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When we realize that in France, Britain, and Ireland, Christianity had been established for six hundred years before it was introduced into Iceland and the Scandinavian countries, we are aware of what a long lifetime the mythology of northern Europe had in comparison, let us say, with the mythology of Celtic Britain and Ireland. The Icelandic mythology is part of the Scandinavian which is again part of the mythology of the Germanic people. It had a separate development in Norway, and a separate development, perhaps, in Iceland where the records that we have of it were made. Iceland, at the time, was the centre of the Scandinavian world. As shaped in the Icelandic poems and stories, this mythology has been influenced by Christianity. Of the great poem that tells of the creation of the world and the gods, the "Voluspo," the latest translator, Mr. Henry Adams Bellows, writes:

That the poem was heathen and not Christian seems almost beyond dispute; there is an intensity and vividness in almost every stanza which no archaizing Christian could possibly have achieved. On the other hand, the evidences of Christian influence are sufficiently striking to outweigh the arguments of Finnur

p. xx

[paragraph continues] Jonsson, Müllenhof, and others who maintain that the "Voluspo" is purely a product of heathendom. The roving Norsemen of the tenth century, very few of whom had as yet accepted Christianity, were nevertheless in close contact with Celtic races which had already been converted, and in many ways the Celtic influence was strongly felt. 19

We owe our knowledge of this mythology to the Poetic and Prose Eddas--the first a collection of poems celebrating the gods and heroes of the olden times, and the second a handbook giving an account of the gods and the old system of divinity, with a number of separate stories about the gods and heroes. Scholars now agree that the poems that make up the Poetic Edda were shaped between 900 and 1050. The Prose Edda was composed by an Icelandic scholar, Snorri Struluson, about the year 1220. The rediscovery of this mythology was hailed by the whole Germanic world, and treated as a racial inheritance: it lives as no other European mythology lives to-day through the expression it has been given in the tragic music of Richard Wagner's "Ring" operas.


xx:19 Introduction to the Poetic Edda. New York, the American-Scandinavian Foundation.

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