Deep mythic roots

Replica Sutton Hoo helmet © C A Lovegrove

The Saga of King Hrolf Kraki.
Translated by Jesse L Byock.
Penguin Classics, 1999.

Put together in this form around 1400 CE, Hrolf’s Saga is a wonderfully barbaric tale, a composition with roots deep in northern mythology and, for its time, hardly touched by Christian values or notions of chivalry. The modern reader may recognise many elements and motifs familiar from other narratives and traditions – Beowulf and Hamlet, for example, the Nibelungenlied, even Arthurian legend – all of which suggests that the well of story is broad as well as deep.

Although for modern tastes it’s a narrative that may somewhat meander, switching its focus from one individual to another, there’s no doubting that the saga’s thrust is towards the story of a certain Hrolf, a part-historical, part-legendary figure around in fifth- or sixth-century Denmark, localised on the island of Sjælland (anglicised as Zealand).

Yet even though its action takes place in lands surrounding both the North Sea and the Baltic this saga was to find its final form across the North Atlantic in Iceland, settled by Norse descendants.

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