The first poem in the first part of the poetic Edda is the Voluspa, or Wisdom of Vala. The Vala was a prophetess, possessing vast supernatural knowledge. Some antiquarians consider the Vala to be the same as the Nornor, or Fates. They were dark beings, whose wisdom was fearful even to the gods, resembling in this the Greek Prometheus. The Voluspa describes the universe before the creation, in the morning of time, before the great Ymir lived, when there was neither sea nor shore nor heaven. It begins thus, Vala speaking:—
"I command the devout attention of all noble souls, Of all the high and the low of the race of Heimdall; I tell the doings of the All-Father, In the most ancient Sagas which come to my mind.
"There was an age in which Ymir lived, When was no sea, nor shore, nor salt waves; No earth below, nor heaven above, No yawning abyss and no grassy land.
"Till the sons of Bors lifted the dome of heaven, And created the vast Midgard (earth) below; Then the sun of the south rose above the mountains, And green grasses made the ground verdant.
"The sun of the south, companion of the moon, Held the horses of heaven with his right hand; The sun knew not what its course should be, The moon knew not what her power should be, The stars knew not where their places were.
"Then the counsellors went into the hall of judgment, And the all-holy gods held a council. They gave names to the night and new moon; They called to the morning and to midday, To the afternoon and evening, arranging the times."
The Voluspa goes on to describe how the gods assembled on the field of Ida, and proceeded to create metals and vegetables; after that the race of dwarfs, who preside over the powers of nature and the mineral world. Then Vala narrates how the three gods, Odin, Honir, and Lodur, "the mighty and mild Aser," found Ask and Embla, the Adam and Eve of the Northern legends, lying without soul, sense, motion, or color. Odin gave them their souls, Honir their intellects, Lodur their blood and colored flesh. Then comes the description of the ash-tree Yggdrasil, of the three Norns, or sisters of destiny, who tell the Aser their doom, and the end and renewal of the world; and how, at last, one being mightier than all shall arrive:—
"Then comes the mighty one to the council of the gods, He with strength from on high who guides all things, He decides the strife, he puts an end to struggle, He ordains eternal laws."
In the same way, in the Song of Hyndla, another of the poems of this Edda, is a prediction of one who shall come, mightier than all the gods, and put an end to the strife between Aser and the giants. The song begins:—
"Wake, maid of maidens! Awake, my friend! Hyndla, sister, dwelling in the glens! It is night, it is cloudy; let us ride together To the sacred place, to Valhalla."
Hyndla sings, after describing the heroes and princes born of the gods:—
"One shall be born higher than all, Who grows strong with the strength of the earth; He is famed as the greatest of rulers, United with all nations as brethren.
"But one day there shall come another mightier than he; But I dare not name his name. Few are able to see beyond The great battle of Odin and the Wolf."
Among the poems of the elder Edda is a Book of Proverbs, like those of Solomon in their sagacious observations on human life and manners. It is called the Havamal. At first we should hardly expect to find these maxims of worldly wisdom among a people whose chief business was war. But war develops cunning as well as courage, and battles are won by craft no less than by daring. Consequently, among a warlike people, sagacity is naturally cultivated.
The Havamal contains (in its proverbial section) one hundred and ten stanzas, mostly quatrains. The following are specimens:—
1. "Carefully consider the end Before you go to do anything, For all is uncertain, when the enemy Lies in wait in the house.
4. "The guest who enters Needs water, a towel, and hospitality. A kind reception secures a return In word and in deed.
7. "The wise man, on coming in, Is silent and observes, Hears with his ears, looks with his eyes, And carefully reflects on every event.
11. "No worse a companion can a man take on his journey Than drunkenness. Not as good as many believe Is beer to the sons of men. The more one drinks, the less he knows, And less power has he over himself.
26. "A foolish man, in company, had better be silent. Until he speaks no one observes his folly. But he who knows little does not know this, When he had better be silent.
29. "Do not mock at the stranger Who comes trusting in your kindness; For when he has warmed himself at your fire, He may easily prove a wise man.
34. "It is better to depart betimes, And not to go too often to the same house. Love tires and turns to sadness When one sits too often at another man's table.
35. "One's own house, though small, is better, For there thou art the master. It makes a man's heart bleed to ask For a midday meal at the house of another.
36. "One's own house, though small, is better; At home thou art the master. Two goats and a thatched roof Are better than begging.
38. "It is hard to find a man so rich As to refuse a gift. It is hard to find a man so generous As to be always glad to lend.
42. "Is there a man whom you distrust, And who yet can help you? Be smooth in words and false in thought, And pay back his deceit with cunning.
48. "I hung my garments on two scarecrows, And, when dressed, they seemed Ready for the battle. Unclothed they were jeered at by all.
52. "Small as a grain of sand Is the small sense of a fool; Very unequal is human wisdom. The world is made of two unequal halves.
53. "It is well to be wise; it is not well To be too wise. He has the happiest life Who knows well what he knows.
54. "It is well to be wise; not well To be too wise. The wise man's heart is not glad When he knows too much.
55. "Two burning sticks placed together Will burn entirely away. Man grows bright by the side of man; Alone, he remains stupid."
Such are the proverbs of the Havamal. This sort of proverbial wisdom may have come down from the days when the ancestors of the Scandinavians left Central Asia. It is like the fables and maxims of the Hitopadesa.
Another of these poems is called Odin's Song of Runes. Runes were the Scandinavian alphabet, used for lapidary inscriptions, a thousand of which have been discovered in Sweden, and three or four hundred in Denmark and Norway, mostly on tombstones. This alphabet consists of sixteen letters, with the powers of F, U, TH, O, R, K, H, N, I, A, S, T, B, L, M, Y. The letters R, I, T, and B very nearly resemble the Roman letters of the same values. A magical power was ascribed to these Runes, and they were carved on sticks and then scraped off, and used as charms. These rune-charms were of different kinds, eighteen different sorts are mentioned in this song.
A song of Brynhilda speaks of different runes which she will teach Sigurd. "Runes of victory must those know, to conquer thine enemies. They must be carved on the blade of thy sword. Drink-Runes must thou know to make maidens love thee. Thou must carve them on thy drinking horn. Runes of freedom must thou know to deliver the captives. Storm-Runes must thou know, to make thy vessel go safely over the waves. Carve them on the mast and the rudder. Herb-Runes thou must know to cure disease. Carve them on the bark of the tree. Speech-Runes must thou know to defeat thine enemy in council of words, in the Thing. Mind-Runes must thou know to have good and wise thoughts. These are the Book-Runes, and Help-Runes, and Drink-Runes, and Power-Runes, precious for whoever can use them."
The second part of the poetic Edda contains the stories of the old heroes, especially of Sigurd, the Achilles of Northern romance. There is also the Song of Volund, the Northern Smith, the German Vulcan, able to make swords of powerful temper. These songs and ballads are all serious and grave, and sometimes tender, having in them something of the solemn tone of the old Greek tragedy.
The prose Edda, as we have said, was the work of Snorro Sturleson, born in Iceland in 1178. He probably transcribed most of it from the manuscripts in his hands, or which were accessible to him, and from the oral traditions which had been preserved in the memory of the Skalds. His other chief work was the Heimskringla, or collection of Saga concerning the history of the Scandinavians. In his preface to this last book he says he "wrote it down from old stories told by intelligent people"; or from "ancient family registers containing the pedigrees of kings," or from "old songs and ballads which our fathers had for their amusement"
The prose Edda begins with "The deluding of Gylfi," an ancient king of Sweden. He was renowned for his wisdom and love of knowledge, and determined to visit Asgard, the home of the AEsir, to learn something of the wisdom of the gods. They, however, foreseeing his coming, prepared various illusions to deceive him. Among other things, he saw three thrones raised one above another.
"He afterwards beheld three thrones raised one above another, with a man sitting on each of them. Upon his asking what the names of these lords might be, his guide answered: 'He who sits on the lowest throne is a king; his name is Har (the High or Lofty One); the second is Jafnhar (i.e. equal to the High); but he who sitteth on the highest throne is called Thridi (the Third).' Har, perceiving the stranger, asked him what his errand was, adding that he should be welcome to eat and drink without cost, as were all those who remained in Hava Hall. Gangler said he desired first to ascertain whether there was any person present renowned for his wisdom.
"'If thou art not the most knowing,' replied Har, 'I fear thou wilt hardly return safe. But go, stand there below, and propose thy questions; here sits one who will be able to answer them.'
"Gangler thus began his discourse: 'Who is the first, or eldest of the gods?'
"'In our language,' replied Har, 'he is called Alfadir (All-Father, or the Father of All); but in the old Asgard he had twelve names.'
"'Where is this God?' said Gangler; 'what is his power? and what hath he done to display his glory?'
"'He liveth,' replied Har, 'from all ages, he governeth all realms, and swayeth all things great and small.'
"'He hath formed,' added Jafnhar, 'heaven and earth, and the air, and all things thereunto belonging.'
"'And what is more,' continued Thridi, 'he hath made man, and given him a soul which shall live and never perish, though the body shall have mouldered away, or have been burnt to ashes. And all that are righteous shall dwell with him in the place called Gimli, or Vingolf; but the wicked shall go to Hel, and thence to Niflhel, which is below, in the ninth world.'"
Of the creation of the world the Eddas thus speak: In the day-spring of the ages there was neither seas nor shore nor refreshing breeze; there was neither earth below nor heaven above. The whole was only one vast abyss, without herb and without seas. The sun had no palace, the stars no place, the moon no power. After this there was a bright shining world of flame to the South, and another, a cloudy and dark one, toward the North. Torrents of venom flowed from the last into the abyss, and froze, and filled it full of ice. But the air oozed up through it in icy vapors, which were melted into living drops by a warm breath from the South; and from these came the giant Ymir. From him came a race of wicked giants. Afterward, from these same drops of fluid seeds, children of heat and cold, came the mundane cow, whose milk fed the giants. Then arose also, in a mysterious manner, Bor, the father of three sons, Odin, Vili, and Ve, who, after several adventures,—having killed the giant Ymir, and made out of his body Heaven and Earth,—proceeded to form a man and woman named Ask and Embla. Chaos having thus disappeared, Odin became the All-Father, creator of gods and men, with Earth for his wife, and the powerful Thor for his oldest son. So much for the cosmogony of the Edda.
On this cosmogony, we may remark that it belongs to the class of development, or evolution, but combined with a creation. The Hindoo, Gnostic, and Platonic theories suppose the visible world to have emanated from God, by a succession of fallings, from the most abstract spirit to the most concrete matter. The Greeks and Romans, on the contrary, suppose all things to have come by a process of evolution, or development from an original formless and chaotic matter. The resemblance between the Greek account of the origin of gods and men and that of the Scandinavians is striking. Both systems begin in materialism, and are radically opposed to the spiritualism of the other theory; and in its account of the origin of all things from nebulous vapors and heat the Edda reminds us of the modern scientific theories on the same subject.
After giving this account of the formation of the world, of the gods, and the first pair of mortals, the Edda next speaks of night and day, of the sun and moon, of the rainbow bridge from earth to heaven, and of the great Ash-tree where the gods sit in council. Night was the daughter of a giant, and, like all her race, of a dark complexion. She married one of the AEsir, or children of Odin, and their son was Day, a child light and beautiful, like its father. The Sun and Moon were two children, the Moon being the boy, and the Sun the girl; which peculiarity of gender still holds in the German language. The Edda gives them chariot and horses with which to drive daily round the heavens, and supposes their speed to be occasioned by their fear of two gigantic wolves, from Jotunheim, or the world of darkness, which pursue them. The rainbow is named Bifrost, woven of three hues, and by this, as a bridge, the gods ride up every day to heaven from the holy fountain below the earth. Near this fountain dwell three maidens, below the great Ash-tree, who decide every man's fate. These Fates, or Norns, are named Urd, Verdandi, and Skuld,—three words meaning "past," "present," and "future." From Urd comes our word "weird," and the weird sisters of Shakespeare. The red in the rainbow is burning fire, which prevents the frost-giants of Jotunheim from going up to heaven, which they otherwise might do. This region of the gods is called Asgard, and contains Valhalla, where they feast every day, with all heroes who have died in battle; drinking mead, but not out of their enemies' skulls, as has been so often said. This mistake modern scholars have attributed to a mistranslation of a word in the original, which means "curved horns," the passage being, "Soon shall we drink ale out of the curved branches of the skull," that is, of an animal. Their food is the flesh of a boar, which is renewed every day.
It is not to be supposed that Odin and the other gods lived quietly on their Olympus without adventures. Many entertaining ones are narrated in the Edda, had we room to tell them. One of these describes the death of Baldur the Good, whom all beings loved. Having been tormented with bad dreams, indicating that his life was in danger, he told them to the assembled gods, who made all creatures and things, living or dead, take an oath to do him no harm. This oath was taken by fire and water, iron and all other metals, stones, earths, diseases, poisons, beasts, birds, and creeping things. After this, they amused themselves at their meeting in setting Baldur up as a mark; some hurling darts or shooting arrows at him, and some cutting at him with swords and axes; and as nothing hurt him, it was accounted a great honor done to Baldur. But wicked Loki, or Loke, was envious at this; and, assuming the form of a woman, he inquired of the goddess who had administered the oath, whether all things had taken it. She said everything except one little shrub called mistletoe, which she thought too young and feeble to do any harm. Therefore Loki got the mistletoe, and, bringing it to one of the gods, persuaded him to throw it at Baldur, who, pierced to the heart, fell dead. The grief was immense. An especial messenger was despatched to Queen Hela, in Hell, to inquire if, on any terms, Baldur might be ransomed. For nine days and nights he rode through dark chasms till he crossed the river of Death, and entering the kingdom of Hela, made known his request. Hela replied that it should now be discovered whether Baldur was so universally loved as was represented; for that she would permit him to return to Asgard if all creatures and all things, without exception, would weep for him. The gods then despatched messengers through the world to beg all things to weep for Baldur, which they immediately did. Then you might have seen, not only crocodiles but the most ferocious beasts dissolved in tears. Fishes wept in the water, and birds in the air. Stones and trees were covered with pellucid dew-drops, and, for all we know, this general grief may have been the occasion of some of the deluges reported by geology. The messengers returned, thinking the work done, when they found an old hag sitting in a cavern, and begged her to weep Baldur out of Hell. But she declared that she could gain nothing by so doing, and that Baldur might stay where he was, like other people as good as he; planting herself apparently on the great but somewhat selfish principle of non-intervention. So Baldur remains in the halls of Hela. But this old woman did not go unpunished. She was shrewdly suspected to be Loki himself in disguise, and on inquiry so it turned out. Whereupon a hot pursuit of Loki took place, who, after changing himself into many forms, was caught, and chained under sharp-pointed rocks below the earth.
The adventures of Thor are very numerous. The pleasantest, perhaps, is the account of his journey to Jotunheim, to visit his enemies, the giants of Cold and Darkness. On his way, being obliged to pass the night in the forest, he came to a spacious hall, with an open door, reaching from one side to the other. In this he went to sleep, but being aroused by an awful earthquake, Thor and his companions crept into a chamber which opened out of the hall. When day came they found, sleeping near them, an enormous giant, so large, that, as it appeared, they had passed the night in the thumb of his glove. They travelled with him all day; and the next night Thor considered himself justified in killing this giant, who was one of their enemies. Three times he launched his mallet with fearful force at the giant's head, and three times the giant awoke to inquire whether it was a leaf or an acorn which had fallen on his face. After taking leave of their enormous and invulnerable companion, they arrived at the abodes of Jotunheim, and the city of Utgard, and entered the city of the king, Utgard Loki. This king inquired what great feat Thor and his companions could do. One professed to be a great eater; on which the king of giants called one of his servants named Logi, and placed between them a trough filled with meat. Thor's companion ate his share, but Logi ate meat and bone too, and the trough into the bargain, and was considered to have conquered. Thor's other companion was a great runner, and was set to run with a young man named Hugi, who so outstripped him that he reached the goal before the other had gone half-way. Then Thor was asked what he could do himself. He said he would engage in a drinking-match, and was presented with a large horn, and was requested to empty it at a single draught, which he expected easily to do, but on looking in the liquor seemed scarcely diminished. The second time he tried, and lowered it slightly. A third, and it was still only sunk half an inch. Whereupon he was laughed at, and called for some new feat. "We have a trifling game here," answered the king, "in which we exercise none but children. It is merely to lift my cat from the ground." Thor put forth his whole might, but could only lift up one foot, and was laughed at again. Angry at this, he called for some one to wrestle with him. "My men," said King Utgard, "would think it beneath them to wrestle with thee, but let some one call my old nurse Eld, and let Thor wrestle with her." A toothless old woman entered the hall, and after a violent struggle Thor began to lose his footing, and went home excessively mortified. But it turned out afterward that all this was illusion. The three blows of the mallet, instead of striking the giant's head, had fallen on a mountain, which he had dexterously put between, and made three deep ravines in it, which remain to this day. The triumphant eater was Fire itself, disguised as a man. The successful runner was Thought. The horn out of which Thor tried to drink was connected with the ocean, which was lowered a few inches by his tremendous draughts. The cat was the great Midgard Serpent, which goes round the world, and Thor had actually pulled the earth a little way out of its place; and the old woman was Old Age itself.
According to this mythology, there is coming a time in which the world will be destroyed by fire and afterward renewed. This will be, preceded by awful disasters; dreadful winters; wars, and desolations on earth; cruelty and deceit; the sun and moon will be devoured, the stars hurled from the sky, and the earth violently shaken. The Wolf (Fenrir), the awful Midgard Serpent, Loki, and Hela come to battle with the gods. The great Ash-tree will shake with fear. The Wolf (Fenrir) breaks loose, and opens his enormous mouth. The lower jaw reaches to the earth, and the upper to heaven. The Midgard Serpent, by the side of the Wolf, vomits forth floods of poison. Heaven is rent in twain, and Surtur and the sons of Muspell ride through the breach. These are the children of Light and Fire, who dwell in the South, and who seem to belong neither to the race of gods nor to that of giants, but to a third party, who only interfere at the close of the conflict. While the battle goes on between the gods and the giants they keep their effulgent bands apart on the field of battle. Meantime Heimdall—doorkeeper of the gods—sounds his mighty trumpet, which is heard through the whole universe, to summon the gods to conflict. The gods, or AEsir, and all the heroes of Valhalla, arm themselves and go to the field. Odin fights with the Wolf; Thor with the Midgard Serpent, whom he kills, but being suffocated with the floods of venom dies himself. The Wolf swallows Odin, but at that instant Vidar sets his foot on its lower jaw, and laying hold of the upper jaw tears it apart. He accomplishes this because he has on the famous shoe, the materials of which have been collecting for ages, it being made of the shreds of shoe-leather which are cut off in making shoes, and which, on this account, the religious Scandinavians were careful to throw away. Loki and Heimdall fight and kill each other. After this Surtur darts fire over the whole earth, and the whole universe is consumed. But then comes the restitution of all things. There will rise out of the sea a new heaven and a new earth. Two gods, Vidar and Vali, and two human beings, a man and woman, survive the conflagration, and with their descendants occupy the heavens and earth. The suns of Thor come with their father's hammer and put an end to war. Baldur, and Hodur, the blind god, come up from Hell, and the daughter of the Sun, more beautiful than its mother, occupies its place in the skies.
Sec. 4. The Gods of Scandinavia.
We can give no better account of the Norse pantheon than by extracting the passages from the prose Edda, which describe the gods. We take the translation in Mallet's Northern Antiquities:—
"'I must now ask thee,' said Gangler, 'who are the gods that men are bound to believe in?'
"'There are twelve gods,' replied Har, 'to whom divine honors ought to be rendered.'
"'Nor are the goddesses,' added Jafhhar, 'less divine and mighty.'
"'The first and eldest of the AEsir,' continued Thridi, 'is Odin. He governs all things, and although the other deities are powerful, they all serve and obey him as children do their father. Frigga is his wife. She foresees the destinies of men, but never reveals what is to come. For thus it is said that Odin himself told Loki, "Senseless Loki, why wilt thou pry into futurity? Frigga alone knoweth the destinies of all, though she telleth them never."'
"'Odin is named Alfadir (All-father), because he is the father of all the gods, and also Valfadir (Choosing Father), because he chooses for his sons all those who fall in combat. For their abode he has prepared Valhalla and Vingolf, where they are called Einherjar (Heroes or Champions). Odin is also called Hangagud, Haptagud, and Farmagud, and, besides these, was named in many ways when he went to King Geirraudr.'....
"'I now ask thee,' said Gangler, 'what are the names of the other gods? What are their functions, and what have they brought to pass?'
"'The mightiest of them,' replied Har, 'is Thor. He is called Asa-Thor and Auku-Thor, and is the strongest of gods and men. His realm is named Thrudvang, and his mansion Bilskirnir, in which are five hundred and forty halls. It is the largest house ever built. Thus it is called in the Grimnismal:—
"Fire hundred halls And forty more, Methinketh, hath Bowed Bilskirnir. Of houses roofed There's none I know My son's surpassing."
"'Thor has a car drawn by two goats called Tanngniost and Tanngrisnir. From his driving about in this car he is called Auku-Thor (Charioteer-Thor). He likewise possesses three very precious things. The first is a mallet called Mjoelnir, which both the Frost and Mountain Giants know to their cost when they see it hurled against them in the air; and no wonder, for it has split many a skull of their fathers and kindred. The second rare thing he possesses is called the belt of strength or prowess (Megingjardir). When he girds it about him his divine might is doubly augmented; the third, also very precious, being his iron gauntlets, which he is obliged to put on whenever he would lay hold of the handle of his mallet. There is no one so wise as to be able to relate all Thor's marvellous exploits, yet I could tell thee so many myself that hours would be whiled away ere all that I know had been recounted.'
"'I would rather,' said Gangler, 'hear something about the other AEsir.'
"'The second son of Odin,' replied Har, 'is Baldur, and it may be truly said of him that he is the best, and that all mankind are loud in his praise. So fair and dazzling is he in form and features, that rays of light seem to issue from him; and thou mayst have some idea of the beauty of his hair when I tell thee that the whitest of all plants is called Baldur's brow. Baldur is the mildest, the wisest, and the most eloquent of all the AEsir, yet such is his nature that the judgment he has pronounced can never be altered. He dwells in the heavenly mansion called Breidablik, in which nothing unclean can enter. As it is said,—
"'T is Breidablik called, "Where Baldur the Fair Hath built him a bower, In that land where I know The least loathliness lieth."'
"'The third god,' continued Har, 'is Njoerd, who dwells in the heavenly region called Noatun. He rules over the winds, and checks the fury of the sea and of fire, and is therefore invoked by seafarers and fishermen. He is so wealthy that he can give possessions and treasures to those who call on him for them. Yet Njoerd is not of the lineage of the AEsir, for he was born and bred in Vanaheim. But the Vanir gave him as hostage to the AEsir, receiving from them in his stead Hoenir. By this means was peace re-established between the AEsir and Vanir. Njoerd took to wife Skadi, the daughter of the giant Thjassi. She preferred dwelling in the abode formerly belonging to her father, which is situated among rocky mountains, in the region called Thrymheim, but Njoerd loved to reside near the sea. They at last agreed that they should pass together nine nights in Thrymheim, and then three in Noatun. One day, when Njoerd came back from the mountains to Noatun, he thus sang:—
"Of mountains I'm weary, Not long was I there, Not more than nine nights; But the howl of the wolf Methought sounded ill To the song of the swan-bird."
'"To which Skadi sang in reply:—
"Ne'er can I sleep In my couch on the strand, For the screams of the sea-fowl. The mew as he comes Every morn from the main Is sure to awake me."
"'Skadi then returned to the rocky mountains, and abode in Thrymheim. There, fastening on her snow-skates and taking her bow, she passes her time in the chase of savage beasts, and is called the Ondur goddess, or Ondurdis.....'
"OF THE GOD FREY, AND THE GODDESS FREYJA.
"'Njoerd had afterwards, at his residence at Noatun, two children, a son named Frey, and a daughter called Freyja, both of them beauteous and mighty. Frey is one of the most celebrated of the gods. He presides over rain and sunshine, and all the fruits of the earth, and should be invoked in order to obtain good harvests, and also for peace. He, moreover, dispenses wealth among men. Freyja is the most propitious of the goddesses; her abode in heaven is called Folkvang. To whatever field of battle she rides, she asserts her right to one half of the slain, the other half belonging to Odin.....'
"'There is Tyr, who is the most daring and intrepid of all the gods. 'T is he who dispenses valor in war, hence warriors do well to invoke him. It has become proverbial to say of a man who surpasses all others in valor that he is Tyr-strong, or valiant as Tyr. A man noted for his wisdom is also said to be "wise as Tyr." Let me give thee a proof of his intrepidity. When the AEsir were trying to persuade the wolf, Fenrir, to let himself be bound up with the chain, Gleipnir, he, fearing that they would never afterwards unloose him, only consented on the condition that while they were chaining him he should keep Tyr's right hand between his jaws. Tyr did not hesitate to put his hand in the monster's mouth, but when Fenrir perceived that the AEsir had no intention to unchain him, he bit the hand off at that point, which has ever since been called the wolf's joint (ulflidr). From that time Tyr has had but one hand. He is not regarded as a peacemaker among men.'
"OF THE OTHER GODS.
"'There is another god,' continued Har, 'named Bragi, who is celebrated for his wisdom, and more especially for his eloquence and correct forms of speech. He is not only eminently skilled in poetry, but the art itself is called from his name Bragr, which epithet is also applied to denote a distinguished poet or poetess. His wife is named Iduna. She keeps in a box the apples which the gods, when they feel old age approaching, have only to taste of to become young again. It is in this manner that they will be kept in renovated youth until Ragnaroek.....
"'One of the gods is Heimdall, called also the White God. He is the son of nine virgins, who were sisters, and is a very sacred and powerful deity. He also bears the appellation of the Gold-toothed, on account of his teeth being of pure gold, and also that of Hallinskithi. His horse is called Gulltopp, and he dwells in Himinbjoerg at the end of Bifroest. He is the warder of the gods, and is therefore placed on the borders of heaven, to prevent the giants from forcing their way over the bridge. He requires less sleep than a bird, and sees by night, as well as by day, a hundred miles around him. So acute is his ear that no sound escapes him, for he can even hear the grass growing on the earth, and the wool on a sheep's back. He has a horn called the Gjallar-horn, which is heard throughout the universe.....
"'Among the AEsir,' continued Har,'we also reckon Hoedur, who is blind, but extremely strong. Both gods and men would be very glad if they never had occasion to pronounce his name, for they will long have cause to remember the deed perpetrated by his hand.
"'Another god is Vidar, surnamed the Silent, who wears very thick shoes. He is almost as strong as Thor himself, and the gods place great reliance on him in all critical conjunctures.
"'Vali, another god, is the son of Odin and Rinda; he is bold in war, and an excellent archer.
"'Another is called Ullur, who is the son of Sif, and stepson of Thor. He is so well skilled in the use of the bow, and can go so fast on his snow-skates, that in these arts no one can contend with him. He is also very handsome in his person, and possesses every quality of a warrior, wherefore it is befitting to invoke him in single combats.
"'The name of another god is Forseti, who is the son of Baldur and Nanna, the daughter of Nef. He possesses the heavenly mansion called Glitnir, and all disputants at law who bring their cases before him go away perfectly reconciled.....'
"OF LOKI AND HIS PROGENY.
"'There is another deity,' continued Har, 'reckoned in the number of the AEsir, whom some call the calumniator of the gods, the contriver of all fraud and mischief, and the disgrace of gods and men. His name is Loki or Loptur. He is the son of the giant Farbauti.....Loki is handsome and well made, but of a very fickle mood, and most evil disposition. He surpasses all beings in those arts called Cunning and Perfidy. Many a time has he exposed the gods to very great perils, and often extricated them again by his artifices.....
"'Loki,' continued Har, 'has likewise had three children by Angurbodi, a giantess of Joetunheim. The first is the wolf Fenrir; the second Jormungand, the Midgard serpent; the third Hela (Death). The gods were not long ignorant that these monsters continued to be bred up in Joetunheim, and, having had recourse to divination, became aware of all the evils they would have to suffer from them; their being sprung from such a mother was a bad presage, and from such a sire, one still worse. All-father therefore deemed it advisable to send one of the gods to bring them to him. When they came he threw the serpent into that deep ocean by which the earth is engirdled. But the monster has grown to such an enormous size that, holding his tail in his mouth, he encircles the whole earth. Hela he cast into Niflheim, and gave her power over nine worlds (regions), into which she distributes those who are sent to her, that is to say, all who die through sickness or old age. Here she possesses a habitation protected by exceedingly high walls and strongly barred gates. Her hall is called Elvidnir; Hunger is her table; Starvation, her knife; Delay, her man; Slowness, her maid; Precipice, her threshold; Care, her bed; and Burning Anguish forms the hangings of her apartments. The one half of her body is livid, the other half the color of human flesh. She may therefore easily be recognized; the more so, as she has a dreadfully stern and grim countenance.
"'The wolf Fenrir was bred up among the gods; but Tyr alone had the daring to go and feed him. Nevertheless, when the gods perceived that he every day increased prodigiously in size, and that the oracles warned them that he would one day become fatal to them, they determined to make a very strong iron fetter for him, which they called Laeding. Taking this fetter to the wolf, they bade him try his strength on it. Fenrir, perceiving that the enterprise would not be very difficult for him, let them do what they pleased, and then, by great muscular exertion, burst the chain, and set himself at liberty. The gods, having seen this, made another fetter, half as strong again as the former, which they called Dromi, and prevailed on the wolf to put it on, assuring him that, by breaking this, he would give an undeniable proof of his vigor.
"'The wolf saw well enough that it would not be so easy to break this fetter, but finding at the same time that his strength had increased since he broke Laeding, and thinking that he could never become famous without running some risk, voluntarily submitted to be chained. When the gods told him that they had finished their task, Fenrir shook himself violently, stretched his limbs, rolled on the ground, and at last burst his chains, which flew in pieces all around him. He thus freed himself from Dromi, which gave rise to the proverb "at leysa or laeethingi eetha at drepa or droma" (to get loose out of Laeding, or to dash out of Dromi), when anything is to be accomplished by strong efforts.'
"'After this, the gods despaired of ever being able to bind the wolf; wherefore All-father sent Skirnir, the messenger of Frey, into the country of the Dark Elves (Svartalfaheim) to engage certain dwarfs to make the fetter called Gleipnir. It was fashioned out of six things; to wit, the noise made by the footfall of a cat; the beards of women; the roots of stones; the sinews of bears; the breath of fish; and the spittle of birds. Though thou mayest not have heard of these things before, thou mayest easily convince thyself that we have not been telling thee lies. Thou must have seen that women have no beards, that cats make no noise when they run, and that there are no roots under stones. Now I know what has been told thee to be equally true, although there may be some things thou art not able to furnish a proof of.'
"'I believe what thou hast told me to be true,' replied Gangler, 'for what thou hast adduced in corroboratiou of thy statement is conceivable. But how was the fetter smithied?'
"'This I can tell thee,' replied Har, 'that the fetter was as smooth and soft as a silken string, and yet, as thou wilt presently hear, of very great strength. When it was brought to the gods they were profuse in their thanks to the messenger for the trouble he had given himself; and taking the wolf with them to the island called Lyngvi, in the Lake Amsvartnir, they showed him the cord, and expressed their wish that he would try to break it, assuring him at the same time that it was somewhat stronger than its thinness would warrant a person in supposing it to be. They took it themselves, one after another, in their hands, and after attempting in vain to break it, said, "Thou alone, Fenrir, art able to accomplish such a feat."
"'"Methinks," replied the wolf, "that I shall acquire no fame in breaking such a slender cord; but if any artifice has been employed in making it, slender though it seems, it shall never come on my feet."
"'The gods assured him that he would easily break a limber silken cord, since he had already burst asunder iron fetters of the most solid construction. "But if thou shouldst not succeed in breaking it," they added, "thou wilt show that thou art too weak to cause the gods any fear, and we will not hesitate to set thee at liberty without delay."
"'"I fear me much," replied the wolf, "that if ye once bind me so fast that I shall be unable to free myself by my own efforts, ye will be in no haste to unloose me. Loath am I, therefore, to have this cord wound round me; but in order that ye may not doubt my courage, I will consent, provided one of you put his hand into my mouth as a pledge that ye intend me no deceit."
"'The gods wistfully looked at each other, and found that they had only the choice of two evils, until Tyr stepped forward and intrepidly put his right hand between the monster's jaws. Hereupon the gods, having tied up the wolf, he forcibly stretched himself, as he had formerly done, and used all his might to disengage himself, but the more efforts he made, the tighter became the cord, until all the gods, except Tyr, who lost his hand, burst into laughter at the sight.
"'When the gods saw that the wolf was effectually bound, they took the chain called Gelgja, which was fixed to the fetter, and drew it through the middle of a large rock named Gjoell, which they sank very deep into the earth; afterwards, to make it still more secure, they fastened the end of the cord to a massive stone called Thviti, which they sank still deeper. The wolf made in vain the most violent efforts to break loose, and, opening his tremendous jaws, endeavored to bite them. The gods, seeing this, thrust a sword into his mouth, which pierced his under jaw up to the hilt, so that the point touched the palate. He then began to howl horribly, and since that time the foam flows continually from his mouth in such abundance that it forms the river called Von. There will he remain until Ragnaroek.'"
There are also goddesses in the Valhalla, of whom the Edda mentions Frigga, Saga, and many others.
Sec. 5. Resemblance of the Scandinavian Mythology to that of Zoroaster.
These are the main points of the Scandinavian mythology, the resemblance of which to that of Zoroaster has been often remarked. Each is a dualism, having its good and evil gods, its worlds of light and darkness, in opposition to each other. Each has behind this dualism a dim presence, a vague monotheism, a supreme God, infinite and eternal. In each the evil powers are for the present conquered and bound in some subterranean prisons, but are hereafter to break out, to battle with the gods and overcome them, but to be destroyed themselves at the same time. Each system speaks of a great conflagration, in which all things will be destroyed; to be followed by the creation of a new earth, more beautiful than the other, to be the abode of peace and joy. The duty of man in each system is war, though this war in the Avesta is viewed rather as moral conflict, while in the Edda it is taken more grossly for physical struggle. The tone of the theology of Zoroaster is throughout higher and more moral than that of the Scandinavians. Its doctrine of creation is not a mere development by a dark, unintelligent process, nor, on the other hand, is it a Hindoo or Gnostic system of emanation. It is neither pure materialism on the one hand nor pantheism on the other; but a true doctrine of creation, for an intelligent and moral purpose, by the conscious and free act of the Creator. But in many of the details, again, we find a singular correspondence between these two systems. Odin corresponds to Ormazd, Loki to Ahriman, the AEsir to the Amschaspands, the giants of Jotunheim to the Daevas. So too the ox (Adudab) is the equivalent of the giant Ymir, and the creation of the man and woman, Meshia and Meshiane, is correlated to Ask and Embla. Baldur resembles the Redeemer Sosiosh. The bridge, Bifrost, which goes up to heaven, is the bridge Chinevat, which goes from the top of Albordj to heaven. The dog Sirius (Sura), the watchman who keeps guard over the abyss, seems also to correspond to Surtur, the watchman of the luminous world at the South. The earth, in the Avesta, is called Hethra, and by the ancient Germans and Scandinavians, Hertha,—the name given by Tacitus to this goddess, signifying the earth, in all the Teutonic languages. In like manner, the German name for heaven, Himmel, is derived from the Sanskrit word "Himmala," the name of the Himmalah Mountains in Central Asia, believed by the ancient inhabitants of Asia to be the residence of their gods.
Sec. 6. Scandinavian Worship.
The religious ceremonies of the Scandinavians were simple. Their worship, like that of the followers of Zoroaster, was at first held in the open air; but in later times they erected temples, some of which were quite splendid. There were three great festivals in the year. The first was at the winter solstice, and on the longest night of the year, which was called the Mother Night, as that which produced the rest. This great feast was called Yul, whence comes the English Yule, the old name for Christmas, which festival took its place when the Scandinavians became Christians. Their festival was in honor of the sun, and was held with sacrifices, feasting, and great mirth. The second festival was in spring, in honor of the earth, to supplicate fruitful crops. The third was also in the spring, in honor of Odin. The sacrifices were of fruits, afterward animals, and occasionally, in later times, human beings. The people believed in divine interposition, and also in a fixed destiny, but especially in themselves, in their own force and courage. Some of them laughed at the gods, some challenged them to fight with them, and professed to believe in nothing but their own might and main. One warrior calls for Odin, as a foeman alone worthy of his steel, and it was considered lawful to fight the gods. The quicken-tree, or mountain-ash, was believed to possess great virtues, on account of the aid it afforded to Thor on one occasion.
Beside the priests, the Northern nations had their soothsayers. They also believed that by the power of runes the dead could be made to speak. These runes were called galder, and another kind of magic, mostly practised by women, was called seid. It was thought that these wise women possessed the power of raising and allaying storms, and of hardening the body so that the sword could not cut it. Some charms could give preternatural strength, others the power of crossing the sea without a ship, of creating and destroying love, of assuming different forms, of becoming invisible, of giving the evil eye. Garments could be charmed to protect or to destroy the wearer. A horse's head, set on a stake, with certain imprecations, produced fearful mischief to a foe.
Very few remains of temples have been found in the North. But (as Laing remarks in his "Sea-Kings of Norway") the most permanent remains of the religion of Odin are found in the usages and languages of the descendants of those who worshipped him. These descendants all retain, in the names of Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, the recollections of the chief gods of this mythology. Mara (the nightmare) still torments the sleep of the English-speaking people; and the Evil One, Nokke (so says Laing), is the ancestor of Old Nick.
Every ninth year solemn sacrifices were held in the great temple at Upsal in Sweden. The king and all citizens of importance must appear in person and bring offerings. Crowds came together on these occasions, and no one was excluded, except for some base or cowardly action. Nine human beings were sacrificed, usually captives or slaves, but in times of great calamity even a king was made a victim. Earl Hakon, of Norway, offered his son in sacrifice to obtain a victory over some pirates. The bodies were buried in groves, which thence were regarded as very sacred. One, called Odin's grove, near the temple of Upsal, was sacred in every twig and leaf.
Sec. 7. Social Character, Maritime Discoveries, and Political Institutions of the Scandinavians.
Of the manners, customs, and habits of the Scandinavians, we cannot speak at length. Society among them was divided into two classes,—the landholder or bondsmen, and the thralls or slaves. The duty of the last was to perform domestic service and till the ground, and they consisted of prisoners taken in war and their children. The business of the landholder or bondsman was war, and his chief virtue courage. His maxim was, to conquer a single opponent, to attack two, not to yield to three, and only to give way to four. To die in battle was their high ambition; then they believed that they should pass to the halls of Odin. King Ragnar died singing the pleasure of receiving death in battle, saying, "The hours of my life have passed away; I shall die laughing." Saxo, describing a duel, said that one of the champions fell, laughed, and died. Rather than die in their bed, some, when sick, leaped from a rock into the sea. Others, when dying, would be carried into a field of battle. Others induced their friends to kill them. The Icelandic Sagas are filled with stories of single combats, or holm-gangs. When not fighting they were fond of feasting; and the man who could drink the most beer was counted the best. The custom of drinking toasts came from the North. As the English give the Queen, and we the President, as the first health on public occasions, so they begin with a cup, first to Odin, and afterward to other deities, and then to the memory of the dead, in what was called grave-beer. Their institutions were patriarchal; the head of the family was the chief of the tribe and also its priest. But all the freemen in a neighborhood met in the Thing, where they decided disputes, laid down social regulations, and determined on public measures. The Thing was, therefore, legislature, court of justice, and executive council in one; and once a year, in some central place, there was held a similar meeting to settle the affairs of the whole country, called the Land-Thing or All-Thing. At this the king was chosen for the whole community, who sometimes appointed subordinate officers called Yarls, or earls, to preside over large districts. Respect for women was a marked trait among the Scandinavians, as Tacitus has noticed of their congeners, the Germans. They were admired for their modesty, sense, and force of character, rather than for the fascinations which the nations of the South prefer. When Thor described his battle with the sorceress, the answer was, "Shame, Thor! to strike a woman!" The wife was expected to be industrious and domestic. She carried the keys of the house; and the Sagas frequently mention wives who divorced their husbands for some offence, and took back their dowry. The Skalds, or Bards, had a high place and great distinction among this people. Their songs constituted the literature and history of the Scandinavians, and the people listened, not as to the inspiration of an individual mind, but to the pulsation of its own past life. Their praises were desired, their satire feared, by the greatest heroes and kings. Their style was figurative, sometimes bombastic, often obscure.
Of the maritime expeditions of the Northmen we have already spoken. For many centuries they were the terror of Europe, North and South. The sea-kings of Norway appeared before Constantinople in 866, and afterward a body-guard of the emperors of the East was composed of these pirates, who were called the Varangians. Even before the death of Charlemagne their depredations brought tears to his eyes; and after his death they pillaged and burnt the principal cities of France, and even his own palace at Aix-la-Chapelle. They carried their arms into Spain, Italy, and Greece. In 844 a band of these sea-rovers sailed up the Guadalquiver and attacked Seville, then in possession of the Moors, and took it, and afterward fought a battle with the troops of Abderahman II. The followers of Mohammed and the worshippers of Odin, the turbaned Moors and the fair-haired Norwegians, here met, each far from his original home, each having pursued a line of conquest, which thus came in contact at their furthest extremes.
The Northmen in Italy sold their swords to different princes, and under Count Rainalf built the city of Aversa in 1029. In Sicily the Northern knights defeated the Saracens, and enabled the Greek Emperor to reconquer the island. Afterward they established themselves in Southern Italy, and took possession of Apulia. A league formed against them by the Greek and German Emperors and the Pope ended in the utter defeat of the Papal and German army by three thousand Normans, and they afterward received and held Apulia as a Papal fief. In 1060 Robert Guiscard became Duke of Apulia and Calabria, and at last of the whole kingdom of Naples. Sicily was conquered by his brother, Count Roger, who, with a few Northmen, routed vast numbers of the Saracens and completed the subjection of the island, after thirty years of war. Meantime his brother Robert crossed the Adriatic and besieged and took Durazzo, after a fierce battle, in which the Scandinavian soldiers of the Greek Emperor fought with the Normans descended from the same Scandinavian ancestors.
Sec. 8. Relation of this System to Christianity.
The first German nation converted to Christianity was that of the Goths, whose teacher was Ulphilas, born 318, consecrated a bishop in 348. Having made many converts to Christianity among his people, a persecution arose against them from the pagan Goths; and in 355, in consequence of this persecution, he sought and obtained leave to settle his converts in Maesia. He preached with fervor, studied the Scripture in Greek and Latin, and made the first translation of the Bible into any German language. Fragments of his Gothic version are preserved at Upsal. This copy, called the "Codex Argenteus," was captured by the Swedes at Prague during the Thirty Years' War. This manuscript is of the sixth century, and, together with some palimpsests, is the only source of our knowledge of this ancient version.
Ulphilas was an Arian, and died confessing his faith in that form of Unitarianism. Neander says it is to the credit of the orthodox historians that they do not on that account abate anything of their praise of Ulphilas for his great labors as a missionary, confessor, and doctor. His translation was, for a long time, used all over Europe by the various tribes of German descent.
Ulphilas, therefore, led the way in that work which resulted in one of the greatest events of modern history; namely, the conversion of the German race to Christianity. It was by various families of this Teutonic stem—Goths, Vandals, Saxons, Lombards, Burgundians, Franks—that the Roman Empire was overthrown. If they had not been converted to Christianity before and during these conquests, what would have been the fate of European civilization? The only bond uniting the modern and ancient world was the Christian faith, and this faith was so adapted to the German character that it was everywhere accepted by them. The conversion of the Anglo-Saxons by Augustin (A.D. 597), of the Germans by Boniface (A.D. 718-755), of the Saxons (A.D. 803), and the universal downfall of German heathenism, was a condition sine qua non of that union of Latin and Greek culture with the German vitality, which was at the root of modern European civilization. Previous to this the Visigoths were converted, as we have seen; then the Ostrogoths; then the Vandals and Gepidae,—all in the fourth century. The Franks became Christians in the fifth century, the Alemanni and Lombards in the sixth. All of these tribes were converted by Arian missionaries, except the Franks. But the records of these missions have perished, for the historians were Catholics, "who," says Milman, "perhaps destroyed, or disdained to preserve, the fame of Arian conquests to a common Christianity." "It was a surprising spectacle," says he, "to behold the Teutonic nations melting gradually into the general mass of Christian worshippers. In every other respect they were still distinct races. The conquering Ostrogoth or Visigoth, the Vandal, the Burgundian, the Frank, stood apart from the subjugated Roman population, as an armed or territorial aristocracy. They maintain, in great part at least, their laws, their language, their habits, their character; in religion alone they are blended into one society, constitute one church, worship at the same altar, and render allegiance to the same hierarchy. This is the single bond of their common humanity."
The German races also established everywhere the feudal system, that curious institution, which has been the subject of so much discussion, and has perplexed the readers of history by its incongruities. These perplexities, however, may perhaps be relieved if we see that the essential character of this institution was this, that it was an army permanently quartered on a subject people. This definition contains the explanation of the whole system. The Germans had overrun and conquered the Roman Empire. They intended to possess and retain it. But being much fewer in numbers than the conquered people, how could they do this? Suppose that when the Confederate States had been conquered by the Union Army it had been determined to hold them permanently as a conquered territory. It could be done thus. First, the original inhabitants must be disarmed and put under stringent laws, like that of the curfew, etc. Then to every private soldier in the Union Army a farm, say of fifty acres, would be assigned, on condition that whenever summoned by the captain of his company he would present himself armed to do military duty. In like manner the captain would receive, say a hundred acres, on condition of appearing with his company when summoned by his colonel. Then the colonel would receive five hundred acres, on condition of appearing with his regiment when summoned by the general. The general (dux, duke) must appear with his brigade when summoned by the commander-in-chief (imperator, emperor), and he would hold perhaps a thousand acres on this condition. All this land, thus held on condition of military service, would be held in fee, and would exemplify the actual foundation of the whole feudal system, which was simply an arrangement by which a conquering army could hold down the conquered nation.
Of course, such a system as this was one of tyranny and cruelty, and during several centuries it was tempered and softened only by the mediatorial influence of the Christian Church. This was the only power strong enough to shield the oppressed and to hold back the arm of the tyrant. Feudalism served, no doubt, some useful purposes. It was a method of riveting together, with iron nails, the conquerors and conquered, until they could come into a union of a better kind.
It was about the year 1000 that the people of the North were converted to Christianity. This process of conversion was a long time going on, and there were several relapses into paganism; so that no precise time can be fixed for the conversion of a single nation, much less for that of the different branches of the Scandinavian stock separately situated in Sweden and Denmark, Iceland and Greenland, and colonized in England and Normandy. A mission was established in Denmark, A.D. 822, and the king was baptized; but the overthrow of this Christian king restricted the labors of the missionary. An attempt was made in Sweden in 829, and the missionary, Anschar, remained there a year and a half; but the mission there established was soon overthrown. Uniting wisdom with his ardor, Anschar established at Hamburg schools where he educated Danish and Swedish boys to preach Christianity in their own language to their countrymen. But the Normans laid waste this city, and the Christian schools and churches were destroyed. About 850 a new attempt was made in Sweden, and there the subject was laid by the king before his council or parliament, consisting of two assemblies, and they decided to allow Christianity to be preached and practised, apparently on the ground that this new god, Christ, might help them in their dangers at sea, when the other gods could not. And thus, according to the independent character of this people, Christianity was neither allowed to be imposed upon them by their king against their will, nor excluded from the use of those who chose to adopt it. It took its chance with the old systems, and many of the Danes and Normans believed in worshipping both Odin and Christ at the same time. King Harold in Denmark, during the last half of the tenth century, favored the spread of Christianity, and was himself baptized with his wife and son, believing at first that the Christian God was more powerful than the heathen gods, but finally coming to the conclusion that these last were only evil spirits. On the other hand, some of the Danes believed that Christ was a god, and to be worshipped; but that he was a less powerful god than Odin or Thor. The son of King Harold, in 990, returned to paganism and drove out the Christian priests; but his son, Canute the Great, who began to reign in 1014, was converted to Christianity in England, and became its zealous friend. But these fierce warriors made rather poor Christians. Adam of Bremen says: "They so abominate tears and lamentations, and all other signs of penitence which we think so salubrious, that they will neither weep for their own sins nor at the death of their best friends." Thus, in these Northern regions, Christianity grew through one or two centuries, not like the mustard-seed, but like the leaven, infusing itself more and more into their national life. According to the testimony of an eye-witness, Adam of Bremen, the Swedes were very susceptible to religious impressions. "They receive the preachers of the truth with great kindness," says he, "if they are modest, wise, and able; and our bishops are even allowed to preach in their great public assemblies." In Norway, Prince Hacon, in the middle of the tenth century, attempted to establish Christianity, which he had learned in England. He proposed to the great national assembly that the whole nation should renounce idolatry, worship God and Christ, keep Sundays as festivals, and Fridays as fasts. Great opposition was made, and there was danger of universal insurrection, so that the king had to yield, and even himself drink a toast to Odin and eat horse-flesh, which was a heathen practice. Subsequent kings of Norway introduced Christianity again; but the people, though willing to be baptized, frequently continued Pagans, and only by degrees renounced, with their old worship, their habits of piracy. The Icelanders embraced Christianity at their All-Thing in the year 1000, but with the condition that they might also continue their old worship, and be permitted the eating of horse-flesh and exposition of infants. When the All-Thing broke up, the assembled multitudes went to the hot-baths to be baptized, preferring for this rite hot water to cold. The Scandinavians seem at this period to have lost their faith in their old religion, and to have been in a transition state. One warrior says that he relies more on his own strength and arms than upon Thor. Another says, "I would have thee know that I believe neither in idols nor spirits, but only in my own force and courage." A warrior told King Olaff in Norway, "I am neither Christian nor Pagan. My companions and I have no other religion than confidence in our own strength and good success." Evidently Christianity for a long time sat very lightly on these nations. They were willing to be baptized and accept some of the outward ceremonies and festivals of the Catholic Church, which were considerately made to resemble their old ones.
Nevertheless Christianity met many of the wants of this noble race of men; and, on the other hand, their instincts as a race were as well adapted to promote an equal development of every side of Christian life. The Southern races of Europe received Christianity as a religion of order; the Northern races, as a religion of freedom. In the South of Europe the Catholic Church, by its ingenious organization and its complex arrangements, introduced into life discipline and culture. In the North of Europe Protestant Christianity, by its appeals to the individual soul, awakens conscience and stimulates to individual and national progress. The nations of Southern Europe accepted Christianity mainly as a religion of sentiment and feeling; the nations of Northern Europe, as a religion of truth and principle. God adapted Christianity to the needs of these Northern races; but he also adapted these races, with their original instincts and their primitive religion, to the needs of Christianity. Without them, we do not see how there could be such a thing in Europe to-day as Protestantism. It was no accident which made the founder of the Reformation a Saxon monk, and the cradle of the Reformation Germany. It was no accident which brought the great Gustavus Adolphus from the northern peninsula, at the head of his Swedish Protestants, to turn the tide of war in favor of Protestantism and to die on the field of Lutzen, fighting for freedom of spirit. It is no accident which makes the Scandinavian races to-day, in Sweden and Norway, in Denmark and North Germany and Holland, in England and the United States, almost the only Protestant nations of the world. The old instincts still run in the blood, and cause these races to ask of their religion, not so much the luxury of emotion or the satisfaction of repose, in having all opinions settled for them and all actions prescribed, as, much rather, light, freedom, and progress. To them to-day, as to their ancestors,
"Is life a simple art Of duties to be done, A game where each man takes his part, A race where all must run; A battle whose great scheme and scope They little care to know; Content, as men at arms, to cope Each with his fronting foe."
The Jewish Religion.
Sec. 1. Palestine, and the Semitic Races. Sec. 2. Abraham; or, Judaism as the family Worship of a Supreme Being. Sec. 3. Moses; or, Judaism as the national Worship of a just and holy King. Sec. 4. David; or, Judaism as the personal Worship of a Father and Friend. Sec. 5. Solomon; or, the Religious Relapse. Sec. 6. The Prophets; or, Judaism as the Hope of a spiritual and universal Kingdom of God. Sec. 7. Judaism as a Preparation for Christianity.
Sec. 1. Palestine, and the Semitic Races.
Palestine is a word equivalent to Philistia, or the land of the Philistines. A similar name for the coast region of Syria has been found on a monument in Nineveh, and at Karnak in Egypt. Josephus and Philo use the term "Palestine," as applying to the Philistines; and the accurate learning of Milton appears in his using it in the same sense. "The land of Canaan," "The land of Israel," and "Judaea" were the names afterward given to the territory of the children of Israel. It is a small country, like others as famous; for it is only about one hundred and forty English miles in length, and forty in width. It resembles Greece and Switzerland, not only in its small dimensions, but by being composed of valleys, separated by chains of mountains and by ranges of hills. It was isolated by the great sea of sand on the east, and the Mediterranean on the west. Sharply defined on the east, west, and south, it stretches indefinitely into Syria on the north. It is a hilly, high-lying region, having all the characters of Greece except proximity to the sea, and all those of Switzerland except the height of the mountains. Its valleys were well watered and fertile. They mostly ran north and south; none opened a way across, Judaea to the Mediterranean. This geographical fact assisted in the isolation of the country. Two great routes of travel passed by its borders without entering its hills. On the west the plains of Philistia were the highway of the Assyrian and Egyptian armies. On the north the valley of the Orontes, separated by the chain of Lebanon from Palestine, allowed the people of Asia a free passage to the sea. So, though surrounded by five great nations, all idolatrous,—the Babylonians, Medes, Assyrians, Phoenicians, and Egyptians,—the people of Judaea were enabled to develop their own character and institutions without much interference from without. Inaccessible from the sea, and surrounded, like the Swiss, by the natural fortifications of their hills, like the Swiss they were also protected by their poverty from spoilers. But being at the point of contact of three continents, they had (like the Mahommedans afterwards) great facilities for communicating their religious ideas to other nations.
Palestine is so small a country that from many points the whole of it may be overlooked. Toward the east, from all points, may be seen the high plateau of Moab and the mountains of Gilead. Snow-capped Hermon is always visible on the north. In the heart of the land rises the beautiful mountain Tabor, clothed with vegetation to its summit. It is almost a perfect cone, and commands the most interesting view in all directions. From its top, to which you ascend from Nazareth by a path which Jesus may have trod, you see to the northeast the lofty chain of Hermon (Jebel es Sheikh = the Captain) rising into the blue sky to the height of ten thousand feet, covered with eternal snow. West of this appears the chain of Lebanon. At the foot of Tabor the plain of Esdraelon extends northerly, dotted with hills, and animated with the camps of the Arabs. The Lake of Galilee gleams, a silver line, on the east, with Bashan and the mountains of Gilead in the distance, and farther to the southeast the great plateau of Moab rises like a mountain wall beyond the Jordan. The valley of the Jordan itself, sunk far below the level of the Mediterranean, is out of sight in its deep valley; nor is anything seen of the Dead Sea. To the northwest rises rocky Carmel, overhanging the Bay of Accha (or Acre), on the Mediterranean.
The whole country stands high. Hebron, at the south, is three thousand feet above the level of the sea; Jerusalem is twenty-six hundred; the Mount of Olives, twenty-seven hundred; and Ebal and Gerizim in Samaria, the same. The valley in which Nazareth stands is eight hundred and twenty feet above the sea; that at the foot of Tabor, four hundred and thirty-nine; while the summit of Tabor itself is seventeen hundred and fifty. From Judaea the land plunges downward very rapidly toward the east into the valley of Jordan. The surface of Lake Galilee is already five hundred and thirty-five feet below that of the Mediterranean, and that of the Dead Sea is five hundred feet lower down. Palestine is therefore a mountain fastness, and most of the waves of war swept by, leaving it untouched and unassailed. From Jerusalem to Jericho the distance is only thirteen miles, but the latter place is a thousand feet lower than the former, so that it was very proper to speak of a man's "going down from Jerusalem to Jericho."
The Jews belonged to what has been called the Semitic race. This family, the only historic rival of the Japhetic (or Aryan) race, is ethnologically composed of the Assyrians and Babylonians, the Phoenicians, the Hebrews and other Syrian tribes, the Arabs and the Carthaginians. It is a race which has been great on land and at sea. In the valley of the Euphrates and that of the Tigris its sons carried all the arts of social life to the highest perfection, and became mighty conquerors and warlike soldiers. On the Mediterranean their ships, containing Phoenician navigators, explored the coasts, made settlements at Carthage and Cadiz, and sailing out of the Straits of Gibraltar went as far north as Great Britain, and circumnavigated Africa two thousand years before Vasco da Gama. This race has given to man the alphabet, the Bible, the Koran, commerce, and in Hannibal the greatest military genius of all time.
That the different nations inhabiting the region around the Euphrates and Tigris, Syria and Arabia, belonged to one great race, is proved by the unimpeachable testimony of language. The Bible genealogies trace them to Shem, the son of Noah. Ewald, who believes that this region was inhabited by an aboriginal people long before the days of Abraham,—a people who were driven out by the Canaanites,—nevertheless says that they no doubt were a Semitic people. The languages of all these nations is closely related, being almost dialects of a single tongue, the differences between them being hardly greater than between the subdivisions of the German group of languages. That which has contributed to preserve the close homogeneity among these tongues is, that they have little power of growth or development. As M. Renan says, "they have less lived than lasted."
The Phoenicians used a language almost identical with the Hebrew. A sarcophagus of Ezmunazar, king of Sidon, dating from the fifth century before Christ, was discovered a few years since, and is now in the Museum of the Louvre. It contains some thirty sentences of the length of an average verse in the Bible, and is in pure Hebrew. In a play of Plautus a Carthaginian is made to speak a long passage in his native language, the Punic tongue; this is also very readable Hebrew. The black basalt stele, lately discovered in the land of Moab, contains an inscription of Mesha, king of Moab, addressed to his god, Chemosh, describing his victory over the Israelites. This is also in a Hebrew dialect. From such facts it appears that the Hebrews, Phoenicians, and Canaanites were all congeners with each other, and with the Babylonians and Assyrians.
But now the striking fact appears that the Hebrew religion differed widely from that of these other nations of the same family. The Assyrians, Babylonians, Phoenicians, and Carthaginians all possessed a nearly identical religion. They all believed in a supreme god, called by the different names of Ilu, Bel, Set, Hadad, Moloch, Chemosh, Jaoh, El, Adon, Asshur. All believed in subordinate and secondary beings, emanations from this supreme being, his manifestations to the world, rulers of the planets. Like other pantheistic religions, the custom prevailed among the Semitic nations of promoting first one and then another deity to be the supreme object of worship. Among the Assyrians, as among the Egyptians, the gods were often arranged in triads, as that of Ann, Bel, and Ao. Anu, or Cannes, wore the head of a fish; Bel wore the horns of a bull; Ao was represented by a serpent. These religions represented the gods as the spirit within nature, and behind natural objects and forces,—powers within the world, rather than above the world. Their worship combined cruelty and licentiousness, and was perhaps as debasing a superstition as the world has witnessed. The Greeks, who were not puritans themselves in their religion, were shocked at the impure orgies of this worship, and horrified at the sacrifice of children among the Canaanites and Carthaginians.
How then did the Hebrews, under Moses and the later prophets, originate a system so widely different? Their God was above nature, not in it. He stood alone, unaccompanied by secondary deities; he made no part of a triad; he was not associated with a female representative. His worship required purity, not pollution; its aim was holiness, and its spirit humane, not cruel. Monotheistic in its spirit from the first, it became an absolute monotheism in its development. Whence this wide departure in the Hebrews from the religious tendencies and belief of the surrounding nations, who spoke the same language and belonged to the same stock?
M. Renan considers this a question of race. He says: "The Indo-European race, distracted by the variety of the universe, never by itself arrived at monotheism. The Semitic race, on the other hand, guided by its firm and sure sight, instantly unmasked Divinity, and without reflection or reasoning attained the purest form of religion that humanity has known." But the Assyrians, Babylonians, Arabians before Mohammed, Phoenicians, and Carthaginians, and perhaps the Egyptians, belonged to the Semitic race. Yet none of these nations attained to any monotheism purer than that of the Veda or the Avesta. The Arabs, near relations of the Hebrews, were divided between a worship like that of Babylon and Sabaeism, or star-worship. No doubt in all these Semitic families the idea of one supreme god lay behind that of the secondary deities; but this was also the case in the Aryan races. And in both this primitive monotheism receded instead of becoming more distinct, with the single exception of the Hebrews. M. Renan's view is not, therefore, supported by the facts. We must look further to find the true cause, and therefore are obliged to examine somewhat in detail the main points of Hebrew history. It would be easy, but would not accord with our plan, to accept the common Christian explanation, and say, "Monotheism was a direct revelation to Moses." For we are now not able to assume such a revelation, and are obliged to consider the subject from the outside, from the stand-point of pure history.
Sec. 2. Abraham; or, Judaism as the family Worship of a Supreme Being.
We have been so accustomed to regard the Jewish religion as a part of our own, and so to look at it from within, that it is hard to take the historic position, and to look at it from without. But to compare it with other religions, and to see what it really is and is not, this is necessary. It becomes more difficult to assume the attitude of an impartial observer, because of the doctrine of verbal inspiration, so universally taught in the Protestant Church. From childhood we have looked on the Old Testament as inspired throughout, and all on the same level of absolute infallibility. There is no high, no low, no degrees of certitude or probability, where every word is assumed to be the very word of God. But those who still hold to the plenary inspiration of the Old Testament must consent, for our present purpose, to suspend their faith in this doctrine, and provisionally to look at the Old Testament with the same impartial though friendly scrutiny with which we have regarded the sacred books of other nations. Not a little will be gained for the Jewish Scriptures by this position. If they lose the authority which attaches to the Word of God, they will gain the interest which belongs to the utterance of man.
While M. Renan finds the source of Hebrew monotheism in a like tendency in the whole Semitic race,—a supposition which we have seen to be contradicted by the facts,—Max Mueller regards the true origin of this tendency to be in Abraham himself, the friend of God, and Father of the Faithful. He calls attention to the fact that both Moses and Christ, and subsequently Mohammed, preached no new God, but the God of Abraham. "Thus," says he, "the faith in the one living God, which seemed to require the admission of a monotheistic instinct grafted in every member of the Semitic family, is traced back to one man." He adds his belief that this faith of Abraham in one supreme God came to him by a special revelation.
And if, by a special revelation, is meant a grand profound insight, an inspired vision of truth, so deep and so living as to make it a reality like that of the outward world, then we see no better explanation of the monotheism of the Hebrews than this conviction transmitted from Abraham through father and son, from generation to generation.
For the most curious fact about this Jewish people is, that every one of them is a child of Abraham. All looked back with the same ancestral pride to their great progenitor, the friend of God. This has never been the case with any other nation, for the Arabs are not a nation. One can hardly imagine a greater spur to patriotism than this union of pride of descent with pride in one's nation and its institutions. The proudest and poorest Jew shared it together. There was one distinction, and that the most honorable, which belonged equally to all.
We have seen that, in all the Semitic nations, behind the numerous divine beings representing the powers of nature, there was dimly visible one Supreme Being, of whom all these were emanations. The tendency to lose sight of this First Great Cause, so common in the race, was reversed in Abraham. His soul rose to the contemplation of the Perfect Being, above all, and the source of all. With passionate love he adored this Most High God, Maker of heaven and earth. Such was his devotion to this Almighty Being, that men, wondering, said, "Abraham is the friend of the Most High God!" He desired to find a home where he could bring up his children in this pure faith, undisturbed and unperverted by the gross and low worship around him. In some "deep dream or solemn vision" it was borne in on his mind that he must go and find such a home.
We are not to suppose, however, that the mind of Abraham rose to a clear conception of the unity of God, as excluding all other divine beings. The idea of local, tribal, family gods was too deeply rooted to be at once relinquished. Abraham, as described in Genesis, is a great Arab chief, a type of patriarchal life, in which all authority is paternal. The religion of such a period is filial, and God is viewed as the protector and friend of the family or tribe. Only the family God of Abraham was the highest of all gods, the Almighty (Gen. xvii. 1), who was also the God of Isaac (Gen. xxviii. 3) and of Jacob (Gen. xxxv. 11).
Stanley expresses his satisfaction that the time has past in which the most fastidious believer can object to hearing Abraham called a Bedouin sheik. The type has remained unchanged through all the centuries, and the picture in the Bible of Abraham in his tent, of his hospitality, his self-respect, his courage, and also of his less noble traits, occasional cunning and falsehood, and cruelty toward Hagar and Ishmael,—these qualities, good and bad, are still those of the desert. Only in Abraham something higher and exceptional was joined with them.
In the Book of Genesis Abraham enters quite abruptly upon the scene. His genealogy is given in Genesis (chap, xi.), he being the ninth in descent from Shem, each generation occupying a little more than thirty years. The birth of Abraham is usually placed somewhere about two thousand years before Christ. His father's name was Terah, whom the Jewish and Mohammedan traditions describe as an idolater and maker of idols. He had two brothers, Nahor and Haran; the latter being the father of Lot, and the other, Nahor, being the grandfather of Rebecca, wife of Isaac. Abraham's father, Terah, lived in Ur of the Chaldees (called in Scripture Casdim). The Chaldees, who subsequently inhabited the region about the Persian Gulf, seemed at first to have lived among the mountains of Armenia, at the source of the Tigris; and this was the region where Abraham was born, a region now occupied by the people called Curds, who are perhaps descendants of the old Chaldees, the inhabitants of Ur. The Curds are Mohammedans and robbers, and quite independent, never paying taxes to the Porte. The Chaldees are frequently mentioned in Scripture and in ancient writers. Xenophon speaks of the Carduchi as inhabitants of the mountains of Armenia, and as making incursions thence to plunder the country, just as the Curds do now. He says they were found there by the younger Cyrus, and by the ten thousand Greeks. The Greeks, in their retreat, were obliged to fight their way through them, and found them very skilful archers. So did the Romans under Crassus and Mark Antony. And so are they described by the Prophet Habakkuk (chap, i. 6-9):—
"For lo, I raise up the Chaldeans, A bitter and hasty nation, Which marches far and wide in the earth, To possess the dwellings that are not theirs. They are terrible and dreadful, Their decrees and their judgments proceed only from themselves. Swifter than leopards are their horses, And fiercer than the evening wolves. Their horsemen prance proudly around; And their horsemen shall come from afar and fly, Like the eagle when he pounces on his prey. They all shall come for violence, In troops,—their glance is ever forward! They gather captives like the sand!"
As they were in the time of Habakkuk, so are they to-day. Shut up on every side in the Persian Empire, their ancestors, the Carduchi, refused obedience to the great king and his satraps, just as the Curds refuse to obey the grand seignior and his pashas. They can raise a hundred and forty thousand armed men. They are capable of any undertaking. Mohammed himself said, "They would yet revolutionize the world."
The ancient Chaldees seem to have been fire-worshippers, like the Persians. They were renowned for the study of the heavens and the worship of the stars, and some remains of Persian dualism still linger among their descendants, who are accused of Devil-worship by their neighbors.
That Abraham was a real person, and that his story is historically reliable, can hardly be doubted by those who have the historic sense. Such pictures, painted in detail with a Pre-Raphaelite minuteness, are not of the nature of legends. Stories which are discreditable to his character, and which place him in a humiliating position towards Pharaoh and Abimelech, would not have appeared in a fictitious narrative. The mythical accounts of Abraham, as found among the Mohammedans and in the Talmud, show, by their contrast, the difference between fable and history.
The events in the life of Abraham are so well known that it is not necessary even to allude to them. We will only refer to one, as showing that others among the tribes in Palestine, besides Abraham, had a faith in God similar to his. This is the account of his meeting with Melchisedek. This mysterious person has been so treated by typologists that all human meaning has gone out of him, and he has become, to most minds, a very vapory character. But this is doing him great injustice.
One mistake often made about him is, to assume that "Melchisedek, King of Salem," gives us the name and residence of the man, whereas both are his official titles. His name we do not know; his office and title had swallowed it up. "King of Justice and King of Peace,"—this is his designation. His office, as we believe, was to be umpire among the chiefs of neighboring tribes. By deciding the questions which arose among them, according to equity, he received his title of "King of Justice." By thus preventing the bloody arbitrament of war, he gained the other name, "King of Peace." All questions, therefore, as to where "Salem" was, fall to the ground. Salem means "peace"; it does not mean the place of his abode.
But in order to settle such intertribal disputes, two things were necessary: first, that the surrounding Bedouin chiefs should agree to take him as their arbiter; and, secondly, that some sacredness should attach to his character, and give authority to his decisions. Like others in those days, he was both king and priest; but he was priest "of the Most High God,"—not of the local gods of the separate tribes, but of the highest God, above all the rest. That he was the acknowledged arbiter of surrounding tribes appears from the fact that Abraham paid to him tithes out of the spoils. It is not likely that Abraham did this if there were no precedent for it; for he regarded the spoils as belonging, not to himself, but to the confederates in whose cause he fought. No doubt it was the custom, as in the case of Delphi, to pay tithes to this supreme arbiter; and in doing so Abraham was simply following the custom. The Jewish traveller, Wolff, states that in Mesopotamia a similar custom prevails at the present time. One sheik is selected from the rest, on account of his superior probity and piety, and becomes their "King of Peace and Righteousness." A similar custom, I am told, prevails among some American tribes. Indeed, where society is organized by clans, subject to local chiefs, some such arrangement seems necessary to prevent perpetual feuds.
This "King of Justice and Peace" gave refreshments to Abraham and his followers after the battle, blessing him in the name of the Most High God. As he came from no one knows where, and has no official status or descent, the fact that Abraham recognized him as a true priest is used in the Book of Psalms and the Epistle to the Hebrews to prove there is a true priesthood beside that of the house of Levi. A priest after the order of Melchisedek is one who becomes so by having in him the true faith, though he has "no father nor mother, beginning of days nor end of life," that is, no genealogical position in an hereditary priesthood.
The God of Abraham was "The Most High." He was the family God of Abraham's tribe and of Abraham's descendants. Those who should worship other gods would be disloyal to their tribe, false to their ancestors, and must be regarded as outlaws. Thus the faith in a Supreme Being was first established in the minds of the descendants of Abraham by family pride, reverence for ancestors, and patriotic feeling. The faith of Abraham, that his God would give to his descendants the land of Palestine, and multiply them till they should be as numerous as the stars or the sand, was that which made him the Father of the Faithful.
The faith of Abraham, as we gather it from Genesis, was in God as a Supreme Being. Though almighty, God was willing to be Abraham's personal protector and friend. He talks with Abraham face to face. He comes to him, and agrees to give to him and to his posterity the land of Canaan, and in this promise Abraham has entire faith. His monotheism was indeed of an imperfect kind. It did not exclude a belief in other gods, though they were regarded as inferior to his own. His family God, though almighty, was not omnipresent. He came down to learn whether the rumors concerning the sinfulness of Sodom were correct or not. He was not quite sure of Abraham's faith, and so he tested it by commanding him to sacrifice Isaac, in whom alone the promise to Abraham's descendants could be fulfilled. But though the monotheism of Abraham was of so imperfect a kind, it had in it the root of the better kind which was to come. It was imperfect, but not false. It was entire faith in the supreme power of Jehovah to do what he would, and in his disposition to be a friend to the patriarch and his posterity. It was, therefore, trust in the divine power, wisdom, and goodness. The difference between the religion of Abraham and that of the polytheistic nations was, that while they descended from the idea of a Supreme Being into that of subordinate ones, he went back to that of the Supreme, and clung to this with his whole soul.
Sec. 3. Moses; or, Judaism as the national Worship of a just and holy King.
In speaking of Moses and of his law, it may be thought necessary to begin by showing that such a man as Moses really existed; for modern criticism has greatly employed itself in questioning the existence of great men. As the telescope resolves stars into double, triple, and quadruple stars, and finally into star-dust, so the critics, turning their optical tubes toward that mighty orb which men call Homer, have declared that they have resolved him into a great number of little Homers. The same process has been attempted in regard to Shakespeare. Some have tried to show that there never was any Shakespeare, but only many Shakespeare writers. In like manner, the critics have sought to dissolve Moses with their powerful analysis, and, instead of Moses, to give us a number of fragmentary writings from different times and hands, skilfully joined together; in fact, instead of Moses, to give us a mosaic. Criticism substitutes human tendencies in the place of great men, does not love to believe in genius, and often appears to think that a number of mediocrities added together can accomplish more than one man of genius.