LEGENDS OF THE MIDDLE AGES
NARRATED WITH SPECIAL REFERENCE TO LITERATURE AND ART
BY H.A. GUERBER
"Saddle the Hippogriffs, ye Muses nine, And straight we'll ride to the land of old Romance" WIELAND
DEDICATED TO MY SISTER ADELE E. GUERBER
"Men lykyn jestis for to here, And romans rede in diuers manere
"Of Brute that baron bold of hond, The first conqueroure of Englond; Of kyng Artour that was so riche, Was non in his tyme him liche.
"How kyng Charlis and Rowlond fawght With sarzyns nold they be cawght; Of Tristrem and of Ysoude the swete, How they with love first gan mete;
"Stories of diuerce thynggis, Of pryncis, prelatis, and of kynggis; Many songgis of diuers ryme, As english, frensh, and latyne." Curser Mundi.
The object of this work is to familiarize young students with the legends which form the staple of mediaeval literature.
While they may owe more than is apparent at first sight to the classical writings of the palmy days of Greece and Rome, these legends are very characteristic of the people who told them, and they are the best exponents of the customs, manners, and beliefs of the time to which they belong. They have been repeated in poetry and prose with endless variations, and some of our greatest modern writers have deemed them worthy of a new dress, as is seen in Tennyson's "Idyls of the King," Goethe's "Reineke Fuchs," Tegner's "Frithiof Saga," Wieland's "Oberon," Morris's "Story of Sigurd," and many shorter works by these and less noted writers.
These mediaeval legends form a sort of literary quarry, from which, consciously or unconsciously, each writer takes some stones wherewith to build his own edifice. Many allusions in the literature of our own day lose much of their force simply because these legends are not available to the general reader.
It is the aim of this volume to bring them within reach of all, and to condense them so that they may readily be understood. Of course in so limited a space only an outline of each legend can be given, with a few short quotations from ancient and modern writings to illustrate the style of the poem in which they are embodied, or to lend additional force to some point in the story.
This book is, therefore, not a manual of mediaeval literature, or a series of critical essays, but rather a synopsis of some of the epics and romances which formed the main part of the culture of those days. Very little prominence has been given to the obscure early versions, all disquisitions have been carefully avoided, and explanations have been given only where they seemed essential.
The wealth and variety of imagination displayed in these legends will, I hope, prove that the epoch to which they belong has been greatly maligned by the term "dark ages," often applied to it. Such was the favor which the legendary style of composition enjoyed with our ancestors that several of the poems analyzed in this volume were among the first books printed for general circulation in Europe.
Previous to the invention of printing, however, they were familiar to rich and poor, thanks to the scalds, bards, trouveres, troubadours, minstrels, and minnesingers, who, like the rhapsodists of Greece, spent their lives in wandering from place to place, relating or reciting these tales to all they met in castle, cottage, and inn.
A chapter on the Romance literature of the period in the different countries of Europe, and a complete index, will, it is hoped, fit this volume for handy reference in schools and libraries, where the author trusts it may soon find its own place and win a warm welcome.
III. REYNARD THE FOX
IV. THE NIBELUNGENLIED
V. LANGODARDIAN CYCLE OF MYTHS
VI. THE AMBLINGS
VII. DIETRICH VON BERN
VIII. CHARLEMAGNE AND HIS PALADINS
IX THE SONS OF AYMON
X. HUON OF BORDEAUX
XI. TITUREL AND THE HOLY GRAIL
XIII. THE ROUND TABLE
XIV. TRISTAN AND ISEULT
XV. THE STORY OF FRITHIOF
XVI. RAGNAR LODBROK
XVII. THE CID
XVIII. GENERAL SURVEY OF ROMANCE LITERATURE
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS.
CORONATION OF CHARLEMAGNE—Levy
FUNERAL OF A NORTHERN CHIEF—Cormon
GUDRUN AND THE SWAN—Kepler
BROWN THE BEAR CAUGHT IN THE LOG—Wagner
REYNARD PREPARING FOR BATTLE—Kaulbach
GUNTHER WINNING HIS BRIDE—Keller
SIEGFRIED'S BODY BORNE HOME BY THE HUNTSMEN—Pixis
ASPRIAN SLAYING THE LION—Keller
FALKE KILLS THE GIANT—Keller
THE VICTORIOUS HUNS—Checa
THE TOMB OF THEODORIC
THE DEATH OF ROLAND—Keller
HUON BEFORE THE POPE—Gabriel Max
HUON AND AMANDA LEAP OVERBOARD—Gabriel Max
PARZIVAL UNCOVERING THE HOLY GRAIL—Pixis
ARRIVAL OF LOHENGRIN—Pixis
THE BEGUILING OF MERLIN—Burne-Jones
SIR LANCELOT DU LAC—Sir John Gilbert
ISEULT SIGNALS TRISTAN—Pixis
THE LOVERS AT BALDER'S SHRINE—Kepler
FRITHIOF AT THE COURT OF KING RING—Kepler
STRATEGY OF HASTINGS—Keller
THE CID'S LAST VICTORY—Rochegrosse
LEGENDS OF THE MIDDLE AGES.
"List! we have learnt a tale of other years, Of kings and warrior Danes, a wondrous tale, How aethelings bore them in the brunt of war." Beowulf (Conybeare's tr.).
The most ancient relic of literature of the spoken languages of modern Europe is undoubtedly the epic poem "Beowulf," which is supposed to have been composed by the Anglo-Saxons previous to their invasion of England. Although the poem probably belongs to the fifth century, the only existing manuscript is said to date from the ninth or tenth century.
This curious work, in rude alliterative verse (for rhyme was introduced in England only after the Norman Conquest), is the most valuable old English manuscript in the British Museum. Although much damaged by fire, it has been carefully studied by learned men. They have patiently restored the poem, the story of which is as follows:
[Sidenote: Origin of the Skioldungs.] Hrothgar (the modern Roger), King of Denmark, was a descendant of Odin, being the third monarch of the celebrated dynasty of the Skioldungs. They proudly traced their ancestry to Skeaf, or Skiold, Odin's son, who mysteriously drifted to their shores. He was then but an infant, and lay in the middle of a boat, on a sheaf of ripe wheat, surrounded by priceless weapons and jewels. As the people were seeking for a ruler, they immediately recognized the hand of Odin in this mysterious advent, proclaimed the child king, and obeyed him loyally as long as he lived. When he felt death draw near, Skeaf, or Skiold, ordered a vessel to be prepared, lay down in the midst on a sheaf of grain or on a funeral pyre, and drifted out into the wide ocean, disappearing as mysteriously as he had come.
[Sidenote: Construction of Heorot.] Such being his lineage, it is no wonder that Hrothgar became a mighty chief; and as he had amassed much wealth in the course of a long life of warfare, he resolved to devote part of it to the construction of a magnificent hall, called Heorot, where he might feast his retainers and listen to the heroic lays of the scalds during the long winter evenings.
"A hall of mead, such as for space and state The elder time ne'er boasted; there with free And princely hand he might dispense to all (Save the rude crowd and men of evil minds) The good he held from Heaven. That gallant work, Full well I wot, through many a land was known Of festal halls the brightest and the best." Beowulf (Conybeare's tr.). The inauguration of this hall was celebrated by a sumptuous entertainment; and when all the guests had retired, the king's bodyguard, composed of thirty-two dauntless warriors, lay down in the hall to rest. When morning dawned, and the servants appeared to remove the couches, they beheld with horror the floor and walls all stained with blood, the only trace of the knights who had gone to rest there in full armor.
[Sidenote: The monster Grendel.] Gigantic, blood-stained footsteps, leading directly from the festive hall to the sluggish waters of a deep mountain lake, or fiord, furnished the only clew to their disappearance. Hrothgar, the king, beholding these, declared that they had been made by Grendel, a descendant of the giants, whom a magician had driven out of the country, but who had evidently returned to renew his former depredations.
"A haunter of marshes, a holder of moors. . . . . . Secret The land he inhabits; dark, wolf-haunted ways Of the windy hillside, by the treacherous tarn; Or where, covered up in its mist, the hill stream Downward flows." Beowulf (Keary's tr.).
As Hrothgar was now too old to wield a sword with his former skill, his first impulse was, of course, to offer a princely reward to any man brave enough to free the country of this terrible scourge. As soon as this was known ten of his doughtiest knights volunteered to camp in the hall on the following night, and attack the monster Grendel should he venture to reappear.
But in spite of the valor of these experienced warriors, and of the efficacy of their oft-tried weapons, they too succumbed. A minstrel, hiding in a dark corner of the hall, was the only one who escaped Grendel's fury, and after shudderingly describing the massacre he had witnessed, he fled in terror to the kingdom of the Geates (Jutes or Goths). There he sang his lays in the presence of Hygelac, the king, and of his nephew Beowulf (the Bee Hunter), and roused their deepest interest by describing the visit of Grendel and the vain but heroic defense of the brave knights. Beowulf, having listened intently, eagerly questioned the scald, and, learning from him that the monster still haunted those regions, impetuously declared his intention to visit Hrothgar's kingdom, and show his valor by fighting and, if possible, slaying Grendel.
"He was of mankind In might the strongest, At that day Of this life, Noble and stalwart. He bade him a sea ship, A goodly one, prepare. Quoth he, the war king, Over the swan's road, Seek he would The mighty monarch, Since he wanted men." Beowulf (Longfellow's tr.).
[Sidenote: Beowulf and Breka.] Although very young, Beowulf was quite distinguished, and had already won great honors in a battle against the Swedes. He had also proved his endurance by entering into a swimming match with Breka, one of the lords at his uncle's court. The two champions had started out, sword in hand and fully armed, and, after swimming in concert for five whole days, they were parted by a great tempest.
"Then were we twain there on the sea Space of five nights, till the floods severed us, The welling waves. Coldest of weathers, Shadowy night, and the north wind Battelous shocked on us; wild were the waters, And were the mere-fishes stirred up in mind." Beowulf.
Breka was driven ashore, but the current bore Beowulf toward some jagged cliffs, where he desperately clung, trying to resist the fury of the waves, and using his sword to ward off the attacks of hostile mermaids, nicors (nixies), and other sea monsters. The gashed bodies of these slain foes soon drifted ashore, to Hygelac's amazement; but when Beowulf suddenly reappeared and explained that they had fallen by his hand, his joy knew no bounds. As Breka had returned first, he received the prize for swimming; but the king gave Beowulf his treasured sword, Naegeling, and praised him publicly for his valor.
Beowulf had successfully encountered these monsters of the deep in the roaring tide, so he now expressed a hope that he might prevail against Grendel also; and embarking with fourteen chosen men, he sailed to Denmark, where he was challenged by the coast guard and warmly welcomed as soon as he had made his purpose known.
"'What men are ye, War gear wearing, Host in harness, Who thus the brown keel Over the water street Leading, come Hither over the sea?'" Beowulf (Longfellow's tr.).
Hrothgar received Beowulf most hospitably, but vainly tried to dissuade him from his perilous undertaking. Then, after a sumptuous banquet, where the mead flowed with true northern lavishness, Hrothgar and his suite sadly left the hall Heorot in charge of the brave band of strangers, whom they never expected to see again.
[Sidenote: Beowulf and Grendel.] As soon as the king had departed, Beowulf bade his companions lie down and sleep in peace, promising to watch over them, yet laying aside both armor and sword; for he knew that weapons were of no avail against the monster, whom he intended to grapple with hand to hand should it really appear.
"'I have heard That that foul miscreant's dark and stubborn flesh Recks not the force of arms:—such I forswear, Nor sword nor burnish'd shield of ample round Ask for the war; all weaponless, hand to hand (So may great Higelac's smile repay my toil) Beowulf will grapple with the mighty foe.'" Beowulf (Conybeare's tr.).
The warriors had no sooner stretched themselves out upon the benches in the hall than, overcome by the oppressive air as well as by mead, they sank into a profound sleep. Beowulf alone remained awake, watching for Grendel's coming. In the early morning, when all was very still, the giant appeared, tore asunder the iron bolts and bars which secured the door, and striding into the hall, enveloped in a long, damp mantle of clammy mist, he pounced upon one of the sleepers. He tore him limb from limb, greedily drank his blood, and devoured his flesh, leaving naught but the head, hands, and feet of his unhappy victim. This ghastly repast only whetted the fiend's ravenous appetite, however, so he eagerly stretched out his hands in the darkness to seize and devour another warrior. Imagine his surprise and dismay when he suddenly found his hand caught in so powerful a grasp that all his efforts could not wrench it free!
Grendel and Beowulf struggled in the darkness, overturning tables and couches, shaking the great hall to its very foundations, and causing the walls to creak and groan under the violence of their furious blows. But in spite of Grendel's gigantic stature, Beowulf clung so fast to the hand and arm he had grasped that Grendel, making a desperate effort to free himself by a jerk, tore the whole limb out of its socket! Bleeding and mortally wounded, he then beat a hasty retreat to his marshy den, leaving a long, bloody trail behind him.
"Soon the dark wanderer's ample shoulder bore A gaping wound, each starting sinew crack'd, And from its socket loosed the strong-knit joint.— The victory was with Beowulf, and the foe, Howling and sick at heart, fled as he might, To seek beneath the mountain shroud of mist His joyless home; for well he knew the day Of death was on him, and his doom was seal'd." Beowulf (Conybeare's tr.).
As for Beowulf, exhausted but triumphant, he stood in the middle of the hall, where his companions crowded around him, gazing in speechless awe at the mighty hand and limb, and the clawlike fingers, far harder than steel, which no power had hitherto been able to resist.
At dawn Hrothgar and his subjects also appeared. They heard with wonder a graphic account of the night's adventures, and gazed their fill upon the monster's limb, which hung like a trophy from the ceiling of Heorot. After the king had warmly congratulated Beowulf, and bestowed upon him many rich gifts, he gave orders to cleanse the hall, to hang it with tapestry, and to prepare a banquet in honor of the conquering hero.
[Sidenote: Beowulf honored by the queen.] While the men were feasting, listening to the lays of the scalds, and carrying the usual toasts, Wealtheow, Hrothgar's beautiful wife, the Queen of Denmark, appeared. She pledged Beowulf in a cup of wine, which he gallantly drained after she had touched it to her lips. Then she bestowed upon him a costly necklace (the famous Brisinga-men, according to some authorities) and a ring of the finest gold. [Footnote 1: See Guerber's Myths of Northern Lands, p. 127.]
"'Wear these,' she cried, 'since thou hast in the fight So borne thyself, that wide as ocean rolls Round our wind-beaten cliffs his brimming waves, All gallant souls shall speak thy eulogy.'" Beowulf (Conybeare's tr.).
When the banquet was ended, Hrothgar escorted his guests to more pleasant sleeping apartments than they had occupied the night before, leaving his own men to guard the hall, where Grendel would never again appear. The warriors, fearing no danger, slept in peace; but in the dead of night the mother of the giant, as grewsome and uncanny a monster as he, glided into the hall, secured the bloody trophy still hanging from the ceiling, and carried it away, together with Aeschere (Askher), the king's bosom friend.
When Hrothgar learned this new loss at early dawn he was overcome with grief; and when Beowulf, attracted by the sound of weeping, appeared at his side, he mournfully told him of his irretrievable loss.
"'Ask not after happiness; Sorrow is renewed To the Danes' people. Aeschere is dead, Yrmenlaf's Elder brother, The partaker of my secrets And my counselor, Who stood at my elbow When we in battle Our mail hoods defended, When troops rushed together And boar crests crashed.'" Beowulf (Metcalfe's tr.).
[Sidenote: Beowulf and Grendel's mother.] The young hero immediately volunteered to finish his work and avenge Aeschere by seeking and attacking Grendel's mother in her own retreat; but as he knew the perils of this expedition, Beowulf first gave explicit directions for the disposal of his personal property in case he never returned. Then, escorted by the Danes and Geates, he followed the bloody track until he came to a cliff overhanging the waters of the mountain pool. There the bloody traces ceased, but Aeschere's gory head was placed aloft as a trophy.
"Now paused they sudden where the pine grove clad The hoar rock's brow, a dark and joyless shade. Troublous and blood-stain'd roll'd the stream below. Sorrow and dread were on the Scylding's host, In each man's breast deep working; for they saw On that rude cliff young Aeschere's mangled head." Beowulf (Conybeare's tr.).
Beowulf gazed down into the deep waters, saw that they also were darkly dyed with the monster's blood, and, after taking leave of Hrothgar, bade his men await his return for two whole days and nights ere they definitely gave him up for lost. He then plunged bravely into the bloody waters, swam about seeking for the monster's retreat, and dived deep. At last, descrying a phosphorescent gleam in the depths, he quickly made his way thither, shrewdly conjecturing that it must be Grendel's hiding place. But on his way thither he was repeatedly obliged to have recourse to his sword to defend himself against the clutches of countless hideous sea monsters which came rushing toward him on all sides.
"While thro' crystal gulfs were gleaming Ocean depths, with wonders teeming; Shapes of terror, huge, unsightly, Loom'd thro' vaulted roof translucent." J.C. JONES, Valhalla.
A strong current seized Beowulf, and swept him irresistibly along into the slimy retreat of Grendel's mother. She clutched him fast, wrestled with him, deprived him of his sword, flung him down, and finally tried to pierce his armor with her trenchant knife. Fortunately, however, the hero's armor was weapon-proof, and his muscles were so strong that before she could do him any harm he had freed himself from her grasp. Seizing a large sword hanging upon a projection of rock near by, he dealt her a mighty blow, severing her head from the trunk at a single stroke. The blood pouring out of the cave mingled with the waters without, and turned them to such a lurid hue that Hrothgar and his men sorrowfully departed, leaving the Geates alone to watch for the return of the hero, whom they feared they would never see again.
Beowulf, in the mean while, had rushed to the rear of the cave, where, finding Grendel in the last throes, he cut off his head also. He seized this ghastly trophy and rapidly made his way up through the tainted waters, which the fiery blood of the two monsters had so overheated that his sword melted in its scabbard and naught but the hilt remained.
"That stout sword of proof, Its warrior task fulfill'd, dropp'd to the ground (So work'd the venom of the felon's blood) A molten mass." Beowulf (Conybeare's tr.).
The Geates were about to depart in sorrow, notwithstanding the orders they had received, when they suddenly beheld their beloved chief safe and sound, and bearing the evidences of his success. Then their cries of joy echoed and reechoed from the neighboring hills, and Beowulf was escorted back to Heorot, where he was almost overwhelmed with gifts by the grateful Danes. A few days later Beowulf and his companions returned home, where the story of their adventures, and an exhibition of all the treasures they had won, formed the principal topics of conversation.
[Sidenote: Death of Hygelac.] Several years of comparative peace ensued, ere the land was invaded by the Friesians, who raided the coast, burning and plundering all in their way, and retreated into their ships before Hygelac or Beowulf could overtake and punish them. The immediate result of this invasion was a counter-movement on Hygelac's part. But although he successfully harried Friesland, he fell into an ambush just as he was about to leave the country, and was cruelly slain, his nephew Beowulf barely escaping a similar untoward fate.
When the little army of the Geates reached home once more, they either buried or consumed Hygelac's remains, with his weapons and battle steed, as was customary in the North. This ceremony ended, Queen Hygd, overwhelmed with grief, and fearing the almost inevitable dissensions arising during the long minority of an infant king, convened the popular assembly known as the Thing, and bade the people set her own child's claims aside in favor of Beowulf. This proposal was hailed with enthusiasm; but Beowulf refused to usurp his kinsman's throne, and raising Hardred, Hygelac's infant son, upon his shield, he declared that he would protect and uphold him as long as he lived. The people, following his example, swore fealty to the new king, and faithfully kept this oath until he died.
Hardred, having attained his majority, ruled wisely and well; but his career was cut short by the sons of Othere, the discoverer of the North Cape. These youths had rebelled against their father's authority and taken refuge at Hardred's court; but when the latter advised a reconciliation, the eldest youth angrily drew his sword and slew him.
[Sidenote: Beowulf made king.] This crime was avenged, with true northern promptitude, by Wiglaf, one of the king's followers; and while the second youth effected an escape, Beowulf was summoned by the Thing to accept the now vacant throne. As there were none to dispute his claims, the hero no longer refused to rule, and he bravely defended his kingdom against Eadgils, Othere's second son. Eadgils was now king of Sweden, and came with an armed host to avenge his brother's death; but he only succeeded in losing his own life.
A reign of forty years of comparative peace brought Beowulf to extreme old age. He had naturally lost much of his former vigor, and was therefore somewhat dismayed when a terrible, fire-breathing dragon took up its abode in the mountains near by, where it gloated over a hoard of glittering gold.
"The ranger of the darksome night, The Firedrake, came." Beowulf (Conybeare's tr.)
[Sidenote: The Firedrake.] A fugitive slave, having made his way unseen into the monster's den during one of its temporary absences, bore away a small portion of this gold. On its return the Firedrake discovered the theft, and became so furious that its howling and writhing shook the mountain like an earthquake. When night came on its rage was still unappeased, and it flew all over the land, vomiting venom and flames, setting houses and crops afire, and causing so much damage that the people were almost beside themselves with terror. Seeing that all their attempts to appease the dragon were utterly fruitless, and being afraid to attack it in its lair, they finally implored Beowulf to deliver them as he had delivered the Danes, and to slay this oppressor, which was even worse than the terrible Grendel.
Such an appeal could not be disregarded, and in spite of his advanced years Beowulf donned his armor once more. Accompanied by Wiglaf and eleven of his bravest men, he then went out to seek the monster in its lair. At the entrance of the mountain gorge Beowulf bade his followers pause, and advancing alone to the monster's den, he boldly challenged it to come forth and begin the fray. A moment later the mountain shook as the monster rushed out breathing fire and flame, and Beowulf felt the first gust of its hot breath, even through his massive shield.
"First from his lair Shaking firm earth, and vomiting as he strode A foul and fiery blast, the monster came." Beowulf (Conybeare's tr.).
A desperate struggle followed, in the course of which Beowulf's sword and strength both failed him. The Firedrake coiled its long, scaly folds about the aged hero, and was about to crush him to death when the faithful Wiglaf, perceiving his master's imminent danger, sprang forward and attacked the monster so fiercely as to cause a diversion and make it drop Beowulf to concentrate its attention upon him.
Beowulf, recovering, then drew his dagger and soon put an end to the dragon's life; but even as it breathed its last the hero sank fainting to the ground. Feeling that his end was near, he warmly thanked Wiglaf for his timely aid, rejoiced in the death of the monster, and bade his faithful follower bring out the concealed treasure and lay it at his feet, that he might feast his eyes upon the glittering gold he had won for his people's use.
"Saw then the bold thane Treasure jewels many, Glittering gold Heavy on the ground, Wonders in the mound And the worm's den, The old twilight flier's, Bowls standing; Vessels of men of yore, With the mountings fall'n off. There was many a helm Old and rusty, Armlets many Cunningly fastened. He also saw hang heavily An ensign all golden High o'er the hoard, Of hand wonders greatest, Wrought by spells of song, From which shot a light So that he the ground surface Might perceive, The wonders overscan." Beowulf (Metcalfe's tr.).
[Sidenote: Death of Beowulf.] The mighty treasure was all brought forth to the light of day, and the followers, seeing that all danger was over, crowded round their dying chief. He addressed them affectionately, and, after recapitulating the main events his career, expressed a desire to be buried in a mighty mound on a projecting headland, which could be seen far out at sea, and would be called by his name.
"'And now, Short while I tarry here—when I am gone, Bid them upon yon headland's summit rear A lofty mound, by Rona's seagirt cliff; So shall my people hold to after times Their chieftain's memory, and the mariners That drive afar to sea, oft as they pass, Shall point to Beowulf's tomb.'" Beowulf(Conybeare's tr.).
These directions were all piously carried out by a mourning people, who decked his mound with the gold he had won, and erected above it a Bauta, or memorial stone, to show how dearly they had loved their brave king Beowulf, who had died to save them from the fury of the dragon.
Maximilian I., Emperor of Germany, rendered a great service to posterity by ordering that copies of many of the ancient national manuscripts should be made. These copies were placed in the imperial library at Vienna, where, after several centuries of almost complete neglect, they were discovered by lovers of early literature, in a very satisfactory state of preservation. These manuscripts then excited the interest of learned men, who not only found therein a record of the past, but gems of literature which are only now beginning to receive the appreciation they deserve.
[Sidenote: Origin of poem of Gudrun.] Among these manuscripts is the poem "Gudrun," belonging to the twelfth or thirteenth century. It is evidently compiled from two or more much older lays which are now lost, which are alluded to in the Nibelungenlied. The original poem was probably Norse, and not German like the only existing manuscript, for there is an undoubted parallel to the story of the kidnaping of Hilde in the Edda. In the Edda, Hilde, the daughter of Hoegni, escapes from home with her lover Hedin, and is pursued by her irate father. He overtakes the fugitives on an island, where a bloody conflict takes place, in which many of the bravest warriors die. Every night, however, a sorceress recalls the dead to life to renew the strife, and to exterminate one another afresh.
The poem "Gudrun," which is probably as old as the Nibelungenlied, and almost rivals it in interest, is one of the most valuable remains of ancient German literature. It consists of thirty-two songs, in which are related the adventures of three generations of the heroic family of the Hegelings. Hence it is often termed the "Hegeling Legend."
[Sidenote: Kidnaping of Hagen.] The poem opens by telling us that Hagen was the son of Sigeband, King of Ireland, which was evidently a place in Holland, and not the well-known Emerald Isle. During a great feast, when countless guests were assembled around his father's hospitable board, this prince, who was then but seven years of age, was seized by a griffin and rapidly borne away.
"Young Hagen, loudly crying, was filled with dire dismay; The bird with mighty pinions soared high with him away." Gudrun (Dippold's tr.).
The cries of the child, and the arrows of Sigeband's men at arms, were equally ineffectual in checking the griffin, which flew over land and sea, and finally deposited its prey in its nest on the top of a great cliff on a desert island. One of the little griffins, wishing to reserve this delicate morsel for its own delectation, caught the boy up in its talons and flew away to a neighboring tree. The branch upon which it perched was too weak to support a double load, however, and as it broke the frightened griffin dropped Hagen into a thicket. Undismayed by the sharp thorns, Hagen quickly crept out of the griffin's reach and took refuge in a cave, where he found three little girls who had escaped from the griffins in the same way.
[Sidenote: The three maidens.] One of these children was Hilde, an Indian princess; the second, Hildburg, daughter of the King of Portugal; and the third belonged to the royal family of Isenland. Hagen immediately became the protector of these little maidens, spending several years in the cave with them. He ventured out only when the griffins were away, to seek berries or shoot small game with a bow which he had made in imitation of those he had seen in his father's hall.
Years passed by before Hagen found the corpse of an armed warrior, which had been washed ashore during a storm. To appropriate the armor and weapons for which he had so long and vainly sighed was the youth's first impulse; his second was to go forth and slay the griffins which had terrorized him and his little companions for so many years. The griffins being disposed of, the young people roamed about the island at will, keeping a sharp lookout for any passing vessel which might convey them home. At last a sail came in sight! Hagen, the first to see it, climbed up on a rock and shouted with all his young strength to attract the crew's attention.
"With might young Hagen shouted, and did not cease to shout, Howe'er the roaring tempest the wild waves tossed about." Gudrun (Dippold's tr.).
The sailors reluctantly drew near, gazing fearfully upon the three maidens, who, clad in furs and moss, resembled mermaids or wood nymphs. But when they heard their story they gladly took them on board. It was only when the island was out of sight, and when they were in mid-ocean, that Hagen discovered that he had fallen into the hands of Count Garadie, his father's inveterate enemy, who now proposed to use his power to treat the young prince as a slave. But Hagen's rude fare, and the constant exposure of the past few years, had so developed his strength and courage that he now flew into a Berserker rage, flung thirty men one after another into the sea, and so terrified his would-be master that he promised to bear him and the three maidens in safety to his father's court. [Footnote 1: See Guerber's Myths of Northern Lands, p. 29.]
[Sidenote: Hagen made king.] As Sigeband had died without leaving any other heir, Hagen was warmly welcomed home, and ascending the vacant throne, he took to wife Hilde, the fair maiden with whom he had shared his game and berries for so many years. The royal couple were very happy, and Hagen ruled so wisely that he became a terror to his enemies and a blessing to his own subjects. Even when engaged in warfare he proved himself an upright and generous man, never attacking the poor and weak.
"On warlike enterprises into his enemies' land He spared the poor from ravage of fire with powerful hand; Whenever he encountered a warrior overbearing, He broke his burgs and slew him with dire revenge unsparing." Gudrun (Dippold's tr.).
[Sidenote: Hilde's suitors.] Hagen and Hilde eventually became the parents of an only daughter, who was called by her mother's name, and grew up so beautiful that many suitors soon came to Ireland to ask for her hand. Hagen, who loved his daughter dearly and was in no haste to part from her, first replied that she was far too young to think of marriage; but when this plea was disputed he declared that Hilde should only marry a man who would defeat her father in single fight.
As Hagen was unusually tall and strong, as well as uncommonly brave, he was considered well-nigh invincible. The suitors, dismayed at this declaration, reluctantly withdrew, even though they were all valiant men. In those days Hettel (who corresponds to Hedin in the Edda story) was king of northern Germany and of the Hegelings. He too heard marvelous accounts of Hilde's beauty, and, as he was still unmarried, longed to secure her as wife. But knowing that Hagen, in his anger, was likely to slay any ambassador who came to his court with a proposal of marriage, Hettel vowed that he would rather forego the alliance than run the risk of losing any of his tried friends and faithful servants.
"Then said the royal Hetel: 'The people all relate That whosoe'er will woo her incurs her father's hate, And for the maid has perished full many a noble knight; My friends shall never suffer for me such woeful plight.'" Gudrun (Dippold's tr.).
[Sidenote: Strategy of Hettel's followers.] His faithful followers, Wat, Horant, and Frute, perceiving that his heart was set upon the maiden, finally volunteered to go and get her, saying that they could easily bear her away by stratagem, although they did not dare to ask for her openly. So they loaded their vessel with merchandise, hid their weapons, so that they should be taken for the traders they professed to be, and sailed boldly into Hagen's port, where, spreading out their wares, they invited all the people to buy.
Attracted by the extraordinary bargains they offered, the people came in crowds, and soon all the inhabitants of Balian were busy talking about the strange peddlers and praising their wares. These stories soon came to the ears of both queen and princess, who, summoning the merchants into their presence, asked who they were and whence they came.
All three replied that they were warriors, and that, being banished from Hettel's court, they had been forced to take up their present occupation to make a living. To prove the truth of their assertions, Wat exhibited his skill in athletic sports, while Horant delighted all the ladies by his proficiency in the art of minstrelsy.
"When now the night was ended and there drew near the dawn, Horant began his singing, so that in grove and lawn The birds became all silent, because he sang so sweetly; The people who were sleeping sprang from their couches fleetly.
"The cattle in the forests forsook their pasture ground; The creeping creatures playing among the grass around, The fishes in the water,—all in their sports were ceasing. The minstrel might most truly rejoice in art so pleasing.
"Whate'er he might be singing, to no one seemed it long; Forgotten in the minster were priest and choral song, Church bells no longer sounded so sweetly as before, And every one who heard him longed for the minstrel sore." Gudrun (Dippold's tr.).
These soft strains so pleased the younger Hilde that she soon sent for the minstrel again, and Horant, finding her alone, made use of this opportunity to tell her of Hettel's love and longing. She was so touched by this declaration of love that he easily won from her a promise to flee with him and his companions as soon as a suitable opportunity occurred.
The pretended merchants, having now achieved the real object of their journey, disposed of their remaining wares. They then invited the king and his family to visit their ship, and cleverly managing to separate the willing princess from her parents and train, they sailed rapidly away, leaving the angry father to hurl equally ineffectual spears, curses, and threats after them.
[Sidenote: Marriage of Hettel and Hilde.] The Hegelings sailed with their prize direct to Waleis, in Holland (near the river Waal), where the impatient Hettel came to meet them, and tenderly embraced his beautiful young bride. There their hasty nuptials were celebrated; but, as they were about to sail away on the morrow, Hettel became aware of the rapid approach of a large fleet. Of course the foremost vessel was commanded by Hagen, who had immediately started out in pursuit of his kidnaped daughter. Landing, with all his forces, he challenged his new-made son-in-law to fight.
"King Hagen, full of anger, leaped forward in the sea. Unto the shore he waded; no braver knight than he! Full many pointed arrows against him were seen flying, Like flakes of snow, from warriors of Hetel's host defying." Gudrun (Dippold's tr.).
The result of this battle was that Hettel was wounded by Hagen, who, in his turn, was injured by Wat, and that the distracted Hilde suddenly flung herself between the contending parties, and by her tears and prayers soon brought about a reconciliation. Hagen, who had tested the courage of his new son-in-law and had not found it wanting, now permitted his daughter to accompany her husband home to Matelan, where she became the mother of a son, Ortwine, and of a daughter, Gudrun, who was even fairer than herself.
[Sidenote: Gudrun's suitors.] Ortwine was fostered by Wat, the dauntless hero, who taught him to fight with consummate skill; while Hilde herself presided over the education of Gudrun, and made her so charming that many suitors soon came, hoping to find favor in her eyes. These were Siegfried, King of Moorland, a pagan of dark complexion; Hartmut, son of Ludwig, King of Normandy; and, lastly, Herwig of Zealand. Although the latter fancied that he had won some favor in the fair Gudrun's sight, Hettel dismissed him as well as the others, with the answer that his daughter was yet too young to leave the parental roof.
Herwig, who was not ready to give the maiden up, then remembered that Hettel had won his own bride only after he had measured his strength with her father's; so he collected an army, invaded Matelan, and proved his courage by encountering Hettel himself in the fray. Gudrun, who stood watching the battle from the palace window, seeing them face to face, loudly implored them to spare each other, an entreaty to which they both lent a willing ear.
"Fair Gudrun saw the combat, and heard the martial sound. Like to a ball is fortune, and ever turns around.
"Then from the castle chamber the royal maid cried out: 'King Hetel, noble father, the blood flows all about Athwart the mighty hauberks. With gore from warlike labor The walls are sprinkled. Herwig is a most dreadful neighbor.'" Gudrun (Dippold's tr.).
Herwig had in this encounter proved himself no despicable foe; so Hettel, preferring to have him as a friend, no longer opposed his betrothal, but even promised that the wedding festivities should be celebrated within a year. Herwig tarried in Matelan with his betrothed until he heard that Siegfried, King of Moorland, jealous of his successful wooing of Gudrun, had invaded his kingdom and was raiding his unprotected lands.
[Sidenote: Gudrun kidnaped by Hartmut.] These tidings caused the brave young warrior to bid Gudrun a hasty farewell and sail home as quickly as possible, Hettel promising to follow him soon and help him repel the invaders, who were far superior in number to his small but oft-tried host. While Herwig and Hettel were thus occupied in warring against one of the disappointed suitors, Hartmut, the other, hearing that they were both away, invaded Matelan and carried off Gudrun and all her attendants to Normandy. He paused only once on his way thither to rest for a short time on an island called Wuelpensand, at the mouth of the Scheldt.
The bereaved Hilde, who had seen her beloved daughter thus carried away, promptly sent messengers to warn Hettel and Herwig of Gudrun's capture. These tidings put an immediate stop to their warfare with Siegfried, who, joining forces with them, sailed in pursuit of the Normans in the vessels of a party of pilgrims, for they had none of their own ready for instant departure.
[Sidenote: The Wuelpensand battle.] Hettel, Herwig, and Siegfried reached Wuelpensand before the Normans had left it, and there took place a frightful conflict, in the course of which King Ludwig slew the aged Hettel. The conflict raged until nightfall, and although there were now but few Hegelings left, they were all ready to renew the struggle on the morrow. What was not their chagrin, therefore, on discovering that the Normans had sailed away with their captives during the night, and were already out of sight!
It was useless to pursue them with so small an army; so the Hegelings sorrowfully returned home, bearing Hettel's lifeless body back to the disconsolate Hilde. Then they took counsel, and discovered that so many able fighting men had perished during the last war that they would be obliged to wait until the rising generation was able to bear arms before they could invade Normandy with any hope of success.
"Then spoke old Wat, the hero: 'It never can befall Before this country's children have grown to manhood all.'" Gudrun (Dippold's tr.).
Gudrun, in the mean while, had arrived in Normandy, where she persisted in refusing to marry Hartmut. On her way thither the haughty princess had even ventured to remind King Ludwig that he had once been her father's vassal, and so roused his anger that he threw her overboard. But Hartmut immediately plunged into the water after her, rescued her from drowning, and when he had again seen her safe in the boat, angrily reproved his father for his hasty conduct.
"He said: 'Why would you drown her who is to be my wife, The fair and charming Gudrun? I love her as my life. Another than my father, if he had shown such daring, Would lose his life and honor from wrath of mine unsparing.'" Gudrun (Dippold's tr.).
[Sidenote: Gudrun a captive.] After this declaration on the part of the young heir, none dared at first treat Gudrun with any disrespect; and Gerlinda and Ortrun, the mother and sister of Hartmut, welcomed her as she landed on their shores. Gerlinda's friendliness was a mere pretense, however, for she hated the proud maiden who scorned her son's proffered love. She therefore soon persuaded her son to give the gentle captive entirely into her charge, saying that she would make her consent to become his bride. Hartmut, who was about to depart for the war, and who little suspected his mother's cruel intentions, bade her do as she pleased; and he was no sooner out of sight than poor Gudrun was degraded to the rank of a servant, and treated with much harshness and often with actual violence.
During three whole years Gudrun endured this cruelty in silence; but when Hartmut returned she was restored to her former state, although she still persisted in refusing his passionate suit. Discouraged by her obstinacy, the young man weakly consented to abandon her again to Gerlinda's tender mercies. The princess was now made to labor harder than ever, and she and Hildburg, her favorite companion and fellow captive, were daily sent down to the shore to wash the royal linen.
It was winter, the snow lay thick on the ground, and Gudrun and her companion, barefooted and miserably clad, suffered untold agonies from the cold. Besides, they were nearly exhausted, and the hope of rescue, which had sustained them during the past twelve years, had almost forsaken them. Their deliverance was near, however, and while Gudrun was washing on the shore, a mermaid, in the guise of a swan, came gently near her and bade her be of good cheer, for her sufferings would soon be at an end.
"'Rejoice in hope,' then answered the messenger divine; 'Thou poor and homeless maiden, great joy shall yet be thine. If thou wilt ask for tidings from thy dear native land, To comfort thee, great Heaven has sent me to this strand.'" Gudrun (Dippold's tr.).
The swan maiden then informed her that her brother Ortwine had grown up, and that he would soon come with brave old Wat and the longing Herwig to deliver her.
The next day, in spite of the increased cold, Gerlinda again roughly bade the maidens go down to the shore and wash, refusing to allow them any covering except one rough linen garment.
"They then took up the garments and went upon their way. 'May God let me,' said Gudrun, 'remind you of this day.' With naked feet they waded there through the ice and snow: The noble maids, all homeless, were filled with pain and woe." Gudrun (Dippold's tr.).
[Sidenote: Gudrun's deliverance.] Gudrun and Hildburg had barely begun their usual task, however, ere a small boat drew near, in which they recognized Herwig and Ortwine. All unconscious of their identity at first, the young men inquired about Gudrun. She herself, to test their affection, replied that the princess was dead, and did not allow them to catch a glimpse of her face until she beheld Herwig's emotion at these tidings, and heard him protest that he would be faithful to her unto death.
"There spoke the royal Herwig: 'As long as lasts my life, I'll mourn for her; the maiden was to become my wife.'" Gudrun (Dippold's tr.).
The lovers, who had been equally true, now fell into each other's arms. Ortwine was overjoyed at finding his sister and her companion, having long secretly loved the latter, so he poured out an avowal of his passion, and won from Hildburg a promise to be his wife. The first moments of joyful reunion over, Herwig would fain have carried Gudrun and Hildburg back to camp with him; but Ortwine proudly declared that he had come to claim them openly, and would bear them away from Normandy honorably, in the guise of princesses, rather than by stealth.
Promising to rescue them on the morrow, the young men took leave of the maidens. Hildburg conscientiously finished her task, but Gudrun proudly flung the linen into the sea and returned to the palace empty-handed, saying that it did not become her to do any more menial labor, since she had been kissed by two kings. Gerlinda, hearing her confess that she had flung the linen into the sea, ordered her to be scourged; but when Gudrun turned upon her and proudly announced that she would take her revenge on the morrow, when she would preside over the banquet hall as queen, Gerlinda concluded that she had decided to accept Hartmut.
The mother, therefore, flew to him to impart the joyful tidings. In his delight he would fain have embraced Gudrun, who, however, haughtily bade him refrain from saluting a mere washerwoman. Becoming aware only then of her sorry plight, the prince withdrew, sternly ordering that her maidens should again be restored to her, that her every command should be fulfilled as if she were already queen, and that all should treat her with the utmost respect. These orders were executed without delay, and while Hartmut was preparing for his wedding on the morrow, Gudrun, again clad in royal attire, with her maidens around her, whispered the tidings of their coming deliverance. Morning had barely dawned when Hildburg, gazing out of the window, saw the castle entirely surrounded by the Hegelings' forces; and at cockcrow old Wat's horn pealed forth a loud defiance, rousing the Normans from pleasant dreams, and calling them to battle instead of to the anticipated wedding.
"The morning star had risen upon the heavens high, When to the castle window a beauteous maid drew nigh, In order to espy there and watch the break of day, Whereby from royal Gudrun she would obtain rich pay.
"There looked the noble maiden and saw the morning glow. Reflected in the water, as it might well be so, Were seen the shining helmets and many bucklers beaming. The castle was surrounded; with arms the fields were gleaming." Gudrun (Dippold's tr.).
The battle was very fierce, and the poem enumerates many of the cuts and thrusts given and received. Clashing swords and streams of gore now monopolize the reader's attention. In the fray Herwig slew King Ludwig. Gudrun was rescued by Hartmut from the hands of Gerlinda, who had just bidden her servants put her to death, so that her friends should not take her alive. Next the Norman prince met his rival and fought bravely. He was about to succumb, however, when his sister Ortrun, who throughout had been gentle and loving to Gudrun, implored her to save her brother's life. Gudrun, touched by this request, called out of the casement to Herwig, who, at a word from her, sheathed his sword, and contented himself with taking Hartmut prisoner.
[Sidenote: Death of Gerlinda.] The castle was duly plundered, the whole town sacked, and Wat, bursting into the palace, began to slay all he met. The women, in terror, then crowded around Gudrun, imploring her protection. Among these were Ortrun and Gerlinda; but while Gudrun would have protected the former at the cost of her life, she allowed Wat to kill the latter, who had deserved such a death in punishment for all her cruelty.
When the massacre was over, the victors celebrated their triumph by a grand banquet, at which Gudrun, fulfilling her boast, actually presided as queen.
"Now from the bitter contest the warriors rested all. There came the royal Herwig into King Ludwig's hall, Together with his champions, their gear with blood yet streaming. Dame Gudrun well received him; her heart with love was teeming." Gudrun (Dippold's tr.).
When the banquet was over, the Hegelings set sail, taking with them the recovered maidens, all the spoil they had won, and their captives, Hartmut and Ortrun; and on reaching Matelan they were warmly welcomed by Hilde, who was especially rejoiced to see her daughter once more.
"The queen drew near to Gudrun. Could any one outweigh The joy they felt together, with any wealth or treasure? When they had kissed each other their grief was changed to pleasure." Gudrun (Dippold's tr.).
[Sidenote: A fourfold wedding.] Shortly after their return home a fourfold wedding took place. Gudrun married her faithful Herwig, Ortwine espoused Hildburg, Siegfried consoled himself for Gudrun's loss by taking the fair Ortrun to wife, and Hartmut received with the hand of Hergart, Herwig's sister, the restitution not only of his freedom but also of his kingdom.
At the wedding banquet Horant, who, in spite of his advanced years, had lost none of his musical skill, played the wedding march with such success that the queens simultaneously flung their crowns at his feet,—an offering which he smilingly refused, telling them that crowns were perishable, but that the poet's song was immortal.
"The aged minstrel drew his harp still closer to his breast, Gazed at the jeweled coronets as this thought he expressed: 'Fair queens, I bid you wear them until your locks turn gray; Those crowns, alas! are fleeting, but song will live alway.'" NIENDORF (H.A.G.'s tr.).
REYNARD THE FOX.
Among primitive races, as with children, animal stories are much enjoyed, and form one of the first stages in literature. The oldest of these tales current in the middle ages is the epic of Reineke Fuchs, or Reynard the Fox. This poem was carried by the ancient Franks across the Rhine, became fully acclimated in France, and then returned to Germany by way of Flanders, where it was localized.
After circulating from mouth to mouth almost all over Europe, during many centuries, it was first committed to writing in the Netherlands, where the earliest manuscript, dating from the eleventh or twelfth century, gives a Latin version of the tale.
[Sidenote: Origin of animal epics.] "The root of this saga lies in the harmless natural simplicity of a primeval people. We see described the delight which the rude child of nature takes in all animals,—in their slim forms, their gleaming eyes, their fierceness, their nimbleness and cunning. Such sagas would naturally have their origin in an age when the ideas of shepherd and hunter occupied a great portion of the intellectual horizon of the people; when the herdman saw in the ravenous bear one who was his equal, and more than his equal, in force and adroitness, the champion of the woods and wilds; when the hunter, in his lonely ramble through the depths of the forest, beheld in the hoary wolf and red fox, as they stole along,—hunters like himself,—mates, so to say, and companions, and whom he therefore addressed as such.... So that originally this kind of poetry was the exponent of a peculiar sort of feeling prevailing among the people, and had nothing whatever to do with the didactic or satiric, although at a later period satiric allusions began to be interwoven with it."
The story has been rewritten by many poets and prose writers. It has been translated into almost every European language, and was remodeled from one of the old mediaeval poems by Goethe, who has given it the form in which it will doubtless henceforth be known. His poem "Reineke Fuchs" has been commented upon by Carlyle and translated by Rogers, from whose version all the following quotations have been extracted.
[Sidenote: The animals' assembly.] As was the custom among the Franks under their old Merovingian rulers, the animals all assembled at Whitsuntide around their king, Nobel the lion, who ruled over all the forest. This assembly, like the Champ de Mars, its prototype, was convened not only for the purpose of deciding upon the undertakings for the following year, but also as a special tribunal, where all accusations were made, all complaints heard, and justice meted out to all. The animals were all present, all except Reynard the fox, who, it soon became apparent, was accused of many a dark deed. Every beast present testified to some crime committed by him, and all accused him loudly except his nephew, Grimbart the badger.
"And yet there was one who was absent, Reineke Fox, the rascal! who, deeply given to mischief, Held aloof from half the Court. As shuns a bad conscience Light and day, so the fox fought shy of the nobles assembled. One and all had complaints to make, he had all of them injured; Grimbart the badger, his brother's son, alone was excepted."
[Sidenote: Complaints against Reynard.] The complaint was voiced by Isegrim the wolf, who told with much feeling how cruelly Reynard had blinded three of his beloved children, and how shamefully he had insulted his wife, the fair lady Gieremund. This accusation had no sooner been formulated than Wackerlos the dog came forward, and, speaking French, pathetically described the finding of a little sausage in a thicket, and its purloining by Reynard, who seemed to have no regard whatever for his famished condition.
The tomcat Hintze, who at the mere mention of a sausage had listened more attentively, now angrily cried out that the sausage which Wackerlos had lost belonged by right to him, as he had concealed it in the thicket after stealing it from the miller's wife. He added that he too had had much to suffer from Reynard, and was supported by the panther, who described how he had once found the miscreant cruelly beating poor Lampe the hare.
"Lampe he held by the collar, Yes, and had certainly taken his life, if I by good fortune Had not happened to pass by the road. There standing you see him. Look and see the wounds of the gentle creature, whom no one Ever would think of ill treating."
[Sidenote: Vindication of Reynard.] The king, Nobel, was beginning to look very stern as one after another rose to accuse the absent Reynard, when Grimbart the badger courageously began to defend him, and artfully turned the tables upon the accusers. Taking up their complaints one by one, he described how Reynard, his uncle, once entered into partnership with Isegrim. To obtain some fish which a carter was conveying to market, the fox had lain as if dead in the middle of the road. He had been picked up by the man for the sake of his fur, and tossed up on top of the load of fish. But no sooner had the carter's back been turned than the fox sprang up, threw all the fish down into the road to the expectant wolf, and only sprang down himself when the cart was empty. The wolf, ravenous as ever, devoured the fish as fast as they were thrown down, and when the fox claimed his share of the booty he had secured, Isegrim gave him only the bones. [Footnote 1: For Russian version see Guerber's Contes et Legendes, vol. i., p. 93.]
Not content with cheating his ally once, the wolf had induced the fox to steal a suckling pig from the larder of a sleeping peasant. With much exertion the cunning Reynard had thrown the prize out of the window to the waiting wolf; but when he asked for a portion of the meat as reward, he was dismissed with nothing but the piece of wood upon which it had been hung.
The badger further proceeded to relate that Reynard had wooed Gieremund seven years before, when she was still unmated, and that if Isegrim chose to consider that an insult, it was only on a par with the rest of his accusations, for the king could readily see that Reynard was sorely injured instead of being guilty.
Then, encouraged by the favorable impression he had produced, Grimbart airily disposed of the cases of Wackerlos and Hintze by proving that they had both stolen the disputed sausage, after which he went on to say that Reynard had undertaken to instruct Lampe the hare in psalmody, and that the ill treatment which the panther had described was only a little wholesome castigation inflicted by the teacher upon a lazy and refractory pupil.
"Should not the master his pupil Sometimes chastise when he will not observe, and is stubborn in evil? If boys were never punished, were thoughtlessness always passed over, Were bad behavior allowed, how would our juveniles grow up?"
These plausible explanations were not without their effect, and when Grimbart went on to declare that, ever since Nobel proclaimed a general truce and amnesty among all the animals of the forest, Reynard had turned hermit and spent all his time in fasting, almsgiving, and prayer, the complaint was about to be dismissed.
[Sidenote: Story of Henning and the Cock.] Suddenly, however, Henning the cock appeared, followed by his two sons, Kryant and Kantart, bearing the mangled remains of a hen upon a bier. In broken accents the bereaved father related how happily he had dwelt in a convent henyard, with the ten sons and fourteen daughters which his excellent consort had hatched and brought up in a single summer. His only anxiety had been caused by the constant prowling of Reynard, who, however, had been successfully at a distance by the watchdogs. But when the general truce had been proclaimed, the dogs were dismissed. Reynard, in the garb of a monk, had made his way into the henyard to show Henning the royal proclamation with the attached seal, and to assure him of his altered mode of living.
Thus reassured, Henning had led his family out into the forest, where, alas! Reynard was lurking, and where he killed all but five of Henning's promising brood. They had not only been killed, but devoured, with the exception of Scratch-foot, whose mangled remains were laid at the monarch's feet in proof of the crime, as was customary in the mediaeval courts of justice.
The king, angry that his truce should thus have been broken, and sorry for the evident grief of the father, ordered a sumptuous funeral for the deceased, and commanded that a stone should be placed upon her grave, bearing the epitaph:
"'Scratch-foot, daughter of Henning, the cock, the best of the hen tribe. Many an egg did she lay in her nest, and was skillful in scratching. Here she lies, lost, alas! to her friends, by Reineke murdered. All the world should know of his false and cruel behavior, As for the dead they lament.' Thus ran the words that were written."
[Sidenote: Reynard and the Bear.] Then the king, having taken advice with his council, solemnly bade Brown the bear proceed immediately to Malepartus, Reynard's home, and summon him to appear at Reynard and court forthwith, to answer the grave charges which had been made against him. But he warned his messenger to behave circumspectly and to beware of the wiles of the crafty fox. The bear rather resented these well-meant recommendations, and, confidently asserting his ability to take care of himself, set out for Reynard's abode.
On his way to the mountains he was obliged to pass through an arid, sandy waste, and reached Malepartus weary and overheated. Standing before the fortress, which rejoiced in many labyrinthine passages, he loudly made known his errand; and when Reynard, peeping cautiously out, had ascertained that Brown was alone, he hastened out to welcome him.
With great volubility the fox commiserated his long journey, and excused the delay in admitting him under plea of an indisposition caused by eating too much honey, a diet which he abhorred.
At the mere mention of honey the bear forgot all his fatigue, and when his host lamented the fact that he had nothing else to offer him, he joyfully declared no food could suit him better, and that he could never get enough of it.
"'If that is so,' continued the Red one, 'I really can serve you, For the peasant Ruesteviel lives at the foot of the mountain. Honey he has, indeed, such that you and all of your kindred Never so much together have seen.'"
Oblivious of everything else at the thought of such a treat, Brown the bear immediately set out in Reynard's company, and they soon came to the peasant's yard, where a half-split tree trunk lay in full view. Reynard then bade his companion thrust his nose well down into the hollow and eat his fill of honey. As soon as he saw that the bear had thrust not only his nose, but both fore paws, into the crack, Reynard cleverly removed the wedges, the tree clapped together, and he left the bear a prisoner and howling with pain.
These sounds soon attracted the peasant's attention, and he and his companions all fell upon the captive bear with every imaginable weapon, and proceeded to give him a sound beating. Frantic with pain and terror, the unfortunate bear finally succeeded in wrenching himself free, at the cost of the skin on his nose and fore paws, and, after tumbling the fat cook into the water, swam down the stream and landed in a thicket to bewail his misfortunes. Here he was found by the fox, who added insult to injury by making fun of him, and reproved him for his gluttony, until the bear again plunged into the stream and swam away.
Then, painfully making his way back to Nobel, Brown presented himself at court all bleeding and travel-stained, and poured forth a doleful account of his mission.
[Sidenote: Reynard and the cat.] The king, after consulting with his principal courtiers, declared it the right of any man to be thrice summoned, and, conceding that the bear's manners were not of a conciliatory nature, selected Hintze the cat to bear his message to Malepartus. The cat, disheartened by unfavorable omens, was nevertheless compelled to go on this unwelcome journey.
Reynard welcomed him cordially, promised to accompany him to court on the morrow, and then asked what kind of refreshment he could offer. When Hintze had confessed his preference for mice, the fox replied that it was very fortunate, as there were plenty of them in the parson's barn. Hintze immediately asked to be led thither, that he might eat his fill.
"'Pray do me the kindness Hence to lead and show me the mice, for far above wild game Give me a mouse for delicate flavor.'"
Reynard then conducted Hintze to the parson's barn, and pointed out a little opening through which he had passed to steal chickens, and where he knew that Martin, the parson's son, had laid a trap to catch any intruder. Hintze at first demurred, but, urged by Reynard, crept in and found himself caught in a noose. Reynard, pretending to take the cat's moans for cries of joy, banteringly inquired whether that was the way they sang at court, as the caterwauling grew louder.
These sounds finally reached the ears of little Martin, who, accompanied by his father, came into the barn to catch the intruder. Poor Hintze, frightened at the sight of the bludgeon the parson carried, flew at his legs, scratching and biting him, until the saintly man fainted. Then, taking advantage of the confusion, Hintze managed to slip out of the noose and effect his escape. He returned to court minus one eye, and there poured out the story of his wrongs.
[Sidenote: Reynard and the badger.] The wrath of the king was now terrible to behold, and assembling his council, he bade them decide how he should punish the wretch who had twice ill treated his messengers. Grimbart the badger, seeing that public opinion was decidedly against his relative, now begged that a third summons should be sent, and offered to carry the message himself. He furthermore declared that, even according to their own showing, the cat and bear had come to grief through their greediness; and then he promptly departed.
Grimbart found Reynard in the bosom of his family, delivered his message, and frankly advised the fox to obey the king's summons and appear at court, where, perchance, he might yet manage to save himself; while if he remained at home the king would besiege his fortress and slay him and all his family. Reynard listened favorably to this advice, and, after bidding his wife a tender farewell, and committing his beloved children to her care, he set out with Grimbart to go to court.
On the way the recollection of his many transgressions began to lie very heavily upon his heart. The fear of death quickened his conscience, and, longing to make his peace with Heaven, he expressed a great wish to confess his sins and receive absolution. As no priest was near at hand, he begged Grimbart the badger to listen to him, and penitently confessed all the misdeeds we have already recounted. He also added that he once bound Isegrim to the rope of the convent bell at Elkinar, where his frantic tugging rang the bell, until the monks, crowding around him, cudgeled him severely. Reynard related, too, how he once induced Isegrim to enter the priests' house through a window and crawl along some beams in search of ham and bacon. As the wolf was carefully feeling his way, however, the mischievous fox pushed him and made him fall on the sleeping people below, who, awakening with a start, fell upon him and beat him. These and sundry other sins having duly been confessed, the badger bade the fox chastise himself with a switch plucked from the hedge, lay it down in the road, jump over it thrice, and then meekly kiss that rod in token of obedience. Then he pronounced Reynard absolved from his former sins, and admonished him to lead an altered life in future.
"'My uncle, take care that your future amendment In good works be visible. Psalms you should read, and should visit Churches with diligence; fast at the seasons duly appointed; Him who asks you point out the way to; give to the needy Willingly; swear to forsake all evil habits of living, All kinds of theft and robbing, deceit and evil behavior. Thus can you make quite sure that you will attain unto mercy!'"
The fox solemnly promised amendment, and with sanctimonious mien continued his journey. But as he and the badger passed a convent, and some plump hens crossed their path, Reynard forgot all his promises and began to chase the chickens. Sharply recalled to a sense of duty by Grimbart, Reynard reluctantly gave up the chase, and the two proceeded without further drawback to the court, where Reynard's arrival created a great sensation.
"When at the Court it was known that Reineke really was coming, Ev'ry one thronged out of doors to see him, the great and the little. Few with friendly intent; for almost all were complaining. This, however, in Reineke's mind was of little importance; Thus he pretended, at least, as he with Grimbart the badger, Boldly enough and with elegant mien now walked up the high street. Jauntily swung he along at his ease, as if he were truly Son of the king, and free and quit of ev'ry transgression. Thus he came before Nobel the king, and stood in the palace In the midst of the lords; he knew how to pose as unruffled."
[Sidenote: Reynard at court.] With consummate skill and unparalleled eloquence and impudence, Reynard addressed the king, lauding himself as a faithful servant, and commiserating the fact that so many envious and backbiting people were ready to accuse him. Nobel the king, in whose mind the recollection of the treatment inflicted upon Brown the bear and Hintze the cat was still very vivid, answered him sternly, and told him that it would be difficult for him to acquit himself of those two charges, to say nothing of the many others brought against him. Reynard, still undismayed, demanded with well-feigned indignation whether he was to be held responsible for the sins of those messengers whose misfortunes were attributable to their gluttonous and thievish propensities only.
[Sidenote: Reynard condemned to death.] But in spite of this specious pleading, all the other animals came crowding around with so many grievous charges that matters began to look very dark indeed for the fox. In spite of all Reynard's eloquence, and of the fluent excuses ever on his tongue, the council pronounced him guilty, and condemned him to die an ignominious death. Reynard's enemies rejoiced at this sentence, and dragged him off with cheerful alacrity to the gallows, where all the animals assembled to witness his execution.
On the way to the place of punishment Reynard tried to think of some plan by means of which he could save himself even at the eleventh hour; and knowing that some scheme would occur to him if he could only gain a little time, he humbly implored permission to make a public confession of his manifold sins ere he paid the penalty of his crimes. Anxious to hear all he might have to say, the king granted him permission to speak; and the fox began to relate at length the story of his early and innocent childhood, his meeting and alliance with Isegrim the wolf, and his gradual induction by him into crooked paths and evil ways. He told, too, how the cruel wolf, presuming on his strength, had ever made use of it to deprive him, the fox, of his rightful share of plunder; and concluded by saying that he would often have suffered from hunger had it not been for the possession of a great treasure of gold, which had sufficed for all his wants.
"Thanks be to God, however, I never suffered from hunger; Secretly have I fed well by means of that excellent treasure, All of silver and gold in a secret place that securely Hidden I keep; with this I've enough. And, I say it in earnest, Not a wagon could carry it off, though sevenfold loaded."
At the word "treasure" Nobel pricked up his ears and bade Reynard relate how this hoard was obtained and where it was concealed. The artful fox, seeing the king's evident interest, rapidly prepared more lies, and, speaking to the king and queen, declared that ere he died it would be better for him to reveal the carefully guarded secret of a conspiracy which would have resulted in the king's death had it not been for his devotion.
The queen, shuddering at the mere thought of the danger her royal consort had run, now begged that Reynard might step down from the scaffold and speak privately to her and to Nobel. In this interview Reynard, still pretending to prepare for immediate death, told how he discovered a conspiracy formed by his father, Isegrim the wolf, Brown the bear, and many others, to slay the king and seize the scepter. He described the various secret conferences, the measures taken, and his father's promise to defray all the expenses of the enterprise and to subsidize mercenary troops by means of the hoard of King Ermenrich, which he had discovered and concealed for his own use.
Reynard then continued to describe his loyal fears for his beloved sovereign, his resolve to outwit the conspirators, and his efforts to deprive them of the sinews of war by discovering and abstracting the treasure. Thanks to his ceaseless vigilance, he saw his father steal forth one night, uncover his hoard, gloat over the gold, and then efface the traces of his search with the utmost skill.
"'Nor could one, Not having seen, have possibly known. And ere he went onwards Well he understood at the place where his feet had been planted, Cleverly backwards and forwards to draw his tail, and to smooth it, And to efface the trace with the aid of his mouth.'"
Reynard then told the king how diligently he and his wife, Ermelyn, labored to remove the gold and conceal it elsewhere, and how the conspiracy came to naught when no gold was found to pay the troops. He mournfully added that his loyalty further deprived him of a loving father, for the latter had hung himself in despair when he found his treasure gone and all his plans frustrated. With hypocritical tears he then bewailed his own fate, saying that, although ready to risk all for another, there was no one near him to speak a good word for him in his time of bitterest need.
[Sidenote: Reynard Pardoned.] The queen's soft heart was so touched by this display of feeling that she soon pleaded for and obtained Reynard's pardon from Nobel, who freely granted it when the fox promised to give him his treasure. Most accurately now he described its place of concealment, but said that he could not remain at court, as his presence there was an insult to royalty, seeing that he was under the Pope's ban and must make a pilgrimage ere it could be removed.
The king, after imprisoning Isegrim, Brown, and Hintze (the chief conspirators according to Reynard's tale), and ascertaining that the place the fox so accurately described really existed, bade Reynard depart, and at his request procured for him a fragment of Brown's hide to make a wallet, and a pair of socks from Isegrim and his wife, who were very loath to part with their foot covering. The king, queen, and court then accompanied Reynard a short way on the first stage of his journey, and turned back, leaving Bellyn the ram and Lampe the hare to escort him a little farther. These innocent companions accompanied Reynard to Malepartus, and while Bellyn waited patiently without, Lampe entered the house with Reynard. Lady Ermelyn and her two young sons greeted Reynard with joy, listened breathlessly to the account of his adventures, and then helped him to slay and eat Lampe, who, he declared, had brought all these evils upon him.
Reynard and his family feasted upon the body of poor Lampe the hare, whose head was then securely fastened in the wallet made of Brown's skin. This the fox carefully carried out and placed upon Bellyn's back, assuring him volubly the while that it contained important dispatches, and that in order to insure him a suitable reward for his good offices he had told Nobel the king that the ram had given him valuable assistance in preparing the contents of the wallet.
"'Yet, as soon as you see the king, and to still better favor Wish to attain with him, 'twere well to bring to his notice That you have sagely given advice in composing the letters, Yea, and the writer have help'd.'"
Thus instructed, and reassured concerning the absence of Lampe, whom Reynard described as enjoying a chat with Ermelyn, Bellyn bounded off to court, where he did not fail to vaunt that he had helped Reynard prepare the contents of the wallet. Nobel publicly opened it, and when he drew out Lampe's bleeding head his anger knew no bounds. Following the advice of his courtiers, Bellyn, in spite of all his protestations, was given in atonement to the bear and the wolf, who the king now feared had been unjustly treated. They were then released from imprisonment and reinstated to royal favor, and twelve days of festivity ensued.
[Sidenote: Reynard again in disgrace.] In the midst of the dance and revelry a bloody rabbit appeared to accuse Reynard of tearing off one of his ears, while the garrulous crow, Merkinau, related how the same unscrupulous wretch had pretended death merely to befool Sharfenebbe, his wife, and induce her to come near enough for him to bite off her head. Nobel the king, upon hearing these complaints, immediately swore that within six days he would besiege Reynard in his castle, would take him prisoner, and would make him suffer the penalty of his crimes.
Isegrim the wolf and Brown the bear rejoiced at these tidings, while Grimbart the badger, seeing the peril his uncle had incurred, hastened off secretly to Malepartus to warn him of his danger and support him by his advice. He found Reynard sitting complacently in front of his house, contemplating two young doves which he had just secured as they were making their first attempt to fly. Grimbart breathlessly related the arrival of Bellyn, the royal indignation at the sight of Lampe's head, and the plan for surrounding and capturing Reynard in his safe retreat.
[Sidenote: Grimbart's advice.] In spite of this disquieting news Reynard's composure did not desert him; but after vowing that he could easily acquit himself of these crimes if he could only win the king's ear for a moment, he invited his kinsman to share his meal and taste the delicate morsels he had secured. Grimbart the badger, seeing that the fox was not inclined to flee, now advised him not to await the king's coming and expose his wife and children to the horrors of a siege, but boldly to return to court.
"'Go with assurance before the lords, and put the best face on Your affairs. They will give you a hearing. Lupardus was also Willing you should not be punish'd before you had fully Made your defense, and the queen herself was not otherwise minded. Mark this fact, and try to make use of it.'"
Once more Reynard bade a tender farewell to his wife and sons, resisting all the former's entreaties to seek safety in flight, and, relying upon his cunning, set out with Grimbart to visit the court. On his way he again pretended repentance for his former sins, and resuming his confession at the point where he had broken off, he told how maliciously he had secured a piece of the bear's hide for a wallet, and socks from Isegrim and his wife. He then went on to relate just how he had murdered Lampe, charged the innocent Bellyn with the ambiguous message which had cost him his life, torn off one of the rabbit's ears, and eaten the crow's wife. Lastly, he confessed how he had gone out in company with the wolf, who, being hungry and seeing a mare with a little foal, had bidden Reynard inquire at what price she would sell it. The mare retorted that the price was written on her hoof. The sly fox, understanding her meaning, yet longing to get his companion into trouble, pretended not to know how to read, and sent the wolf to ascertain the price. The result was, of course, disastrous, for the mare kicked so hard that the wolf lay almost dead for several hours after.
"So he went and asked the lady, 'What price is the filly? Make it cheap.' Whereupon she replied, 'You've only to read it; There you will find the sum inscribed on one of my hind feet.' 'Let me look,' continued the wolf; and she answered, 'With pleasure.'
"Then she lifted upwards her foot from the grass; it was studded With six nails. She struck straight out, and not by a hair's breadth Missed she her mark. She struck on his head, and straightway he fell down, Lying as dumb as the dead."
Waxing more and more eloquent as they drew nearer court and his fears increased, Reynard began to moralize. He excused himself for Lampe's murder on the plea of the latter's aggravating behavior, said that the king himself was nothing but a robber living by rapine, and proceeded to show how even the priests were guilty of manifold sins, which he enumerated with much gusto.
They had scarcely finished this edifying conversation when they came across Martin the ape, on his way to Rome; and Reynard hastened to implore him to secure his release from the Pope's ban, through the intercession of the ape's uncle, the cardinal, whose interest it was to serve him. Martin the ape not only promised his good offices at the papal court, but bade Reynard not hesitate to consult his wife should he find himself in any predicament at court.
[Sidenote: Reynard at court.] Thus supported, Reynard again made his appearance at court, to the utter amazement and surprise of all; and although, he was well aware that his situation was more dangerous than ever, his assurance did not seem at all impaired. Kneeling with pretended humility before the king, he artfully began his address by lamenting the fact that there were so many unscrupulous people ever ready to accuse the innocent; and when the king angrily interrupted him to accuse him of maiming the rabbit and devouring the crow, he began his defense.
First Reynard explained that since Martin the ape had undertaken to free him from his ban, his journey to Rome was of course unnecessary. Then he related how the rabbit, dining at his house, had insulted and quarreled with his children, from whose clutches he had had much trouble to save him. The crow's death was caused by a fish bone she had swallowed. Bellyn, the traitor, had slain Lampe himself, and evidently put his head in the wallet instead of some treasures which Reynard had intrusted to their care for the king and queen.
[Sidenote: The ape's intercession.] The king, who had listened impatiently to all this discourse, angrily retired, refusing to believe a word, while Reynard sought the ape's wife, Frau Rueckenau, and bade her intercede for him. She entered the royal tent, reminded the king of her former services, and seeing his mood somewhat softened, ventured to mention how cleverly Reynard once helped him to judge between the rival claims of a shepherd and a serpent. The latter, caught in a noose and about to die, had implored a passing shepherd to set it free. The peasant had done so after exacting a solemn oath from the serpent to do him no harm. But the serpent, once released, and suffering from the pangs of hunger, threatened to devour the peasant. The latter called the raven, wolf, and bear, whom he met by the way, to his aid; but as they all hoped to get a share of him, they all decided in favor of the serpent's claim to eat him.
The case by this time had become so intricate that it was laid before the king, who, unable to judge wisely, called Reynard to his aid. The fox declared that he could only settle so difficult a matter when plaintiff and defendant had assumed the relative positions which they occupied at the time of dispute. Then when the snake was safely in the noose once more, Reynard decided that, knowing the serpent's treachery, the peasant might again set him loose, but need not do so unless he chose.