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1160s in England

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1160s in England
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Events from the 1160s in England.

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  • ✪ Introduction to Norse Mythology (25 min.)
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Hi, I’m Dr. Jackson Crawford. I’m an Old Norse specialist teaching at the University of Colorado, Boulder, previously at UC Berkeley and UCLA. It’s early March here in northern Colorado, and the St. Vrain River is still very much frozen, at least the parts that I’ve been walking on, and what I want to do today is give an introductory lecture about Norse mythology: what are the basic facts; who are the basic figures, what are the basic terms that one needs to understand this mythology? On this channel, I’ve made many videos about particular subjects, particular gods, particular poems, particular sources, but I realized that I’ve never done just an intro for someone who is just starting to get into it, or who wants to know the basics of what we really can know from our medieval sources, so in this video I’m going to try to do that. So first of all, I’m going to be using the forms of names in classical Old Norse, and I will be presenting them on the screen in classical Old Norse. That is going to involve using some letters that are found in Old Norse, but not in modern English. These include ‘thorn’, which is the ‘th’ sound in thin, thorn, theater, thick, etc. ‘Eth’, which is the sound in weather, leather, Heather, breathe, etc. Then- that is the ‘th’ sound in those words. There is ‘ash’, which is the ‘a’ sound in cat, or rad, or bag. There is O with a stroke, which is like Arnold Schwarzenegger saying ‘bird’- it´s that ‘eu’ vowel, much like O with two dots in German. And there is O caudata, which is ‘aw’; it is ‘ahh’ with rounded lips, like a northern New Jersey pronunciation of ‘coffee’. I have a separate video that quickly goes over some more examples of these special letters, and keep in mind that the pronunciation that I´m using here is reconstructed Old Norse, not modern Icelandic. So to begin with, what are our sources? Our most important are textual sources from Iceland, written in the 1200s in Old Norse, the medieval language of Scandinavia. Most of these are probably based on much older oral traditions, so even though they´re written in the 1200s, they probably have much older roots. There’s the Poetic Edda. This is a compilation of poems preserved in a manuscript called the Codex Regius, and some of which are in other manuscripts too, or preserved only in some other manuscripts. These include such major poems as Vǫluspá, which tells of the creation of the world as well as its destruction at Ragnarok. There is VafÞrúðnismál, which is a trivia contest between Óðinn and a giant named Vafþrúðnir. This, as are many other poems, can be shown by linguistic evidence to be as old as the 900s. There is Grímnismál, in which the god Óðinn reveals details about the homes where the gods live, as well as about Valhǫll, his hall, and his names. Lokasenna, in which Loki insults all the gods and goddesses and reveals he's Óðinn’s blood brother, which explains some things, like why he’s kept around in the first place, and Rígsþula, not in the Codex Regius, but often included in modern editions and translations of the Poetic Edda. This tells about Heimdallr fathering the three social classes of human beings. These five poems- if you happen to get a translation of the Poetic Edda, such as my own, available since 2015- would give you a good grounding in the basics of the myth. There’s also the Prose Edda; this is a distinct book from the Poetic Edda. This is by one author; by Snorri Sturluson, born 1178 or 1179, died 1241. In the Prose Edda, Snorri is writing to explain the myths in order to make skaldic poetry, a complicated school of Norse poetry, more understandable. Since the skaldic poetry often uses allusions to myths, he wants to make the myths better known in the time he’s writing: the early 1200s, when the myths are becoming less popular. The Poetic Edda and Prose Edda are often confused, but remember that the Poetic Edda is a compilation of poems, many of which are probably centuries older from the oral tradition, and the Prose Edda is actually the work of an author who’s trying to explain the myths, rather than just a transmission of older poems. There are also many mythical sagas that contain allusions to the gods, or even the gods as actors. Gautrek’s Saga contains a scene in which a man is sacrificed to Óðinn: symbolically at first, but later very literally, and this seems to have some relevance to how men might actually have been sacrificed to Óðinn, as Óðinn sacrifices himself to himself in a similar fashion in the poem Hávamál. There’s also for instance the Saga of the Volsungs, where Óðinn is a major player who interacts quite a bit with the human heroes of that saga. And then there are skaldic poems. Skaldic poems are rarely about gods; they’re rarely about myths, but they will make allusions to myths because skaldic poems are so complicated in their rules for the language you use in each different line that often a poet is forced to use some kind of allusive, alternative name for something rather than just calling it what it is. This is not a kind of poetry where you call a spade a spade. This is a kind of poetry where you’re likely to call a spade something that refers to some obscure myth of Óðinn just so you can work in words that alliterate or rhyme in the correct pattern in a skaldic line. So skaldic poems, despite rarely actually being directly about myths, in their kennings, their indirect metaphors and allusions often tell us about myth sort of indirectly, and since they are so complicated, they’re easy to date by linguistic criteria, which means that a skaldic poem that can be dated to the 800s, for example, shows us that if it references a myth, that the myth was known in the 800s. Outside of Iceland, we have some writers in Latin who touch on Norse myths or earlier Germanic myths probably ancestral to the Norse myths. These writers are rarely as sympathetic to the Norse gods as are writers in Iceland. So for example we have Saxo Grammaticus, a Danish writer, also the name of my ska band... He was born in the 1160s; died probably in the 1220s. He wrote his Gesta Danorum, or ‘Deeds of the Danes’; this is an ecclesiastical history and… and secular history of Denmark. I shouldn’t have said ecclesiastical; he is an ecclesiastical writer, but it’s mostly a secular history of Denmark that includes many stories about the Old Norse gods, often euhemerized to portray the gods not as deific figures anymore, but rather as human beings with strange powers. Saxo often tells different versions of the myths than we find in the Icelandic Eddas, which is valuable for reminding us how much variation there probably existed in these myths in the Middle Ages. There’s also the interesting source Adam of Bremen, a German writer. In the 1070s or so, he wrote of pagan religious rituals in Uppsala, Sweden, which gives us one of the few credible accounts of worship of the Norse gods in Scandinavia during pre-Christian times, so a very interesting source. And then I also should mention Tacitus, a Roman writer born around 54 and dead around 120. In his book, Germania, he wrote of the religious rituals of early Germanic tribes. Now, the Norse are a Germanic speaking people; English is also a Germanic language, so it is likely that the rituals that he observed among early Germanic peoples are similar to earlier versions of Norse religious rituals. While we cannot say that these give us information about Norse mythology during the Viking Age, any more than we could say that something, you know, from an English church in 1118 gives us an idea about what happens in an American church in 2018. Still, there is probably some continuity, and so this provides some information and at least some kind of vantage point from which to view the earliest history of these myths. Some archaeological sources survive as well, from the Viking Age. There include the Gotland Picture Stones: these depict mythological scenes, especially Óðinn on his horse, Sleipnir. There are rune stones that mention gods, including Óðinn, Þórr, and Týr, and some have illustrations of myths of Þórr. Amulets worn around the neck shaped like Þórr's hammer Mjǫllnir have been found, hundreds of which. These are so common that they suggest, of course, that Þórr was a very popular god, which is in line with what we read in our sources. We also find idols, pocket sized images of gods. Known examples depict the popular gods Þórr and Freyr. And then in the place names of Scandinavia, as well as in places Scandinavians settled such as England, there are places that have the names of the gods in them. These can give us an idea about what gods were worshipped where, and which gods were relatively popular at different times. Now, who are the gods themselves? Of course, I have other videos that delve into this more deeply, but as a basic orientation there are two families of gods: the Æsir and Vanir. These two tribes might formerly have been at war. The Æsir are the dominant family of gods; Æsir is plural; the singular is Áss. Now, the chief god of the Æsir as portrayed in the Eddas is the god Óðinn. He gave up an eye for wisdom and he collects dead warriors in his hall, Valhǫll, to fight for him at Ragnarok, the final battle between gods and their enemies. Óðinn dispenses his advice in a poem called Hávamál that’s in the Poetic Edda. The advice is typically very practical in nature, and in this poem he also tells us about his sacrifice of himself to himself, a mysterious story that is not fully understood. Óðinn has a spear called Gungnir created by dwarves, that always strikes its target. He rides a horse with 8 legs, a stallion named Sleipnir. Loki is that horse’s mother. And Óðinn has two ravens named Huginn and Muninn: thought, and memory. They fly around the world and bring back the news for Óðinn. Óðinn also has two wolves that he feeds at the table in Valhǫll at dinner time. Óðinn famously seized the mead of poetry called Óðrerir from the giants. This is the mead that allows one to become a great poet. Óðinn gives the gift of the berserk fury to certain warriors who were also made impervious to fire and iron. These men, while favored by Óðinn, are often portrayed as evil, or at the least selfish, in the Icelandic sagas. Óðinn takes many names in disguise, such as Bǫlverkr (Evil-Doer), Hárbarðr (Graybeard), and others that portray either his personality or his appearance, which is that of a one-eyed man, often dressed in gray, sometimes blue, often with a hood or a wide-brimmed hat on his head, and of course, one eye. Óðinn has a son named Víðarr, who will avenge Óðinn by killing the wolf Fenrir at Ragnarok, and I’ll come back to Ragnarok. Óðinn’s wife is Frigg, with her he has his son Baldr, and Hǫðr, probably. I’ll come back to them as well. But Óðinn’s most famous son is Þórr. Þórr is the protector of humans and gods. He is often out fighting the jǫtnar, or giants, and he is very often tricked in stories about him. One poem in the Poetic Edda called Hárbarðsljóð depicts an insult battle between Óðinn and Þórr. Another, Hymiskviða, tells the story of Þórr fishing for the Miðgarðsormr, or Miðgarð serpent, that encircles the world. This story is also in Snorri’s Prose Edda. In the poem Þrymskviða, Þórr loses his precious hammer Mjǫllnir, and he must dress as a bride to get it back. And in the poem Alvíssmál, Þórr tricks a dwarf into reciting skaldic kennings until the dwarf dies. I’ve alluded to Þórr’s hammer, Mjǫllnir. This is an invincible, short shafted hammer that can destroy anything, will come back to Þórr when he throws it, and it can shrink down to the size of a regular amulet so he can wear it. This was created by dwarves as part of the same story as the creation of Óðinn’s spear Gungnir. Þórr is accompanied by his child slaves: Þjálfi, a boy, and Rǫskva, a girl. They were acquired after Þjálfi broke one of Þórr’s goat’s legs, since Þórr rides a chariot pulled by goats. That is in the story of Þórr encountering Útgarða-Loki, which is told in the Prose Edda. This also includes the story of Þórr being tricked into drinking the ocean, or at least part of it, and wrestling with old age. It is a particularly fun story. Þórr has many fights with giants, including Hrungnir and Geirrǫðr. These stories are told in the Prose Edda based on old skaldic poems. Now, I alluded earlier to Óðinn’s son with his wife Frigg named Baldr. It’s noticeable that this is his son with his wife, since for the most part the gods are- they’re philanderers; they sleep around quite a bit, so most of Óðinn’s children are not with his wife Frigg. But Baldr is, and Baldr is mostly famous for being beautiful, and his mother, Frigg, made everything but mistletoe swear not to harm him. However, in a poem called Baldrs draumar, included in my translation of the Poetic Edda, Baldr dreams that he dies. Óðinn goes to Hel to find out what’s going on, or what is about to go on, and this story is confirmed. And sure enough, soon Baldr’s blind brother Hǫðr is tricked by Loki into killing Baldr with mistletoe, the one thing Frigg couldn’t get to swear to not harm Baldr because it was too young to swear. However, Óðinn leaps into action and sleeps with a woman. He sleeps with Rindr, having a son, Váli, who kills Hǫðr in vengeance for Baldr while Hǫðr (Váli) is still just one night old. Now this figure, Loki, who causes the death of Baldr. He lives in Ásgarðr, and he’s often a sidekick to Þórr, but he will fight the gods at Ragnarok. So a figure of mixed moral value, you might say. He is married to Sigyn, but his most interesting children are with the jǫtun woman named Angrboða. These three children are Fenrir, a wolf who was chained up after biting the god Týr. He will kill Óðinn at Ragnarok. There’s also Hel, who presides over the world, Hel, which is where most of the dead go except those who die in battle. She is apparently half alive and half dead in appearance; the judge from Snorri’s comment that she is half flesh colored and half blue, which is the color of corpses in Old Norse. There’s also the Miðgarðsórmr, or Jǫrmungandr, a dragon or serpent that encircles the world where humans live. It is fished for by Þórr, as I alluded to earlier from the Poetic Edda in the poem Hymiskviða, as well as in Snorri’s Prose Edda. Now, Æsir men often sleep with jǫtunn women. In fact, Þórr’s mother is a jǫtunn, or giant. Víðarr’s mother is a jǫtunn, or giant. Loki is a little bit different- he actually has a father who is a jǫtunn, or giant, and his mother is a goddess, or one of the Æsir. So that’s a little unusual, and seems to explain a little bit of his strange social status within the gods. Now there is also another family of gods, as I alluded to; the Vanir. These seem to be somewhat subordinate to the Æsir, and originally from a different realm. The oldest of these is Njǫrðr. He is a god associated with the sea and with wealth. He is married to Skaði, a woman who was originally a giant, or jǫtunn, but she is considered a goddess after she marries Njǫrðr, because the gods are not a different species from the giants; they are different rival families. Njǫrðr also has children with his sister, including Freyr, a son: this is a god associated with fertility and agriculture, and a daughter, Freyja: this is a goddess associated with love and beauty. Often she is craved by the gods’ enemies. Heimdallr may also be a Vanir, at least according to a hint in the poem Þrymskviða. He is the guardian of Ásgarðr, the world where the gods live, and he will announce Ragnarok when that great final battle comes. He also fathers the social classes of human beings, as I mentioned earlier, in the Poetic Edda in the poem Rígsþula. Now I mentioned the giants before. Again, keep in mind, not a separate species; not giant blue people. These look like the gods, and they’re not necessarily bigger than they are. They live in a different place, in Jǫtunheimr, but they very, very frequently mate with the gods and even marry them, and a jǫtunn woman who marries a god becomes considered a goddess. And then there’s also, speaking of mythological creatures I should not go without mentioning: the dwarves, who are fantastic smiths created from maggots in the body of the earliest living being, Ymir. It is the dwarves who create such wonderful magical items as Þórr’s hammer Mjǫllnir, and Óðinn’s spear, Gungnir. Now as to the cosmology: the places and times of Norse myth. There are said to be nine worlds. The word that is really used is ‘heimr’, cognate with the English word ‘home’, and of course we need to remember that this is not a time when people are thinking about planets, but rather really about realms, different sorts of vague places with vague geographical relations to each other. We don’t actually know the names of all of these nine worlds or realms though, because only four are ever important in these stories that we read. Nine is a sacred number in Norse mythology, so that is probably why there’s said to be nine worlds or realms. Humans live on Miðgarðr: literally ‘middle enclosure’; this is surrounded by an ocean in which lives the serpent Miðgarðsórmr, or Jǫrmungandr, and also by an eyelash fence made from the eyelashes of the first living thing, Ymir. The gods live in Ásgarðr: ‘Æsir enclosure’. This is a sacred place where blood cannot be spilled, which often has an effect on the stories of the gods. In Ásgarðr is Valhǫll, the hall of Óðinn. This is where dead warriors fight everyday, training to help Óðinn at Ragnarok. It is the Valkyries, or in Old Norse, Valkyrjur (plural), women who choose and bring the dead warriors to Valhǫll to fight for Óðinn. Another place associated with Ásgarðr is Bifrǫst. This is the rainbow bridge to Ásgarðr. It is guarded by Heimdallr. Another world is Jǫtunheimr, literally ‘jǫtunn home’, home of giants. This is usually represented as the world beyond the fence that surrounds Miðgarðr. And then there is Hel, described as an underground realm. This is the place of the dead who do not die in battle, and it is ruled by the figure known as Hel as well. Hel is not a place of punishment; it’s just boring, something of a shadow of the world of mortals and Miðgarðr. Yggdrasill is the ash tree with roots in these various different worlds. Óðinn hanged himself on it in order to learn the runes. By the root that is in Ásgarðr live the three Norns, three sisters who determine the fate of all living beings at a well called Urðarbrunnr. Their names are Urðr, Verðandi, and Skuld. Now, the worlds were created when the first living being, named Ymir, came to life from fire melting ice in Ginnungagap, the primordial empty void that preceded the creation of the worlds. Ymir was then torn apart by his grandchildren, including Óðinn, and his two brothers Vili and Vé, and they made the world from his body. His flesh became the earth; his bones, the mountains; his teeth, the boulders; and his eyelashes the fence around Miðgarðr, etc. Askr and Embla were the first human beings; Askr means ‘ash tree’. Embla may mean ‘elm tree’, although that’s difficult to confirm because the word doesn’t occur anywhere else. They are made by Óðinn and two others; who those two others are depends on whether you read the Prose Edda or the Poetic Edda, from those trees: an ash tree and perhaps elm tree, but some kind of other tree. The world will also end, of course, at Ragnarok. This is the final battle of the gods versus the jǫtnar and monsters. The story is told in Vǫluspá, and VafÞrúðnismal in the Poetic Edda, as well as in Snorri’s Prose Edda with some more details. Óðinn will fight Fenrir, but Fenrir will swallow him, and then Óðinn’s son Víðarr will kill Fenrir in revenge. Þórr will kill the Miðgarð serpent, but he will fall dead from its poison. Freyr will fight unarmed against the great jǫtunn Surtr, who will kill him with his flaming sword and then burn the world. Snorri adds a couple more duels; he says that Týr fights Garmr, the dog of Hel, who may be the same person as Fenrir- same dog as Fenrir originally, and Heimdallr fights Loki. They have an ancient rivalry reflected in several poems. The world will then be reborn, and some gods will come back, including Baldr, the beautiful god innocently killed by his blind brother Hǫðr, who will also come back; Víðarr, the avenger of Óðinn will come back, as will Váli, the avenger of Baldr; as well as Þórr’s two sons, Móði and Magni, and the shadowy figure Hǿnir. However, evil will also survive. In Vǫluspá, the poem in the Poetic Edda that tells the most complete account of Ragnarok, it ends on a note that reminds us that Níðhǫggr, the evil dragon that chews the roots of Yggdrasill, at least the root in Hel, will survive Ragnarok as well; so evil will persist into the next world. It will not be a paradise. There is of course a different version of Vǫluspá in a manuscript called Hauksbók, which presents a vision of a figure who was probably Christ coming after Ragnarok, but I and many other scholars believe this is a later interpolation into the poem. A little bit about the society and worldview that we find in these poems about the Norse gods: there is a strong sense of fatalism, that everyone has an inevitable ‘death day’ chosen by the Norns, and that for mortals, the only good choice is to die fighting, so that one goes to Valhǫll rather than Hel. Hospitality is a strong current that runs through the moral universe of the Norse. All hosts have an obligation to feed guests and put them up overnight, often even if they are enemies from before. The greatest compliment is to be called a drengr. This is a recklessly courageous man who also often has a sense of fair play. The opposite of drengr is argr, implying weak, cowardly, and effeminate. Magic is often used and employed by both gods and human beings in these stories. Magic, however, is a fairly simple matter involving saying the right words with the right intent, rather than having a lot of complicated formulae, at least in the oldest layers of Norse myth. Runes, an old alphabet for writing Old Norse and other Old Germanic languages, are sometimes associated with magic in these stories, especially in, for example, the poem Hávamál, in which Óðinn sacrifices himself to himself in order to learn the runes. As a final note, these sources that are in Old Norse are very accessible now. Many websites have the Old Norse text of the Poetic and Prose Edda, for example, and there are translations of these texts available, including my own readable contemporary English translations of the Poetic Edda and forthcoming, the Prose Edda. Old Norse is a close relative of English; they’re both Germanic languages, part of the Germanic branch of the Indo-European language family tree, but Old Norse is not necessarily- I will caution you- easy to learn. It is a highly inflected language that does take a great deal of dedication, but it is rewarding, in a way that many other ancient languages are not, because there’s so much interesting original literature to read. Well, as I have said, I have many videos that go into much more detail about many of these particular subjects that I hope you’ll check out on this channel. I have linked some of them in cards in this presentation, but I’m limited to five cards, and I have something like 200 videos, so I was necessarily selective. I will also link some more in the end screen. I hope that if you’ve enjoyed this presentation, you’ll also check out my translations, as well as my Patreon page, which helps me continue to make these free videos. For now, from beautiful Colorado, I want to wish you-- --all the best.



MonarchHenry II





  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Palmer, Alan; Palmer, Veronica (1992). The Chronology of British History. London: Century Ltd. pp. 67–69. ISBN 0-7126-5616-2.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h Williams, Hywel (2005). Cassell's Chronology of World History. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson. pp. 125–126. ISBN 0-304-35730-8.
  3. ^ L'histoire de Guillaume le Maréchal.
  4. ^ Foster, R. F. (1989). The Oxford Illustrated History of Ireland. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0198229704.
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