Notes and Questions on Norse Myth
(read Introduction, pp. xiv-xxxii.)

(xviii) Tacitus = Roman historian (55 AD?-120AD?).
(xxi) Midgard can also mean "middle enclosure, garden, yard" or "middle earth."

Myth #1. Surt = "black." Ginnungagap = "yawning gap." Ymir, related to Sanskrit Yama, "twin, hermaphrodite." Audhumla = "rich hornless cow." Bor = "born." Ask = "ash." Embla = "elm." Like the Greek creation, the Norse story occurs in several stages. How are these stages similar or different from the Greek story? Can you see any reasons for each of these steps? Do you think there is any "fall" or introduction of evil into the world in this story? How is the flood here like or unlike other floods we've seen?

Odin on his eight-legged horse, Sleipnir. A valkyrie 
welcomes Odin back to Valhalla (note the cup of mead in his 
left hand). Detail of a picture-stone found at Tjängvide on the 
Swedish island of Gotland. Click on photo for a complete view.

Myth #2. Gullveig = "metal madness."
How is this early war like or unlike Zeus' war with the Titans? (What do you think this war is about? Who wins?) Compare / contrast Mimir with Orpheus.

Myth #3. Is Loki a good guy or bad guy in this story? Who is the the mare (13)? Can these gods die? List references to the seasonal cycle of nature that you find in the story.

Myth #4. Nidhogg C-H says it means "corpse tearer," but other sources say Nid means "waning" or "dark," and hoggr means "one who strikes down or fells." In other words, a "dark biter." Urd = "fate, destiny." The names of the three Norns can also be translated as "past, future, and present." I seized the runes = runes are the name for the letters an early alphabet, thought to give its possessors, the shamans and druids, a magic power.
What kind of wisdom does Odin want? How is Odin like or unlike a typical shaman? How like or unlike Zeus? How like or unlike Christ? [See note 186-188.]

Myth #6. Kvasir You can still see his name in a variety of drinks today, like the Russian kvass (a sort of beer) and the French courvoisier (a kind of brandy). Its Indo-European root, kwath- means "to ferment, to be sour." Mead is wine made from honey.
Why do you think the mead of poetry is so valuable? What connections do you see in the story between killing (sowing?) and fertility (reaping)? (See "John Barleycorn" in packet.) Why do you think Odin chose the name "Bolverk" (evil work)? Compare the host/guest relationship in this tale to those in the Greek myths. Why do you think Odin says, "to be a poet: that's the finest calling" (30). Compare and contrast the beginning of the story to the end. In what ways does Odin follow the hero's journey pattern?

Myth #7. Hel = "to cover"; Angrboda = "distress-bringer" [angst + "bode"].
Compare Loki's children to Greek monsters (Typhoios, Medusa, Cerberus). What do you think the serpent could symbolize? Why can't the gods kill Fenrir in Asgard? What could Fenrir symbolize? (Why must he be bound?)

Myth #8. In what ways is the roasting of the oxen in this story like or unlike that in the Oxen of the Sun episode in the Odyssey (143-145)? Why does the eagle want to prevent cooking? In what ways is eating an ox more "natural" than eating golden apples? How is a nut like an apple? Compare and contrast the end of the story to the beginning.

Myth #9. Why doesn't Skadi take the gold? Does her reasoning suprise you? Can you think of some reasons (natural, psychological) for Njord and Skadi's failed marriage?

Myth #10. What could Sif's hair symbolize? Give some reasons why the second group of 3 gifts is superior to the first group. What are Loki's motives in this story? In what ways is this myth like / unlike the Hymn to Hermes?

Myth #11. Gerd = "field" or "earth." Barri = "barley."
Do you agree with Crossley-Holland's interpretation of this myth in the Note on pp. 199-200? Why do you think Gerd finally gives in? See also the photo at D. L Ashliman's page on Freyr the fertility god.

Myth #13. Why do you think Odin is so upset at the conduct of Freyja? (Compare and contrast to the stories of Aphrodite and Anchises and Odysseus and Calypso.) Why do you think Odin demands that Freyja stir up hatred?

Myth #14. What do you think the hammer symbolizes? (See also Myths #16, p. 81, and #19, p. 108.) In what ways are Thor's stories like hero stories? (Compare / contrast this story to the folktale "Little Red Riding Hood.") For pictures of hammer amulets and more on Thor, check out Thor's Home Page.

Myth #16. Logi = flames. What does this story tell you about the strengths and weaknesses of the Norse gods? Compare their powers to those of the Greek gods. In what ways in this hero's journey like and unlike that of Oedipus?

Myth # 17. How is this story like or unlike myth #6, "The Mead of Poetry"? Why do you think Hymir lets Thor have the cauldron? What do you think the Giants symbolize?

Myth #19. Name some ways this story is like / unlike the Cyclops episode in the Odyssey. Why didn't Thor just kill Hrungnir right there in Valhalla?

Myth #22. Harbard = "Greybeard" = Odin. Like #30, this story is a ritual abuse contest, called flyting. (See note, pp. 232.)

Myth #24. Gjalp = "yelp." Greip = "grip."
What other Norse tales is this story similar to? In what ways are Grid and Gjalp like Circe in the Odyssey? What do you think of Crossley-Holland's interpretation on pp. 220-221?

Myth #26. Why do you think killing an otter was such a big deal? Why should an animal have "a barrow"--a burial mound (141)?

Myth #28. If Odin knows what will happen, then why doesn't he take measures to avert it? Who is the "mother of three monsters" (148)?

Myth #29. Why do you think the "fairest and most gentle of the gods" (147; 151; 154) should have to die? Why do you think Loki wants to kill Balder? Can you connect what you know about mistletoe to the death of Balder? What do you think it means that Balder's blind brother delivers the death stroke? What do you think this story tells us about death? (Compare to the stories of the theft of Idun's apples [Myth #8] and the journey to Utgard [Myth #16]. Compare also to Greek stories like Orpheus.) What foreshadowing do you see of Ragnarok (the end of the world) in the events of Balder's funeral?

Myth #30. In what ways is Loki a typical trickster figure? How is he different? How is he like / unlike Prometheus? Why do you think the gods are afraid of Loki's words?

Myth #31. Didn't Loki already use or invent a net on p. 139? Or is this net special? How is Kvasir like Balder? Why do you think Kvasir had to come back for this story?

Myth #32. How is this end of the world like or unlike the common Christian conceptions of the end of the world? How is it like / unlike Hesiod's Golden age?


Two Runic Alphabets

Runes are alphabetic characters designed to be inscribed (cut in bone, metal, wood, and stone). Runes were also used by the Germanic tribes before the Viking Age. Most runic inscriptions that have survived are on memorial stones, commemorating a rulerís achievements, a death, or dedication. There were two main Viking Age (800-1200 AD) runic alphabets, the long-twig and the short-twig. Go to the Gullskoen rune fonts site to find out what they look like. For more on rune stones and runic inscriptions, go to the Viking age rune stones site. See also D. L. Ashliman's' Runestones and Picture Stones from Scandanavia.

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