The Poem

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Last Updated on May 9, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 986

In the ancient days of Scandinavia lives a king named Bele who has two sons, Helge and Halfdan. King Bele also has a daughter, Ingeborg, who is very beautiful. As King Bele grows old and near death, he calls to him his friend of former days Thorsten Vikingsson, who has been loyal to the king in peace and in battle for many years and who is also near the end of his days. The king tells his sons of the help that Thorsten Vikingsson gave him in past days and warns them to keep the friendship of Thorsten’s son, Frithiof.

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Frithiof has grown up with the companionship of King Bele’s daughter Ingeborg and her brothers. After the deaths of King Bele and old Thorsten, who are both laid to rest in burial mounds overlooking a fjord, the sons of Bele forget the warning that their father gave them, and their friendship toward Frithiof cools. When Frithiof, who has long loved Ingeborg, asks her brothers for her hand in marriage, they refuse his request. Frithiof, angered and humiliated, vows that he will have his revenge and that he never will carry out his father’s request that he help the brother kings.

Not long thereafter, when King Hring makes war on the brothers, they send for Frithiof to help them. Frithiof, remembering his vow, continues to play at chess and ignores their summons. King Hring is successful in his campaign against the sons of Bele, and he makes them promise to give him Ingeborg as his wife. Meanwhile, Ingeborg has taken refuge in the temple of Balder. Frithiof, disdainful of the sanctity of the temple, visits her there, and they exchange rings, along with vows of love. Frithiof thus runs the risk of the god Balder’s wrath.

To punish Frithiof for violating the temple, the brother kings send him to collect tribute from the inhabitants of the Faroe Islands. Frithiof, with his foster brother, sets sail for the Faroes in Ellida, the best ship in the north country. It is said of Ellida that it can even understand human speech.

During the voyage, a violent storm comes up and the ship almost founders. Frithiof breaks the gold ring he received from Ingeborg and gives the shards to his men, so that none of the crew might enter the kingdom of the sea goddess without gold. When the storm subsides—after the men conquer a pair of sea spirits riding against them on the backs of whales—the ship reaches the Faroe Islands in safety. Yarl Angantyr, ruler of the islands, lets the tribute be collected, and then Frithiof departs again for his homeland in Scandinavia.

Upon his return, Frithiof hears that the brother kings have burned his hall. He learns that the kings are celebrating the midsummer feast at the grove of Balder, and he goes there to confront them. He finds few people there, but among them are Helge and his queen, who is anointing the image of the god.

Frithiof throws the purse holding the tribute money he has collected into Helge’s face, hitting him with such force that Helge’s teeth are knocked out. Then, as he turns to leave, Frithiof sees on the arm of Helge’s queen the great ring of gold he gave to Ingeborg when they exchanged vows. Frithiof snatches the ring from the queen’s arm, and when she falls to the ground because of his violence, the god’s image overturns into the sacred fire, which, blazing up, destroys the temple.

Helge pursues Frithiof to punish him, but Frithiof and his men have made pursuit on the sea impossible by damaging the royal ships. In his anger, Frithiof pulls with such might on the powerful oars of his ship that they break like kindling.

Frithiof’s violence against Helge and his queen and his profanation of Balder’s temple make the warrior an outcast from his homeland. A true son of the Vikings, he takes to the sea and battles with haughty sea kings, whom he slays. In spite of his outlawry, he permits traders to travel the seaways unmolested. When he has earned great glory as a fighter and much gold through his exploits, Frithiof seeks once again to return to his homeland in the north.

Disguising himself, he visits the land of the brother kings’ enemy, King Hring, who has long since married Ingeborg, Frithiof’s beloved. Hring, recognizing Frithiof but not letting on that he does, commands that the warrior be seated next to him at the head of the table. Frithiof remains for some time in the hall of King Hring. Ingeborg, who has also recognized Frithiof, speaks but little to him, because she is now the wife of another man. She remembers that she and Frithiof once exchanged rings, and she is still in love with him.

During his stay with Hring, Frithiof saves the king and Ingeborg from death when their sleigh falls through some thin ice and into the water. Frithiof drags the sleigh, with its occupants and horses, back onto the surface of the ice. One day, while he and the king are alone in the woods, Frithiof is tempted to kill Hring while he sleeps, but he conquers his temptation and throws away his sword. Awaking, the king tells Frithiof, who is still disguised, that he has known from the first night who his guest is.

Frithiof wishes to leave the household of Hring, but the good king will not allow him to depart. Instead, Hring gives up Ingeborg to Frithiof and makes the warrior guardian of the kingdom. Soon afterward, Hring dies and Frithiof is named to succeed him on the throne. When Helge and Halfdan, the brother kings, go to war against their old enemy, they are defeated. Frithiof slays Helge in battle, and Halfdan is made to swear fealty to his conqueror.

Bibliography

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Last Updated on May 9, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 84

Brandes, Georg Morris Cohen, and Rasmus Bjorn Anderson. Creative Spirits of the Nineteenth Century. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell, 1923. Pages 107-183 provide a somewhat dated but accessible discussion of Tegnér and his works. Places Frithiof’s Saga in its literary context.

Hilen, Andrew R. Longfellow and Scandinavia: A Study of the Poet’s Relationship. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1947. Explains the relationship of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Tegnér. Argues that Tegnér was influential in the development of Longfellow’s poetry.

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