Icelandic Saga - Burnt Njal (pref.6) [tekst, tłumaczenie i interpretacja piosenki]

Wykonawca: Icelandic Saga
Album: The Saga of Burnt Njal
Data wydania: 1200-01-01
Gatunek: Poetry

Tekst piosenki

SOCIAL PRINCIPLES.

Besides his creed and these beliefs the new settler brought with him
certain fixed social principles, which we shall do well to consider
carefully in the outset.... First and foremost came the father's right
of property in his children. This right is common to the infancy of all
communities, and exists before all law. We seek it in vain in codes
which belong to a later period, but it has left traces of itself in all
codes, and, abrogated in theory, still often exists in practice. We find
it in the Roman law, and we find it among the Northmen. Thus it was the
father's right to rear his children or not at his will. As soon as it
was born, the child was laid upon the bare ground; and until the father
came and looked at it, heard and saw that it was strong in lung and
limb, lifted it in his arms, and handed it over to the women to be
reared, its fate hung in the balance, and life or death depended on the
sentence of its sire. After it had passed safely through that ordeal, it
was duly washed, signed with Thorns holy hammer, and solemnly received
into the family. If it were a weakly boy, and still more often, if it
were a girl, no matter whether she were strong or weak, the infant was
exposed to die by ravening beasts, or the inclemency of the climate.
Many instances occur of children so exposed, who, saved by some kindly
neighbour, and fostered beneath a stranger's roof, thus contracted ties
reckoned still more binding than blood itself. So long as his children
remained under his roof, they were their father's own. When the sons
left the paternal roof, they were emancipated, and when the daughters
were married they were also free, but the marriage itself remained till
the latest times a matter of sale and barter in deed as well as name.
The wife came into the house, in the patriarchal state, either stolen or
bought from her nearest male relations; and though in later times when
the sale took place it was softened by settling part of the dower and
portion on the wife, we shall do well to bear in mind, that originally
dower was only the price paid by the suitor to the father for his good
will; while portion, on the other hand, was the sum paid by the father
to persuade a suitor to take a daughter off his hands. Let us remember,
therefore, that in those times, as Odin was supreme in Asgard as the
Great Father of Gods and men, so in his own house every father of the
race that revered Odin was also sovereign and supreme.

In the second place, as the creed of the race was one that adored the
Great Father as the God of Battles; as it was his will that turned the
fight; nay, as that was the very way in which he chose to call his own
to himself,--it followed, that any appeal to arms was looked upon as an
appeal to God. Victory was indeed the sign of a rightful cause, and he
that won the day remained behind to enjoy the rights which he had won in
fair fight, but he that lost it, if he fell bravely and like a man, if
he truly believed his quarrel just, and brought it without guile to the
issue of the sword, went by the very manner of his death to a better
place. The Father of the Slain wanted him, and he was welcomed by the
Valkyries, by Odin's corse-choosers, to the festive board in Valhalla.
In every point of view, therefore, war and battle was a holy thing, and
the Northman went to the battlefield in the firm conviction that right
would prevail. In modern times, while we appeal in declarations of war
to the God of Battles, we do it with the feeling that war is often an
unholy thing, and that Providence is not always on the side of strong
battalions. The Northman saw Providence on both sides. It was good to
live, if one fought bravely, but it was also good to die, if one fell
bravely. To live bravely and to die bravely, trusting in the God of
Battles, was the warrior's comfortable creed.

But this feeling was also shown in private life. When two tribes or
peoples rushed to war, there Odin, the warrior's god, was sure to be
busy in the fight, turning the day this way or that at his will; but he
was no less present in private war, where in any quarrel man met man to
claim or to defend a right. There, too, he turned the scale and swayed
the day, and there too an appeal to arms was regarded as an appeal to
heaven. Hence arose another right older than all law, the right of
duel--of wager of battle, as the old English law called it. Among the
Northmen it underlaid all their early legislation, which, as we shall
see, aimed rather at regulating and guiding it, by making it a part and
parcel of the law, than at attempting to check at once a custom which
had grown up with the whole faith of the people, and which was regarded
as a right at once so time-honoured and so holy.

Thirdly, we must never forget that, as it is the Christian's duty to
forgive his foes, and to be patient and long-suffering under the most
grievous wrongs so it was the heathen's bounden duty to avenge all
wrongs, and most of all those offered to blood relations, to his kith
and kin, to the utmost limit of his power. Hence arose the constant
blood-feuds between families, of which we shall hear so much in our
story, but which we shall fail fully to understand, unless we keep in
view, along with this duty of revenge, the right or property which all
heads of houses had in their relations. Out of these twofold rights, of
the right of revenge and the right of property, arose that strange
medley of forbearance and blood-thirstiness which stamps the age.
Revenue was a duty and a right, but property was no less a right; and so
it rested with the father of a family either to take revenge, life for
life, or to forego his vengeance, and take a compensation in goods or
money for the loss he had sustained in his property. Out of this latter
view arose those arbitrary tariffs for wounds or loss of life, which
were gradually developed more or less completely in all the Teutonic and
Scandinavian races, until every injury to life or limb had its
proportionate price, according to the rank which the injured person bore
in the social scale. These tariffs, settled by the heads of houses, are,
in fact, the first elements of the law of nations; but it must be
clearly understood that it always rested with the injured family either
to follow up the quarrel by private war, or to call on the man who had
inflicted the injury to pay a fitting fine. If he refused, the feud
might be followed up on the battlefield, in the earliest times, or in
later days, either by battle or by law. Of the latter mode of
proceeding, we shall have to speak at greater length farther on; for the
present, we content ourselves with indicating these different modes of
settling a quarrel in what we have called the patriarchal state.

A fourth great principle of his nature was the conviction of the
worthlessness and fleeting nature of all worldly goods. One thing alone
was firm and unshaken, the stability of well-earned fame. "Goods
perish, friends perish, a man himself perishes, but fame never dies to
him that hath won it worthily." "One thing I know that never dies, the
judgment passed on every mortal man." Over all man's life hung a blind,
inexorable fate, a lower fold of the same gloomy cloud that brooded over
Odin and the Æsir. Nothing could avert this doom. When his hour came, a
man must meet his death, and until his hour came he was safe. It might
strike in the midst of the highest happiness, and then nothing could
avert the evil, but until it struck he would come safe through the
direst peril. This fatalism showed itself among this vigorous pushing
race in no idle resignation. On the contrary, the Northman went boldly
to meet the doom which he felt sure no effort of his could turn aside,
but which he knew, if he met it like a man, would secure him the only
lasting thing on earth--a name famous in sons and story. Fate must be
met then, but the way in which it was met, that rested with a man
himself, that, at least, was in his own power; there he might show his
free will; and thus this principle, which might seem at first to be
calculated to blunt his energies and weaken his strength of mind, really
sharpened and hardened them in a wonderful way, for it left it still
worth everything to a man to fight this stern battle of life well and
bravely, while its blind inexorable nature allowed no room for any
careful weighing of chances or probabilities, or for any anxious prying
into the nature of things doomed once for all to come to pass. To do
things like a man, without looking to the right or left, as Kari acted
when he smote off Gunnar's head in Earl Sigurd's hall, was the
Northman's pride. He must do them openly too, and show no shame for what
he had done. To kill a man and say that you had killed him, was
manslaughter; to kill him and not to take it on your hand was murder. To
kill men at dead of night was also looked on as murder. To kill a foe
and not bestow the rights of burial on his body by throwing sand or
gravel over him, was also looked on as murder. Even the wicked Thiostolf
throws gravel over Glum in our Saga, and Thord Freedmanson's complaint
against Brynjolf the unruly was that he had buried Atli's body badly.
Even in killing a foe there was an open gentlemanlike way of doing it,
to fail in which was shocking to the free and outspoken spirit of the
age. Thorgeir Craggeir and the gallant Kari wake their foes and give
them time to arm themselves before they fall upon them; and Hrapp, too,
the thorough Icelander of the common stamp, "the friend of his friends
and the foe of his foes," stalks before Gudbrand and tells him to his
face the crimes which he has committed. Robbery and piracy in a good
straightforward wholesale way were honoured and respected; but to steal,
to creep to a man's abode secretly at dead of night and spoil his goods,
was looked upon as infamy of the worst kind. To do what lay before him
openly and like a man, without fear of either foes, fiends, or fate; to
hold his own and speak his mind, and seek fame without respect of
persons; to be free and daring in all his deeds; to be gentle and
generous to his friends and kinsmen; to be stern and grim to his foes,
but even towards them to feel bound to fulfil all bounden duties; to be
as forgiving to some as he was unyielding and unforgiving to others. To
be no truce-breaker, nor talebearer nor backbiter. To utter nothing
against any man that he would not dare to tell him to his face. To turn
no man from his door who sought food or shelter, even though he were a
foe--these were other broad principles of the Northman's life, further
features of that steadfast faithful spirit which he brought with him to
his new home....

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