Handbook of Norse Mythology

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Handbook of Norse Mythology

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  • A HANDBOOK OFNORSE MYTHOLOGY

    BY

    KARL MORTENSENDOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY UNIVERSITY OF COPENHAGEN ; ADJUNCT AT

    THE CATHEDRAL SCHOOL (ROYAL GYMNASIUM) AT ODENSB

    TRANSLATED FROM THE DANISHBY

    A. CLINTON CROWELLASSOCIATE PROFESSOR IN BROWN UNIVERSITY

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    NEW YORKTHOMAS Y. CROWELL COMPANY

    PUBLISHERS

  • THE NEW YORKPUBLIC LIBRARY

    COPYRIGHT, 1913,

    BY THOMAS Y. CROWELL COMPANY.

    Published March, 1913.

  • AUTHOR'S PREFACE

    THIS popular presentation of the mythsand sagas which took shape here in theNorth but whose foundation is commonproperty of all the people who speak aGothic-Germanic language, first appearedin 1898 and has been used since then in thestudy of Xorse Mythology in the highschools and universities of all the Scandina-vian countries. Since Professor Crowellhas thought that the little book might alsoachieve a modest success in the youngestbut richest and.mosi powerful branch whichhas grown iron, cur ccmin-on >;uot, I havewithout hesitation, accopte^ his friendly pro-posal to transjate.jc into English. I findgreat satisfaction m, hav

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    -;ig my work putinto the world's most comprehensive lan-

    guage and placed before students in theUnited States, where I have so manyfriends, where so many relatives and fel-low-countrymen have found a home and a

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  • iv AUTHOR'S PREFACE

    future, and toward which country weNortherners look with the deepest admira-tion and respect for the mighty forces whichare seeking to control material things andto break new ground in the infinite realmsof the intellect.

    I sincerely thank Professor Crowell forhis intelligent rendering of my Danish text,since on account of the nature of the sub-

    ject and the half-poetic form, it has calledfor patient work and for uncommon insight.I would likewise thank the Thomas Y.Crowell Company of New York for theirwillingness to publish the book.

    It is my earnest hope that the Americanstudent into whose hands the book may fallwill be able to reap from it ifce advantagewhich the translator has had in mind andto feel awakened in him some of the lovefor our oldest, common memorials, whichhas inspired the anther in his task.

    KAKL MOKTENSEN.ODENSE, DENMARK.

    December, 1912.

  • TRANSLATOR'S PREFACE

    The idea of translating Dr. Mortensen'sNortlixk Mi/thologi suggested itself whenmy attention was called to the book by Pro-fessor E. Mogk of Leipzig.

    I am chiefly indebted to the author, whohas read the translation of all the prose andcommented upon unusual points, all withfriendly and cordial interest. With his con-sent I have translated the illustrative stro-

    phes from the Icelandic, according tothe text of B. Sijmons in the GermanistischeIIoHflliilHotlH'k, having for consultation H.

    Gering's Vollstdndiges Worterbuch derEdda, the German translation of Gering,the Danish of Gjessing, and the English ofsome unpublished selections by my friend,the late Dr. Adrian Scott, sometime memberof the Brown University facultv. WhenV +/the work was practically complete, I sawOlive Bray's more recent translation andwas slightly influenced by it, Dr. H. Her-

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  • vi TRANSLATOR'S PREFACE

    mannsson of Cornell University has read mystrophes, making corrections and sugges-tions. I thank him for his interest and en-couragement, and I thank Professor A.Heusler of Berlin for many helpful hints.I have also been assisted in many ways bymy wife, Carrie E. Crowell, A.M.

    Professor W. H. Schofield's translationof Sophus Bugge's The Home of the EddiePoems has been most valuable for refer-

    ence, especially in the matter of spelling.

    .A..

    PROVIDENCE, R. I.,

    January, 1918.

  • CONTEXTSPAGE

    GENERAL INTRODUCTION 1

    FIRST SECTIONCHAPTER

    I. How THE WORLD WAS CREATED . . 36

    II. THE GODS AND THEIR LIFE .... 48

    III. RAGNAROK 69

    SECOND SECTION

    I. COMMON POPULAR BELIEF .... 75

    II. CHIEF GODS AND MYTHS OF THE GODS . 95

    Thor 95

    Odin 115

    Frey and Njorth 129

    Heimdall and Baldur 134

    Loki 146vii

  • viii CONTENTS

    THIRD SECTIONPAGE

    FORMS OF WORSHIP AND RELIGIOUS LIFE . 153

    FOURTH SECTIONHERO SAGAS 164

    The Volsungs 166

    The Helgi Sagas 175

    Volund the Smith 183

    The Hjathningar 188

    Beowulf 192

    CONCLUSION 196

    INDEX . 203

  • GENERAL INTRODUCTION

    1. By "Norse mythology" we mean theinformation we have concerning the reli-

    gious conceptions and usages of our heathen

    forefathers, their faith and manner of wor-

    shiping the gods, and also their legends and

    songs about the gods and heroes. The im-

    portation of Christianity drove out the oldheathen faith, but remnants or memories ofit long endured in the superstitious ideas ofthe common people, and can even be tracedin our own day.

    There has never been found on earth atribe of people which did not have somekind of religion, but the lower the planeof civilization on which the people are

    found, the ruder and less pleasing aretheir religious ideas. Religions conse-

    quently change and develop according ascivilization goes forward. One can, there-

    fore, learn much by knowing the mythologyof a race, since it shows us what stage the

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  • NORSE MYTHOLOGY

    people in question have attained in intel-lectual development, what they regard ashighest and most important in life anddeath, and what they regard as good orevil.

    Sun-worship and Nature-worship. We caneasily perceive that a belief in counseling andcontrolling gods presupposes a far higher civ-ilization than savage people in their earlier his-tory possess. Religious ideas proceed partlyfrom soul belief, belief in the continued life ofthe soul, and partly from the belief that natureis something living, peopled by mysterious be-ings which control regular and irregularchanges in nature upon which man feels him-self dependent. Such beings are often desig-nated by the Greek word Demons. These na-ture-demons make themselves plainly knownthrough the roaring of the storm, the ripplingof the water, or the wind's gentle play withthe tree-tops. But races in the childhood pe-riod of their development cannot hold fast to abelief in life apart from bodies. Demons, there-fore, are thought of in bodily form as men orbeasts. At the same time man feels his help-lessness and powerlessness in the presence ofNature and its mysterious forces; he isprompted, then, by offerings and supplicationsto gain friendly relations with these powerswhich he with his own strength cannot over-come. In this we begin to find the first germ

  • GENERAL INTRODUCTION

    of divine worship which is capable of subse-quent development, since ever increasing do-main is

    -given to the single demon. With theadvance of civil i/al ion there is developed in theplace of the belief in demons a belief in mightygds, who are thought of as beautiful and per-fect human forms.

    Greek mid Norse Mythology.--With themore developed heathen people there is

    always an exact correspondence between thenature of the country, the character of the

    people, and their religious belief. There

    is, therefore, a striking distinction also be-

    tween Greek and Norse mythology. TheGreek is bright and pleasant, like the coun-try itself; the gods are thought of as greatand beautiful human forms who are ex-tolled not merely as gods, with offering andworship, but also as inspired Greek artistsand poets, producers of statues and songs,the equal of which the world has scarcelyseen. Norse mythology as we know it fromthe latest periods of the heathen age is, onthe contrary, more dark and serious, andwhen it lays the serious aside it often be-comes rude in its jesting. Norsemen feltthe lack of talent for the sculptor's and

  • NORSE MYTHOLOGY

    painter's art, although they were reallyclever in carving wood ; their idols were asa rule merely clumsy wooden images em-bellished in various ways. Their religiousfaith, on the other hand, has called forth

    poetry which in its way is by no meansinferior to the Greek; and our forefathers'view of death and particularly their teach-ing about Eagnarok, concerning which weshall speak later, can rightly be preferredto the Greeks' faith in a miserable shadow-life in a realm of death (Hades).

    Whi/ We Teach Norse Mythology. Forus Norse mythology has in any case the ad-vantage of being the religion of our own

    forefathers, and through it we learn to knowthat religion. This is necessary if we wishto understand aright the history and poetryof our antiquity and to comprehend whatgood characteristics and what faults Chris-tianity encountered when it was proclaimedin the North. Finally, it is necessary toknow the most important points of theheathen faith of our fathers in order to

    appreciate and enjoy many of the wordsof our best poets. This is especially true

  • GENERAL INTRODUCTION

    concerning Oelenschlaeger and (Jnintvig,who not only have embodied large pails ofthe Norse mythology in independent poeticworks (as -The Gods of the North," "EarlHakon," "Scene from the Conflict of theNoras and Aesir") but also often borrowfrom it in their other works terms and fig-ures which we ought to be able to under-stand. To point to the antiquity of theNorth and to our fathers' faith, life, andachievements was one of the poet's princi-pal means of awakening the slumbering na-tional feeling at the beginning of our cen-

    tury.2. Oldest Inhabitants of the North. It is

    possible that it was our ancestors who, sev-eral thousand years before the Christian

    era, inhabited Scandinavia,