A Frisian Saga In Adam Of Bremen

: Teutonic Mythology

The series of traditions above narrated in regard to Odainsaker, the

Glittering Plains, and their ruler Gudmund, and also in regard to the

neighbouring domains as habitations of the souls of the dead, extends,

so far as the age of their recording in writing is concerned, through a

period of considerable length. The latest cannot be referred to an

earlier date than the fourteenth century; the oldest were put in writing

oward the close of the twelfth. Saxo began working on his history

between the years 1179 and 1186. Thus these literary evidences span

about two centuries, and stop near the threshold of heathendom. The

generation to which Saxo's father belonged witnessed the crusade which

Sigurd the Crusader made in Eastern Smaland, in whose forests the

Asa-doctrine until that time seems to have prevailed, and the Odinic

religion is believed to have flourished in the more remote parts of

Sweden even in Saxo's own time.

We must still add to this series of documents one which is to carry it

back another century, and even more. This document is a saga told by

Adam of Bremen in De Situ Daniae. Adam, or, perhaps, before him, his

authority Adalbert (appointed archbishop in the year 1043), has turned

the saga into history, and made it as credible as possible by excluding

all distinctly mythical elements. And as it, doubtless for this reason,

neither mentions a place which can be compared with Odainsaker or with

the Glittering Plains, I have omitted it among the literary evidences

above quoted. Nevertheless, it reminds us in its main features of Saxo's

account of Gorm's journey of discovery, and its relation both to it and

to the still older myth shall be shown later (see No. 94). In the form

in which Adam heard the saga, its point of departure has been located in

Friesland, not in Denmark. Frisian noblemen make a voyage past Norway up

to the farthest limits of the Arctic Ocean, get into a darkness which

the eyes scarcely can penetrate, are exposed to a maelstrom which

threatens to drag them down ad Chaos, but finally come quite

unexpectedly out of darkness and cold to an island which, surrounded as

by a wall of high rocks, contains subterranean caverns, wherein giants

lie concealed. At the entrances of the underground dwellings lay a great

number of tubs and vessels of gold and other metals which "to mortals

seem rare and valuable." As much as the adventurers could carry of

these treasures they took with them and hastened to their ships. But the

giants, represented by great dogs, rushed after them. One of the

Frisians was overtaken and torn into pieces before the eyes of the

others. The others succeeded, thanks to our Lord and to Saint Willehad,

in getting safely on board their ships.