Bödvar Bjarki

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Hrólf Kraki Tradition

Hrólf Kraki's saga
Ynglinga saga
Lejre Chronicle
Gesta Danorum
Hrólfr Kraki
Bödvar Bjarki

Bödvar Bjarki (Old Norse: Böðvar Bjarki), meaning 'Warlike Little-Bear', is the hero appearing in tales of Hrólf Kraki in the Saga of Hrólf Kraki, in the Latin epitome to the lost Skjöldunga saga, and as Biarco in Saxo Grammaticus' Gesta Danorum.[1]

Links with Beowulf[edit]

Some think Bjarki and the hero Beowulf in the Old English poem Beowulf were originally the same personage, while others instead accept some kinship between the two,[2] perhaps pointing to the same distant source.[3] Unlike Beowulf, Bödvar is a shapeshifter,[4] and he is also said to have been Norwegian, which may be explained by the fact that his story was written by Icelandic authors who were mostly of Norwegian descent.

However, his brother was the king of Gautland (Geatland) and, like Beowulf, it was from Geatland that Bödvar arrived in Denmark. Moreover, upon arriving at the court of Denmark, he kills a monstrous beast that has been terrorizing the court at Yule for two years (comparable to Grendel's role in Beowulf).


The famous poem Bjarkamál (of which only a few stanzas are preserved but which Saxo Grammaticus presents in the form of a florid Latin paraphrase) is understood as a dialogue between Bödvar Bjarki and his younger companion Hjalti which begins by Hjalti again and again urging Bödvar to awake from his sleep and fight for King Hrólf in this last battle in which they are doomed to be defeated. In Hrolfs saga Kraka, it is explained that this rousing was ill-done, as Bjarki was in a trance and his spirit in the form of a monstrous bear was already aiding Hrólf far more than Bjarki could do with only his mannish strength: as Bjarki puts it on awakening, "You have not been so helpful to the king by this action as you think".[5]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ J. D. Rateliff, Mr Baggins (London 2007) p. 281
  2. ^ Tom Shippey, J. R. R. Tolkien (London 2001) p. 31
  3. ^ C. R. Fee, Gods, Heroes & Kings (OUP 2004) P. 155
  4. ^ T. A. Shippey, The Road to Middle-Earth (London 1992) p. 73
  5. ^ Hrolf Kragi's Saga, quoted in J. D. Rateliff, Mr Baggins (London 2007) p. 257

Further reading[edit]

  • F. Klauber ed., Beowulf and the Fight at Finnsburg (Boston 1950) p. xiiiff.