Monday, 31 January 2011

Snorri and the Prose Edda

It should be noted that Snorri Sturluson was a product of the early medieval scholarly system. His writing and translations were influenced by not only early Christianity (thus Adam and Eve and references to the misunderstandings of the pre Christian people) but also by the trend of referencing classical history in their writings (thus the references to Troy). He sanitises much of his writing and though still 'bawdy' in places does not usually contain the blatant sexual or lude referrals found in the Poetic Edda 'written' by an earlier unknown source. In the Prose Edda we see a much more direct representation of certain events...and a less rowdy and lude translation of the 'poems'. (See the Lokasenna and the story of Thor meeting with Odin in disguise on the ferry crossing).
Thor was often considered during Snorri's time as the Primary God as opposed to Odin (and the various 'tribes' or cultures had various intrepretations of their beliefs with many considering Thor as the Chief God). However though the initial comments can be confusing, Odin is still seen as All Father and the primary godhead. It should be understood that names are repeated and Odin, though the brother of Bor initially in the Prose Edda is also considered the son of Bor and one of his names.
The giants are not conceived necessarily like the modern conception of giants being beings of great stature. Yes, some were, such as Ymir, but others were of normal stature and many of them wise and moreso the women were desireable and of great beauty.
An open mind and a tongue in cheek reading of the Prose Edda can see through the veneer of early Christianisation and into the true heart of the myths and 'pagan' beliefs of the early Norse. Remembering that Iceland was settled in around 800 AD, one gets an idea of the late Christianisation of the Norse cultures and a better understanding of the invaders of various earlier Christianised lands.

Sunday, 30 January 2011

The Eddas - Creation

The world as we know it was created from the death and dismemberment of Ymir...considered the first and greatest giant. Discrepancies occur as it is indicated that before Ymir there were other giants and the Aesir from a world not born and yet in the making.
However, here we establish the creation of the world. Evolution Norse style.
The rivers flowed and they in turn were so far from their sources they caused the poisonous flow of the fires of Muspell (Chaos?). These fires were turned to a slag of cinders and the ice solidified and no longer ran. They turned into poisonous drops and froze into an icy rime (hoarfrost).
Layer by layer an ice grew on Ginnungagap (the ether regions, the void). The southern regions turned light from the sparks and embers flowing from Gunningagap. Still there was coldness and things grim from Niflheim.
From this sprang a man called Ymir, a frost giant. From him he established the clan. He bore his children. From his left arm grew a male and female, from his legs, he begot a son by their union. From this came the Frost giants.
Ymir lived on the milk of the cow Audhumla. Four rivers came from her udders.
She licked the salt from the ices and thus the hair of a man appeared. He was Buri. Soon after he took a wife called Bestla the daughter of Bolthron (giant). They had three sons: Bor, Odin, Ve and Vili.
Bor killed Ymir and from his blood the race was drowned. Except one who escaped with his household, Bergelmir.
From Ymir's body, after taking it to Ginnungagap they took his blood, thus the sea and lakes were formed. From his flesh the earth; from his bones, mountain cliffs. The stones were from his teeth and broken bones. With the blood they made the sea and contained the earth. From his skull, the sky. Under each point they placed a dwarf. The embers and sparks that were made they placed in the sky to light Heaven and Earth. This was before earth was created.
From Ymir's flesh
was the earth created,
from the bloody sweat, the sea,
cliffs from bones,
trees from hair,
and from the head, the heavens.
And from his eyelashes
the gentle gods made
Midgard for the sons of men;
and from his brains
all the oppressive
clouds were formed.
(The lay of Grimnir)