«Edited by Geraldine Barnes and Margaret Clunies Ross Centre for Medieval Studies, University of Sydney Sydney, Australia July 2000 © 2000, ...»
Old Norse Myths, Literature and Society
Proceedings of the 11th International Saga Conference
2-7 July 2000, University of Sydney
Edited by Geraldine Barnes and Margaret Clunies Ross
Centre for Medieval Studies, University of Sydney
© 2000, Contributors
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ISBN 1-86487-3167 Contents David Ashurst 1 Journey to the Antipodes. Cosmological and Mythological Themes in Alexanders Saga Sverre Bagge 14 Rigsﬂúla and Viking Age Society Richard N. Bailey 15 Scandinavian Myth on Viking-period Stone Sculpture in England Simonetta Battista 24 Interpretations of the Roman Pantheon in the Old Norse Hagiographic Sagas Mai Elisabeth Berg 35 Myth or Poetry, a Brief Discussion of Some Motives in the Elder Edda Claudia Bornholdt 44 The Bridal-Quest Narratives in ﬁi›reks saga and the German Waltharius Poem as an Extension of the Rhenish Bridal-Quest Tradition Trine Buhl 53 Reflections on the use of narrative form in Hrafnkels saga Freysgo›a Phil Cardew 54 Hamhleypur in ﬁorskfir›inga saga: a post-classical ironisation of myth?
Martin Chase 65 The Ragnarƒk Within: Grundtvig, Jung, and the Subjective Interpretation of Myth Carol Clover 74 Saga facts Einar G. Pétursson 75 Brynjólfur biskup Sveinsson, forn átrúna›ur og Eddurnar Alison Finlay 85 Pouring Ó›inn’s Mead: An Antiquarian Theme?
Elena Gurevich 100 Skaldic Praise Poetry and Macrologia: some observations on Óláfr ﬁór›arson’s use of his sources Jan Ragnar Hagland 109 Gerhard Schøning and Saga Literatur
David Ashurst Birkbeck College, London First a look at evidence for the shape of the world as it was imagined by audiences of Alexanders saga, the mid-thirteenth-century account of Alexander the Great which is a translation of Walter of Châtillon’s Latin epic, the Alexandreis.
Simek (1990, 102-103) has listed a small number of texts which indicate that Old Norse audiences of the thirteenth century, at least in ecclesiastical and courtly circles, were familiar with the belief that the earth is spherical. This idea had been an integral part of scholarly learning in Europe since the Carolingian renaissance of the eighth century, and from the twelfth century it was being taught to most clerics; by the thirteenth century it had found its way into popular literature (Simek 1996, 25). Evidence for the familiarity of this belief at the very start of the thirteenth century in Iceland can be found in a passage from Elucidarius, where the teacher explains to his pupil that the head of Man was given a rounded shape in the likeness of the world: Hofoﬂ hans vas bollot ígliking heimballar (Simek 1990, 401, transcribed from MS AM 674a, 4to, dated ca.1200). Being so brief, the explanation could not have made sense 1 2 David Ashurst unless the idea of a spherical world was taken for granted. In mid-thirteenthcentury Norway, by contrast, the writer of Konungs skuggsjá makes his wise king take the trouble to discuss the shape of the earth at some length, and to clinch his argument with the famous image of an apple hanging next to a candle, where the apple represents the earth and the candle is the sun. The use of this image is rather confused, but the conclusion is perfectly clear: Nu skal aa ﬂui marka at bollottur er iardar hrijngur (Kon. sk. 1945, 11).
To these references may be added a passage in Alexanders saga, not mentioned by Simek, in which the Persian King Darius sends an insulting letter to the youthful Alexander who has already, at this point, made extensive conquests in Persian territory. Darius’ envoys present Alexander with a ball which his letter says is to be understood as a plaything more suitable to Alexander’s age than are shields and swords. Alexander replies that he puts a different interpretation on the gift, for the shape of the ball represents the world which he will conquer: Bollrenn markar me› vexte sinom heim ﬂenna er ec man undir mec leggia (Alexanders saga 1925, 1932-33).1 This is a close paraphrase of the corresponding lines in the Alexandreis (Walter 1978, II.38Forma rotunda pilae speram speciemque rotundi, Quem michi subiciam, pulchre determinat orbis.
The story of Alexander’s riposte was certainly well-known in thirteenth-century Europe, not only through the Alexandreis, which was hugely successful and became a school text, but because it also occurs at paragraph I.38 in sundry versions of the Alexander Romance.2 Even if the Old Norse audience of Alexanders saga did not already know the story, however, it is clear that they were expected to understand its point without difficulty; for it is the translator’s habit to explain matters which he thinks might cause difficulty, but here he renders the account pithily and without any comment of his own.
Vestiges of mythological thinking in which the earth seems to be imagined as a flat disk, however, may be found in a passage where the clash of the opposing armies at Gaugamela is said to shake the ground and to make Atlas stagger: Athals stakra›e vi› er einn er af ﬂeim er vpp hallda heimenom. sva at hann fek varla sta›et vndir byr›e sinne (Al. Saga 1925, 6525-27). Here heimr means ‘sky’, in contrast with the earth on which the titan is standing. The explanation of Atlas as ‘one of those who hold up the sky’, implying that there are others, is an addition to the Latin text (see Walter 1978, IV.293-296). It would have been comprehensible even to an audience unfamiliar with classical
literature because it takes the Graeco-Roman myth of Atlas, the sole supporter of the heavens, and brings it into line with the Old Norse myth as told by Snorri (1988, 12) in Gylfaginning, where it is said that four dwarfs support the sky.
The sky itself is conceived, in Snorri’s text, as the dome of a giant’s skull set up over what is, by implication, a flat earth. By alluding to this idea, the translator of Alexanders saga encourages his audience, like that of Gylfaginning, to imagine the world as something like a plate with a basin inverted on top of it;
and the brevity of the allusion shows that the audience was ready to substitute this image for that of the spherical earth when prompted by a mythological context. It should be mentioned, however, that at least one medieval reader of the saga in the Arna-Magnæan manuscript 519a (see f. 16v ) felt called upon to note that the world is not really covered by a bowl-like sky held up by Atlas et al., for at this point he has written in the margin the words fabulosum est, ‘this is mythical’.
The themes of the spherical earth and the bowl-shaped sky undergo an interesting development and combination in a passage which paraphrases Walter (1978) VII.393-403. It describes Darius’ tomb with its glittering columns and the spectacular dome which displays a map of the world on its
inner surface (Al. Saga 1925, 11212-20):
Vppi yvir stolpunum var hvalf sva gagnsétt sem gler. ﬂvilict vaxet sem himinn til at sia.
áﬂvi hvalve var scrifa›r heimrenn allr greindr isina ﬂri›iunga. oc sva hver lond liggia ihveriom ﬂri›iunge [...] oc sva eyiar ﬂér er i hafino liggia. ﬂar var oc markat hversu vthafet ger›er vm oll londin.
Here the expression heimrinn allr does not mean the globe but the world in the sense of the three continents inhabited by mankind; it corresponds to Walter’s phrase tripertitus orbis (1978, VII.397), where orbis means ‘a rounded surface, disk’, or more specifically ‘the circle of the world’ or simply ‘world’ (Lewis and Short 1879). It certainly cannot mean ‘globe’, for no-one ever suggested that the globe was entirely covered by the three known continents. The map omits the possible fourth continent which is mentioned by Isidore (1911), for example, in Etymologiae XIV.5.17, and which is occasionally included in world maps from the twelfth century onwards, labelled terra australis incognita (Simek 1996, 51). Are Walter and his translator therefore imagining a nonspherical world in this passage, one which has no southern hemisphere?
Probably the answer is ‘no’ because the surface on which the map is drawn is itself hemispherical, as we see from the phrase vaxit sem himinn, ‘shaped like the sky’, which corresponds to Walter’s statement (1978, VII.395-396) that the dome is caelique uolubilis instar, Concaua testudo, ‘an image of the turning sky, a concave shell’. What we seem to have here, then, is a representation of the northern hemisphere drawn inside a hemispherical vault. But in that case we also have here a text in which the northern half of the globe is referred to quite definitely as heimrinn allr.
4 David Ashurst This representation of the world needs to be borne in mind when reading the closing pages of the saga, where Alexander attains the summit of power after reaching the farthest limit of Asia and returning to Babylon via the outer Ocean, conquering any islands in his way. Nu er aptr at snua til sogunnar, says the translator after reporting Walter’s moralisations on the state of affairs, oc fra ﬂvi at segia a›r en Alexander latiz. at hamingian oc freg›en gerir hann einvallz hof›engia yfir heiminvm (Al. saga 1925, 14932-1501). All the nations which remain unconquered are astounded by the news of Alexander’s success, and they decide now to surrender rather than to face certain defeat; accordingly they send their emissaries to Babylon, offering tribute and allegiance. To the modern reader this sudden development may seem almost comical, but it needs to be taken quite seriously for we can see that it fulfils the promise which God, in the likeness of the Jewish High Priest and not fully recognised by Alexander, gave to the young king while he was still in Macedonia: Far›u abraut af fostr lande ﬂino Alexander. ﬂviat ec man allt folk undir ﬂic leggia (Al. saga 1925, 1717-18, corresponding to Walter 1978, I.532-533).3 In Babylon Alexander takes on his role as world ruler with due solemnity: pious pagan that he is and remains, he thanks the divine powers for the new turn of events, and then assures the emissaries that the peoples who have surrendered to him will be treated with no less mercy than he has already shown to those whom he conquered (Al. saga 15025-1513 ; Walter X.283-298). Once the emissaries have been dismissed, however, he must face up once and for all to a problem which he has already foreseen. Now that he has gained possession of the whole world
- that is to say, the northern hemisphere as it was depicted on the dome of Darius’ tomb - what will he do with himself and his army? Speaking to his
knights, he gives a typically heroic answer (Al. saga 15113-17):
ﬂviat nu er ner ecke vi› at briotaz iﬂessvm heiminum. ﬂat er vaR frami mege vaxa vi›. en oss hevir eigi at vaR hvatleicr dofne af atfer›arleyse. ﬂa gerum sva vel oc leitum ﬂeira er byggva annan heimenn. at var freg› oc kraptr late engis úfreistat ﬂess er til frem›ar se. oc ver megem allan alldr lifa íloflegri frasognn ﬂeira. er var storvirki vilia ritat hava.
3 It may also be noted that the writer of Gy›inga saga (1995, 3), alluding to the Alexanders saga
account, takes it as sober historical fact that the Macedonian became sole ruler of the world:
Alexandr hinn Riki ok hinn mikli kongr. ﬂa er hann hafdi sigrat ok undir sik lagt allar ﬂiodir iheiminum sem fyrr var Ritat [...] ﬂa skipti hann Riki sino med sinum monnum xii.
4 ‘Nothing now remains to be completed in this world. Come, then, let us seek the peoples of the Antipodes who lie beneath another sun, that your familiarity with the use of arms may not languish, and that our glory and valour may leave nothing untried whereby they can gain increase, 5 11th International Saga Conference In the text from Alexanders saga, the phrase ﬂessi heimrinn clearly means the northern world which Alexander has already conquered, in contrast with the southern hemisphere, which is here signified by annarr heimrinn. There appears to be no other passage in Old Norse literature which uses the term annarr heimrinn in this way, but it is evident that those who dwell in the other heimr and whom Alexander means to seek, are the peoples of the Antipodes.
According to widespread medieval views, such people may or may not actually exist beyond the equatorial Torrid Zone, in the southern temperate region of the globe. Being on the other side of the earth, their feet would be planted opposite those of people in the north - hence the Latin name antipodes, for which the Old Norse equivalent, andfœtingar, is recorded in a very few texts. There is evidence that the existence of the andfœtingar was believed in quite seriously in Iceland, for a twelfth-century homily makes a brief reference to them in order to illustrate the principle that some people are bound to lack a thing while others enjoy it (Íslensk Hómilíubók 1993, 180): Á sólina koma flestir nytjum, og eru ﬂó rændir a›rir andfætingar hennar ljósi, ﬂá er a›rir hafa. And a diagram of the world in an Icelandic manuscript from the early fourteenth century shows the southern temperate zone and labels it synnri byg›, implying that it is habitable and possibly inhabited (Simek 1990, 320, 406 and 409).
The early-fourteenth-century Norwegian writer of the first part of Stjórn, on the other hand, is quite certain that there can be no human beings in the southern hemisphere, but at the same time he asserts the reality of the fourth, Antipodean, continent; and in stating his theological reasons for denying the existence of andfœtingar he has left us a neat summary of the whole topic (Stjórn 1862, 99-100):