19 May 2007

Bendik og Årolilja

Better late than never, right?

Bendik og Årolilja is a good example of a knight's ballad (riddervise). It tells the story of Bendik, a brave young knight, and the fair maiden Årolilja, the daughter of the king. The ballad archive lists 48 versions of it, so there are plenty of variants to choose from. Some are long, some are much more fragmented. Also, I got a book from the library, Eddadikt, skaldekvad, folkeviser (Gyldendal norsk forlag, 1941. The bit about ballads is written by Knut Liestøl). It has a very long, very detailed version of this ballad. I can’t find it on balladearkivet though. It might have been a version that was put together from various others. It is rather long (58 stanzas) so I won’t post the entire translation here. The stanzas I have quoted here are all from there, unless otherwise stated. Translations are all mine.

The ballad is made up of four-line stanzas, each followed by a one-line refrain, etterstev:

- Årolilja, kvi søve du so lengje? (- Årolilja, why do you sleep so long?)

The library version begins with Bendik riding to visit the king and his court, hoping to get himself a wife. His eye immediately falls on the fair Årolilja, but unfortunately the two don’t have the king’s blessing. The king builds ‘gullbrautine’, golden stairs, a bridge, steps, well something to stop people from entering Årolilja’s chamber anyway, and loudly proclaims that anyone crossing/threading them will die:

6) Kongjen byggjer gullbrautine
Både breie og håge:
“Den som dei i løyndo trør,
Han skò live låte!”

6) The king builds golden stairs,
Both broad and high:
“He who treads these in secret,
He will die!”

Bendik isn’t daunted. During daytime he rides out into the forest to hunt, but at night he secretly visits Årolilja:

10) “Eg tikje så vent om ditt gule hår,
Som epli dei dryp på kviste –
Sæl er den som deg må få,
Gud bære den som skò misse!

11) Eg tikje så, når eg sit hjå deg,
Som eg sat uti solskin bjarte;
Når eg og du me skyljast åt,
Då rivnar bå’hug og hjarta.

12) Eg tikje så, når eg sit hjå deg,
Som eg sat uti solskin bjarte;
Når eg og du me finnast att,
Då gledast bå-hug og hjarta.”

10) I think so highly of your yellow hair,
Like apples dripping on branches –
Lucky is the one who shall have you,
God help he who must lose you!”

11) “I think that, when I sit with you,
It’s like I’m sitting in bright sunlight;
When I and you must part,
Then both mind and heart will break.

12) I think that, when I sit with you,
It’s like I’m sitting in bright sunlight;
When I and you will meet again,
Then both mind and heart rejoice.”

A few versions start with the king building the stairs, and then Bendik sneaking into Årolilja’s chamber dressed up as a woman, but bringing sword and mail with him just to be sure.

In every version the lovers are betrayed by an evil servant of some sort, who steals Bendik’s sword and mail (in the versions where he brings them at least). Bendik is then seized by the king’s men, thrown against the floor, beaten and bound. However:

24) Dei tok raustan Bendik,
Batt han med taug og reip:

Om dei var alli så sterke,
Bendik dei sund’e sleit.

24) They took brave Bendik,
Bound him with ropes:
No matter how strong they were,
Bendik tore them apart.

Then the evil servant has an idea:

27) Dé tek Åroliljas gule hår
Og bind kring hendan’ kvite!
Så stend’e hugjen isama runnen:
Han nennest kje håret slite!”

27) You take Årolilja’s yellow hair
And bind around his white hands!
So strong is their love for each other:
He won’t have the heart to tear the hair asunder!”

This they do, and the servant is right: Bendik will not or can not escape when he isbound with Årolilja’s hair. The king has made up his mind to kill Bendik, and not even when Årolilja falls on her knees and begs him does he withdraw the command:

22) “Gakk burt ifrå meg, Årolilja,
Eg vil deg inkje høyre!
De samer seg so ille mitt goe sverd
Å rjost i kvende-døyre.”

22) “Get away from me, Årolilja,
I do not want to hear you!
It isn’t right for my good sword
To be stained red with woman’s blood.”

(In some versions Årolilja begs her father to spare Bendik after the servants have beaten him, in others, like in this one, she begs him right after he finds out that the two are in love – that’s why this is stanza 22 and the previous I quoted was number 27).

The next person to beg the king change his mind regarding Bendik is the queen, Mari. She reminds him of their own past together – he didn’t ask her of her father, but bore her away from her home and betrothed. She reminds him of a promise he made her as he took her away:

32) “Minnest du hot du lova,
Då du flutte meg av sta:
Kvòr den bøn som eg ba deg,
Sille allti vera ja?”

32) “Do you recall what you promised,
When you bore me away:
Every prayer I asked of you,
You would always answer yes?”

The king remembers, but says that he under no circumstances will spare Bendik’s life. Next everything and everyone on earth beg and pray for the king to release Bendik:

38) Dei ba fyr raustan Bendik,
Alt de som hae liv-
Tre-i utor grøne skogjen
Og bloman’ i fagerli.

38) They prayed for brave Bendik,
Everything that lives –
The trees in the green woods
And the flowers in the fair meads.

But the king still remains adamant. Bendik is eventually killed, and Årolilja dies of grief.

45) Utfyre kyrkjedynni
Der laut han Bendik døy;
I kyrkja, fure altaren,
Der sprakk hass vene møy

45) Outside the church door
There Bendik died;
In the church, before the altar,
There his fair maid burst.

The king, content that he has killed Bendik, is still unaware of his daughter’s death. He then sends his servants to fetch her, but when they return with the news that she is dead he is devastated. Mari the queen gives him a nice ‘I told you so!’-lecture:

50) “Høyr du det, du kongjen,
Så stolt’e som du står:
Inkje hev du dotter,
Alli fær du måg!”

50) “Hear now, you king,
So proudly you stand:
You don’t have a daughter,
And never shall you have a son-in-law!”

And the king suddenly realises that the two might have really loved each other:

51) “Ha’eg visst dette i gjår,
At hugjen ha’vori så sterk,
Inkje ha’Bendik silt livet låte
Fyr alt det i verdi er!”

51) “Had I known this yesterday,
That their love was so strong,
Not should Bendik have lost his life
For everything in the world!”

But it’s too late now. They’re both dead, and the only thing that can be done is to bury them:

56) Bendik la dei norda kyrkja
Og Årolilja sunna,
Det voks opp av deires grefti
Tvo fagre liljerunnar.

56) Bendik was laid north of the church,
And Årolilja to the south,
From their graves grew
Two fair lily-plants.

And of course the two plants entwine to show the love the two had for each other:

58) Det voks opp av deires grefti
Dei fagre tvo liljeblomar:
Dei krøktest i hop ivi kyrkjesvoli-
Der stend dei kongjen til domar.

58) From their two graves there grew
Those two fair lily-flowers:
They entwined over the church-
There they stand to judge the king.

I had planned on writing a long, detailed commentary about the use of symbolism and various other interesting details for each ballad, but Bendik og Årolilja doesn’t have much symbolism. It’s a knight’s ballad, it just tells the story of two young lovers who die tragically. But just because it doesn’t have any dragons, doesn’t mean it’s boring ;)

First of all, there is a nice mix of Old Norse elements and medieval chivalric literature, the latter which is probably the most obvious. The ending – the entwining plants – is the same as in Tristan and Isolde. Something else which shows that these ballads are different from Old Norse texts is the way Bendik expresses his love for Årolilja (see stanzas 10-12 above). Even Gunnlaug’s saga, which is perhaps the closest you can get to an Old Norse romance, isn’t as sentimental as this (there Helga is fair, Gunnlaug is brave, they love each other, and that’s it). There aren’t any long, sentimental rants. Another good example is Årolilja’s death: she dies of grief. Helga certainly was sad after Gunnlaug died, but she died in a much more mundane way (a disease).

At first glance it might be a bit difficult to detect the Nordic influence, but it’s there. Bendik and Årolilja is based on an old saga – the Saga of Hagbard and Signe. Unfortunately I haven’t read this saga (I can’t find it in the library), but there’s a little bit about it in my textbook, and a Wikipedia article, here.

Luckily for me, there is a ballad about Hagbard and Signe too. The story is much the same: Hagbard loves Signe, but Signe’s father is against their marriage. Hagbard visits his love in secret, dressed up as a woman, but is betrayed by a servant and hanged. Signe sets fire to her chamber and dies in a much less romantic way than Årolilja. Also, Hagbard and Signe ends much bloodier. Whereas Bendik and Årolilja are reunited in death by the flowers growing from their graves, there is nothing of this kind in Hagbard and Signe. Instead we get a lovely bit of revenge and punishment. The last stanza (of version 1) is like this:

34) Habbor blei hængd å Signelill brend
de va so ynkelegt mor
siden tok dei den slemme terne
å grov 'a livand i jor.

34) Habbor [Hagbard] was hanged and Signelill [Signe] burnt
It was so pitifully [something (can’t understand that bit of dialect)]
Then they took the bad handmaid [who betrayed them]
And buried her alive.

Some of the other versions have a stanza or two about the king regretting his actions though (but there are no entwining flowers).

Next is where the ballad takes place. It actually doesn’t really matter, because these ballads are timeless and placeless, but it’s interesting nonetheless. More than half of the 48 versions of Bendik og Årolilja listed in balladearkivet are from Telemark. However, this doesn’t say much, as that was only the region that was frequented by the collectors. In the library edition of the ballad the king is called the king of Sølondo. In version 1 he is “Serklands koningjen” – the king of Serkland. Again, in version 3, he is the king of Selando, and sometimes called “danske kongen” – the Danish king. Selando and Sølondo could refer to Sjælland, an island of Denmark, but this is just me guessing (I can’t find any information about in on the internet).

There are a few other stanzas which may shed light on the subject, too. The king says that he will kill Bendik no matter what:

17) Olavkyrkja i Trondheim
Ho er tekte med bly:
Bendik sko inkje livi njote
om ho var tri gongjer ny!

17) The Olavchurch in Trondheim
It is covered in lead:
Bendik shall not enjoy life
If it was three times new!

This is from the library version. Compare it to the following stanza from version 2:

34) Der stænd ei Kjørke norrafjøls
ho æ tækte me Bly
Bendik ska inkje Live njote
om ho va tri Gaangone ny

34) There stands a church north of the mountains
It is covered with lead
Bendik shall not enjoy life
If it was three times new.

They’re similar, except that version 2 doesn’t name the church. However, there’s a note to this stanza, saying the church is question is Lund church in Skåne, now in south Sweden (but it used to be a part of Denmark). Also other versions name the church as Lund church. It could be that the ballad originally was from Denmark (which fits in with Hagbard and Signe originating from Denmark), and then slowly became more and more Norwegian – replacing the unfamiliar Swedish/Danish church with a well known Norwegian one. Though if Sølondo/Selando is indeed Sjælland, I’d like to know which mountains are being described. Can’t have been very tall ones anyway.

The mention of Serkland is interesting - it was the Old Norse name for countries along the Mediterranean. It doesn’t necessarily mean that the ballad is based on events in Serkland, most likely this was just to give the song a more exotic feel. King Håkon IV Håkonsson (1204-1263) had a taste for French literature: he had Les Lais de Marie de France translated to Old Norse, a prose version known as Strengleikar, as well as a saga about Tristan and Isolde.

But like I said, this doesn’t actually matter much (so why am I bothering to write about it?).

Other than this, I don’t think there is much to say about Bendik og Årolilja. The rhyme is obviously lost in my translation, but in the Norwegian verses I’ve quoted you can find both “real” end-rhyme and assonance. Many lines, and sometimes whole stanzas, are repeated (for example, there are four stanzas describing the whole world praying for Bendik). This of course makes it easier to remember the song (I pretty much have it memorised now).

I’m not completely sure which ballad I’ll do next. Perhaps Margit Hjukse and/or Liti Kjersti (they’re quite similar). If you’d like me to write about a ballad with a particular theme, or you find a title which sounds cool, just tell me :)


Gabriele C. said...

Death of grief, doesn't that remind you of someone?

Yes, Aude, in the Song of Roland. :)

Very interesting essay, thank you for sharing.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this explanation! I found it while searching the meaning of Gåte's song Bendik og Årolilja.
It was very interesting to read the whole story! Thanks!

Anonymous said...

I just stumbled across this blog posting while looking for lyrics to this ballad and was really impressed and surprised at how interesting you made the ballad. I wish all blogs were as informative as this one!

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Kimme Utsi said...

Did an search about the saga and found all the information I needed in this blog post. Thanks for this useful post.

SiegfriedGoodfellow said...

The full story of Hagbard and Signe, which is most likely a euhemerization of Loki and Sigyn's romance, is found in Book Seven of Saxo Grammaticus' Gesta Danorum :


Alexandra said...

Du you have an translation of the first verses?