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German 3313 Northern Myths and Legends


... people, but in a vague, undefined way; more like FAIRY TALES, set ... Folklore and fairy tales generally lack the cosmic element familiar in myth, the ... – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: German 3313 Northern Myths and Legends

German 3313 Northern Myths and Legends
  • Welcome to German 3313
  • Northern Myths and Legends
  • No Prerequisites!
  • Syllabus is online at
  • http//
  • Instructor Dr. Charles A. Grair
  • FL 265
  • Office Hours W 2-5, and by appointment.

  • Johann Gottfried Herder
  • 1744 - 1803

  • Jakob (1785-1863)
  • and Wilhelm (1786-1859) Grimm

  • What is a myth?
  • From the Greek word mythos, literally
    utterance. Originally a traditional story of
    gods or heroes, set in a remote past.
  • An oral phenomenon, usually not systematic or
    fixed, often survives in several, at times
    contradictory versions (esp. the case for
    Germanic myth).
  • Represents a communitys distinctive view of the
    world, its values and its goals, things of
    collective importance. Myth, however, is
    impossible to distinguish precisely from other
    oral genres.
  • Myth separate from religion and from ritual,
    though often closely connected in cultural

What is a Legend? From a Latin root referring to
collecting or reading, legends, like myths,
suggest stories of gods or heroes, but are
generally more historical than divine in
nature. Legends tend to deal with mortal heroes
instead of with divine figures. What is a
folktale? Like legends, but generally refer to
stories about common people, peasants rather than
aristocrats, usually with lesser figures of
popular imagination, witches, giants, trolls,
elves, dwarfs, etc. Historical basis even more
tenuous, as the events are timeless rather than
specific to a given dynasty or locale.
What is folklore? Experiences of the common
people, but in a vague, undefined way more like
FAIRY TALES, set in an undetermined locale at an
unspecified time (one upon a time in a kingdom
far, far away...). Folklore and fairy tales
generally lack the cosmic element familiar in
myth, the highly individualistic and competitive
struggle against limits of humankind and its
mortality. What is a saga? Collections of
narratives about a particular enterprise, locale,
or family are usually termed a saga. A general
definition would include lengthy stories about
interactions of gods and heroes and their
families, though a more precise definition refers
to specific tales composed in Iceland and
Scandinavia from 12th to 15th century AD.
  • What is a myth?
  • Provides a basic foundation for religion.
  • Provides a text for social and cosmic order.
  • Helps reveal what is sacred in a society.
  • Provides continuity in belief and social
    stability, thus also a legal or constitutional
  • Provides the structure for rituals that define
    and maintain identity.
  • How are we to interpret and understand myth?
  • 1. As a form of cultural history or religious
    lore. Examples of heroic action that promoted
    similar behavior, fostered same values. The
    relationship of myth and ritual would have been
    very important in ancient timesstories used to
    explain ceremonies whose real origins have been
    forgotten, or to justify beliefs, customs,
    rituals, or social practices and hierarchies.

2. As allegory, as a quasi-literary, symbolic
depiction of a different, though associated
topic. It is not difficult to read some Germanic
myths as fundamentally allegorical in nature,
such as Thors hammer as a metaphorical
description of lightning. These mythical
descriptions of natural phenomenon reflect a
naive, pre-scientific attempt to describe the
physical world through personification. 3. As
a theological or metaphorical dimension of the
human condition, how mankind came to be how it
is. That is, myths such as the Rigsthula give
symbolic meaning to our lives and existence. Gods
can also be allegories of human qualities, such
as Odin for craftiness and wisdom, Loki for
treacherousness, Freya for fertility.
4. As psychological expressions, such as Freuds
use of Greek myth to describe the subconscious.
Myth is thus a way of speaking about the human
condition in ways not otherwise possible. Another
psychological view is that of Carl Jungs
archetypal mythsuniversal characters and
themes that recur in the mythologies of different
peoples and that reflect ideal and timeless
models of the human view of ourselves. 5. As
archetypical patters others, such as Joseph
Campbell (The Hero with a Thousand Faces, 1949)
have stressed the formal, literary properties of
myths, the fixed narrative patterns or structures
that seem to underlie myth. This is a chief
approach of comparative mythology. The danger
in such readings is the reductionist tendency to
ignore the cultural specifics of a myth in order
to reveal more general patterns, monomyths or
  • What myths can tell us?
  • Myth and folk stories, legends and sagas will
    allow us to see how these people viewed
    themselves, how they envisioned their society,
    their world and the cosmic order. Rather than
    reduce the stories into rigid patterns or formal
    archetypes, we will try to explore the different
    possibilities inherent in each of the myths.
  • What can they teach us about themselves and their
  • What do they tell us about the world-view of
    their heroes?
  • What virtues or goals inspire them? What do they
  • What details seem especially important to the
    poets and their audience?
  • And why?

  • Indo-European Mythology
  • Some parallels between Germanic and Greek myths
  • Well developed polytheistic system (Germanic less
  • Anthropomorphized gods living as extended
    families ruled by a patriarchal male sky-god.
  • Competitive and individualistic gods, with all
    human flaws.
  • Struggle with Titans / Frost-Giants for control
    of the Earth.
  • Generally favorable attitude toward human
    affairs, desire prayers and sacrifices, but do
    not demand exclusive obedience.
  • Generally amoral, certainly not embodiments of
    justice and morality.
  • Not omnipotent, but ruled by fate just as humans
    are not eternal.

  • Differences between Greek and Germanic myths
  • Greek myths preserved in many written, highly
    literary works.
  • Stable versions of the Greek myths thus
  • Germanic myths were rarely recorded in writing.
  • All Germanic myths recorded in the Christian era.
  • Mixed feelings of writers about their pagan
  • Transformation of myth from oral to written
  • Much of the Germanic lore lost.

Who were the Indo-Europeans and what do they have
to do with the Germanic tribes? Indo-Europeans
probably arrived around 2000 BC in Western
Europe, give or take a few hundred years. The
term is linguistic, and describes the tribes that
spoke languages that descend from a common tongue
(Proto-Indo-European, or PIE). PIE is presumed to
have been spoken about 5000 B.C. in an area near
eastern Europe or western Asia (no one really
knows the Caspian sea, Caucasus, Lower Danube
Valley?). These tribes shared a linguistic
(rather than racial) unity with India (Vedic,
Sanskrit), with Persia, Greece, the Italic
peoples and their descendents, as well as the
Celts, Slavs and Germans. Many Indo-European
tribes and languages died out in antiquity
(Hittite, Tocharian, etc.). Indo-European is an
inflected language like Latin, Russian, German.
First postulated in 1786 by a Brit in India, Sir
William Jones, who found similarities between
Sanskrit, Greek and Latin.
(No Transcript)
Chart of Indo-European Languages according
to Centum- Satem Division
What makes German German? Germanic languages are
distinguished from other Indo-European languages
by the First, or Great Consonant Shift, probably
occurred by 500 BC. Sound Shift 1,2,3 Germanic
and Latin (unshifted) cognates P gt F piscus /
fish T gt TH pater / father K gt H cornet
/ horn B gt P lubricate / slippery (better
examples in Slavic pairs) D gt T dentist /
tooth Here, these consonants shift to G gt
K grain / corn replace the ones lost in the
first consonant shift. BH gt B such
aspirates (bh, dh, gh) in I-E died out in Latin
and DH gt D Greek as well, though in different
ways, so there are GH gt G no neat word pairs to
illustrate this sound shift, though it can be
illustrated with cognates from Sanskrit bharâm
i / bairan (OHG) to bear, carry
  • The Second Germanic Sound Shift
  • separates High German from Low and North
    Germanic, probably already accomplished by 300
    AD. Jakob Grimm discovered the Second Sound
    Shift, now named after him (Grimms Law).
  • Indo-European Gothic (first sound
    shift) Hochdeutsch (second shift)
  • P T K F TH H (ch) V/F D
  • B D G P T K PF/FF Z/SS K/ch
  • SC / SK SH
  • Compare the following
  • Triads of simple words duo two zwei
  • from Latin, English, and German tres three
  • Word Pairs with (unshifted) Low German and High
  • that / das pepper / Pfeffer
    cake / Kuchen tide / Zeit deed / Tat
  • Germanic always accents first syllable, as in
    Veróna gt Bérn
  • This practice led to a sloughing off of suffixes
    and endings in general, and led Germanic poetry
    to emphasize alliteration rather than rhyme.

  • Who are the other peoples in the North?
  • The Finns, members of a different linguistic
    group (the Asian Finno-Ugric family), lived in
    present-day Finland, parts of Sweden, and along
    the Baltic coast.
  • The Sami, or Laplanders, are linguistically
    related to the Finns, but have a distinctly
    different cultural lifestyle.
  • The Celts originally ranged over most of Western
    Europe, but by recorded history has been pushed
    to the margins of their territory, living in
    Ireland, Brittany in France, Cornwall and Wales
    in Britain. They had great interaction with
    Germanic peoples.

The Merseburg Charms An image of the original
document from the 9th century. Note that the
scribe did not divide the incantation into verse,
as it is reproduced below.
Merseburg Charms earliest recorded pre-Christian
Germanic texts. I. eiris sazum idisi sazun
hera duoder The women once were sitting, sitting
here and there. suma hapt heptidun suma
heri lezidun Some came cinching fetters,
some were hindering the army, suma clubodun
umbi cuoniouuidi Some were picking at
shackles insprinc haptbandun inuar
uigandun Escape from the bonds, get away from
the enemy! .
Merseburg Magic Charms II. phol ende uuodan
uuorun zi holza Phol and Wodan rode into the
woods. du uuart demo balderes uolon sin uuoz
birenkit Then Balder foal sprained its foot. thu
biguolen sinthgunt sunna era suister Then
Sinthgunt cast a spell on it, then the sun, her
sister, thu biguolen friia uolla era
suister Then Freya cast a spell on it, then
Volla, her sister, thu biguolen uuodan so he
uuola conda Then Wodan cast a spell on it, as he
well knew how sose benrenki sose
bluotrenki If it be a dislocated bone, if it be
dislocated blood, sose lidirenki if it be a
dislocated limb ben zi bena bluot zi
bluoda Bone to bone, blood to blood, lid zi
gelinden sose gelimida sin Limb to limb, as
if they were glued! (text stems from the first
half of the 8th century or earlier) Both charms
have similar patters they begin with a brief
description of a mythological context, which
parallels the situation of the present speaker.
The magic which worked for the gods is then
invoked for the speaker of the charm.