who the heck knows anything, anyway

Monday, October 11, 2010

Finding Heroes In Strange Places...Like Iceland.

Something I found pretty fascinating about ye olde Icelanders (and viking culture, even more generally) is the level to which they elevate their poets. If a great strong man goes viking*, and then his heart is broken by a sexy lady, it is totally ok for him to go home, cry it out, and write poems about it. In fact, if he wants to retire from the whole fighting business to write/recite poetry full time, he is not discouraged. Though I suppose that's to be expected from a group of people whose epic god, Odin, is the god of poetry and killing people. Also, he looks like Gandalf.

Odin is Keyser Söze ****
I have recently spent almost 200 pages getting acquainted with my first Icelandic Saga: "Egil's Saga." It begins with the story of Egil's grandfather, Kveldulf, who is a shape-shifter (*cough*OdinReference*cough*). Kveldulf (whose name means Night Wolf...because he's a werewolf) has two sons, Thorolf and Grim. Grim is nicknamed Skallagrim, because he's bald. This is helpful, because Grim was a popular name in the late 800s. Anywho, Thorolf is besties with King Harald, until some rude, bastard relatives poison the king's ear. The king decides to be a jerk and does the cowardly thing of attempting to burn Thorolf's house down (while he's inside, of course). Thorolf and his dudes get out, and a big battle ensues--wherein Thorolf is killed. Kveldulf is really sad. Skallagrim is like "Ugh, my dad always liked him better," but still tries to convince his dad to get out of bed and stop crying. Jump forward a bit. Kveldulf is dying and tells Skallagrim to build a settlement in Iceland wherever his body washes ashore (it may be worth mentioning that they are currently on a boat, headed in that direction). That's where Borg is. 

Skallagrim had two sons, named Thorolf and Egil. Note: remember how in 100 Years of Solitude every character was named after every character, and they were all the same character? It's the same thing here. Every Thorolf is super sexy, super smart, and daddy likes them best. Every not-Thorolf is sort of violent and has daddy issues. Egil is no exception. For instance, Skallagrim forbids Egil from coming to a party, because Egil does not know how to control himself while drinking. Egil is three years old. I think he starts killing people at six... Regardless, Egil always disobeys his father and forces his older brother to take him viking all the time. He might be insane. BUT: our dear Egil is a brilliant poet! Which means he's been blessed by Odin, which means he's the hero. Plus, betwixt his raiding, king-upsetting, battle-winning, and house-burning, he does all of the things a good hero is known to do:

1. He never kills people--or takes their stuff--without them seeing his face. He ain't no coward! Nor is he a thief. Your stuff is his because he's better than you.
2. He is the most loyal friend ever. He will kill so many dudes for you.
3. He doesn't kill without reason*****
4. He will defend the following people to the death: family, friends, damsels in distress, and anyone who can't defend themselves very well (i.e. skinny men)
5. He doesn't sleep around. He pines for his love, Asgerd (his brother's wife, coincidentally), and seeks not consolation in another! And then he's secretly sort of happy when his brother is killed, because he gets to marry Asgerd.
6. Yes, I'm going to mention this again: He writes poems.

Why are his poems so great? Because, unlike everyone else Way Up North, Egil could rhyme. And when his son dies, he composes a pretty cute poem about how much he loved him, which helps everyone remember that Egil was human.******

 So, there you go. Intro to Egil Skallagrimsson! ...I really just wanted to reiterate my notes to remember all of it better. Too bad there's so friggin much more to remember. But whatever! Here's a picture of Seamus Heaney to round it out! He likes Icelandic Sagas, and he writes nice poems!

I love this man, even though I secretly thought Beowulf was boring.
Read "Digging". DOOO IT.

*Apparently, it's a verb. At least that's how my adorable, old, Danish professor uses it. You aren't A Viking, you just Go Viking In The Summertime**
**also known as What Happens at Lindisfarne Stays at Lindisfarne--Because Everyone Is Totally Dead And All of Their Belongings Have Been Stolen***
***this is not necessarily 100% historically accurate. Some monks probably got away with some nice books
****this joke is for two people
*****my professor claims this is true. I am not quite convinced.
******or, a shape-shifting descendant of Odin. The historical/literary line is blurred here.