« AnteriorContinuar »
one who had command of pure heathen sources. The ironical and impartial genius of Snorri Sturluson is something exceptional in history; his rationalist clearness and his imaginative sympathy with myths are qualities that will scarcely be found repeated in that degree in any age, except perhaps in some that have no myths of their own to boast of.
But whether in the Teutonic countries, which in one of their corners preserved a record of old mythology, or in the Celtic, which allowed mythology, though never forgotten, to fall into a kind of neglect and to lose its original meaning, the value of mythology is equally recognisable, and it is equally clear that mythology is nothing more nor less than Romance.
Everything in the poets that is most enthralling through the mere charm of wonder, from the land of the Golden Fleece to that of the Holy Grail, is more or less nearly related to mythology.
The "natural magic " of which Mr Arnold spoke in his lectures on Celtic literature, he connected no less truly than persuasively with Celtic mythology. The end of mythology is in that way; it passes into poetry, and the barbarous terror of a world not realised becomes the wonder of La Belle Dame Sans Mercy or of Hyperion.
The Northern mythology as recorded in the Edda cannot be taken any longer as it used to be by enthusiastic antiquaries and made into the common original property of all the Teutonic tribes. The tribes had stories of their own about Woden and Frea, like the Lombard one preserved by Paulus Diaconus; the Norwegian stories, which may be possibly better, are not exactly the same. Not only may we suppose that the Norwegians, who are our chief authorities, had their own selection of stories about the gods, not the same as the Gothic, Vandal, Saxon, Lombard, or any other group of stories; but the Norwegians had time to find out new things about the gods in the additional centuries of their heathendom, when the other tribes had gone over to the Christian Church. The Edda is not a document for the whole of Germany, except in so far as it gives in the finest form the mythology of the purest and the least subdued of the German races. What is Scandinavian is also Teutonic, in one sense, but it is a very special and peculiar development of the original Teutonic type. Yet the mythology of the Edda, refined and modern as it is, contains elements that are older than Germany, monstrous fragments of the primeval world, as Carlyle s has divined and explained in words that serve for
S_ other mythologies as well:—
"All this of the old Norse Belief which is flung out for us at one level of distance in the Edda, like a picture painted on the same canvas, does not at all stand so in reality. It stands rather at all manner of distances and depths, of successive generations since the Belief first began. All Scandinavian thinkers, since the first of them, contributed to that Scandinavian system of thought; in ever-new elaboration and addition, it is the combined work of them all." Perhaps the Northern mythology would be best surveyed in the following way. First come the stories of the cosmogony—barbarous, grotesque, as Carlyle has described them. The world is the body of a giant. His skull is the heaven, his flesh the earth, his brains are the clouds that move across the sky, under the skull of.Hymir; his blood made the sea; the dwarfs who live in caves were made out of the maggots that bred in him. The stars came otherwise; they are sparks from the great fiery region of Chaos. There is something national and Northern perhaps, as Carlyle thought, perhaps even more of Snorri himself, in the humorous way this story is given in the Edda, but the substance of it comes from a time long before there was any Germania.
Next there are myths of the nature powers, such as one finds in other countries, the favourite god being Thunder, that is, Thor, about whom the greatest number of the most entertaining stories are told. In these one can trace the education of the Northmen, the growth of their theory of life, Thor is the typical Northman of the old sort—bluff, homely, reckless, and fearless—not specially intellectual, sometimes outwitted by the cunning of his adversaries, but good at hard work, and instinctively (one may say) on the side of Eeason.
Third, there are the myths of Odin. Woden belongs to all the Germans, but eminently to the Northmen, and to them especially at the time when they were beginning to grow discontented at home and to dream of conquests abroad. Odin is the chief of the gods, but he does not sit apart on an Olympian throne, watching the world spin. Odin is a wanderer on the
face of the earth, anxious, a seeker for wisdom, a benefactor of mankind; Prometheus in the place of Zeus. He barters one of his eyes for a drink of the well of wisdom; or, according to another story, ventures among the giants and steals the draught of wisdom and poetry, as Prometheus stole the fire of heaven. He descends into the abyss to find out the hidden things of the universe. The quickening of mankind out of brute lumps into reasoning creatures is ascribed by the Greeks to the wise Titan, by the Northmen to Odin and his two companions.
Last of all come the myths of the decay of paganism. It is these that have most impressed the imagination of modern students—the myths of Valhalla and of the Twilight of the Gods. They are not original Teutonic beliefs; they grew up in the period of migration and conquest, when the Northmen first became acquainted vaguely with the ideas of Christianity in the English, French, or Scottish countries where they had found a settlement.
Common to all stages of this mythology and to all the Germans as well, was the conception of the human world as an enclosure defended against Chaos. The human world is Midgarth; in Anglo - Saxon middangeard, the "merry middle - earth" of later ballads. The Edda explains the whole system clearly; it was more clearly worked out in the North than elsewhere. In the full Scandinavian philosophy the human world is contrasted with Asgarth, the citadel of the Anses, the gods, which rises in the centre of the circle of Midgarth; and with Utgarth, the outer circle, the icy barrier of the world, the home of the Giants (Jotunheim), only one remove from Niflheim and the gulfs of Chaos.
The elements are the same as in Greece, but they are differently mixed, and the import is not the same. The Greeks, like the Northmen, thought of the world as encircled by the Ocean stream; they too, as one sees in the Odyssey, believed in a strange and desolate country out on the verge; the Iliad has knowledge of the ends of the earth not unlike that of the Scandinavian account—the edge, leading down to the depths of Tartarus, a joyless country unblest by wind or sun, the abode of ancient unhappy creatures, Iapetus and Cronus.1 But what is a passing thought in the Greek mind becomes in the Northern a constant and inevitable belief. J Through all his daily life the Northman hears </ the boom of the surges of Chaos on the dykes of the world. The giants are not disposed of, as in Greece, by a decisive conquest early in history. The Olympians broke the backs of their adversaries in a short campaign; the ^Esir, the Northern gods, are like Northern rovers in a fortress surrounded by a hostile country. It is part of the life of the gods to keep watch against their enemies, to catch them asleep if possible; to add to their tale of victories in the unending feud. Thor does most of this work. It
1 ou5' elf «e To velara irelpatf '(/trial
—11., viii. 478-481.