Heroic Legend and Onomastics: Hálfs saga, the Hildebrandslied and the Listerby Stones
Several years ago, Gregory Nagy, referring to epic heroes from Greek, Indian, Hittite and othertraditions, commented, “These constructs – let us call them simply ‘characters’ for the moment- are in some ways radically dissimilar from each other. Even within a single tradition likeHomeric poetry, heroes like Achilles and Odysseus seem worlds apart. In other ways, however,‘epic heroes’ are strikingly similar to each other, sharing a number of central features. Thequestion is, how to explain these similarities?”. In answering this question, Nagy demonstrateshow the similarity of epic heroes to each other can be accounted for by integrating threecomparative methods, which he describes as (1) typological, (2) genealogical, and (3) historical.Nagy explores this idea in several specific cases (e.g., Herakles, Achilles), and underscores inhis discussion the cult hero as epic hero (and the reverse), a figure whose career is marked by unseasonality, extremism, and antagonism toward the god to whom he bears the closestresemblance.One senses immediately that Nagy’s observations have important implications not only forHellenists but also for scholars engaged with other traditions. Inspired by his insights, thefollowing comments look to extend Nagy’s findings by applying his ideas and methodologicalinnovations to a medieval northern Europe heroic complex, especially as it is articulated in thestory of Hálfr Hjǫrleifsson, a Nordic champion known to us mainly as the eponymous hero of the legendary saga called Hálfs saga ok Hálfsrekka ‘the saga of Hálfr and Hálfr’s warriors’.