Literature: The Saga of Hrolf Kraki
Hrolf Kraki's Last Stand. (c) The Saga of Hrolf Kraki
(Hrólfs saga kraka
) is a 13th century Icelandic Legendary Saga
about the legendary Danish king Hrolf Kraki, who would have lived – if he lived - in the early 6th century.
King Helgi of Denmark
, of the famous Skjöldung line, is an accomplished Viking
raider. On one of these raids, Helgi rapes Queen Oluf of the Saxons. Years later, on another foray to Saxony, he kidnaps a beautiful shepherd girl, Yrsa. He marries her. Queen Oluf waits until Yrsa is pregnant, then reveals to Helgi that Yrsa is his own daughter.
Devastated, Yrsa leaves Helgi and their infant son Hrolf, and later marries King Adils of Sweden
. But Helgi fails to hold his yearning for Yrsa in check, and thus he is lured to his death in Sweden by Adils.
Eventually, the young Hrolf takes over the kingship of Denmark. Noted for his generosity, the best warriors of all the Northlands flock to Hrolf’s service, and the twelve greatest of them become known as Hrolf’s champions. With their help, Hrolf finally ventures to Sweden to demand compensation for his father’s death from Adils. But the devious and sorcerous King of Sweden turns out a less dangerous opponent than Skuld, Hrolf’s own half-sister that Helgi begot with an elf-woman.
By design or coincidence, Hrolf Kraki has several similarities to the King Arthur
story: Like Arthur, Hrolf is born from a scandalous relationship as the offspring of a brave but morally defective father whom he never gets to know; and like Arthur, he does not so much excel in heroic feats himself, but lets his trusty band of heroes do the grunt work. Like Arthur, Hrolf has a sorcerous half-sister who is only part human, hates her brother, and eventually is the reason for his destruction. It also goes with the Arthur parallels that Hrolf spends much time in the background while the narrative focuses on the adventures of his famous champions, the most prodigious of whom is the near-invincible Bödvar Bjarki. Other champions that have their own stories are Svipdag the Swede, a former retainer of King Adils, and Hjalti, who grows from Bödvar Bjarki’s wimpy sidekick into a kickass hero in his own right.
The Hrolf Kraki legend shares some of its cast with Beowulf
: Etymologically, Hrolf can be equated to Hrothulf, who is mentioned in Beowulf
as the son of Halga and nephew of King Hrothgar, who in turn correspond to Helgi and his brother Hroar from Hrolf's Saga
; their common ancestor Skjöld figures as Scyld Scefing in Beowulf
. Some have also proposed that Bödvar Bjarki, Hrolf's greatest champion, is the Norse equivalent of Beowulf himself. Still, the Saga of Hrolf
is not the "Norse version of Beowulf
"; both stories have an entirely different plot and are clearly set in mutually exclusive continuities
. Certain (fairly minor) parallels will most likely escape the reader without someone pointing them out. It is however true that Bödvar Bjarki and Beowulf share much the same personality.Hrolf Kraki's Saga
is also the name of a novel by Poul Anderson
, a retelling of Hrólfs saga kraka
augmented by various other sources on King Hrolf, such as Saxo Grammaticus’ Gesta Danorum
and the Prose Edda
Can be read online here.
Tropes in the Saga of Hrolf Kraki: