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Leifnir's[?] Fire [item/ability:fire] [edda]

Dietrich's fiery breath [item/ability:fire] [Dietrich cycle]

Leifnis eldr [normalized ON];
[dat. < Leifnis elda (Grógaldr 10). Manuscript readings -- leifinz elda (O= codex oblongus, AM 738 4to), leifinz eldir ( = NkS 1866 4to text proper), leifinz elda (B = NkS 1108 fol., C = NkS 1109 fol., = NkS 1866 4to margin, S = NkS 1869 4to) leifinz eldu (Stockholm mss. and NkS 1867 4to) ]
* Leifnislogar (synonym used by Viktor Rydberg in Undersökningar i Germanisk Mythologi);
* leysigaldr "loosening spell" (Bugge's emendation) [ON];
"Leifnir's flames" or "Leifin's flames" (Rasmus B. Anderson tr. of Rydberg), "Leifner's Flames" [Donald A. Mackenzie Teutonic Myth and Legend VIII],

§ Overview
"Leifnir's fire". The name of the fetter-loosing charm of protection that the entombed Gróa sang upon her son, (supposedly Svipdag). The charm is mentioned in the Grógaldr lay, which Bugge (and Gruntvig) determined is followed by Fjölsvinnsmál as a sequel, and the two lays in combined were christened Svipdagsmál. Bugge maintained that the Danish ballad of Svejdal/Svendal was a later rendition of the same tale.

However, the early editor of the Eddas, Sophus Bugge*1 did something else: he ingeniously emended the Leifnis eldr to read leysigaldr "(lock)-loosening spell", and Bugge's emendation has subsequently been accepted by most editions.

Conversely, Viktor Rydberg*2 among others felt that the name "Leifnir's fire" here should stand, and through a convoluted set of arguments connects it with Dietrich von Berne's fiery breath in German heroic poetry. (See below for a quote from the Heldenprosa regarding Dietrich being conceived by a visitation of the Machmet spirit and consequently innately gaining fire-breathing power).

Furthermore, commentators (cf. Gentry's catalogue under Dietrich) think Dietrich's fire-breath may be identified with the famous glow in the mouth of Havelok the Dane which was an emblem of royalty that proved he was no mere scullion, and with Odin's fiery breath which the one-eyed god conferred onto the kings of his progeny. (see description of d'Ardenne's paper, below) .

Since Odin professes to know chain-loosening magic (Hávamál 149), he may have been capable of teaching the charm to his protége or descendant; however, there seems to be a tabu against male persons performing galdr magic.

§ Rydberg's Theory in a Nutshell
Rydberg deftly noted that Dietrich's name Þjóðrekr was a title of honor meaning something like "Folk-Lord", which could be applied to any tribal king that gained the ruling mandate.
Rydberg sought to demonstrate that formerly Hadding was the "Thiod-rík (Folk-Lord)" who posseessed the chain-breaking ability. That Hadding could break the shackles binding him is indeed backed by what is recorded by Saxo*3.
To put it simply (though not exactly as Saxo arranges the facts) Hadding obtains the magic draught of lion-blood from Odin to gain superhuman strength (and, according to Rydberg, the fire-breath).

§ Leifnir's Fire as Lightning or "Leven"
A deified power that breaks a chain could have been inspired in time immemorial by mankind bearing witness to a force of nature sundering or melting metal. This might have been earth-fire (volcano), or sky-fire (meteor or lightning).

The most familiar of these is lightning, and the Greeks conceived of the ceraunos, the thunder-bolt of Zeus, sometimes as a stone, sometimes as spears forged in Mt. Aetna.

The Middle English word for lighting is leven, with frequent examples, and this suggests the possibility of Leifnis eldr being interpreted as "lightning" also, through a like-sounding cognate.
This exercise would seem to have ended in disappointment, as a look-up of the Oxford Eng. Dict. reveals that leven is of rather mysterious etymology, and there are no Teutonic cognates to it of any certitude.

In the lexicon of the Eddas, there is a name/word Leiptr that could mean "lightning", though it is not so close a homonym to Leifnir. This is mentioned in glossarial appendix to the old 18-19th century Copenhagen edition of the Edda with parallel translations in Latin.
Its entry for Leiptr is quoted and translated into English below, but in short, leiptr as a pronoun denotes an infernal river with glittering (flaming) waters, or "lightning" in colloquial Icelandic. The Danish form Løbeild and a similar and Swedish form Løpareld mean "running fire". This latter is suggestive of Lopt[r] "loft, air, sky" + eldr "fire", although Loptr as a name that occurs in the latter lay of Svipdagsmál is usually interpreted as a byname of Loki.

Perhaps more can be learned by examining e.g. the obsolete word low(e) "fire, flame" used mostly in the North of Enland and Scotland, and supposed cognate with logar.

§ Celtic Cognates and Universal Folklore Motifs

It may be possible to further understanding of the myth regarding the hero who receives "Lefinir's fire" by examaining cognate tales. Some of tales with striking parallels come from Celtic sources.

1) In the Snorri's Edda, Groa's husband was Aurvandil, the giant whom Thor carried and whose frozen toe was flung in the sky to become the (morning)star. Rydberg thus attempted to identify this Aurvandil (by inference Svipdag's father) with Orwendillus (Amleth's father). Gollancz does not think Rydberg has succeeded, but if his case could be made, then Groa and Geruth might both be seen as incarnations of the same earth goddess.
(Gollancz sought to connect Amleth/Hamlet/Ambales and Havelok the Dane aka Cuaran, with the Hiberno-Norse figure Anlaf Cuaran.)

2) The international ballad collector Prior noted that the Danish Svejdal/Svendal ballads (regarded as a later retelling of the Svipdag lays) have a premise and development distinctly similar to the Welsh tale of Culhwch ac Olwen: in both cases, the hero is afflicted with uncontrollable love passion for a maiden he has not seen due to a spell cast by a step-mother.

3) Another parallel can be made with Dietrich of German epic who wears the lion insignia. Wolfdietrich, who is Dietrich's grandfather and double, (as well as the Danish Diderik?) succor a lion being attacked by a dragon, exactly as Yvain/Owain does in the Arthurian tale of the Lady of the Fountain.

§ The Star-Shard from the God to Demigod
The twinkling toe of Aurvandil that became a star has been commented on profusely by Gollancz and others, as it seems to have an Anglo-Saxon counterpart in Cynewulf's poem that mentions Earendil.

A hypothetical scenario might aid to understanding: In nature myth, Aurvandil's toe might have represented a shard of a heavenly body (like the moon), meant to be passed down to his demigod son as a legacy, but removed and cast out into the sky.

A candidate example of such star-myth is the mabinogi tale of Math where the goddess Arianrhod "Silver Disc", i.e. the moon, gives birth to twins, one a perfect boy and one a shard.
The tale has the shard transform into a boy after some time. But again to hypothesize, it probably makes better sense here if this boy had really been born with the defect of the shard missing, and needed to set out and find the shard to complete himself.

The theft (or dispossession) of this shard and its subsequent retrieval by the hero is one way to regard quest romances.

§ The Leifnis-fire as Legacy Lost (Story of Disinheritance and Re-Investiture)
Another possible etmological explanation is one that stares you right in the face: that it somehow derives from leif[r] "legacy, heirloom, inheritance, gift".
It has already been noted that the fire may be related to the "fiery breath" of kings descended from Odin.

One common-factor across the Svipdag lay and its analogues is that the suffers the fate of being stripped of his inheritance or right to succession.
Svipdag and Culhwch have an adversarial step-mother who wishes to get rid of them by enchanting them into undertaking a lengthy if not deadly bridal quest.

In the case of Dietrich/Thidrek, this disinheritance takes the form of confrontation with an his uncle Ermenrich and his subsequent exile.

The "Leifnis-fire" seen as legacy sets up the groundwork to view the myth as one where the hero recaptures his lost legitimacy, accomplished by (re)obtaining the Emblem (Flame) of Legacy.
This is framework is only in slight ways different form Rydberg's reformulation of the Svipdag myth in terms of accomplishing the vendetta upon his father-slaying and doing so by obtaining the insuperable Sword of Victory.

§ The Significance of Theodoric's Bathtub
In other aligned hero myths, the protagonist is not just stripped of arms and proper gentlemanly attire, but he must have himself stripped bare naked an essential element of his rebirth ritual.
Lleu is all nearly destroyed while he takes an outdoor bath, which compares with Theoderic rumored to have dissappeared after spotting a deer while bathing (end of Thidreks saga).
In Irish literature, King Suibne's frenzy occurs after being cursed by a saint to roam naked, and transform into a miserable eagle-like creature, much like Lleu. Since Suibne gains wisdom during his frenzy, and Myrddin gains his power of prophecy during his madness, it might be conjectured that Lleu gained something like wisdom during his wasted avian condition.
Yet another Irish example of the naked king is in The Destruction of Da Derga's Hostel, where Conaire is instructed by a bird-man to go forth naked in order to be elected king.

§ The Mother/Step-Mother vs. Goddess both Provident and Withholding
Svipdag is cast out empty-handed by the step-mother, and he seeks out his dead mother to be his provender. Culhwch who is likewise afflicted, seeks the help of his relative Arthur.
Here, the role of tormentor and helper are played by two different women. But in other mythic material, the two can be seen as two different aspects of one goddess.

The aforementioned Arianrod is the moon with her dual full and dark phases.
She withholds the legacy of her son Lleu, but is deceived into restoring them by her trickster brother. Lunete/Luned whose name clearly means the moon, provides Yvain/Owain with a ring of invisibility, but at a later time comes after him for his prodigal absence and dispossesses him of his token ring.

The women involved in the aligned tales can also exhibit a loathly/lovely dichotomy.
In the Welsh version, Owain's helpful maiden Luned is later found transformed into the shape of a white (or black) lion and he comes to her aid.
In Wolfdietrich, the hero's consort is Shaggy Else who is first encountered as a hideous form crawling on all fours, but transforms into a beautiful woman upon dipping in a certain fountain. This Else causes Wolfdietrich to go raving mad in the wilderness until he submits and agrees to be her husband. She then dips into a fountain and transforms into a beautiful damsel.

The theme of two ladies (two Guineveres and two Isoldes) being aspects of one original is a theme well developed by John Rhys in his works.
And the lady who is ugly by day but lovely by night (or is ugly until turned into a fair princess) is a motif often referred to as the "laithely maid", the most famous example being Gawain's bride Ragnelle.

Another remnant of the dual goddess in Medieval Christendom may be Lady Fortune who has a full head of hair out front but is bald in the back of the head, and controls the spinning Wheel of Fortune able to uplift or debase a person's lot in life.

§ The "Theft" or Confiscation of the God-Fire
When the hero loses his legacy item, one possibilty is to consider it stolen by a rival. Rydberg identified the legacy item as the sword, and so he formulated his reconstructed myth in terms of a trecherous murder and theft of the sword.

Perhaps a solution more in keeping with the Eddaic lays is that the legacy has been confiscated by Odin (perhaps the thread of the Fates compelled him to), but Odin will also assist in the hero in recovering it. In the second Svipdag lay, why would Fjölsvinn the gate-keeper (usually identified to be Odin), honestly answers all of his visitor's questions and assist his pursuit, even though it is his purported job as gatekeeper to safeguard what is within the walls, unless he is willing for Svipdag to succeed? (Although, he does hint that the Fates dictate for Svipdag to succeed no matter what.)

This situation is paralleled by Culhwch ac Olwen, where Ysbaddaden Pen-Cawr ("Chief-Giant") spells out to Culhwch the knowledge of exacty what specific tasks he must fulfill for him to succeed in the bride-quest, even though the suitor's success will culminate in giant's own death.
In the case of Culhwch, it may have been that the giant was being over-confident and boasting about what it took to kill him, or that he was tricked by his daughter into revealing.
But Celtic tales are rife with similar instances. Curoi and Eliavre are two examples of men who come to heroes volunteering their own heads to be cut off. They do not die, but neither do they collect on the promise that the hero will allow his head to be cut off in return.

The acting deity in the Svipdag myth is thus probably the male parallel of the dual goddess explained earlier, the giver-taker.
§ The Legacy-Fire as an Escaped Soul
The legacy fire or shard escapes into the wilderness, and what one might expect with such precious item is that some animal will swallow it or abscond away with it, as is a recurrent mythic formula e.g, in the Ulster cycle, the salmon swallowing the maiden courted by Fraoich. Here, the salmon will be caught and served and the ring recovered.

One would readily suspect some relationship between that salmon and the famous one that ate of the nuts of knowledge and was cooked by Finn, whereby Finn gained his wisdom by sucking on the thumb where the cooked juice dribbled.
Commentators many times over have noted the similarity between this, and the gaining of wisdom (understanding of the speech of nuthatches) by Sigurd when he licked the heart blood of the Fafnis-dragon.

This comparisons serves to show that several tales of dragon-slaying can be seen as morphed forms of the tale of the recovery of the lost God-shard of knowledge.
Just as Regin tries to gain the dragon-blood of knowledge even though Sigurd performed the heroic deed, in Wolfdietrich, some rogue tries to steal credit for the dragon-slaying, but is foiled because Wolfdietrich kept the tongue inside the dragon's head. This tongue motif is found also in Ragnar Lothbrok's saga and in a Wudga episode in Thidreks saga.
The dragon-slaying tales no longer retains why its heart (or tongue) became so precious, but the implication is that the escaped god-fire of wisdom somehow wound up inside the serpents.

Another tale of great similarity is the Welsh tale of Cerridwen's cauldron, where her dropful of the distillate of Awen or Poetic Inspiration gets licked by the stirring swain (who is later to become Taliesin). There ensues a very intriguing series of animal-transformation contests where the witch metamorpohsizes into different animals in an effort to devour the boy, the wisdom-drop and all.

§ The Recruitment of Beasts in the Quest
The last example of Cerridwen is reminescent of a folktale in which a giant cannot be killed outright, and a series of increasingly smaller animals must be chased down until at last the giant's soul pops out of the last tiny creature. I have forgotten where exactly I read this folktale or if I correctly recalled what entailed there.

But even neglecting this folktale, the Cerridwen story in the Book of Taliesin bears great resemblance to Culhwch: it is not just that certain animals such as hunting hounds and the boar must be obtained, but they have to be obtained in a certain specific order, because they are connected in a prerequisite sort of way.

This nested nature of the animal quest also befalls Svipdag's adventure, in which he is told he must strike down the cock Vidolf from atop a tree, and that is prerequisitely dependent on him dealing with the guard-hounds, but in a circular conundrum, the hounds cannot be dispatched unless by using the golden sickle of the cock.

It does not seem there is any way to discover what was meant to be the solution around Svipdag's conundrum. There may be some hint if other paradoxical Norse riddles are studied in comparison. In the Welsh tale repeatedly mentioned, the recipe to destroy Lleu required that he be at a place that is neither indoors nor outdoors, a conundrum, and the solution was that he be in a (thatched?) bathtub placed on a riverbank. A similar conundrum is solved by Kraka, supposed daughter of Sigurd before she becomes a wife: when told to come unclad yet not naked, she arrives by wearing a fisherman's net, which cannot be called clothes as such, but yet she is not in the nude.

Before going on, it probably should not be neglected to mention that in several specimens of the Irish oral tales of the Sword of Light (and the one truth about women), the hero recruits three animal helpers to his tasks.
In the First Perceval Continuation, Eliavre, and in the mabinogi tale of Math, Gwydion are sorcerers forced to lie with beasts and produce three beastly offspring. Other commentators have already presumed that Eliavre's biologicals son Carados and Gwydion's ward Lleu may have had some dealing with his three animal half-brothers, serving as "Helpful Animal Companions" (Cf. Bromwich, Trioedd, p. ci.)
There is something of a three beastly brothers in Hrolf Kraki's saga, where Hrolf's chief lieutenant is Bodver Bjarki who is a warrior who transforms into a bear, who has one brother with an elk's head and another brother with hound's feet.

§ The Escaped Soul (Lost Sword) in the Tree in the Forest
Alternatively, the escaped god-shard may find its way inside one tree among many, rather than one fish among the whole school.
It could happen that the myth can require the hero to conduct his ordeal in say, three stages, first to discover the soul among the many fish from the sea, the next to find it among many trunks of trees (or blades of corn), and third,.. etc.
The last pattern occurs in the ballad of the Faroe Islands, the Skrujmsl´/Lokka táttur.
In Rydberg's interpretation Svipdag's quest sword Laevateinn seems to be locked within the nine-rings of the World-Tree. Certainly the famed sword Gram started off as a sword stuck in the great tree Barnstock, and the magic branch/sword Gambanteinn is described as being taken from a juicy tree in the holt.

§ Animated Wooden Sticks and Chess
The Faroese rímur alluded to earlier features the playing of chess (tafl), as do many romances (gwyddbbwyll [W.], fidchell [Ir.]).

The occurrence of chess is somewhat mystifying, but chess-pieces fight on the chess-board as do soldiers do on battle-fields. And if a general had god-like powers, he could resurrect his men at the end of each battle just as chess-pieces revive back to life when a fresh match is started.
The notion then of a magic chess pieces that can be enlivened to fight as soldiers is not a far throw from this (cf., the Cadmos sowing dragon teeth that turn into fighting soldiers). And a box of such magic chess pieces might be a metamorphosis of the cauldron of healing that is capable of restoring men to health (such as the cauldron once owned by Bendigaid Bran).
As the cauldron is often thought of as a precursor to the grail, a box (of chess) might also be seen as an treasure related to the grail.
There is a Welsh account which says that in the battle Cad Godeu, the aforementioned sorcerer Gwidion, the foster-father of Lleu, was said to animate a bunch of sticks and use them as soldiers.
The Irish Dindsenchas also records an episode involving the discarding of twigs out of which the Dagda's tub was to be made, and this may have had something to do with such animated sticks, although they may have been just thatching sticks or kindling.
* In a manuscript for Rosengarten zu Worms there is an illustration of Dietrich von Berne in the process of breathing fire: Cod. Pal. germ. 359, fol. 49r

*1 Bugge, the stanza of the eddic poem with his extensive notes on it quoted below.

*2 Rydberg, UGM

*3 Saxo (Gesta Danorum I., 23-4). To summarizes what is actually stated, Hadding/Hadingus suffered a devastating defeat but was taken into refuge by a one-eyed man (presumably Odin) who gave him a fortifying potion and sang him a prophetic stave which said Hadding will find himself in bonds and chains but when the enemies lie asleep, to break apart the shackles; also he will have to defeat the lion and drink it's heart's blood. Hadding is afterwards wrapped in cloak and put on a horse to be taken back to where he came from, but by peaking he realizes they are traveling over water. A sea- or river-faring ability is possessed by supernatural horses (cf. Grani's Way as the kenning for the Rhine).

§ The Woden miniature in MS. Liège 369C

(+)The manuscript Liège 369C is described by d'Ardenne*1 as containing a version of the genealogies of the English kingdoms ("tract on the succession of the kings of the chief states of the Heptarchy).
One of the pages is illustrated with a picture featuring Woden at center, and English kings all around (fol. 88v). Such a picture is not a unique example in and of itself, but this one is notable in that there are five rays of squiggly lines emanating radially from Woden's mouth and entering the mouths of the kings.
D'Ardenne argues that these lines are connected with the breath of life that Odin endowed upon Askr and Embla, the first humans, and to "the Germanic (and not Latin) origin of the legend according to which the royal origin of a human being was revealed by the emission of flames from his (or her) mouth." She cites the well-known example of Havelok the Dane, an attempts to fortify the argument for its Germanic origin by noting that Havelok's foster is named Grim, which is a byname of Odin.

The relevance to Dietrich's fiery breath is noted by Gillespie's Catalog of Persons, in his footnote under entry for Dietrich von Berne.

*1 d'Ardenne, S.R.T.O. [Simonne Rosalie Thérèse Odile] 1899-1986 "A Neglected Manuscript of British History" (MS. Liège University Library 369C), in English and Medieval Studies presented to J.R.R. Tolkien on the occasion of his seventieth birth, 84-93 (Norman Davis and C.L. Wrenn eedd., London: George Allen & Unwin Ltd. 1962)

§ Poetic Edda, Grógaldr [First part of Svipdagsmál]

Early editor of the poetic saga, Sophus Bugge

  10. Þann gel ek þér inn fimta,
ef þér fjöturr verðr
borinn at boglimum:
leysigaldr læt ek þér
fyr legg of kveðinn,
ok stökkr þá láss af limum,
en af fótum fjöturr.

— 4. leysigaldr, så ændret
leifinz elda O; leifnis eldir Lα; leifnis
elda B C Lβ S og Eddubrot Rasks;
leifnis eldu de stockh. Hskrr. og Cod.
1867 qv. i ny kgl. Sml.;
Leifnis elda
Udgg. Det sidstnævnte Udtryk har in-
gen tilfredsstillende kunnet tyde; navn-
lig er
elda uforeneligt med Udgavernes
kveðna, og at det er forvansket, viser
Kildernes sågodtsom enstemmige
Med leysigaldr jvfr. Beda hist. eccles. IV,
22: interrogare coepit, quare ligari non
posset, an forte literas solutorias,
de qvibus fabulae ferunt
(i den oldengelske
þá álýsendlícan rúne) , apud
se haberet
. Allerede Udgiverne af K. og
endnu mer Lüning var på ret Spor,
men forlod det. —
4. læt ek þér hen-
føres i K. til næste L. —
  10. Then I will chant thee a fifth [charm],
If fetters should
burden thy bowed limbs:
a loosening-charm,
O'er thy thighs do I chant
And the lock is burst from the limbs,
And the fetters fall from the feet.

— 4. leysigaldr "loosening-charm" thus emended from leifinz elda O; leifnis eldir "Leifnir's[?] fire" Lα; leifnis elda B C Lβ S and Rask's Edda fragment; leifnis eldu The Stockh. mss. and NkS 1867 4to in the Danish Royal Library; Leifnis elda in the published txt. The last named expression has no satisfactory way of interpreting; particularly elda is incompatible with the published version's kveðna, and it has been corrupted, the song sources unanimously have kveðinn. On leysigaldr cf. Bede's Hist. Eccles. IV, 22 [* = "Ch. 22 How a certain captive's chains fell off when masses were sung for him"]: interrogare coepit, quare ligari non posset, an forte litteras solutorias, de qvibus fabulae ferunt (in the Old English translation, þá álýsendlícan rúne) apud se haberet [* = "[the earl] began to inquire [of Tunna] why he could not be bound; whether he had any spells about him, as are spoken of in fabulous stories." tr. John Stevens, rev. Lionel C. Jane. But a closer translation of litteras solutorias would appear to be "loosening(liberating) rune" which he the captive man was wearing on his person or was carrying.] Something along the right track was already published in K. (Copenhagen edition of the Edda, 3 vol., 1787, 1818, 1828), and also by Lüning but abandoned.


§ On the possible etymology of Leifnis eldr

The Copenhagen edition of the Edda (with Latin translation and commentary), has a "Lexicon Mythologicum" and glosses Leiptr as a name of a river in Hel, but having a sense of "lightning" in the Icelandic vernacular, etc.
Leiptr, Leiptur unum ex. infernis Niflheimi vel Helheimi fluminibus Gr. M. 28. Per hujus fluvii "fulgidas aqvas" jus-jurandum olim præstitum fuisse videtur H. Qv. III, 29 qvoqve Græcorum & Romanorum Dei per stygias undas juravisse dicuntur. Nominatur etiam in Edda jun. (pag. 4). Traductionem sive etymologiam nominis in Gl. T. I. pravitate laborare opinamur, cum vox Leiptur manifeste & adhuc in Islandia vulgariter fulgur sive coruscationem denotet, vid. Gl. T. II; (similis qvidem originis ac recentiora Dan. Löbeild, Svec. Löpareld ignis cursorius, proprie artificiosus). Correspondet alias Phlegetonti græco, nec non Indorum & plurium gentium ardentibus inferni fluviis, qvos etiam sibi finxerunt medii ævi Christiani — qvi in rhytmo anglico (hominis catholici) ita describuntur:
    The water brend o'lightning and of thunder*).
Cfr. Giöll, Elivagar s.
Edda Saemundar hinns Fróda, vol. 3, p.494
Leiptr, Leiptur name of a river in the underworld Niflheim or Helheim (Grimnismmál 28). As for the oath to the "shining waters" of this river providing protection, see Helga-Qvida III 28 [* Helgakviða Hundingsbana II, 32, "Leiftrar vatni"] also the Greek and Roman god is said to have sworn oaths to the waves of the river Styx. Also named in the Younger Edda [* Gylfaginning, Chapter 4, "Leiptr"]. The derived(?) or etymological sense given in Gl. T. I. [* Glossarium Teutonicum Vol. I(?)] we think is distorted, the word Leiptur colloquially in Iceland apparently still denotes "lightning" or "flash of light" see Gl. T. II.; (as it probably originally did, and more recently Dan. Løbeild, Swed. Løpareld "running fire", "extraordinarily skillful(?)". It corresponds to [the river of fire] otherwise known as Phlegeton by the Greeks, and in India and many more races there is a "blazing river of hell"; also referred to in the Middle Ages by Christians, who in English rhyme (Catholic homily) described "The water brend o'lightning and of thunder". See also Giöll, Elivagar.
—attempted tr. mine


§ The Heldenbuchprosa aka Anhang zür Heldenbuch

The Heldenbuchprosa states that Dietrich mother was impregnated a by devil named Machmet while his father was away. This goes hand in hand with the persistent tradition that Dietrich did not die as such but descended into hell. A similar siring by an elf is recorded for Högni in the Thidrekssaga, and also Ortnit was also sired by the dwarf Alberich.

    Als des berners muoter sein swanger ward da machet ein bösen geist machmet sein gespenst Eins nachtes da dietmar in der rei&szlipg was. da traumte ir wie sie bey irem man dietmar lege. da sie erwachet da greiff sie neben sich, vund greiff auf einen holen geist, da sprah der geist, du solt dich nit förcheten ich bin ein gehürer geist. ich sag dir, der sun den du treist wirt der sterckest geist der y ge­ born ward. Darumb das das dir also getraumet ist so würt feür auß seinem mund schiessen wann er zornig wirt, vnd wirt gar ein fru­ mer held. Also bawet der teüffel in treyen nechten ein schöne starcke burg das ist die burg zuo bern.
— prose prologue in: Adelbert von Keller, ed., Das Deutsche Heldenbuch, p.6, line 37 ~ p. 7, line 5
    The mother of the Berner (Dietrich vib Bern) was made pregnant when an evil spirit [named] Machmet haunted her one night while Dietmar was away. She dreamt that she was lying with her husband Dietmar. [But] when she awoke, and clutched around her, she grabbed hold of a hellish spirit. The spirit said, do not be afraid that I am an eerie ghost. I tell you that the son you will bear[?] will become the mightiest soul ever to be born. As you have dreamt[?], fire will shoot out of his mouth when he becomes angry, and he will turn into a righteous hero. Then devil built in three nights a beautiful strong citadel which was the city of Bern.
— tr. mine

It might be worth mentioning that Heldenbuchprosa provides a genealogy which states Wolfdietrich is the grandfather of Dietrich von Berne. It is also mentioned that Wolfdietrich's first wife was shaggy Else (rauch elß) who turned into Sygemyn, the loveliest of women.

*1 Adelbert von Keller, ed., Das Deutsche Heldenbuch (Stuttgart 1867), from conjecturally the oldest printed Heldenbuch.

§ The Anglo-Norman "Havelok," in Geoffrey (Geffrei) Gaimar (fl. 1140?) Lestoire des Engles

In the recapitulation of the Havelok tale as found in Gaimar's history written in the Anglo-Norman, the princess Argentille is heir to the kingdom but her evil maternal uncle, King Edelsi usurps the kingdom, and cruelly weds her to a scullion boy and a court buffoom named Cuaran. But it will soon be revealed that Cuaran's true identity is actually Prince Havelok, the rightful heir to Denmark. This truth begins unravel when one night in bed Argentille witnesses flames coming out of her husband's mouth.

Ke la dame s'en eveilli;
E cum ele out iço sungé,
Son seignur ad fort enbracé.     240
Ele le trova gisant envers:
Enre ses bras si l'ad aers,
Pur la pour ses oilz overit,
Une flambe vit, ki issit,
Fors de la buche son marri,
Ki uncore ert tut endormi.
Merveillat sei de l'avision,
E de la buche son baron,
E de la flambe k'ele vit:
Ore entendez k'ele dit.     250
  'SIRE,' fet-ele, 'vuz ardez"
Esveillez-vus si vus volez.
De vostre buche une flabe ist;
Jo no sai unkes ki [l'] i mist.'
Tant l'enbrasca e trest vers sei,
K'il s'esveilla; e dist; 'Purquei,
Purquei m'avez eveillé, bele amie ?
Purquei estes epontie?'
Tant la preia, e tant la blandist, ..
—ll.37-49, Thomas Wright., ed.,Estorie Des Engles
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[     Throughout the wood there was such a great cry] that the lady roused herself; and because she had this dream, she embraced her lord tightly. She found him lying on his back; between her arms she clasped him. For fear she opened her eyes; she saw a flame which issued from the mouth of her husband, who was still fast asleep. She marveled at the vision, at the mouth of her lord and at the flame which she saw.
    Now listen to what she said. "Sir," said she, "you burn! Wake yourself, if you would! From your mouth a flame issues — I know not who put it there!" She embraced hm and drew him toward her, so that he awoke, and said, "Why have you wakened me, beautiful beloved? Why are you frightened? ..
—Stephen H. A. Shephered tr.,
in A Norton Critical Edition: Middle English Romances, p. 319-
[based on edition of Alexander Bell, Anglo-Norman Text Society, Nos. 14, 15,16 (Oxford, Basil Blackwell, 1960)
This fire-in-the-mouth motif is also present in the well-known ME romance version of Havelok. There, Grim and his wife, who become Havelok's foster parents, had been commanded by his master to drown the lad Havelok, but that evening, his wife Leve witnesses the fire from the boy's mouth at night:
She saw there-inne a lith ful shir,
Al-so brith so it wer day
About the knave there he lay.
Of hise mouth it sto a stem,
As it were a sunne-bem.
Al-so lith was it there-inne
So there brenden cerges inne.
—ll.588-592, Havelok
She saw there a light full of lustre,
As bright as it were day,
All around the boy lying there.
From out of his mouth issued forth a shaft
As if it were a sun-beam.
The light there was as if
There were burning candles inside
With this omen, Grim realizes the boy is "ure eir" that is, the heir to the Danish Kingdom, and thinks further that he is destined to rule Denmark and England and bring woe to Godard (the antagonist). Grim flees the country with the boy to England where they eventually run out of money so that Havelok goes to work at the court for wages, and there he is wedded to Princess Goldburg (Goldborw, equivalent to Argentille of the AN version)

She saw there-inne a lith ful shir,
Al-so brith so it wer day
About the knave there he lay.
Of hise mouth it sto a stem,
As it were a sunne-bem.
Al-so lith was it there-inne
So there brenden cerges inne.
—ll.588-592, Havelok
She saw there a light full of lustre,
As bright as it were day,
All around the boy lying there.
From out of his mouth issued forth a shaft
As if it were a sun-beam.
The light there was as if
There were burning candles inside


§ Book of Taliesin, Gweith Argoet Llwyfein. Kanu Vryen

The Poem Gweith Argoet Llwyfyn (Kanu Vryen), Book of Taliesin Poem No. XXXV (Skene ed. *1) records a military encouter between Owain ap Urien and and enemy nicknamed Flame-bearer, whom Skene identifies as Theodric of Bernicia (reigned 580-587 A.D.), though that would seem to shift the time-frame of the battle rather later than Camlan (537 A.D.):

  The word Llwyfain or Leven is the Cymric equivalent of Leamhan [="elm"], which places the scene at the end of a wood on the river Leven. It describes Urien and Owain his son as fighting against Flamddwyn, or the Flame-bearer; and as Urien and his son are recorded to have fought against Theodric, king of Bernicia, he, and not his father Ida, as is usually supposed, must be meant by the name Flamddwyn, or the Flame-bearer.
—Skene, i, p.365
[As evidence to back his identification of the Flame-bearer with Theodric, Skene quotes the account of a combat of "Theodric against Urbgen[Urien] with his son" out of a chronicle:]

"Deodric, contra illum Urbgen cum fillis dimicabat fortiter." There is but one poem in which Urien is mentioned as fighting along with any of his sons. It is the Battle of Argoed Llwyfain, attributed to Taliessin (B. T. 35), in which Urien and his son Owen are attacked by Flamddwyn, the Saxon king, and fight valiantly against him. .. It was against Deodric that Urien and his sons fought, -- thus identifying him with Flamddwyn?
—Skene, i, p.232
quoting Genealogia 8c. (?) or Nennius(?)

It seems all too extraordinary to be pure coincidence that this king of Bernicia or Northern Northumbria around the area of Edinburgh, should have a name so close-sounding to Dietrich von Bern, and have a nickname relating to fire.

(+) And in the opposing army is the historical personage Owain, who is the model of Owain/Yvain of the Arthurian cycle.
The Owain and Dietrich of romance share a certain commonality, the obvious one being friendship with a lion. And the lion is llewyn in Welsh and löwen in modern German, so that even though in the above note, the River Leven is explained to mean "elm-tree", it can probably be associated with "lion".

Additionally there is a near-homonymous word llewen that means "lights, gleams". (The confounding of the Welsh words for light and lion is also discussed by Rhys, Studies in Arth., p.94-97.) So the battleground Argoet Llwyfein could possibly have been interpreted, correctly or incorrectly, as "By the Woods of the Glittering (River)".
With that construal, this name begins to resemble the name of another battlefield, Traeth Tryfrwyd, meaning "Bank of the Very Speckled (River)", and where fought a man name Gwrgi, who was on some other occasion killed by a poet-chieftain of Bernicia and Deira*1, and this is celebrated as one of the three fortunate assassinationss of Britain.

This Gwrgi has a namesake who is a brother of Peredur; and they share a vague connection with Owain in being riders of an overburdened horse, though there might be a more deeply-rooted ties *3.

Another parallel that can be drawn is with the story of Dietrich's demise preserved in Thidrekssaga, whereby the king is steeped in a bath when he spots a deer, and when he mounts a black horse to catch the quarry, he becomes inescapably stuck to this demon horse which carries him to God knows where. In the Welsh Mabinogi tale of Math, Lleu is tricked into soaking in a bath out on a riverbank and assaulted, but escapes by transforming into an eagle. Although the transformation goes unexplained, it is likely Lleu has adorned the magic feather-robe, but is prevented from regaining his human shape, probably because he has been tricked into performing certain rituals tabu to him (i.e., breached his geis, as Irish literature would have it).

The above parallel is brought closer together if it can be shown that Dietrich's episode in the bathtub was in its original conception one in which the hero was endangered or wounded but not killed, and during his flight regains or powers, so he can have his revenge.

In Fredegar's Gesta Theoderici, whose excerpt is translated and discussed by Haymes*4, there is a story that Theodoric once escapes Pope Leo's death trap, when a loyal follower warns him by means of telling an animal fable: a hart who is faithful to the lion is devoured, and the fox that steals the hart's heart much coveted by the lion. In this account, Theoderic averts his peril merely by refusing the summons, but this episode seems to represent the historical dire setback suffered by Theoderic due to his rival Odoacer, one that in heroic poetry is treated as "Dietrich's Flight" to Attila's Court. And Dietrich does ultimately obtain his revenge upon Ermenrich (who plays the chief adversary's role instead of Odoacer).

It is a stock motif of Celtic tales that knights following a deer bounding away find themselves in the Otherworld, and to regain his wife, or receive some gift or other.
There may have been a lay which told that Dietrich gained his fire-breath, either during a visit to a mystic locale as that over the wavering lowe, or during a difficult odyssey.

*1 Skene, W. F. (William Forbes), 1809-1892, ed. The four ancient books of Wales containing the Cymric poems attributed to the bards of the sixth century. Book of Taliesin, Poem XXXV. In volume I, the translations are categorized by theme. "Gweith Argoet Llwyfyn (Kanu Vryen)" Vol. II, p.189; Notes, II, p.413, translation "The Affair of Argoed Llwyfain", Vol. I, p.365.

*2 Patrick Sims-William, "The Early Welsh Arthurian Poems", Arthur of the Welsh (Cardiff 1991). In this analysis of the poem "Pa Gur?" he states that the battleground name which occurs on lines 22 and 48, Traeth Tryfrwyd, means "very speckled shore", and should be taken to mean "bank of a river called Tribruit". A participant of the battle is in the poem simply called garvluid or 'rough grey' by his nickname, but this can adduced to be Gwrgi Garwlwyd, who was killed by Diffydell son of Dysgyfdawd (Triad 32), and the sons of Dysgyfdawd are called the Three Chieftains of Deira and Bernicia (Triad 10). Sims-Williams believes this Gwrgi to be considered the enemy and one of the dogheads fighting Arthur's men, (Gwrgi's death is considered one of the three fortunate assasination because he used to kill a man of the Cymri on a daily basis). But it is still possible Gwrgi was someone on Arthur's side, only with a rotten temperament so that he would quarrel and kill his countrymen all the time.

*3 It is a rather convoluted task to explain the connection in detail. Gwrgi and Peredur are sons of Eliver, and according to the triads of the horses (Triad 44), the brothers are mounted on a single horse named Corvan who apparently carried them ignominiously in flight from the battle of Arfderydd (famous battle in which Gwenddolau fell and Myrddin (Merlin) lost his wits). The same triad, i.e. the triad of the horse burdens also mentions the Black Moro[ed] horse of Elidir which carried seven and a half riders. Eliffer are sometimes said to have seven sons, and Bromwich notes (p.345) that his name became easily confused with Elidir by writers. I might add that these men's names are also similar to Eliavre, who sired Carados of the wasted arm as well as the coltLorigal, a hound, and a boar.
Bromwich notes (p.112) the striking similarity between the burden of Elidir's horse and that found in a late (15/16c.) Fenian tale called the Pursuit of the Gilla [Ghiolla] Dhecair. And the same tale apparently exhibits parallels with Yvain (Chrestien's version of the tale of Owain), as according to:
Hefferman, Carol T., "'Combat at the Fountain,': The Early Irish Pursuit of the Gilla Decair and the Old French Yvain", in: Éire-Ireland 17(4), Winter 1982.
What happens to Yvain/Owain's horse is that in lieu of being mounted by an overload of people, the portcullis is dropped crashing down on its back to kill it.

*4 Haymes, Edward, Heroic Legends of the North, p. 27-8. The Gesta records two versions of Theoderic's death, one that he was killed by his brother Geisric, the other being a rumor collected by Pope Gregory I Dialogues (592-594) from Sicily, where a certain hermit gave testimony in the island of Lipari that he witnessed Theoderic's death as he ".. was led here without belt or shoes with bound hands between [the ghosts of] Pope John and the patrician Symmachus and thrown into the center of a volcano nearby".




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