Thursday, 27 July 2017

The Saga of Didrik of Bern ... Weland Smith

I have been translating the old Swedish Saga of Didrik of Bern, which will be published after the summer. This saga winds together tales of several heroes who were widely known in Scandinavia, Germany, and also Anglo Saxon England. It also seems that some of the Scandinavian ballads are based on this saga: some of the best-known warrior ballads starring Diderick of Bern and Widrick Waylandsson tell stories that are very closely related to episodes in the saga.

The saga tells background stories of several of the heroes who accompany King Didrik of Bern. One of these is Wideke (also known as Widrick in other Scandinavian sources), the son of Weland (Wayland Smith). And the saga includes an account of the life of Weland. It tells about how his father was a giant, Wade, the son of a mermaid and a king of Sweden. And it tells about how he was taught to smith by dwarfs, and how he travelled by water to the court of King Nidung. Some of the events at that king's court – the king's hamstringing of Weland, Weland's revenge, and Weland's escape by flying through the air – are well known from the Poetic Edda. But the saga also tells of many more things that happened there – including the smithing of the sword Mymming – and that saga account is quite sympathetic to Weland.

Weland Smith on the Franks' Casket

But there are other versions of the legend of Weland Smith and his son. Here I have translated a lesser-known folk tale from Willands Härad, Skåne, about Widrik Welandsson and his father, Weland Smith. This was told by Jens Svendsson, pastor in Ivetofta parish, Skåne, in 1624 (note that Skåne was part of Denmark at that time), and printed in the introduction to Hylten-Cavallius's edition of the Saga of Didrik of Bern (1850).

From ancient times, it has been told that Willands Härad in Skåne got its name from a Willand, who was a remarkable and strange smith. To show this, the härad has in its seal a hammer and a tong, and that mark has also been used on the härad's banner, in memory of Willand and his son, Widrik Willandson.

It is an old folk tale that Willand got that son with a mermaid, who he tied up while he had his way with her. When he set her loose again, she said: Now I have got a son with you. If you hadn't tied me up, he would have been very strong both on land and in water. But now he will be very strong only on land.

When Widrik Welandsson had grown up a little, he asked his father to smith him a sword. Willand did as he was asked, but when the sword was finished, his son wanted to use it at once. Willand refused this, and said he would lay the sword under a stone until Widrik had become so strong that he could himself roll away the stone and take it. Before that, Widrik should ride far enough that he should find water that ran upwards. Widrik rode for a long time, but he couldn't find any such water. After a while, there was a time when he was watching his horse as it drank, and he noticed then that the water ran upwards. He went then to the stone, rolled it away, and took the sword. After that he used it like a man, and many stories are told about his deeds. He became the greatest of all the old warriors.

The same stone that lay on top of the sword is still called the smith's stone to this day, and it lies on a little hill, west of Krogstorp in the Ivetofta parish of Willands Härad.

Widrik Welandsson is said to be buried on Ederbeck's slätt in Grydby mark, west of Sissebäck mill. Big standing stones may be seen to this day in that place, near the main road to Sölvitaborg. The reason Widrik was buried there is said to be that he himself wanted to be laid in that place where he was fathered.

The Saga of Didrik of Bern is now available in paperback format from Amazon (UK|US), or alternatively as an ebook.

G.O. Hylten-Cavallius, Sagan om Didrik af Bern, Stockholm, 1850, Introduction
Translation by Ian Cumpstey