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CHAPTER IV

EXCHANGE OF GIFTS

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When an article of value is passed across the boundary of frith and grasped by alien hands, a fusion of life takes place, which binds men one to another with an obligation of the same character as that of frith itself. The great “bargain” beyond all others is that of alliance by marriage, and its seriousness is apparent in the reciprocal interest of the relatives on both sides, a feeling of unity which is not dependent on the mood of the moment. They could not sit still and see each other beaten either in combat or at law, for the defeat of their brothers-in-law would jeopardise their own good fame; either part considered it impossible to maintain their own honour without helping the other, as the Icelanders would express it. It was indeed frith that was woven when a woman passed from clan to clan as friðu-síbb, “kinswoman in frith”.

Frith lay in the mundr, bridal sum or bridal gift, which forms the centre of that bargain which was formed between two circles of kin. The persons acting are on both sides the clan as a whole, through its personifications; the bridegroom's spokesman and the maiden's guardian act on behalf of all their respective kin. In historical times, the bridal sum had come to be the right of the father or guardian, an increase of fortune accrueing to the happy procreator of daughters; even now, however, there still remained something of the ancient solidarity which demanded that the gift should percolate through the whole clan. The ancient customs held in extraordinary cases; as for instance when the bride's father and brother were lacking, and a more distant kinsman stood guardian; then, the rights of the kinsmen reasserted themselves.

In the Germanic system, it is not the wife who brings a dowry, says Tacitus, but the husband who offers gifts to the wife. “The parents and relations are present to approve these gifts — gifts not devised for ministering to female fads, nor for the adornment of the person of the bride, but oxen, a horse and bridle, a shield and spear or sword; by these gifts the bride is won, and she herself, in turn, brings some piece of armour to her husband.” And Tacitus is substantially correct, though not in the romantic sense he imagined, when he adds: “Here is the gist of the bond between them, here in their eyes its mysterious sacrament, the divinity which hedges it.”

Exchange of gifts is the only way to friendship and alliance. “They gave each other gifts, and parted as friends”, “they exchanged gifts and made a pact of friendship together”, such phrases occur again and again in the Icelandic sagas, and the best commentary upon the relation between the two things lies in the identification of language: “there was between them a warm friendship and exchange of gifts”.

The ancients could not define kinship better than they have done in the formula of adopting into the clan: to sitting and seat, to full inheritance, to fine and rings, to gift and return — that is to say, the kinsman is known by the fact that he has a seat in the hail, a right to inherit, to share in fines and vengeance, and to make friends.

It makes no difference then, either way, in the unanimity between men, whether the one side or the other have precedence in the words; for when the gift is mentioned, friendship sits down beside it, and if friendship be invited in, the door must be held open for the gift. The normal order of life is for him who seeks friendship to hold forth his gift and thus declare his inclination. Or he goes to his neighbour and opens negotiations with the words: “There has for many reasons been a coldness between us; now I would enter into friendship with you, and you shall have as a gift from me the best stud horse in the district.” Even though perhaps a sharp ear may discern here and there a somewhat business-like ring in the voice of these Icelandic chieftains offering gifts, there is nothing in the words themselves to betray them. The words come glibly to the tongue of the English poet when he lets his beloved apostle Andreas speak to the “creator of the world” in the guise of a sailor. Andreas was, according to the decree of the highest, on his way to the distant anthropophagous Mermedons in order to declare the good tidings unto them, when he was ferried across the sea by an unknown ship's captain; during the voyage, the experienced fisherman sat watching with ever-widening eyes the stranger's skill in seamanship, until at last he burst out delightedly: “Never met I steersman stronger, quicker of wit or wiser in words; hear me now that' I ask another boon: though I am poor in rings and hammered treasures to give in exchange, yet. I would gladly have your friendship.” The poet who created these verses, had experienced a new age and new customs, the wealth of which lay in emancipating itself from the mammon of unrighteousness; he had learned to imagine foster-brotherhood between men whose only wealth was the word; but in order to express this experience, he must first come to terms with the language at his disposal.

When ancient enemies could settle their differences out of hand, and establish lasting agreement between themselves and those near to them, it was because they could exchange gifts and enter into a bargain. Gregory the clerk tells of an amicable ending to the disputes between Leuvigild, king of the Goths, and Theodomer, king of the Suevi, in terms which can be matched almost word for word from the sagas dealing with reconciliation of enemies in the North: “they exchanged gifts, and returned, each to his home.”

The weregild carried with it a real reconciliation, which to later generations has become dimmed by the passing of value into coin. True, the paying of blood money might be, and often must be, humiliating, but at the innermost of its being there lies an idea of amending, or reparation, which sets minds straight again, and makes it impossible for the two clans thereafter to think crookedly of each other. The Anglo-Saxon and Scandinavian word bót or fine means nothing more and nothing less than mending or restoring. The bargain produced frith, or, to express the same thing in another way, and make its full validity more plain: the bargain brings about a relationship between the two parties which implies the impossibility of a breach of frith in the sternest sense, and therefore, all members of the offended circle of kin must have a share in the payment, so that the minds of all might be affected in like manner. It is not intended to take effect for a little while only, but wholly and for all time: as long as “wind soughs from the cloud, grass grows, tree puts forth leaves, sun rises up and the world stands.” It is not intended merely to settle one matter, this particular one, but to make minds more willing to frith in case of further dispute arising. Even in Eric's Law of Sealand we still find the old idea, that men should be milder towards an enemy when he has paid his fine than towards any other, and even should he later give further cause of offence, one must not set off at once after vengeance, but first endeavour to obtain restitution at law. It was no mere empty phrase when the frith formula in Iceland called the parties reconciled by the most intimate name, and declared that they should “share knife and joint of meat and all between them as friends and not as enemies, and should cause of quarrel arise between them in after days, then goods shall pay for the wrong, and never spear let blood;” it must necessarily mean the words as they stand, since it can cold-bloodedly pass on to the conclusion that “the one of you who tramples on peace made, and strikes at frith once given, he shall wander aimlessly as a hunted wolf, as far as ever men hunt wolves to their farthest.”

It has been rightly said that the more drastic the decrees set up as a guard for peace and order, the gloomier prospect for peace present and to come; a threat is of its nature ineffective, since its guarantor is a future that men may always hope can be outwitted. But the solemnity of such a curse as this lies in the very fact that it is not a threat, and does not rely on a fickle future to make its words good, but proceeds out of a conviction that what is feared, far from being a thing that may or may not take effect upon the trespasser, is actually at the moment taking its course within him, if the will to evil be there. The long series of anathemas is not a heaping up of terrifying effects calculated to hammer good will down into the soul stroke by stroke, — it is a description of the niding, with the addition that the peace here concluded has the same hardness as any other natural frith and no less than any other will serve as the test of whether a man is to belong to the world of humankind or not.

One might safely trust to the gift and give it full power to speak on one's behalf, for the soul in it would of itself reach in to the obligation, to honour, must bind luck and weave fate into fate, must produce will, or place a new element into it. Therefore, no power on earth can check the effect of a gift halfway, when it has once passed from hand to hand, and therefore, none can resist the spiritual effect of that which he has suffered to come too near.

On the day when the free state of Iceland was near breaking into two pieces over the conflict between the old religion and the faith of Christ, Thorgeir the Law-speaker saved his country, because be was old-fashioned enough to realise that one can become peaceable by an effort of will. The matter had gone so far that the old heathen party stood ready armed to drive the Christians from the thing-place, and the hosts of the Christians renounced the law-state of their countrymen, to form a Christian state beside the old; and the moment this new law had been proclaimed, Iceland would have been two peoples, territorially intermingled, like a body with its organs divided into two opposing groups. Siduhall, leader of the Christians, shrank from the responsibility, and took the remarkable step of buying over the old leader of the free state to formulate the Christian laws. After Thorgeir had lain a whole day with his cloak over his head pondering on things present and to come, he came forth, the old heathen, with a law that forced all in under the new regime and made Iceland a Christian country. In a speech he set forth peace and its opposite before his countrymen, and led them to the proper choice by a story of old times: Once, the kings of Norway and Denmark were at constant feud, until the people wearied of the unending war and forced the kings to peace against their will, by the simple means of exchanging gifts at some years' interval, and so their friendship lasted all their life.  Thorgeir could never have spoken so, still less could anyone later have let him speak so, if he and his hearers had not understood the point of the story, and the point was strong enough to convert a nation.

Men who could relate, and could understand, such a story as that of the kings of Denmark and Norway felt an instinctive unwillingness to have others' souls in their immediate neighbourhood. And they showed their uneasiness. On the evening before Æthelstan fought his decisive battle against the Northmen at Brunanburh, there came, according to William of Malmesbury, a strange harper into the camp, sat down at the entrance to the king's tent, and played so skilfully that the king asked him in, to delight the company at meat. After the meal, when a council of war was to be held, the harper was dismissed with a gift; but one of the men, having his own reasons for observing the stranger closely, saw that he hid the gold in the earth before he left; and he counselled King Æthelstan therefore to move his tent, for the guest was none other than Olaf Sigtryggson, the Northmen's king.

William of course, does not fathom the Norse king's motive — he considers the act due to his contempt for the gift — and Olaf himself would perhaps find it difficult to explain if questioned, but he felt that if he suffered the alien will to cling to him, he must be prepared to find it taking his own luck into service against himself; nay more, that his own will and insight would turn treacherously against him, and not only check his progress, but break him in his headlong career. A man like the crafty Frank Chiodevech knew well how to use the power of dead things as a means to bias people's will. The Frank had secretly sent gifts in offer of marriage to the Burgundian princess Chrotilde, but when later be made public announcement of his proposal, he was met with a curt refusal from the lady's uncle. Then the people cried: First see if there have not been gifts sent secretly from him, that he may not find a way to fall upon you; otherwise “you will not conquer in the fight for the justice of your cause, for terrible is the heathen fury of Chlodevech” — as the poor annalist words the utterance, in order to get as much civilized meaning into it as possible.

But the position could also be viewed from another side. The giver has entrusted a lump of his soul to another, and should the receiver chance to be clever or powerful enough to use the chance thus given him, the original owner may come to feel a stab in his will. A Frank of the 6th century, one of those wild fellows who, apparently, feared neither God nor devil, nor knew good from evil, dared not renounce his gift-brother, or take any decisive steps against him, as long as the gift-pact was not broken. Gundovald, the pretender, had shut himself up in Convenæ, when his slender luck had grown so worn that even his faithful friends realised they must look out for a future elsewhere. Then one of them, Mummolus, persuaded Gundovald to sally out and give himself up to his enemies; but on the way, be gave the unfortunate claimant to the throne this friendly counsel: “Those yonder might perhaps think it presumptuous on your part to come striding up in that golden belt of mine; better put on your own sword and give me back mine.” Gundovald's answer is plain enough, even in Gregory's uncomprehending paraphrase: “I understand your words; that which I have borne out of love for you shall now be taken from me.”

The gift was an unmistakable manisfestation, or rather crystallisation, of the goodwill, and to make sure of the sincerity of the other party one might wish to see his cordiality step out into the light. When Magnus the Good stood forth at the Uplands thing and promised forgiveness and favour to all who had conspired against his father King Olaf if they would turn to him with goodwill and a whole mind, Thrond accepted the offer as spokesman of the people: “My kinsmen have been unfriends of the king's race, but I myself had no part in Olaf's death; if you will exchange cloaks with me, then I will promise and keep good friendship.” The king was willing. “And will you also exchange weapons with me?” Thrond continued. This too the king agreed to do. And afterwards Thrond invited the king home to his house and gave a splendid feast.

One who has exchanged weapons with a stranger can lie down to sleep by his side; he can do no harm. One can even leave the other to keep guard against a third party, for the security produced by the gift is not restricted to a passive refraining from action. “As father to son, as son to father, thus the two now reconciled meet in all doings together where need shall arise,” runs the formula. What jurist or moralist would have hit upon the idea of painting those colours above all upon the ideal to make a difficult virtue more enticing? Noble forgetfulness may be idealised into a noble consideration, but to encourage enemies to be reconciled in order that they can help each other is only done when there is a reality behind to dictate the conditions. And the reality is this, that the gift comes dripping with memories and honour, and surrenders itself with friends and foes, gods and forefathers, past and future purpose. The will is bound, in the only way will could be bound in the old days, by having new contents and a new aim engrafted on it.

It is solely by virtue of these regenerating qualities that a gift is able to touch the wells from which feelings arise; it fosters not only unity of will, but also affection, joy and well-being in a relationship.

Marriage was founded on love, but according to the Germanic conception, there was no idea of love appearing before the marriage had been solemnised and married life commenced; all anticipation could be spared, since it was known that when all formalities were duly and properly carried out, affection would surely come. “And they soon grew to love each other,” say the sagas of happily married couples. But we know, too, at what tune affection grew and became strong between the two, it was on the morning of the second day, when the husband, by his gift, confirmed, or “fixed” the reality of their first embrace. The bride had her morning gift promised the day when their union was finally decided upon, most commonly perhaps, as in Sweden , on the day of the wedding, and it was due to her from the morning after the pair had slept one night together. These two acts, the embrace and the gift, are the origin of love; and therefore they hold good — in lace of a law that only respects realities — as the two necessary conditions for true marriage, and therefore also they express all possibilities of warmth of feeling between man and woman. In a world where love is thus given and taken there is no room for sentimental longing and sighing; a lover feeding upon fond wishes is simply sick in mind, and would perhaps be well advised to consider whither such sickness leads. For healthy romanticism in the old days we should look to Margaret of Stokkar, and seek behind the simple words wherewith she bemoans her fate, when King Magnus, on his way through the place, wishes to share her couch: “Heavy it seems to me, first to find love for him and then to lose him.”

This utterance of the maiden who suffered at the thought of a morning which should not fuffil the promise of the night, together with the words of the Swedish Uppland Law anent the morning gift whereby a wife is “honoured”, furnish the explanation of the womanly element: the wife's anxiety, when she, dreams of danger and wakes to warn her husband, as well as the maiden's ambition, when she sits among her kin considering possible suitors according to their birth, their wealth, their fame — or their scanty sell-assertion; when she sends a lover away because he has proved himself hardly up to her standard in his dealings with his neighbours, she does so because she hungers for love in her marriage. It needs honour to wake her senses, for family fame and family wealth, clan traditions and ancestors' deeds make up the minds of women as well as of men. And the affection with which she regards her husband is frith: which is to say, that far from being a mere intellectual appendage to her spiritual life her love is instinct and energy that makes her fight for the one she loves, and it can never become so tender but that it will maintain its character as zeal. Let us take widowhood immediately beside wifehood, see that the widow's sorrow has the bitterness of an affront, that it is permeated with an active element which drives out all despair.. and all resignation, that it is healed by restitution, and then we are perhaps as near as we can ever get to feeling what the love of those times really was — that love which gives Thurid the Great Widow her greatness. Then we may also come near to realising that love has its origin in taking over the honour of the husband, with all it contains of possessions and acquisitions, and that if the suitor can but get so far as to lay his gift in the maiden's lap, he has already won her favour. And in return, should the bargain be broken, the wife goes away without a lingering glance. The dissolution of an exchange of gifts causes a separation of the feelings so united, whereafter they seek back each to its original owner.

From this point of view, the old stories take on a different appearance. Much of that which seemed distorted will show forth in natural proportions, and much that slipped away from the modern conception as immaterial stands out with tragic force.

The old author of the Beowulf has a peculiar ring of rich experience in his voice: he thinks many thoughts about these Danes and Geats, and for the most part, his thoughts are melancholy. When he mentions Hrothgar's daughter, he cannot but remember that it was she who was to marry Froda's son Ingeld, to settle the old dispute between the two peoples, her Danes and his Heathobards. But luck was destined to fail her. When she went to her new home, it would be bitter for the warriors there to see her Danish retinue openly bearing trophies of old Heathobard weapons. Some grey-haired retainer, no doubt, will remember too well the day those weapons changed hands, and cry to Ingeld: “See, know you that sword, the precious one, that your father bore to battle for the last time, when the Danes defeated him and took the arms of the slain ?“ One day his words ring through, and the alien boaster pays forfeit with his life. Then all oaths are broken, hatred wells up in Ingeld's heart, and his love to the woman turns cold. There is something in this psychic catastrophe which we cannot bring out in our words; as soon as the bargain is broken and the Danes, who were thereby engrafted on the king's honour, torn out, there is no longer love in him.

It is the same immediate breach which makes Brynhild's story a test of our understanding of love among our ancestors, and the despair of the writer who would express his understanding in a tongue smoothed to the needs of lyrical sentiment.

“I will tell you my wrath,” this is the portal of entry to Brynhild's confession. Her brooding is not the self-consuming turning and twisting that drives the musing of the bereaved farther and farther down into the soul, opening on to ever deeper and deeper sorrow. She ponders, her thoughts are turned forward, as she builds her plans for restitution or vengeance. As she lies there with the bed clothes drawn over her head, all know she lies there to think, and when she opens her mouth and speaks to her husband, the word is ready forged: “You shall lose both kingdom and goods, life and me, and I fare to my kin, if you will not slay Sigurd — and see to it that you do not let the whelp live after the wolf.”

Her rage is naturally directed towards Sigurd; she must be worst to him whom she loves best. Not because love is paradoxical in its being, but because it is rational. She had sworn to love only that man who had no peer and proved his prowess by leaping the flames with which her bower was encircled. This feat was achieved by Gunnar, and she welcomed him and loved him; but this Gunnar was in reality the dragon-slayer Sigurd, who had changed shapes with his sworn brother to help him to his heart's desire. One day Brynhild's eyes are opened, she is not married to the greatest hero in the world. She can claim that he has not played fair, in transferring his own feat to Gunnar; but the affront has its force in something else: Sigurd sins most unforgivably in being the greatest, greater than Gunnar; his crime is not less that he slew the serpent and took the gold, as Gunnar did not. We find the same undeserved fate when Brynhild's later personification, Gudrun Usvif's daughter, was led to hate Kjartan because Bolli had falsely spread the rumour that he had settled in Norway, and by that lie had taken her from the one with whom she had exchanged vows; Kjartan's crime lay in the fact that he came home, and by being unchanged himself, left her as the breaker of their compact, that she had thought herself freed from.

The misfortune in the life of these two women is not, as we assume, baffled love, it is a feeling of guilt, a dishonouring of themselves; and Kjartan as well as Sigurd is — whether wittingly or unwittingly — the cause of the sin that their betrothed committed by marrying another husband. For our culture, which never accords responsibility more scope than circumstances grant it, the emphasis lies on the will to wrong; for us a Brynhild and a Gudrun become heroines in a tragedy of marriage. If on the contrary, it is experience of the effects of guilt that fill the soul, the question as to will and mischance and necessity is overshadowed by other problems, and to gain insight into the nature of passion and the right of passion, one must understand the logical calculation of ethical gain and loss which alone applies in the self-examination of our ancestors. The sternly cold definition of a promise is: not a pledge to truth or any similar third party, but a two-sided bargain between you and him. If the bargain be broken, your soul suffers thereby, because a part of it is fixed in the other party; and the damage is equally dangerous whether it be you or he that fails, or some accident that upsets the contract. Inevitably the disappointment glides in under ethical earnest, which, while knowing well enough the difference between a flaw from within and a breach from without, does not recognise the two as essentially opposites. A wrong for which one is oneself to blame is the nearer to dissolution of self in that there is nowhere to seek restitution; but to the ethical judgement it is no less a fault to suffer affront than to cause it, inability to preserve oneself is on a par with failing to do so. And before this feeling of responsibility, one's neighbour shall be judged: between him who prevents me from asserting myself and him who is the cause wherefore I cannot there is no distinction — both are guilty.

The soul-sickness which brings about the wreck of Brynhild consists in a sin against the sacredness of the word. She had by a solemn vow bound herself to wed none but him who should be greatest, and here she found her word broken; whether knowingly or unknowingly, whether she had acted in good faith or not, her honour, her self, was sundered. “ Ill comes to those whose promises turn against them;” in this outburst of Brynhild's lies the whole curse of self, from its ethical humiliation, to the dread of the future as a storm of misfortune gathering round the breach of troth committed and driven forward by the nidinghood that lurks behind an irreparable act.

The catastrophe comes in a moment. Brynhild married Gunnar, and the two soon grew to love each other. This we may safely add, even though the story itself had not both directly and indirectly given us to understand that there was nothing unusual to remark about that marriage; healthiness was a patent of greatness and nobility, and Brynhild was greater than all women, therefore her greatness must show itself in the fact that what was healthy and natural was eminently present in her. But the moment the truth is made manifest, her love is transformed and fastened upon Sigurd; and yet, change and transformation have little to do with men and women whose passion is ever to maintain their inner continuity and whose ethical hatred is directed against the offender, who seeks to effect a breach in the personality of another. She gave herself the day she bound herself with an oath of loyalty to the man who should penetrate into her fastness of fire; not Gunnar, not Sigurd, nor another, but him, and the unity in herself is based on the fact that the vow is her love, and the day Sigurd stood forth as the rightful claimant to Gunnar's place in the world, it was him she loved — and thus it was he who had offended her.

There is the conflict, in the insoluble opposition between two realities each of which excludes the other. Sigurd has the promise, and Gunnar has the love, as the consequence of marriage. The modern tragedy of love will come to centre round the misfortune that a passion should exist which can never attain to fulfilment; Brynhild perishes from the impossibility of being the woman she is. When Gudrun twits her with possessing only the next best hero in the world, she points in proof to the ring on her own arm; Brynhild looks at the treasure and recognises it: it is the ring she gave Sigurd in exchange the day he came to her through the flames. In the gift, he and Brynhild have mingled mind, and only now does she learn that she has broken their interchange of soul.

The poet who now in full earnest re-experienced and recreated the intensity of this old love, would in and by his work have ostracised himself from the culture of his age; and despite all the laudatory words that have been lavished on the Davids and Jonathans of the past, the old friendship is likewise a dead glory which cannot be resucitated in modern words, because words can only express that which exists. We are incapable of reconstructing the ancient harmony. Friendship in the ancient sense implied cool calculation of interest and unreserved loyalty, and so far from limiting one another, sell-assertion and self-oblivion grew in the same proportion; friendship is not maintained by affection; on the contrary, the bond of union gives growth to and upholds affection; its joy is the loving converse in words mingling mind with mind, and nevertheless, the complete surrender which we feel germinating through spiritual intercourse was then the primary condition of confidence. In the story of the foster-brothers Thorgeir and Thormod, we learn what friendship will enact of its votaries. When Thorgeir was slain, the slayer fled beyond the sea to Greenland ; Thormod followed, disguised himself as a beggar, suffered himself to be hunted like a wild beast, lay stricken with wounds in eaves and desert places, and returned home with the lives of five men in his axe as vengeance for his friend. And yet there is not a whit of sell-sacrifice, only honour. Friendship is will all through, but a will that has its roots in the unconscious regions of the mind scorning the inclination or lack of inclination of the moment, yet the affection is at an end when the gifts have been returned. To us who see only the elements at play, and laboriously try to reconstruct the harmonious feeling of frith that fired the souls, friendship will probably leave an impression of something cold and intellectual, and yet friendship is filled with emotion almost to overflowing.

The devotion of the warrior is one of the oldest and best established virtues of the Germanic character. Half astounded, half impressed, the civilized Roman looked upon the chieftain's guard, that fought as long as their leader fought, or voluntarily shared his captivity, and to his conservative Roman mind the whole-hearted devotion of the barbarian warriors was a splendid manifestation of duty. Tacitus understood that this self-devotion was unreserved, and could thus hardly choose his words otherwise than with a predominant idea of duty; but those who have themselves experienced the rejoicing of an army hardly see the duty for the enthusiasm that holds the will supple. In history, a hundred years may sometimes be as a single day, and the feeling has hardly changed much from the generations which shook the first centuries to and the Christian poet who interpreted the loyalty of disciples in German, in the words of St. Thomas :

"It is a man's pleasure to stand fast by his Lord, and willingly die with him. This will we all; follow him on his way, counting our lives of little worth, and die with the King in a strange land.” And again; the lapse of time which separates the Heliand from Hallfred the Wayward Scald is as nothing in spiritual history, so differently do the centuries run in Germany and the North. To Hallfred, King Olaf's fall is a heart-felt sorrow, the only sorrow that could ever bring him to his knees. “The northlands are left waste on the death of the King, all joy is faded on the fail of Tryggvason, the shunner of flight,” so he makes his plaint, and the plaint awakened sympathy in all listeners. Even his opponent, Gris, dull everyday fellow as he is reckoned, realises most keenly Hallfred's plight, merely because he himself has served kings. The saga relates that on the day when these two men were to settle their painful differences by single combat, came the news of Olaf's death, and Hallfred went off as if stricken by a stone and took to his bed. When Gris heard words of scorn sent after him, he said: “Nay, nay, not so; I myself never attained to such honour in the service of the king of Gardariki as did Hallfred with Olaf, and yet I have never known such heavy tidings as of my chieftain's fall.”

But this exstacy, which welcomed death at the master's death as a boon, can find no explanation of its own being but this: he gave, and I received; he, the gold-breaker, I, the receiver of treasure.

Wiglaf spake, the son of Weohstan, —mournful he looked on those men unloved:

“Who sooth will speak, can say indeed that the ruler who gave you golden rings and the harness of war in which ye stand for he at ale-bench often-times bestowed on hall-folk helm and breastplate, lord to liegemen, the likeliest gear which near or far he could find to give, threw away and wasted these weeds of battle, on men who failed when the foemen came!. . .“

Equally pure is the note again in the youngest of all heroic poems in the Anglo-Saxon, the Battle of Maldon, written, so to speak, upon an historic battle-ground. First of the traitor:

“First turned to flight Godric, and left the lord who had given him many an horse,” then of the faithful: “All saw they, hearth-fellows, that their lord was dead; eagerly they hasted forward with courage, all would perish or avenge the dear one,” and finally, the bravest of the brave: “Then he had won that he vowed to his chieftain, uttered aforetime in the ring-giver's hall, that they twain should ride to the burgh, home with whole limbs, or both should lie weary with wounds on the field. Like a true warrior, he lay by the side of his lord.”

The poem of allegiance par excellence in the Nordic, the Bjarkamál, is only preserved in the Latin paraphrase of Saxo. We can form no true idea as to its ring in the old language, but the matter of Saxo's meandering verse tells on the other hand plainly enough of his general adherence to the spirit of the original; all that lay outside his culture and therefore outside his power of conception can only have been taken from his source. The poem runs through the entire soul-gamut of the body-guard, from the coolest assurance of will to self-forgetfulness in another, and the king's man returns again and again to the joy of gold, in order to be certain of himself. Here the poem takes its first flight:

“Gladly we render again to the prince his gifts, gladly we grasp the sword and harden our blade's edge in honour. The swords, the helms, the rings Hrolf strewed among his men, the byrnies reaching to our heels, these whet our hearts for the fight. Now is the time come, now is the honour, that we with good blows give worth again for what was given us when we stretched our limbs in frith upon the bench...

“All these vows we made above the cup with the ale to our lips, each one an oath sworn by the high gods, those we now fulfil. Greatest of Danes is my Lord...

“The King is fallen, and with his fall their day was come, those who were none so craven as to let their blows fall upon earth, so little battle-wont as to fear to avenge their chieftain, flinging away honour, the prize of the bold...

“Go we forward now as Hrolf taught us. Hroerek he slew,. the miser king, the heaper-up of treasures to rust in dishonour, whose hall grew void of honour-loving men. Hrolf slew him; plundered his closets and made his friends to shine in the bright gear of the niding. Never a thing so fair to him but he strewed it abroad, never too costly to clothe a henchman. His years he reckoned by harvest of honour, not by store of gold...

“Naught withstood him whereas he strode, blazing with boldness, no meaner in strength than mighty to see. As the river foams into the sea he flung himself into the fight; hasting to battle as the hart leaps over the land.

“I see him, the atheling of Frodi, stand laughing in the wave-clash of battle, sower of gold, upon the Sirtvold. We too are filled with joy, with firm steps following our splendid father down the road of fate . . . . There is fame after death. What boldly men built in time of might no time shall destroy...

“Shields behind! Let us fight with bared breast. Make heavy the arms with gold, hang rings upon the right, that blows may fall the harder. In, under the swords, to avenge our loved lord. Him I name happiest, who with the sword heaps up the slain in payment...

“Honour receive us as we fall before the eyes of the King. The little time left, let us use to spread our death-place with renown. By my chieftain's head will I suffer myself to be stricken to earth; at his feet fall thou stumbling to thy death; that they who search among the slain may see how we repaid our lord his gold. . . Thus it behoves us athelings, the war-fain, to fall, close to our king, one in our death and in fame.”

Thus it goes on, verse after verse. Again and again the mighty feeling gathers itself together in preparation for a fresh outburst, with new images, new expressions, to make the strong stronger yet. The poem is inspired throughout with the complete fusion of the warrior with his lord. So completely do the king and the king's honour fill out the whole horizon for his faithful men that his fall means night over all. The ecstatic rejoicing in common death concentrates in itself all the passions of the warrior: joy in his own fame, thirst for vengeance, zeal for the praises of posterity have their life in devotion to a master, and are nourished by memory, flaming up about those moments of the past where he is seen at his highest. But one thing is always uppermost whenever enthusiasm gathers to a fresh culmination: gold. The need of repaying the king's generosity is the moral incentive in the appeal, yet no gratitude, not even the most exalted, could shed that splendour about him, if it were not gratitude for the gift of life, and life in the old, full meaning it was that he gave his men, through the rings and weapons old. The moment the man feels his master's ring on his arm, or his weapon in his hand, then the king's honour, ancestors, aims, pride, flow up through the arm of the receiver; at once he feels and lives the contents of the ring. He is re-born, as one could be in those days, and the union with the giver is completed in conditions of life as well as in thoughts. The followers of the king are called by the same appellation as his clan, Scyldings, because they have been incorporated in the hamingja of the house they served.

By long and difficult detours we must struggle forward to that which was the direct experience of the men of those days. But the road which was their only way of entry into friendship, that of the gift, leads also us best to experience of what that feeling meant, and thus to the experience of its nature. In Bjarki's cry: “Make heavy the 'arms with gold. . . that blows may fall the harder,” lies the test that is to show whether we have understood or not.

Lying so near to the centre of human life, a gift may have double-edged effect. It is a sign of honour or of dishonour, of subjugation as of submission. Now it calls forth boldness in the receiver, now it flings him back on his defence; a man may fear his neighbour's gold, or he may make use of it; but he never plays with it. For two men who cannot share the world between them in other wise than by the decision of arms, caution will be the normal attitude; Olaf Sigtryggson does not blindly challenge fate, by carrying away with him the gift of Æthelstan. Only he who feels in himself unshakable superiority and can safely call every stake his own beforehand, ventures upon such a game as Chlodevech, according to the story — or the legend — won over the Burgundians.

The effects produced by exchange of gifts will depend on the relation between the two lucks colliding. When a man resigns after long service, and the king gives him the sword he himself has long borne, with the words: “I think luck will go with it, and thereto you shall also have my friendship,” then the man has luck added to that he previously possessed, he gains era, honour, as the gift is actually called in early Saxon. But surely as alliance with an equal or a superior gives an increase of strength, so also union with a luck of inferior character will prove a hindrance. The refusal of a gift thus easily takes on a touch of affront; a plain and distinct: “my luck is too good,” and at the same time its equivalent: “I do not trust in your honour, your will.” This thought is clearly expressed in Hord's saga, when the hero declares his doubts anent the acceptance of a friendly gift by saying: “I do not quite know about this, for it seems to me likely that you will not keep your friendship with me.” The same thought underlies the dialogue between Einar Thambarskelfir, the Norwegian magnate, and Thorstein, the son of Siduhall, an Icelander of good standing who had made himself obnoxious to the king of Norway . Thorstein sought refuge with Einar and offered him a stately gift, but Einar was reluctant to bind himself to the outlaw, being loth to involve himself in any conflict with his king. When Einar gently draws back, Thorstein urges his gifts in these words: “You can surely accept a gift from such a man as I.” Einar's son Eindridi, on the other hand, approves of the gift, and of the man as well. “There is good man's worth (mannkaup) in him,” he says to his father, meaning: he is a man with whom it is worth while to close a bargain (kaup), and when, in opposition to his father's wish, he has accepted the splendid horses, Einar is forced to urge the cause of the outlawed Thorstein before the king, even going to the length of threatening to renounce his allegiance and stand up in arms against his lord.

Where an inferior man is dealing with a greater, and especially one with king's luck, the effect can only be of one sort; that the greater luck will swallow up the less. The king's men, those who must have their centre of will and devotion in the king, are his “ring-takers”, and their power and good fortune are dependent upon his progress. As long as they accept his gifts and eat his bread, they fight only for him and for his honour, and only thereby for their own. The enormous superiority of his luck renders the position one-sided, amounting almost to submission. Between two who reckon themselves as equals, the gift must necessarily be reciprocal, lest one should by craft acquire the advantage; it is altogether different between warriors or subjects and their king, and therefore, a king's gifts are not requited, as were ordinary gifts. When the king of Norway gave one of his men a title and lands, the name and honour were confirmed with many honourable gifts. If the people conferred on a claimant to the throne the name of king, this was not confirmed by tribute from those conferring; here also the king was the giver. The manner in which a gift might serve to emphasise self-assertion and the feeling of equality is shown to all posterity by the peasants of the Telemark in their conflict with King Harald, when he would teach them to pay taxes. The King's endeavours to instil into the Morsemen the new and difficult art had gradually taken effect on the slow pupils, more especially after the more unruly elements had been removed; only in far off Telemark did the old benighted ignorance still prevail, with the principle that the king, albeit a mighty man enough, was no superman; again and again the king sent glib spokesmen to the place, but despite all their efforts, the theory failed to penetrate into those thick skulls. “Nay,” says one of the great yeomen at last, Asgrim of Fiflavellir, “tribute we will not pay, but we are nowise unwilling to send the king our friendly gifts,” and they send him gifts of very stately worth. But Harald refuses to accept them: “Carry his gifts to him again; I am to be king over this land, and declare what is law and right; I, and not Asgrim.”

Another story from a far later time shows the power of a gift to teach the receiver his place. When Swein Estridson had been staying for some time at the court of Magnus the Good, the king one day offered him a cloak and a bowl of mead, with the words: “With these I give you the name of earl and power to rule in Denmark .” But Swein, instead of putting on the cloak, flushed fiery red and handed it to one of his men. And Einar Thambarskelfir's exclamation: “This earl is all too great,” shows how deeply all parties present realised the seriousness of the action.

But that which is in touch with men's innermost soul life has a certain elasticity, definite though it be. The king was not excluded from all exchange of gifts; he could accept a kindness, and could repay the gifts of good men, and that with a good heart. The giver was not necessarily, obliged to appear in humble guise for the king to accept his friendship without hesitation; as long as there was no possibility of official misconstruction, prince and noble could meet in equal assurance of goodwill. But the king must, of course, be careful not to accept unwittingly what might prove a claim to equality, for in such case, opposition would wax great upon his own hamingja. For the luck contained in a gift is not only a soul, but a disposition and a wish, the actual state of the soul, and it is this question: what dos he want, what does he mean? which leads a man to ask for time to consider the gift, and makes him loth to touch the honour sent to his door from afar. It was demanded that the goodwill should accompany the gift in open words; the receiver could trust the words because they were “laid upon” the gift, or entered into it, and passed with the object from hand to hand. “Take this sword; therewith I give you my friendship,” or “See this sword, for that, ill-luck shall ever spring forth in your race,” such words are real; the sword is inspired with friendly feelings or with hate, just as the name and the father's prophecy are ratified in the gift that fixes the name of the child.

In the case of fines for killing, the old feelings must come forth to meet us in their full strength, partly crystalilsed into legal forms. At one time, the man bereft of his kinsman thrusts the gold from him in contempt, almost as a defilement, at another he welcomes the restitution with both hands, or says, as does Gunnar when Njal comes with the fine: “No man dashes honour from him when it is offered.” Both sides of the thought have here again been chiselled out by Egil; it is he who utters the contemptuous words of an age that has grown used to selling its kin for gold — “the striker-down of kinsmen” he calls one who accepts a fine, as if by so doing, the man with whom vengeance lay were depriving the dead of his last hope of rebirth, — and he it is again who sits in Æthelstan's hall and offers thanks for the gift with the words: “Now I have found one that could smooth the furrows of the forehead and raise the lowering brows.” It is of no avail to seek the explanation of Egil's varying judgement by analysing his moods in the two moments; his words are in both cases founded in the same ethical value of the weregild. The fine is not a payment intended to dull the sense of honour in the offended party, but on the contrary, is to add honour to honour. Therefore, it behoves a man to see exactly what sort of rings are thus brought into the family. The condition for acceptance of a peaceable settlement is that both parties feel themselves as equals; neither family must consider its luck so much better and nobler that the alliance impoverishes the receiver instead of enriching him. Legally, this fear of inequality in alliance finds its expression in the oath of equity, that is to say: the parties offering payment shall first swear that they themselves would have accepted such fine had they themselves been the injured party. In later times, when the old view of the spiritual value of property had faded, and was replaced by a purely mercantile valuation, the fine took on a loathsome ring of coin, and men came to fear the accusation of “carrying kinsmen in their purse”, even though the feeling of the fine as a proof of honour shown never entirely disappeared.

 

   

 
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