Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Into the Abyss

His thoughts still wracked by the gruesome sights of cleaved souls, it was with a profound sense of foreboding that Dante ventured onward, deeper and deeper into the Inferno on his dark journey (for the previous episode in this story, please click here). After a rebuke from his guide, Virgil, for his sympathy for the damned souls, the two poets arrive at the edge of a rickety bridge, with the final of the Rotten Pockets of the Eighth Circle of Hell stretching far below on the valley floor...

The Falsifiers
Painting by Giovanni di Paolo
" Wierd shrieks of lamentation
   pierced through me,
   like arrow shafts whose tips
   are barbed with pity,
   so that my hands were
   covering my ears "

It was as all the plague hospitals in marshy, malaria ridden Tuscany had been crammed together into one fetid ditch, Dante thought. The screams of agony rang through his ears, and the grotesque stench of decay rose to his nostrils. Covering their noses with their drapes, the two poets descended to the foot of the mountains, as the din grew louder yet. Fighting back a wave of nausea, Dante looked on, as the rocky floor was strewn with the bodies of men and women struck with the most terrible afflictions. His eyes noticed two men, writhing in pain, frantically slashing at the sores on their flesh with their own nails, desperate to relief the itching that would not cease. For here in the last Rotten Pocket are punished the falsifiers, those who through their lies and perjury in life were a disease upon society. So now their bodies are corrupted by disease in death. Among the many Italians condemned to this plight, Dante spies two souls history knows well. The first, the wife of Potiphar, who through her false accusation incriminated Joseph, the second, Sinon, the Greek spy who persuaded the men of Troy to take the Horse within their walls. Many too, are afflicted with insanity, and frantically cavort around, acting more as beast than men, snapping and biting at any that approach. They see the lady Myrrha too, who through the malicious designs of the gods, seduced her own father whilst disguised (and who, incidentally, that myrrh is named after). Shuddering with disgust, our pilgrims turn their back on the rotten trench, and move on into the darkness.

Antaeus lowers Dante and Virgil
to the Ninth Circle of Hell
Painting by William Blake
Feeling his way through the impenetrable blackness, not for the first time Dante's ears nearly bled with a thunderous noise that blasted throughout Hell. The sound of a horn trumpeting not far ahead roused both men to their senses. As the darkness rolled aside, a city of many, gargantuan, towers seemed to appear. Blinking, with a start Dante realised that they were no towers. Giants! The most colossal beings the cosmos had ever seen. For here, straddling the chasm of the Ninth Circle were the Titans themselves, supreme beings whom the Olympian Gods had fought that devastating war for the mastery of the Heavens (a story which is told here). There too was the race of Giants who had followed them, and tried in vain to overthrow Jupiter himself. With a face greater in form than the mightiest cathedrals in Christendom, the giant Nimrod, who had blown the horn, looked down upon them. Dante's courage began to buckle in fear as he gazed back at the being who, in his pride, had dared to raise the Tower of Babel to God's throne, and was responsible for the fact that man no more speaks a common language. Approaching closer, Dante saw Ephialtes too, the Giant who dared to raise the mountains high to Olympus' lofty heights and seize the Heavenly Halls by force. Terrifying though they were, the Giants were tightly bound in chains, and could not move, but only leer in deathly silence. All that is, except for the Giant Antaeus, whom Heracles had once slain in ancient times. At Virgil's stern command, however, Antaeus obliged, knowing as he did the folly of violating the divine mandate which protected both pilgrims. Opening his titanic hand, Antaeus gently lowered Dante and Virgil into the Ninth and final Circle of Hell, as Virgil expressed relief to Dante that they had not been forced to venture further within the Giants, for deeper within was bound the most fearsome monster that ever lived - Typhon, a terrible abomination who struck fear into the hearts of mortals and gods alike (whose story is also told here).

Lake Cocytus
Engraving by Gustave Doré
As the Giant released them, Dante felt a strange new sensation. Their journey throughout Hell had been a long and torturous one, through Eight Circles they had descended; now just one remained, the final bastion of Sin where those who have committed the most heinous crimes of all are bound. For it is within this Circle that the greatest sinner of them all, Satan himself, is shackled in an eternity of torment. Here was the very Pit of the Universe itself, and the weight of all the cosmos, and all Hell, pressed down upon those bound within the Final Circle. Edging forwards, Dante felt a sudden, piercing cold at his feet. They were walking atop the surface of a vast lake, frozen solid by the sheer cold, an ethereal icy wind blasting over its surface from a distant source. This was the Lake Cocytus, in which were imprisoned forever those beings guilty of that gravest of crimes - Treachery. No lake or river on Earth bore ice so thick, Dante thought, no mountain which crashed upon it would so much as crack its sheets of clear crystal. To his horror, our pilgrim noticed the souls of men and women, encased in the ice below and all around him, frozen solid, yet all too aware, eyes wide in blind terror. The souls frozen in Cocytus in the Ninth Circle are ordered into five Rounds, according to the seriousness of their betrayal  Here, in the First Round, known as Caïna, are tortured those who betrayed their own kin. The souls here, Dante notices, are frozen to the face in the ice, their heads alone, blue with the deathly chill, are free. Among the many Dante knew in life, there are those legendary in history here too. For Cain himself, the Son of Adam and Eve who murdered his own brother Abel in the Book of Genesis, is held here as the Round's namesake. Near Cain's side writhes Sir Mordred, the Knight of the Round Table who betrayed and slew King Arthur himself, his own father, in battle during a climactic duel (whose story will be told in a future post).

Count Ugolino
Illustration by Giovanni Stradano
Shaken, but resolute, Dante and Virgil made their way deeper into Cocytus' icy grip, closer to the heart of the Universe. Starting to shiver uncontrollably, Dante covered his face with his robes, desperate to shield his eyes from the frigid wind. Suddenly a scream pierced through the roaring gale, and Dante realised he had accidentally kicked a poor soul in the face. After a plethora of wrathful words from the man, nearby souls identified him as Bocca degli Abati. Dante recoiled in unveiled fury, for this was the man who betrayed his native Florence, siding with Siena in the crushing Florentine defeat that was the Battle of Montaperti. For here was Round Two of the Final Circle, named Antenora, where those who betrayed their city, party or nation suffer the eternal price. Held here is the Round's namesake, Antenor, the counsellor to King Priam of Troy, who treacherously opened the Gates of the great city to the Greek hordes. Proceeding further in, Dante stops by two souls, one gnawing on the head of another. The man looks up and introduces himself as Count Ugolino, and his companion as Archbishop Ruggieri. Ugolino had conspired to overthrow the Ghibelline (pro-Imperial party in medieval Italy) and replace it with a Guelph (pro-Papacy party in medieval Italy) regime in his native Pisa. Ruggieri, his co-conspirator, later turned on Ugolino, imprisoning him and his family in a tower until they starved to death. Now in Hell both men are punished for their treachery. Time draws in, and both poets continue along Cocytus' icy sheets. The blasting winds grow unbearable, and Dante turns to his guide, "What causes such  a wind, my master? I thought no heat could reach into these depths". Virgil turned, with a dark look, and replied "Before long you will be where your own eyes can answer for themselves...", as both men walked on, and the very heart of Hell opened up before them...

United Kingdom

Penguin Classics:
Dante: Inferno (Penguin Classics)
(A good version with both English and Italian text, as well as illustrations)

Oxford World's Classics:
The Divine Comedy (Oxford World's Classics)
(A readily accessible and well annotated version which also contains Purgatorio and Paradisio)

United States

Penguin Classics:
The Divine Comedy: Volume 1: Inferno (Penguin Classics) (Pt. 1)
(A good version with both English and Italian text, as well as illustrations)

Oxford World's Classics:
The Divine Comedy (Oxford World's Classics)
(A readily accessible and well annotated version which also contains Purgatorio and Paradisio)

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Isis and Osiris

After the brutal slaughter following the Creation at the hands of the goddess Sekhmet, the Egyptian cosmos was afforded some small respite and peace. Mankind had paid a heavy price in blood, which even now stained the land of Egypt, for the mercy of the gods (for the story of the Egyptian Creation myth, please click here). Feeling remorse for the carnage he had unleashed by the creation of Sekhmet, Ra, the Sun god, stayed her hand. Meanwhile, new deities were being born...

Thoth - the god of wisdom
Wall relief from the Temple of Ramesses II
During the old times, when Ra had ruled mankind as an avatar on Earth, a prophecy reached his ear that should the sky goddess Nut ever bear children, his rule would fall before one of them. So the Sun god laid a curse upon Nut, so that she could not give birth on any day of the year. Desperate with grief, Nut came before learned Thoth, the ibis headed god of wisdom whose intellect rivalled any deity to be born in Heaven. Wise Thoth knew that Ra's curse could not be lifted, but conceived a plan. He approached the moon god, Khonsu, and challenged him to a game of draughts. The lunar spirit accepted, and the games began. Thoth wagered his skill against the precious light that the moon god guarded, and through his arcane foresight, won game after game until Khonsu refused to play any more. Triumphant Thoth gathered the light he had won and with it he wove five extra days. Before Thoth's game the year had but three hundred and sixty days, now three hundred and sixty five. Nut was joyous at the news, for Ra's curse had been laid upon offspring born in the year, and now she had five days in addition to the ritual year.

Osiris - Lord of the Underworld
Papyrus in the British Museum
The goddess soon gave birth. Over five days she bore five deities. On the first, a son she called Osiris. On the second, another son. On the third, another son she called Set. On the fourth, a daughter she called Isis. On the fifth and final day, another daughter she called Nephthys. The curse of Ra had at once been fulfilled and conquered. Of all Nut's children it seemed that Osiris, her eldest son, was the most favoured. Popular, and shrewd, he ruled over the land of Egypt as Pharaoh and as god. Enamoured with Isis, Osiris wed his own sister, for a god could not marry a mortal, beginning a long tradition perpetuated through the Egyptian royal line in historical times. Osiris and Isis, as King and Queen, ruled well, and soon had a son, Horus. Osiris taught man the arts of civilisation, from the building of cities and the writing of laws to agriculture. Wars ceased, for man had no need of violence under Osiris' sound judgement and prudence. The shout of battle was replaced with song and dance, poverty with prosperity, death with life. The other gods bowed to Osiris and obeyed his will. Mankind turned from their heathen, cannibalistic ways when Isis uncovered the secrets of the fertile banks of the Nile. The secrets of writing, the invention of wise Thoth, were shared with the priests of Egypt. Jubilant at his noble rule, the people and gods of Egypt grew to adore their Pharaoh.

Set - the god of chaos
Stela in the British Museum
All except one. For Set, the god of chaos, storms and the desert, secretly harboured a strong hatred of his brother. Set reviled his popularity, when he himself had been shunned at court. The more the people praised Osiris, the greater his rage grew. But Set dared not strike Osiris down openly, for Isis was ever vigilant of Set's dark envy, as Osiris would not believe ill of his brother. Set therefore conceived a plan. One day, Osiris returned to Egypt from travels in distant lands. Set waited for his brother, and greeted him on bended knee, praising him for his virtuous rule, and declaring a magnificent banquet to be held in his honour. Attending would be men and gods from far and wide, but little did oblivious Osiris know that among those present, seventy two of the guests were fellow conspirators of Set. The feast eclipsed any which had been seen before in the Royal Palace of Egypt, as the laughter rang and the wine flowed. All gathered grew merry through revelry, and after the tables had been drawn aside, Set summoned into the hall a gift. Through the doors the servants came, bearing a most splendid casket, fashioned from the most precious metals and richest woods. All present marvelled at the craftsmanship of the Casket, but none were prepared for what came next. Set decreed that he would grant the casket to he who fits most exactly within it. One by one the seventy two conspirators moved to lie within it, though each was too slender or too broad. At last Osiris himself agreed to try the Casket. Set smiled with malice. For the calculating god had designed the Casket to fit the dimensions of Osiris perfectly. Osiris lay within it, finding to his surprise that it was most comfortable to his frame. At once Set gave the command, and the seventy two conspirators pounced. They immediately sealed the Casket with the god-king inside, driving the nails into the wood, binding them with molten lead. The conspirators took the casket onto their shoulders and hurled it into the mighty River Nile, which swept it through the Tanitic Mouth to the Delta. Further and further the Casket of Set was borne, until it at last found peace in the branches of a great tamarisk tree in the land of Phoenicia.

Isis - Queen of the gods
Painting in the Tomb of Seti I, Valley of the Kings
Isis, wracked with grief, set about searching far and wide for the Casket, carrying the infant Horus in her arms. Far and wide across the land of Egypt she sought her brother and husband in vain, and wept bitterly, for until given the proper funeral rites, the soul of Osiris would never be able to truly move on. Loyal Isis asked every man, woman and child she came across, but none had seen the Casket. Then, just as all hope seemed to have faded, she chanced across some children playing by the banks of the Nile. To her elation, it so happened that they had indeed seen a chest such as she described, and pointed her in the direction of the Ocean. Grateful Isis blessed the children, and all children hence with the gift of innocence and wisdom. Leaving Horus in the safe care of the goddess Buto, Isis made for Phoenicia with all haste. Over time, the tamarisk tree had been felled and now stood as a pillar in the House of King Malcander and Queen Astarte of Phoenicia. Through her humility and peculiar aura, Isis soon won the respect and admiration of the Phoenician people. Coming to the Royal Court at Byblos, Isis chanced upon the baby Dictys, who she found to be in terrible ailment. Through her empathy, Isis felt the child's pain, and took pity upon him, making him an immortal. With a shock, Queen Astarte revealed the baby to be her own son, and the King and Queen were immeasurably grateful, offering anything and all they had in praise of Isis. Humble Isis, however, begged just one thing, the pillar of the palace. Unaware of the truth of the pillar's core, King Malcander granted her this gift most willingly. Isis broke apart the mighty trunk to reveal, to her ecstasy, the Casket of Set. Taking the Casket she at once made her return to Egypt, and ever after the tamarisk pillar was revered as the most sacred relic in Byblos.

Wall relief from the Temple of Edfu
Her quest at last complete, Isis set the Casket down in the marshes of the Delta, and collapsed in fatigue and grief. For in her absence, Set had seized power in Egypt for himself, and now ruled the land as Pharoah and god. Though Egypt was strong, the people lived in fear of their new King, who though an authoritative leader, ruled with the unrelenting grip of a tyrant. For an age Isis wept over her beloved Osiris, so missed by his people and his sister, such that the Nile itself began to flood. Every year since, the Nile has burst its banks, both a blessing and a curse. After a time, her eyes grew dry from giving up so many tears, and her thoughts turned to her son Horus, who she had not seen for so long, and she made haste to visit Buto to reclaim him from her care. But ill fortune was still to come. That night, Set rode forth from the Palace astride his chariot, hunting boars in the Delta as was his pleasure, for Set adored the darkness of the night and the wicked things which dwell within it. The light of the moon shone brightly that night. A glint in the bushes caught the dark god's eye. Curious, Set leaped to the ground. Recognising the lavish designs on the Casket at once, his fury was terrible to behold. Drawing upon his immense strength, powered by the sinews of a god, Set rent the Casket asunder and gazed upon the body of his brother. His rage building, Set lifted the body high into the air and tore the corpse into fourteen pieces, hurling each bloodied part to the fourteen corners of Egypt, before storming back to the Palace.

When Isis returned with Horus, and learned what Set had done, she was as relentless as she was sorrowful. Dutifully, she set about searching once again, in a boat woven of papyrus. The creatures of the Nile, through fear or reverence, bowed before her and aided her passage. Out of respect, the crocodiles had not devoured the dismembered parts of Osiris, and retreated before her. Guided by the creatures, Isis soon discovered thirteen of the parts, stopping to hold a funeral for each as she found it. Where each piece was found, a shrine to Osiris was raised in defiance of Set. But an impious pike had fed upon the final part of the fourteen, and Isis was forced to fashion the remainder out of wood from a nearby tree. The body of Osiris at last united, Isis wove her arcane magic, uttering the divine secrets she had learned from Ra, as she embalmed the body. Osiris could at last move on to the Underworld, and Isis hid the body on the island of Elephantine, hoping that Set would never discover it.

Horus - the god of the Sky
Photograph taken by Karen Green
As the young Horus grew, he heard the voice of his father in his ears, a voice which taught him all the arts a warrior must know who must face Set. Over the years, Horus grew into a strong being, mighty in will and in stature. One day Osiris asked his son "What is the noblest thing that a man can do?". "Avenge his father and mother for the evil done to them", Horus eagerly replied. Osiris smiled, seeing that his son was ready to face Set. Word soon reached Set in the Royal Court of a rebellion in the South, who set about raising an army to confront the apparent usurper. The two forces met near the Delta, and the fighting was bitter. When Set saw that the rebellion was lead by the Son of Osiris, he was angered further still. Both armies clashed, but neither side could lay low the other. For many days the war went on, all over Egypt, until the time came for one final battle. Drawn by the rapids to the First Cataract of the Nile, Horus came to the island of Elephantine. In close pursuit, with a deafening roar, the Nile seemed to tear asunder as the dark god burst forth from its depths, in the form of a titanic hippopotamus coloured as though drenched in blood. Coming to rest upon Elephantine, Set sensed the presence of Osiris's corpse, and was incensed greatly. Suddenly spying Horus on the prow of the lead ship, Set turned to crush the Son of Osiris once and for all. Wielding power over the storms, Set commanded a blasting gale bear down upon Horus and his fleet. The howling winds sent forth the Nile in raging torrents and towering waves, and Horus clung on, just. The sky darkened with the violence of the storm, and a ripple of fear passed through Horus's troops. Sensing their fear, Set rose high into the air and lunged at Horus, his tusk ridden jaws stretched wide, eager to engulf the young god in his maw. Desperate, Horus seized a harpoon from the deck and dived forward. Carried onward by his own immense mass, Set was impaled upon the blade, and the point bored through his powerful skull, transfixing his brain. Set, the enemy of Osiris, fell broken to the Nile depths. The storm subsided, the blackness replaced by a deep blue, and the Sun glowed brightly. Osiris, once the great King and now the judge of the dead, was truly at peace. The people of Egypt shouted in triumph, and greeted Horus the Avenger with glorious exultation. Egypt was, at last, at peace.

The story of Isis and Osiris is a vast myth, and the cornerstone of Egyptian Mythology. Preserved in images all over Egypt, and in the writings of later civilisations, it is a tale which has endured the withering passage of time with potency. The story in its completeness can be found in its entirety in the following books, available at a good price from Amazon:

United Kingdom

Plutarch's Moralia:
Moralia: v.5: Vol 5 (Loeb Classical Library)
(Includes an account of the story of Osiris, through the eyes of a Romanised author)

Diodorus Siculus' Library of History:
Library of History: v. 1 (Loeb Classical Library)
(A more light hearted and easy to read account of the tale, told by a Sicilian!)

United States

Plutarch's Moralia:
Plutarch: Moralia, Volume V, Isis and Osiris. The E at Delphi. The Oracles at Delphi No Longer Given in Verse. The Obsolescence of Oracles. (Loeb Classical Library No. 306)
(Includes and account of the story of Osiris, through the eyes of a Romanised author)

Diodorus Siculus' Library of History:
Diodorus Siculus: Library of History, Volume I, Books 1-2.34 (Loeb Classical Library No. 279)
(A more light hearted and easy to read account of the tale, told by a Sicilian!)

Wednesday, 11 January 2012


The coming of Christianity marked the end of an era in all the peoples it reached. The ways of the old gods faded into the ether, their talismans broken asunder by the sign of the cross. Some embraced the new religion selflessly, others laid down their lives to defend the old ways. Nearly one thousand years after the birth of Christ, this struggle reached the northern reaches of Scandinavia, a struggle epitomised in the life of one man - Nornagest.

The Norns weave the baby's fate
Print by Johannes Gehrts
Nearly seven centuries after Christ's crucifixion, a baby was born in the sweeping lands of Scandinavia. Thord, his father, a wealthy man, and joyful at being granted a son, prepared a magnificent banquet for his family and friends. People from far and wide joined in celebration that night, fawning over the baby and congratulating the parents, in between partaking in the lavish revelry the baby's father had generously provided. Such was the vibrancy of the celebrations that not one among them noticed the arrival of three guests. Gracefully moving through the crowds, three youthful women, draped in billowing cloth, came before the cradle. They gazed intently down at the baby, his small face illuminated by the flicker of two candles above his head. The three women were sisters, and illustrious guests. Bound though they were in mortal form, none present saw their true nature. For they were in truth the Norns, the three divine spirits of the Norselands who, wielding power over fate, were mighty deities indeed. The eldest of the Norns, Urðr, the spirit of the past, bent low over the child and declared that he would possess beauty and valour such that all men would one day admire. The second sister, Verðandi, the spirit of the present, stepped forward. The boy would one day grow to be greater than all his forbears as a poet. Just as the final sister moved forward, all gathered shouted with joy. For in the Viking lands, heroism came in many forms, and a man could be revered for his poetry as much as for his prowess in war. Skuld, the third and youngest of the Norns, envied the appraise of her elder sisters, resentful of the shadow they cast over her, the spirit of the future, who decided the future of all men. In the ribaldry and excitement, one of the guests was pushed around, knocking into Skuld, accidentally pushing her to the ground.

A deafening silence gripped the hall, as an atmosphere of fear descended upon the crowd. To their horror, the baby's parents saw Skuld shaking with fury as she got to her feet, her face veiled by her cloak. Pointing one long finger at one of the burning candles above the cradle, she shouted in rage "I assign his future, that he shall not live longer than that candle burns". Without another word, she stormed out of the hall. Taking pity on the distraught parents, Urðr walked over to the baby's mother. Extinguishing the flame, she urged her to hide the candle, lest it should ever burn down to its base, before she too followed her sisters out into the night. Shaken, the baby's parents named their son 'Nornagest', a word which means 'guarded by the Norns'.

The lands of Norway
Photograph taken by 'Olavfin'
Many years later, Nornagest grew up as Urðr and Verðandi had decreed, for his handsomeness was admired far and wide, and his mastery of poetry and the songlike voice with which he shared it, were revered throughout the lands of Scandinavia. Gathered around roaring fires, Nornagest enchanted audiences everywhere, his songs of the old gods and ancient times breathed glorious life into those legends like no other before ever had. His listeners did not just hear the thundering hooves of his stories, they saw the adventures of gods and men, and felt the emotion of the stories. Yet wherever he travelled, Nornagest was always careful to remember the warning from his mother, and kept the candle well-guarded, hidden in his harp. As long as the candle remained whole, Nornagest lived strong and could not die. For three hundred years Nornagest serenaded rich and poor alike, never growing old, neither in form nor voice. Nornagest had not changed. But the times were. New people were arriving in the northern lands. Missionaries from Rome. Slowly, but surely, the old ways were dying. The people, too, were dying. For the word of the Lord reached the ears of the cruel as well as the righteous. One such man was the King of Norway, Olaf Tryggvason. A fanatical tyrant wearing a mask of piety, King Olaf gave his people a choice - convert to the new faith, or die. It was to Olaf's mighty court that Nornagest one day made his way, one thousand years after the sacrifice of Christ.

The Death of Nornagest
Engraved print by Gunnar Vidar Forssell
The poet was warmly received at court, for as ever, his great name preceded his arrival. Nornagest, however, though his song and story touched the hearts of many around him, was beginning to despair and grow weary of the world. A relic of an older age, he felt like he no longer truly belonged, and could not understand this new world of wanton cruelty. His fellow men were, by force or will, turning their backs upon the very deities of whom he sang. King Olaf, surprised at Nornagest's nobility of bearing and strange presence, as though he were at once both young and old, hosted the bard overnight in the hall. Demanding he sing, Olaf listened to the musical voice of Nornagest. Even hard hearted Olaf could not fail to be impressed by the poet's song, but he twitched in anger at the mention of the names of the old gods, and stories of dragons and gold. Olaf questioned Nornagest as to his parentage, as the weary man told the king his story, of how the Norns had bound his fate whilst only a baby. An uneasy feeling gripped the room. Appalled at the mention of these heathen spirits, the king ordered Nornagest to declare if he had converted yet. The onlookers backed away, knowing all too well the king's wrath. "No", the bard defiantly remarked. "Your king does ill", the furious Olaf declared, "that he lets unbaptized men travel out of his realm among the lands". The king at once sent for holy water, and set about baptising Nornagest. The deed was done, and Olaf demanded of Nornagest:

                                            " How long do you wish to live?...
                                               Just a short time, if God wills it "
                                                         - KING OLAF AND NORNAGEST

Just then, the king remembered the old tale of the candle. "Where is that candle of yours?" Olaf ordered. Slowly, sensing what was coming, Nornagest withdrew the old candle from his harp. "You will light it", Olaf declared, "for the old gods are a falsehood and a lie". The poor man had no choice. Setting a flame in the wick, Nornagest watched as the wax began to soften in the heat. The onlooking crowd, having witnessed the king's reasoning many times before, turned away, having grown tired of watching another pagan being shown that his beliefs were wrong. Olaf turned to them to proudly claim that he had saved another soul.

But something was wrong. The first bead of wax slipped silently down the side of the candle, and a cold chill came over Nornagest. The candle burned brightly, and quickly. Soon another drop of wax fell. Some in the crowd turned, for Nornagest's singing had suddenly grown faint and weak. The candle glowed, burning lower and lower, and the poet shivered. Soon the entire hall except the king was watching, their eyes darting from Nornagest to the candle, and back again. A sudden draught, and the flame flickered threateningly. The poet shuddered violently. A soft hiss sounded throughout the hall, as the candle at last, after three hundred years, burnt out. A small wisp of smoke rose from where the last stretch of wick had stood. King Olaf, still facing the stunned crowd, jubilantly trumpeted the lies of Nornagest, and the falsehood that was his story. But no one was looking at the king. All eyes were on the great poet, his body now lying on the floor, an expression of serenity in his unmoving face. He was dead...

United Kingdom

Norna-Gest's þáttr:
Stories and Ballads of the Far Past: Translated from the Norse (Icelandic and Faroese) with Introductions and Notes
(A collection of Norse sagas, including Nornagest, translated from Icelandic and Faroese)

United States

Norna-Gest's þáttr:
Stories and Ballads of the Far Past: Translated from the Norse (Icelandic and Faroese) with Introductions and Notes
(A collection of Norse sagas, including Nornagest, translated from Icelandic and Faroese)