Saturday, July 24, 2010

Family Sagas

Lately, I am reading a lot of Norse sagas. This intersects, might I say a bit shadily, with my research on the Restoration and Enlightenment period, since saga-figures are reincarnated within eighteenth-century royalist drama. Ms Sám 66, currently housed at the Magnússon Institute in Reykjavik, is an example of how these periods can influence each other. The foreground is medieval, but Loki's body language resembles that of the dancing-master in William Hogarth's Rake's Progress.

I'm interested in the characters of Baldr and Heimdall in the Elder Edda (circa 950). Baldr spends his life being beautiful, then dies in an accident. Heimdall is the guardian of Bifrost, the rainbow bridge, and all we know about him is that he has nine mothers (who might be waves) and that "his hearing is lodged beneath the Ash-Tree." We're told that he hears grass growing and the world sighing.

Rings are very important in the sagas. Red Rings and Gold Rings are exchanged rapidly. A magic ring miraculously 'drops' nine further golden rings, like a litter. Sometimes, ring appears to mean anus, if we're to judge by the astonishment that its sudden usage can elicit in a conversation between two men.

In one of my favorite sagas, the dragon Fafnir lies dying. Sigurd questions him, and the two talk quite civilly. Fafnir gives a great shudder and dies, having been impaled by Sigurd's sword, and Sigurd silently collects the dragon's hoard. Nobody seems to learn anything.

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