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Jonakr's sons

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Title: Jonakr's sons  
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Subject: Gudrun, Dís, Book of Veles, Nibelung, Sarus, Hamðismál, Guðrúnarhvöt
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Jonakr's sons

Hamdir, Sörli and Erp (ice. Erpr) were three brothers in Norse mythology, who have a historic basis in the history of the Goths.


According to the Edda and the Völsunga saga, Hamdir and Sörli were the sons of Gjuki's daughter Gudrun and king Jonakr. Erp was the son of Jonakr from an earlier marriage. Svanhild, the daughter of Sigurd and Gudrun was also raised by Jonakr.

King Jörmunrek (Ermanaric) proposed to Svanhild through his son Randver, but the treacherous Bicke said that Randver tried to win Svanhild's love. Consequently, Jörmunrek sentenced Randver to death by hanging and had Svanhild trampled to death by horses. Gudrun then agitated her sons Hamdir and Sörli to avenge their half-sister. When Sörli and Hamdir met Erp en route, they didn't understand his riddles and, thinking him arrogant, killed him.

During the night, they arrived and they cut off Jörmunrek's hands and feet. This made Jörmunrek wake up and he cried for his housecarls. Hamdir said that if Erp had been alive he would have cut off the head. The housecarls could not kill the two brothers with sharp weapons, but an old one-eyed man (Odin) advised them to kill them with stones.

This is why scaldic poetry used the "sorrow of Jonakr's sons" as a kenning for stones.

In Ynglingatal (9th century), Þjóðólfr of Hvinir mentions their death in a comparison with the death of the Swedish king Anund:

Varð Önundr
Jónakrs bura
harmi heptr
und Himinfjöllum,
ok ofvæg
Eistra dólgi
heipt hrísungs
at hendi kom;
ok sá frömuðr
foldar beinum
Högna hrörs
um horfinn var.[1]
We all have heard how Jonkur's sons,
Whom weapons could not touch, with stones
Were stoned to death in open day,
King Onund died in the same way.
Or else perhaps the wood-grown land,
Which long had felt his conquering hand,
Uprose at length in deadly strife,
And pressed out Onund's hated life.[2]

Sources and historic basis

The legend of Jörmunrek appears in the Poetic Edda as Hamðismál and Guðrúnarhvöt. It also appears in Bragi Boddason's Ragnarsdrápa, in the Völsunga saga and in Gesta Danorum. Jordanes wrote in 551 that the Gothic king Ermanaric was upset with the attack of a subordinate king and had his wife Sunilda (i.e. Svanhild) torn to pieces by horses, and as revenge Ermanaric was pierced with spears by her brothers Ammius (Hamdir) and Sarus (Sörli) and died from the wounds. The Annals of Quedlinburg (end of the 10th century) relates that the brothers Hemidus (Hamdir), Serila (Sörli) and Adaccar (Erp/Odoacer) had cut off the hands of Ermanarik.

In popular culture

The legend forms the background behind Poul Anderson's short story "The Sorrow of Odin the Goth."

Secondary source

  • An article on Hamder in Nordisk familjebok
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