Medieval Icelandic Literature

The incredible tale of Toki Tokasson

13th century, Old Norse.

Many in the audience would have known how long ago Hrolf Kraki lived!

A Scandinavian by the name of Toki Tokasson has been fated to live for double the normal span of a human life in this short Icelandic saga – in the same way that Arrow-Odd is fated to live for three hundred years in another saga set in pagan Scandinavia. But two things in this tale of Toki Tokasson hint at an even longer and more remarkable existence than this.

Toki has been fated to spend never more than twelve months in any single place. This recalls Welsh exchanges of identity that take place for one year only, the length of a full cycle of the seasons. Toki's long and changing life recalls also, the Irish legend of Tuan mac Carell.

Toki recounts how he spent a year in the hall of Hrolf Kraki. Many in the medieval audience listening to this tale must have known how long ago Hrolf Kraki lived. The present in this tale, at which Toki is nearing the end of his life, is the court of King Olaf the Saint, 1015 - 1030 AD. King Hrolf Kraki himself, divorced from the mythological goings-on in his own saga and a mention of him in the seventh century Old English poem Beowulf, was an early-sixth century king. So nearly five hundred years separate him from the court of King Olaf the Saint.

Five hundred years!

The knowledgeable among a medieval Scandinavian audience must have known this. They were not stupid. Relating this tale to a thirteenth century audience would have been like telling a story now of a man living in Georgian England who could remember being an outlaw with Robin Hood in Sherwood Forest.

Story fragment recounted from: the Saga of Toki Tokasson, translated from medieval Icelandic into modern English by Peter Tunstall.

references

Sagas of Icelanders - Wikipedia

Hrolf Kraki - Wikipedia

The Saga of Toki Tokasson – translated into modern English by Peter Tunstall, 2005: New Northvegr Center

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