Mar 29: The gloomy love lives of the Norse

If you have any friends who are fans of Wagner, and they try to explain to you what the plot of the Ring cycle is, and you start to think that maybe the gods deserved their twilight for being so similarly named, that's the feeling you might get with today's reading, from the Norse epics.

(Digression: why is Epic and Saga, which is our volume today, volume 49 -- the last one? You'd think it'd be the beginning, when our stories were young. Maybe confounding expectations is a key to fine teaching. Or maybe they forgot.)

I had to refer back to the DRG's summation for this, so I'll paste it in here: "Brynhild, favorite goddess of Norse mythology, plighted troth with Sigurd, fearless warrior. But Sigurd forgot Brynhild and married Gudrun, whose brother, Gunner, then set out to win the beautiful Brynhild. Complications very like a modern tri­angle arose." Helpfully, Gudrun and Gunner's mother is named Grimhild.

What struck me today is a feature of these kind of epic-and-saga type stories: the fact that the characters themselves know that disaster's coming. Here, Gudrun (who is a she) is having dreams and goes to visit Brynhild for interpretation:
...this deer we were all fain to take, but I alone got him; and he seemed to me better than all things else; but sithence thou, Brynhild, didst shoot and slay my deer even at my very knees, and such grief was that to me that scarce might I bear it...
(Digression 2: the translation isn't terrible, but it's super old--fashioned and kind of D&D-ish. For example: "Alswid answered, 'Short space there was betwixt the coming hither of the twain of you.'" This is why I never finished Lord of the Rings.)

Anyway, what could this dream mean? Brynhild knows:
...for Sigurd shall come to thee, even he whom I have chosen for my well-beloved; and Grimhild shall give him mead mingled with hurtful things, which shall cast us all into mighty strife.
This immediately happens. Nobody fights against it at all. Nobody tries some subterfuge which, in fact, brings about the end they're trying to forestall, like in Greek myths. The gods must endure their own lives as if they were weather. Just like you can't stop the rain, you can't stop your mother from giving Sigurd the mingled mead and throwing yourself at him. Of course we sometimes have this feeling too -- this probably won't end well -- but in the narrative we tell ourselves we also include the reason that, this time, it's different. The Norse gods don't deceive themselves like that. Maybe because they're all gloomy and Scandanavian. Sigurd has met Brynhild:

“Thou art the fairest that was ever born!”

But Brynhild said, “Ah, wiser is it not to cast faith and troth into a woman’s power, for ever shall they break that they have promised.”

Ruin the mood, why don't you? Brynhild is also in a "heavy mood" at the end of our excerpt, too, when Gunnar woos her. Maybe a positive attitude doesn't count for as much as they say!

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