Legendary Sagas of the Northland
in English Translation
King Guðmundr of
Guðmund of Glæsisvellir is a recurring character
in the Forndaldarsögur (14th and 15th centuries). He is described as a
powerful heathen king and ruler of a giant-kingdom. Since the
Fornaldarsagas were composed some time after the Christian conversion,
and are rife with mythical and magical information, this begs the
question: Is Guðmund a creation of Christian times or is he a character
already established in the old Norse imagination? His appearance
in a broad range of tales suggests the latter.
King Guðmund appears in several of the fornaldarsögur. In the legend of Helgi Thorisson, he is pitted against the Christian King Olaf Tryggvason as a representative of the new and true doctrine. King Gudmund of the Glittering Plains represents the older heathen doctrine. The author would not have done this if he had not believed that the king of the Glittering Plains had his ancestry in heathendom. In the oldest surviving tale of Guðmund, told by the Danish historian Saxo Grammaticus around 1200, King Gudmund is the giant Geirrod's (Geruthus') brother. His kingdom borders on Jotunheim and on the kingdom of death. The saga of Thorsteinn Bæjarmagn places Gudmund and the Glittering Plains in a tributary relation to Jotunheim and to Geirrod, the giant, well known in the mythology.
The author of Hervör's saga identifies Odainsakur, the acre of the not-dead, as a heathen belief, and gives reasons why it was believed that Odainsakur was situated within the limits of Gudmund's kingdom, the Glittering Plains. This is because Gudmund and his men grew so old that they lived several generations. Gudmund alone lived five hundred years. Therefore the heathens believed that Odainsakur was situated in his domain. The saga of Erik Vidforli makes the way to Odainsakur pass through
That these last ideas have been influenced by Christianity would seem to be sufficiently clear. We find no trace of
Gudmund and his realm an invention of Christian times or is
any person found in the mythology who dwells in a similar environment and is
endowed with similar attributes and qualities?
Upon reflection, these qualities also describe Mimir, perhaps the most characteristic figure of all Germanic mythology. He is the lord of the fountain which bears his name. Odin covets its liquid, yet he has neither authority nor power over it. Neither he nor anyone else of the gods seek to get control of it, even upon Mimir's death. His authority remains unchallenged. To get a drink from it, Odin must subject himself to great sufferings and sacrifices (Völuspá 27-28; Hávamál 138-140; Gylfaginning 15), and it is as a gift or a loan that he afterwards receives from Mimir the invigorating and soul-inspiring drink (Hávamál 140-141). Over the fountain and its territory Mimir, exercises unlimited control, an authority which the gods never appear to have disputed. He has a sphere of power which the gods recognize as inviolable. The domain of his rule belongs to the lower world; it is situated under one of the roots of the world-tree (Völuspá 27-28; Gylfaginning 15), and when Odin, from the world-tree, asks for the precious mead of the fountain, he peers downward into the deep, and from there brings up the runes (nýsta eg niður, nam eg up rúnar - Hávamál 139). Saxo's account of the adventure of Hotherus (Hist., Book 3) shows that there was thought to be a descent to Mimir's land in the form of a mountain cave (specus), and that this descent was, like the one to Gudmund's domain, to be found in the uttermost North, where terrible cold reigns.With these peculiar characteristics are united wisdom and wealth.Though a giant, Mimir is the friend of the order of the world and of the gods. He, like Urd, guards the sacred ash, the world-tree (Völuspá 28), which accordingly also bears his name and is called Mimir's tree (Mímameiður - Fjölsvinnsmál 20; meiður Míma - Fjölsvinnsmál 24). The intercourse between the Asa-father and him has been of such a nature that the expression "Mimir's friend" (Míms vinur - Sonatorrek 23; Skáldskaparmál 3, 9, Hattatal 4) - could be used by the skalds as an epithet of Odin. Of this friendship, Ynglingasaga 4 has preserved a record. It makes Mimir lose his life in his activity for the good of the gods, and makes Odin embalm his head, in order that he may always be able to get wise counsels from its lips. Sigurdrífumál 14 represents Odin as listening to the words of truth which come from Mimir's head. Völuspá 46 predicts that, when Ragnarok approaches, Odin shall converse with Mimir's head; and, according to Gylfaginning 51, he, immediately before the conflagration of the world, rides to Mimir's fountain to get advice from the deep thinker for himself and his friends. The firm friendship between All-Father and this strange giant of the lower world was formed in time's morning while Odin was still young and undeveloped (Hávamál 141), and continued until the end of the gods and the world.
Like Gudmund of Glæasisvellir, Mimir is the collector of treasures. According to mythology, the same treasures that Gorm and his men find in the land which Gudmund lets them visit are in the care of Mimir: the wonderful horn (Völuspá 27), the sword of victory, and the ring (Saxo, Hist., Book 3).
In all these points, the Gudmund of the medieval sagas and Mimir of the mythology are one. There still remains an important point. In Gudmund's domain, there is a splendid grove, an enclosed place, from which weaknesses, age, and death are banished - a Paradise of the peculiar kind, that it is not intended for the souls of the dead, but for certain lifandi menn (living men), yet inaccessible to people in general. In the myth concerning Mimir, we also find such a grove. Speaking of the world that shall arise after Ragnarök, Vafþrúðnismál 45 states that the human beings,
Líf og Leifþrasir,
en þau leynast munu
í holti Hoddmímis.
þau sér að mat hafa,
en þaðan af aldir alast.
Lif and Leifthrasir
in Hodd-Mimir's grove.
they will have for nourishment,
From them are born (new) races.
Lif and Leifthrasir must have had their secure place of refuge in Mimir's grove
during the fimbul-winter, which
precedes Ragnarok. And, accordingly, the idea that they were there only during
Ragnarok is unfounded. They
continue to remain there while the winter rages, and during all the episodes
which characterize the progress of the world towards ruin, and, finally, also,
as Gylfaginning reports, during the
conflagration and regeneration of the world. The mythology doesn't inform
us how long they have been concealed there, but we gather is has been a very
The mythology doesn't inform us how long they have been concealed there, but we gather is has been a very long time.Thus it is explained why the myth finds it of importance to inform us how Lif and Leifthrasir support themselves during their stay in Mimir's grove. It would not have occurred to the myth to present and answer this question had not the sojourn of the human pair in the grove continued for some length of time. Their food is the morning dew.
The Germanic mythology has not looked upon the
regeneration of the world as a new creation. The life which in time's
morning developed out of chaos is not destroyed by Surt's flames, but
rescues itself, purified, for the coming age of the world. The
world-tree survives the conflagration, for it defies both edge and fire
(Fjölsvinnsmál, 20, 21-
fellir-at hann eldur né járn).
The Ida-plains are not annihilated. After Ragnarok, as in the beginning
of time, they are the scene of the assemblings of the gods (Völuspá 7- Hittust æsir á
Völuspá 61- Finnast æsir á
Iðavelli). Vanaheim is not affected by the destruction, for Njörd
(Vafþrúðnismál 39) return
there "to wise Vanir ." Odin's dwellings of victory remain, and are
inhabited after the regeneration by Baldur and Hodur (Völuspá 63- Búa þeir Baldur og
Höður Hropts sigtóftir). The new sun is the daughter of the old one,
and was born before Ragnarok, which she passes through unscathed (Vafþrúðnismál
46-47). The ocean does not disappear in Ragnarok, for the present earth
sinks beneath its surface (Völuspá
58- sígur fold í mar), and the new earth after regeneration rises from
its deep (Völuspá 60 -
jörð úr ægi). Gods survive (Völuspá
61, 63, 64 - æsir, Höður og
Baldur, Hænir); Vafþrúðnismál
51 -Víðar og Váli, Móði og Magni; cp.
Gylfaginning 53). Human beings survive, for Lif and Leifthrasir are
destined to become the connecting link between the present human race
and the better race which is to spring therefrom. Animals and plants
survive - though the animals and plants on the surface of the earth
perish; but the earth risen from the sea was decorated with green, and
there is not the slightest reference to a new act of creation to produce
the green vegetation. Its cascades contain living beings, and over them
flies the eagle in search of his prey (Völuspá
60). A work of art from antiquity is also preserved in the new world.
The game of tafl, with which
the gods played in their youth while they were yet free from care, is
found again amid the grass on the new earth (Völuspá
8 - Tefldu í túni;
Völuspá 62 - gullnar töflur í
Still the purpose of Mimir's land is not limited to being a protection for the fathers of the future world against moral and physical corruption, through this epoch of the world, and a seminary where Baldur educates them in virtue and piety. The grove protects, as we have seen, the ásmegir during Ragnarok, whose flames do not penetrate therein. Thus the grove, and the land in which it is situated, exist after the flames of Ragnarok are extinguished. Was it thought that the grove after the regeneration was to continue in the lower world and there stand uninhabited, abandoned, desolate, and without a purpose in the future existence of gods, men, and things?
The last moments of the existence of the crust of the old earth are described as a chaotic condition in which all elements are confused with each other. The sea rises, overflows the earth sinking beneath its billows, and the crests of its waves aspire to heaven itself (cp. Völuspá 58:2 - sígur fold í mar, with Völuspá in skamma 14:1-3 - Haf gengur hríðum við himin sjálfan, líður lönd yfir). The atmosphere, usurped by the sea, disappears, as it were (loft bilar - Völuspá in skamma 14:4). Its snow and winds (Völuspá in skamma 14:5-6 - snjóar og snarir vindar) are blended with water and fire, and form with them heated vapors, which "play" against the vault of heaven (Völuspá 58:7-8 - leikur hár hiti við himin sjálfan). One of the reasons why the fancy has made all the forces and elements of nature thus contend and blend was doubtless to furnish a sufficiently good cause for the dissolution and disappearance of the burnt crust of the earth. At all events, the earth is gone when the rage of the elements is subdued, and thus it is not impediment to the act of regeneration which takes its beginning beneath the waves.
This act of regeneration consists in the rising from the depths of the sea of a new earth, which on its very rising possesses living beings and is clothed in green. The fact that it, while yet below the sea, could be a home for beings which need air in order to breathe and exist, is not necessarily to be regarded as a miracle in mythology. Our ancestors only needed to have seen an air-bubble rise to the surface of the water in order to draw the conclusion that air can be found under the water without mixing with it, but with the power of pushing water away while it rises to the surface. Like the old earth , the earth rising from the sea has the necessary atmosphere around it. Under all circumstances, the seeress in Völuspá 60 sees after Ragnarok -
The earth risen from the deep has mountains and cascades, which,
from their fountains in the fells, hasten to the sea. The
waterfalls contain fishes, and above them soars the eagle
seeking its prey (Völuspá
60:5-8). The eagle cannot be a survivor of the beings of the
old earth. It cannot have endured in an atmosphere full of fire
and steam, nor is there any reason why the mythology should
spare the eagle among all the creatures of the old earth. It is,
therefore, of the same origin as the mountains, the cascades,
and the imperishable vegetation which suddenly came to the
surface. The earth risen from the sea also contains human
beings, namely, Lif and Leifthrasir, and their offspring.
Mythology did not need to have recourse to any hocus-pocus to
get them there. The earth risen from the sea had been the lower
world before it came out of the deep, and a paradise-region in
the lower world had for centuries been the abode of Lif and
Leifthrasir. It is more than unnecessary to imagine that the
lower world with this Paradise was duplicated by another with a
Among the mountains which rise on the new earth are found those
which are called Niða
67), Nidi's mountains. The very name
Niði suggests the
lower world. It means the "lower one." Among the abodes of
Hades, mentioned in
Völuspá, there is also a hall of gold on Nidi's plains (á
Niða völlum - Völuspá
37), and from Sólarljóð
(56) we learn - a statement confirmed by much older records -
that Nidi is identical with Mimir. Thus, Nidi's mountains are
situated on Mimir's fields.
discovers on the rejuvenated earth Nidhogg, the corpse-eating
demon of the lower world, flying, with dead bodies under his
wings, away from the rocks, where he from time immemorial had
had his abode, and from which he carried his prey to Nastrond (Völuspá
38-39). There are no more dead bodies to be had for him, and his
task is done. Völuspá's
description of the regenerated earth under all circumstances
shows that Nidhogg has nothing there to do but to fly thence and
disappear. The existence of Nidi's mountains on the new earth
confirms the fact that it is identical with Mimir's former lower
world, and that Lif and Leifthrasir did not need to move from
one world to another in order to get to the daylight of their
In their youth, free from care, the Aesir played with a wonderful tafl game. But they had it only í árdaga, in the earliest time (Völuspá 8, 61). Afterwards, they must in some way or other have lost it. The Icelandic sagas of the Middle Ages have remembered this tafl game, and there we learn, partly that its wonderful character consisted in the fact that it could itself take part in the game and move the pieces, and partly that it was preserved in the lower world, and that Gudmund-Mimir was in the habit of playing tafl (Fornaldarsögur: Saga Heiðreks konungs ins vitra ch. 6; Hervarar saga ok Heiðreks konungs ch. 5; Sörla saga sterka ch. 4; Egils saga einhenda ok Ásmundar berserkjabana chs. 12, 13, 15; In the last passages, the game is mentioned in connection with another subterranean treasure, the horn.) If, now, the mythology had no special reason for bringing the tafl game from the lower world before Ragnarok, then they naturally should be found on the risen earth, if the latter was Mimir's domain before. Völuspá 61 also relates that they were found in its grass:
Þar munu eftir
í grasi finnast.
There, once again, will
be found in the grass.
Thus: the tafl game was refound in the grass, in the meadows of the renewed earth, having from the earliest time been preserved in Mimir's realm. Lif and Leifthrasir are found after Ragnarok on the earth of the regenerated world, having had their abode there in Mimir's domain for a long time. Nidi's mountains, and Nidhogg with them, have been raised out of the sea, together with the rejuvenated earth, since these mountains are located in Mimir's realm. The earth of the new era -- the era of virtue and bliss -- although concealed, has existed through thousands of years below the sin-stained earth, as the kernel within the shell.
Hervarar saga og Heiðreks
|Hervor & King Heidrek|
"It is said that in days of yore there
was a country up north in Finnmark called Jotunheim, and to the south,
between there and Halogaland, lay Ymisland. ...Gudmund was the
name of a king in Jotunheim. His home was called Grund and his land
Glasisvellir. He was a great worshiper of the old gods. He was a wise
and powerful man and so old—and all his men too—that they each lived
many times the normal span. And because of this, heathens believe that
it must be in his realm that Óðains-acre [The Acre of the Not-Dead] is to be
found, that place to which anyone who comes is so healed that sickness
and old age vanish from them and they cannot die. It is said that after
Gudmund’s death, folk worshipped him with sacrifices and called him
their god. One day he was
Helga þáttr Þórissonar
Helgi had gone deeper into the woods than the others. Then
a thick fog came down so that he couldn't find the ship that evening. Soon night
fell too. Then Helgi saw twelve women riding from the wood. They were all in red,
on red horses. They dismounted. All the trappings of the horses
glittered with gold. One surpassed the others in loveliness, and they
all served her, this magnificent imposing woman. Their horses went to
graze. Next, they set up a beautiful tent. It was covered in different
coloured stripes shot through with gold, and the points flashed with
gold as the tent went up, and the pole too, as it stood up, with a big
knob of gold on top.And when they were ready, they set up a table and
put on it all sorts of delicacies. Then they took water to wash their
hands with, using a jug in the shape of a man and basins made of silver
and inlaid all over with gold. Helgi stepped closer to the tent and
looked in. She who was chief of them said, “Helgi, come here and take
food and drink with us.”So he does. Helgi sees that there is excellent
drink and good food too and beautiful vessels. Then the table was taken
down and beds prepared, and they were much more ornate than the beds of
other folk. That woman, the one who was their leader, asks Helgi whether
he'd rather sleep on his own, or with her. Helgi asked her name. “I am
Ingibjorg, daughter of Godmund of Glasisvellir.”
Þorsteins þáttr bæjarmagns
5. Now Thorsteinn saw three well armed men riding, and so huge that he had never seen such large men before. The one who rode in the middle was the largest, in clothes woven through with gold, on a pale horse, and the two others rode on gray horses in red scarlet clothes.
...The biggest man took a gold ring from his finger and gave it to Thorsteinn. It was three aura in weight. Thorsteinn said: "What is your name, and from what background are you, and into what land have I come?"
"Godmund is my name. I rule that place which is called Glaesir Plain. They are a colony of that land that is called Risaland. I am a king’s son, and my squires are called Fullsterk and Allsterk. But did you see any men ride here this morning.?"
Thorsteinn said: "Twenty-two men rode here and did not slow down."
"They are my squires," said Godmund. "That land lies nearby, called Giant-land. A king rules there, who is called Geirrod. We are tributaries under him. My father was called Ulfheidinn the Trustworthy. He was called Godmund, like everyone else who lives in Glaesir Plain. But my father went to Geirrod’s court to deliver his tribute to the king, and died on the journey. The king gave me a request that I should have a funeral feast for my father, and take the rank that my father had. But we are not happy to serve the Giants."
"Why do your men ride ahead?" said Thorsteinn.
"A great river divides our land," said Godmund. "It is called Hemra. It is so deep and strong, that no horses can ford it, except those which we companions ride. Those others have to ride to the source of the river, and we meet in the evening."
...They now rode to the river. There was a house there, and they took other clothes, and dressed themselves and their horses. The clothes were of such a nature that water could not touch them, but the water was so cold that gangrene would set in, if anything got wet. They then forded the river. The horses pushed ahead strongly. Godmund’s horse stumbled, and Thorsteinn got water on his toe, and gangrene then set in. When they came out of the river, they spread out their clothes to dry. Thorsteinn cut off his toe, and they were very impressed with his valor. They then rode on their way.
...They now came to the town, and Godmund’s men came to meet them. They now rode into the town. They could now hear all kinds of instruments, but Thorsteinn did not think much of the tune. King Geirrod came now toward them and greeted them well, and they were shown a stone house or hall to sleep in and men to lead their horses to the stalls. Godmund was led to the king’s hall. The king sat on the high seat, and his earl next to him, who was called Agdi. He ruled the district that was called Grundir. That is between Risaland and Giant-land. He had his residence at Gnipalundi. He was a sorcerer and his men were more like trolls than men.
Godmund sat on a step before the high seat opposite the king. It was
their custom that the king’s son should not sit at the high seat, before
he took title from his father and had drunk the first toast. A fine
feast got under way, and men drank and were merry and then went to
Bósa saga ok Herrauðs
7-8, 10, 12, 14, 16
|Bosi and Herraud’s Saga|
7. The king who ruled there was named Harek. He was married, and had two sons. One was named Hraerek and the other Siggeirr. They were great champions, and retainers of King Gudmund of Glaesir Plain, and were his land guardians. The king's daughter was named Edda. She was pretty to look at, and very capable in most matters.
8. "Here in the forest stands a great temple. King Harek owns it, who rules here over Bjarmaland. The god called Jomali is worshipped. There is much gold and treasure. The king's mother, who is called Kolfrosta, is in charge of the temple. She is made strong by witchcraft so that nothing takes her by surprise. She knows beforehand with her magic that she will not live out this month, and so she traveled in the shape of an animal east to Glaesir Plain and took away Hleidi, the sister of King Gudmund, and intends that she shall be one of her priestesses. That is a loss indeed, for she is the most beautiful and most courteous maiden, and it would be best if that could be prevented."
mentions the gift of the horns called Grim to King Ólaf.
Related Sagas & Concepts:
Eiríks saga víðförla
Eirek the Far-Traveller
|Egils saga einhenda ok Ásmundar berserkjabana||The Story of Egil One-Hand and Asmund Berserkers-Slayer *Refers to three treasures kept in the underworld: a cloak that cannot burn, a horn that cannot be emptied, and a chess set that plays itself.|
The oldest source for the legend of
Guðmund of Glæsisvellir is Saxo Grammaticus, Gesta Dancorum,
Book 8, written around 1200, which predates the Icelandic
fornaldarsögur by one or two centuries, and Snorri Sturluson's
Edda by about a generation. Here Glæsisvellir is part of the
Saxo's description of that house of torture, which is found within the city, is not unlike Völuspá's description of that dwelling of torture on the Náströnds ["corpse-shores"]. In Saxo, the floor of the house consists of serpents wattled together, and the roof of sharp stings. In Völuspá, the hall is made of serpents braided together, whose heads from above spit venom down on those dwelling there. Saxo speaks of soot a century old on the door frames; Völuspá of ljórar, air- and smoke-openings in the roof.
Saxo himself points out that the Geruthus (Geirröðr) mentioned by him, and his famous daughters, belong to the myth about the god Thor. That Geirrod after his death is transferred to the lower world is no contradiction to the heathen belief, according to which beautiful or terrible habitations await the dead, not only of men but also of other beings. Compare Gylfaginning 42, where Thor with one blow of his Mjölnir sends a giant niðr undir Niflhel.
As Mimir's and Urd's fountains are found under the roots of the world-tree, and as Mimir is mentioned as the guardian of Heimdall's horn and other treasures, it might be expected that these circumstances would not be forgotten in those stories from Christian times which have been cited above and found to have their origin in the myths.
When the Danish adventurers had left the horrible city of fog in Saxo's saga about Gorm, they came to another place in the lower world where the gold-plated mead-cisterns were found. The Latin word used by Saxo, which I translate with cisterns of mead, is dolium. In the classical Latin, this word is used in regard to wine-cisterns of so immense a size that they were counted among the immovables, and usually were sunk in the cellar floors. They were so large that a person could live in such a cistern, and this is also reported as having happened. The size is therefore no obstacle to Saxo's using this word for a wine-cistern to mean the mead-wells in the lower world of Germanic mythology. The question now is whether he actually did so, or whether the subterranean dolia in question are objects in regard to which our earliest mythic records have left us in ignorance.
In Saxo's time, and earlier, the epithets by which the mead-wells - Urd's and Mimir's - and their contents are mentioned in mythological songs had come to be applied also to those mead-vessels which Odin is said to have emptied in the halls of the giant Fjalar or Suttung. This application also lay near at hand, since these wells and these vessels contained the same liquor, and since it originally, as appears from the meaning of the words, was the liquor, and not the place where the liquor was kept, to which the epithets Óðrærir, Boðn, and Són applied. In Hávamál 107, Odin expresses his joy that Óðrærir has passed out of the possession of the giant Fjalar and can be of use to the beings of the upper world. But if we may trust Skáldskaparmál 6, it is the drink and not the empty vessels that Odin takes with him to Valhall. On this supposition, it is the drink and not one of the vessels which in Hávamál is called Óðrærir. In Hávamál 140, Odin relates how he, through self-sacrifice and suffering, succeeded in getting runic songs up from the deep, and also a drink dipped out of Óðrærir. He who gives him the songs and the drink, and accordingly is the ruler of the fountain of the drink, is a man, "Bölthorn's celebrated son." Here again Óðrærir is one of the subterranean fountains, and no doubt Mimir's, since the one who pours out the drink is a man. But in the second stanza of Forspjallsljóð, Urd's fountain is also called Óðrærir (Óðhrærir Urðar). Paraphrases for the liquor of poetry, such as "Boðn's growing billow" (Einar Skálaglamm) and "Són's reed-grown grass edge" (Eilífr Guðrúnarson, Skáldskaparmál 10, Jónsson edition), point to fountains or wells, not to vessels. Meanwhile, a satire was composed before the time of Saxo and Sturluson about Odin's adventure at Fjalar's, and the author of this song, the contents of which the Prose Edda has preserved, calls the vessels which Odin empties at the giant's Óðhrærir, Boðn, and Són (Skáldskaparmál 5-6, Jónsson ed.). Saxo, who reveals a familiarity with the genuine heathen, or supposed heathen, poems handed down to his time, may thus have seen the epithets Óðrærir, Boðn, and Són applied both to the subterranean mead-wells and to a giant's mead-vessels. The greater reason he would have for selecting the Latin dolium to express an idea that can be accommodated to both these objects.
Over these mead-reservoirs there hang,
according to Saxo's description, round-shaped objects of silver,
which in close braids drop down and are spread around the seven
times gold-plated walls of the mead-cisterns.
Over Mimir's and Urd's fountains hang the roots of the ash Yggdrasil, which sends its root-knots and root-threads down into their waters. But not only the rootlets sunk in the water, but also the roots from which they are suspended, partake of the waters of the fountains. The norns take daily from the water and sprinkle the stem of the tree therewith, "and the water is so holy," says Gylfaginning 16, "that everything that is put in the well (consequently, also, all that which the norns daily sprinkle with the water) becomes as white as the membrane between the egg and the egg-shell." Also the root over Mimir's fountain is sprinkled with its water (Völuspá 27), and this water, so far as its color is concerned, seems to be of the same kind as that in Urd's fountain, for the latter is called hvítr aurr (Völuspá 19) and the former runs in aurgum fossi upon its root of the world-tree (Völuspá 27). The adjective aurigr, which describes a quality of the water in Mimir's fountain, is formed from the noun aurr, with which the liquid is described which waters the root over Urd's fountain. Yggdrasil's roots, as far up as the liquid of the wells can get to them, thus have a color like that of "the membrane between the egg and the egg-shell," and consequently recall both as to position, form, and color the round-shaped objects "of silver" which, according to Saxo, hang down and are intertwined in the mead-reservoirs of the lower world.
Mimir's fountain contains, as we know, the purest mead - the liquid of inspiration, of poetry, of wisdom, of understanding.
Near by Yggdrasil, according to Völuspá 27, Heimdall's horn is concealed. The seeress in Völuspá knows that it is hid "beneath the hedge-o'ershadowing holy tree,"
Near one of the mead-cisterns in the lower world, Gorm's men see a horn
ornamented with pictures and flashing with precious stones.
When Gorm and his men desire to cross the golden bridge and see the wonders to which it leads, Gudmund prohibits it. When they desire to cross the river, in another place farther up, in order to see what is there beyond, he consents and has them taken over in a boat. He does not deem it proper to show them the unknown land at the golden bridge, but it is within the limits of his authority to let them see the places of punishment and those regions which contain the mead-cisterns and the treasure chambers. The sagas call him the king on the Glittering Plains, and as the Glittering Plains are situated in the lower world, he must be a lower world ruler.
Two of the sagas, Helgi Thorisson's and Gorm's, cast a shadow on Gudmund's character. In the former, this shadow does not produce confusion or contradiction. The saga is a legend which represents Christianity, with Olaf Tryggvason as its apostle, in conflict with heathenism, represented by Gudmund. It is therefore natural that the latter cannot be presented in the most favorable light. With his prayers, Olaf destroys the happiness of Gudmund's daughter. He compels her to abandon her lover, and Gudmund, who is unable to take revenge in any other manner, tries to do so, as is the case with so many of the characters in saga and history, by treachery. This is demanded by the fundamental idea and tendency of the legend. What the author of the legend has heard about Gudmund's character from older sagamen, or what he has read in records, he does not, however, conceal with silence, but admits that Gudmund, aside from his heathen religion and grudge toward Olaf Tryggvason, was a man in whose home one might fare well and be happy.
Saxo has preserved the shadow, but in his narrative it produces the
greatest contradiction. Gudmund offers fruits, drinks, and embraces in
order to induce his guests to remain with him forever, and he does it in
a tempting manner and, as it seems, with conscious cunning.
Nevertheless, he shows unlimited patience when the guests insult him by
accepting nothing of what he offers. When he comes down to the beach,
where Gorm's ships are anchored, he is greeted by the leader of the
discoverers with joy, because he is "the most pious being and man's
protector in perils." He conducts them in safety to his castle. When a
handful of them returns after the attempt to plunder the treasury of the
lower world, he considers the crime sufficiently punished by the loss of
life they have suffered, and takes them across the river to his own safe
home; and when they, contrary to his wishes, desire to return to their
native land, he loads them with gifts and sees to it that they get
safely on board their ships. It follows that Saxo s sources have
described Gudmund as a kind and benevolent person. Here, as in the
legend about Helgi Thorisson, the shadow has been thrown by younger
hands upon an older background painted in bright colors.
Hervör's saga says that Gudmund was wise, mighty, in a heathen sense pious ("a great sacrificer"), and so honored that sacrifices were offered to him, and he was worshipped as a god after death. Bosi's saga says that he was greatly skilled in magic arts, which is another expression for heathen wisdom, for fimbul-songs, runes, and incantations.
The change for the worse which Gudmund's character seems in part to have
suffered is confirmed by a change in the conception of those things which belonged to
the lower world of the Germanic heathendom and to Gudmund's domain.
The warm, green Hel of the heathen was gradually equated with the
Christian Hell. In
Saxo, we find an idea related to the Classical Lethe myth, according to
which the liquids and plants which belong to the lower world produce
forgetfulness of the past. Therefore, Thorkil (Thorkillus) warns his
companions not to eat or drink any of that which Gudmund offers them. In
Guðrúnarkviða in forna 21, and
elsewhere, we meet with the same idea. In addition, Indo-European
parallels to Mimir and to Gudmund's realm are found in Jima of the
Avesta and Jama of the Rigveda.