As a result of their long histories of transmission and adaptation, many Old Norse sagas exist in multiple literary manifestations, created at different periods of time, in different styles and genres, and in different languages. The story of Hrómundur Gripsson (or Greipsson) is no different, as it survives in multiple adaptations that were created in the time span from the Middle Ages until today.
Materials related to the lost medieval Hrómundar saga are today performed and reinterpreted by contemporary artists. These reinterpretations include an adaptation of the Danish ballad of Hrómundur into Viking Metal and the performance of the early modern Icelandic poem about Hrómundur in 2011 in Reykjavík.
While many modern adaptations of the material derived from the legendary sagas are rarely based on first-hand accounts, there is one notable exception in the history of adaptation of Hrómundar saga: a contemporary humorous retelling of the story, published in 2017 by Grayson Del Faro.
Performance of Kvæði af Hrómundi Greipssyni
Kvæði af Hrómundi Greipssyni is an early modern Icelandic poem related to the story of Hrómundur, with its earliest attestation from the seventeenth century. In 2011 the kvæði was performed at the annual meeting of the Kvæðamannafélagið Iðunn ('Poets’ Society Iðunn'), when Icelandic singer Rósa Jóhannesdóttir sung the kvæði to the melody written by Arnþór Helgason.
Traditional folk songs and poems are an important part of Icelandic national heritage even today. Kvæðamannafélagið Iðunn, established in 1929, has as its main objective to cultivate and disseminate knowledge of this heritage (read more about the society in Icelandic here). The name of the society itself evokes associations with Old Norse mythology: Iðunn is a goddess of youth and wife of Bragi, god of poetry. Her name was also used to name one of the Venusian mountains, Idunn Mons (read more about the use of Old Norse names in space in the Writing Futures exhibition).
Performance of the Viking Metal adaptation
The most recent performance of the material related to Hrómundar saga took place in February 2020, when the Faroese Viking Metal band Týr performed "Ramund hin unge" together with the Symphony Orchestra of the Faroe Islands in Tórshavn, the capital of the Faroe Islands. "Ramund hin unge" is a metal adaptation of the traditional Danish ballad of Hrómundur.
The lyrics of the song are based on the abbreviated version of the early modern Danish ballad "Ramund". The song “Ramund hin unge” first appeared on Týr's second full-length album entitled Eric the Red from 2003. Alongside “Ramund hin unge” the album included two other adaptations of Faroese traditional ballads: “Ólavur Riddararós” and “Regin Smiður.” While “Regin Smiður” draws on the traditional Old Norse motifs known from, for instance, Völsunga saga, “Ólavur Riddararós” represents the Elveskud-type ballad in which an elf maid causes a man's sickness and death.
By creating "Ramund hin unge" Týr’s repertoire became part of the long, almost 1000-year-old transmission and adaptation history of materials related to Hrómundur, the Norwegian hero and great-grandfather of the first settlers of Iceland.
It is not only the performing arts that have taken inspiration from Hrómundar saga. Grayson Del Faro, an Iceland-based American writer, wrote a humorous synopsis of Hrómundar saga published in 2017 by the Reykjavik Grapevine, an English language Icelandic magazine based in the capital of Iceland. The first four chapters of the saga are summarised as follows:
Some pretty little rich boy named Hrómundur is out raiding with King Ólafur of Denmark. He gets word of a nearby tomb, dank with riches and haunted by the spirit of an evil king. Aristocrat as he is, he’s like, “Ooooooh even mooooore money!” So he finds it and breaks in (Read the whole retelling on The Reykjavik Grapevine webpage)
The text is accompanied by the illustration by Inga María Brynjarsdóttir, an Icelandic visual artist from Reykjavik. The drawing depicts Hrómundur tending to his wounds after killing Helgi. The fallen swan in the front represents Kára, a shape-shifter and Helgi's mistress, whom Helgi unintentionally killed during his fight with Hrómundur.
Various other sagas, including Brennu-Njáls saga (‘The saga of Burnt Njáll’) and Laxdæla saga (‘The Saga of the men of Laxárdal’) - much beloved by Icelanders - gained new life by being retold in a similarly coarse comedic form by Grayson Del Faro in his The Sagas and shit: Icelandic literature crudely abridged.
There are countless examples of various Old Norse stories resonating in contemporary culture and many of us remain oblivious to some of them. Did you know that there is an entire world in our solar system where names are derived from Old Norse myths? You can learn more about it in the Writing Futures Exhibition. In our Paired Objects exhibition you can explore selected aspects of broadly conceived reception across the collections from the National Museum of Iceland and the Museum of National History at Frederiksborg Castle.