Norway Begins

As I mentioned here, I was looking through the introduction by the Brothers Grimm to their fairy tale collection to see what mythology they referenced, and one of the figures mentioned was someone named Harald the Fair-Haired. It turns out that this was a real person, the first King of Norway, but little is known of his actual life.

He was born around 850, the son of Halfdan the Black, and reigned from 872 until 930. According to the sagas, when he proposed marriage to Gyda, the daughter of King Eirik of Hordaland, she refused unless he would become the ruler of all Norway. Harald took up that challenge, and vowed not to have his hair washed or cut until he had succeeded. When he finally did subdue all of the small kingdoms and become monarch of the entire nation, which took ten years to accomplish, he finally had his hair cut and began going by “Hårfagre,” or “Fair-Haired.” I have to wonder how he kept his unruly hair out of his eyes while leading armies in battle, but I guess that’s beside the point. After Harald unified the kingdom, he collected taxes from the captured territories. Some of the lords of the land were not too happy with the high taxes they were required to pay Harald, so they fled to other lands. According to legend, this was how the first settlers came to Iceland. There are other tales told about Harald as well, including one regarding a wife (he had many) named Snaefrid, a Sami from Finland. The king was obsessed with her to the point of ignoring his kingdom. When she died, he stayed by her corpse, thinking it would come back to life. Finally, Thorleif the Wise convinced him to move the body in order to change its clothes, and the king noticed how foul it smelled, and that it was full of worms and other creatures. I guess King Harald was basically the ultimate necrophiliac, if that story is true, which it probably isn’t. These and other tales of Harald and other prominent Scandinavian personages can be found in the Heimskringla, by our old friend Snorri Sturluson. You might remember him and his tendency to alter legends for his own purposes from this post.

This entry was posted in History, Monarchy, Mythology, Norse, Scandinavia and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Norway Begins

  1. vilajunkie says:

    I think you meant the Sami, not the Sani. The Sami are also known as Lapps or Laplanders: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sami_people. Whereas the Sani are part of the Yi Chinese: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yi_people. I know I’m being anal about it, but I don’t want anyone to get confused or misled if they look up who the “Sani” are. :P

    • Nathan says:

      Right, I meant Sami, not Sani. I’ve made the correction.

      • vilajunkie says:

        Cool. BTW, have you ever attempted reading any unabridged translations of Scandinavian/Germanic epics? I’m guessing you had to read “Beowulf” at some point in an English Lit class, since it’s officially the first epic-length poem in the English language. I’ve never read a poetic version of any epics myself, at least not the whole poem, but I’ve read some retellings of Norse myths closer to the original style and it’s really interesting to see how medieval Scandinavian authors described characters’ appearances, thoughts, and emotions.

      • Nathan says:

        I’ve actually never read Beowulf in its entirety. I’m not sure how I managed to get out of doing that in school. I have read an abridged version, but that’s a little different. So no, I haven’t read any epics in their entirety, but I’ve read parts of them before. For this post, I read the part of the epic that dealt with Harald, but not the parts from after he died.

  2. Angela says:

    Im related to him, ahh! Really Awsome!!! Im a blood line princess.!!! So neet.

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