R. G. (Robert Gordon) Latham.

Two dissertations on the Hamlet of Saxo Grammaticus and of Shakespear online

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E. G. LATHAM, M.A., M.D., etc.




[Jll Rights Reserved.]





Saxo Grammaticus lived in Denmark during the latter
half of the twelfth century, and wrote a work on the
history of his country. — the ' Historia Danica ;' his
friend, patron, and instigator being Absalon, Arch-
bishop of Lund. His father and grandfather held
respectable offices in the state. He was born not
much before, nor yet long after, 1150. His work was
begun after 1177. Little as this information amounts
to, it is nearly all we have ; nor is this little abso-
lutely beyond cavil. It has even been doubted, for
instance, whether he Avere a native of Denmark, the
name Saxo suggesting a German origin. It seems,
however, to have passed into a proper name before
the end of the eleventh century. When it took the
honourable addition of Grammaticus is uncertain.

Of authorities, in the strict sense of the term, Saxo
quotes only two, — Beda and Dudo of St. Quentin,
both incidentally. He made, however, application
to the learned men of the day, and resorted to the
traditionary lore of the Icelanders. Thirdly, he
quotes certain passages from certain poets, but, as




they are in Latin and anonymous, the value of them
is uncertain. Are they originals or translations?
They occur chiefly in the earlier books. His cotem-
porary Snorro Sturleson, in his ' Heimskringla,' or
' History of the Kings of Norway,' written in the
vernacular Icelandic, makes similar references. His
quotations, however, are in the original language and
the original metres, and generally the name of the
composers accompanies them. Upon the whole,
then, w^e have a fair general notion of what Saxo
means by the carmiiia antiqua. Occasionally we
can trace them in the prose narrative by their

The true illustration, however, of Saxo is to be
found in the age to which he belonged. Neither he
nor his co temporaries had anything like systematic,
critical, or adequately informed predecessors. In the
way of actual testimony they had nothing but that of
the men of their own generation for the events of their
own time. Application to the oldest of these cotem-
poraries led them generally into the region of tra-
dition. Latin accounts, when they delivered new
matter, w^ould rarely transcend the introduction of
Christianity ; even the carmina antiqua would gene-
rally consist of allusions to events supposed to be
generally known rather than of explicit narratives.

About any English sources Saxo says nothing be-
yond his reference to Beda. The only parts, how-
ever, of the earlier narrative which point in the
direction of genuine history are English. This is
because occasionally, exceptionally, and under very
favourable circumstances, an event or individual may
be common to the history of two nations, of which the


records of the one are older than those of the other,
but at the same time accessible to the younger.
When such happens, a piece of real or approximate
history may be obtained. If so, it stands by itself,
isolated, and, as such, contrasted with what precedes
and what follows it. This is the way in which the
Britons knew about Cassivelaunus, Cynobelinus, and
the like ; not because there were any native records
to say who they were and what they did, but because
certain Romans had written about them, and cer-
tain Britons had read what they wrote. Beyond all
this, there were certain floating names, narratives,
and inferences Avearing the garb of tradition, of
which the best that could be said is that where there
is a superstructure there is a foundation, or, more
simply, where there is smoke there is fire.

Saxo's age, however, either required or produced
something more than this ; for it was the age of the
early French romances, the age of poems in Ger-
many like the ' Nibelungen-lied,' the age of a wholly
new literature in the vernacular languages, and of
certain very peculiar and characteristic forms of Latin
prose. They passed for history ; logography, however,
would be the better name. That any writer wil-
lingly and consciously sat down to concoct a syste-
matic series of dynasties with the view of extending
the antiquity of his county to such or such Scrip-
tural or Classical date, is what few believe ; but that
sooner or later most countries produced a work in
which such an extension is to be found, is beyond
doubt ; and one of these is the ' Historia Danica,'
another being the ' British History ' of Geoffrey of
Monmouth. There are others, but these best illus-

B 2


trate both one another and the age which produced

We may call this constructive chronology ; though
I again guard myself against the supposition that I
consider either Geoffrey or Saxo as wilful and con-
scious constructors. How the system grew up is
doubtful. It culminated, however, in more countries
than one about the same time, — the time under

How it grew we cannot say ; but now that we have
got it, we can analyse it.

The common-sense method of treating lists of kings
which logographies of this kind give us is to take the
two extremes, either of which supplies us with a start-
ing-point. We know that the newest is historical; we
know that the earliest is not. We may begin, in
British history, with Cassivelaunus and the evidence
of Julius Csesar, or we may begin with Brutus, the
eponymus of Britain, and no evidence whatsoever.

This principle is universal in its application,
though it need not always be applied. Sometimes
tve see all that it gives us by mere inspection ; at
others, it has special complications that keep it in
the background. It is always, however, implied. In
the following series the most historical part lies near
the middle. The thirty-eighth king is a cotemporary
of Charlemagne ; and, as this brings him on the con-
fines of continuous history, the list is here made to
end with him.

1. Hwm&ZeJ. (word for word 4. Skiold.

Hamhlet.) 5. Gram.

2. Dan I. 6. Gutliorm and Hading.

3. Humble II. {vide supra) 7. Frofho I.

and Lotlier. 8. Ha If dan.


9. Roe. 24. Ingeld.

10. Scato. 25. Frotho V.

11. Helgo. 26. Haldan.

12. Rolvo. 27. Sivald.

13. Hother. 28. Sigurd.

14. Roricus. 29. Five Kings.

15. ViUetus. 30. Harold Hildetand.

16. Verm/undus. 31. Olo.

17. Ufa. 32. Omundus.

18. Dan II. 33. Syvardus.
^19. HuGLETus (melius Hu- 34. Buthlus.

GLEKUs). 35. Jarmeric.

20. Frotho II. 36. Snio.

21. Fridlev. 37. Gormo.

22. Frotho III. 38. Gotricus.

23. Frotho lY.

To these must be added, from the Danish dynasties
in Ireland, Amhlaihh Cuaran, or Anlaf Cwiran^ and
from the kings of Norway, Olaf Kyrre.

Now it is not in accordance with the rules of rhe-
toric to address the argument to the eye rather than
the understanding, and to throw the proper duties of
the writer upon the printer. Nevertheless, it is clear
that in the preceding list a great deal is indicated
by the italics. This is, firstly, because the question
is so complicated that no means whatever of abating
its complexity should be neglected; and secondly,
because a general view of the import of several
names separated from one another by occasional
intervals is absolutely necessary as a preliminary.
Hugletus has a value of its own. Vikletus^ Ver-
mundiis, TIffo have theirs. The others, in italic, have
theirs ; and, in a smaller degree, every name on the
list has a value of some kind or other.


The reasons for the predominance of the italicized
names are as follo\Y. They apply to persons who are
mentioned in compositions other than Scandinavian,
and as such have a prerogative claim to something-
like historical value. Anglo-Saxon England notices
Gufhorm, Half clan, Frofho, and Ingeld, so that
we find these names on both sides of the German
Ocean. But the Anglo-Saxon history is, for the
time, obscure. Of one of the two, either Sigurd or
Sivald, or (more probably) a mixture of the two,
there are notices in both the German and English
literatures ; and, though neither of these is abso-
lutely authoritative, the concurrence of the evidence
is better than no secondary confirmation at all. Of
Rolvo and Roricus more will be said hereafter. The
remaining names, as far as Sigurd, which are printed
in ordinary type, are only found in the Old Norse
narratives, Norwegian, Swedish, or Icelandic, which
differ from those of Denmark only in degree. Be-
tween Sigurd and Gotricus the bearing of the names
upon the present argument is less direct.

Now ViHefus, Vermundus, and Uffo are names of
wdiich the slightly altered forms Wiglaf] Warmund,
and Off a appear in the Anglo-Saxon poem ' Beowulf,'
wdiere they belong to men of the same generation;
herein giving us a slight deviation from the text ot
Saxo, where they are grandfather, son, and grandson
respectively. This, however, has never induced a
single commentator to hesitate in identifying them.
They differ, too, in the details of their history. Never-
theless their connection has always been allowed.
Nor is this strange, provided that we do not take
it for more than it is worth. It is iK)t supposed that


an accurate history can be got either out of the
' Historia Danica ' or the poem of ' Beowulf,' nor yet
out of the two combined. It is only believed that
the same characters are to be found, to a consider-
able extent, in both. And surely this is the case ;
for, besides these, the names of Halfdan, Frotho (one
or more), and Ingeld are common to the tw^o com-
positions. Still Viklet, Vermund, and Uffo have the
prerogative. They are most closely connected with one
another, not only in Saxo's history and the poem,
but elsewhere. They appear in more than one of
the Anglo-Saxon genealogies, and here, as in Saxo,
in sequence rather than as mere cotemporaries.

The order in the genealogies is (1) Wiglaf, (2)
Wsermund, (3) Offa, and that wherever we find the
names. More than this, in two English biographies
of King Offa, of which more wdll be said as we pro-
ceed, the name of Offa and Vermund reappear, and!
in the local traditions of Warwickshire they appear*
again. On the other hand it is only in Saxo that
they are connected with either Hamlet or Eoric, In
'Beowulf Wiglaf appears to be the youngest of the
three, and Wsermund the oldest. They are not, how-
ever, as in Saxo, father, son, and grandson, though
this (be it noted) is what they are in the gene-

Upon the name Hugletus so much depends that
we must begin with putting it into its right form,
by changing the t into k. In doing this we merely
follow our predecessors, the earlier of whom had less
evidence in favour of the change than has since been
supplied by the later ones. The same is the case
wdth the t in Vikletus, and something very like it
with the th of Amle?^Aus.


Laying aside the manifestly erroneous Hwhlesth,
we have the four following forms, — (1, 2) Hugle^
and Hugle^, (3) Hugla/, and (4) Hugle^, the last
being, decidedly, the worst. It is found, as Ave see,
in Saxo ; it is also found in two of his successors, the
author of the 'Chronicon Erici Kegis,' and Petrus
Olaus ; but it is found nowhere else. Huthle/, too,
is found but once. In all the other lists the spelling
is either with a ^ or a g.

Roric Slaganbogi. Uffi.

WiglafF. Dan.

Wermund. Hiiglekr.

Frothi tin Frokni.


Roric Slanggenbogi. VfFa.

Yinglet. Daii.

Ouermund Blinde. Hiiglekr.

Frotlii liin Frokni.


Dan. Hughlek.


Thirdly, there is, in Saxo himself, a second Hugle-
tiis, a king of Ireland. The story, however, which is
told of him is one which reappears in the ' Heims-
kringla.' There he is a king of Sweden, and Huhlei^r
is his name. Saxo's form, then, is a bad one; so
that, as a great deal depends upon it, it is fortunate
that it is so easily corrected.

Now, for more than half a century it has been

' Tlie numerals are those of the divisions in the first volume of
Langebek's ' Scriptores.' Eoric is here contemporary with Eorieus,
who is contemporary with Amlethus ; Uffo is wanting j but Vermund
is blind. See pp. 5 — and 7U, 71.


acknowledged that, word for word, this IlulileiJcr is the
Norse form of the Anglo-Saxon Hygeldc^ or Higeldc^
one of the heroes in 'Beowulf,' and (what is more
important) that both are, word for word, Chochilaicus^
or Chochelagus, the name of a Danish sea-king who,
in [email protected] beginning of the sixth century, was killed in
the Netherlands, — the authority being no less than
that of Gregory of Tours, whose important work on
the early history of the Franks was composed within
sixty years of the event.^

This brings us to the high and exceptional value
assigned to the name Huglet^ or, in the full Latin
form, Hugletus ; for upon this name, along with the
assumptions that connect it with another, nine-tenths
of the present argument depends.

"His gestis, Dani cum rege suo, nomine Ghochilaichoy
evectu navali per mare Gallias appetnnt. Eggressi ad terras
pagum unum de regno Theuderici devastant atque captivant,
oneratisque navibus tam de cap ti vis quam de reliquis spoliis
reverti ad patriam cupiunt. Sed rex eorum in litus residebat^,
donee naves altum mare comprehenderent^ ipse deinceps
secuturus. Quod cum Theuderico nunciatum fuisset, Theu-
debertum^ fihum suum^ in illas partes cum magno exercitu
ac magno armorum apparatu direxit. Qui^ interfecto rege^
hostes navali proelio superatos opprimit^ omnemque rapinam
terrae restituit/^ — Gregorius Turonensisj ' Historia Eccle-
siastica Francorum/ iii. 3.

An anonymous historian, above seventy years after-
w^ards, wdiose work is, to a great extent, a reproduction
of Gregory's, repeats the account, with an important

^ The credit of identifyini^ Hygelac with Cochilaigns belongs to
Outzen, in his paper "Ueber das Angelsachsische Beowulfs Gedicht,"
in the ' Kieler Blatter ' (1816 ?).— Thorpe, Trcmslation of ' Beowulf;
Preface, xxv.


addition, for he tells us that the action took place in
the district of tlie Attuarii.

"In illo tempore Dani cum rege suo, nomine Cochilago,
cum navale hoste per altnm mare Gallias appetunt^ Theu-
derico pagum Attoarms et alios devastantes atque capti-
vantes plenas naves de captivis habentes, alto mare in-
trantes, rex eorum ad litus maris resedit. Quod cum Theu-
derico nunciatum fuisset, Tkeudebertum, filium suum^ cum
magno excercitu in illis partibus dirigens^ qui^ consequens
eos, pugnavit cum eis casde maxima^ atque ipsis prostratis,
regem eorum interfecit^ prgedam tulit et in terram suam
restituit." — Gesta Benmi Francorum, cxix.

Theudebert was the son of Diedrich (Thierry), the
son of Clovis. He was the king of Austrasian
Franks,and the date of the descent is a.d. 515 or 516.

A notice that merely tells us that a pirate, who
was a Dane, was in a certain year killed in a certain
part of the Netherlands, tells us little enough ; and,
in some respects, tells us w^orse than nothing, inas-
much as, from the simple impossibility of contradic-
tion, it enables the speculator to take any action of
any hero of the same or a similar name, and to con-
nect or identify the two. To a man who is merely
known to have died a.d. 516, any exploit within fifty
years anterior to that date, and within a limited though
somewhat wide range of circumstances, may be attri-
buted. All that can be said, on the first view, as an
abatement of this objection, is that the name is a
scarce one. It is not one like Olaf, or Harold, or
Knut, and a host of others. There is but one Chochi-
laicus in actual history.

A little more can be got by supposing that, though
but one of his deeds (and that the last) is recorded,


he may have been, like the brave men who lived
before Agamemnon, a hero of much proAvess, and of
great, though forgotten, renown. And such seems to
have been the case. There was a legend in one of
the islands of the mouth of the Rhine, that Hiuglauc^
the king of the Geats, was a man of such gigantic
stature that, wdien he w^as but twelve years of age,
no horse could carry him ; in proof of which were his
bones, which are still to be seen in the island under
notice. It would be w^ell if the geologist, by the aid
of the tradition, if it still exist, would ascertain the
exact locality of the gigantic fossil — saurian or mam-
malian, as the case may be — which is thus iden-
tified with the great sea-king of the sixth century.
As for the legend itself, we know with w^hat it is
connected, viz. the similar story as to the size of Eolf
Ganger, or Rodolf, Eaoul, Eollo or Ron, The Walker,
From its simplicity, and from the slightness in the
alteration of the name, this, the Rhenish legend,
may pass for the oldest of the notices of Chochi-
laicus ; and, if it be still current, for the one that
lasted the longest. In this the great hero is a Geaf^
a term to which we shall soon make a second allu-

Thirdly, the date of his death was a peculiar one.
It belongs to that pre-eminently obscure period be-
tween the evacuation of Britain by the Romans and
the introduction of Christianity into England under
the Frank missionaries. How utterly destitute this
era is for definite data in the history of Scandinavia
need only be hinted at. That it was but little better
in England is best known to those w^ho have exa-
mined critically the evidence of what is called the


Anglo-Saxon Conquest, concerning the Ellas, the
Cerdics, the Idas, the Stufs, the Wihtgars, the Ceaw-
lins, et hoc genus omne^ who founded such and such
kingdoms in such and such years. Saving the Franks,
there are no Germans who can show for this century
such a date as that of the death of Chochilaicus; and
this is from a Frank writer in Latin. Never, however,
was there a period during which a hero, who is
known only through his death in the Netherlands,
w^as more likely to have done something, during the
days of his activity, on the other side of the German
Ocean, than the year a.d. 615. Neither is there any
era during which the record of it was more likely
to have been lost ; or, if not wholly lost, to have
been converted into a matter of inference. This
means that Chochilaicus was sufficiently a man of
note to justify us in associating with his personal
history such names as come within probable con-
ditions, and if any such associations connect him with
England, they favour rather than impugn the iden-

Fourthly, and this, though it rests on negative
evidence, has been long recognized, comes the fact
that, whatever it may be in other respects, Chochi-
laicus is the first name in Danish^ history, and it is
part of the present treatise to show that upon this
much depends.

^ "Der AngrifF auf den Gau der Hattiiarien um das Jahr 515, aus
dem sie Ton Theodebert, Tbeoderichs Sokn, mit Verlust ikres An-
fiihrers zuriick.^etrieben wurden, ist der erste Daneneinfall, dessen die
frankisclien Annalisten gedenken." — Zeuss, Die Deutschen und die
NacJibarstdinme, pp. 508-9.

A notice of a collision between tbe Danes and the Heruli is a few
years earlier than this defeat of Chochilaicus. In the notice, however'
of this event there are no names of any of the individual agents.


Having thus shown a reason for giving the Hugletus
of Saxo a predominance over even Vikletus, Vermun-
dus, and Uifo, we now look to his place both in real
history and in Saxo's list of kings. In this he is the
nineteenth. Three only, (or at most but four,
Guthorm, Frotho I., Halfdan, and Rolvo (the sixth,
seventh, eighth, and twelfth) bear historical names ;
but they seem to be names out of their proper place
i.e. antedated.

The second, Dan 1., is an eponymus.

The first, Humble I., is a pro-eponymus, a term,
and one upon which more will be said in the sequel.

The third, Humble II., is Humble I. repeated.
His co-regent, Lothar, seems to be in the same cate-
gory with Guthorm, etc.

The fourth is SMold, an eponymus to the dynasty
of the SMoldings.

The fifth is Gram.

The ninth (the intermediate ones have been already
noticed) is Eoe, the founder of Roeskilde, much, no
doubt, as King Lud of London was the builder of

The tenth and eleventh are Scato and Helgo ; the
first a divine, the second an heroic name ; each mythic
rather than historical.

The twelfth is Rolvo, already mentioned.

The thirteenth, Hother, is mythic. In his days
Odin and Balder visited Denmark.

The fourteenth, Roric, is merely, so far as the long
narrative connected with his reign is concerned, the
Amlethus (or rather the Amlethz) of the third and
fourth books, though he may be something else


The fifteenth, Viklet, is the successor of Eoric,
under whom Hamlet's history is continued and brought
to a conckision.

The sixteenth, Vermund, is Uffo's father, UfFo being
to Vermund much as Hamlet was to Roric.

The seventeenth, UfFo mysterious and brave as
he was during his father's reign, is, after his accession
to the throne, no better than Eoric. He, doubtless, did
great things, but the record is lost. His reign is
dispatched in about ten lines, more than half of which
are devoted to telling us that there is nothing to be
said about it. But more will be said about UfFo
hereafter. What, however, we must most especially
do with him is this : we must separate UfFo, the son
of Vermund, (the Crown Prince, so to say,) from UfFo
the King, as decidedly as we are about to separate
the Amlethus of the third book from the Amlethus
of the fourth.

Then comes Dan 11. , a repetition of Dan I., the
eponymus, he being the eighteenth on the list.

Ilucjlet is the nineteenth, Huglet being, so far as
he is Chochilaicus, expressly a Bane.

Now what is the difference between Htiglek, as he
will henceforth be called, as the nineteenth king of
Denmark in Saxo's list, and Chochilaicus^ as the
bearer of the first name in Danish history I Certainly
not the difference between One and Nineteen; for
when the two Dans are eliminated as eponymi ; and
the two Humbles as pro-eponymi; and Guthorm,
Frotho, and Halfdan, as antedated ; and the rest of
first fourteen as a mixture of myth and inference;
and Eoric as a mere lay-figure in the history of
Amlethus; and Viklet, Vermund, and UfFo, as


English rather than Danish; — what, I ask, when we
have done all this, remains between Huglek and the
head of the list I Nothing.

This is our method when we deal with the list as
we find it. The place, however, of Huglet in respect
to Gormo suggests another explanation. It is with
Gormo that the genuine and continuous history of
Denmark is considered to begin ; so that both Gormo
and Huglek stand at the head of a list. Now the
differences in position between these two names is so
nearly the difference between those of Huglekus and
Humblus, that the probability of Saxo's long serial
list being made out of two shorter parallel ones sug-
gests itself, and, as two lists of this kind would
consist of twenty names each, these are just the ones
every logographer would devise who had been taught
to look upon Gorm as the twentieth King of Den-
mark, counted from either the eponymic Dan or the
exceptionally historical Chochilaicus.

That any such calculation was afloat when the two
hypothetical lists were first constructed is not known to
the present writer by anything like evidence. It is a
mere inference from the fact of such relations between
two epochs being, whether real or supposed, common
in the history of logography, combined with the way
in which the present assumption squares with the fact
of the two catalogues. In order to bring the two
halves into an exact equality some little manipulation
is required. The conjoint kings. Humbles II. and
Lothar, and Guthorm and Hading may be separated.
One of the two Humbles may be omitted. The five
kings may be treated as one, and some of the Frothos

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Online LibraryR. G. (Robert Gordon) LathamTwo dissertations on the Hamlet of Saxo Grammaticus and of Shakespear → online text (page 1 of 10)