This dialogic lay about the hostile half brothers may justly claim high rank among the small number of genuine “heroic” poems.
In grandeur of theme, in extraordinary vigor and splendor of style, in heroic passion, it challenges comparison with such poems as Atlakvitha and
Hamthismól; which it resembles also in its air of antiquity, in the epic-dramatic form, in the rugged mixture of fornyrthtslag and málaháttr and,
alas! also in the sadly mutilated condition of the text. Fully one-third of the original poem seems lost, and a number of stanzas are no doubt
corrupted. The total impression is much weakened by the connecting prose, which, in this case, to a large extent represents imperfectly remembered
stanzas, with still an occasional rhythm, here and there an alliteration, or a striking phrase suggesting the noble original verse.
There are good reasons for thinking the lay a quasi-historical reminiscence from the time of Gothic greatness, transmitted possibly
through some South Germanic song—partial reflection of the tremendous events of the migration period, perhaps the clash of Goth and Hun on the
Catalaunian Fields (451), or some other vast battle of nations unrecorded in histories. The conflict is here located on the Dun-heath, whether that
locality be the plains of the Danube or those of the Lugii Duni about the upper Oder. In the latter case, it is interesting to note, the Jassar
Fells (stanza 27) would correspond to the Jesenik (German, Gesenke), the stretch of hill country which forms the broad gate between the high and
impassable Sudeti and the Carpathian ranges. This, again, would permit the inference that the Goths were at that time still in their North European
homes by the Vistula1 and the Baltic which, as we know from other sources, they right at the end of the second century A.D. Ultimate derivation from
a Gothic lay of these remote times is no more impossible than in the case of Hamthismól, the great figures of Ermanaric and Theodoric, and their
relations with Attila forming the very basic layer of Germanic folk hero lore. At any rate there are a number of clear indications that the lay has
as its background the vast plains and broad rivers of the east central portions of Europe. Geographic exactness is not to be expected at that distance
of time. A clear argument for the very early spread of the story may be seen in the fact that no less than five persons connected with it occur in
lines 116-119 of the Anglo-Saxon catalogue poem of Wīdsīth from the seventh century—a poem which also otherwise betrays considerable knowledge of very
early Continental conditions.
No doubt the episode here celebrated is the original kernel of the composite Hervarar saga in which it is preserved. For the lay after
stanza 11 (of this translation) we are dependent on seventeenth-century MSS of the saga.
On one of his expeditions the evil but wise son of Hervor, King Heithrek, abducts the daughter of the powerful Humli,2 King of the Huns.
She gives birth to Hloth, who is brought up by his maternal grandfather, since Heithrek put his mother away in favor of another queen whose children by him are
Angantýr and Hervor—a quasi reincarnation of her amazon grandmother. When Heithrek dies Angantýr succeeds him; but his half brother claims an equal share of
[1. In Wīdsīth (ll. 119 f) we are told that the Goths defended their ancient home against the Huns “about the forest of the Vistula.”
2. In whom we may see the representative of the royal race of the Ostrogoths, the Amalunga, who for a time were subjects, or allies,
of the Huns; and in Heithrek, Hardurík (Ardaricus), king of the Gepidć, a tribe related to the Goths, who fought heroically against the Huns.]