“D’you remember the book of German legends downstairs Tales from the Nibelungen Lied? There was a sword in the story, the sword Balmung, stolen from the treasure hoard. It was the sword of conquest and, wherever it went, it brought woe and destruction. That’s the very sword Germany’s using today. She’s fighting with the sword Balmung. The United Nations are using another sword, Chrysaor, the golden sword of Justice.
“There’s a rambling old Elizabethan poem about a knight who carried that sword long ago. He fought for justice and cared only to right the wrong. He wasn’t always successful. Made a ghastly muddle of his various quests and collected a host of enemies who loathed him because he tried to do justly. We’re using the sword Chrysaor, like that knight. We’re fighting for freedom and justice and the rights of the weak against the strong…and whatever we’ve done wrong in the past, there’s no doubt that today we are fighting with the sword Chrysaor.”
I’m reading Enemy Brothers by Constance Savery to my 9 year old. I’ve read it aloud to all my children and now it’s Moozle’s turn. (I wrote a bit about the book here) Up until recently I was unable to trace the where the swords appeared in the tales and then I discovered that the sword Balmung was called Nothung in Wagner’s version of The Nibelungenlied and it was Siegfried’s mighty sword. The Age of Fable by Thomas Bullfinch has a short summary of the story here.
The Elizabethan poem referred to in the quote turned out to be The Faerie Queen. Some of my children have read Fierce Wars & Faithful Loves scheduled in Ambleside Online Year 8 which is Book 1 of Edmund Spencer’s epic poem but there was nothing in there about Chrysaor. The other day I learned that the story is in Book 5 (there are six of them in this poem).The quote below is from a retelling of the Faerie Queen by Mary Macleod (1916) which is an easier introduction to the poem:
Even from his cradle Artegall had been brought up to justice; for one day when he was a little child playing with his companions, he had been found by a great and wonderful lady called Astræa, who, while she dwelt here among earthly men, instructed them in the rules of justice…
She taught him, to weigh equally both right and wrong, and where severity was needed to measure it out according to the line of conscience…
Astræa gave Artegall a wonderful sword, called “Chrysaor,” which excelled all other swords. It was made of most perfect metal, tempered with adamant, all garnished with gold upon the blade, whereby it took its name.
In course of time Astræa left this world…But she left behind her on earth her servant, an Iron Man, who always attended on her to execute her Judgments, and she bade him go with Artegall and do whatever he was told. The man’s name was Talus; he was made of iron mould, immovable, irresistible, unchanging; he held in his hand an iron flail, with which he threshed out falsehood and unfolded the truth.
The painting below by John Hamilton Mortimer (1778) is titled Sir Arthegal, the Knight of Justice, with Talus, the Iron Man and was inspired by The Faerie Queen. Sir Arthegal is depicted holding the sword Chrysaor.