Gautreks saga (Gautrek's Saga) is a Scandinavian legendary saga put to text towards the end of the 13th century which survives only in much later manuscripts. It seems to have been intended as a compilation of traditional stories, often humorous, about a legendary King Gautrek of West Götaland, to serve as a kind of prequel to the already existing Hrólfs saga Gautrekssonar (Saga of Hrólf son of Gautrek). See also king of the Geats.
About the saga
As it stands, the saga seems incomplete, for a promise is made that the tale will return to King Gautrek of Götaland and his sons, to "the same story as told in Sweden", and that promise is not kept. Indeed, other than the reference to Hrólfs saga Gautrekssonar, no sons are mentioned. But Gautrek it seems was mentioned in many tales, according to a passage near the end, for generosity and bravery but not for deep thinking. It is probable there were many more amusing anecdotes to that effect that the author planned to include.
The tale begins with one explanation of Gautrek's strangeness, relating how Gautrek's father-to-be, King Gauti of West Götaland, became lost while hunting and spent the night in an isolated homestead of strange, arguably insane, backwoods bumpkins: a stingy farmer named Skafnörtung 'Skinflint', his equally stingy wife Tötra 'Tatters', and their three sons and three daughters. That night Gauti fathered Gautrek on Snotra who was the eldest of the farmer's daughters and supposedly the most intelligent of the bunch. The account bristles with grisly humor as it relates how one by one the members of this family of boobies committed suicide over the most trivial losses until at last only Snotra and her child survived. At that point Snotri took the child Gautrek to Gauti's court and King Gauti, years later on his deathbed, made Gautrek his heir.
Then, in a very different style, the story jumps to an account of the ancestry, birth, and earliest exploits of Starkad who is perhaps the grimmest and strangest of Scandinavian legendary heroes. This account was probably extracted or retold from a lost saga about Starkad and included only because King Vikar, who appears prominently in it, is father of Jarl Neri who plays a very important role in the material following and also because Eirík king of Sweden who appears in it was prominent in Hrólfs saga Gautrekssonar. A high point of this section is the evocative episode where Starkad's foster-father Grani Horsehair awakened his foster-son Starkad at about midnight, took him to an island where eleven men were at council, and sitting in a twelfth chair revealed himself as the god Odin. A long dialogue occurred between the gods Thor and Odin in which Thor and Odin alternately bestowed different curses and blessings upon Starkad.
The tale then tells of Gautrek's marriage to Alfhild daughter of King Harald of Wendland and Alfhild's subsequent death by illness years later for which reason the grieving Gauthrek went somewhat out of his mind, ignored all matters of state, and spent all his time on Alfhild's burial mound, flying his hawk.
The final section is an account of folk tale kind relating how Ref, the lazy son of a farmer, forced his father's stupendous ox as gift upon the stingy but extraordinarily intelligent Jarl Neri and requested only Neri's advice in return. Jarl Neri normally never accepted gifts because he was too stingy to repay them. But he took the ox and gave Ref a whetstone in return, telling him how to employ it as a gift to King Gautrek to get greater wealth. On Neri's advice, Ref visited king after king, in each case giving part or all of that which he received from the previous king and getting in return a greater gift. At last, through Neri's advice and trickery, Ref gained the hand of Gautrek's daughter Helga and an earldom that Neri held from King Gautrek.
Snorri Sturluson introduces Gauti and Gautrek in his Ynglinga saga where Gauti "after whom Gautland (Götaland) is named" is mentioned as the father of Gautrek the Generous the father of King Algaut the father of Gauthild who married Ingjald the son of King Önund of Sweden. This should make Gautrek live in the early 7th century, approximately contemporary with Önund's father Yngvar or possibly Yngvar's father Eystein in whose days, according to Snorri, the Danish king Hrólf Kraki died. And indeed Hrólf Kraki is one of the kings whom Ref visits in the saga. Another king visited by Ref is Ælle of England and the historical King Ælle of Deira could well be contemporary to the legendary Hrólf Kraki of Denmark. However in the section concerning Starkad, the kings of Sweden are the brothers Alrek and Eirík which, if one trusts the order of kings in the Ynglinga saga, would put Gautrek generations earlier.
- English translations:
- Ancestry: Gautrek's saga
- "King Gautrek" in Seven Viking Romances. Trans. Pálsson, Hermann and Edwards, Paul (1985). Harmondsworth, England: Penguin. ISBN 0-14-044474-2.
- "King Gautrek" in Gautrek's Saga and other medieval tales. Trans. Pálsson, Hermann and Edwards, Paul (1968). London: University of London Press. ISBN 0-340-09396-X.
- Gautrek's Saga. Trans. Fox, Denton and Pálsson, Hermann (1974). Toronto: University of Toronto Press. ISBN 0-8020-1925-0.
- Original text: