TEUTONIC MYTH AND LEGEND
by DONALD A. MACKENZIE
An Introduction to the Eddas & Sagas, Beowulf, The Nibelungenlied, etc.
London, Gresham Publications 1912
This volume deals with the myths and legends of the Teutonic peoples--Norsemen, Goths, Vandals, Burgundians, Franks, Angles, Saxons, and all the other Germanic tribes whose descendants now occupy England, Northern France, Switzerland, Belgium, Holland, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Iceland. The volume might have been called Northern European Myth and Legend. It is the body of folk tales, epics and religious beliefs which all Anglo-Saxons have inherited directly from their ancestors, and find most deeply embedded in every-day words and thoughts such as names for the days of the week, names recalling the gods and goddesses of our forefathers.
In France and Switzerland--after the Roman conquest--the folk lays were influenced by the higher and milder civilization which prevailed. Where the Roman influence extended the tribal songs were welded into detailed narratives, and each had for a central figure a popular hero like Dietrich of Bern.
A similar process subsequently prevailed in the north. Thus originated the "saga cycles," distributed over a wide area by wandering minstrels, who altered and adapted them to meet the requirements of time and locality. The highest literary development occurred when educated poets made still freer use of the subject matter of tribal lays and produced epic narratives which were not sung, but recited before cultured audiences. These were later revised and committed to manuscripts for reading. To this class belong two of outstanding merit--the German Nibelungenlied and the distinctive Anglo-Saxon Beowulf.
In the following pages our readers are afforded a comprehensive survey of the divine and heroic literature of Northern Europe. The drama of Norse myth has been reconstructed, so far as possible, in continuous narrative form, with the inclusion of the old Svipdag myth, which exercised so marked an influence on Middle Age romance. We have grouped together the various adventurous journeys made by heroes to Hela, so that our readers may be familiarized with our ancestors' conceptions of the Other World. The prose renderings of heroic narratives include the Beowulf epic, the Balder-Hother romance, the Hamlet legend, the saga of the Volsungs, and the less familiar Dietrich legends, in which the deeds of the primitive Thor are attached to the memory of the Gothic Emperor of Rome.
The folk tales and folk beliefs of Northern Europe have not a few points of contact with those of Scotland, Wales, Ireland and Brittany. We have therefore dealt in our Introduction with the archaic giant lore of Scotland, which links with that of Cornwall, and drawn attention to the "Seven Sleepers" legends of the Highlands which have hitherto been overlooked. Some of the striking resemblances must be traced to remoter influences than those prevailing in the Viking Age. Both Celts and Teutons were blends of the same ancient races--the Alpine "broad heads" and the Northern "long heads." They had therefore a common heritage of beliefs. But Teutonic lore is mainly "father-kin" in character, while Celtic is mainly "mother-kin." The deities of the north are controlled by a Great Father and their elves by a King. The deities of the Celts are children of a Great Mother and their fairies are ruled over by a Queen.
In the Anglo-Saxon epic, Beowulf, the story regarding Grendel and his mother is of special interest in this connection because it is "mother-kin" lore of Celtic character. The inference is that the poet who gave the epic its final shape in England had a Celtic mother, or at any rate, came under the influence of Celtic ideas. Like Shakespeare, who utilized old plays, he may have re-fashioned an earlier Anglian poem, appropriated its geographical setting and infused the whole with the fire of his genius.