I just had to post this, it’s simply magnificent. Not only is Saxo’s story utterly gripping, and Starkad’s rant unparalleled, but the English translation by Oliver Elton is fine literature in its own right. Saxo’s Latin was first-rate, unusual for the period and was admired by Erasmus. The story bears anachronistic hallmarks of 12th century Denmark, with effete Saxon cooking undermining traditional Danish martial virtues. It often sounds like Cicero or one of the Roman historians bemoaning the loss of republican virtues. But it is unmistakably the same tale as in Beowulf, which is my excuse for posting it here.
Ingeld (here called Ingild, Ingellus in the Latin) is mentioned in both Beowulf and Widsið and perhaps elsewhere in the corpus (watch this space for future revelations 😉 ). This version is considerably later than the English tales and differs from them in a number of respects. (See the Wikipedia article for the relationships between the various versions.) As a character Starcatherus/Starkad is similar to Herakles in ancient legends. The story has some striking similarities to Hamlet, also taken from Saxo Grammaticus and it would probably make a great play!
We join the story in the middle of Book 6. Frode/Frotho is the King of Denmark, who has subjugated the Saxons……
Meanwhile the Saxons began to attempt a revolt, and to consider particularly how they could destroy Frode, who was unconquered in war, by some other way than an open conflict. Thinking that it would be best done by a duel, they sent men to provoke the king with a challenge, knowing that he was always ready to court any hazard, and that his high spirit would not yield to any admonition whatever. They fancied that this was the best time to attack him, because they knew that Starkad, whose valour most men dreaded, was away on business. But while Frode hesitated, and said that he would talk with his friends about the answer to be given, Starkad, who had just returned from his sea-roving, appeared, and blamed such a challenge, principally (he said) because it was fitting for kings to fight only with their equals, and because they should not take up arms against men of the people; but it was more fitting for himself, who was born in a lowlier station, to manage the battle.
The Saxons approached Hame, who was accounted their most famous champion, with many offers, and promised him that, if he would lend his services for the duel they would pay him his own weight in gold. The fighter was tempted by the money, and, with all the ovation of a military procession, they attended him to the ground appointed for the combat. Thereupon the Danes, decked in warlike array, led Starkad, who was to represent his king, out to the duelling-ground. Hame, in his youthful assurance, despised him as withered with age, and chose to grapple rather than fight with an outworn old man. Attacking Starkad, he would have flung him tottering to the earth, but that fortune, who would not suffer the old man to be conquered, prevented him from being hurt. For he is said to have been so crushed by the fist of Hame, as he dashed on him, that he touched the earth with his chin, supporting himself on his knees. But he made up nobly for his tottering; for, as soon as he could raise his knee and free his hand to draw his sword, he clove Hame through the middle of the body. Many lands and sixty bondmen apiece were the reward of the victory.
After Hame was killed in this manner the sway of the Danes over the Saxons grew so insolent, that they were forced to pay every year a small tax for each of their limbs that was a cubit (ell) long, in token of their slavery. This Hanef could not bear, and he meditated war in his desire to remove the tribute. Steadfast love of his country filled his heart every day with greater compassion for the oppressed; and, longing to spend his life for the freedom of his countrymen, he openly showed a disposition to rebel. Frode took his forces over the Elbe, and killed him near the village of Hanofra (Hanover), so named after Hanef. But Swerting, though he was equally moved by the distress of his countrymen, said nothing about the ills of his land, and revolved a plan for freedom with a spirit yet more dogged than Hanef’s. Men often doubt whether this zeal was liker to vice or to virtue; but I certainly censure it as criminal, because it was produced by a treacherous desire to revolt. It may have seemed most expedient to seek the freedom of the country, but it was not lawful to strive after this freedom by craft and treachery. Therefore, since the deed of Swerting was far from honourable, neither will it be called expedient; for it is nobler to attack openly him whom you mean to attack, and to exhibit hatred in the light of day, than to disguise a real wish to do harm under a spurious show of friendship. But the gains of crime are inglorious, its fruits are brief and fading. For even as that soul is slippery, which hides its insolent treachery by stealthy arts, so is it right that whatsoever is akin to guilt should be frail and fleeting. For guilt has been usually found to come home to its author; and rumour relates that such was the fate of Swerting. For he had resolved to surprise the king under the pretence of a banquet, and burn him to death; but the king forestalled and slew him, though slain by him in return. Hence the crime of one proved the destruction of both; and thus, though the trick succeeded against the foe, it did not bestow immunity on its author.
Frode was succeeded by his son Ingild, whose soul was perverted from honour. He forsook the examples of his forefathers, and utterly enthralled himself to the lures of the most wanton profligacy. Thus he had not a shadow of goodness and righteousness, but embraced vices instead of virtue; he cut the sinews of self-control, neglected the duties of his kingly station, and sank into a filthy slave of riot. Indeed, he fostered everything that was adverse or ill-fitted to an orderly life. He tainted the glories of his father and grandfather by practising the foulest lusts, and bedimmed the brightest honours of his ancestors by most shameful deeds. For he was so prone to gluttony, that he had no desire to avenge his father, or repel the aggressions of his foes; and so, could he but gratify his gullet, he thought that decency and self-control need be observed in nothing. By idleness and sloth he stained his glorious lineage, living a loose and sensual life; and his soul, so degenerate, so far perverted and astray from the steps of his fathers, he loved to plunge into most abominable gulfs of foulness. Fowl-fatteners, scullions, frying-pans, countless cook-houses, different cooks to roast or spice the banquet — the choosing of these stood to him for glory. As to arms, soldiering, and wars, he could endure neither to train himself to them, nor to let others practise them. Thus he cast away all the ambitions of a man and aspired to those of women; for his incontinent itching of palate stirred in him love of every kitchen-stench. Ever breathing of his debauch, and stripped of every rag of soberness, with his foul breath he belched the undigested filth in his belly. He was as infamous in wantonness as Frode was illustrious in war. So utterly had his spirit been enfeebled by the untimely seductions of gluttony. Starkad was so disgusted at the excess of Ingild, that he forsook his friendship, and sought the fellowship of Halfdan, the King of Swedes, preferring work to idleness. Thus he could not bear so much as to countenance excessive indulgence. Now the sons of Swerting, fearing that they would have to pay to Ingild the penalty of their father’s crime, were fain to forestall his vengeance by a gift, and gave him their sister in marriage. [Antiquity relates that she bore him sons, Frode, Fridleif, Ingild, and Olaf (whom some say was the son of Ingild’s sister).] 1
Starkad went back to Sweden before his wounds had been treated with medicine, or covered with a single scar. Halfdan had been killed by his rivals; and Starkad, after quelling certain rebels, set up Siward as the heir to his father’s sovereignty. With him he sojourned a long time; but when he heard — for the rumour spread — that Ingild, the son of Frode (who had been treacherously slain), was perversely minded, and instead of punishing his father’s murderers, bestowed upon them kindness and friendship, he was vexed with stinging wrath at so dreadful a crime. And, resenting that a youth of such great parts should have renounced his descent from his glorious father, he hung on his shoulders a mighty mass of charcoal, as though it were some costly burden, and made his way to Denmark. When asked by those he met why he was taking along so unusual a load, he said that he would sharpen the dull wits of King Ingild to a point by bits of charcoal. So he accomplished a swift and headlong journey, as though at a single breath, by a short and speedy track; and at last, becoming the guest of Ingild, he went up, as his custom was, in to the seat appointed for the great men; for he had been used to occupy the highest post of distinction with the kings of the last generation.
When the queen came in, and saw him covered over with filth and clad in the mean, patched clothes of a peasant, the ugliness of her guest’s dress made her judge him with little heed; and, measuring the man by the clothes, she reproached him with crassness of wit, because he had gone before greater men in taking his place at table, and had assumed a seat that was too good for his boorish attire. She bade him quit the place, that he might not touch the cushions with his dress, which was fouler than it should have been. For she put down to crassness and brazenness what Starkad only did from proper pride; she knew not that on a high seat of honour the mind sometimes shines brighter than the raiment. The spirited old man obeyed, though vexed at the rebuff, and with marvellous self-control choked down the insult which his bravery so ill deserved; uttering at this disgrace he had received neither word nor groan. But he could not long bear to hide the bitterness of his anger in silence. Rising, and retreating to the furthest end of the palace, he flung his body against the walls; and strong as they were, he so battered them with the shock, that the beams quaked mightily; and he nearly brought the house down in a crash. Thus, stung not only with his rebuff, but with the shame of having poverty cast in his teeth, he unsheathed his wrath against the insulting speech of the queen with inexorable sternness.
Ingild, on his return from hunting, scanned him closely, and, when he noticed that he neither looked cheerfully about, nor paid him the respect of rising, saw by the sternness written on his brow that it was Starkad. For when he noted his hands horny with fighting, his scars in front, the force and fire of his eye, he perceived that a man whose body was seamed with so many traces of wounds had no weakling soul. He therefore rebuked his wife, and charged her roundly to put away her haughty tempers, and to soothe and soften with kind words and gentle offices the man she had reviled; to comfort him with food and drink, and refresh him with kindly converse; saying, that this man had been appointed his tutor by his father long ago, and had been a most tender guardian of his childhood. Then, learning too late the temper of the old man, she turned her harshness into gentleness, and respectfully waited on him whom she had rebuffed and railed at with bitter revilings. The angry hostess changed her part, and became the most fawning of flatterers. She wished to check his anger with her attentiveness; and her fault was the less, inasmuch as she was so quick in ministering to him after she had been chidden. But she paid dearly for it, for she presently beheld stained with the blood of her brethren the place where she had flouted and rebuffed the brave old man from his seat.
Now, in the evening, Ingild took his meal with the sons of Swerting, and fell to a magnificent feast, loading the tables with the profusest dishes. With friendly invitation he kept the old man back from leaving the revel too early; as though the delights of elaborate dainties could have undermined that staunch and sturdy virtue! But when Starkad had set eyes on these things, he scorned so wanton a use of them; and, not to give way a whit to foreign fashions, he steeled his appetite against these tempting delicacies with the self-restraint which was his greatest strength. He would not suffer his repute as a soldier to be impaired by the allurements of an orgy. For his valour loved thrift, and was a stranger to all superfluity of food, and averse to feasting in excess. For his was a courage which never at any moment had time to make luxury of aught account, and always forewent pleasure to pay due heed to virtue. So, when he saw that the antique character of self-restraint, and all good old customs, were being corrupted by new-fangled luxury and sumptuosity, he wished to be provided with a morsel fitter for a peasant, and scorned the costly and lavish feast.
Spurning profuse indulgence in food, Starkad took some smoky and rather rancid fare, appeasing his hunger with a bitter relish because more simply; and being unwilling to enfeeble his true valour with the tainted sweetness of sophisticated foreign dainties, or break the rule of antique plainness by such strange idolatries of the belly. He was also very wroth that they should go, to the extravagance of having the same meat both roasted and boiled at the same meal; for he considered an eatable which was steeped in the vapours of the kitchen, and which the skill of the cook rubbed over with many kinds of flavours, in the light of a monstrosity.
Unlike Starkad Ingild flung the example of his ancestors to the winds, and gave himself freer licence of innovation in the fashions of the table than the custom of his fathers allowed. For when he had once abandoned himself to the manners of Teutonland, he did not blush to yield to its unmanly wantonness. No slight incentives to debauchery have flowed down our country’s throat from that sink of a land. Hence came magnificent dishes, sumptuous kitchens, the base service of cooks, and all sorts of abominable sausages. Hence came our adoption, wandering from the ways of our fathers, of a more dissolute dress. Thus our country, which cherished self-restraint as its native quality, has gone begging to our neighbours for luxury; whose allurements so charmed Ingild, that he did not think it shameful to requite wrongs with kindness; nor did the grievous murder of his father make him heave one sigh of bitterness when it crossed his mind.
But the queen would not depart without effecting her purpose. Thinking that presents would be the best way to banish the old man’s anger, she took off her own head a band of marvellous handiwork, and put it in his lap as he supped: desiring to buy his favour since she could not blunt his courage. But Starkad, whose bitter resentment was not yet abated, flung it back in the face of the giver, thinking that in such a gift there was more scorn than respect. And he was wise not to put this strange ornament of female dress upon the head that was all bescarred and used to the helmet; for he knew that the locks of a man ought not to wear a woman’s head-band. Thus he avenged slight with slight, and repaid with retorted scorn the disdain he had received; thereby bearing himself well-nigh as nobly in avenging his disgrace as he had borne himself in enduring it.
To the soul of Starkad reverence for Frode was grappled with hooks of love. Drawn to him by deeds of bounty, countless kindnesses, he could not be wheedled into giving up his purpose of revenge by any sort of alluring complaisance. Even now, when Frode was no more, he was eager to pay the gratitude due to his benefits, and to requite the kindness of the dead, whose loving disposition and generous friendship he had experienced while he lived. For he bore graven so deeply in his heart the grievous picture of Frode’s murder, that his honour for that most famous captain could never be plucked from the inmost chamber of his soul; and therefore he did not hesitate to rank his ancient friendship before the present kindness. Besides, when he recalled the previous affront, he could not thank the complaisance that followed; he could not put aside the disgraceful wound to his self-respect. For the memory of benefits or injuries ever sticks more firmly in the minds of brave men than in those of weaklings. For he had not the habits of those who follow their friends in prosperity and quit them in adversity, who pay more regard to fortune than to looks, and sit closer to their own gain than to charity toward others.
But the woman held to her purpose, seeing that even so she could not win the old man to convivial mirth. Continuing with yet more lavish courtesy her efforts to soothe him, and to heap more honours on the guest, she bade a piper strike up, and started music to melt his unbending rage. For she wanted to unnerve his stubborn nature by means of cunning sounds. But the cajolery of pipe or string was just as powerless to enfeeble that dogged warrior. When he heard it, he felt that the respect paid him savoured more of pretence than of love. Hence the crestfallen performer seemed to be playing to a statue rather than a man, and learnt that it is vain for buffoons to assail with, their tricks a settled and weighty sternness, and that a mighty mass cannot be shaken with the idle puffing of the lips. For Starkad had set his face so firmly in his stubborn wrath, that he seemed not a whit easier to move than ever. For the inflexibility which he owed his vows was not softened either by the strain of the lute or the enticements of the palate; and he thought that more respect should be paid to his strenuous and manly purpose than to the tickling of the ears or the lures of the feast. Accordingly he flung the bone, which he had stripped in eating the meat, in the face of the harlequin, and drove the wind violently out of his puffed cheeks, so that they collapsed. By this he showed how his austerity loathed the clatter of the stage; for his ears were stopped with anger and open to no influence of delight. This reward, befitting an actor, punished an unseemly performance with a shameful wage. For Starkad excellently judged the man’s deserts, and bestowed a shankbone for the piper to pipe on, requiting his soft service with a hard fee. None could say whether the actor piped or wept the louder; he showed by his bitter flood of tears how little place bravery has in the breasts of the dissolute. For the fellow was a mere minion of pleasure, and had never learnt to bear the assaults of calamity. This man’s hurt was ominous of the carnage that was to follow at the feast. Right well did Starkad’s spirit, heedful of sternness, hold with stubborn gravity to steadfast revenge; for he was as much disgusted at the lute as others were delighted, and repaid the unwelcome service by insultingly flinging a bone; thus avowing that he owed a greater debt to the glorious dust of his mighty friend than to his shameless and infamous ward.
But when Starkad saw that the slayers of Frode were in high favour with the king, his stern glances expressed the mighty wrath which he harboured, and his face betrayed what he felt. The visible fury of his gaze betokened the secret tempest in his heart. At last, when Ingild tried to appease him with royal fare, he spurned the dainty. Satisfied with cheap and common food, he utterly spurned outlandish delicacies; he was used to plain diet, and would not pamper his palate with any delightful flavour. When he was asked why he had refused the generous attention of the king with such a clouded brow, he said that he had come to Denmark to find the son of Frode, not a man who crammed his proud and gluttonous stomach with rich elaborate feasts. For the Teuton extravagance which the king favoured had led him, in his longing for the pleasures of abundance, to set to the fire again, for roasting, dishes which had been already boiled. Thereupon he could not forbear from attacking Ingild’s character, but poured out the whole bitterness of his reproaches on his head. He condemned his unfilial spirit, because he gaped with repletion and vented his squeamishness in filthy hawkings; because, following the lures of the Saxons, he strayed and departed far from soberness; because he was so lacking in manhood as not to pursue even the faintest shadow of it. But, declared Starkad, he bore the heaviest load of infamy, because, even when he first began to see service, he forgot to avenge his father, to whose butchers, forsaking the law of nature, he was kind and attentive. Men whose deserts were most vile he welcomed with loving affection; and not only did he let those go scot-free, whom he should have punished most sharply, but he even judged them fit persons to live with and entertain at his table, whereas he should rather have put them to death. Hereupon Starkad is also said to have sung as follows:
“Let the unwarlike youth yield to the aged, let him honour all the years of him that is old. When a man is brave, let none reproach the number of his days.
“Though the hair of the ancient whiten with age, their valour stays still the same; nor shall the lapse of time have power to weaken their manly heart.
“I am elbowed away by the offensive guest, who taints with vice his outward show of goodness, whilst he is the slave of his belly and prefers his daily dainties to anything.
“When I was counted as a comrade of Frode, I ever sat in the midst of warriors on a high seat in the hall, and I was the first of the princes to take my meal.
“Now, the lot of a nobler age is reversed; I am shut in a corner, I am like the fish that seeks shelter as it wanders to and fro hidden in the waters.
“I, who used surely in the former age to lie back on a couch handsomely spread, am now thrust among the hindmost and driven from the crowded hall.
“Perchance I had been driven on my back at the doors, had not the wall struck my side and turned me back, and had not the beam, in the way made it hard for me to fly when I was thrust forth.
“I am baited with the jeers of the court-folk; I am not received as a guest should be; I am girded at with harsh gibing, and stung with babbling taunts.
“I am a stranger, and would gladly know what news are spread abroad by busy rumour; what is the course of events; what the order of the land; what is doing in your country.
“Thou, Ingild, buried in sin, why dost thou tarry in the task of avenging thy father? Wilt thou think tranquilly of the slaughter of thy righteous sire?
“Why dost thou, sluggard, think only of feasting, and lean thy belly back in ease, more effeminate than harlots? Is the avenging of thy slaughtered father a little thing to thee?
“When last I left thee, Frode, I learned by my prophetic soul that thou, mightiest of kings, wouldst surely perish by the sword of enemies.
“And while I travelled long in the land, a warning groan rose in my soul, which augured that thereafter I was never to see thee more.
“Wo is me, that then I was far away, harrying the farthest peoples of the earth, when the traitorous guest aimed craftily at the throat of his king.
“Else I would either have shown myself the avenger of my lord, or have shared his fate and fallen where he fell, and would joyfully have followed the blessed king in one and the same death.
“I have not come to indulge in gluttonous feasting, the sin whereof I will strive to chastise; nor will I take mine ease, nor the delights of the fat belly.
“No famous king has ever set me before in the middle by the strangers. I have been wont to sit in the highest seats among friends.
“I have come from Sweden, travelling over wide lands, thinking that I should be rewarded, if only I had the joy to find the son of my beloved Frode.
“But I sought a brave man, and I have come to a glutton, a king who is the slave of his belly and of vice, whose liking has been turned back towards wantonness by filthy pleasure.
“Famous is the speech men think that Halfdan spoke: he warned us it would soon come to pass that an understanding father should beget a witless son.
“Though the heir be deemed degenerate, I will not suffer the wealth of mighty Frode to profit strangers or to be made public like plunder.”
At these words the queen trembled, and she took from her head the ribbon with which she happened, in woman’s fashion, to be adorning her hair, and proffered it to the enraged old man, as though she could avert his anger with a gift. Starkad in anger flung it back most ignominiously in the face of the giver, and began again in a loud voice:
“Take hence, I pray thee, thy woman’s gift, and set back thy headgear on thy head; no brave man assumes the chaplets that befit Love only.
“For it is amiss that the hair of men that are ready for battle should be bound back with wreathed gold; such attire is right for the throngs of the soft and effeminate.
“But take this gift to thy husband, who loves luxury, whose finger itches, while he turns over the rump and handles the flesh of the bird roasted brown.
“The flighty and skittish wife of Ingild longs to observe the fashions of the Teutons; she prepares the orgy and makes ready the artificial dainties.
“For she tickles the palate with a new-fangled feast; she pursues the zest of an unknown flavour, raging to load all the tables with dishes yet more richly than before.
“She gives her lord wine to drink in bowls, pondering all things with zealous preparation; she bids the cooked meats be roasted, and intends them for a second fire.
“Wantonly she feeds her husband like a hog; a shameless whore, trusting [her charming buttocks to admit and satisfy his manhood in a crime of lust.] 2
“She roasts the boiled, and recooks the roasted meats, planning the meal with spendthrift extravagance, careless of right and wrong, practising sin, a foul woman.
“Wanton in arrogance, a soldier of Love, longing for dainties, she abjures the fair ways of self-control, and also provides devices for gluttony.
“With craving stomach she desires turnip strained in a smooth pan, cakes with thin juice, and shellfish in rows.
“I do not remember the Great Frode putting his hand to the sinews of birds, or tearing the rump of a cooked fowl with crooked thumb.
“What former king could have been so gluttonous as to stir the stinking filthy flesh, or rummage in the foul back of a bird with plucking fingers?
“The food of valiant men is raw; no need, methinks, of sumptuous tables for those whose stubborn souls are bent on warfare.
“It had been fitter for thee to have torn the stiff beard, biting hard with thy teeth, than greedily to have drained the bowl of milk with thy wide mouth.
“We fled from the offence of the sumptuous kitchen; we stayed our stomach with rancid fare; few in the old days loved cooked juices.
“A dish with no sauce of herbs gave us the flesh of rams and swine. We partook temperately, tainting nothing with bold excess.
“Thou who now lickest the milk-white fat, put on, prithee, the spirit of a man; remember Frode, and avenge thy father’s death.
“The worthless and cowardly heart shall perish, and shall not parry the thrust of death by flight, though it bury itself in a valley, or crouch in darkling dens.
“Once we were eleven princes, devoted followers of King Hakon, and here Geigad sat above Helge in the order of the meal.
“Geigad used to appease the first pangs of hunger with a dry rump of ham; and plenty of hard crust quelled the craving of his stomach.
“No one asked for a sickly morsel; all took their food in common; the meal of mighty men cost but slight display.
“The commons shunned foreign victual, and the greatest lusted not for a feast; even the king remembered to live temperately at little cost.
“Scorning to look at the mead, he drank the fermented juice of Ceres; he shrank not from the use of undercooked meats, and hated the roast.
“The board used to stand with slight display, a modest salt- cellar showed the measure of its cost; lest the wise ways of antiquity should in any wise be changed by foreign usage.
“Of old, no man put flagons or mixing-bowls on the tables; the steward filled the cup from the butt, and there was no abundance of adorned vessels.
“No one who honoured past ages put the smooth wine-jars beside the tankards, and of old no bedizened lackey heaped the platter with dainties.
“Nor did the vainglorious host deck the meal with little salt- shell or smooth cup; but all has been now abolished in shameful wise by the new-fangled manners.
“Who would ever have borne to take money in ransom for the death of a lost parent, or to have asked a foe for a gift to atone for the murder of a father?
“What strong heir or well-starred son would have sat side by side with such as these, letting a shameful bargain utterly unnerve the warrior?
“Wherefore, when the honours of kings are sung, and bards relate the victories of captains, I hide my face for shame in my mantle, sick at heart.
“For nothing shines in thy trophies, worthy to be recorded by the pen; no heir of Frode is named in the roll of the honourable.
“Why dost thou vex me with insolent gaze, thou who honourest the foe guilty of thy father’s blood, and art thought only to take thy vengeance with loaves and warm soup?
“When men speak well of the avengers of crimes, then long thou to lose thy quick power of hearing, that thy impious spirit may not be ashamed.
“For oft has the virtue of another vexed a heart that knows its guilt, and the malice in the breast is abashed by the fair report of the good.
“Though thou go to the East, or live sequestered in the countries of the West, or whether, driven thence, thou seek the midmost place of the earth;
“Whether thou revisit the cold quarter of the heaven where the pole is to be seen, and carries on the sphere with its swift spin, and looks down upon the neighbouring Bear;
“Shame shall accompany thee far, and shall smite thy countenance with heavy disgrace, when the united assembly of the great kings is taking pastime.
“Since everlasting dishonour awaits thee, thou canst not come amidst the ranks of the famous; and in every clime thou shalt pass thy days in infamy.
“The fates have given Frode an offspring born into the world when gods were adverse, whose desires have been enthralled by crime and ignoble lust.
“Even as in a ship all things foul gather to the filthy hollow of the bilge, even so hath a flood of vices poured into Ingild.
“Therefore, in terror of thy shame being published, thou shalt lie crushed in the corners of the land, sluggish on thy foul hearth, and never to be seen in the array of the famous.
“Then shalt thou shake thy beard at thine evil fate, kept down by the taunts of thy mistresses, when thy paramour galls thy ear with her querulous cries.
“Since chill fear retards thy soul, and thou dreadest to become the avenger of thy sire, thou art utterly degenerate, and thy ways are like a slave’s.
“It would have needed scant preparation to destroy thee; even as if a man should catch and cut the throat of a kid, or slit the weazand of a soft sheep and butcher it.
“Behold, a son of the tyrant Swerting shall take the inheritance of Denmark after thee; he whose slothful sister thou keepest in infamous union.
“Whilst thou delightest to honour thy bride, laden with gems and shining in gold apparel, we burn with all indignation that is linked with shame, lamenting thy infamies.
“When thou art stirred by furious lust, our mind is troubled, and recalls the fashion of ancient times, and bids us grieve sorely.
“For we rate otherwise than thou the crime of the foes whom now thou holdest in honour; wherefore the face of this age is a burden to me, remembering the ancient ways.
“I would crave no greater blessing, O Frode, if I might see those guilty of thy murder duly punished for such a crime.”
Now he prevailed so well by this stirring counsel, that his reproach served like a flint wherewith to strike a blazing flame of valour in the soul that had been chill and slack. For the king had at first heard the song inattentively; but, stirred by the earnest admonition of his guardian, he conceived in his heart a tardy fire of revenge; and, forgetting the reveller, he changed into the foeman. At last he leapt up from where he lay, and poured the whole flood of his anger on those at table with him; insomuch that he unsheathed his sword upon the sons of Swerting with bloody ruthlessness, and aimed with drawn blade at the throats of those whose gullets he had pampered with the pleasures of the table. These men he forthwith slew; and by so doing he drowned the holy rites of the table in blood. He sundered the feeble bond of their league, and exchanged a shameful revel for enormous cruelty; the host became the foe, and that vilest slave of excess the bloodthirsty agent of revenge. For the vigorous pleading of his counsellor bred a breath of courage in his soft and unmanly youth; it drew out his valour from its lurking-place, and renewed it, and so fashioned it that the authors of a most grievous murder were punished even as they deserved. For the young man’s valour had been not quenched, but only in exile, and the aid of an old man had drawn it out into the light; and it accomplished a deed which was all the greater for its tardiness; for it was somewhat nobler to steep the cups in blood than in wine. What a spirit, then, must we think that old man had, who by his eloquent adjuration expelled from that king’s mind its infinite sin, and who, bursting the bonds of iniquity, implanted a most effectual seed of virtue. Starkad aided the king with equal achievements; and not only showed the most complete courage in his own person, but summoned back that which had been rooted out of the heart of another. When the deed was done, he thus begun:
“King Ingild, farewell; thy heart, full of valour, hath now shown a deed of daring. The spirit that reigns in thy body is revealed by its fair beginning; nor did there lack deep counsel in thy heart, though thou wert silent till this hour; for thou dost redress by thy bravery what delay had lost, and redeemest the sloth of thy spirit by mighty valour. Come now, let us rout the rest, and let none escape the peril which all alike deserve. Let the crime come home to the culprit; let the sin return and crush its contriver.
“Let the servants take up in a car the bodies of the slain, and let the attendant quickly bear out the carcases. Justly shall they lack the last rites; they are unworthy to be covered with a mound; let no funeral procession or pyre suffer them the holy honour of a barrow; let them be scattered to rot in the fields, to be consumed by the beaks of birds; let them taint the country all about with their deadly corruption.
“Do thou too, king, if thou hast any wit, flee thy savage bride, lest the she-wolf bring forth a litter like herself, and a beast spring from thee that shall hurt its own father.
“Tell me, Rote, continual derider of cowards, thinkest thou that we have avenged Frode enough, when we have spent seven deaths on the vengeance of one? Lo, those are borne out dead who paid homage not to thy sway in deed, but only in show, and though obsequious they planned treachery. But I always cherished this hope, that noble fathers have noble offspring, who will follow in their character the lot which they received by their birth. Therefore, Ingild, better now than in time past dost thou deserve to be called lord of Leire and of Denmark.
“When, O King Hakon, I was a beardless youth, and followed thy leading and command in warfare, I hated luxury and wanton souls, and practiced only wars. Training body and mind together, I banished every unholy thing from my soul, and shunned the pleasures of the belly, loving deeds of prowess. For those that followed the calling of arms had rough clothing and common gear and short slumbers and scanty rest. Toil drove ease far away, and the time ran by at scanty cost. Not as with some men now, the light of whose reason is obscured by insatiate greed with its blind maw. Some one of these clad in a covering of curiously wrought raiment effeminately guides the fleet-footed (steed), and unknots his dishevelled locks, and lets his hair fly abroad loosely.
“He loves to plead often in the court, and to covet a base pittance, and with this pursuit he comforts his sluggish life, doing with venal tongue the business entrusted to him.
“He outrages the laws by force, he makes armed assault upon men’s rights, he tramples on the innocent, he feeds on the wealth of others, he practices debauchery and gluttony, he vexes good fellowship with biting jeers, and goes after harlots as a hoe after the grass.
“The coward falls when battles are lulled in peace. Though he who fears death lie in the heart of the valley, no mantlet shall shelter him. His final fate carries off every living man; doom is not to be averted by skulking. But I, who have shaken the whole world with my slaughters, shall I enjoy a peaceful death? Shall I be taken up to the stars in a quiet end? Shall I die in my bed without a wound?”
1 This is not in the Latin original I am using, but it is also present in the Danish translation. Source unidentified so far.
2 The last part of this line has been omitted from the translation, presumably out of modesty!
The Latin reads:
……. natibusque (fidens)
gratis admissum tolerare penem
I translate: “trusting her charming buttocks to admit and satisfy his manhood in a crime of lust.”