Marx Engels on Art and Literature

Ancient Scandanavian Epos

Abstract


From: Frederick Engels, History of Ireland;
Source: Marx Engels On Literature and Art, Moscow 1976;
Transcribed: by Andy Blunden.


The quarrelling of the Irish princes amongst themselves greatly simplified pillage and settlement for the Norsemen, and even the temporary conquest of the whole island. The extent to which the Scandinavians considered Ireland as one of their regular pillage grounds is shown by the so-called death-song of Ragnar Lodbrok, the Krkuml, composed about the year 1000 in the snaketower of King Ella of Northumberland. In this song all the ancient pagan savagery is massed together, as if for the last time, and under the pretext of celebrating King Ragnar’s heroic deeds in song, all the Nordic peoples’ raids in their own lands, on coasts from Dunamunde to Flanders, Scotland (here already called Skotland, perhaps for the first time) and Ireland are briefly pictured. About Ireland it is said:

“We hew'd with our swords, heap'd high the slain,
Glad was the wolf’s brother of the furious battle’s feast;
lion struck — brass-shields; Ireland’s ruler, Marsteinn,
Did not starve the murder-wolf or eagle;
In Vedbrafirdhr the raven was given a sacrifice.
We hew'd with our swords, started a game at dawn,
A merry battle against three kings at Lindiseyri;
Not many could boast that they fled unhurt from there.
Falcon fought wolf for flesh, the wolf’s fury devoured many;
The blood of the Irish flow'd in streams on the beach in the battle.”

“Hiuggu ver medh hirvi, hverr la thverr of annan;
gladhr vardh gera brodhir getu vidh sknar laeti,
lt ei o:rn nlgi, ser Irlandi strdhi,
(mt vardh mlms ok rtar) Marsteinn konungr fasta;
vardh Vedhra firdhi valtafn gefit hrafni.

Hiuggu ver medh hio:rvi, hdhum sudhr at morni
leik fyrir Lindiseyri vidh lofdhnga threnna;
frr tti thv fagna (fll margr i gyn lfi,
haukr sleit hold medh vargi), at harm heill thadhan kaemi;
ra bldh oegi aerit fll um skaeru.”

Vedhrafirdhr is, as we have said, Waterford; I do not know whether Lindiseyri has been discovered anywhere. On no account does it mean Leinster as Johnstone translates it; eyri (sandy neck of land, Danish re) points to a quite distinct locality. Valtafn can also mean falcon feed and is generally translated as such here, but as the raven is Odin’s holy bird, the word obviously has both meanings.