Monday, May 06, 2013

Frey's Youth

Frey's Youth

as portrayed in Saxo Grammaticus' History of the Danes, compiled here by Siegfried Goodfellow from Oliver Elton's translation, with some original translations at significant joints between segments to tidy up the seams. All of this is straight from the lore.

Part I

Frey's Birth

    Njord's woman bore a son, Frey, known as the Generous, who became from his very cradle and earliest childhood such a darling of all, that he was not suffered even to step or stand on the ground, but was continually cherished in people's laps and kissed. Thus he was not assigned to one upbringer only, but was in a manner everybody's fosterling.

Frey elected King of the Elves

    Frey, aged seven, was elected as king [1] by the unanimous decision of the Elves. But they held an assembly first, and judged that the minority of the king should be taken in charge by guardians, lest the sovereignty should pass away owing to the boyishness of the ruler. For one and all paid such respect to the name of Njord, that the royalty was bestowed on his son despite his tender years. He showed himself so generous that he doubled the ancient pay of the warriors: a fashion of bounty which then was novel. For he did not, as despots do, expose himself to the vulgar allurements of vice, but strove to covet ardently whatsoever he saw was nearest honour; to make his wealth public property [2]; to surpass all other men in bounty, to forestall them all in offices of kindness; and, hardest of all, to conquer envy by virtue. By this means the youth soon won such favour with all, that he not only equalled in renown the honours of his forefathers, but surpassed the most ancient records of kings.

Frey's Guardianship Under the Sons of Ivaldi

    Volund, also, and Egil and eight other men of mark were not only entrusted with the guardianship of the king, but also granted authority to administer the realm under him. These men were rich in strength and courage, and endowed with ample gifts of mind as well as of body [3]. Thus the state of the Elves was governed with the aid of regents [4] until the time when the king should be a man.

Frey Given Over to the Giants

    But when he was in his twelfth year, Volund and Egil disowned his sway, and tried to rebel openly. As a result [5],  the yield of crops was ruined by most inclement weather, and a mighty dearth of corn befell. Victuals began to be scarce, and the commons were distressed with famine. Whether it was that the soil had too little rain, or that it was too hard baked, the crops were slack, and the fields gave but little produce; so that the land lacked victual, and was worn with a weary famine. The stock of food began to fail, and no help was left to stave off hunger. Then, at the proposal of Egil and of Volund, it was provided by a decree of the people that the old men and the tiny children should be slain; that all who were too young to bear arms should be taken out of the land, and only the strong should be vouchsafed their own country; that none but able-bodied soldiers and husbandmen should continue to abide under their own roofs and in the houses of their fathers. When Egil and Volund brought news of this to their mother Gambaruk, she saw that the authors of this infamous decree had found safety in crime. Condemning the decision of the assembly, she said that it was wrong to relieve distress by murder of kindred, and declared that a plan both more honourable and more desirable for the good of their souls and bodies would be, to preserve respect towards their parents and children, and choose by lot men who should quit the country. And if the lot fell on old men and weak, then the stronger should offer to go into exile in their place, and should of their own free will undertake to bear the burden of it for the feeble. But those men who had the heart to save their lives by crime and impiety, and to prosecute their parents and their children by so abominable a decree, did not deserve life; for they would be doing a work of cruelty and not of love. Finally, all those whose own lives were dearer to them than the love of their parents or their children, deserved but ill of their country.These words were reported to the assembly, and assented to by the vote of the majority [5]. So the fortunes of all were staked upon the lot and those upon whom it fell were doomed to be banished. Thus those who had been loth to obey necessity of their own accord had now to accept the award of chance. So they sailed first to Bleking, and then, sailing past Moring, they came to anchor at Gothland. In the end they landed at Rugen, and, abandoning their ships, began to march overland. They crossed and wasted a great portion of the world.

    Thus his guardians, called up in the draft, deserted with the army into exile ;  therefore, the brothers Westmar and Kolo were sent for to minister to the  raising of the king. The wife of Koll was Gotwar, one of Gullveig's aliases, who used to paralyse the most eloquent and fluent men by her glib and extraordinary insolence; for she was potent in wrangling, and full of resource in all kinds of disputation. Words were her weapons; and she not only trusted in questions, but was armed with stubborn answers. No man could subdue this woman, who could not fight, but who found darts in her tongue instead. Some she would argue down with a flood of impudent words, while others she seemed to entangle in the meshes of her quibbles, and strangle in the noose of her sophistries; so nimble a wit had the woman. Moreover, she was very strong, either in making or cancelling a bargain, and the sting of her tongue was the secret of her power in both. She was clever both at making and at breaking leagues; thus she had two sides to her tongue, and used it for either purpose.

The Torpor of the Land and the Crimes of the Giants

    Westmar had twelve sons, three of whom had the same name — Grep [7] in common. These three men were conceived at once and delivered at one birth, and their common name declared their simultaneous origin. They were exceedingly skillful swordsmen and boxers. The sons of Westmar and Koll, being ungrown in years and bold in spirit, let their courage become recklessness and devoted their guilt-stained minds to foul and degraded orgies. Their behaviour was so outrageous and uncontrollable that they ravished other men's brides and daughters, and seemed to have outlawed chastity and banished it to the stews [8]. Nay, they defiled the couches of matrons, and did not even refrain from the bed of virgins. A man's own chamber was no safety to him: there was scarce a spot in the land but bore traces of their lust. Husbands were vexed with fear, and wives with insult to their persons: and to these wrongs folk bowed. No ties were respected, and forced embraces became a common thing. Love was prostituted, all reverence for marriage ties died out, and lust was greedily run after [9]. And the reason of all this was a torpor and stasis that took over men's bodies, for people stopped working the land, and their bodies befriended those vices which flow out in all directions from such stupor [10].

    Meanwhile, the land of the Elves, where the tillers laboured less and less, and all traces of the furrows were covered with overgrowth, began to bristle with dense, horrifying stands of deformed trees [11], as its pleasant, native earth had its grassy crops stripped away. What were once acres fertile in grain were now seen to be dotted with stakes resembling trees, and where of old the tillers turned the earth up deep and scattered the huge clods, there sprang up dark woodlands covering the fields. Had not these lands remained untilled and desolate with long overgrowth, the tenacious roots of trees could never have shared the soil of one and the same land with the furrows made by the plough. Thus the present generation was amazed to behold that it exchanged a soil which could once produce grain for one only fit to grow pinecones, and the plough-handle and the cornstalks for a landscape studded with gallows-like trees.

    This idleness brought wantonness among Frey's courtiers, and stagnation begot lewdness, which they displayed in the most abominable crimes. For they would draw some men up in the air on ropes, and torment them, pushing their bodies as they hung, like a ball that is tossed; or they would put a kid's hide under the feet of others as they walked, and, by stealthily pulling a rope, trip their unwary steps on the slippery skill in their path; others they would strip of their clothes, and lash with sundry tortures of stripes; others they fastened to pegs, as with a noose, and punished with mock-hanging. They scorched off the beard and hair with tapers; of others they burned the hair of the groin with a brand. Only those maidens might marry whose chastity they had first deflowered. Strangers they battered with bones; others they compelled to drunkenness with immoderate draughts, and made them burst. No man might give his daughter to wife unless he had first bought their favour and goodwill. None might contract any marriage without first purchasing their consent with a bribe. Moreover, they extended their abominable and abandoned lust not only to virgins, but to the multitude of matrons indiscriminately. Thus a twofold madness incited this mixture of wantonness and frenzy [12]. Guests and strangers were proffered not shelter but revilings [13]. All these maddening mockeries did this insolent and wanton crew devise, and thus under a boy-king freedom fostered licence. For nothing prolongs reckless sin like the procrastination of punishment and vengeance. This unbridled impudence of the soldiers ended by making the king detested, not only by foreigners, but even by his own people, for the Elves resented such an arrogant and cruel rule. Inward resentment vexed the hearts of Elves, secretly indeed, but all the more bitterly.

[1] Grimnismal 5 :  Álfheim Frey / gáfu í árdaga / tívar at tannféi, "The Gods gave Frey, in days of yore,  Alfheim as a tooth-gift."

[2] Note that already, even prior to the Mill, Frey is linked with a kind of communism, making his treasury open to all.

[3] Volundarkvida, prose introduction :  Völundr ... var hagastr maðr, svá at menn viti, í fornum sögum, "Volund was the most artistic/skillful of men that men knew in the old sagas."

[4] Volund is called vísi alfa, a "leader of the elves", as well as alfa ljóði, "prince of the elvish people".

[5] This folk theme of bad weather and loss of fertility due to strife amongst the fairy-folk appears again and again in European literature, and is accurately reflected in Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream : "But with thy brawls thou hast disturb'd our sport. / Therefore the winds, piping to us in vain, / As in revenge, have suck'd up from the sea / Contagious fogs; which falling in the land / Have every pelting river made so proud / That they have overborne their continents: / The ox hath therefore stretch'd his yoke in vain, / The ploughman lost his sweat, and the green corn / Hath rotted ere his youth attain'd a beard; / The fold stands empty in the drowned field, / And crows are fatted with the murrion flock; / The nine men's morris is fill'd up with mud, / And the quaint mazes in the wanton green / For lack of tread are undistinguishable: / The human mortals want their winter here; / No night is now with hymn or carol blest: / Therefore the moon, the governess of floods, / Pale in her anger, washes all the air, / That rheumatic diseases do abound: / And thorough this distemperature we see / The seasons alter: hoary-headed frosts / Far in the fresh lap of the crimson rose, / And on old Hiems' thin and icy crown / An odorous chaplet of sweet summer buds / Is, as in mockery, set: the spring, the summer, / The childing autumn, angry winter, change / Their wonted liveries, and the mazed world, / By their increase, now knows not which is which: / And this same progeny of evils comes / From our debate, from our dissension...".

[6] The power of this woman in the law-assembly is noteworthy ; Paulus Diaconus says of Gambara that she was a mulier quantum inter suos et ingenio acris et consiliis provida; de cuius in rebus dubiis prudentia non minimum confidebant, "woman of such sagacious nature that her counsel was prophetic ; of whom in critical matters, her wisdom was relied on in a way anything but minor." In Germania 8, Tacitus says of women, inesse quin etiam sanctum aliquid et providum putant: nec aut consilia earum aspernantur, aut responsa negligunt. Vidimus sub divo Vespasiano Veledam diu apud plerosque numinis loco habitam. "They believe them to have a divine and prophetic nature : nor do they decline their counsel, nor disregard their replies. We saw in the open air, in the days of Vespasian, Veleda, regarded by most as of divine rank." Tacitus also speaks of a people far to the East of Sweden who are femina dominatur, "ruled by a woman", and who share with some of the Swedes the custom of Matrem deum venerantur, "worshipping the Mother of the Gods". Indeed, both Paulus Diaconus as well as the Origo Gentis Langobardorum invoke a tradition whereby Gambara appealed to Frigg, Odin's wife, the Mother of the Gods. Adam of Bremen independently avers in his Gesta Hammaburgensis ecclesiae pontificum that Postea longis terrarum spatiis regnant Sueones, "Beyond the boundless regions of land over which the Swedes rule," lies a terram feminarum, "land of women". One of the scholia states that Anundum ...navigio in terram pervenit feminarum, "Anund arrived by ship in the land of women" ; Anund or Onund, as evidenced in Volundarkvida, is another name for Volund.

[7] This is a giant name, demonstrating that Westmar and Kolo were giants.

[8] Note the dark carnivalesque misrule with which the giants here overturn everything Frey is known for : Freyr ... mey hann ne gretir / ne mannz kono, / oc leysir or haptom hvern (Lokasenna 37), "Frey ... maidens/virgins nor men's wives causes he to weep, and loosens every bond."

[9] The coincidence between the waning of love and the waning of the land's fertility is noteworthy. The forcing of love -- which is not love at all -- will not force the land to be fertile, another lesson.

[10] There is a fascinating connection here between healthy sexuality and working the land, as if they mutually reinforced each other. Indeed, working the land is literally a labour of love, and thus reinforces love. But love is also needed for the land to blossom. Failing to be in rhythm and tending with the earth produces unnatural lusts -- which let us note are solely defined as those which are coercive. Working the land has a regulative effect on people, putting them in touch with the seasons, which lend a sense of proportion through their rhythms. In this one passage, we get a furtive inview into an often hidden Indo-European philosophy connecting love and the land. (Indeed, such a sense goes well beyond the Indo-European peoples and is inclusive of many archaic peoples.) The torpor is also due to the fact that this terrible weather and loss of crops happens, according to Saxo, during a time when Snow was considered king -- in other words, when Winter ruled over all, and the seasons ceased to turn and change. Shivering and shuddering in the freezing weather, the lack of the active life, and particularly of tending the land, stirs up cold, sadistic impulses. Consent and celebration, on the other hand, are natural attributes of love.

[11] As the giants move in and impose their cruel, cold behavior on the landscape, the fruiting fields of the elves begin to resemble more and more the barren Iron Woods -- picture here the horrific, dark trees of the maleficent forest in Disney's Snow White. This is not to say that Alfheim did not have its share of lush, alpine woodlands, but the picture painted here is of bent, dead trees spreading pallor and darkness ; there is as much resemblance between these deformed remnants of trees and the former groves and orchards as there is between the giants' mass rapes and genuine, heartfelt love.

[12] Saxo is obviously educing a second source here, a variation on the house-of-horrors theme above. Notice the cognate similarity on some levels with the riotous behavior of Penelope's suitors in the Odyssey.

[13] According to Tacitus, to refuse hospitality was a nefas, a violation of divine law. Indeed, Havamal, Odin's words to men, begins with the codes of hospitality. We are getting a very clear picture of the brute behavior of the giants, who lack all virtues and manners of civilized beinsg living in organized communities : they fail to respect matrimony, virginity or hospitality, and they take joy in the sufferings and torture of others.


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