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Saxo Concerning This Same Gudmund Ruler Of The Lower World


Source: Teutonic Mythology

Saxo, the Danish historian, also knows Gudmund. He relates (Hist.
Dan., viii.) that King Gorm had resolved to find a mysterious country
in regard to which there were many reports in the North. Incredible
treasures were preserved in that land. A certain Geruthus, known in the
traditions, dwelt there, but the way thither was full of dangers and
well-nigh inaccessible for mortals. They who had any knowledge of the
situation of the land insisted that it was necessary to sail across the
ocean surrounding the earth, leave sun and stars behind, and make a
journey sub Chao, before reaching the land which is deprived of the
light of day, and over whose mountains and valleys darkness broods.
First there was a perilous voyage to be made, and then a journey in the
lower world. With the experienced sailor Thorkillus as his guide, King
Gorm left Denmark with three ships and a numerous company, sailed past
Halogaland, and came, after strange adventures on his way, to
Bjarmaland, situated beyond the known land of the same name, and
anchored near its coast. In this Bjarmia ulterior it is always cold;
to its snow-clad fields there comes no summer warmth, through its deep
wild forests flow rapid foaming rivers which well forth from the rocky
recesses, and the woods are full of wild beasts, the like of which are
unknown elsewhere. The inhabitants are monsters with whom it is
dangerous for strangers to enter into conversation, for from
unconsidered words they get power to do harm. Therefore Thorkillus was
to do the talking alone for all his companions. The place for anchoring
he had chosen in such a manner that they thence had the shortest journey
to Geruthus. In the evening twilight the travellers saw a man of unusual
size coming to meet them, and to their joy he greeted them by name.
Thorkillus informed them that they should regard the coming of this man
as a good omen, for he was the brother of Geruthus, Guthmundus, a
friendly person and the most faithful protector in peril. When
Thorkillus had explained the perpetual silence of his companions by
saying that they were too bashful to enter into conversation with one
whose language they did not understand, Guthmundus invited them to be
his guests and led them by paths down along a river. Then they came to a
place where a golden bridge was built across the river. The Danes felt a
desire to cross the bridge and visit the land on the other side, but
Guthmundus warned them that nature with the bed of this stream has drawn
a line between the human and superhuman and mysterious, and that the
ground on the other side was by a sacred order proclaimed unlawful for
the feet of mortals.[34] They therefore continued the march on that
side of the river on which they had hitherto gone, and so came to the
mysterious dwelling of Guthmundus, where a feast was spread before them,
at which twelve of his sons, all of noble appearance, and as many
daughters, most fair of face, waited upon them.

But the feast was a peculiar one. The Danes heeded the advice of
Thorkillus not to come into too close contact with their strange
table-companions or the servants, and instead of tasting the courses
presented of food and drink, they ate and drank of the provisions they
had taken with them from home. This they did because Thorkillus knew
that mortals who accept the courtesies here offered them lose all memory
of the past and remain for ever among "these non-human and dismal
beings." Danger threatened even those who were weak in reference to the
enticing loveliness of the daughters of Guthmundus. He offered King Gorm
a daughter in marriage. Gorm himself was prudent enough to decline the
honour; but four of his men could not resist the temptation, and had to
pay the penalty with the loss of their memory and with enfeebled minds.

One more trial awaited them. Guthmundus mentioned to the king that he
had a villa, and invited Gorm to accompany him thither and taste of the
delicious fruits. Thorkillus, who had a talent for inventing excuses,
now found one for the king's lips. The host, though displeased with the
reserve of the guests, still continued to show them friendliness, and
when they expressed their desire to see the domain of Geruthus, he
accompanied them all to the river, conducted them across it, and
promised to wait there until they returned.

The land which they now entered was the home of terrors. They had not
gone very far before they discovered before them a city, which seemed to
be built of dark mists. Human heads were raised on stakes which
surrounded the bulwarks of the city. Wild dogs, whose rage Thorkillus,
however, knew how to calm, kept watch outside of the gates. The gates
were located high up in the bulwark, and it was necessary to climb up on
ladders in order to get to them. Within the city was a crowd of beings
horrible to look at and to hear, and filth and rottenness and a terrible
stench were everywhere. Further in was a sort of mountain-fastness. When
they had reached its entrance the travellers were overpowered by its
awful aspect, but Thorkillus inspired them with courage. At the same
time he warned them most strictly not to touch any of the treasures that
might entice their eyes. All that sight and soul can conceive as
terrible and loathsome was gathered within this rocky citadel. The
door-frames were covered with the soot of centuries, the walls were
draped with filth, the roofs were composed of sharp stings, the floors
were made of serpents encased in foulness. At the thresholds crowds of
monsters acted as doorkeepers and were very noisy. On iron benches,
surrounded by a hurdle-work of lead, there lay giant monsters which
looked like lifeless images. Higher up in a rocky niche sat the aged
Geruthus, with his body pierced and nailed to the rock, and there lay
also three women with their backs broken. Thorkillus explained that it
was this Geruthus whom the god Thor had pierced with a red-hot iron; the
women had also received their punishment from the same god.

When the travellers left these places of punishment they came to a place
where they saw cisterns of mead (dolia) in great numbers. These were
plated with seven sheets of gold, and above them hung objects of silver,
round as to form, from which shot numerous braids down into the
cisterns. Near by was found a gold-plated tooth of some strange animal,
and near it, again, there lay an immense horn decorated with pictures
and flashing with precious stones, and also an arm-ring of great size.
Despite the warnings, three of Gorm's men laid greedy hands on these
works of art. But the greed got its reward. The arm-ring changed into a
venomous serpent; the horn into a dragon, which killed their robbers;
the tooth became a sword, which pierced the heart of him who bore it.
The others who witnessed the fate of their comrades expected that they
too, although innocent, should meet with some misfortune. But their
anxiety seemed unfounded, and when they looked about them again they
found the entrance to another treasury, which contained a wealth of
immense weapons, among which was kept a royal mantle, together with a
splendid head-gear and a belt, the finest work of art. Thorkillus
himself could not govern his greed when he saw these robes. He took hold
of the mantle, and thus gave the signal to the others to plunder. But
then the building shook in its foundations; the voices of shrieking
women were heard, who asked if these robbers were longer to be
tolerated; beings which hitherto had been lying as if half-dead or
lifeless started up and joined other spectres who attacked the Danes.
The latter would all have lost their lives had not their retreat been
covered by two excellent archers whom Gorm had with him. But of the men,
nearly three hundred in number, with whom the king had ventured into
this part of the lower world, there remained only twenty when they
finally reached the river, where Guthmundus, true to his promise, was
waiting for them, and carried them in a boat to his own domain. Here he
proposed to them that they should remain, but as he could not persuade
them, he gave them presents and let them return to their ships in safety
the same way as they had come.

[Footnote 34: Cujus transeundi cupidos revocavit, docens, eo alveo
humana a monstrosis rerum secrevisse naturam, nec mortalibus ultra fas
esse vestigiis.]

Next: Fjallerus And Hadingushadding In The Lower World

Previous: Icelandic Sources In Regard To Gudmund King On The Glittering Plains

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