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Essays in Honor of Shaun F.D. Hughes
Texts and Materiality in Medieval Scandinavia

Abstract

While the topic of the Otherworld is abundantly attested in medieval Celtic legends, we have only a very modest number of ancient literary testimonies that provide insights into the notions Celtic peoples of antiquity had of Otherworlds and journeys to these places. Moreover, the texts of Greek and Roman authors used for this purpose by modern scholarship are of quite different value and can only be used with great reservations as sources for genuinely Celtic otherworld views. The present paper discusses this evidence and the difficulties associated with its interpretation; in addition to quite problematic texts, there are three testimonies preserved in Plutarch (Sertorius 8,5; De facie in orbe lunae 26) and Procopius (Bellum Gothicum 4, 20,42-58), which are treated in detail and examined for their significance in terms of religious history.

Abstract

The island of Calypso, as depicted in Homer’s Odyssey, has often been seen as a sinister idyll that has some features in common with the underworld, and Calypso herself has been described in modern scholarship as a veiled representative of death. Proponents of this interpretation, which was formulated more than one hundred years ago and remains popular today, have often made use of comparative arguments that are based on similarities to underworldepisodes in early Greek epic, or IndoEuropean etymologies of the name Calypso, or the supposed influence of ancient Near Eastern mythology (Ištar/Gilgameš). The present contribution argues that none of these comparative approaches have been successful, and that the underworldtheory should be abandoned. Some key passages of the Calypsoepisode can be rescued from past misinterpretation.

Abstract

Genesis B is a West Saxon poem on the Fall of the Angels and the temptation of Eve and Adam in the Garden of Eden. It is held to be translated from an Old Saxon original which was composed as early as the midninth century. The poem is distinguished by oddities which appear to be almost without parallel. One of these is that not Satan but a lesser unnamed demon must bring about the Fall because Satan is chained up in hell. Another is that the demon first tries and fails with Adam and then uses this failure as a means of succeeding with Eve. Thus, in Genesis B, the Fall is accomplished by a lie rather than by the vanity or pride for which St Augustine and his followers blamed Eve. This essay seeks to root the poem’s divergence from doctrine in the preChristian folktales of Continental Saxony. First I focus on this devil’s otherworldly journey, arguing that this creature is modelled on an Old Saxon version of Loki. I go on to attribute his scene with Adam to a Saxon version of Loki’s dealings with Torr. After that, I argue that his temptation of Eve is enabled by a Saxon version of Loki’s interaction with the goddess Idunn. The typescene for this demon’s volunteering to help his chained master Satan is finally taken to be drawn from Loki’s former friendship with Odinn. In conclusion, I suggest that the poet reconfigured old gods into good and bad biblical roles, humans versus demons, in order to recast biblical history in local form, the better to lead the Saxons of Germany from their old world into a new: in this way the real journey is theirs.