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Atlakviða

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Title: Atlakviða  
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Subject: Snake pit, List of Tolkien's alliterative verse, Ullr, Nibelung, Codex Regius
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Atlakviða

The Hunninge Image Stone on Gotland, Sweden, with imagery that probably refers to Atlakviða, or another story or poem on the same events. On the top of the stone, there is a man carrying a ring, who may be Sigurd or the messenger Knéfrøðr. On the bottom left, the scene depicts a woman watching the snake pit where Gunnar is lying.

Atlakviða (The Lay of Atli) is one of the heroic poems of the Poetic Edda. One of the main characters is Atli who originates from Attila the Hun. It is one of the most archaic Eddic poems. It is preserved in the Codex Regius and the same story is related in the Völsunga saga. In the manuscript the poem is identified as Greenlandic but most scholars believe that this results from a confusion with Atlamál. The metre of the poem alternates irregularly between málaháttr and fornyrðislag. This may be an indication that two or more original poems have been merged or that the short and long lines were not felt as constituting two different metres at the time the poem was composed.

Synopsis

Atli, king of the Huns, sends a messenger to Gunnarr, king of the Burgundians, and his younger brother Högni. The messenger says that Atli is inviting the brothers to his court and offering them great riches. The brothers are skeptical of the offer since they already have an exceedingly great treasure of gold. Confirming their suspicions is a ring sent by their sister Guðrún, Atli's wife, with a wolf's hair wrapped onto it. Atli obviously plans treachery but Gunnarr still decides to take up the offer, vowing that if he doesn't return no-one will benefit from his riches.

As Gunnarr and Högni arrive at Atli's court they meet Guðrún who tells them that they should not have come. Gunnarr is seized by Atli's men while Högni fights and kills eight men before he is subdued. The Huns ask Gunnarr if he wants to ransom his life by telling them where he has hidden his gold. He tells them that he wants to see Högni's heart. They first cut out the heart of a cowardly man named Hjalli and bring it to Gunnarr but he sees from the cowardly trembling of the heart who its owner was. Then they cut out Högni's heart and he dies laughing. Gunnarr recognizes the heart of his brave brother but tells the Huns that now that he alone knows the location of the gold he can be certain that it will never be disclosed. The Huns then throw him into a snake pit where he dies playing a harp.

Guðrún prepares a banquet for Atli and his court. When the feast is well underway she tells Attila that he is actually eating the flesh of their two sons. Later she kills Attila in bed, frees his dogs and servants and burns his hall.

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