History Skirnegut1

Published on January 14th, 2013


Norwegian Fairy Tale Sheds Light on Theodoric, King of the Goths

By Arne Wang Espelund

Theodoric the Great (454–526) was king of Ostrogoths, a Germanic tribe that invaded the Balkans and Italy. You might be familiar with the mausoleum of Theodoric the Great in Ravenna, Italy, which is found on the World Heritage List.

Theodoric is often portrayed as being the same person as Dietrich von Bern, famous for killing the dragon that again had killed King Hernit of Bergara. Dietrich then married the widow and became king. He once received a sword made by Wayland the Smith, which was so sharp that it could split a piece of wool floating in the river.



A fairy tale from Hallingdal, Norway, written down in the year 1868 

“A goblin and a Christian boy were going to mow a piece of grassland together.  However, the goblin was so clever that the grass flew like a whirlwind around him.  The boy became afraid and would go home.  On his way he came to a pit with a dwarf who held a set of scythes in his one hand and a wisp of tow in the other.  The dwarf gave the boy a scythe, which was so sharp that it split the wisp when floating on water.  The dwarf told the boy that he should not sharpen the scythe, nor should he worry if the scythe struck a stone. When the boy tested the scythe, it cut the stone over the fireplace in two. Of course the boy won when they started competing.”  (Aut trans,).

Ein haugmann og ein ”skirnegut”  skulle slå ein stølsvoll sammen, men haugmannen var slik ein ovkar til å slå, at graset fløy som en hvirvelvind omkring han.  Gutten ble da så redd at han strøk heimover.  På veien kom han til ei grop, og der sto det en ”tvergagut” med et ljåknippe i den ene handa og ein strydott i den andre.  Dvergen ga ham så en ljå som var så skarp at den skar en strydott i to når den fløt på vannet. Men dvergen sa at gutten ikke måtte kvesse eller slipe ljåen, heller ikke skulle han bry seg om det når den slo i stokk eller stein. Da gutten prøvde ljåen, kløvde den peissteinen i stølsstua i to stykker.  Det sier seg sjøl at gutten vant over haugmannen, da de skulle kappslå. 

  • J.E. Nielsen:  Søgnir frå Hallingdal.  Christiania 1868.

Medieval scythe, found in Torpa, Buskerud (Norway). Drawing by Arne W. Espelund. The scythe has a triangular cross section, expressing that it was made by peening – tynsling.


This is a clear parallel to the story in Dietrich’s saga.  The sword has been exchanged with a set of scythes, and there is no longer a reference to a king.  That the essence is preserved and  told 600 years after it was written down in Iceland, is of course remarkable.  The set of myths bearing names such as Sigurd Dragon Slayer and Dietrich von Bern (Theodorik di Verona) goes back to around year 400 and formed also the basis of Wagner’s Nibelungenring.


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