|Hrólfs saga kraka|
Hrólfs saga kraka belongs to the group of mythic-heroic Icelandic tales known as fornaldarsögur, or "legendary sagas". These sagas are known for their distinctive use of past legend, describing events which are thought to have occurred prior to the settlement of Iceland in the ninth-century. Nonetheless, the fornaldarsögur harken back to a distinct Scandinavian past, which many Icelanders and Norsemen alike would have felt an immediate connection. In this case Hrólfs saga, as it is usually referred, discusses the adventures of King Hrólf, his clan - the Skjöldungs, and his champions. The events which take place in the saga are dated to the fifth and sixth century C.E., and the text itself is thought to have been written c. 1230-1450. King Hrólf, as stated, was a descendent of the Skjöldung Dynasty of ancient Scandinavia. The legends which came out of the Skjöldung legacy were imprinted in the minds of many in the North, who sought to claim ancestry from this prolific clan. There are remnants of the Saga of the Skjöldungs, Skjöldungasaga, which is a history of the ancient kings of Denmark.
The saga maintains heavy parallels with the Beowulf text, and in my translation by Jesse Byock, the similarities and differences are well defined in the introduction and notes. In Beowulf, the 'hero' (highly debated) faces three trials in the form of monsters: Grendel, Grendel's Mother, and the Dragon. The story outlines the strength of mind and body of Beowulf, while focusing on terrors at Heorot, Hroðgar's [Hrothgar's] hall from a Geatish perspective (geographically: Beowulf visits the Danes from Geatland and returns). In Hrólfs saga kraka, "Beowulf" is closely resembled with Böðvar Bjarki, meaning "war-like little bear". Like Beowulf, Böðvar arrives to King Hrolf from Geatland (Gautland in Old Norse). Additionally, Böðvar Bjarki's brother Thorir Hound's Foot, is named King of the Geats (Gauts) in Hrólfs saga. While many scholars reject the affinities between Böðvar and Beowulf, Jesse Byock seems to be presenting the idea convincingly.
Although many translations of Beowulf have been attempted, I share a particular fondness for Kevin Crossley-Holland's translation. He does not attempt to turn Beowulf into a Greek epic, instead Crossley-Holland stays committed to portraying Beowulf as it should be, in proper Germanic tradition. I mention this because if one is to read both Beowulf and Hrolfs saga kraka, it is most pertinent to find translations which are harmonious in their outlook and value of the culture which they are portraying.
It is not just with Beowulf that Hrólfs saga kraka shows similarities with. Both the Gesta Danorum and the Skjöldunga saga share many overlapping features. Below are probable associations:
Hrólfs saga Skjöldunga saga Gesta Danorum Beowulf
Aðils Adillus Athislus Eadgils
Böðvar Bjarki Bodvarus Biarco Beowulf
Fróði Frodo Frotho Froda
Hálfdan Halfdanus Haldanus Healfdene
Helgi Helgo Helgo Halga
Hroarr Roas Roe Hroðgar
Hrolfr Kraki Rolfo Krake Roluo Krake Hroðulf
Skjöldr Skioldus Skioldus Scyld Scefing
Yrsa Yrsa Vrsa Yrse
|Hrólf Kraki spreads gold on the Fyris Plains|
"Anyone else, except for the King himself I would have killed." - King Hrólfs Champion: Böðvar Bjarki