"Elveskud" is the Danish, and most widely used, name for one of the most popular ballads in Scandinavia (The Types of the Scandinavian Medieval Ballad A 63 'Elveskud — Elf maid causes man's sickness and death'; Danmarks gamle Folkeviser 47; Sveriges Medeltida Ballader 29).
Origins and distribution
The origins of the ballad are agreed to be considerably earlier than the earliest manuscripts, in the Middle Ages, but there is little consensus beyond this. Many scholars suggest a Breton or French origin but the routes by which it came to and was disseminated within Northern Europe are unknown.
The ballad has close parallels across Europe (the closest English-language parallel being Clerk Colvill). The earliest surviving manuscript is Karen Brahes Folio, a Danish manuscript from the 1570s; the earliest surviving Swedish version is from the 1670s. At least seventy Scandinavian variants are known; over forty come from Denmark, and seventeen from Sweden.
It is also widely known as:
- "Her Olof och Älvorna" ("Sir Olof and the Elves", Swedish).
- "Elf-Qvinnan och Herr Olof" ("The Elf-Woman and Sir Olof", Swedish).
- "Kvæði af Ólafi liljurós" ("Song of Ólafur lily-rose", Icelandic).
- "Olaf liljekrans" ("Olaf lily-crown", Norwegian).
- "Ólavur riddarrós og álvarmoy" ("Ólavur knight-rose and the elf-maiden", Faroese).
In the summary of The Types of the Scandinavian Medieval Ballad,
- Olav rides out at dawn and comes upon elves dancing in the woods. One of the elf maids invites him to dance with her, but he refuses and tells her that he is to be married the next day. She puts a fatal sickness on him. When he comes home he is dying. He expresses his last wishes.
Not all versions precisely fit this summary. For example, in many Danish versions, Olav does dance with the elves, sometimes to death; in some versions in Denmark, Norway and Sweden Olav's death is at first concealed from his bride, but eventually she finds out; in the Icelandic versions, the bride is not mentioned at all, and Olav's refusal to dance arises from his Christian faith.
Vésteinn Ólason's summary of the Icelandic variants of the ballad, generally known as "Kvæði af Ólafi liljurós", is
- Ólafur rides along a rocky hillside, meets four elf-maidens who welcome him and invite him to drink (or live) with them. He refuses to live with the elves and would rather believe in God (Christ). One of the elf-maidens aks him to wait, and goes to fetch a sword which she hides under her clothing as she asks him for a kiss. When Ólafur bends down to kiss her, she thrusts the sword under his shoulderblade to his heart. Ólafur spurs his horse and rides home to his mother; she asks why he is so pale; (he hedges at first); tells the truth; asks his mother to make his bed and his sister to dress the wounds. Thereupon he dies (and is buried along with his mother and sister(?)).
Mangen rider rank og rød,
many ride tall and red,
These and other available translations by Borrow, Prior, etc., are listed in Syndergaard's survey:
- "Elfin Shaft", Smith-Dampier, E.M. (1920). Danish Ballads. University press. pp. 116–119.
- "Sir Oluf and the Elf-king's daughter", Jamieson, Robert (1806). Popular ballads and songs (SNIPPET). Edinburgh: Archibald Constable & Co. p. 223.
- "Sir Olof in Elve-Dance" and "The Elf-Woman and Sir Olof" (two versions), Keightley, Thomas (1850) . The Fairy Mythology 1. H. G. Bohn. pp. 82–86.).
- "Sir Olof and the Elves", Cumpstey, Ian (2013). Lord Peter and Little Kerstin. Skadi Press.
References in popular culture
The ballad has inspired a very large number of reworkings in popular culture.
Most famously, a translation of a Danish variant (DFG 47B, from Peter Syv's 1695 edition) into German by Johann Gottfried Herder as "Erlkönigs tochter" inspired Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's poem "Der Erlkönig", which developed the concept of the Erlking.
- Danmarks gamle Folkeviser IV: 874; R. C. Alexander Prior, Ancient Danish Ballads Translated from the Originals, 2 vols (London: Williams and Norgate, 1860), I, xix, https://archive.org/details/ancientdanishba01priogoog, https://archive.org/details/ancientdanishba00unkngoog; Bengt R. Jonsson, 'Sir Olav and the Elves: The Position of the Scandinavian Version', Arv: Nordic Yearbook of Folklore, 48 (1992), 65-90.
- Alfhild Forslin, Balladen om riddar Olof och älvorna: En traditionsundersökning. With a summary in English, Svenskt visarkiv. Meddelanden, 19 (Stockholm: Meddelanden från Svenskt visarkiv, 1963), ISSN 0081-9832.
- Jonsson, Bengt R. (1981). Svenska medeltidsballader.
- (Jonsson, Bengt R. (1981). Svenska medeltidsballader.)
- Geijer, Erik Gustav; Afzelius, Arvid August (1816). Svenska folk-visor 3. Häggströ. p. 162.
- Svend Gruntvig and Jón Sigurðsson (eds), Íslenzk fornkvæði, Nordiske Oldskrifter, 19, 2 vols (Copenhagen: Det Nordiske Literatur-Samfund, 1854-58), I, 1-11, http://www.kb.dk/export/sites/kb_dk/da/nb/komponentgalleri/mta/pdf-galleri/sigurdsson/jon-10.pdf; cf. Danish Royal Library online; Jón Helgason (ed.), Íslenzk fornkvæði/Islandske folkeviser, Editiones Arnamagnæanæ, series B, 10-17, 8 vols (Copenhagen: Munksgaard, 1962-81), I 24 (A), IV 116 (B, one stanza), IV 257 (C), V 9 (D), V 69 (E), V 145 (F), VI 1 (G), VI 18 (H), VI 104 (I), VI 116 (J), VI 124 (K), VI 137 (L), VI 150 (M), VI 156 (N, one stanza), VII 3 (O), VII 20 (P), VII 29 (Q), VII 46 (R), VII 98 (S, one stanza, a parody), VII 107 (T, one line), VII 117 (U), VII 141 (V), VII 146 (W), VII 153 (X), VII 155 (Y), VII 172 (Z).
- CCF #154; Danmarks gamle Folkeviser Vol.4, pp.849-52. Summarized in Child 1884, pp. 374–5
- The Types of the Scandinavian Medieval Ballad: A Descriptive Catalogue, ed. by Bengt R. Jonsson, Svale Solheim and Eva Danielson, Skrifter utgivna av svenskt visarkiv, 5 (Stockholm: Svenskt visarkiv, 1978), p. 42.
- Vésteinn Ólason, The Traditional Ballads of Iceland: Historical Studies, Rit, 22 (Reykjavík: Stofnun Árna Magnússonar, 1982), p. 112.
- Peder Syv (ed.), Et Hundrede udvalde Danske Viser ... forøgede med det andet Hundrede Viser (Copenhagen, 1695), no. 87.
- Syndergaard 1995, pp. 89–91.