WWW.SHROUDEATER.COM - Saxo Grammaticus on Vampires

Source Material:

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Collin de Plancy

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The Source:

"The Nine Books of the Danish History of Saxo Grammaticus",
translated by Oliver Elton (Norroena Society, New York, 1905).

We were delighted to discover that this translation of Saxo Grammaticus' books has now been placed into the public domain. We discovered the books on a brilliant site that offers us electronic versions of a large number of hard to find books on interesting subjects: www.sacred-texts.com.

It is not known when Saxo Grammaticus was born, nor do we know the exact year of his death. But he does seem to have lived in the 12th Century. It might be interesting to compare Saxo's "Story of Aswid and Asmund" to the way it has been retold by Sir Walter Scott.

And in case you prefer to read Saxo Grammaticus in Latin, you might be interested to learn that there is a Latin version of his books on the site of Det Kongelige Bibliotek. You can find the story of Aswid and Asmund in Book 5, chapter 11.

Some interesting observations from the translator:


"Barrow-burials". -- The obsequies of great men (such as the classic funeral of "Beowulf's Lay") are much noticed by Saxo, and we might expect that he knew such a poem (one similar to Ynglingatal, but not it) which, like the Books of the Kings of Israel and Judah, recorded the deaths and burials, as well as the pedigrees and deeds, of the Danish kings. The various stages of the "obsequy by fire" are noted; the byre sometimes formed out of a ship; the "sati"; the devoted bower-maidens choosing to die with their mistress, the dead man's beloved (cf. The Eddic funerals of Balder, Sigfred, and Brunhild, in the Long "Brunhild's Lay", Tregrof Gudrumar and the lost poem of Balder's death paraphrased in the prose Edda); the last message given to the corpse on the pyre (Woden's last words to Balder are famous); the riding round the pyre; the eulogium; the piling of the barrow, which sometimes took whole days, as the size of many existing grass mounds assure us; the funeral feast, where an immense vat of ale or mead is drunk in honor of the dead; the epitaph, like an ogham, set up on a stone over the barrow. The inclusion of a live man with the dead in a barrow, with the live or fresh-slain beasts (horse and bound) of the dead man, seems to point to a time or district when burning was not used. Apparently, at one time, judging from Frode's law, only chiefs and warriors were burnt. Not to bury was, as in Hellas, an insult to the dead, reserved for the bodies of hated foes. Conquerors sometimes show their magnanimity (like Harald Godwineson) by offering to bury their dead foes. The buried "barrow-ghost" was formidable; he could rise and slay and eat, vampire-like, as in the tale of Asmund and Aswit. He must in such case be mastered and prevented doing further harm by decapitation and thigh-forking, or by staking and burning. So criminals' bodies were often burnt to stop possible haunting. Witches and wizards could raise corpses by spells to make them prophesy. The dead also appeared in visions, usually foretelling death to the person they visited. "

Saxo Grammaticus: The Story of Aswid and Asmund:

       "Meanwhile Aswid died of an illness, and was consigned with his horse and dog to a cavern in the earth. And Asmund, because of his oath of friendship, had the courage to be buried with him, food being put in for him to eat. Now just at this time Erik, who had crossed the uplands with his army, happened to draw near the barrow of Aswid; and the Swedes, thinking that treasures were in it, broke the hill open with mattocks, and saw disclosed a cave deeper than they had thought. To examine it, a man was wanted, who would lower himself on a hanging rope tied around him. One of the quickest of the youths was chosen by lot; and Asmund, when he saw him let down in a basket following a rope, straightway cast him out and climbed into the basket. Then he gave the signal to draw him up to those above who were standing by and controlling the rope. They drew in the basket in the hopes of great treasure; but when they saw the unknown figure of the man they had taken out, they were scared by his extraordinary look, and, thinking that the dead had come to life, flung down the rope and fled all ways. For Asmund looked ghastly and seemed to be covered as with the corruption of the charnel. He tried to recall the fugitives, and began to clamour that they were wrongfully afraid of a living man. And when Erik saw him, he marvelled most at the aspect of his bloody face: the blood flowing forth and spurting over it. For Aswid had come to life in the nights, and in his continual struggles had wrenched off his left ear; and there was to be seen the horrid sight of a raw and unhealed scar. And when the bystanders bade him tell how he had got such a wound, he began to speak thus:

"Why stand ye aghast, who see me colourless? Surely every live man fades among the dead. Evil to the lonely man, and burdensome to the single, remains every dwelling in the world. Hapless are they whom chance hath bereft of human help. The listless night of the cavern, the darkness of the ancient den, have taken all joy from my eyes and soul. The ghastly ground, the crumbling barrow, and the heavy tide of filthy things have marred the grace of my youthful countenance, and sapped my wonted pith and force. Besides all this, I have fought with the dead, enduring the heavy burden and grievous peril of the wrestle; Aswid rose again and fell on me with rending nails, by hellish might renewing ghastly warfare after he was ashes. Why stand ye aghast, who see me colourless? Surely every live man fades among the dead. By some strange enterprise of the power of hell the spirit of Aswid was sent up from the nether world, and with cruel tooth eats the fleet-footed (horse), and has given his dog to his abominable jaws. Not sated with devouring the horse or hound, he soon turned his swift nails upon me, tearing my cheek and taking off my ear. Hence the hideous sight of my slashed countenance, the blood-spurts in the ugly wound. Yet the bringer of horrors did it not unscathed; for soon I cut off his head with my steel, and impaled his guilty carcase with a stake. Why stand ye aghast who see me colourless? Surely every live man fades among the dead."

Saxo Grammaticus: The Death of Mit-othin:

       "When he (Odin ed.) had retired, one Mit-othin, who was famous for his juggling tricks, was likewise quickened, as though by inspiration from on high, to seize the opportunity of feigning to be a god; and, wrapping the minds of the barbarians in fresh darkness, he led them by the renown of his jugglings to pay holy observance to his name. He said that the wrath of the gods could never be appeased nor the outrage to their deity expiated by mixed and indiscriminate sacrifices, and therefore forbade that prayers for this end should be put up without distinction, appointing to each of those above his especial drink-offering. But when Odin was returning, he cast away all help of jugglings, went to Finland to hide himself, and was there attacked and slain by the inhabitants. Even in his death his abominations were made manifest, for those who came nigh his barrow were cut off by a kind of sudden death; and after his end, he spread such pestilence that he seemed almost to leave a filthier record in his death than in his life: it was as though he would extort from the guilty a punishment for his slaughter. The inhabitants, being in this trouble, took the body out of the mound, beheaded it, and impaled it through the breast with a sharp stake; and herein that people found relief."

Comments and page 2009 by Rob Brautigam - NL - Last changes August 2012
Photo "Kensal Green Cemetery - London" 1979 by Rob Brautigam

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