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The Saga In Heimskringla And The Prose Edda


Source: Teutonic Mythology

In the preceding pages we have given the reasons which make it appear
proper to assume that ancient Teutondom, within certain indefinable
limits, included the coasts of the Baltic and the North Sea, that the
Scandinavian countries constituted a part of this ancient Teutondom, and
that they have been peopled by Teutons since the days of the stone age.

The subject which I am now about to discuss requires an investigation in
reference to what the Teutons themselves believed, in regard to this
question, in the earliest times of which we have knowledge. Did they
look upon themselves as aborigines or as immigrants in Teutondom? For
the mythology, the answer to this question is of great weight. For
pragmatic history, on the other hand, the answer is of little
importance, for whatever they believed gives no reliable basis for
conclusions in regard to historical facts. If they regarded themselves
as aborigines, this does not hinder their having immigrated in
prehistoric times, though their traditions have ceased to speak of it.
If they regarded themselves as immigrants, then it does not follow that
the traditions, in regard to the immigration, contain any historical
kernel. Of the former we have an example in the case of the Brahmins and
the higher castes in India: their orthodoxy requires them to regard
themselves as aborigines of the country in which they live, although
there is evidence that they are immigrants. Of the latter the Swedes are
an example: the people here have been taught to believe that a greater
or less portion of the inhabitants of Sweden are descended from
immigrants who, led by Odin, are supposed to have come here about one
hundred years before the birth of Christ, and that this immigration,
whether it brought many or few people, was of the most decisive
influence on the culture of the country, so that Swedish history might
properly begin with the moment when Odin planted his feet on Swedish

The more accessible sources of the traditions in regard to Odin's
immigration to Scandinavia are found in the Icelandic works,
Heimskringla and the Prose Edda. Both sources are from the same time,
that is, the thirteenth century, and are separated by more than two
hundred years from the heathen age in Iceland.

We will first consider Heimskringla's story. A river, by name Tanakvisl,
or Vanakvisl, empties into the Black Sea. This river separates Asia from
Europe. East of Tanakvisl, that is to say, then in Asia, is a country
formerly called Asaland or Asaheim, and the chief citadel or town in
that country was called Asgard. It was a great city of sacrifices, and
there dwelt a chief who was known by the name Odin. Under him ruled
twelve men who were high-priests and judges. Odin was a great chieftain
and conqueror, and so victorious was he, that his men believed that
victory was wholly inseparable from him. If he laid his blessing hand on
anybody's head, success was sure to attend him. Even if he was absent,
if called upon in distress or danger, his very name seemed to give
comfort. He frequently went far away, and often remained absent
half-a-year at a time. His kingdom was then ruled by his brothers Vile
and Ve. Once he was absent so long that the Asas believed that he would
never return. Then his brothers married his wife Frigg. Finally he
returned, however, and took Frigg back again.

The Asas had a people as their neighbours called the Vans. Odin made war
on the Vans, but they defended themselves bravely. When both parties had
been victorious and suffered defeat, they grew weary of warring, made
peace, and exchanged hostages. The Vans sent their son Njord and his son
Frey, and also Kvaser, as hostages to the Asas; and the latter gave in
exchange Honer and Mimer. Odin gave Njord and Frey the dignity of
priests. Frey's sister, too, Freyja, was made a priestess. The Vans
treated the hostages they had received with similar consideration, and
created Honer a chief and judge. But they soon seemed to discover that
Honer was a stupid fellow. They considered themselves cheated in the
exchange, and, being angry on this account, they cut off the head, not
of Honer, but of his wise brother Mimer, and sent it to Odin. He
embalmed the head, sang magic songs over it, so that it could talk to
him and tell him many strange things.

Asaland, where Odin ruled is separated by a great mountain range from
Tyrkland, by which Heimskringla means Asia Minor, of which the
celebrated Troy was supposed to have been the capital. In Tyrkland, Odin
also had great possessions. But at that time the Romans invaded and
subjugated all lands, and many rulers fled on that account from their
kingdoms. And Odin, being wise and versed in the magic art, and knowing,
therefore, that his descendants were to people the northern part of the
world, he left his kingdom to his brothers Vile and Ve, and migrated
with many followers to Gardarike, Russia. Njord, Frey, and Freyja, and
the other priests who had ruled under him in Asgard, accompanied him,
and sons of his were also with him. From Gardarike he proceeded to
Saxland, conquered vast countries, and made his sons rulers over them.
From Saxland he went to Funen, and settled there. Seeland did not then
exist. Odin sent the maid Gefion north across the water to investigate
what country was situated there. At that time ruled in Svithiod a chief
by name Gylfe. He gave Gefion a ploughland,[3] and, by the help of four
giants changed into oxen, Gefion cut out with the plough, and dragged
into the sea near Funen that island which is now called Seeland. Where
the land was ploughed away there is now a lake called Logrin. Skjold,
Odin's son, got this land, and married Gefion. And when Gefion informed
Odin that Gylfe possessed a good land, Odin went thither, and Gylfe,
being unable to make resistance, though he too was a wise man skilled in
witchcraft and sorcery, a peaceful compact was made, according to which
Odin acquired a vast territory around Logrin; and in Sigtuna he
established a great temple, where sacrifices henceforth were offered
according to the custom of the Asas. To his priests he gave
dwellings--Noatun to Njord, Upsala to Frey, Himminbjorg to Heimdal,
Thrudvang to Thor, Breidablik to Balder, &c. Many new sports came to the
North with Odin, and he and the Asas taught them to the people. Among
other things, he taught them poetry and runes. Odin himself always
talked in measured rhymes. Besides, he was a most excellent sorcerer. He
could change shape, make his foes in a conflict blind and deaf; he was a
wizard, and could wake the dead. He owned the ship Skidbladner, which
could be folded as a napkin. He had two ravens, which he had taught to
speak, and they brought him tidings from all lands. He knew where all
treasures were hid in the earth, and could call them forth with the aid
of magic songs. Among the customs he introduced in the North were
cremation of the dead, the raising of mounds in memory of great men, the
erection of bauta-stones in commemoration of others; and he introduced
the three great sacrificial feasts--for a good year, for good crops, and
for victory. Odin died in Svithiod. When he perceived the approach of
death, he suffered himself to be marked with the point of a spear, and
declared that he was going to Gudheim to visit his friends and receive
all fallen in battle. This the Swedes believed. They have since
worshipped him in the belief that he had an eternal life in the ancient
Asgard, and they thought he revealed himself to them before great
battles took place. On Svea's throne he was followed by Njord, the
progenitor of the race of Ynglings. Thus Heimskringla.

We now pass to the Younger Edda,[4] which in its Foreword gives us in
the style of that time a general survey of history and religion.

First, it gives from the Bible the story of creation and the deluge.
Then a long story is told of the building of the tower of Babel. The
descendants of Noah's son, Ham, warred against and conquered the sons of
Sem, and tried in their arrogance to build a tower which should aspire
to heaven itself. The chief manager in this enterprise was Zoroaster,
and seventy-two master-masons and joiners served under him. But God
confounded the tongues of these arrogant people so that each one of the
seventy-two masters with those under him got their own language, which
the others could not understand, and then each went his own way, and in
this manner arose the seventy-two different languages in the world.
Before that time only one language was spoken, and that was Hebrew.
Where they tried to build the tower a city was founded and called
Babylon. There Zoroaster became a king and ruled over many Assyrian
nations, among which he introduced idolatry, and which worshiped him as
Baal. The tribes that departed with his master-workmen also fell into
idolatry, excepting the one tribe which kept the Hebrew language. It
preserved also the original and pure faith. Thus, while Babylon became
one of the chief altars of heathen worship, the island Crete became
another. There was born a man, by name Saturnus, who became for the
Cretans and Macedonians what Zoroaster was for the Assyrians. Saturnus'
knowledge and skill in magic, and his art of producing gold from red-hot
iron, secured him the power of a prince on Crete; and as he, moreover,
had control over all invisible forces, the Cretans and Macedonians
believed that he was a god, and he encouraged them in this faith. He had
three sons--Jupiter, Neptunus, and Plutus. Of these, Jupiter resembled
his father in skill and magic, and he was a great warrior who conquered
many peoples. When Saturnus divided his kingdom among his sons, a feud
arose. Plutus got as his share hell, and as this was the least desirable
part he also received the dog named Cerberus. Jupiter, who received
heaven, was not satisfied with this, but wanted the earth too. He made
war against his father, who had to seek refuge in Italy, where he, out
of fear of Jupiter, changed his name and called himself Njord, and where
he became a useful king, teaching the inhabitants, who lived on nuts and
roots, to plough and plant vineyards.

Jupiter had many sons. From one of them, Dardanus, descended in the
fifth generation Priamus of Troy. Priamus' son was Hektor, who in
stature and strength was the foremost man in the world. From the Trojans
the Romans are descended; and when Rome had grown to be a great power it
adopted many laws and customs which had prevailed among the Trojans
before them. Troy was situated in Tyrkland, near the centre of the
earth. Under Priamus, the chief ruler, there were twelve tributary
kings, and they spoke twelve languages. These twelve tributary kings
were exceedingly wise men; they received the honour of gods, and from
them all European chiefs are descended. One of these twelve was called
Munon or Mennon. He was married to a daughter of Priamus, and had with
her the son Tror, "whom we call Thor." He was a very handsome man, his
hair shone fairer than gold, and at the age of twelve he was full-grown,
and so strong that he could lift twelve bear-skins at the same time. He
slew his foster-father and foster-mother, took possession of his
foster-father's kingdom Thracia, "which we call Thrudheim," and
thenceforward he roamed about the world, conquering berserks, giants,
the greatest dragon, and other prodigies. In the North he met a
prophetess by name Sibil (Sibylla), "whom we call Sif," and her he
married. In the twentieth generation from this Thor, Vodin descended,
"whom we call Odin," a very wise and well-informed man, who married
Frigida, "whom we call Frigg."

At that time the Roman general Pompey was making wars in the East, and
also threatened the empire of Odin. Meanwhile Odin and his wife had
learned through prophetic inspiration that a glorious future awaited
them in the northern part of the world. He therefore emigrated from
Tyrkland, and took with him many people, old and young, men and women,
and costly treasures. Wherever they came they appeared to the
inhabitants more like gods than men. And they did not stop before they
came as far north as Saxland. There Odin remained a long time. One of
his sons, Veggdegg, he appointed king of Saxland. Another son, Beldegg,
"whom we call Balder," he made king in Westphalia. A third son, Sigge,
became king in Frankland. Then Odin proceeded farther to the north and
came to Reidgothaland, which is now called Jutland, and there took
possession of as much as he wanted. There he appointed his son Skjold as
king; then he came to Svithiod.

Here ruled king Gylfe. When he heard of the expedition of Odin and his
Asiatics he went to meet them, and offered Odin as much land and as much
power in his kingdom as he might desire. One reason why people
everywhere gave Odin so hearty a welcome and offered him land and power
was that wherever Odin and his men tarried on their journey the people
got good harvests and abundant crops, and therefore they believed that
Odin and his men controlled the weather and the growing grain. Odin went
with Gylfe up to the lake "Logrin" and saw that the land was good; and
there he chose as his citadel the place which is called Sigtuna,
founding there the same institutions as had existed in Troy, and to
which the Turks were accustomed. Then he organised a council of twelve
men, who were to make laws and settle disputes. From Svithiod Odin went
to Norway, and there made his son Saeming king. But the ruling of
Svithiod he had left to his son Yngve, from whom the race of Ynglings
are descended. The Asas and their sons married the women of the land of
which they had taken possession, and their descendants, who preserved
the language spoken in Troy, multiplied so fast that the Trojan language
displaced the old tongue and became the speech of Svithiod, Norway,
Denmark, and Saxland, and thereafter also of England.

The Prose Edda's first part, Gylfaginning, consists of a collection of
mythological tales told to the reader in the form of a conversation
between the above-named king of Sweden, Gylfe, and the Asas. Before the
Asas had started on their journey to the North, it is here said Gylfe
had learned that they were a wise and knowing people who had success in
all their undertakings. And believing that this was a result either of
the nature of these people, or of their peculiar kind of worship, he
resolved to investigate the matter secretly, and therefore betook
himself in the guise of an old man to Asgard. But the foreknowing Asas
knew in advance that he was coming, and resolved to receive him with all
sorts of sorcery, which might give him a high opinion of them. He
finally came to a citadel, the roof of which was thatched with golden
shields, and the hall of which was so large that he scarcely could see
the whole of it. At the entrance stood a man playing with sharp tools,
which he threw up in the air and caught again with his hands, and seven
axes were in the air at the same time. This man asked the traveller his
name. The latter answered that he was named Ganglere, that he had made a
long journey over rough roads, and asked for lodgings for the night. He
also asked whose the citadel was. The juggler answered that it belonged
to their king, and conducted Gylfe into the hall, where many people
were assembled. Some sat drinking, others amused themselves at games,
and still others were practising with weapons. There were three
high-seats in the hall, one above the other, and in each high-seat sat a
man. In the lowest sat the king; and the juggler informed Gylfe that the
king's name was Har; that the one who sat next above him was named
Jafnhar; and that the one who sat on the highest throne was named Thride
(thridi). Har asked the stranger what his errand was, and invited him
to eat and drink. Gylfe answered that he first wished to know whether
there was any wise man in the hall. Har replied that the stranger should
not leave the hall whole unless he was victorious in a contest in
wisdom. Gylfe now begins his questions, which all concern the worship of
the Asas, and the three men in the high-seats give him answers. Already
in the first answer it appears that the Asgard to which Gylfe thinks he
has come is, in the opinion of the author, a younger Asgard, and
presumably the same as the author of Heimskringla places beyond the
river Tanakvisl, but there had existed an older Asgard identical with
Troy in Tyrkland, where, according to Heimskringla, Odin had extensive
possessions at the time when the Romans began their invasions in the
East. When Gylfe with his questions had learned the most important facts
in regard to the religion of Asgard, and had at length been instructed
concerning the destruction and regeneration of the world, he perceived a
mighty rumbling and quaking, and when he looked about him the citadel
and hall had disappeared, and he stood beneath the open sky. He returned
to Svithiod and related all that he had seen and heard among the Asas;
but when he had gone they counselled together, and they agreed to call
themselves by those names which they used in relating their stories to
Gylfe. These sagas, remarks Gylfaginning, were in reality none but
historical events transformed into traditions about divinities. They
described events which had occurred in the older Asgard--that is to say,
Troy. The basis of the stories told to Gylfe about Thor were the
achievements of Hektor in Troy, and the Loke of whom Gylfe had heard
was, in fact, none other than Ulixes (Ulysses), who was the foe of the
Trojans, and consequently was represented as the foe of the gods.

Gylfaginning is followed by another part of the Prose Edda called
Bragaroedur (Brage's Talk), which is presented in a similar form. On
Lessoe, so it is said, dwelt formerly a man by name AEgir. He, like
Gylfe, had heard reports concerning the wisdom of the Asas, and resolved
to visit them. He, like Gylfe, comes to a place where the Asas receive
him with all sorts of magic arts, and conduct him into a hall which is
lighted up in the evening with shining swords. There he is invited to
take his seat by the side of Brage, and there were twelve high-seats in
which sat men who were called Thor, Njord, Frey, &c., and women who were
called Frigg, Freyja, Nanna, &c. The hall was splendidly decorated with
shields. The mead passed round was exquisite, and the talkative Brage
instructed the guest in the traditions concerning the Asas' art of
poetry. A postscript to the treatise warns young skalds not to place
confidence in the stories told to Gylfe and AEgir. The author of the
postscript says they have value only as a key to the many metaphors
which occur in the poems of the great skalds, but upon the whole they
are deceptions invented by the Asas or Asiamen to make people believe
that they were gods. Still, the author thinks these falsifications have
an historical kernel. They are, he thinks, based on what happened in the
ancient Asgard, that is, Troy. Thus, for instance, Ragnarok is
originally nothing else than the siege of Troy; Thor is, as stated,
Hektor; the Midgard-serpent is one of the heroes slain by Hektor; the
Fenris-wolf is Pyrrhus, son of Achilles, who slew Priam (Odin); and
Vidar, who survives Ragnarok, is AEneas.

[Footnote 3: As much land as can be ploughed in a day.]

[Footnote 4: A translation of the Younger or Prose Edda was edited by R.
B. Anderson and published by S. C. Griggs & Co., Chicago, in 1881.]

Next: The Troy Saga In Heimskringla And The Prose Edda

Previous: The Geographical Position Of Ancient Teutondom The Stone Age Of Prehistoric Teutondom

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