Margeson (1980, 18485) dismisses the identification of Sigurr and Gunnarr figures on1bracteates, brooches, picture stones, and other objects from the fifth to ninth centuries.
QUID SIGVARDUS CUM CHRISTO?MORAL INTERPRETATIONS OF SIGURR FFNISBANI
IN OLD NORSE LITERATURE
Elizabeth Ashman Rowe
As is well known, the legend of the Germanic hero Sigurr Ffnisbani hadits origin in Migration Age Europe, but its earliest extant manifestationsin Old Norse literature are much later. Unfortunately, many of theseworks were clearly copied into our manuscripts long after they were composed;the concept composition should therefore be understood subject to the contextand conditions of the oral traditions of pre-Christian Scandinavia. We cannot becertain either of the age of these works or the degree to which they have beenchanged in the course of transmission. Using them to establish a chronologicalframework for understanding changes in the use of the figure of Sigurr thus facesproblems from the outset. Although no arguments in support of a given date areincontrovertible, many are plausible enough to be used, with due caution, as thebasis for further analysis. With such caveats, scholarly consensus puts the earliestextant version of part of the Vo3 lsung legend to around 900, with the compositionof the eddic lay Atlakvia (Dronke 1969, 4245; Finch 1993a, 23a). In the thirdquarter of the tenth century this was followed by the skaldic encomium Eirksml(Marold 1993, 161a). In that work, Sigurrs father Sigmundr is the hero whowelcomes Eirkr to Valho3 ll and elicits inns reminder that heroes are neededthere in preparation for the last battle at Ragnaro3k. The tenth century is also whenSigurrs story begins to appear in Scandinavian and Scandinavian-influenced art.Like Eirksml, these artefacts are associated with death and the afterlife. To list1
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Margeson (1980, 18595) and Fuglesang (1993, 697b) provide discussions of iconographic2and dating issues. For further examples of carvings of Sigurr in England and Scandinavia, seeBlindheim (1973, 9) and Bailey (1980, 11622).
Blindheim (1965, 53) finds the legend of Sigurr as one of the background themes of the3decorations of a church doorway in Kragelund, Denmark, but in his later list of Sigurr decora-tions (Blindheim 1973, 9) this item is replaced by a Sigurr scene on the portal of a church inLsby, Denmark.
A closely related example is the fragment of a frieze from the Winchester Old Minster de-4picting the episode from the story of Sigurrs father in which he is about to free himself from thestocks by biting a wolfs tongue (Tweddle, Biddle, and Kjlby-Biddle 1995, no. 88). Most likelycarved between 1017 and 1035, this sculpture has been interpreted as celebrating the traditional
the most notable examples, we find Sigurr carved not only on four paganmemorial stones in Sweden (in the late Viking-Age Ringerike style) but also onfour crosses from the Isle of Man and one from northern England (ranging in datefrom the second half of the tenth century to the early eleventh century). Sigurr2
continued to be a suitable subject in certain Christian contexts, for series of scenesfrom his story decorate the portals of five Norwegian stave churches from thetwelfth and thirteenth centuries, and individual scenes are found on Norwegianchurch sites such as door-jambs, capitals, fonts, chairs, and benches from the sameperiod (Margeson 1980, 196207; Hohler 1999, 10203).3
Just how to interpret the appearance in Christian religious contexts of a figurefrom pagan legend is a matter of controversy. With respect to the Manx crosses,Wilson (1967, 40) considers the images of Sigurr not particularly pagan,undoubtedly secular, and having obvious parallelisms with certain parts of theGospels and with the whole Christian philosophy of evil. Bailey (1980, 125) seesthe operation of typology: Sigurrs slaying of the dragon foreshadows Christsvictory over Satan, and his tasting the dragons heart, which gives him the abilityto understand the language of birds, foreshadows the Eucharist, in which flesh iseaten and blood is drunk. The bird in the image is an antetype of the dove sym-bolizing the Holy Spirit, and Sigurrs understanding of the language of birdsforeshadows a new spiritual understanding. Although agreeing that the Manxcrosses are Christian, Margeson (1983, 10405 and 1993, 406ab) emphasizesthe social function of the images from pre-Christian and therefore at least asso-ciatively pagan myth and legend in her suggestion that they were intended toenhance or celebrate the memory of the dead by implying a parallel between thegreatness of the gods and heroes depicted and the greatness of the deceased, whomay even have counted them among his or her ancestors. With respect to the4
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history of England and Denmark, a history symbolically united in the marriage of Cnut andAelfgifu-Emma, widow of Aethelred II, in 1017 (1995, 321), as the royal houses of Wessex andDenmark claimed descent from the same ancestor, Scyld, and thus shared a tradition in whichSigmund had played a part (1995, 318). This sculpture resembles the Manx crosses of the samedate in that not only could there have been a genealogical connection with the person(s) itcelebrates, but it, too, is a kind of burial monument, for it came from the part of the Old Minsterin which the kings (including Cnut) were laid to rest. I am indebted to John McKinnell forbringing this example to my attention.
For more recent scholarship on the Gosforth Cross, see Bailey (1980), Bailey and Cramp5(1988), and Hines (1989).
Not all scholars agree on this point. For example, Hohler (1999, 23) rejects the idea that6there is any particular Christian content in the stave-church images of Sigurr.
Northumbrian carvings, Berg (1958) argued that the Gosforth cross shows areconciliation between Christian and pagan beliefs, with Christian teachers usingcertain Norse religious legends, particularly Ragnaro3k, as a means of demonstrat-ing the fall of the pagan gods and the rebirth of the world through Christs deathon the cross and his defeat of the devil. Other scholars perceiving a fusion of5
Christian and pagan Scandinavian cultures interpret the imagery differently.Smyth (1979, 271) sees a fundamental contradiction in the use of the figure ofSigurr in Christian contexts, as his connection with the cult of inn makes hislegend alien to Christian sentiment, but Bailey (1985, 6061) and Hadley (1996,117) invoke Wormalds argument (1978) that ecclesiastical culture itself hadbecome somewhat secularized with aristocratic and heroic values, and they arguethat the so-called pagan elements in the iconography of the sculpture are moresuitably described as secular. It is of course unlikely that the image of Sigurrserved the same function in all times and places. For example, its deploymentaround church doors was probably due to his having slain the dragon Ffnir.Because the devil and demons could manifest themselves as dragons and serpents,and because these evil beings were believed to be drawn to church entrances inorder to prey on worshippers, the doors were often decorated with images ofdragon-killers such as St George and the Archangel Michael in order to ward offevil spirits (Karlsson 1993, 325b).6
Art historians have quite rightly used contemporary Old Norse poetry andprose in their analysis of these images (e.g. Margeson 1980 and 1988), but theyhave been satisfied with a relatively limited selection of the literary aspects of thisphenomenon, and these are what I wish to pursue here. For one thing, given thepopularity of Sigurr in Christian decorative programs of the Viking Age and theMiddle Ages in the British Isles and Scandinavia, we would expect him to appear
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The eighth excerpt from Styrmir Krasons saga of St lfr tells how the King asked one of7his sklds to compose a verse about the subject of a textile (tjald) that is apparently displayed inthe room. The poet sees that it shows Sigurrs defeat of Ffnir and comes up with a suitable verse(Gubrandur Vigfsson and Unger 186068, III, 244).
Margeson (1980, 208) suggests that the use of motifs found in literature only in Vo3lsunga8saga to decorate Norwegian churches adds weight to the idea that the saga was composed inNorway, but this view has not found wide acceptance (for example Finch 1993b, 711a).
just as frequently in the literature of those times and places, and for another, wewould expect his literary function(s) to parallel the artistic ones. As I will argue,the first assumption appears to be correct, but the second assumption is not.
Noting that the image of Sigurr survives in relatively few non-religiouscontexts, Margeson (1980, 210) attributes this imbalance to the accidents ofpreservation and destruction, and she uses a saga reference to a tapestry depictingthe slaying of Ffnir as evidence that Sigurr was probably a popular subject forthe decoration of secular objects as well as Christian ones. Her conclusion is7
supported by the more balanced distribution seen in Old Norse literature. Inaddition to the skaldic and eddic poems dealing with the Vo3 lsungNiflungmaterial, Sigurr is found in a number of prose texts. These can be grouped intofour categories. The first is narrative, and interestingly there is only one text thattells Sigurrs story: Vo3lsunga saga, composed around 126070 (Finch 1965,xxxvixxxviii). The second category of texts is satirical, and again there is only8
one example: Sneglu-Halla ttr, written down around 1200 (Danielsson 1993,599b), tells of an Icelandic poet at the court of King Haraldr harri who isrequested to compose a verse about a blacksmith and a tanner who are quarrellingloudly. The King stipulates that the two coarse men must be recast as the heroicopponents Sigurr and Ffnir, and yet their actual occupations must be clear. Theresult is what Northrup Frye would call a descent through the modes, with thetrue identity of the noble hero Sigurr revealed to be a brawling blacksmith. Thethird category of texts is genealogical: Flamanna saga, Fstbrra saga, Njls saga,lfs saga Tryggvasonar en mesta, and the Flateyjarbk genealogies of KingHaraldr hrfagri and King Sverrir Sigurarson include Sigurr among the ances-tors of both Icelanders and Norwegian kings. These genealogies should not beconsidered as accurate records of actual lineages; instead, they were deployed inaccordance with the authors thematic programs, as will be discussed below. Thefourth category of texts is moral or ethical: Raus ttr, Norna-Gests ttr,orsteins ttr skelks, and ch. 328 of the expanded lfs saga helga position Sigurrin some relation to Christianity, and it is these texts that will be considered first.
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But cf. Widding (1968), who argues for a date closer to 1300.9
Moral and Ethical Texts
Unlike the escapist nature of much modern entertainment, medieval storytellingwas often an art with real-life references and applications (Astell 1999, 41). Theseapplications included behaviour in its ethical, moral, or religious sense, formedieval reading was above all an ethical activity. In the words of John Dagenais(1994, xvii):
Where we tend to see our texts as webs of language, medieval readers saw a world of hu-man action for good or ill co-extensive with their own. Texts were acts of demonstrativerhetoric that reached out and grabbed the reader, involved him or her in praise and blame,in judgments about effective and ineffective human behavior. They engaged the reader,not so much in the unravelling of meaning as in a series of ethical meditations and of per-sonal ethical choices. They required the reader to take a stand about what he or she read.
The entertaining tales that mention Sigurr were very likely meant to engage theiraudiences just in this way, for they take care to present him within some ethicalperspective (e.g. as the embodiment of the noblest or most heroic qualities) ormoral framework (e.g. to show the degree to which pagan heroism can be praisedby Christians). These framing perspectives are mirrored by the narratives textualenvironments, for all four are themselves found within larger narratives, the sagasof the missionary kings lfr Tryggvason and St lfr of Norway.
Raus ttr (also called Raulfs ttr) is found in a number of redactions of lfssaga helga (Turville-Petre 1947, 4, n. 3), but it originally was an independentcomposition from around 1200. Sigurr appears in a dream that King lfr has9
while he is visiting a Norwegian wise man named Raur (or Raulfr). The dreamwas of a figure whose different parts were made of different substances, and Raurexplains that the parts represent the sequence of the Kings of Norway, startingwith the golden head, which represents lfrs own rule. The third reign afterlfrs, which the ttr audience knows is that of Haraldr harri, is representedby the iron girdle around the figures middle. The girdle is decorated with eventsfrom the sagas of Sigurr Ffnisbani and Haraldr hildito3nn and also with some ofthe deeds of Haraldr hrfagri. Raur explains that the King represented by thegirdle
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Rau tells King lfr: Su gor var f me brogum ui goum hagleik. at ui er er10syndz sum ristn eptir fornum sgum. er syndz ar a saga Sigurar Fafns bana. ok Harallz hilldetannar (Johnsen and Jn Helgason 1941, II, 676) (That girdle was painted with craft, with goodskill, insofar as it appeared to you partly carved according to old sagas. On it there the saga ofSigurr Ffnisbani appeared to you, and [the saga] of Haraldr hildito3nn).
The author of Vo3lsunga saga does not explicitly say that Sigurr is worthy of imitation, but11he is emphatic about his being the best man in Scandinavia: at er nu sagt, at Hiordis fdirsveinbarn, ok er sveinninn frdr Hialpreki konungi. Konungrinn vard gladr vid, er hann sa auinn haussu augu, er hann bar i haufde, ok sagde hann aungum mundu likan verda eda samiafnan,ok var hann vattne aussinn med Sigurdar nafne. Fra honum segia allir eitt, at um athferd ok voxtvar engi hans maki. Hann var ar fddr med Hialpreki konungi af mikilli ast. Ok a er nefndir eruallir enir agztu menn ok konungar i fornnusaughum, a skal Sigurdr fyrir ganga um afl okatgiorfe, kapp ok hreyste, er hann hefir haft um hvern mann fram annara i nordralfu heimsins(Olsen 190608, 31) (It is now said that Hjo3rds gave birth to a boy child, and the boy wasbrought to King Hjlprekr. The king was pleased when he saw the sharp eyes that he had in hishead, and he said that none would be like or equal him, and he was sprinkled with water and giventhe name Sigurr. About him all say one thing: that in respect to conduct and size, no one was his
man fremea strbravg av er monnum muno icka stormannleg ok utrleg. ok haglgme sinne framquem. Enn er er voro ar a synd storuirke enna agtozsto hfinga.konunga ok annarra enna uitrzsto manna. at man hann allt syna me sealfum ser okeptir eirra lkng man hann fremaz. ( Johnsen and Jn Helgason 1941, II, 67677)
(will achieve great exploits, those that people will think princely and wise and skillfully[conducted] with his prowess. And when the great deeds of the most excellent chieftains,kings, and others of the wisest of men were in your sight, [it signified that] all that [i.e. allthose qualities] he will show in his own person, and he will advance himself by imitationof them [i.e. those men]).
Here we have Sigurr presented for King lfrs (and the audiences) ethical con-sideration as one of three admirable kings and chieftains. The ttr author mayhave gotten the idea for linking Sigurr and Haraldr hrfagri from a skaldic poemin Haraldrs honour composed by the eleventh-century Icelandic skld IllugiBryndlaskld, in which the poet honours Haraldr by comparing his deeds tothose of Sigurr (Skj, AI, 384; Fuglesang 1993, 697b). In Raus ttr, however, therelationship is a different one: Haraldr will achieve great exploits because hemodels himself on Sigurr, thus demonstrating his own process of ethicalengagement. Furthermore, the ttr authors description of the girdle as decoratedwith events from the sagas of Sigurr Ffnisbani and Haraldr hildito3nn implies apositive evaluation of a text that I dismissed as merely narrative. That is, the10
ttr author is saying that Vo3lsunga saga, far from being empty entertainment,instead presents a hero whom men of power would do well to imitate. Norna-11
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match. With great love, he was brought up there with King Hjlprekr. And when all the excellentmen and kings in the old sagas are named, then Sigurr will lead them all in strength and accom-plishments, zeal and valour, which he had over any other man in the northern half of the world).
Ek var ok med Hlo3dvi keisara a Saxland ok ar var ek primsgndr viat ek matta eigi ar12vera ella. viat ar var kristni vel halldin ok ar otti mer at o3 llv bezt (lafur Halldrsson 2000,35) (I was also with Emperor Clovis in Saxony, and I was primesigned there because I might notstay there otherwise, because Christianity was held well there, and there I thought it best overall).
Gests ttr will also present Sigurr as the very model of a prince, but rather thanputting him side by side with other figures of excellence, it will contrast him witha warrior whose example is to be avoided.
Norna-Gests ttr, probably written early in the fourteenth century (Wrth 1993,435b), occurs only as a dependent text that is interpolated into the D redactionof lfs saga Tryggvasonar en mesta (AM 62 fol and Flateyjarbk (GKS 1005 fol)).Its hero, Gestr, has lived a lifespan three times that of a normal man, and at theend of his life he comes to the court of King lfr Tryggvason to be baptized anddie. Before that, he entertains the King and his men with accounts of the legend-ary kings and heroes including Sigurr whom he has served. Chapters 410contain a variety of materials from the Vo3 lsung legend, as Gestr displays a goldbuckle from Sigurrs saddle that Sigurr gave him and a lock of hair seven ellslong from the tail of Sigurrs horse. Gestr also describes some of Sigurrs ad-ventures and recites the eddic lay Helrei Brynhildar. A number of ethical judge-ments emerge from this ttr. At the beginning of his recitation, Gestr says thatvar monnvm at eigi o kvnnigt at Sigvrdr hefir vert gofgaztr allra herkonvnga okbezt at ser j hednum sid (lafur Halldrsson 2000, 21) (it was not unknown tomen that Sigurr had been the noblest of all war-kings and the best man ofheathen times). This judgement is echoed at the end, when Gestr ranks Sigurrsretinue as the one he enjoyed the most, until he came to the Christian court ofEmperor Clovis. The validity of Gestrs evaluation is vouched for by the King12
himself: ott konvngi ok mark at so3 gvm hans. ok ott sannaz vm lifdaga hanssva sem hann sagd (lafur Halldrsson 2000, 38) (the King also thought his [i.e.Gestrs] stories significant. And he thought [the accounts] of his life most true,just as he said).
Medieval historians did not seem to have thought that the Old Dispensationwas populated solely by virtuous pagans; rather, this period was often viewed with
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Starkar is known as the son of Strvirkr in other texts, but the manuscripts of Norna-Gests13ttr have his patronymic as rvirksson (lafur Halldrsson 2000, 2829).
According to chapter 7 of Gautreks saga, Starkar is judged by the gods while he is a retainer14of King Vikar. rr ordains that Starkar will have no children and that his line will end with him.inn in turn gives him three lifespans, but rr retorts he shall commit a villainous deed in eachlife. inn gives him the best weapons and clothing, but rr says he shall have neither land norfiefs. inn gives him wealth, but rr says that he shall never think he has enough. inn giveshim victory and prowess in every battle, but rr says that he shall be gravely wounded each time.inn gives him the gift of poetry, and rr says he shall not remember what he composes. innsays that he shall be most highly thought of by the noblest of people, and rr counters that heshall be loathed by ordinary people (Guni Jnsson 1950, 2930).
Gestr refers explicitly to Sigurrs beauty and manly spirit: mikt agt [. . .] for fra Sigvrdi15Sigmvndar syni vm vnleik hans ok roska (lafur Halldrsson 2000, 21) (much renown circu-lated about Sigurr Sigmundarson regarding his beauty and vigour). The idea that men of oldwere physically larger than their descendants may be derived from the Bible (e.g. Gen. 6. 4: Nowgiants were upon the earth in those days). Chapter 37 of Hrlfs saga Gautrekssonar explains that[u]ndrist menn eigi, at menn hafi verit fyrr gtari at vexti ok afli en n. Hefir at satt verit,at eir hafa skammt tt at telja til risanna sinnar ttar. N jafnast mannflkit, er blandast ttirnar(Guni Jnsson 1950, 176) (People should not wonder that men were previously more excellentin growth and strength than now. It was true that they had few generations to reckon in theirgenealogies until they got back to giants. Now people are becoming more equal [i.e. in size], whenthe lineages are being mixed).
ambiguity and depicted in such a way as to show the happy necessity of the con-version. To this end, Sigurrs virtues are emphasized by being contrasted with theshortcomings of another well-known hero of legend, Starkar Strvirksson, whois shown (if the pun may be forgiven) to have no redeeming features. Like Gestr,13
Starkar received both good and bad supernatural gifts. Also like Gestr, Starkar14
was fated to live for three lifespans, but his curse was that he was to commit an evildeed in each lifetime. Something of a tragic hero in Gautreks saga, another versionof his legend, here he functions simply as Sigurrs opposite. Both warriors aremarvellously large and strong, but where Sigurr is beautiful, Starkar is describedas monstrous: hann var likari o3 tnvm en mo3nnvm (lafur Halldrsson 2000, 28)(he was more like giants than men). Where Sigurr is courageous, Starkar flees15
from Sigurr on the battlefield after he learns his identity. Last but not least,where Sigurr is a faithful retainer and loyal brother-in-law he meets Starkarwhile aiding his brothers-in-law against foreign attackers Starkar is a regicide:Litlv sidar heyrdv ver nidings verk Starkadar. er hann drap Armod konvng j lavgv(lafur Halldrsson 2000, 28) (A little later we heard about a dastardly deed ofStarkars, when he killed King rmr in his bath). Sigurr is also contrasted
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Kaplan (2004, 100) offers another interpretation of Starkars tooth: The tooth, even16though it is a part of Starkas body, is emblematic of Sigurs strength and heroism.
with Starkar by means of Gestrs souvenirs. Sigurrs tokens the gold saddlebuckle and the lock of horse hair are symbols of chivalry as well as of Sigurrsextraordinary size and extraordinary generosity (in giving Gestr the very finebuckle). But the token of Starkar is one of his molars, which Sigurr knocks outwith a single blow of his sword when Starkar flees from him. This symbol of grossphysicality is said to weigh seven ounces, but it has been converted to a goodChristian purpose, for sa hafdr nv j klockv streng j Lvnd j Danmork [. . .] ckirmo3nnvm forvtn at sa hann ar (lafur Halldrsson 2000, 29) (it is now usedon a bell-rope at Lund in Denmark [. . .] and people think it a curiosity to see itthere). Norna-Gests ttr thus presents Sigurr in ethical terms as a paragon of16
noble virtues and in religious terms as a heathen who can yet be admired by aChristian king and his men. This admiration does have its limits, as we learn whenGestr finishes his comparison of the various heathen heroes he served by sayingthat the Christian court of Emperor Clovis was the best of all.
In contrast to my argument here, Margeson (1980, 21011) does not see arigid moral framework constructed around the figure of Sigurr; in her view,Norna-Gests ttr deploys him for
enjoyment as opposed to moral fervour. After hearing of the deeds of Sigurr, the Kingsfollowers enjoy the story of Brynhildrs journey to Hel and her abode. When they ask formore, the King stops Gestrs tale and asks him to tell of Ragnarr Lobrk instead. It istheir enjoyment which apparently provokes the Kings rebuke but if the episode wasintended to present the stern image of the missionary king, his reaction is extremely casualand does not carry any moral weight. In fact a moment before, caught up in the storyhimself, the King asked how Sigurr died.
With respect to the existence of a moral framework, I believe Margeson to be mis-taken. The double comparison of Sigurr and Starkar and Sigurr and EmperorClovis contrasting a virtuous pagan warrior and an evil pagan warrior and avirtuous pagan prince and a virtuous Christian prince must be a structuredeliberately created by the ttr author, for neither Starkar nor Clovis appear inthe Vo3 lsung legend. Indeed, as Bergur orgeirsson (2000) has shown, the authorof Norna-Gests ttr has improved Sigurrs character from what is found inReginsml by shifting some of Sigurrs bloodthirstier inclinations to Reginn.With respect to the enjoyment of the story, Margeson rightly identifies its pres-ence, but I believe that she ignores its implications, for the dangers posed to Chris-tians by enjoying pagan legends and admiring heathen heroes are dwelt on over
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and over again in lfs saga Tryggvasonar en mesta and the expanded lfs sagahelga (Rowe 2004 and 2005a, 19296). King lfrs inquiry about Sigurrs deathis not a digression; it is a relevant and morally edifying part of the story, for thetreachery of Sigurrs brothers-in-law is another example of the evils of heathen-ism, the kinship equivalent of Starkars foul regicide. Moreover, lfrs reactionis not extremely casual. With the firm statement it is not necessary to say moreabout such things (eigi er navdsyn at segia flera fra slikvm hlvtvm: lafur Hall-drsson 2000, 34), the King puts a stop to his mens unhealthy interest in ogressesand headstrong valkyries. He then turns the discourse back to moral issues byasking about the sons of Lobrk, which results in an exemplum about the literaland metaphorical limits of pagan heroism (Rowe forthcoming). The point ofincluding Helrei Brynhildar and the retainers reaction to it is to illustrate thedifference between the moral and immoral uses of pagan legend. Just as Rausttr modelled one ethical activity by describing how Haraldr harri benefitedfrom imitating the great kings of the past, Norna-Gests ttr models another,namely the conscious choice that an individual has to make to seek the beneficialstory and reject the harmful one.
What the ttr author may not have been conscious of was his own surrenderto the salacious pleasures of a poem about a confrontation between two supernaturalfemales, for he did not have to include so much of Helrei Brynhildar to make hispoint, but yet he did. Norna-Gests ttrs moral authority is further underminedby the fact that it is a fiction. The figure of the holy missionary king lfr Trygg-vason appears as the guarantor of the ttrs moral correctness, but of course hiswords of praise and condemnation are not authentic at all but have been suppliedby the considerably less holy author. Indeed, Gestrs life story is also patently aninvention constructed as a mechanism for eliciting the Kings judgement of thepagan heroes, so lfrs verdict that Gestrs account is most true is actuallydoubly false, for Gestrs account and lfrs opinion of it are both pure fiction.
Norna-Gests ttrs ethical and religious program includes the presentation ofthe reprehensible aspects of the heathen age as well as its admirable ones. The dan-gers of listening to pagan legend are indicated by King lfrs halting Gestrsrecitation of the Vo3 lsung legend, but the primary symbol of the evils of paganismis the monstrous, cowardly, treacherous Starkar. His juxtaposition with Sigurr,which sets forth the best and worst of the heathen age, is continued in other texts.Souvenirs of the two are remarked upon in the notice for the year 1405 in the so-called Justiciars Annal (Lo3gmannsannll), which mentions that the Icelanderrni lfsson visited a place called Affrica, where he saw not only the shirt of theVirgin Mary, the swaddling-clothes of Jesus, and the cloak and belt of John the
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It is not clear which Affrica is meant. Just before this, rni is said to be where a peniten-17ciarius is established for all Norse people, and a post-medieval copy of this notice states that he wasin Norway (Eirkur ormsson and Gurn sa Grmsdttir 2003, 186). In any case, Lo3g-mannsannll is notable among the medieval Icelandic annals for its historicization of legendaryheroes. In addition to the references to Sigurr and Starkar in the notice for 1405, which wascomposed by a later continuer of the annal, the oldest portion of the annal (compiled by theIcelandic cleric Einar Hafliason around 1367) contains notices about the legendary war-kingRagnarr lobrk (Rowe forthcoming).
Mitchell (1991, 136) asserts that the information about Starkars tooth was added in18another hand, but according to the editor of the annals, this information is added in the samehand as the notice (Storm 1888, 288).
See Rowe (2003) for an argument that Norna-Gests ttr should be excluded from the19corpus of fornaldarsgur.
Baptist, but also Starkars tooth and the hilt of Sigurrs sword (Storm 1888,288). Sigurrs token here combines the qualities of his tokens in Norna-Gests17
ttr; like the gold saddle buckle, the sword hilt is a symbol of chivalry, and likethe seven ells of horse hair, it demonstrates Sigurrs superhuman size, for rniis told that the sword it belonged to was ten feet long. Mitchell (1991, 136) arguesthat it is highly unlikely that the scribes [sic] who added these touches to theannals believed in the existence of such items, but their placement on a par withthe relics of John the Baptist and the Virgin Mary certainly underscores the im-portant place the fornaldarso3gur must have held in Icelandic consciousness. But18
as we will see from the genealogical texts, Icelanders did believe in the historicalexistence of Sigurr (and of Starkar), and therefore it seems highly likely that theannalist also believed in the existence of such items. Mitchells conclusion aboutthe importance of the fornaldarsgur is, however, correct, if we understand it tomean the importance of the heroes presented by these texts. Like Norna-Gests19
ttr, the annal entry offers a double comparison, between Sigurr and Starkaron the one hand and between the pagan heroes and the central figures of Chris-tianity on the other. But where both ttr and annal entry imply a differencebetween Sigurr and Starkar by means of their tokens, the annal entry parts com-pany with the ttr in implying no difference between Sigurr and the saints.
orsteins ttr skelks
Sigurr and Starkar are also contrasted in another embedded ttr, orsteinsttr skelks, which is dated to around 1300 (Finnur Jnsson 192023, II, 75253).
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It is found only in the Flateyjarbk redaction of lfs saga Tryggvasonar, where itis inserted just before iranda ttr ok orhalls, an earlier interpolation intolfs saga Tryggvasonar en mesta. Jn rarson, the editor-scribe of theFlateyjarbk lfs saga, may have chosen this location for orsteins ttr skelksbecause the two ttir share a similar motif, as will be discussed below.
orsteins ttr skelks recounts how one night King lfr orders his men not togo to the outhouse alone. When the need arises, the Icelander orsteinn is unableto awaken a companion, and he is at the privy by himself when a demon pops upthrough the seat farthest away. orsteinn asks it about hell and is told that thehero Sigurr Ffnisbani endures his torments most bravely, while Starkar en-dures his the worst. orsteinn asks what that sounds like, and the demon emitshideous cries. This awakens the King, who has the church bells rung, thus drivingthe demon away. The next day lfr asks which of his men disobeyed his orders,and orsteinn confesses. The King asks if he was afraid. orsteinn replies that hedoes not know what it is to be afraid, but that the demons third cry did cause ashudder (skelkr) in his breast. The King gives him this as a nickname, and or-steinn becomes his retainer and eventually dies with him at the battle of Svo3 lr.
Although the larger point of orsteins ttr skelks is to show how lfr pro-tects those who trust in him from the devil, it also deploys the figures of Sigurrand Starkar to represent the spiritually positive and negative aspects of theheathen age. In contrast to Norna-Gests ttr, which uses the battlefield to elicitthe behaviours by which these two warriors are judged, orsteins ttr skelks useshell. The fact that Sigurr endures his sufferings well shows him to be the goodpagan hero, and conversely Starkars shrieks and bellows show him to be lackingin moral fibre (Harris 1976, 14; Lindow 1986).
The placement of orsteins ttr skelks before iranda ttr ok orhalls mayhave been suggested by the tales shared motif. In the former King lfr warns hismen not to go to the privy alone; in the latter rhallr warns the guests at Hallrsfeast not to go outdoors. The protagonists fates show the value of the true faith,for the Christian orsteinn ignores the warning but escapes danger with lfrshelp. The pagan irandi also ignores the warning but is slain by the dark-clotheddsir, who are the malevolent spirit manifestations of members of Hallrs family,angry because they know they will be rejected for a new religion. Light-clotheddsir ride to the rescue, but they arrive too late. Jns insertion of orsteins ttradds to the poignancy of iranda ttr by hinting that irandis death couldhave been avoided if only he had known to call on lfr for aid. Conversely,iranda ttr emphasizes the point of orsteins ttr by showing orsteinnsperil; were it not for the King, he might have been killed. As Harris (1976, 14)
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See Rowe (2005a, 6292) for a detailed analysis of these three ttir within the context of20Flateyjarbk.
notes, In form [orsteins ttr skelks] is a farcical version of the kind of tragicencounter with evil presented by iranda ttr ok orhalls. Nevertheless, itsChristian message and values are serious.
As with Norna-Gests ttr, Margeson does not see a rigid moral frameworkconstructed around the pagan figure of Sigurr in orsteins ttr. In her view, thedemons reply that Sigurr best endures the torments of hell seems to evoke theimage of the triumphant hero rather than the punished sinner. The dialogueproceeds with a sense of the comic and the moralistic tone is rather diluted by theobvious delight in the story itself and its sinister humour (Margeson 1980, 210).The comic tone of the narrative is widely recognized, but I think that this percep-tion is a skewed one that comes from reading the ttr out of context, as anindependent work. When it is read as part of the larger saga, its mood becomesconsiderably darker. I have already mentioned the interpretation that arises frompairing it with iranda ttr, but it is also productive to compare it to orsteinsttr uxafts, another ttr found only in the Flateyjarbk lfs saga Trygg-vasonar. This story also recounts the experiences of good and bad pagans in the20
afterlife, but because the episode about the dead pagans takes place in Icelandbefore the conversion, the Christian cosmos of heaven and hell is not invoked.Instead, we learn that in their afterlife, the evil pagans oppress their good brothersand demand tribute from them, until the pre-Christian protagonist (who willlater be baptized at King lfrs court) intervenes. orsteins ttr skelks, however,takes place in Christian Norway, and so this episode unfolds in the Christianuniverse, where good and bad pagans alike suffer in hell. This underscores thereality that, like all pagans, Sigurr and Starkar are hapless victims of theirunbelief, accident of history though it may be. Despite his virtues, Sigurr muststill be damned for his ignorance of his Maker, and Starkar is victimized twiceover, for not only was he unwittingly ignorant of his Maker, but his evil deedswere not of his own choosing. The harsh logic of medieval Christianity held outno possibility of posthumous redemption for pagans, so that the momentarycomedy of orsteinns meeting with the demon in the privy if it exists at all, forit is easy to imagine the encounter as a terrifying one soon gives way to pity atthe thought of the handsome, noble Sigurr suffering stoically for all eternity.orsteins ttr skelks, iranda ttr, and orsteins ttr uxafts share with Norna-Gests ttr the presentation of the heathen age as a time of tribulation and
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For a full discussion of this passage, see Rowe (2005a, 19299).21
oppression even for the virtuous, in contrast to the rewards that Christians willreceive in this world and the next.
Jn rarson makes this point explicitly in his explanation of why heincluded the didactic text Eirks saga vfo3rla as a kind of introduction to hisredaction of lfs saga Tryggvasonar:
En ui setti sa etta euintyr fyst j essa bok er hana skrifade at hann uill at huerr madr viteat at ekki er traust trutt nema af gude uiat o at heidnir menn fai frgd mykla af sinumafreks verkum a er at mikill munr a er eir enda etta hit stundliga lijf at eir hafa atekit sitt uerdkaup af ordlofui manna firir sinn frama en igu a von hegningar firir sinbroth ok tru leyse er eir kunnu igi skapara sinn. en hinir sem gude hafa vnnat ok ar allttraust haft ok barizst firir frelse heilagrar kristne en hafa o af hinum vitrazstum monnumfingit meira lof en at at auk at mest er at a er eir hafa fram geingit vm almenniligardyr daudans sem ekki holld ma fordazst hafa eir tekit sitt verdkaup at er at skilia eilijftriki med allzualldanda gude vtan enda sem esse irekr sem nu var fra sagt. (GubrandurVigfsson and Unger 186068, I, 3536)
(The one who wrote this book set this exemplum in it first because he wishes each manto know that there is no true faith except in God, because although heathen men may getmuch fame from their deeds of valour, there is a great difference when they end the lifeof this world, since they have then taken their reward from mens praise for theiraccomplishments, but they have then the expectation of punishment for their violationsand faithlessness when they knew not their Creator. But those who have loved God andhad all faith and fought for the freedom of Holy Christianity have nevertheless receivedgreater praise from the wisest men. And this, too which is greatest that when theyhave gone forward through the common door of death, which the flesh may not escape,they have taken their reward, that is to say, the eternal kingdom with Almighty Godwithout end, like this Eirkr, as was just described.)
Jn is as explicit about what he wants the reader to learn from Eirks saga as he isabout its generic identity: there is no true faith except in God, and therefore thosewho fought for Christianity have accomplished better things and have receiveda better reward than pagans.21
Chapter 328 of lfs saga helga
Margeson finds only one instance of a moral judgement of Sigurr, in an anecdotefound in three manuscripts of the expanded version of Snorri Sturlusons separatesaga of St lfr (lfs saga helga srstaka), which is dated to around 1300( Johnsen and Jn Helgason 1941, II, 83940 and 112829). Unlike the other
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texts in which I see Sigurr presented in positive ethical or moral terms, here heis clearly the object of disapproval, which Margeson (1980, 211) finds entirely inkeeping with the nature of the saga of a missionary king. To summarize the story:
The poet Sighvatr was staying with King Magns and was always heavy-hearted becauseof St lfrs death. When the time came when God wanted to call Sighvatr from thisworld, Sighvatr began to compose a drpa about St lfr, and he took the refrain fromthe saga of Sigurr Ffnisbani. Sighvatr came by ship to the island of Selja. When hearrived, it happened that the farmer who lived on the mainland across from the islandbecame very ill, so that he expected to die, and his wife sat by him with a sorrowful heart.And when the farmers strength began to wane, St lfr appeared to the farmers wife ina dream and said: Now we shall trade tasks. I will sit by the farmer, and you go meetSighvatr, my poet, and tell him that I dont want him to take the refrain of the drpa heis composing about me from the saga of Sigurr; rather, I want him to take the refrainfrom Genesis. After this vision the housewife went to meet Sighvatr and told him whatthe King had told her, and after that she went home. And while she had been away, Stlfr revealed himself to the farmer and healed him. Sighvatr then changed the drpa andtook the refrain from Genesis. After that Sighvatr fell quite ill. During this illness St lfrappeared to him, told him to go with him, and named the day he would come to him.When the day came that the King had named, Sighvatr recited two verses and died. Hisbody was brought north to Niars and was buried at Christ Church.
Like Norna-Gests ttr, this episode models the ethical activity of seeking thebeneficial story and avoiding the harmful one, but unlike lfr Tryggvason, whodeemed some parts of the Vo3 lsung legend acceptable to Christians, St lfr rejectsSigurr in favour of Scripture. The four moral interpretations of Sigurr discussedhere span the spectrum of possibilities: Raus ttr ignores the problem of hisheathenism and presents him as worthy of emulation by Christian kings such asHaraldr harri; Norna-Gests ttr confronts the problem of his heathenism andpresents him as admirable to Christians, although not as admirable as a Christianruler like Emperor Clovis; orsteins ttr skelks also confronts the problem of hisheathenism and presents him as the best man of the pagan age, although he ofcourse must burn in hell for his ignorance of his Maker; and ch. 328 of lfs sagahelga confronts the problem of his heathenism and condemns his appeal forChristians (as when Sighvatr thinks him an appropriate figure with which topraise St lfr) as sinful. Looking back on orsteins ttr, we see the reason forthis how can good possibly come from admiring the damned?
The Genealogical Texts
The idea that pagan gods and heroes were carved onto Christian monuments tothe dead because the deceased person considered him- or herself descended from
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For reviews of the arguments, see Schach (1993) and Arnold (2003, 159).22
The second redaction is represented by the text in Hauksbk, but this is now defective and23lacks the first ten chapters.
For the genealogies mentioning Ragnarr lobrk, see Rowe (forthcoming).24
them goes back to Collingwood (Calverley 1899, 19596), who associated themspecifically with the family of the Northumbrian Earl Tostig. Although this par-ticular connection proved untenable, as these carvings are found in places whereTostigs kinsmen never lived, Margeson (1983, 10405 and 1993, 406ab) revivesthe idea in a more general way for the Manx crosses. This is a plausible suggestion,for such beliefs are well attested in Old Norse literature (Faulkes 197879). As wewill see, the genealogical uses of Sigurr endow him with a range of moral inter-pretations similar to those in the ttir, but in this context he is often paired withRagnarr lobrk instead of Starkar. This is entirely to be expected, as Ragnarrslegend has it that he married Sigurrs only child slaugr and had a number ofsons with her. Genealogies mentioning Sigurr therefore always had the optionof including Ragnarr as well.
The age of Fstbrra saga, a saga extant in two redactions that differ significantlyin style, has been much disputed. I follow those scholars who hold it to be frombefore 1200 (Rowe forthcoming), but arguments have been made for a late thir-teenth-century composition. In any case, ch. 2 of the Mo3ruvallabk redaction22
gives this genealogy for orsteinn inn raui:23
Mir lfs var rhildr orsteinsdttir ins raua, leifs sonar ins hvta, Ingjalds sonar,Fra sonar; mir Ingjalds var ra, dttir Sigurar orms--auga; mir Sigurar varslaug, dttir Sigurar Ffnisbana. (Bjrn K. rlfsson and Guni Jnsson 1943, 124)
(lfrs mother was rhildr, daughter of orstein inn raui, son of leifr inn hvti, sonof Ingjaldr, son of Fri. Ingjaldrs mother was ra, the daughter of Sigurr ormr--auga.Sigurrs mother was slaug, the daughter of Sigurr Ffnisbani.)
In contrast to the many Old Norse genealogies that emphasize Sigurr ormr--augas paternity (he is the son of the famous Viking war-king Ragnarr lbrok),this one looks to Sigurrs mother, who was certainly famous in her own right asthe daughter of Sigurr Ffnisbani. This may be due to the Christian theme of the24
saga, for Fstbrra saga deals with an Icelander who is one of the court poets of St
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lfr and who is so devoted to the King that he will not be parted from him even indeath, and not long after the battle in which they are both killed, signs of the Kingssanctity are manifested. As Sigurr Ffnisbani was frequently considered to be thenoblest man of the pagan age, spiritual concerns may have led the author of Fst-brra saga to privilege orsteinns descent from Sigurr over his descent fromRagnarr. However, it was quite possible for a saga author to take the opposite tackwith respect to Sigurr, as we saw in the episode from lfs saga helga, and so itwill be in the case of Njls saga, which mentions both Sigurr and Ragnarr.
The famous Njls saga, written in the late thirteenth century, is the firstslendingasaga to imply a view of Sigurr as tainted by paganism. Ch. 14 gives thisinformation about the strong-willed Hallgerr:
En um sumarit fddi hon [i.e. Hallgerr] meybarn. Glmr spuri Hallgeri, hvat heitaskyldi. Hana skal kalla eptir fo3urmur minni ok skal heita orgerr, v at hon varkomin fr Siguri Ffnisbana fo3urtt sna at langfegato3 lu. (Einar l. Sveinsson1954, 46)
(And during the summer she [i.e. Hallgerr] gave birth to a girl-child. Glmr asked Hall-gerr what she should be named. She shall be called after my fathers mother and shall benamed orgerr, because in the reckoning of ancestry she was descended from SigurrFfnisbani on her fathers side.)
Given what we know of Hallgerrs character she is beautiful but has jfs-augu (Einar l. Sveinsson 1954, 7) (thiefs eyes), and she is so proud that she willallow a later husband to be killed because he had slapped her it seems entirelyin keeping that she should look back to her heroic ancestry, distant as it is, andrevive the connection in the name of her first child. Hallgerr is not one of theadmirable figures in this saga, so her active preference here for an association withpagan heroism is most likely to be understood in negative terms.
Njls saga also makes reference to certain Icelanders descent from Ragnarrlobrk, but in contrast to Fstbrra saga, descent from Ragnarr is considered amark of nobility. In chapter 138, Bjarni Brodd-Helgason and Flosi rarson aretrying to persuade Eyjlfr Bolverksson to support them:
Eyjlfr mlti: Hr er n gott mannval inginu, ok mun yr ltit fyrir at finna menn,er yr er miklu meiri styrkr at en hr, sem ek em. Bjarni mlti: at er ekki sv, v at hefir marga hluti til, at engi er r meiri mar hr inginu. at er fyrst, at ert ttarsv vel sem allir eru, eir er komnir eru fr Ragnari lobrk. Hafa forellrar nir vallt strmlum stait bi ingum ok sv heima herai, ok ho3fu eir jafnan meira hlut;
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ykkir oss v lkligt til, at munir vera sigrsll mlum sem frndr nir. Eyjlfr svarar:Vel talar , en ltit tla ek, at ek muna eiga. (Einar l. Sveinsson 1954, 367)
(Eyjlfr said, There is a good choice of men here at the Thing, and it should be a smallmatter for you to find those men who are a much greater support to you than I am.Bjarni said: That is not so, because you have many qualities that show that no man hereat the Thing is greater than you. This is first, that you are nobly born, as all are who aredescended from Ragnarr lobrk. Your forebears have always had a part in importantmatters, both at the Thing and at home in their district, and they have always beensuccessful. It seems to us therefore that it is likely that you will be blessed with victory likeyour kinsmen. Eyjlfr answers, You speak well, but I little expect that I would.)
This passage, in which Bjarni flatters Eyjlfr by saying that everyone who isdescended from Ragnarr lobrk is nobly born, gives the authors contemporaryperspective on Ragnarr and the claims to be descended from him. It shows thatthe author believed that at least some Icelanders were quite proud of their descentfrom Ragnarr lobrk, for if that were not the case, Bjarnis remark would havebeen mockery rather than flattery. We cannot tell whether the author thoughtthis true of saga-age Icelanders, or whether he was projecting his contemporariespride back onto saga-age figures. Certainly by the time Njls saga was composed,many prominent Icelanders traced their ancestry back to Ragnarr (Roweforthcoming), whereas few seemed to want to claim a connection to Sigurr, forhe is completely absent from Landnmabk and the many genealogies that includehis son-in-law Ragnarr.
The slendingasgurs negative view of Sigurr is continued in the early four-teenth-century Flamanna saga, which unlike Njls saga views Ragnarr lobrknegatively as well. One of the central events of the life of the protagonist of thisatypical slendingasaga is his conversion to Christianity and subsequent victimiza-tion by an angry rr, the pagan god whom he used to worship. Flamanna sagasets the historical context with this account of the ancestry of Haraldr hrfagri:
San fekk Hlfdan konungr Ragnhildar, dttur Sigurar konungs hjartar. slaug varmir Sigurar hjartar, dttir Sigurar orms--auga, Ragnars sonar lobrkar. MirSigurar orms--auga var slaug, dttir Sigurar Ffnisbana Sigmundarsonar, Vo3 lsungs-sonar, Rerssonar, Sigarssonar, ins sonar, er r fyrir sgari. (rhallur Vilmundarsonand Bjarni Vilhjlmsson 1991, 231)
(Then King Hlfdan [the Black] married Ragnhildr, daughter of King Sigurr hjo3rtr. Themother of Sigurr hjo3rtr was slaug, daughter of Sigurr ormr--auga, the son of Ragnarrlobrk. The mother of Sigurr ormr--auga was slaug, daughter of Sigurr Ffnisbani,
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For the interpretation of Ragnars saga lobrkar, see Rowe (forthcoming).25
the son of Sigmundr, son of Vo3 lsung, son of Rerir, son of Sigi, son of inn, who ruledover sgarr.)
This genealogy, which concludes with a sentence about Haraldr hrfagri, the sonof Hlfdan and Ragnhildr, combines Heimskringlas account of her descent fromRagnarr lobrk with Vo3lsunga sagas account of the ancestry of Sigurr Ffnisbani,her maternal grandfather. Haraldrs reign is a frequent starting point for sagasabout Icelanders, whose forefathers were supposedly motivated by Haraldrs tyrannyto leave Norway, but here the emphasis on the Norwegian royal dynastys heritagefrom pagan gods and heroes lends an extra, didactic dimension to the story of anIcelander who returns to Norway to claim an inheritance. That is, Flamannasaga underscores the usual political values in the binary opposition of Norway andIceland with religious parallels: Norway and its rulers are associated with paganism,whereas Icelanders welcome Christianity. Like Ragnars saga lobrkar, Flamannasaga uses the figure of Ragnarr himself to suggest the evils of heathenism, butunlike Fstbrra saga, which seems to imply that of the two legendary heroesRagnarr and Sigurr Ffnisbani, Sigurr is the proto-Christian, Flamanna sagasuggests that Sigurr Ffnisbani as well as Ragnarr is to be shunned by Christians,evidently because of his descent from inn, the foremost of the pagan gods.25
lfs saga Tryggvasonar en mesta
The beginning of lfs saga Tryggvasonar en mesta, written in the first quarter ofthe fourteenth century (lafur Halldrsson 1993, 449a), also includes SigurrFfnisbani among Haraldr hrfagris ancestors:
Moir Haralldz harfagra var Ragnhilldr dottir Sigurdar hiartar. hans moir var Aslaugdottir Sigurar orms i auga. Ragnars sonar lo brokar. Modir Sigurdar orms i auga varAslaug dottir Sigurdar Fofnis bana. (lafur Halldrsson 1958, 12)
(The mother of Haraldr hrfagri was Ragnhildr, daughter of Sigurr hjo3rtr. His motherwas slaug, daughter of Sigurr ormr--auga, son of Ragnarr lobrk. The mother ofSigurr ormr--auga was slaug, daughter of Sigurr Ffnisbani.)
Like Flamanna saga, lfs saga uses the genealogy from Heimskringla, whichtraces Ragnhildrs descent from Ragnarr lobrk and supplements it with theinformation that Sigurr ormr--augas mother was the daughter of Sigurr Ff-nisbani. Unlike Flamanna saga, however, lfs saga omits Sigurrs descent from
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Interestingly, Magns also included the eddic poem Hyndlulj, whose twenty-fourth26stanza lists Sigurr among the ancestors of ttarr, among the texts he adds to the front ofFlateyjarbk. Found only in this manuscript, Hyndlulj appears to be the product of the samekind of learned historical speculation that we see operating in Magnss prologue to Sverris sagaand his prefatory genealogies of Haraldr hrfagri (Rowe 2005a, 30108).
inn. Sigurr is not mentioned again in the saga, so there is no direct evidenceon which we can base an ethical interpretation of his inclusion in Haraldrsgenealogy. But as Haraldr is positioned as the great uniter of Norway and thefounder of the royal dynasty, we may suppose that his ancestor Sigurr is likewiseto be considered morally positive.
The Flateyjarbk Genealogies of Haraldr hrfagri
Flateyjarbk includes the above genealogy of Haraldr hrfagri in its redaction oflfs saga Tryggvasonar en mesta, but it also contains two other genealogies ofHaraldr that mention Sigurr. These were compiled by the manuscripts secondredactor, Magns rhallsson, around 1390 (Rowe 2005a, 33036). Magnscopied several genealogies of Haraldr among the texts that he added to the frontof the manuscript, and the one that mentions Sigurr is rubricated ttartala fraHaud (Gubrandur Vigfsson and Unger 186068, I, 24) (Line of Descent FromHo3r). Here Sigurr appears in the line of descent from King Lofi to Haraldrhrfagris mother, Ragnhildr. Magns also expanded the prologue to his redactionof Sverris saga with a genealogy of Haraldr hrfagri that includes Sigurr (Rowe2005a, 21222). Here Sigurrs ancestry is traced back to inn and then frominn to King Priam of Troy, from Priam to Saturn, from Saturn to Noah, andfrom Noah to Adam. Magns did not write or copy anything more about Sigurrin his part of Flateyjarbk, so most likely these two genealogies are to be under-stood in the same way as the genealogy in lfs saga Tryggvasonar en mesta, thatis to say, as morally positive and meant to convey the nobility and antiquity ofHaraldr hrfagris lineage.26
Collating the above examples yields the following chronology for the variousinterpretations of Sigurr: Circa 900: The narrative Atlakvia tells part of the Vo3 lsung legend.
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The latest Manx cross with motifs from the Vo3 lsung legend seems to be the one from27Ramsey (now Maughold 122 ). Margeson (1983, 100) puts its date as probably closer to theyear 1000, as it has elements of the Mammen style in its decoration.
The earliest stave church with the image of Sigurr is agreed to be Hylestad I (Setesdal).28Blindheim (1965, captions for figures 197 and 198) dates it to between 1175 and 1200, Anker(1970, 409) puts it in the last decades of the twelfth century or the earliest part of the thirteenthcentury, and Hohler (1999, 10203) argues for around 1200.
Second half of the tenth century: Four pagan memorial stones in Sweden may use the image of Sigurr to
indicate a genealogical connection with him or to praise the deceased bycomparison to him.
The earliest crosses from the Isle of Man and northern England with theimage of Sigurr may use this image to indicate a genealogical connectionwith him, praise the deceased by comparison to (or association with) him,or figure him as an antetype of Christ.
Third quarter of the tenth century: Eirksml praises Eirkr by placing him inthe company of the Vo3 lsungs.
Late tenth century: The conversion of Norway begins. 999 or 1000: The conversion of Iceland. Early eleventh century: The latest cross from the Isle of Man with the image
of Sigurr may use this image to indicate a genealogical connection with him,praise the deceased by comparison to (or association with) him, or figure himas an antetype of Christ.27
Eleventh century: Illugi Bryndlas poem about Haraldr hrfagri praisesHaraldr by comparing him to Sigurr.
Second quarter of the eleventh century: The conversion of Norway iscompleted.
1152 or 1153: Establishment of the archdiocese of Niars. Fourth quarter of the twelfth century: This is one suggested date of composition
for Fstbrra saga, which positions Sigurr as a distinguished ancestor of Ice-landers. Also at this time, the earliest Norwegian stave church with the imageof Sigurr uses this image as the dragon-slaying protector of the entrance.28
Circa 1200: Raus ttr presents Sigurr as a paragon of warrior princes and a suitable
example on which Christian kings could model themselves. Sneglu-Halla ttr takes Sigurr as an object of satire.
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Lrdal is thought to be the latest stave church with the image of Sigurr; see Anker (1970,2941415).
Gurn Nordal (2001, 33738) identifies the period between 1150 and 1250 as the height30of the Vo3 lsung legends popularity, but the composition of Vo3lsunga saga around 126070suggests that her hundred-year span should be increased by at least a quarter-century.
Thirteenth century: The latest Norwegian stave church with the image ofSigurr uses this image as the dragon-slaying protector of the entrance.29
Circa 126070: Vo3lsunga saga describes Sigurr as the best of men in Scandi-navia in ancient times.
Late thirteenth century: Njls saga presents Sigurr as a pagan ancestor ofIcelanders and implies that the pagan heroism he represents is incompatiblewith Christian morality.
Circa 1300: orsteins ttr skelks presents Sigurr as a virtuous pagan necessarily con-
demned to hell. The expanded lfs saga helga presents Sigurr as a pagan hero unsuitable
as a means of praising Christian kings. Early fourteenth century:
Norna-Gests ttr shows Sigurr to be the best of pagan heroes but not asgood as a Christian king.
Flamanna saga presents Sigurr as a pagan ancestor of the Kings of Norwayand implies that his descendants are tainted by their descent from inn.
First quarter of the fourteenth century: lfs saga Tryggvasonar en mestapresents Sigurr as the noble ancestor of the Kings of Norway.
Circa 1390: The Flateyjarbk genealogies of Haraldr hrfagri present Sigurras the noble ancestor of the Kings of Norway.
Early fifteenth century: The Lo3gmannsannll entry for 1405 presents Sigurras a noble pagan.
Several important developments reveal themselves from this information. Theinterest in Sigurr as an ancestor may date from as early as the second half of thetenth century and certainly continues through the Middle Ages. Negative views ofSigurr are not found until late in the thirteenth century, but ethically positive viewsof Sigurr are generated from the late Viking Age through the late Middle Ages.30
Typological interpretations of Sigurr, if they existed, seem to be products ofrecently converted cultures (a description that Anker 1970, 418 argues alsoapplies to the Norwegian church through the twelfth century). Icelandic litera-ture, although well able to make unorthodox typologies, preserves no explicit
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For example, Oddr Snorrason (Finnur Jnsson 1932, 1) declared that lfr Tryggvason31prefigured St lfr, just as John the Baptist prefigured Christ.
typological interpretations of Sigurr, in contrast to the explicit ethical and moralinterpretations discussed above.31
However, several implied interpretations of Sigurr as an antetype of Christ havebeen argued. For example, Bergur orgeirsson (1997, 77) has suggested that Gestrsrelationship to his master Sigurr is meant to suggest the relationship between theapostles and Christ. I myself see an interpretatio christiana of the Sigurr legendin Laxdaela saga, where Kjartans meek, Christ-like death is paralleled by Gu-rns devoutness in her old age, and the Christian elements in turn are balancedby the pagan heroic subtext, in which Kjartan plays the role of the innocentSigurr Ffnisbani and Gurn is the vengeful Brynhildr (Rowe 2005b, 169).Finally, Harris (1996, 120) has suggested that the arrangement of the CodexRegius manuscript of eddic poetry into a two-part book deeply imbued with asense of history as a succession of ages is due to conscious imitation of the Bible.If this is so, then the first part of the manuscript, with its poems about the pagangods, would correspond to the Old Testament, and the second part, with itspoems about human heroes, would correspond to the New Testament andSigurr, as the foremost of those heroes, betrayed by men he should have been ableto trust, would correspond to Christ. Narratives that have an additional level ofmeaning through their use of biblical patterns are common in medieval literature,but it is significant that Icelandic authors who seem to be offering Sigurr as amoral example preferred to do so through the technique of juxtaposition and veryoften the use of a frame narrative that guides readers ethical assessment ofSigurr. They do not leave it up to readers to identify a biblical narrative pattern,apply it to Sigurr, and draw their own conclusions about him.
Comparison of the visual and literary uses of Sigurr reveals a limited degreeof overlap: only the categories of noble ancestor and a way to bestow praise arefound in (or proposed for) both artefacts and texts. Dragon-slaying protector ofChristianity and Antetype of Christ are interpretations only of the artefacts;conversely, the various moral and ethical interpretations and object of satire arefound only in the textual examples. One interesting difference between the visualand the literary deployment of the figure of Sigurr is that the texts sometimespresent him in negative terms, which the artefacts never seem to do. Of course, theliterary material extends later into the Middle Ages than the artefacts do, and itmight be that the negative interpretation is a development of the later MiddleAges. It might also be that the absence of artefacts is itself indication of a negative
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interpretation. That is, if Sigurr is damned for his paganism, then there is noreason to depict him. However, medieval art often portrayed hell and the damned,so negative interpretations of Sigurr could still be expected to be found there.
Table 1. Distribution of Functions and InterpretationsFunction or Interpretation Proposed for Sigurr Artefacts Texts
Dragon-slaying protector of Christianity 5
Antetype of Christ 5?a
Noble ancestor 9? 3b
A way to bestow praise (by comparison or association) 9? 2b
Paragon of princes and model for Christian kings 1
The best of pagan heroes but not as good as a Christian king 1
Virtuous pagan necessarily condemned to hell 1
Ancestor tainted by paganism 2
Comparison with Sigurr not appropriate for Christian kings 1
Object of satire 1a. This assumes the same interpretation of Sigurr for all crosses.b. This assumes the same interpretation of Sigurr for all crosses and all memorial stones.
Table 1 does not include a category of secular image. This is because giventhe nature of both pagan Germanic society and medieval Christian society, whichin their own ways both saw man as inseparable from a world of natural and super-natural (or spiritual) powers it seems inconceivable to me that any culturalproduction of the Viking Age or the Middle Ages could be secular in the modernsense of something to which religious considerations are thought wholly irrele-vant. Many medieval narratives, such as fabliaux and romances, seem to be secularentertainment, and objects such as tapestries and drinking-horns decorated withimages of Sigurr certainly were intended for secular contexts, but I would hazardthat their largest context of reception does indeed involve religion, morality, orethical interpretation. With respect to Anglo-Saxon culture, secularization orsecularity might be a misleading term for what Wormald (1978) describes. If StWilfred with his retinue behaved more like Beowulf than like the humble BishopAidan, who preferred to walk rather than ride, it is because that kind of lordly dis-play, military leadership, and royal generosity was a natural function of the placeof bishops in society (Wormald 1978, 55). That is, Bede certainly considered thepractices of secular lordship inappropriate for a bishop, but men from the Anglo-Saxon royal house who persisted in those practices after becoming bishops werenot rejecting Christianity in favour of secularity but were simply manifesting and
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Sawyer (1989, 143) seems to imply a typological interpretation of the stave-church portal32images of Sigurr when he states that some [pagan myths and stories] that were well adapted toillustrate Christian doctrine were used in decorating churches, but he does not specify which doc-trine he has in mind or how the Vo3 lsung legend could illustrate it.
maintaining their authority in the customary ways, which happened to have beenhanded down from the pre-Christian period.
Moving from secularization to interpretatio christiana, it is worth asking if thecomparison of the artefacts and the texts provides any evidence in support of thesuggestion that, on Viking-Age crosses, Sigurr might have been understood as anantetype of Christ. Margeson (1983, 105) finds such interpretations of Sigurr32
far-fetched, and Bailey, after having ventured deep into typological waters inreading Sigurrs consumption of the dragons heart as prefiguring the Eucharisticrite (Bailey 1980, 125), five years later exhibits some anxiety about the all-consuming maw of medieval Christianity (Bailey 1985, 61). He therefore bor-rows Wormalds ideas about the secularization of Anglo-Saxon culture toidentify these images as secular (1985, 61), a position that is endorsed by Hadley(1996, 127). I would argue that the literary examples provide two kinds of evi-dence relevant to this issue. The first pertains to the social functions of the imageof Sigurr. Pagan Scandinavians did use the figures of Sigurr and the Vo3 lsungsas a way to praise the dead, as Margeson (1980, 18595) and Fuglesang (1993,697b) have noted, and a number of Christian Scandinavians counted Sigurramong their ancestors, so probably pagan Scandinavians did as well. Given thepagan examples of the Vo3 lsung legend being associated with the afterlife (e.g. inEirksml and on the Swedish memorial stones), it seems most likely that theViking-Age crosses depicting Sigurr continue this tradition and do not presenthim as a type of Christ. This brings me to the second kind of evidence providedby the literary examples, which is their frequent use of juxtaposition as a mech-anism for invoking ethical activity. Sigurr is paired with Harald hildito3nn orRagnarr lobrk or is contrasted with Ragnarr or Starkar or Emperor Clovis; ineach case, the reader or listener is very probably supposed to think about therelationship implied by the juxtaposition. Where Viking-Age crosses employ thistechnique as when inn seems to counterbalance a Christian figure on theKirk Andreas Cross, or when the carving of the Crucifixion on the GosforthCross is accompanied with depictions of the punishment of Loki, Viarr slayingFenrir, and Heimdallr sounding his horn it seems most likely that a religiousrelationship is intended (Bailey 1985, 61; Hines 1989, 45055). The crosses fromMan and northern England, however, do not pair Sigurr with any figure from
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outside the Vo3 lsung legend, one more reason for rejecting a figurative interpreta-tion of him in that particular context.
This line of reasoning underscores the value of an interdisciplinary approachto Viking-Age and medieval Scandinavia. It has often been the case that differentassumptions have been brought to the study of a narrative than have been broughtto the depiction of that narrative in art. Interpretations of visual arts from thisperiod tend to be reductionist, in that each image from a narrative is treated ashaving a single, basic, relatively simple meaning, perhaps because the appearanceof the image is itself stylized and relatively simple. In contrast, when the sameimage is rendered textually, interpretations of it accept the possibility or even theinevitability of complex meaning (for example polysemy, aporia, ambiguity, orirony). Yet the visual artwork is in some sense even more ambiguous than art inwords, being abstracted from a narrative that we cannot know directly and lackingthe secondary information that texts often provide, such as meaningful details,comments by characters in the story, and comments by the author. The assump-tion cannot be that art is inherently simple to understand; instead, I would guessthat a lack of information on the part of the modern scholar is being projectedback onto the object of study. Confronted with an object that does not explainitself, as texts appear to do, scholars turn to something like Occams razor and seekthe simplest explanations: life, death, human relationships. Rereading texts andimages together forces a productive reconsideration of our assumptions aboutmeaning, context, and function.
This line of reasoning also raises questions about the images of Sigurr on theNorwegian stave-church portals, for there he clearly seems to be intended to beunderstood in some relationship to Christianity, but yet his story is presented byitself and is not paired with anything else. Here I would suggest that in some senseSigurr is paired with the church itself. One might object that such thinkinginvalidates my argument that the appearance of Sigurr on Viking-Age crossesdoes not imply some relationship to Christianity, for is it not just as possible topair Sigurr with a cross as with a church? In fact, the Viking-Age crosses and theNorwegian stave churches are not comparable in this regard. As mentioned above,Anker (1970, 418) sees the twelfth-century Norwegian Church as independentfrom the Church of Rome in a number of respects. For example, it had woodenchurches built at a time when canonical rule required churches to be built instone, a development that Anker considers as no more and no less astonishingthan the clerical acceptance of pagan themes as a normal iconographical schemefor portal sculpture. In Ankers view, the spiritual climate in which it was thoughtappropriate to express Christian concepts in terms of pagan mythology eventually
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Hohler (1999, 57) asserts that around 1200, when the Hylestad stave church was con-33structed, it really is impossible to see the Church bending to local pagan whims. Comparativeevidence would seem to support Anker, for Bennett (1999, 45) shows that seven centuries afterPope Gregory I had advised his missionaries to the Anglo-Saxons to convert pagan temples intoChristian churches, English peasants were still stubbornly fond of folk customs, and the clergywere still accommodating Christian beliefs to rural traditions.
In addition to and much earlier than the 1405 annal entry, there is the description of the34pilgrimage route from Iceland to Rome, written c. 1155 by Niklas Bergsson, abbot of theBenedictine monastery of ver. Among the sites of interest, Niklas includes the heath where
came to an end when the establishment of an archdiocese in Norway broughtabout the closer relations between Norway and Rome. The difference between33
the stave churches in Norway and the Viking-Age crosses in Britain is that thestave churches represent not the first wave of collision between pagan and Chris-tian, as the crosses do, but the second wave, for the stave churches with portalsdecorated with the Vo3 lsung legend replaced earlier churches from the eleventhcentury, which had rotted from having been built directly on the ground (Blind-heim 1965, 3). The decorative programme of the twelfth-century churches wasclearly more sophisticated than that of the tenth-century crosses, for it assumesprior knowledge about the role of dragon-slayers in Christian theology andhagiography. That is, without such knowledge, it would have been unintelligibleto put Sigurr in a location where St Michael or St George would ordinarily befound. In this context, unlike all the others discussed so far, Sigurrs paganism isset aside (Byock 1990b, 620). He functions purely as a substitute, a ScandinavianSt George rather than a pagan antetype of St George. In contrast, the Viking-Agecrosses use juxtaposition to encourage thinking about the relationship betweenthe pagan and Christian scenes shown. The sophistication of the decorative pro-gramme of the stave churches may also have had a political component: Byock(1990a, 78) suggests that the Norwegian preference for Sigurr over St Michaelmay have been due to the fact that St Michael was a guardian angel of the Danes,the Baltic Germans, and the Ottonian rulers of the Holy Roman Empire, whereasSigurr was regarded as an ancestor of the Norwegian royal house and thus mighthave been a more suitable champion for Norwegian Christians.
Margeson (1980, 20811) cautions against giving an exaggerated significanceto the appearance of heroic material on church doorways and furnishings, arguingthat it does not appear to have had any allegorical or symbolic significance becausethat would have been incompatible with the medieval belief in Sigurrs histori-city. This is not quite right; it is true that Sigurr never seems to have been34
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Sigurr killed Ffnir (Klund 1908, 13) and the location of the snake pit in which Gunnarr died(1908, 16).
Blindheim (1965, 31) hints at the importance or significance of these decorations when he35points out that the doorways [. . .] are undoubtedly the most important decorated parts of thestave churches, indeed in several cases they are the only parts with any decoration to speak of.
In another example of this theme, Anker (1970, 410) sees the attack by evil on Christianity36symbolized in a general way by the imagery on the portal of the Hemsedal stave church, whichat the bottom of the left jamb has an image of two hands gripping the necks of two snakes, whichsink their fangs into vine stems.
understood allegorically, but that does not mean that his image had no extraliteralsignificance at all. It is quite clear from the textual examples that Sigurr was35
presented as standing in some moral relationship to Christianity. The medievalbelief in his historicity strengthens this, if anything, for to the medieval way ofthinking, one of the uses of history was to provide guidance for the current age:the past furnished numerous examples of people whose behaviour should beavoided, as well as examples of people whose behaviour should be emulated. Mar-geson is correct in saying that there is no indication of a rigid moral frameworkconstructed around Sigurr, for indeed he is viewed sometimes positively andsometimes negatively. She is also correct in saying that Sigurr and Gunnarr neverappear as Christian heroes, though it is possible that their deeds were related ina general way to the theme of good fighting evil in the shape of dragon andserpents (Margeson 1980, 211). This might well be their primary meaning for36
the church-portal carvings, as she suggests, but their meaning in the literature ismorally much more complex. Pace Margeson, Sigurr does appear as a punishedsinner (Margeson 1980, 210), but he also illustrates the qualities of beauty,strength, courage, and loyalty to kin and king. Hohler (197172) points out thatheroic motifs of various kinds were not unusual on church portals in Europe atthis time, and she concludes that they (and the images of Sigurr) have no obviousChristian message. More recently, she proposes that the decorative program of theHylestad portal might originally have been designed for a profane building suchas a noblemans hall (Hohler 1999, 5758). Sigurr would in this case symbolizepower and prestige or dignity, and as this symbolism on churches would not havebeen considered offensive, the decorative programme was accordingly reused.Apart from the objection that no Norwegian halls from this period have beenfound with such carvings, I would reply that heroic motifs could well have had amoral significance, regardless of whether they were situated in a religious contextor a secular one. Moreover, we find juxtaposition and hence an implied
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Blindheim (1973, 24) extends this argument to a carving from the church at Nes, which37juxtaposes a Sigurr scene with Christological symbols.
Blindheim (1965, 3) argues that the fact that the same type of doorway was spread over38very extensive territories within a span of a few decades can only be explained if we assume thatthese richly decorated parts of the stave churches were made with the help and advice of thechurch authorities. See also Anker (1970, 417).
Starkar Strvirksson and Ragnarr lobrk, with whom Sigurr was sometimes compared39and contrasted, were also believed to have been real people; see Gurn Nordal (2001, 86).
Bertelsen (2004) notes that the narrative of Sigurr as depicted on stave-church portals is40deliberately truncated to strengthen the resemblance with St Michael: the sequence of images endswith the killing of Ffnir, rather than with Sigurrs own death.
Christian message used in the decorative programmes of other parts oftwelfth-century Norwegian churches. For example, the west face of a marblecapital from a church in Lunde (Telemark) depicts Sigurrs slaying of Ffnir(Margeson 1980, 20104), and the east face depicts Samsons fight with the lion.Noting the medieval interpretation of Samson as a parallel of Christ, Blindheim(1973, 24) sees this juxtaposition as giving a new dimension to our understandingof the Sigurr scene, and he concludes that Sigurr, too, may have been seen as aparallel of Christ (1973, 26).37
Yet although the issue of Sigurrs paganism is set aside by the clerics whoauthorized the decorations of Norwegian churches, it is not ignored, as the caseof ireks saga shows. This narrative from around 1200 is most likely a Norwe-38
gian adaptation of a German text (Andersson 1986, 35657). The translatorapparently stayed fairly close to his original (the term adaptation is used becausethe copyists of the translation rearranged the order of the parts), but one of thechanges he did make was to omit the German account of Sigurrs conversion toChristianity. Evidently the literary tradition manifested in the Icelandic texts,which unanimously identify him as a pagan, was strong enough that it was notpossible to make the leap from thinking of him as the Scandinavian St George tothinking of him as a Christian. At least part of the reason for this must be that theVo3 lsung legend as a narrative was a fixed, permanent element of the Scandi-navian cultural universe. Sigurr never became an allegoricized representation ofsome abstract quality such as princeliness; instead, the genealogies show that hewas believed to have been a real person, and his story is invoked over and overagain. The stave-church portals give six scenes from the legend, Norna-Gests39
ttr retells parts of it, and Raus ttr, chapter 328 of lfs saga helga, and evenVo3lsunga saga itself refer not to Sigurrs deeds but to Sigurrs saga. We do not40
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For the date of GKS 2845 4to, see Norna-Gests ttr in Degnbol and others (1989, 436).41For the moral interpretations of Orms ttr Strlfssonar and Eirks saga vfo3rla, see Rowe(2005a, 87 and 19296). For the moral interpretation of Yngvars saga vfo3rla, see HermannPlsson and Edwards (1989, 27).
know whether by this time the story was known primarily from texts or was stillbeing transmitted through oral tradition, but in either case it seems that theengagement of the Icelanders and the Norwegians with this charismatic hero ofthe past was as constant as it was dynamic.
The manuscripts themselves provide further evidence of the interest in reli-gious interpretations of Sigurr, for Vo3lsunga saga survives in only one manu-script, whereas Norna-Gests ttr survives in five medieval manuscripts and Rausttr in nine (Degnbol and others 1989, 411, 346, and 35960 respectively).Moreover, a manuscript such as GKS 2845 4to, a compilation from around 1450,shows that Icelanders took the responsibility of choosing the right text seriously,for this collection contains Norna-Gests ttr and Raus ttr in addition to Ormsttr Strlfssonar, Yngvars saga vfo3rla, and Eirks saga vfo3rla all texts thatdraw attention to the moral aspects of their heroes. Indeed, these texts allowed41
devout readers to have their cake and eat it too, for the adventures recountedtherein are no less entertaining for being exemplary.
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