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TEUTONIC MYTH AND LEGEND

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Author Topic: TEUTONIC MYTH AND LEGEND  (Read 514 times)
Teutonic Knight
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« Reply #15 on: November 09, 2009, 01:01:31 am »

The Prose Edda is a synopsis of Northern Mythology, with poetic quotations from lost poems and references to an earlier work. It was partly written and partly compiled by the great Icelandic scholar, Snorri Sturlason. He was born some time between 1179 and 1181, and was the son of a chief. Adopted by the learned Jon Loptsson, grandson of Saemund the Wise, he passed his early years at Oddi, where his literary tendencies were fostered and cultivated. He married a wealthy heiress, and settled in 1206 at Reykjaholt, where he lived in comparative luxury. Nominally a Christian, he was in reality an educated Pagan. He was a poet and historian, a lawyer and a politician; he combined great ambition with want of courage, and avarice with "aversion from effort"; he was also of loose morals. In 1215 he became President of Iceland, and afterwards resided for a time in Norway, where he was a Court poet. In 1222 he was again President of his native island. He held office for about ten years, and exercised his influence at every opportunity to enrich himself. He obtained a divorce from his wife, after living with her for twenty-five years, and married an heiress. It is not surprising, therefore, to find him involved in serious quarrels with his kinsmen. There were also political complications which had a tragic sequel. He was murdered by his son-in-law in 1241, at the instigation of the King of Norway.
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Teutonic Knight
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« Reply #16 on: November 09, 2009, 01:02:15 am »

In addition to the Prose Edda, Snorri's works included Heimskringla, or Sagas of Norse Kings, which opens with Ynglinga Saga, and the History of Olaf.

The discovery of Snorri's Edda in the seventeenth century caused a search to be made for the older collection to which it referred. Happily the quest was fruitful, and the lost manuscript came into the hands

p. xix

of an Icelandic bishop, who called it for the first time the "Edda of Saemund".
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Teutonic Knight
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« Reply #17 on: November 09, 2009, 01:02:27 am »

Saemund was a scion of the royal house of Norway, who was born in 1056 and died in 1133. He studied in France and Germany, and was afterwards parish priest of Oddi in Iceland. According to tradition, he was the author of a prose work on mythology which unfortunately perished. It is probable, however, that Snorri was acquainted with the lost manuscript while resident at Oddi, and he may have used it when compiling the Prose Edda. At any rate, scholars are now agreed that Saemund was neither the author nor compiler of the particular Edda which was long associated with his name.

The Elder Edda is a collection of mythical and heroic poems--lays of the gods and lays of the Volsung and other heroes--by various unknown authors. They are valuable treasures of antiquity, for they throw great light on northern beliefs and manners and customs. Some survive in fragments; others are fairly complete, and are introduced by brief prose summaries. A portion of them were evidently of pre-Christian origin.
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« Reply #18 on: November 09, 2009, 01:03:03 am »

As literary productions they are of unequal merit. They are all ear-poems, composed to be sung or recited, and therefore melodious, musically vowelled, and clear, as compared with the eye-poems of many modern authors, which have more harmony than melody, and are composed for the reader. A particular group of these Eddic poems are more dramatic and imaginative than the others, and certain critics are inclined to hold that their high development was caused by Celtic influence. Iceland was peopled not only from Norway, but also from the Hebrides, where the Vikings mingled with the people and married the island maidens. Many

p. xx
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« Reply #19 on: November 09, 2009, 01:04:07 am »

settlers were also of mixed Irish descent. Nor was the old English element absent, as certain borrowed words show clearly. But, when these facts are given adequate consideration, it must be borne in mind that literature, and especially poetry, owes usually more to the individual than to the race. If we knew as little of Keats as we do of the author of Beowulf, it might be held that he was a son of Greek parents who settled in England.
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Teutonic Knight
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« Reply #20 on: November 09, 2009, 01:04:43 am »

The survival of these Pagan Eddic poems in Christian times is suggestive of the slow extinction of old beliefs. Christianity was adopted in Iceland in 1000, a century after it had spread throughout Norway, and two hundred years before the people of Sweden can be said to have abandoned their ancient religion. It must not be inferred, however, that the Icelanders were exemplary Christians in Saemund's day or even in Snorri's. The bulk of them were, no doubt, half-Pagan, like those Ross-shire Highlanders in the vicinity of Loch Maree, who, as late as the seventeenth century, offered up sacrifices of bulls and performed other heathenish rites, to the horror of the Presbytery of Dingwall. The Icelanders must have clung, long after the introduction of Christianity, to the Pagan beliefs and practices of the great sea kings. They continued, we know, to chant the lays and recite the old traditional tales about the gods and ocean heroes of the mother country. The collectors may, indeed, have had more than a literary appreciation of oral song and haunting tradition.
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« Reply #21 on: November 09, 2009, 01:05:23 am »

When Snorri was a boy, a Danish priest named Saxo was engaged writing a history of his native land. The first nine books are like the Histories of the Kings of Britain by Geoffrey of Monmouth, for they are founded on the traditional poems and tales of the time. Saxo Grammaticus ("the Lettered") writes of Odin and the

p. xxi

other gods as if they were men, and when he refers to them as "gods" he takes occasion to scorn the hollowness of the claim, rarely failing to comment on the absurdity of the beliefs entertained by ignorant people. His history is a quarry of folklore and romance. To it we owe our Shakespeare's Hamlet, for the story which is retold in these pages from the Danish priest's immortal work, was the original source of our great poet's inspiration.
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« Reply #22 on: November 09, 2009, 01:05:39 am »

This "history" is indispensable to students of Scandinavian religion. Rydberg, the poet and folklorist of Sweden, is the author of a monumental work on Teutonic Mythology, 1 in which he made exhaustive and critical examination of the tales embedded in Saxo's works, showing their relation to the Eddas and Sagas and existing oral poems of the north, and making masterly endeavour by their aid to reconstruct the great mythological drama of the northern peoples. He has not escaped criticism, but his reputation has withstood much of it. On every point he has raised he cannot be regarded as conclusive, but no scholar before or since has shown greater aptitude for restoring form from mythological chaos. His intimate knowledge of his native lore gave him special equipment for his work. Not infrequently scholars, by a process of detached reasoning, miss the mark when dealing with folklore, because their early years, unlike Rydberg's, were not passed in its strange atmosphere. The theorist is never as reliable as he who was aforetime a faithful believer in giants and elves, spirit voices and awesome omens.

"No one," wrote Frederick York Powell, 2 "has

p. xxii
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« Reply #23 on: November 09, 2009, 01:06:07 am »

commented upon Saxo's mythology with such brilliancy, such minute consideration, and such success as the Swedish scholar, Victor Rydberg. . . . Sometimes he stumbles badly, but he has placed the whole subject on a fresh footing, and much that is to follow will be drawn from his Teutonic Mythology."

To Rydberg the writer owns his indebtedness in the present work, a portion of which is constructed according to his conclusions.

Edda is a word of uncertain origin. In a twelfth-century poem it is used to mean "great grandmother", and it is suggested that late sceptical compilers applied it to signify "old wives' tales". The theory has a somewhat modern note, for in legends, especially those of Scotland, the "old wife" is either feared or respected. The Hag, who is the terrible mother of giants, is called Cailleach Mor, "the big old wife", and the wise witch who imparts secrets and powers to men is simply "old wife".
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« Reply #24 on: November 09, 2009, 01:06:21 am »

Edda became associated in Iceland with the technical rules of verse. "Never to have seen Edda" signified a complete ignorance of poetic art, so it may be that among a mingled people the "great grandmother" was an imported Muse of a Matriarchal tribe. Saga, we know, was individualized as a maiden, and was wooed by Odin. A recent theory 1 is that Edda is derived from "Oddi", the place where Saemund preached and Snorri studied.

The Eddas are, of course, the collected folk-songs and folk-tales of the northern peoples. In addition we have also available, for purposes of study, other old manuscripts and a considerable mass of valuable lore gleaned in recent years from oral sources, as well as the renowned surviving Sagas and minor poems of the skalds (song-smiths), which abound with mythological references.

p. xxiii
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« Reply #25 on: November 09, 2009, 01:06:56 am »

Some folk-tales are fragments of forgotten mythologies; others are part of the floating material from which mythologies were made. The two classes should therefore be studied together for purposes of elucidation, while consideration must ever be given to folk-customs which also enshrine ancient religious beliefs. The gods evolved from beliefs, and these loomed vast and vague on man's mental horizon ere they were given definite and symbolic expression. Indeed, detached stories of gods, especially Nature-gods, must have existed for indefinite periods ere they were subjected to a unifying process and embraced in a complete philosophy of life. A Mythology, therefore, must not be regarded as a spontaneous creation of a particular Age, but rather as a growth which had of necessity a history like, for instance, the Art of a finely sculptured stone, or that of the shapely and decorated Celtic bronze shield found embedded in Thames mud.
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« Reply #26 on: November 09, 2009, 01:07:49 am »

Matthew Arnold regarded poetry as a "criticism of life". That definition may, in a restricted sense, be applied to a Mythology, especially one of highly developed and complicated construction. We can conclude that it evolved from a school of thought which made critical selection of existing material when the work was undertaken of systematizing religious beliefs to suit the needs of a particular Age. As religion and law had in ancient times most intimate association, an official religion was ever a necessity in a well-organized State, and especially in one composed of mingled peoples. A Mythology, therefore, was probably the product of a national movement, and closely connected with the process of adjusting laws and uniting tribes under a central government. In the union and classification of gods we have suggested the union of peoples and the

p. xxiv
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« Reply #27 on: November 09, 2009, 01:11:23 am »

probable political relations of one tribe with another. No deity could be overlooked, if the interests of all sections were to be embraced, because the destinies of each were controlled by a particular god or group of gods of immemorial import. The gods of subject peoples would, of course, become subject to those of their rulers.

A Mythology was therefore not only a criticism; it was also a compromise. The lesser gods were accepted by those who imposed the greater, and new tales had to be invented to adjust their relationships one to another. Contradictory elements were thus introduced. The gods differed greatly. Some had evolved from natural phenomena; others were deified heroes. A seaside tribe showed reverence to gods which had origin in their own particular experiences and ideals, which differed to a marked degree from those, for instance, of an inland, forest-dwelling people. Settled communities and nomadic peoples professed beliefs in accordance with their particular modes of life. Between the various classes of a single social organization, even, there would exist religious conceptions which were fundamentally opposed. Invaders who formed a military aristocracy would import and perpetuate their own particular beliefs and rites, while those of the conquered people continued as aforetime. Indeed, archæological remains demonstrate to the full that different burial customs were practised simultaneously in the same district, although each had origin in religious conceptions of divergent character. Two examples may be cited--(1) the crouched burial with food vessel, associated with the belief that the spirits of the dead haunted the place of interment and had to be propitiated, and (2) the cremation burial which ensured that the spirit, like that of Patroklos, would never again return from Hades when it had received its meed of fire

p. xxv
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« Reply #28 on: November 09, 2009, 01:11:38 am »

 (Iliad xxiii. 75). In our northern tales there are evidences of various burial customs. Balder is cremated in Asgard, but he is interred in a barrow in the heroic story from Saxo. Beowulf and Sigurd are burned, Helgi is given sepulture in a mound, and Sigmund and his son are enclosed in a chambered grave when buried alive.

But while peoples who were mingled together practised different religious rites, invaders ever showed reverence, as did the Romans, to local gods and local beliefs. In the process of time one section would be influenced by the other. A fusion of religions would result from a fusion of peoples, but every district and every community would not be similarly affected. The clash of ideas would also be productive of speculative thought, and each Age would contribute something new from its accumulated ideas and experiences. Yet in the midst of the mass of floating lore there would ever survive beliefs of remote conception, for a folk-religion is conservative in essence. A people's inherited superstitions are not readily eradicated. The past endures in the present. Even in our own day folk-beliefs and folk-customs of Pagan origin have tardy survival after many long centuries of Christian influence.
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« Reply #29 on: November 09, 2009, 01:11:52 am »

When, therefore, the thinkers and teachers of Scandinavia framed their great Mythological system, they had to select and compromise; they were not only critics but diplomatists as well. New tales had to be invented, and old tales adjusted, to instruct and convert and unite all sections. Social relationships were given a religious bearing; the gods of the common people were shown to be subject to those of their rulers. All outstanding popular beliefs had to be accounted for, with the result that heroic tales were mingled with Nature myths, and the whole was infused with ethical and political purpose.

p. xxvi
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