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The Danish History, Books I-IX* by Saxo Grammaticus ("Saxo the Learned")

Part 9 out of 9

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to survive his death.

While this child remained in infancy a guardian was required for
the pupil and for the realm. But inasmuch it seemed to most
people either invidious or difficult to give the aid that this
office needed, it was resolved that a man should be chosen by
lot. For the wisest of the Danes, fearing much to make a choice
by their own will in so lofty a matter, allowed more voice to
external chance than to their own opinions, and entrusted the
issue of the selection rather to luck than to sound counsel. The
issue was that a certain Enni-gnup (Steep-brow), a man of the
highest and most entire virtue, was forced to put his shoulder to
this heavy burden; and when he entered on the administration
which chalice had decreed, he oversaw, not only the early rearing
of the king, but the affairs of the whole people. For which
reason some who are little versed in our history give this man a
central place in its annals. But when Kanute had passed through
the period of boyhood, and had in time grown to be a man, he left
those who had done him the service of bringing him up, and turned
from an almost hopeless youth to the practice of unhoped-for
virtue; being deplorable for this reason only, that he passed
from life to death without the tokens of the Christian faith.

But soon the sovereignty passed to his son FRODE. This man's
fortune, increased by arms and warfare, rose to such a height of
prosperity that he brought back to the ancient yoke the provinces
which had once revolted from the Danes, and bound them in their
old obedience. He also came forward to be baptised with holy
water in England, which had for some while past been versed in
Christianity. But he desired that his personal salvation should
overflow and become general, and begged that Denmark should be
instructed in divinity by Agapete, who was then Pope of Rome.
But he was cut off before his prayers attained this wish. His
death befell before the arrival of the messengers from Rome: and
indeed his intention was better than his fortune, and he won as
great a reward in heaven for his intended piety as others are
vouchsafed for their achievement.

His son GORM, who had the surname of "The Englishman," because he
was born in England, gained the sovereignty in the island on his
father's death; but his fortune, though it came soon, did not
last long. He left England for Denmark to put it in order; but a
long misfortune was the fruit of this short absence. For the
English, who thought that their whole chance of freedom lay in
his being away, planned an open revolt from the Danes, and in hot
haste took heart to rebel. But the greater the hatred and
contempt of England, the greater the loyal attachment of Denmark
to the king. Thus while he stretched out his two hands to both
provinces in his desire for sway, he gained one, but lost the
lordship of the other irretrievably; for he never made any bold
effort to regain it. So hard is it to keep a hold on very large

After this man his son HARALD came to be king of Denmark; he is
half-forgotten by posterity, and lacks all record for famous
deeds, because he rather preserved than extended the possessions
of the realm.

After this the throne was obtained by GORM, a man whose soul was
ever hostile to religion, and who tried to efface all regard for
Christ's worshippers, as though they were the most abominable of
men. All those who shared this rule of life he harassed with
divers kinds of injuries and incessantly pursued with whatever
slanders he could. Also, in order to restore the old worship to
the shrines, he razed to its lowest foundations, as though it
were some unholy abode of impiety, a temple which religious men
had founded in a stead in Sleswik; and those whom he did not
visit with tortures he punished by the demolition of the holy
chapel. Though this man was thought notable for his stature, his
mind did not answer to his body; for he kept himself so well
sated with power that he rejoiced more in saving than increasing
his dignity, and thought it better to guard his own than to
attack what belonged to others: caring more to look to what he
had than to swell his havings.

This man was counselled by the elders to celebrate the rites of
marriage, and he wooed Thyra, the daughter of Ethelred, the king
of the English, for his wife. She surpassed other women in
seriousness and shrewdness, and laid the condition on her suitor
that she would not marry him till she had received Denmark as a
dowry. This compact was made between them, and she was betrothed
to Gorm. But on the first night that she went up on to the
marriage-bed, she prayed her husband most earnestly that she
should be allowed to go for three days free from intercourse with
man. For she resolved to have no pleasure of love till she had
learned by some omen in a vision that her marriage would be
fruitful. Thus, under pretence of self-control, she deferred her
experience of marriage, and veiled under a show of modesty her
wish to learn about her issue. She put off lustful intercourse,
inquiring, under the feint of chastity, into the fortune she
would have in continuing her line. Some conjecture that she
refused the pleasures of the nuptial couch in order to win her
mate over to Christianity by her abstinence. But the youth,
though he was most ardently bent on her love, yet chose to regard
the continence of another more than his own desires, and thought
it nobler to control the impulses of the night than to rebuff the
prayers of his weeping mistress; for he thought that her
beseechings, really coming from calculation, had to do with
modesty. Thus it befell that he who should have done a husband's
part made himself the guardian of her chastity so that the
reproach of an infamous mind should not be his at the very
beginning of his marriage; as though he had yielded more to the
might of passion than to his own self-respect. Moreover that he
might not seem to forestall by his lustful embraces the love
which the maiden would not grant, he not only forbore to let
their sides that were next one another touch, but even severed
them by his drawn sword, and turned the bed into a divided
shelter for his bride and himself. But he soon tasted in the
joyous form of a dream the pleasure which he postponed from free
loving kindness. For, when his spirit was steeped in slumber, he
thought that two birds glided down from the privy parts of his
wife, one larger than the other; that they poised their bodies
aloft and soared swiftly to heaven, and, when a little time had
elapsed, came back and sat on either of his hands. A second, and
again a third time, when they had been refreshed by a short rest,
they ventured forth to the air with outspread wings. At last the
lesser of them came back without his fellow, and with wings
smeared with blood. He was amazed with this imagination, and,
being in a deep sleep, uttered a cry to betoken his astonishment,
filling the whole house with an uproarious shout. When his
servants questioned him, he related his vision; and Thyra,
thinking that she would be blest with offspring, forbore her
purpose to put off her marriage, eagerly relaxing the chastity
for which she had so hotly prayed. Exchanging celibacy for love,
she granted her husband full joy of herself, requiting his
virtuous self-restraint with the fulness of permitted
intercourse, and telling him that she would not have married him
at all, had she not inferred from these images in the dream which
he had related, the certainty of her being fruitful.

By a device as cunning as it was strange, Thyra's pretended
modesty passed into an acknowledgment of her future offspring.
Nor did fate disappoint her hopes. Soon she was the fortunate
mother of Kanute and Harald. When these princes had attained
man's estate, they put forth a fleet and quelled the reckless
insolence of the Sclavs. Neither did they leave England free
from an attack of the same kind. Ethelred was delighted with
their spirit, and rejoiced at the violence his nephews offered
him; accepting an abominable wrong as though it were the richest
of benefits. For he saw far more merit in their bravery than in
piety. Thus he thought it nobler to be attacked by foes than
courted by cowards, and felt that he saw in their valiant promise
a sample of their future manhood.

For he could not doubt that they would some day attack foreign
realms, since they so boldly claimed those of their mother. He
so much preferred their wrongdoing to their service, that he
passed over his daughter, and bequeathed England in his will to
these two, not scrupling to set the name of grandfather before
that of father. Nor was he unwise; for he knew that it beseemed
men to enjoy the sovereignty rather than women, and considered
that he ought to separate the lot of his unwarlike daughter from
that of her valiant sons. Hence Thyra saw her sons inheriting
the goods of her father, not grudging to be disinherited herself.
For she thought that the preference above herself was honourable
to her, rather than insulting.

Kanute and Harald enriched themselves with great gains from
sea-roving, and most confidently aspired to lay hands on Ireland.
Dublin, which was considered the capital of the country, was
beseiged. Its king went into a wood adjoining the city with a
few very skilled archers, and with treacherous art surrounded
Kanute (who was present with a great throng of soldiers
witnessing the show of the games by night), and aimed a deadly
arrow at him from afar. It struck the body of the king in front,
and pierced him with a mortal wound. But Kanute feared that the
enemy would greet his peril with an outburst of delight. He
therefore wished his disaster to be kept dark; and summoning
voice with his last breath, he ordered the games to be gone
through without disturbance. By this device he made the Danes
masters of Ireland ere he made his own death known to the Irish.

Who would not bewail the end of such a man, whose self-mastery
served to give the victory to his soldiers, by reason of the
wisdom that outlasted his life? For the safety of the Danes was
most seriously endangered, and was nearly involved in the most
deadly peril; yet because they obeyed the dying orders of their
general they presently triumphed over those they feared.

Germ had now reached the extremity of his days, having been blind
for many years, and had prolonged his old age to the utmost
bounds of the human lot, being more anxious for the life and
prosperity of his sons than for the few days he had to breathe.
But so great was his love for his elder son that he swore that he
would slay with his own hand whosoever first brought him news of
his death. As it chanced, Thyra heard sure tidings that this son
had perished. But when no man durst openly hint this to Germ,
she fell back on her cunning to defend her, and revealed by her
deeds the mischance which she durst not speak plainly out. For
she took the royal robes off her husband and dressed him in
filthy garments, bringing him other signs of grief also, to
explain the cause of her mourning; for the ancients were wont to
use such things in the performance of obsequies, bearing witness
by their garb to the bitterness of their sorrow. Then said Germ:
"Dost thou declare to me the death of Kanute?" (2) And Thyra
said: "That is proclaimed by thy presage, not by mine." By this
answer she made out her lord a dead man and herself a widow, and
had to lament her husband as soon as her son. Thus, while she
announced the fate of her son to her husband, she united them in
death, and followed the obsequies of both with equal mourning;
shedding the tears of a wife upon the one and of a mother upon
the other; though at that moment she ought to have been cheered
with comfort rather than crushed with disasters.

(1) Utgard. Saxo, rationalising as usual, turns the mythical
home of the giants into some terrestrial place in his
vaguely-defined Eastern Europe.
(2) Kanute. Here the vernacular is far finer. The old king
notices "Denmark is drooping, dead must my son be!", puts on
the signs of mourning, and dies.

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