by William Reaves, edited by Úlfgrim Vílmeiðson
Copyright © William Reaves
The following is, believe it or not, a footnote from Teutonic Mythology by Viktor Rydberg translated by Rasmus Anderson 1889. The passage is difficult, but very rewarding when studying Saxo. Other authors have acknowledged and commended Rydberg's work on Saxo Grammaticus' Danish History (comments are given in square brackets):
"The first 9 books of Saxo form a labyrinth constructed out of the myths related as history, but the thread of Ariadne seems to be wanting. [Greek myth reference here: Ariadne's ball of thread led Theseus out of Minos' Labyrinth; note from Hodd.] On this account, it might be supposed that Saxo had treated the rich mythical materials at his command in an arbitrary and unmethodical manner; and we must bear in mind that these mythical materials were far more abundant in his time than they were in the following centuries, when they were to be recorded by the Icelandic authors [Namely Snorri; note from Hodd.] This supposition is however, wrong.
"Saxo has examined his sources methodically and with scrutiny and has handled them with all due reverence when he assumed the desperate task of constructing, by the aid of the mythic traditions and heroic poems at hand, a chronicle spanning several centuries---a chronicle in which 50 to 60 successive rulers were to be brought on stage and off again--- while myths and heroic traditions embrace but few generations and most mythic persons continue to exist through all ages. In the very nature of the case, Saxo was obliged, in order to solve this problem, to put his material on the rack [in other words "to torture it"] BUT a thorough study of the above-mentioned books of his history shows that he treated the delinquent with consistancy.
"The simplest of the rules he followed was to avail himself of the polyonomy with which the myths and heroic poems are overloaded [Polyonomy: the use of many or various names for a single character. For example Odin-Har-Grimnir-Bolverk-etc; Thor-Veor-Hlorridi-etc; Freya-Mardoll-Vanadis-Horn-etc.] and to do so in the following manner:
"Assume that a person in the mythic or heroic poems had three or four names or epithets (he may have had a score). We will call this person A and the various forms of his name A', A", and A"'. Saxo's task of producing a chain of events running through many centuries forced him to consider the names A', A", and A"' as originally 3 persons who had performed similar exploits and therefore had, in the course of time, been confounded with each other, and blended by the authors of the myths and stories into one person A. As best he can, Saxo tries to resolve the mythical product, composed in his opinion of historical elements, and to distribute the exploits attributed to A between A', A'', and A"'. It may also be that one or more of the stories attributed to A were found more or less varied in different sources. In such cases he would report the same stories with slight variations about A', A" and A'". The similarities remaining form ONE important group of indications which he has furnished to guide us, but which can assure us that our investigation is in the right course ONLY when corroborated by indications belonging to other groups or corroborrated in statements preserved in other sources [such as the Eddas].
"But in the events which Saxo in this manner relates about A', A" and A"', other persons are also mentioned. We will assume that in the myths and in the heroic poems that these characters have been named B and C. These too have in the songs of the skalds several names and epithets. B has also been called B', B", and B"'. C has also been styled C', C", and C"'.
"Out of this one subordinate person B, Saxo, by aid of the abundance of names, makes as many subordinate persons--B', B", and B"'---as he made out of the original chief person A--that is the chief persons A', A", and A"'. Thus also with C, and in this way we get the following analogies:
A' is to B' and C' as
A" is to B" is to C" and as
A"' is to B'" is to C"'
"By comparing all that is related concerning these 9 names, we are enabled gradually to form a more or less correct idea of what the original myth has contained in regard to A, B, and C. If it then happens, as is often the case, that 2 or more of the names A', B' and C' etc are found in the Icelandic or other documents, and there belong to persons whose adventures are in some respects the same and in other respects are made clearer and more complete, by what Saxo tells about A', A" and A"' etc, then it is proper to continue the investigation in the direction thus started. If then, every step brings forth new confirmations from various sources, and if a myth thus restored easily dovetails itself into an epic cycle of myths, and there forms a necessary link in the chain of events, then the investigation has produced the desired result.
"An aid in the investigation is not unfrequently the circumstance that the names at Saxo's disposal were not sufficent for all points in the above scheme. We then find analogies which open for us, so to speak, short cuts----for instance, as follows:
A' is to B' is to C' as
A" is to B' is to C" and as
A"' is to B" is to C'
The parallels in the above text [not included here] are a concrete example of the above scheme. For we have seen--
A=Halfdan, A'=Gram A"=Halfdan Berggram A'"=Halfdan Borgarsson
B=Ebbo [Egil of our myths] (Ebur, Ibor, Jofurr) B'=Henricus and B'"=Sivarus
C doubled in C'=Svipdag and C"=Ericus
Saxo is the "control" and also in many ways the skeleton key to unlock the gaps in the our mythology. Saxo distorts the material, but he also had it in an older form than what survives in the Icelandic documents. His "History" of Denmark offers us another perspective on the mythology as a whole. However, one must be extremely careful and prove several surfaces of contact before he assumes he has discovered a "lost" myth. The Balder Myth as told by Saxo is a prime example. Here, it can be demonstrated that he has mixed the tales of Hodr, Balder's brother, and Odr, Freyja's mortal husband, based on the similarity of there names and mythic circumstances.
A study of all sources of and references to the Balder myth as well as a reconstruction of the tale of Odr and how he came to marry the most beautiful of goddesses (found in Saxo, Fjolsvinsmal, Groagaldr, and Snorri's works, and even referred to in Beowulf) reveal that he has mixed elements of the myths related to Odr and Hodr into a new tale. Odr is consistantly an enemy of Halfdan, who killed his father and raped his mother. Halfdan however is protected by Thor. Odr seeks revenge on Thor's favorite. To do so, he must obtain a weapon greater than Mjollnir and actually put Thor to flight (as described by Saxo and mentioned by Snorri).
With the aid of the moon-god Gevarus, he learns that this weapon (a sword forged by one of the Ivaldi sons, rivals to the creators of Thor's hammer) is held in Mimir's Holt and makes a journey after it. The details of his travels are confirmed by the protecting chants that Groa, his mother, sings over him in Groagaldr, as compared to the adventures of Hotharus to Mimingus' cave as told by Saxo.(in one charm Groa gives her son a charm that will grant her son "tongue and brain's" should he meet "the weapon-honored giant", the other charms also contain confirming evidence; Recall to that Svipdag in Fjolvinsmal and Groagaldr has proverbs on his lips, like his other name in Saxo Ericus Disertus, Eric the Eloquent) This is the very weapon which Svipdag (Odr) brings to Asgard in Fjolvinsmal in order to secure Freyja's hand. Numerous other elements in the story can be attributed to the adventure of Odr-Svipdag, thus it would seem that Saxo has mixed the tales of Odr, Freyja's husband and Hodr, Balder's brother.
The fact that they both at one time live in Asgard and at another time oppose the gods of Asgard, and that they both use weapons described as "teinn" (Gambanteinn, and Mistleteinn, which are also compared in kennings), as well as other traits, support Saxo's combination of the two. It is very difficult to illustrate in this format and is best done by Rydberg in a series of chapters in the 3rd Volume of the English translation of Teutonic Mythology. Many surfaces of contact verify his conclusions rather than mere similarities and speculations. I will simply reitterate here that Saxo holds a wealth of information in regard to our faith and the remnants of many of our so-called "lost" myths. I'd be happy to give examples upon request.
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