Ex Libris Kirkland

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Subtitle Snorri and the Making of Norse Myths
First Written 2012
Genre History
Origin Iceland
Publisher St. Martin's Griffin
ISBN-10 1137278870
ISBN-13 978-1137278876
My Copy library paperback
First Read March 13, 2017

Song of the Vikings

In addition to the life story of Snorri Sturlason (Iceland's most famous poet & writer, from the 1200s), this includes a few really great, short retellings of Norse myth. The history is great, and Snorri's story is fascinating. Recommended!

Noted on March 17, 2017

The old gods knew they would die. They knew the monsters would defeat them--and that Loki the Trickster, once Odin's best friend and blood brother, would fight on the monster's side. They knew the signs of Ragnarok, the signs of their own coming doom.

"Brothers will kill each other out of greed. No one will show mercy to father or son in killing or breaking the taboos of kinship," Snorri writes.

Then comes the Fimbul Winter, mighty and mysterious, with hard frosts and keen winds and snow drifting in all directions. This winter will last for three years, with no summers in between. The sun and moon will be eaten by wolves. The stars will disappear. The earth will shake, mountains will crumble, oceans overflow.

All fetters and bonds will break. The wolf Fenrir will come ravaging, his mouth so wide his snout scrapes the sky, while his lower jaw drags in the dirt. Flames will burn from his nose and eyes. The Midgard Serpent will thrash its way to land, spitting poison. The sky will split, and Surt will ride through the gap, wielding his flaming sword, fire giants and troll wives surging behind him. They will break the rainbow bridge by their passing. On the battle plain they will join forces with the frost ogres and all of Hel's people, led by the traitor Loki.

The ash tree Yggdrasil will shake to its roots.

Then the god Heimdall will blow his great horn. The gods will meet in council. Odin, with bitter courage, will don his golden helmet and his fine coat of mail, pick up his spear, and arrange their battle array: He will face the wolf Fenrir and be swallowed whole. Thor will fight the Midgard Serpent and slay it- but be felled in turn by its poisonous breath. Freyr will duel with Surt but lose for lack of his good sword, the one he bargained away to bed a giantess, and Surt will fling fire over the earth and burn the world to cinders.

It would ultimately be reborn, a new green earth rising from the sea. But without Odin, the one-eyed wizard-king, and his companions, nothing would be the same.

Quoted on March 17, 2017

In the literature of the North, Morris sensed the "air of freedom." From visiting Iceland in 1871 and 1873, he wrote "I learned one lesson: that the most grinding poverty is a trifling evil compared with the inequality of classes."

Quoted on March 17, 2017

Arni became a professor at the University of Copenhagen in 1701, and the next year the king sent him back to Iceland to gather statistics about his country's land and people. His massive Land Register, compiled over ten years, describes every farm in Iceland, its size and shape, buildings, people, cows, sheep, horses, the bulk of butter and cloth it owed in tithes; the quality of its turf, peat, hay, and woodlots; its fishing and driftwood rights; and the extent of the property ruined by volcanic ash or sand or rendered useless by quagmires, bogs, erosion, or flooding. Off the record Arni asked every farmer about manuscripts--and poked about in every farmhouse. He collected every scrap. He found two pages from a thirteenth-century manuscript with holes punched in them to make a flour sifter. He found pages used as dress patterns, shoe soles, knee patches, and even the stiffening in a bishop's mitre. He pieced them back into books: One sixty-page manuscript came from eight different farms.

Quoted on March 17, 2017

Viking court poetry, or skaldic poetry, was a sophisticated art form. The rules are more convoluted than those for a sonnet or haiku. In the most common form for a praise poem, a stanza had eight lines. Each line had six syllables and three stresses. The rhythm was fixed, as were the patterns of assonance and alliteration. The musicality of a line was of utmost importance: A skaldic poem was designed to please the ear. It was first a sound picture, though in a great poem sound and meaning were inseparable. Each four-line half-stanza contained at least two thoughts--and these could be braided together so that the listener had to pay close attention to the grammar (not the word order) to disentangle subject, object, and verb. Especially since nothing was stated plainly. Why call a ship a ship when it could be "the otter of the ocean"?

... To some people the opaqueness of skaldic verse was part of its appeal. A poem was a cross between a riddle and a trivia quiz. The riddle entailed disentangling the interlaced phrases so that they formed two grammatical sentences. The quiz part was the kennings. Snorri defined kennings in his Edda (he may also have coined the term). "Otter of the ocean" is an easy one. As Snorri explained, there are three kinds of kennings: "It is a simple kenning to call battle 'spear clash' and it is a double kenning to call a sword 'fire of the spear-clash,' and it is extended if there are more elements."

Kennings are rarely so easy to decipher as these.

Quoted on March 17, 2017

Snorri was now forty, and we have already established that he was not much of a Viking. He was not tall, strong, or recklessly brave, and he was tending toward fat from all that feasting and ale drinking. (Stout, he would have said. Dignified.) Another long-established way in which an Icelander could impress a king and gain treasure and an aristocratic title was as a king's skald, or court poet. This was the route Snorri took.

Quoted on March 17, 2017

By the time he was forty, in 1218, Snorri had plucked all the prizes Iceland had to offer. He had wealth, lands, and the love of women. He wielded more power than any Icelander before him, as he was not only the lawspeaker but held seven chieftaincies, with the ability to tax and call to arms thousands of men. He wanted more.

Quoted on March 17, 2017

Ex Libris Kirkland is a super-self-absorbed reading journal made by Matt Kirkland. Copyright © 2001 - .
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