Kirtlan Appendix Prelude

.

Table of Contents

Download: MP3 of the text. Listen while you read.

II
.
THE PRELUDE

The Prelude would seem to be an attempt to link up the hero of the poem with the mythological progenitors of the Teutonic nations. Thomas Arnold says: That Sceaf, Scyld, and Beaw were among the legendary ancestors of the West Saxon line of kings no one disputes. But this does not mean much, for the poem itself shows that the same three were also among the legendary ancestors of the Danish kings. Ethelward, who wrote early in the tenth century, gives the ancestry of Ethelwulf, the father of Alfred. Ethelward says: The seventeenth ancestor from Cerdic was Beo, the eighteenth Scyld, the nineteenth Scef. Ethelward also says: Scef himself, with one light vessel, arrived in the island of the ocean which is called Scani, dressed in armour, and he was a very young boy, and the inhabitants of that land knew nothing about him; however, he was received by them, and kept with care and affection as though he were of their own kin, and afterwards they chose him to be king, from whose stock the King Athulf [Ethelwulf] derives his line. [194]

It may be noted that neither Scyld nor Scef is mentioned in the A.S. Chronicle (A.D. 855). William of Malmesbury, in his Gesta Regum, says that Scef was so called from the sheaf of wheat that lay at his head, that he was asleep when he arrived, and that when he grew up he became a king in the town then called Slaswic, now Haithebi (Rolls Ed., 1. 121).

M�off says: If we look closely into the saga, the ship and the sheaf clearly point to navigation and agriculture, the arms and jewels to kingly rule—all four gifts, therefore, to the main elements and foundations of the oldest state of culture among the Germans [Teutons?] of the sea-board; and if the bearer of these symbols became the first king of the country, the meaning can only be this, that from his appearance the beginning of the oldest state of culture dates, and that generally before him no orderly way of leading a human life had existed.

Scyld (meaning Shield) refers to the fact that the king was the protector of the people in war, and is therefore symbolical, like Scef.

The ship and the sheaf, the arms and the jewels and the shield—these are the symbols of that primitive civilization—the sheaf, the symbol of agriculture and food, the ship of [195]commerce, the arms of warfare, the jewels of reward of bravery, and the shield of the protection of the people by the king.

Arnold mentions the fact that no writer not English mentions the saga of Scef and Scyld, and suggests that this is presumption for the English origin of the legend. I do not, however, think it is conclusive evidence. One is surprised that they are not mentioned in Icelandic literature. Yet somehow the impression on my mind is that these legends were probably brought by our Saxon and Danish ancestors from the Continent, and are taken for granted as well known to the hearers of the song. I think they probably formed part of the legendary genealogy of our common Germanic (Teutonic) ancestors, and happened to find their way into literature only among the English, or have survived only in the English.

.

Table of Contents