Gautreks saga
Gautreks saga is a Scandinavian legendary saga
Legendary saga
A Legendary saga or Fornaldarsaga is a Norse saga that, unlike the Icelanders' sagas, takes place before the colonization of Iceland. There are some exceptions, such as Yngvars saga víðförla, which takes place in the 11th century...

 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
', English exonym: West Gothland, is one of the 25 traditional non-administrative provinces of Sweden , situated in the southwest of Sweden. In older English literature one may also encounter the Latinized version Westrogothia....

, to serve as a kind of prequel to the already existing Hrólfs saga Gautrekssonar
Hrólfs saga Gautrekssonar
Hrólfs saga Gautrekssonar is a Scandinavian legendary saga which was put to text in Iceland in the 13th century. It has a prequel in Gautreks saga.Gautrekr was a Geatish king who descended from Odin himself...

(Saga of Hrólf son of Gautrek). See also king of the Geats
King of the Geats
Geatish kings , ruling over the provinces of Götaland , appears in several sources for early Swedish history...


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
Götaland , Gothia, Gothland, Gothenland, Gautland or Geatland is one of three lands of Sweden and comprises provinces...

 and his sons, to "the same story as told in Sweden
Sweden , officially the Kingdom of Sweden , is a Nordic country on the Scandinavian Peninsula in Northern Europe. Sweden borders with Norway and Finland and is connected to Denmark by a bridge-tunnel across the Öresund....

", and that promise is not kept. Indeed, other than the reference to Hrólfs saga Gautrekssonar
Hrólfs saga Gautrekssonar
Hrólfs saga Gautrekssonar is a Scandinavian legendary saga which was put to text in Iceland in the 13th century. It has a prequel in Gautreks saga.Gautrekr was a Geatish king who descended from Odin himself...

, 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
Starkad, Old Norse: Starkaðr or Störkuðr, Latin: Starcaterus, and during the late Middle Ages, also known as Starkodder, was a legendary hero in Norse mythology....

 who is perhaps the grimmest and strangest of Scandinavia
Scandinavia is a cultural, historical and ethno-linguistic region in northern Europe that includes the three kingdoms of Denmark, Norway and Sweden, characterized by their common ethno-cultural heritage and language. Modern Norway and Sweden proper are situated on the Scandinavian Peninsula,...

n legendary heroes. This account was probably extracted or retold from a lost saga about Starkad and included only because King Vikar
Víkar was a legendary Norwegian king who found himself and his ships becalmed for a long period. To raise a wind, a human blood sacrifice was needed, and the lots fell on King Víkar himself...

, 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
Odin is a major god in Norse mythology and the ruler of Asgard. Homologous with the Anglo-Saxon "Wōden" and the Old High German "Wotan", the name is descended from Proto-Germanic "*Wodanaz" or "*Wōđanaz"....

. A long dialogue occurred between the gods Thor
In Norse mythology, Thor is a hammer-wielding god associated with thunder, lightning, storms, oak trees, strength, the protection of mankind, and also hallowing, healing, and fertility...

 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
Wends is a historic name for West Slavs living near Germanic settlement areas. It does not refer to a homogeneous people, but to various peoples, tribes or groups depending on where and when it is used...

 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.

Legendary chronology

Snorri Sturluson introduces Gauti and Gautrek in his Ynglinga saga
Ynglinga saga
Ynglinga saga is a legendary saga, originally written in Old Norse by the Icelandic poet Snorri Sturluson about 1225. It was first translated into English and published in 1844....

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
Ingjald illråde or Ingjaldr hinn illráði was a legendary Swedish king of the House of Ynglings. Ingjald may have ruled in the 7th century, and he was the son of the former king Anund....

 the son of King Önund
Anund, Swedish: Bröt-Anund meaning trail-blazer Anund or Anund the Land Clearer; alternate names Brøt-Anundr or Braut-Önundr , was a legendary Swedish king of the House of Yngling who reigned in the mid-seventh century...

 of Sweden. This should make Gautrek live in the early 7th century, approximately contemporary with Önund's father Yngvar
Yngvar Harra Proto-Norse *Ingu-Hariz was the son of Östen and reclaimed the Swedish throne for the House of Yngling after the Swedes had rebelled against Sölvi....

 or possibly Yngvar's father Eystein
Eysteinn was the son of Eadgils and Yrsa of Saxony. He was the father of Ingvar. The Eysteinn tumulus in Västerås near Östanbro has been linked to King Eysteinn by some popular historians...

 in whose days, according to Snorri, the Danish
Denmark is a Scandinavian country in Northern Europe. The countries of Denmark and Greenland, as well as the Faroe Islands, constitute the Kingdom of Denmark . It is the southernmost of the Nordic countries, southwest of Sweden and south of Norway, and bordered to the south by Germany. Denmark...

 king Hrólf Kraki
Hrólf Kraki
Hrólfr Kraki, Hroðulf, Rolfo, Roluo, Rolf Krage was a legendary Danish king who appears in both Anglo-Saxon and Scandinavian tradition. His name would in his own language have been *Hrōþiwulfaz .Both traditions describe him as a Danish Scylding, the nephew of Hroðgar and the grandson of Healfdene...

 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
Aella of Deira
Ælla , is the first certain king of Deira. One of his sons was Edwin of Northumbria and his daughter Acha married Æthelfrith of Bernicia....

 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.

However in Bósa saga ok Herrauds
Bósa saga ok Herrauds
Bósa saga ok Herrauds or "Saga of Bósi and Herraud" is a legendary saga written around 1300 preserved in three 15th century manuscripts relating the fantastic adventures of the two companions Herraud and Bósi....

(The saga of Herraud and Bósi), Gautrek's supposed half-brother Hring is a contemporary of King Harald Wartooth.
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