Old Norse

Articles > Old Norse



April 12th 2016, 9:42am
Updated April 12th 2016, 12:02pm

Understanding the Sagas Of The Vikings

Iceland is a little country far north
in the cold sea. Men found it and
went there to live more than a thousand
years ago. During the warm season they
used to fish and make fish-oil and hunt
sea-birds and gather feathers and tend
their sheep and make hay. But the win-
ters were long and dark and cold. Men
and women and children stayed in the
house and carded and spun and wove
and knit. A whole family sat for hours
around the fire in the middle of the room.
That fire gave the only light. Shadows
flitted in the dark corners. Smoke curled
along the high beams in the ceiling.
The children sat on the dirt floor close
by the fire. The grown people were on a
long narrow bench that they had pulled
up to the light and warmth. Everybody's
hands were busy with wool. The work
left their minds free to think and their
lips to talk. What was there to talk
about? The summer's fishing, the kill-
ing of a fox, a voyage to Norway. But
the people grew tired of this little gos-
sip. Fathers looked at their children
and thought:
"They are not learning much. What
will make them brave and wise? What will
teach them to love their country and old
Norway ? Will not the stories of battles,
of brave deeds, of mighty men, do this?"
So, as the family worked in the red
fire-light, the father told of the kings of
Norway, of long voyages to strange lands,
of good fights. And in farmhouses all
through Iceland these old tales were told
over and over until everybody knew them
and loved them. Some men could sing
and play the harp. This made the stories
all the more interesting. People called
such men "skalds," and they called their
songs "sagas."
Every midsummer there was a great
meeting. Men from all over Iceland
came to it and made laws. During the
day there were rest times, when no bus-
iness was going on. Then some skald
would take his harp and walk to a large
stone or a knoll and stand on it and begin
a song of some brave deed of an old
Norway Norse hero. At the first sound of the
harp and the voice, men came running
from all directions, crying out :
"The skald ! The skald ! A saga ! ' '
They stood about for hours and lis-
tened. They shouted applause. When
the skald was tired, some other man
would come up from the crowd and sing
or tell a story. As the skald stepped
down from his high position, some rich
man would rush up to him and say:
' ' Come and spend next winter at my
house. r Our ears are thirsty for song."
So the best skalds traveled much and
visited many people. Their songs made
them welcome everywhere. They were
always honored with good seats at a feast.
They were given many rich gifts. Even
the King of Norway would sometimes
send across the water to Iceland, saying
to some famous skald:
"Come and visit me. You shall not go
away empty-handed. Men say that the
sweetest songs are in Iceland. I wish to
hear them."
These tales were not written. Few
men wrote or read in those days. Skalds
learned songs from hearing them sung.
At last people began to write more easily.
Then they said:
' ' These stories are very precious. We
must write them down to save them
from being forgotten."
After that man}^ men in Iceland spent
their winters in writing books. They
wrote on -sheepskin; vellum, we call it.
Many of these old vellum books have
been saved for hundreds of years, and
are now in museums in Norway. Some
leaves are lost, some are torn, all are
yellow and crumpled. But they are pre-
cious. They tell us all that we know
about that olden time. There are the
very words that the men of Iceland wrote
so long ago stories of kings and of bat-
tles and of ship-sailing.





King Halfdan lived in Norway
long ago. One morning his queen
said to him :
' ' I had a strange dream last night.
I thought that I stood in the grass before
my bower. * I pulled a thorn from my
dress. As I held it in my fingers, it grew
into a tall tree. The trunk was thick
and red as blood, but the lower limbs
were fair and green, and the highest ones
were white. I thought that the branches
of this great tree spread so far that they
covered all Norway and even more."
"A strange dream," said King Half-
dan. ' ' Dreams are the messengers of the
gods. I wonder what they would tell
us," and he stroked his beard in thought.
Some time after that a serving-woman
came into the feast hall where King
Halfdan was. She carried a little white
bundle in her arms.

"My lord," she said, "a little son is
just born to you."
"Ha!" cried the king, and he jumped
up from the high seat and hastened for-
ward until he stood before the woman.
"Show him to me!" he shouted, and
there was joy in his voice.
The serving- woman put down her bun-
dle on the ground and turned back the
cloth. There was a little naked baby.
The king looked at it carefully.
" It is a goodly youngster, " he said, and
smiled. ' ' Bring Ivar and Thorstein. " *
They were captains of the king's sol-
diers. Soon they came,
"Stand as witnesses," Halfdan said.
Then he lifted the baby in his arms,
while the old serving-woman brought a
silver bowl of water. The king dipped
his hand into it and sprinkled the baby,
saying:
"I own this baby for my son. He
shall be called Harald. My naming gift
to him is ten pounds of gold."
Then the woman carried the baby
back to the queen's room."My lord," she said, "a little son is
just born to you."
"Ha!" cried the king, and he jumped
up from the high seat and hastened for-
ward until he stood before the woman.
"Show him to me!" he shouted, and
there was joy in his voice.
The serving- woman put down her bun-
dle on the ground and turned back the
cloth. There was a little naked baby.
The king looked at it carefully.
" It is a goodly youngster, " he said, and
smiled. ' ' Bring Ivar and Thorstein. " *
They were captains of the king's sol-
diers. Soon they came,
"Stand as witnesses," Halfdan said.
Then he lifted the baby in his arms,
while the old serving-woman brought a
silver bowl of water. The king dipped
his hand into it and sprinkled the baby,
saying:
"I own this baby for my son. He
shall be called Harald. My naming gift
to him is ten pounds of gold."
Then the woman carried the baby
back to the queen's room.

"My lord owns him for his son," she
said. "And no wonder! He is perfect
in every limb."
The queen looked at him and smiled
and remembered her dream and thought:
"That great tree ! Can it be this little
baby of mine?"




The Tooth Thrall
When Harald was seven months old
he cut his first tooth. Then his
father said :
"All the young of my herds, lambs
and calves and colts, that have been born
since this baby was born I this day give
to him. I also give to him this thrall,
Olaf. These are my tooth-gifts to my
son."
The boy grew fast, for as soon as he
could walk about he was out of doors
most of the time. He ran in the woods
and climbed the hills and waded in the
creek. He was much with his tooth
thrall, for the king had said to Olaf:
"Be ever at his call."
Now this Olaf was full of stories, and
Harald liked to hear them.
"Come out to Aegir's Rock, Olaf, and
tell me stories," he said almost every day.
So they started off across the hills.
The man wore a long, loose coat of white
wool, belted at the waist with a strap.
He had on coarse shoes and leather leg-
gings. Around his neck was an iron
collar welded together so that it could
not come off. On it were strange marks,
called runes, that said :
"Olaf, thrall of Halfdan."
But Harald's clothes were gay. A cape
of gray velvet hung from his shoulders.
It was fastened over his breast with great
gold buckles. When it waved in the
wind, a scarlet lining flashed out, and the
bottom of a little scarlet jacket showed.
His feet and legs were covered with
gray woolen tights. Gold lacings wound
around his legs from his shoes to his
knees. A band of gold held down his
long, yellow hair.
It was a wild country that these
two were walking over. They were
climbing steep, rough hills. Some of
them seemed made all of rock, with a
little earth lying in spots. Great rocks
hung out from them, with trees grow-
ing in their cracks. Some big pieces
had broken off and rolled down the
hill.
"Thor broke them," Olaf said. " He
rides through the sky and hurls his
hammer at clouds and at mountains.
That makes the thunder and the light-
ning and cracks the hills. His hammer
never misses its aim, and it always
comes back to his hand and is eager
to go again."
When they reached the top of the hill
they looked back. Far below was a soft,
green valley. In front of it the sea came
up into the land and made a fiord. On
each side of the fiord high walls of rock
stood up and made the water black with
shadow. All around the valley were high
hills with dark pines on them. Far off
were the mountains. In the valley were
Halfdan's houses around their square
yard.
"How little our houses look down
there!" Harald said. "But I can almost
-yes, I can see the red dragon on the
roof of the feast hall. Do you remember
when I climbed up and sat on his head,
Olaf?"
He laughed and kicked his heels and
ran on.

"Thor broke them," Olaf said. " He
rides through the sky and hurls his
hammer at clouds and at mountains.
That makes the thunder and the light-
ning and cracks the hills. His hammer
never misses its aim, and it always
comes back to his hand and is eager
to go again."
When they reached the top of the hill
they looked back. Far below was a soft,
green valley. In front of it the sea came
up into the land and made a fiord. On
each side of the fiord high walls of rock
stood up and made the water black with
shadow. All around the valley were high
hills with dark pines on them. Far off
were the mountains. In the valley were
Halfdan's houses around their square
yard.
"How little our houses look down
there!" Harald said. "But I can almost
-yes, I can see the red dragon on the
roof of the feast hall. Do you remember
when I climbed up and sat on his head,
Olaf?"
He laughed and kicked his heels and
ran on.
in the golden grove. A high wall runs
all around it. In the house of Odin,
the All-father, there is a great feast hall
larger than the whole earth. Its name is
Valhalla. It has five hundred doors.
The rafters are spears. The roof is
thatched with shields. Armor lies on the
benches. In the high seat sits Odin, a
golden helmet on his head, a spear in his
hand. Two wolves lie at his feet. At
his right hand and his left sit all the gods
and goddesses, and around the hall sit
thousands and thousands of men, all the
brave ones that have ever died.
"Now it is good to be in Valhalla ; for
there is mead there better than men can
brew, and it never runs out. And there
are skalds that sing wonderful songs that
men never heard. And before the doors
of Valhalla is a great meadow where the
warriors fight every day and get glorious
and sweet wounds and give many. And
all night they feast, and their wounds
heal. But none may go to Valhalla ex-
cept warriors that have died bravely in
battle. Men who die from sickness go
with women and children and cowards
in the golden grove. A high wall runs
all around it. In the house of Odin,
the All-father, there is a great feast hall
larger than the whole earth. Its name is
Valhalla. It has five hundred doors.
The rafters are spears. The roof is
thatched with shields. Armor lies on the
benches. In the high seat sits Odin, a
golden helmet on his head, a spear in his
hand. Two wolves lie at his feet. At
his right hand and his left sit all the gods
and goddesses, and around the hall sit
thousands and thousands of men, all the
brave ones that have ever died.
"Now it is good to be in Valhalla ; for
there is mead there better than men can
brew, and it never runs out. And there
are skalds that sing wonderful songs that
men never heard. And before the doors
of Valhalla is a great meadow where the
warriors fight every day and get glorious
and sweet wounds and give many. And
all night they feast, and their wounds
heal. But none may go to Valhalla ex-
cept warriors that have died bravely in
battle. Men who die from sickness go
with women and children and cowards
above him, and leaped out into the air
and died in the water of the fiord."
' "Ho!" cried Harald, jumping to his
feet. ' ' I think that Odin stood up before
his high seat and welcomed that man
gladly when he walked through the door
of Valhalla."
' ' So the songs say, " replied Olaf , ' ' for
skalds still sing of that deed all over
Norway."


At another time Harald asked :
' ' What is your country, Olaf ? Have
you always been a thrall?"
The thrall's eyes flashed.
"When you are a man," he said,
"and go a-viking to Denmark, ask men
whether they ever heard of Olaf the
Crafty. There, far off, is my country,
across the water. My father was Gud-
brand the Big. Two hundred warriors
feasted in his hall and followed him to
battle. Ten sons sat at meat with him,
and I was the youngest. One day he said :
' ' ' You are all grown to be men.
There is not elbow-room here for so
many chiefs. The eldest of you shall
have my farm when I die. The rest of
you, off a-viking!'
"He had three ships. These he gave
to three of my brothers. But I stayed
that spring and built me a boat. I made
her for only twenty oars because I
thought few men would follow me ; for I
was young, fifteen years old. I made her
in the likeness of a dragon. At the prow
I carved the head with open mouth and
forked tongue thrust out. I painted the
eyes red for anger.
" 'There, stand so!' I said, and glare
and hiss at my foes. '
"In the stern I curved the tail up
almost as high as the head. There I put
the pilot's seat and a strong tiller for the
rudder. On the breast and sides I carved
the dragon's scales. Then I painted it
all black and on the tip of every scale I
put gold. I called her ' Waverunner. '
There she sat on the rollers, as fair a ship
as I ever saw.
"The night that it was finished I went
to my father's feast. After the meats
were eaten and the mead-horns came
round, I stood up from my bench and
raised my drinking-horn* high and spoke
with a great voice :
" 'This is my vow: I will sail to Nor-
way and I will harry the coast and fill
my boat with riches. Then I will get
* See note about drinking-horns on page
Norway 29
me a farm and will winter in that land.
Now who will follow me?'
' ' ' He is but a boy, ' the men said. ' He
has opened his mouth wider than he can
do.'
"But others jumped to their feet with
their mead-horns in their hands. Thirty
men, one after another, raised their horns
and said :
" 'I will follow this lad, and I will not
turn back so long as he and I live ! '
' ' On the next morning we got into my
dragon and started. I sat high in the
pilot's seat. As our boat flashed down
the rollers into the water I made this
song and sang it :
" ' The dragon runs.
Where will she steer ?
Where swords will sing,
Where spears will bite,
Where I shall laugh/
"So we harried the coast of Norway.
We ate at many men's tables uninvited.
Many men we found overburdened with
gold. Then I said:
" ' My dragon's belly is never full/ and
on board went the gold.
"Oh ! it is better to live on the sea and
let other men raise your crops and cook
your meals. A house smells of smoke, a
ship smells of frolic. From a house you
see a sooty roof, from a ship you see
Valhalla.
' ' Up and down the water we went to
get much wealth and much frolic. After
a while my men said:
" ' What of the farm, Olaf ?'
"'Not yet/ I answered. ' Viking is
better for summer. When the ice comes,
and our dragon cannot play, then we will
get our farm and sit down/
' ' At last the winter came, and I said
to my men :
" 'Now for the farm. I have my eye
on one up the coast a way in King Half-
dan's country/
' ' So we set off for it. We landed late
at night and pull'ed our boat up on shore
and walked quietly to the house. It was
rather a wealthy farm, for there were
stables and a storehouse and a smithy at
the sides of the house. There was but
one door to the house. We went to it,
and I struck it with my spear.


" ' Hello! Ho! Hello!' I shouted, and
my men made a great din.
"At last some one from inside said:
'" Who calls?'
" 'I call,' I answered. 'Open! or you
will think it Thor who calls,' and I struck
my shield against the door so that it
made a great clanging.
"The door opened only a little, but I
pushed it wide and leaped into the room.
It was so dark that I could see nothing
but a few sparks on the hearth. I stood
with my back to the wall ; for I wanted no
sword reaching out of the dark for me.
" ' Now start up the fire,' I said.
" 'Come, come !' I called, when no one
obeyed. ' A fire ! This is cold welcome
for your guests. '
"My men laughed.
"'Yes, a stingy host! He acts as
though he had not expected us. '
' ' But now the farmer was blowing on
the coals and putting on fresh wood.
Soon it blazed up, and we could see about
us. We were in a little feast hall,* with
its fire down the middle of it. There
*See note about feast hall on page 196,
were benches for twenty men along each
side. The farmer crouched by the fire,
afraid to move. On a bench in a far
corner were a dozen people huddled
together.
" 'Ho, thralls!' I called to them. 'Bring
in the table. We are hungry.'
"Off they ran through a door at the
back of the hall. My men came in and
lay down by the fire and warmed them-
selves, but I set two of them as guards at
the door.
"'Well, friend farmer,' laughed one,
' why such a long face ? Do you not think
we shall be merry company?'
 'We came only to cheer you; said
another. ' What man wants to spend the
winter with no guests ? '
" 'Ah !' another then cried out, sitting
up. ' Here comes something that will be
a welcome guest to my stomach.'
' ' The thralls were bringing in a great
pot of meat. They set up a crane over
the fire and hung the' pot upon it, and we
sat and watched it boil while we joked.
At last the supper began. The farmer
sat gloomily on the bench and would not
were benches for twenty men along each
side. The farmer crouched by the fire,
afraid to move. On a bench in a far
corner were a dozen people huddled
together.
" 'Ho, thralls!' I called to them. 'Bring
in the table. We are hungry.'
"Off they ran through a door at the
back of the hall. My men came in and
lay down by the fire and warmed them-
selves, but I set two of them as guards at
the door.
"'Well, friend farmer,' laughed one,
' why such a long face ? Do you not think
we shall be merry company?'
V 'We came only to cheer you; said
another. ' What man wants to spend the
winter with no guests ? '
" 'Ah !' another then cried out, sitting
up. ' Here comes something that will be
a welcome guest to my stomach.'
' ' The thralls were bringing in a great
pot of meat. They set up a crane over
the fire and hung the' pot upon it, and we
sat and watched it boil while we joked.
At last the supper began. The farmer
sat gloomily on the bench and would not
' ' ' Now there is no fun in having guests
unless they keep you company and make
you merry. So I will give out this law:
that my men shall never leave you alone.
Hakon there shall be your constant com-
panion, friend farmer. He shall not
leave you day or night, whether you are
working or playing or sleeping. Leif
and Grim shall be the same kind of
friends to your two sons/
" ' I named nine others and said :
' ' 'And these shall follow your thralls
in the same way. Now, am I not careful
to make your time go merrily ? '
s ' ' So I set guards over every one in that
house. Not once all that winter did they
stir out of sight of some of us. So no
tales got out to the neighbors. Besides,
it was a lonely place, and by good luck
no one came that way. Oh! that was fat
and easy living.
"Well, after we had been there for a
long time, Hakon came in to the feast
one night and said :
"'I heard a cuckoo to-day!'
" 'It is the call to go a-viking,'
I said.
' 'All my men put their hands to their
mouths and shouted. Their eyes danced.
Big Thorleif stood up and stretched him-
self.
" ' I am stiff with long sitting,' he said.
'I itch for a fight/
' ' I turned to the farmer.
' ' ' This is our last feast with you, ' I
said.
'"Well, 1 he laughed, 'this has been
the busiest winter I ever spent, and the
merriest. May good luck go with you ! '
" 'By the beard of Odin!' I cried; 'you
have taken our joke like a man.'
' ' My men pounded the table with their
fists.
" 'By the hammer of Thor !' shouted
Grim. ' Here is no stingy coward. He is
a man fit to carry my drinking-horn, the
horn of a sea-rover and a sword-swinger.
Here, friend, take it,' and he thrust it
into the farmer's hand. ' May you drink
heart's-ease from it for many years.
And with it I leave you a name, Sif the
Friendly. I shall hope to drink with you
sometime in Valhalla/
' ' Then all my men poured around that
' 'All my men put their hands to their
mouths and shouted. Their eyes danced.
Big Thorleif stood up and stretched him-
self.
" ' I am stiff with long sitting,' he said.
'I itch for a fight/
' ' I turned to the farmer.
' ' ' This is our last feast with you, ' I
said.
'"Well, 1 he laughed, 'this has been
the busiest winter I ever spent, and the
merriest. May good luck go with you ! '
" 'By the beard of Odin!' I cried; 'you
have taken our joke like a man.'
' ' My men pounded the table with their
fists.
" 'By the hammer of Thor !' shouted
Grim. ' Here is no stingy coward. He is
a man fit to carry my drinking-horn, the
horn of a sea-rover and a sword-swinger.
Here, friend, take it,' and he thrust it
into the farmer's hand. ' May you drink
heart's-ease from it for many years.
And with it I leave you a name, Sif the
Friendly. I shall hope to drink with you
sometime in Valhalla/
' ' Then all my men poured around that
my men and sunk m}^ ship and dragged
me off a prisoner. They were three
against one, or they might have tasted
something more bitter at our hands.
They took me before King Halfdan.
' ' ' Here, ' they said, ' is a rascal who has
been harrying our coasts. We sunk his
ship and men, but him we brought to you. '
" 'A robber viking?' said the king, and
scowled at me.
' ' I threw back my head and laughed.
" 'Yes. And with all your fingers it
took you a year to catch me. '
' ' The king frowned more angrily.
' ' ' Saucy, too ? ' he said. ' Well, thieves
must die. Take him out, Thorkel, and
let him taste your sword.'
' ' Your mother, the queen, was stand-
ing by. Now she put her hand on his
arm and smiled and said :
' ' ' He is only a lad. Let him live. And
would he not be a good gift for our baby? '
"Your father thought a moment, then
looked at your mother and smiled.
"'Soft heart!' he said gently to her;
then to Thorkel, 'Well, let him go,
Thorkel !'
' ' Then he turned to me again, frown-
ing.
' ' l But, young sharp-tongue, now that
we have caught 3^ou we will put you into
a trap that you cannot get out of. Weld
an iron collar on his neck. '
"So I lived and now am your tooth
thrall. Well, it is the luck of war. But
by the chair of Odin, I kept my vow ! "
"Yes!" cried Harald, jumping to his
feet. "And had a joke into the bargain.
Ah ! sometime I will make a brave vow
like that."


A map showing the journeys of the Vikings
A Norseman's House:-
In a rich Norseman's home were many
buildings. The finest and largest was the great
feast hall. Next were the bower, where the women
worked, and the guest house, where visitors slept.
Besides these were storehouses, stables, work-shops,
a kitchen, a sleeping-house for thralls. All these
buildings were made of heavy, hewn logs, covered
with tar to fill the cracks and to keep the wood from
rotting. The ends of the logs, the door-posts, the
peaks of gables, were carved into shapes of men and
animals and were painted with bright colors. These
gay buildings were close together, often set around
the four sides of a square yard. That yard was a
busy and pleasant place, with men and women run-
ning across from one bright building to another.
Sometimes a high fence with one gate went around
all this, and only the tall, carved peaks of roofs
showed from the outside.

Old Norse Names:-
 An old Norse story says : " Most men
had two names in one, and thought it likeliest to lead
to long life and good luck to have double names."
To be called after a god was very lucky. Here are
some of those double names with their meanings :
" Thorstein " means Thor's stone ; " Thorkel " means
Thor's fire ; " Thorbiorn " means Thor's bear ; " Gud-
brand" means Gunnr's sword (Gunnr was one of
the Valkyrias*) ; "Gunnbiorn " means Gunnr's bear ;
"Gudrid" means Gunnr's rider; "Gudrod" means
Gunnr's land-clearer. (Most of the land in old
Norway was covered with forests. When a man got
new land he had to clear off the trees.) In those
olden days a man did not have a surname that
belonged to everyone in his family. Sometimes
there were two or three men of the same name in a
neighborhood. That caused trouble. People thought
of two ways of making it easy to tell which man was
being spoken of. Each was given a nickname. Sup-
pose the name of each was Haki. One would be
called Haki the Black because he had black hair.
The other would be called Haki the Ship-chested
because his chest was broad and strong. These nick-
names were often given only for the fun of it. Most
men had them, Eric the Red, Leif the Lucky,
Harald Hairfair, Rolf Go-afoot. The other way of
knowing one Haki from the other was to tell his
father's name. One was Haki, Eric's son. The
other was Haki, Half dan's son. If you speak these
names quickly, they sound like Haki Ericsson and
Haki Halfdansson. After a while they were written
like that, and men handed them on to their sons and
daughters. Some names that we have nowadays
have come down to us in just that way Swanson,
Anderson, Peterson, Jansen. There was another
reason for these last names : a man was proud to
have people know who his father was.
Drinking-horns. The Norsemen had few cups
or goblets. They used instead the horns of cattle,
polished and trimmed with gold or silver or bronze.
They were often very beautiful, and a man was
almost as proud of his drinking-horn as of his
sword.
Tables. Before a meal thralls brought trestles
into the feast hall and set them .before the benches.
Then they laid long boards across from trestle to
trestle. These narrow tables stretched all along both
.sides of the hall. People sat at the outside edge
only. So the thralls served from the middle of the
room. They put baskets of bread and wooden plat-
ters of meat upon these bare boards. At the end of
the meal they carried out tables and all, and the
drinking-horns went round in a clean room.
Beds. Around the sides of the feast hall were
shut-beds. They were like big boxes with doors
opening into the hall. On the floor of this box was
straw with blankets thrown over it. The pes pie got
into these beds and closed the doors and so shut
themselves in. Olaf's men could have set heavy
things against these doors or have put props against
them. Then the people could not have got out; for on
the other side of the bed was the thick outside wall
of the feast hall, and there were no windows in it.
Feast Hall. The feast hall was long and narrow,
with a door at each end. Down the middle of the
room were flat stones in the dirt floor. Here the
fires burned. In the roof above these fires were
holes for the smoke to go out, but some of it blew
about the hall, and the walls and rafters were stained
with it. But it was pleasant wood smoke, and the
Norsemen did not dislike it. There were no large
windows in a feast hall or in any other Norse building.
High up under the eaves or in the roof itself were
narrow slits that were called wind's-eyes. There was
no glass in them, for the Norsemen did not know
how to make it; but there were, instead, covers made
of thin, oiled skin. These were put into the wind's-
eyes in stormy weather. There were covers, too, for
the smoke-holes. The only light came through these
narrow holes, so on dark days the people needed the
fire as much for light as for warmth.
Foster-father. A Norse father sent his children
away from home to grow up. They went when they
were three or four years old and stayed until they
were grown. The father thought : " They will be
better so. If they stayed at home, their mother
would spoil them with much petting."
Foster-brothers. When two men loved each
other very much they said, "Let us become foster-
brothers."
Then they went and cut three long pieces of turf
and put a spear into the ground so that it held up
the strips of turf like an arch. Runes were cut on
the handle of the spear, telling the duties of foster-
brothers. The two men walked under this arch, and
each made a little cut in his palm. They knelt and
clasped hands, so that the blood of the two flowed
together, and they said, "Now we are of one blood."
Then each made this vow : " I will fight for my
foster-brother whenever he shall need me. If he is
killed before I am, I will punish the man who did it.
Whatever things I own are as much my foster-
brother's as mine. I will love this man until I die.
I call Odin and Thor and all the gods to hear my
vow. May they hate me if I break it ! "
Ran. Ran was the wife of Aegir, who was god
of the sea. They lived in a cave at the bottom of
the ocean. Ran had a great net, and she caught in
it all men who were shipwrecked and took them to
her cave. She also caught all the gold and rich
treasures that went down in ships. So her cave was
filled with shining things.
Valkyrias. These were the maidens of Odin.
They waited on the table in Valhalla. But when-
ever a battle was being fought they rode through
the air on their horses and watched to see what
warriors were brave enough to go to Valhalla. Some-
times during the fight a man would think that he
saw the Valkyrias. Then he was glad ; for he knew
that he would go to Valhalla.
An old Norse story says this about the Valkyrias:
" With lightning around them, with bloody shirts of
mail, and with shining spears they ride through the
air and the ocean. When their horses shake their
manes, dew falls on the deep valleys and hail on the
high forests."
Odin's Ravens. Odin had a great throne in his
palace in Asgard. When he sat in it he could look
all over the world. But it was so far to see that he
could not tell all of the things that were happening.
So he had two ravens to help him. An old Norse
story tells this about them : " Two ravens sit on
Odin's shoulders and whisper in his ears all that they
have heard and seen. He sends them out at dawn
of day to see over the whole world. They return at
evening near meal time. This is why Odin knows
so many things."
Reykjavik. Reyk j avik means ' ' smoky sea. ' ' Ingolf
called it that because of the steaming hot-springs by
the sea. The place is still called Reykjavik. A little
city has grown up there, the only city in Iceland. It
is the capital of the country.
Peace-bands. A Norseman always carried his
sword, even at a feast ; for he did not know when he
might need it. But when he went somewhere on an
errand of peace and had no quarrel he tied his sword
into its scabbard with white bands that he called
peace-bands. If all at once something happened to
make him need his sword, he broke the peace-bands
and drew it out.
Eskimos. Now, the Eskimos live in Greenland
and Alaska and on the very northern shores of
Canada. But once they lived farther south in pleas-
anter lands. After a while the other Indian tribes
began to grow strong. Then they wanted the pleas-
ant land of the Eskimos and the seashore that the
Eskimos had. So they fought again and again with
those people and won and drove them farther north
and farther north. At last the Eskimos were on
the very shores of the cold sea, with the Indians still
pushing them on. So some of them got into their
boats and rowed across the narrow water and came
to Greenland and lived there. Some people think
that these things happened before Eric found Green-
land. In that case he found Eskimos there ; and
Thorfinn saw red Indians in Wineland. Other people
think that this happened after Eric went to Green-
land. If that is true, he found an empty land, and
it was Eskimos that Thorfinn saw in Wineland.

Possibly this book seems made up of four or five disconnected stories.
They are, however, strung upon one thread, the westward emigra-
tion from Norway. The story of Harald is intended
to serve in two ways towards the working out of this
plot. It gives the general setting that continues
throughout the book in costume, houses, ideals,
habits. It explains the cause of the emigration from
the mother country. It is really an introductory
chapter. As for the other stories, they are distinctly
steps in the progress of the plot. A chain of islands
loosely connects Norway with America, Orkneys
and Shetlands, Faroes, Iceland, Greenland. It was
from link to link of this chain that the Norsemen
sailed in search of home and adventure. Discoveries
were made by accident. Ships were driven by the
wind from known island to unknown. These two
points, the island connection that made possible
the long voyage from Norway to America, and the
contribution of storm to discovery, I have stated in
the book only dramatically. I emphasize them here,
hoping that the teacher will make sure that the
children see them, and possibly that they state them
abstractly.
Let me speak as to the proper imaging of the
stories. I have not often interrupted incident with
special description, not because I do not consider the
getting of vivid and detailed images most necessary
to full enjoyment and to proper intellectual habits,
but because I trusted to the pictures of this book
and to the teacher to do what seemed to me inartistic
to do in the story. Some of these descriptions and
explanations I have introduced into the book in the
form of notes, hoping that the children in turning to
them might form a habit of insisting upon full
200
understanding of a point, and might possibly, with
the teacher's encouragement, begin the habit of
reference reading.
The landscape of Norway, Iceland, and Greenland
is wonderful and will greatly assist in giving reality
and defiSiteness to the stories. Materials for this
study are not difficult of access. Foreign colored
photographs of Norwegian landscape are becoming
common in our art stores. There are good illustra-
tions in the geographical works referred to in the
book list. These could be copied upon the black-
board. There are three books beautifully illustrated
in color that it will be possible to find only in large
libraries, "Coast of Norway," by Walton ; "Travels
in the Island of Iceland," by Mackenzie ; " Voyage en
Islande et au Greenland," by J. P. Gaimard. If the
landscape is studied from the point of view of forma-
tion, the images will be more accurate and more
easily gained, and the study will have a general value
that will continue past the reading of these stories
into all work in geography.
Trustworthy pictures of Norse houses and cos-
tumes are difficult to obtain. In "Viking Age" and
"Story of Norway," by Boyesen (G. P. Putnam's
Sons, New York), are many copies of Norse antiqui-
ties in the fashion of weapons, shield-bosses, coins,
jewelry, wood-carving. These are, of course, accu-
rate, but of little interest to children. Their chief
value lies in helping the teacher to piece together a
picture that she can finally give to her pupils.
Metal-working and wood-carving were the most
important arts of the Norse. If children study
products of these arts and actually do some of the
work, they will gain a quickened sympathy with the
people and an appreciation of their power. They
may, perhaps, make something to merely illustrate
Norse work ; for instance, a carved ship's-head, or a
copper shield, or a wrought door-nail. But, better,
they may apply Norse ideas of form and decoration
and Norse processes in making some modern thing
that they can actually use ; for instance, a carved
wood pin-tray or a copper match holder. This work
should lead out into a study pf these same industries
among ourselves with visits to wood-working shops
and metal foundries.
Frequent drawn or painted illustration by the
children of costumes, landscapes, houses, feast halls,
and ships will help to make these images clear. But
dramatization will do more than anything else for
the interpreting of the stories and the characters. It
would be an excellent thing if at last, through the
dramatization and the handwork, the children should
come into sufficient understanding and enthusiasm
to turn skalds and compose songs in the Norse man-
ner. This requires only a small vocabulary and a
rough feeling for simple rhythm, but an intensity of
emotion and a great vividness of image.
These Norse stories have, to my thinking, three
values. The men, with the crude courage and the
strange adventures that make a man interesting to
children, have at the same time the love of truth, the
hardy endurance, the faithfulness to plighted word,
that make them a child's fit companions. Again, in
form and in matter old Norse literature is well worth
our reading. I should deem it a great thing accom-
plished if the children who read these stories should
so be tempted after a while to read those fine old
books, to enjoy the tales, to appreciate straightfor-
wardness and simplicity of style. The historical
value of the story of Leif Ericsson and the others
seems to me to be not to learn the fact that Norse-
men discovered America before Columbus did, but
to gain a conception of the conditions of early navi-
gation, of the length of the voyage, of the dangers of
the sea, and a consequent realization of the reason
for the fact that America was unknown to mediaeval
Europe, of why the Norsemen did not travel, of
what was necessary to be done before men should
strike out across the ocean.