Viga-Glum’s Fits Of Murderous Laughter

Sweden doesn’t have much of a written record for the Viking Period. We have most of the rune stones but hardly any of the sagas. And thus among Swedish Viking scholars it is not uncommon to be rather poorly read, like I am, in the eddas, the sagas and the other written sources of the period. The Viking Period is pretty much prehistoric archaeology to us.

Still, even in Sweden you can’t study the period without picking up a few fragments of the written lore. And in my reading, one of the best passages I’ve come across is this description of Viga-Glum’s reaction to trespassing neighbours from the saga that bears his name. Glum is the son of Eyolf and Astrida and lives with his mother after the father’s death. He is introduced thus:

Glum took very little trouble about household matters, and seemed to be somewhat slow in coming to his full faculties. He was for the most part silent and undemonstrative, tall, of a dark complexion, with straight white hair; a powerful man, who seemed rather awkward and shy, and never went to the places where men met together.

The up-and-coming young chieftain Sigmund and his father Thorkel are grabbing bits of Glum’s family property.

One morning Astrida woke Glum up and told him that many of Sigmund’s cattle had got into their home field and wanted to break in among the hay which was laid in heaps.

“I am not strong enough to drive them out, and the men are all at work.”

He replied, “Well, you have not often asked me to work, and there shall be no offence in your doing so now.”

So he jumped up, took his horse, and a large stick in his hand, drove the cattle briskly off the farm, thrashing them well until they came to the homestead of Thorkel and Sigmund, and then he let them do whatever mischief they might please. Thorkel was looking after the hay and the fences that morning, and Sigmund was with the labourers.

The former called out to Glum, “You may be sure people will not stand this at your hands – that you should damage their beasts in this way, though you may have got some credit while you were abroad.”

Glum answered, “The beasts are not injured yet, but if they come again and trespass upon us some of them will be lamed, and you will have to make the best of it; it is all you will get; we are not going to suffer damage by your cattle any longer.”

Sigmund cried out, “You talk big, Glum, but in our eyes you are now just as great a simpleton as when you went away, and we shall not order our affairs according to your nonsense.”

Glum went home, and then a fit of laughter came upon him, and affected him in such a manner that he turned quite pale, and tears burst from his eyes, like large hailstones. He was often afterwards taken in this way when the appetite for killing someone came upon him.

(Ch. 7, last paragraph, Edmund Head’s 1866 translation with a few 21st century tweaks of mine.)

Thanks to Anne Monikander for helping me find the passage, which I had misattributed first to Gretti Asmundarson and then to Gisli Sursson.


Ancient Seeress Foresees Twilight of Gods and Scented Candles

This is priceless. There’s a line of scented candles and other spa treatment paraphernalia called Voluspa. Volu-spa, get it? Now, the firm shows no awareness of what their chosen name means. Völuspá is a long Old Norse poem in the Poetic Edda, dealing with the creation and eventual destruction (and re-creation) of the world. It’s title means “Prophecy of the Seeress”, and it’s known as one of the most majestic pieces of writing in its language. With this name, the candlemakers are either just oblivious, or they’re judging that their target market doesn’t know much about the Viking Period.

I am now going to start a bakery, marketing my pretzels as Heimskringla and my cakes as Ecclesiastes.

Thanks to Beatrice Waller for the heads-up.