlgo didtur Othin 
armipotens, uno se??iper contentus ocello, 
die mihi, Ruta, precor, usquam si conspicis ilium. 

si potero horrendum Frigge spec tare maritum, 
quantumcunque albo clypeo sit tectus et altum 
flectat equum, Lethra nequaquam sospes abibit. 
fas est belligerum bello prosternere diuum. 

26 2 


above ; we need only add that the formal deification of dead 
men was not unknown 1 . Sacred trees and groves also figure 
as prominently as in other parts of Europe. 

Thus far we have been dealing with the religion of the Viking 
Age, primarily as we know of it in Iceland and Norway. But 
we have seen that the actual records of religion in Iceland agree 
in no way with the theology of the Edda. Nor can it truly be 
said that the evidence for Norway shows a better case. Here 
too we find the worship of Thor and Frey. But for the worship 
of Othin, NiorSr, Freyia and Balder the evidence is slight and 
generally doubtful. For that of the rest of the gods there is no 
evidence at all. On the other hand we find that the deity who 
after Thor figures most prominently of all in these records is one 
who is entirely unknown to the theology of the Edda. The only 
conclusion which it seems to me legitimate to draw from these 
facts is that the mythology of the Edda is not a true reflection 
of Norwegian religion, at all events as it existed in the Viking Age. 

Now let us consider the various deities individually. It will 
be convenient to begin with those whom we know to have been 
worshipped in Norway or Iceland. There is no question that 
Thor was known not only in Sweden and Denmark but also 
in Germany and England, under the forms Donar and T/iunor 
respectively. Apart from local nomenclature and the use of his 
name (as a translation of dies lonis) in the fifth day of the 
week, there are a few direct references to worship of him e.g. 
in the inscription on a brooch found at Nordendorf in Bavaria 
and in a Low German renunciation formula for the use of 
converts. His cult goes back without doubt to the Heroic Age 
and probably much earlier, though he is apparently not mentioned 
by Tacitus. 

The cult of Frey was believed to have come from Sweden, 
as we have seen. How old it was there we do not know ; but 

1 Cf. Adam of Bremen, iv 26 : cohmt et deos ex hominibus factos, etc. (with refer- 
ence to the passage from the Vita Anscharii quoted on p. 255 f.). It is not clear 
whether Grimr Kambann, the great-great-grandfather of Thorstetnn Solmundarson 
who settled in Iceland (cf. Landnamabok, I 14), was deified; but the worship paid to 
him is evidently regarded as something exceptional. Some scholars hold that Bragi, 
the god of poetry, is no other than the poet Bragi Boddason. 


there is some reason for believing that it was not originally 
confined to that country. The Slavonic inhabitants of eastern 
Holstetn worshipped a deity of the same name 1 ; and the pre- 
sumption is that they found the cult in existence when they 
occupied that district not later than the seventh century. But 
the name Yngvi has a much longer history and can be traced in 
various records back to the time of Tacitus. From what is said 
of Ing in the Anglo-Saxon Runic Poem it is clear that he was 
a perfectly definite, though doubtless mythical, personality 2 . 

We have already noticed that NiorSr can be traced back to 
a goddess Nerthus, who was worshipped in the first century by 
the Angli and other peoples in the south-western part of the 
Baltic. When the change of sex took place we do not know. 
The feminine form of the deity is probably preserved in Freyia, 
who under the name Skialf seems to have her roots in early 
Swedish tradition. 

With Othin we shall have to deal presently. There is 
abundanTevidence that he was known not only in Sweden and 
Denmark but also in England and at least the greater part of 
Germany. In the two latter countries he bore the names Woden '* 
'and Wodan respectively. Even in Tacitus' time he appears 
(under the name Mercurius) as the chief god. 

Balder's history is not so clear. From Saxo's account (p. 70 ff.) 
there can be little doubt that he was known in Denmark. The 
question whether he was recognised in Germany 3 depends practi- 
cally upon the interpretation of the (second) Merseburg charm, 
to which we shall have to refer again shortly. 

Now let us take the deities who are known to us only from 
the mythology. Both Frigg and Tyr were certainly known in 
England and Germany. Their names are preserved in the 
sixth and third days of the week. Frigg (Fred) also figures, 
as the wife of Wodan, in the Langobardic story quoted above 

1 Proue(n] ; cf. Helmoldus, Chron. Slavorum, I 53, 70, 84. 

2 I have discussed this subject (also Niorftr and Freyia) in detail in The Origin of 
the English Nation, chapters IX-XI. 

3 I do not think that Aethelweard's substitution of Balder for Baeldaeg (the first 
part of which is certainly bsel-) in the genealogy of King Aethelwulf (in 3) can be held 
to prove the existence of the cult of Balder in England. The theory that the word 
baldor, 'prince,' arose out of the god's name is open to still more serious question. 


(p. 115), while T^r (Mars) is mentioned more than once by 

Of Ullr traces are preserved in local nomenclature both in 
Denmark and Sweden. From Saxo (p. 81 f.) it appears that he 
was remembered in Danish tradition. Gefion's association with 
Sjaelland (cf. p. 400) is recorded by Bragi Boddason, the earliest 
Scandinavian poet of whom anything has been preserved. Both 
her name and that of ItJun can be traced in local nomenclature 
in the same island 1 . 

There remain of course a large number of less important 
deities who cannot be traced outside the mythology of the Edda. 
Many scholars hold that these were invented by Norwegian or 
Icelandic poets during the Viking Age ; but it is at least equally 
possible that our inability to trace them elsewhere is due in 
part to the extreme poverty of our information. One piece of 
evidence which tells in favour of the latter view is that the 
Merseburg charm preserves the name of one of the least prominent 
of these deities Fulla, the handmaid of Frigg. The fact too 
that these poets made no attempt to incorporate ThorgerSr in 
the pantheon seems to show that in their time 2 the theological 
system of the Edda was more or less crystallised. At all events 
it is clear that, with the exception of ThorgerSr and Irpa, all the 
deities whose worship is attested were known beyond Norway, 
and that most of them can be traced back to the Heroic Age 
or still earlier times. 

There is a further reason for doubting whether the theology 
of the Edda was a product of late Norwegian poetry. Perhaps 
the most striking conception in this theology is that of the 
'world-tree/ Yggdrasill's Ash. I have pointed out elsewhere 3 
that this conception is largely derived from a tree-sanctuary 
and that a fairly close parallel to it is furnished by the description 

1 Cf. Olrik, Gefion (Danske Studier, 1910), p. 21 ff. 

2 There is no reason for supposing that the cult of Thorgerftr was first introduced 
by Earl Haakon. In the Flateyiarbok, p. 408, it is stated that she had been wor- 
shipped by successive rulers of the land. Her cult too was not unknown in Iceland ; 
according to Harftar Saga, cap. 19, Grimkell, the son of a settler from Orkadal (to 
the south of Trondhjem), had a temple dedicated to her. 

3 The Cidt of Othin, p. 75 ff. Cf. R. M. Meyer, Altgermanische Religionsgeschichte y 
p. 474 ff. 


of the Upsala sanctuary given in Adam of Bremen's history 
(IV 26 f.) and the annexed scholia. Similar sanctuaries may 
have existed in Norway; but we have no record of one which 
possessed the same characteristics, and it is extremely im- 
probable that any of them ever attained an importance compar- 
able with that possessed by the Swedish capital. Again, there ^ 
are features in the picture of the ' world-tree ' I would allude 
especially to the presence of snakes for which no parallels can 
be found in any Scandinavian sanctuary of which we have 
record. Yet such features do occur in the tree-sanctuaries 
of more primitive peoples, especially among the Prussians and 
Lithuanians. From this it appears to me highly probable that 
the conception of the world-tree dates from a comparatively 
early period. The idea of universality which it embodied cannot 
be held to prove the contrary ; for this idea was possessed also 
by the Irminsul 1 , the sacred pillar of the Old Saxons. We have 
no reason for doubting that a philosophical conception such as 
this was possible before the Viking Age. 

I am inclined therefore to think that the theological system 
of the Edda in its main features dates from limes anterioFlp 
the Viking Age. From earlier sources the works of Tacitus 
and various German and English authorities we know altogether 
the names of about a score of deities, half of whom belong to 
either sex. It is probable however that a much larger number 
have been lost. At all events there can be no doubt that the 
religion of the Heroic Age was a highly developed polytheism. 
Procopius (Goth. II 15), speaking of the inhabitants of 'Thule' 
(Scandinavia), says that they worship many gods and demons 
(Saifjiovas), both in the heavens and in the atmosphere, in the 
earth and in the sea, besides certain other spirits (Saifiovia) 
which are said to be in the waters of springs and rivers. Again, 
in the preceding chapter he states that the Heruli of central 
Europe worshipped a great crowd of gods (TTO\VV TWO, ^o/ufb^re? 
Oe&v ofjii\ov), whom they thought it right to appease even with 
human sacrifices. Procopius' evidence is important not only 
because it is almost contemporary but also because he clearly 

1 Irminsul '.. .quod Latitie dicitur uniuersalis columna, quasi sustitiens omnia y 
Mon. Germ., n 676. 


distinguishes between the religion of the Teutonic peoples and 
that of the Slavs. Of the latter he says (ib. Ill 14) that "they 
consider one god, the creator of the lightning, to have sole 
control over all things, and they sacrifice to him oxen and 
offerings of all kinds.... Yet they also reverence rivers and nymphs 
and some other spirits (Scufiovia), and sacrifice to them all, using 
divination in these sacrifices." It will be seen that this type of 
religion is not very far removed from what we find among the 
Thor-worshippers of Iceland. 

In an earlier chapter (p. 255) we quoted from the Life of 
St Ansgar the story of a man who claimed to have been present 
at an assembly of the gods. From this story it is clear that in 
Sweden not very long after the beginning of the Viking Age 
the gods were believed to form an organised community. For 
earlier times no such explicit information is to be found ; but 
we can scarcely doubt that some similar belief prevailed during 
the Heroic Age. In the Langobardic story quoted above (p. 115) 
Fria (Frigg) is the wife of Wodan, as in the Edda. In the 
(second) Merseburg charm we find a number of deities taking 
part in an incantation. Of the goddesses Sunna is said to be 
the sister of Sinthgunt, and Volla the sister of Fria. Evidence 
to the same effect is furnished by a letter of Bishop Daniel of 
Winchester to St Boniface, in which the writer speaks of a 
genealogy of the gods and advises his correspondent to put 
awkward questions to the heathen regarding the origin, numbers 
and relationships of their deities 1 . It may be noted that the 
earlier Anglo-Saxon genealogies, which go back probably to the 
seventh century, trace Woden's ancestry back for five generations. 

Of course it is not to be denied that some of the deities of 
whom we hear may have been recognised only locally or by 
certain nations or confederacies. Such an explanation is very 
likely in the case of more than one deity mentioned by Tacitus, 
whom we cannot identify with any probability. In later times 

1 Jaffe, Bibliotheca Rerum Germanic arum, ill 71 ff. : neque enim contraria eis de 
ipsorum, quamuis falsorum, deorum genealogia astruere debes...utrum autem adhuc 
generare deos deasque alios aliasque suspicantur? uel, si iam non generant, quando uel 
cur cessauerunt a concubitu et partu; si autem adhuc generant, infinitus iam deorum 
effectus numerus est. et quis tam inter tot tantosque potentior sit, incertum mortalibus 
est ; et ualde cauendum, ne in potentiorem quis offendat. 


the same may be true of the god Fosite 1 , to whom an island in 
the North Sea identified with Heligoland by Adam of Bremen 
was wholly dedicated. It is quite possible too that the god 
Seaxneat (Saxnote), who is mentioned in the Renunciation 
Formula and from whom the kings of Essex claimed descent, 
was worshipped only by the Saxons. 

But even if such evidence was a good deal stronger than it 
actually is we should not be justified in inferring from it that 
the religion of the Heroic Age was of an essentially national 
rather than universal character. It is not only in Northern 
records of the Viking Age or the Christian period that we hear 
of families which were supposed to be descended from Othin 
(Woden). Out of the eight royal genealogies of the English 
kingdoms which have come down to us seven are traced back 
to the same deity ; and it is highly probable that most of these 
date from before the conversion 2 i.e. from within a century of 
the Heroic Age. But Woden was not a national but a uni- 
versal deity. 

Moreover what little we do know of this god from English 
and German sources is in full conformity with the character 
which he bears in Northern records. In the Anglo-Saxon poem 
on the Nine Herbs he is skilled in magic; in the Merseburg 
poem he is an expert in incantations. In the Langobardic 
story we find him represented as the giver of victory. In 
Tacitus' time he was already worshipped above the other gods ; 
and human victims were offered to him. The same author 
{Ann. XIII 57) records the custom of dedicating a hostile army 
to Mars and Mercurius a vow which entailed the total destruc- 
tion of everything belonging to the enemy. The great deposits 
of antiquities which have been found at Thorsbjserg, Nydam, Vi 
and elsewhere are commonly believed to be relics of such 

1 This explanation would not hold of course if Fosite is to be identified with Forset 1 
the son of Balder. But the identification seems to me extremely problematical. 

2 Cf. Bede, H. E., I 15: Voden, de cuius stirpe multarum prouinciarum regium 
genus originem duxit. PVom these genealogies and Bp Daniel's letter (quoted above) 
it would seem that such compositions (including theogonies) were much in vogue 
among the heathen Teutonic peoples in the period immediately following the Heroic 
Age. It is to the same period that I would ascribe the development of the theology 
of the Edda, though I do not mean to suggest that the poems which have come down 
to us were composed then. 


dedicatory spoils. Finally, later popular belief often placed 
Woden at the head of the Wild Hunt or ghostly army. For the 
existence of a conception corresponding to Valhalla we have 
no explicit evidence 1 . But such a doctrine would clearly be 
in full accord with all that we know of the cult. 

In funeral rites both inhumation and crerqation were practised. 
The latter custom however seems to have died out almost every- 
where before the introduction of Christianity in England about 
the middle of the sixth century, among the Franks and Ala- 
manni much earlier. Only among the Old Saxons it lingered. 
apparently until towards'lhe close of the eighth century, when 
it was rigorously put down after their subjugation 2 . How far 
the two practices were associated with different conceptions, 
of immortality, as in the North, it is impossible to tell. In 
Beowulf (cf. p. 54) cremation is regarded as a pious duty 
owed to the dead ; bulTall heathen references to the destiny 
of 'the soul hereafter have been removed from the poem. On 
the other hancTTheie is evidence trom lateFtlmes for offerings at 
the grave, necromancy and all other practices usually associated 
with the cult of the dead 3 . 

1 There is an unfortunate ambiguity about the history of the word Ass. In Old 
Norse it is applied both to Thor and Othin, as well as other gods, while Aesir (pi.) 
denotes the gods collectively and Asgar^r their home (quite distinct from Valhalla). 
In Gothic however the same word (pi. ansis) seems to have meant a dead hero 
(cf. p. 172, note). If this was its original meaning a view somewhat favoured by 
Skr. asu, Av. anhu, ' spirit,' we must conclude that the terms Asgar>r and Aesir 
(also Ass, as applied to Thor) have undergone a complete change of meaning in Old 
Norse. Such a change could be explained satisfactorily by the (poetic) inclusion of 
deal ovpdvioi and 0eoi vtprepoi in one pantheon; but in that case the doctrine of 
Valhalla, or something very much like it, must be of great antiquity. This explana- 
tion is perhaps favoured by the popular use of Aasgaardsreia for the Wild Hunt in 

2 Cap. quae de partibus Saxoniae constituta sunt, No. VII (Mon. Germ., Leg. I 
49). Whether the practice was common I do not know. References to the cult of 
manes occur in the same Capitula, as well as in the Indiculus Superstitionum, etc. 

3 Cremation is sometimes accompanied by a cult of the dead, e.g. among the 
heathen Prussians; cf. Matthias a Michov (Grynaeus, Novus Orbis, etc., Basel 1537, 
p. 520) : Habebant praeterea in syluis praefatis focos, infamilias et domos distinctos, in 
quibus omnibus charorum et familiarium cadauera cum equis, sellis et uestimentis 
potioribus incendebant. locabant etiam ad focos huiusmodi ex subere facta sedilia, in 
quibus escas ex pasta in casei modum praeparalas deponebant, medonemque focis 
infundebant, ea credulitate illusi quod mortuorum suorum animae quorum illic 


The most important piece of evidence however on this subject 
is furnished by Procopius' account of the Heruli (Goth. II 14). 
He states that with them it was not lawful for a man to die of 
old age or disease. When he felt himself to be dying he had to 
request his relatives to make away with him as soon as possible. 
They had then to construct a huge pyre and set the dying man 
in the highest part of it. A compatriot, though not a relative 
(cf. p. 346), is then sent up to stab the man, and on his return 
the wood is immediately kindled. When the fire is burnt out 
the remains are collected and buried forthwith, and the widow 
is required to strangle herself at the tomb. Such rites as this 

are rnmrnnnl^ agrrij-^fl *<"> ^ Hpcirp tn rot tho ^nnl froo \\i\\\\c- 

in possession of its faculties. But in view of the fact that in 
Northern tradition cremation is bound up with the doctrine of 
Valhalla 1 a doctrine which is in no way inconsistent with this 
explanation it is certainly significant that the two rites shoulcL 
be associated here, more especially since the Heruli were an 
military people?" On the whole the evidence of this 

passage is distinctly favourable to the view^that a belief closely 
approximating to the doctrine of Valhalla was prevalent during 
the Heroic Age. 

Valkyries (walcyrgan) are not unfrequently mentioned in 

combusta fuerant corpora node uenirent escaque se exsatiarent. Inhumation however 
was also practised by the same nation; cf. Erasmus Stella (Grynaeus, op. cit., p. 582) : 
Statitit (sc. Viduutus] et dies natalitios et funera pari modo celebranda. mutuis scilicet 
commessationibus et compotationibus, turn hisu et cantu, absque moerore cum summa 
hilaritate et gaudio, utque alterius uitae spem prae se ferrent. illo saltern ostenderunt 
quod exutos spiritu armatos uestitosque ac magna supellectilis parte circumposita 
humarunt. quo more ttsque nunc sepeliuntur, etc. Both these notices of course refer 
to a late period the fifteenth century. 

1 Cf. p. 397 f. We may refer also to the funeral of Sigurftr Hringr, as described 
in Arngrim's epitome of the lost Skioldunga Saga, cap. 26 (Aarb^ger f. nord. 
Oldkynd., 1894, p. 132) : Hinc post acerrimam pugnam...Siguardus etiam male 
uulneratus cst. qui, A If sola fiinere allato, magnam nauim mortuorum cadaueribus 
oneratam solus ui^lorum conscendit, segue et mortuam Alfsolam in puppi collocans 
nauim pice, bitumine et sulphure incendi iubet: atque sublatis uelis in altum, ualidis 
a continente impellentibus ucntis, proram dirigit, simulque manus sibi uiolentas 
intuht ; sese tot factnorum patratorem , tantorum regnorum possessorem , more maiorum 
suorum, regali pompa Odinum regem (id est in/eras) inuisere matle quam inertis 
senectutts injirmitatem perpeti, alacri animo ad socios in lit tore antea relictos praefatus, 


Anglo-Saxon literature 1 , and it is clear that similar beings were 
known in Germany, though this word does not occur in extant 
records. In England, as in the North, both human and super- 
natural beings were included under this term, though they are 
not always clearly distinguished from witches. But, more than 
this, the poetic description of valkyries which we find in the 
Edda 2 can likewise be traced in Anglo-Saxon poetry. In a 
charm against sudden pains we hear of mighty women who 
rode over the hill, mustered their host and cast their spears. 
The idea that sudden pains were due to the agency of such 
beings 3 comes doubtless from popular belief; but the description 
cannot be accounted for in this way. Again, in the (first) 
Merseburg charm we find supernatural women (idisi) taking part 
in a battle ; and it is to be remembered that the word walcyrge 
can hardly mean anything else than 'chooser of the slain.' 
Certainly we have no evidence to prove or disprove that the 
valkyries were associated with Woden in early times. But the 
features noted here again point clearly to the existence of 
a conception akin to Valhalla and, what is more, to the poetic 
treatment of such a conception. 

In the course of this discussion 4 I have endeavoured to point 
out that the theological system of the Edda cannot properly be 
regarded as an invention of (Norwegian-Icelandic) poets of the 
Viking Age that, on the contrary, it is derived in great measure 
from much earlier times. I do not mean to deny that the growth 
of the system has been very largely influenced by poetry. But 
the evidence seems to me to show that the poetic treatment of 
the subject had begun and probably more than begun in the 

1 In the glossaries the word is used to translate Ettrynis, Herinis (i.e. Erinys), 
Tisifone, Allecto, Bellona. The first three cases occur in the Corpus glossary ; hence 
the suggestion that the word walcyrge is borrowed from Norse is inadmissible. 

2 From the inscription of Rok it appears probable that the conception of Valkyries 
found in the Edda was familiar in the south-east of Sweden before the end of the 
ninth century. This is by no means the only point in which the same inscription 
bears witness to a highly developed interest in antiquarian lore. 

3 An interesting analogy is furnished by the Servian belief that sunstroke is due to 
arrows shot by Vile (cf. p. 317, note; and Krauss, Slav. Volkforschungen, p. 372 ff.). 

4 I have not attempted to give a complete list of the mythical beings mentioned in 
the records. In general we find the same classes of such beings as in the North 
elves, dwarfs, giants (Ang-Sax. eaten, \>yrs), etc. 


Heroic Age and among many of the Teutonic peoples. It is 
perfectly true that the notices of Teutonic religion contained 
in Tacitus' works convey the impression that religion was re- 
garded as a very serious matter and that the general attitude 
towards the gods was highly reverential. The same impression 
is conveyed by Alcuin's account of Fositesland ; and probably 
no one will deny that the euthanasia of the Heruli was based 
upon a very real conception of immortality. But to compare 
such records with the poetry of the Edda would manifestly be 
absurd. For analogies to them we must turn to notices relating 
to actual religion, and here we shall find evidence that the 
people of the Viking Age were no less religious than those 
of earlier times. We may instance the reverence shown by 
Thorolfr of Mostr to his holy hill and Earl Haakon's devotion 
to ThorgerSr HolgabruSr. 

On the other hand the attitude towards the gods shown in 
the Edda finds an exact analogy in the only record of ' theo- 
logical' poetry which has survived from the Heroic Age. In 
the Langobardic story (cf. p. 115) the anthropomorphisation 
of the deities is already complete ; and the chief god 1 is duped 
by his wife. We could scarcely wish for a better parallel to 
the account given in the introduction to Grimnismal. In view 
of this story it is scarcely possible to doubt that familiarity, not 
to say levity, in the treatment of the gods characterised the 
poetry of the Heroic Age, just as much as that of the Viking Age. 

It would be well to hesitate however before assuming that 
the gods of Tacitus' time were treated in the same way. His 
account shows that Teutonic theology had then passed beyond 
the purely tribal stage, and that certain deities were worshipped 
by a number of peoples, if not universally. But it does not 
suggest the existence of a highly anthropomorphic conception 
of the gods. Further we have to bear in mind that Tacitus 
is separated only by a century and a half from Caesar. The 
account of German religion given by the latter (B. Gall. VI 21) 
is difficult to account for by any explanation. But unless we 
are to believe that Caesar was thoroughly imposed upon we 

1 It will be observed that here (as commonly in the Edda) Wodan's character as 
god of the dead (slain) is entirely lost sight of. 


must conclude that nothing in the nature of a developed poly- 
theism can have existed in his day. To the theology of the 
Heroic Age his account of the Gaulish gods (ib. VI 17) would 
be far more applicable than what he says regarding the worship 
of the Germans. 

The question we have been discussing appears to throw 
some light upon the rapidity with which most of the Teutonic 
peoples accepted Christianity. The facts which we know with 
regard to the conversion are as follows: (i) that it almost 
invariably began in the king's court ; (2) that violent opposition 
was offered only in kingless communities, as among the Old 
Saxons, or in defiance of the king's authority, as in Norway ; 
(3) that after the conversion the gods (in general) disappear at 
once and for good ; (4) that magical practices and the belief in 
spirits- and even in certain female agricultural deities (' Erce,' 
Holda, Berhta, etc.) lasted among the country people for many 
centuries. From (4) we may probably infer that the religion 
of the country people was chiefly animistic similar no doubt 
to what we find in Iceland, with the exception that we have 
little evidence for the cult of the thunder-god. Again, the 
explanation of (3) hangs together with (i); for the statements 
of ecclesiastical writers render it clear that the religion of the 
courts was essentially theistic. But it is plain from the dis- 
cussion in the Northumbrian council recorded by Bede (H. E. 
II 13) the only discussion of this kind of which we have any 
detailed account that here at least this religion retained little 
vital force 1 . This fact is fully explained if, as I have endeavoured 
to point out, theology had largely passed from the realm of