By Victor Rydberg
– An Adventure out of the German People’s Mythological Epic –
…..In UGM I, translated into English as “Teutonic Mythology” by Rasmus Anderson in 1889, Rydberg draws two primary conclusions. The first is that the Old Norse cosmology, represented by the structure of the world-tree Yggdrasill, varies from that presented in Snorri Sturlusson’s Edda in that the three roots of the tree and the corresponding wells which feed them are all located in the underworld, like the roots of all naturaltrees found in northern Europe. In contrast, Snorri describes them as lying on separate vertical planes: one each in heaven, earth, and Hel.
Rydberg bases this conclusion on information drawn directly from the ancient Eddic poems, explaining how Snorri’s Christian worldview skewed his understanding of the older system. [See Old Norse Cosmology for details]. His second conclusion, also based on Eddic poetry, is that all of the known myths can be loosely arranged in chronological order forming an oral epic, widely known to the audience it was originally intended for, the ancient Germanic tribes.
To achieve this understanding, Rydberg purposes that the ancient poems of the Poetic Edda be afforded more weight as evidence than the prose retellings of the myths found in Snorri’s Edda, a work based in part on the older poems. In addition, one must understand that the Old Norse people enjoyed riddles, and hid the identity of mythic characters under a number of different names and epithets, as a key part of their poetic art.
To properly understand the epic mythology, Rydberg theorizes, one must properly identify the multitude of named characters and objects found throughout the Eddicpoems. The bulk of Rydberg’s investigations seek to demonstrate the identity of characters named only once or twice, by showing how details of their stories run parallel to those of better known characters.
His method, while controversial, has gained some support in the years since it was published (See Over a Century of Scholarship). “The Sword of Victory”, the second version of his epic, shows that Rydberg was actively working on the investigations, sometimes changing his mind in regard to the identification of important characters as his work progressed.
Several of mythemes in this earlier work vary remarkably from those in “Our Fathers’ Godsaga,” sometimes being expanded, sometimes scaled back, and on occassiondropped altogether. Most notably, in this second epic, Rydberg identifies the artist Sindri as Odin’s brother. Elsewhere, Rydberg concludes that Sindri is a byname of Dvalinn, and that Odin’s brothers assisted him in the creation of man.
Thus, the identification of Sindri as Odin’s brother here is probably based on Hávamál 143 which states that Dain and Dvalin spread runes among the elves and dwarves, along with Odin who spread them among the Aesir. In UGM 1 no. 53, Rydberg will convincingly demonstrate that Dainn and Dvalinn are identical to the dwarf-smiths Brokk and Sindri, while in no. 93, he will argue that Odin’s brothers Vili and Ve (known from Gylfaginning 6 and Lokasenna 26) are identical to his companions Lodur and (Hoenir known from Völuspá 17-18) —this because Lodur and Hoenir in Völuspá 17-18 play the same role as Odin’s brothers Vili and Ve in Gylfaginning 6, assisting Odin in the creation of man. In Lokasenna 24, the probable source of Snorri’s information, the three brothers are named Vidrir, Vili and Ve.
In UGM I and Our Father’s Godsaga, there is no more mention of Sindri as a brother of Odin. Instead, Rydberg concludes that the three divine tribes: Aesir, Vanir, and elves (Alfar), were founded by Odin and his brothers, Lodur and Hoenir, collectively called the Sons of Bur.
According to Gylfaginning, Odin founded the Aesir, and from clues within UGM I, Rydberg probably came to the conclusion that Lodur had founded the elves, and Hoenir had founded the Vanir, although he never explicitly states this. The text of Segersvårdet, when compared to UGM I, clearly demonstrates that he had changed his mind in the intervening years.
The uncertainty regarding Odin’s brothers and their association with the divine tribes, also indicates that this matter may not have been settled to his satisfaction by the time he penned UGM I. On his behalf, the mythological evidence about these relationships is sparse, (see Musings on the Origin of the Vanir and the Alfar), too sparse to draw any definitive conclusions, something Rydberg probably realized when he set about justifying his conclusions for others, considering the more conservative conclusions of his later works.
Nor is that the only change of this type. In “The Sword of Victory”, Rydberg identifies Scef, the boy-king who arrives from across the waves (known from Anglo-Saxon sources) with Heimdall, the son of the 9 waves, and makes Heimdall the sire of the elf Ivaldi, the father of the famous smiths known as the Sons of Ivaldi (Grímnismál 43 and Skáldskaparmál 42). In UGM I no. 21, Rydberg justifies his identification of Scef and Heimdall, but no longer identifies Ivaldi as a son of Heimdall. Nor will he equate the Vanir and elves, as he does here.
They are clearly distinquished as separate tribes in the later works. However, the original idea is not unfounded: the Aesir and Vanir are frequently associated in the mythic sources, as are the Aesir and the elves. Grímnismál4 informs us that the Vana-god Frey was given Alfheim as a tooth-gift, a statement Rydberg interprets to mean that Frey ruled the elves. He even provides a parallel in Saxo’s boy-king Frodi (Book 5). Thus Rydberg initially felt justified in equating the Vanir and elves, something he would no longer do after 1885. This demonstrates that he was actively investigating the relationship of the elves and the gods in the years between the two publications.
In these examples (and many others) we see that this version of the epic, presented below, taking much more poetic license than the later “Our Fathers’ Godsaga”; in addition it is more clearly written and less archiac than the earlier “Saga of the Sword.” In “The Sword of Victory,” Rydberg methodically and creatively synthesizes the sources of Norse mythology. He ably incorporates numerous pieces of information from a variety of sources including the oldest Eddic and skaldic poetry, the prose of Snorri’s Edda, and the histories of Saxo, along with other folk material. Moreso than “Our Fathers’ Godsaga”, which is better grounded in the sources, the second epic illustrates Rydberg’s full power of imagination, and offers a window into the writer’s mind as he planned and wrote his masterwork on mythology.
Thus, without further ado, I present:
The 2nd Epic Segersvårdet
“The Sword of Victory”
Translation and Introduction by William P Reeves