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The Saga of Hrolf Kraki


The Saga of King Hrolf Kraki is one of the major Scandinavian legendary tales and belongs to the group of mythic-heroic Icelandic stories known as the "sagas of ancient times," or fornaldar sagas. These texts, which are also sometimes called the 'legendary sagas,' are distinctive in that they tell of events that occurred, or are supposed to have occurred, long before the ninth-century settlement of Iceland. A narrative about pre-Viking Age kings and their rivals, Hrolf's saga, as the text is often called, tells of King Hrolf, a warrior chieftain who ruled in Denmark about the sixth century AD. Called Kraki (tall, angular and slender like a pole ladder), Hrolf was widely remembered in the medieval North as one of the most magnificent kings of "ancient times," and the saga draws on a long oral tradition as it describes Hrolf's often treacherous family and recounts the exploits of his famous champions.

Hrolf's Saga, which was written in prose in fourteenth-century Iceland, has close affinities with the Old English verse epic Beowulf, written sometime in the period from the eighth to the early eleventh centuries. Both compositions draw on a common tradition of storytelling, recounting events that may or may not have occurred in the fifth- and/or sixth-century Danish kingdom of the Skjoldungs (Old English: Scyldinga). And both, though differentiated by centuries of independent transmission in different lands, have many of the same characters and settings. The relationship is based on an ancient core of shared storytelling, which displays the extent of a common oral tradition in the medieval North and may echo long-past historical events. Hrolf's Saga and Beowulf share a further similarity. Each provides information about a powerful champion whose bearlike character may reflect the distant memory of early cultic practices.

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Tags: sagas, occurred, Hrolf, legendary, Kraki