Sir Francis Bacon

Histories make men wise; poets, witty; the mathematics, subtle; natural philosophy, deep; moral, grave; logic and rhetoric, able to contend.

--Of Studies--

Odin's Quest

~800 words

New Interesting Words!

signet - noun - a small official seal, as on a ring, sometimes used to mark wax seals.

spermaceti - noun - a waxy solid drived from the cranial cavity of sperm whales. Used as an emolient in 19th century cosmetics.

didactic - adj - intended to instruct or tutor.

Just one small administrative note. Some of the more observant of my loyal listeners may have noticed that a quote from the poetic edda has adorned my header for some weeks now. Well, I've decided to change it, so I've filed the old one away in a brand new page you are welcome to visit whenever you like. Clicking "interesting quotes" at the top of the page will bring this up. Similar to the interesting words, these will occur on an "as they appear" basis, and if it hasn't changed in a couple of weeks I'll pull some wisdom from the poetic edda.

Speaking of me being back from vacation...

It wasn't bad. Not bad at all. I had a little more time to sit around and read than I thought I would (plus!) so I actually managed to digest a sizable chunk of the poetic edda (now @ 119/263). You know, that book I've been raving about for weeks now. I've moved from myths to legends (the hero stories) which mostly involve evil kings, righteous warriors and valkyrie brides.

The Poetic Edda (or the Elder Edda) is translated from a very ancient manuscript called the Codex Regius. The codex was written in 1270 by an unknown icelandic author on fifty three pages of vellum, and the majority of poems contained therein appear no where else in the world. The book was written, and subsequently disappeared into history, re-emerging nearly four hundred years later as a gift to the king of Denmark in 1643, having lost eight pages. It was preserved exceedingly well until the nineteen seventies, when it was transported back to iceland to take it's place in the Árni Magnússon Institute.

It is interesting to note that the Prose Edda (or Younger Edda), another mythological text written by Snorri Sturlston in the 1220s, is likely to have predated the Elder Edda's actual transcription by about fifty years. So despite one being called "Elder" and the other "Younger", they were actually transcribed in the reverse of that order.

So, Norse mythology. The poems themselves are surprisingly coherant, and having recently dealt with terrible translations, I attribute this to Carolyne Larrington, who translated my Oxford World Classics edition.

The first four poems are wisdom poems, essentially listing out large swathes of information. The Seeress's Prophecy, for example, is a timeline of the major events in the history of the world, from creation to post-Ragnarok. In Norse myth, the world was created from the body of Ymir, the primordial being, the first humans were created of driftwood, and the varying realms of the world are connected by a gigantic ash tree named Yggdrasil. Ragnarok is concerned mainly with the slaying of various gods by various beasts/demons. Surt, a flame monster of the underworld, ravages the realms with fire in the final days. Fenrir, an inteligent and deadly wolf, does battle with Odin and defeats him, though Odin's son Vidar avenges his father. Thor is fated to fight the Midgard Serpent (or Iormungand), and they will kill each other. Midgard being the realm of men, Iormungand was a serpent that completely encircled Midgard, swimming in endless circles around the surrounding oceans. Another important beast/demon is Nidhogg, one of only two dragons I've encountered thus far (the other is Fafnir, who is slain by the hero Sigurd I believe), whose primary function is to gnaw on the roots of Yggdrasil and to suck on the souls of the dead. He is the only beast in the Seeress's Prophesy that survives Ragnarok, and that depends somewhat on your interpretation.

Odin is the primary figure in all four of thesee wisdom poems. He is roughly equivalent to Zeus in his role as leader of the gods, though in this case he indeed fathered most of the gods (except the Vanir). He is a source of great wisdom, and he is characterized by his endless quest for knowledge, particularily concerning Ragnarok. In Vafthrudnir's Sayings, he challenges a giant (Vafthrudnir) to a contest of wisdom in the giant's own hall. He wins of course.

I should mention two things. First, the giants are the rival race of the gods, they are comparable in both strength and wisdom, and it is from the giants that the gods are descended. Second, there are two main families of gods. The Aesir live in Asgard and include Odin, Thor, their wives, children etc. The Vanir are the rival house, living elsewhere, and include Freyr and Freyia who appear to be male and female fertility deities. Prior to reading this book I was under the impression that there were three important gods: Odin, Thor and Frey. As it turns out, "Frey" is actually two separate deities of opposite gender.

It is an interesting read, definitely worth the time. I can already begin to see ways in which this stuff influenced Tolkien, but I'll save that for another post.

Image credit to Luis S. Ramos of, your Odin pleases me!

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