Wisinnus and Anafial by Saxo Grammaticus

From: Tomas Baranauskas
Message: 7516
Date: 2001-06-09

Saxo Grammaticus in "Gesta danorum" (6.5.14) wrote:

"Eximiae opinionis gladiator, nomine Wisinnus, apud Rusciam rupem, quae
Anafial dicitur, sede et mansione complexus vicinas longinquasque provincias
omni inuriae genere vexavit. Hic omnem telorum aciem ad hebetudinis habitum
solo conspectu redigere solebat. Quamobrem tantam viribus eius audaciam
peperit exclusus vulnerum metus, ut etiam illustrium virorum coniuges,
maritis spectantibus, raptas ad stuprum pertraheret. Cuius sceleris
Starcatherus rumore excitus tollendi auctoris gratia Rusciam petit. Qui
quoniam nihil expugnatu difficile habuit, petitum ex provocatione Wisinnum
etiam artis suae beneficio spoliatum oppressit. Ferrum quippe, ne
praestigiatori conspicuum foret, tenui admodum pelle contexit; neque Wisinno
aut praestigii virtus aut virium magnitudo, quo minus Starcathero cederet,
auxilio fuit."

"A champion of great repute, named Wisin, settled upon a rock in Russia
named Ana-fial, and harried both neighbouring and distant provinces with all
kinds of outrage. This man used to blunt the edge of every weapon by merely
looking at it. He was made so bold in consequence, by having lost all fear
of wounds, that he used to carry off the wives of distinguished men and drag
them to outrage before the eyes of their husbands. Starkad was roused by the
tale of this villainy, and went to Russia to destroy the criminal; thinking
nothing too hard to overcome, he challenged Wisin, attacked him, made even
his tricks useless to him, and slew him. For Starkad covered his blade with
a very fine skin, that it might not met the eye of the sorcerer; and neither
the power of his sleights nor his great strength were any help to Wisin, for
he had to yield to Starkad. " (translation by Oliver Elton)

"A notoriuos desperado in Russia called Visinn had built his hideout on a
cliff known as Anafial, from which he inflicted all kinds of outrage on
regions far and near. He could blunt the edges of weapons merely by gazing
on them. With no fear of being wounded he combined his strength with so much
insolence that he would even seize the wives of eminent men and drag them to
be raped before their husbands' eyes. Roused by reports of this wickedness
Starkather journeyed to Russia to exterminate the villain. Since there was
nothing which Starkather thought it difficult to subdue, he challenged
Visinn to single combat, counteracted the help of his magic and dispatched
him. To prevent his sword being visible to the magician he wrapped it in a
very fine skin, so that neither the power of Visinn's sorcery nor his great
strength could stop him yielding to Starkather." (translation by Peter

A historian of the 19th century, Teodor Narbutt, presented in the volume 1
("Lithuanian mythology") of his "Ancient history of the Lithuanian nation"
(in Polish, 1835) this story as a myth of the ancient Lithuanians. According
to him "Anafielas" was a hill, to which the souls had to climb in order to
enter the heaven. Under the hill lived a dragon "Wizunas", who would punish
those, who would fall from this hill.

The story became popular, the name "Anafielas" (which doesn't sound
Lithuanian) was Lithuanised and became "Anapilis" (anas - "that", pilis -
"castle"). The expression "to go to Anapilis" (meaning "to die") became
popular in the Lithuanian language.

The real origin of the story is however not clear to me. I know one
interpretation, which links Wisinnus with the ethnonym Vies' - Finno-Ugric
tribe in Russia. And I haven't find anything explaining the meaning of
Anafial. Can anybody clarify this story and these names?

Tomas Baranauskas
Medieval Lithuania --
Wooden Castle --
Lietuvos istorijos forumas --