Bödvar Bjarki

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Bǫðvarr Bjarki fights in bear form in his last battle, depicted by Louis Moe.

Bödvar Bjarki (Old Norse: Bǫðvarr Bjarki [ˈbɔðˌvɑrː ˈbjɑrki]), meaning 'Warlike Little-Bear',[1] is the hero appearing in tales of Hrólfr Kraki in the Hrólfs saga kraka in the Latin epitome to the lost Skjöldunga saga, and as Biarco in Saxo Grammaticus' Gesta Danorum.[2]

Links with Beowulf[edit]

Hrólf Kraki Tradition

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

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,[3] perhaps pointing to the same distant source.[4] Unlike Beowulf, Bjarki is a shapeshifter,[5] 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 Bǫðvarr Bjarki 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 Old Norse 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 with 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 the Saga of Hrólf Kraki, 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 human strength: as Bjarki puts it on awakening, "You have not been so helpful to the king by this action of yours as you think".[6]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Jesse Byock (1999), The Saga of King Hrolf Kraki, Penguin Classics, ISBN 014043593X, p. 83.
  2. ^ J. D. Rateliff, Mr Baggins (London 2007) p. 281
  3. ^ Tom Shippey, J. R. R. Tolkien (London 2001) p. 31
  4. ^ C. R. Fee, Gods, Heroes & Kings (OUP 2004) P. 155
  5. ^ T. A. Shippey, The Road to Middle-Earth (London 1992) p. 73
  6. ^ "King Hrolf and His Champions" (Saga of Hrólf Kraki), trans. Gwyn Jones, Eirik the Red and Other Icelandic Sagas, The World's Classics 582, London: Oxford University Press, 1961, OCLC 1140302366, p. 314

Further reading[edit]

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