15 of 16  <back    next>

Appendix I - A Baltic Pattern - Short Version

The Gods Remain book cover

The purpose of this section is to provide more evidence for the Greek-Germanic connection. In "Gods Jadar," I discussed the cycles found in both ancient Greek and ancient Scandinavian literature. There is also the Shield Poem, common to both and long recognized as surviving from the prehistoric Indo-European past, and there are other connections as well. Then there is Oedipus, who as a character, fits perfectly into a family of stories and a type of character that is found all over the Baltic. Since the Greco-Germanic family cycles we have been looking at are so consistent in so many details, and since they are clearly fundamental expressions of their respective cultures, we have to look at Oedipus' resemblance to these Baltic characters as much more than a coincidence and as a further link to the time when the people who became the Greeks and the people who became the Germanic peoples shared the same literature.

The characters I will be discussing are Kullervo of southern Finland, the Son of Kalev, or the Kalevipoeg of Estonia, Sigurd from North and Central Europe, Starkath from various parts of the Baltic region, especially Denmark, Beowulf from Denmark and Sweden, Grettir from Norway and Iceland, and of course Oedipus from Greece. Oedipus is a completely typical example of this family of characters. This Appendix can be found in its entirety on the 'Essays' page of this web site as "The Greco-Germanic Tradition II." I will give you part of the conclusion here:

Kullervo became an orphan either early or later in his story, and he grew up thinking he was an orphan in either case, and this made all the difference in what happened to him. The Son of Kalev became an orphan at the beginning of his story, and that determined most of what happened to him. Sigurd lost his father before he was born, and that led to his evil encounter with his foster-father, Regin, and so to the rest of what happened to him. Starkath was orphaned soon after birth and did not come alive until he met Vikar, the father-figure whom he killed, and meeting Vikar led to the rest of his Fate. Beowulf's father was dead, his mother was never mentioned, and he was an unpopular resident at the court of his uncle the king, which is why he had to prove himself and which lead to everything that happened to him. Grettir had a home and living parents, but he was mostly a stranger in that home, and that led him to his other encounters. Oedipus thought he was an orphan and was raised in a stranger's house, and that made possible the encounters with his father and his mother.

Kullervo was closer to his mother than to anyone else, the Son of Kalev missed his mother so much that he never married. His plowing which should have made the land, fertile, in fact made the land sterile. Grettir was close to his mother as a child and to virtually no one else, and it was she who gave him his first sword. Oedipus literally married his mother. Kullervo, the Son of Kalev, Starkath, Beowulf and Grettir never married, the marriages of Sigurd and Oedipus were disasters—and the marriage of Oedipus specifically made the land infertile.

All these characters were noble and unselfish, except perhaps Sigurd while he was under Grimhild's spell, but Kullervo and Grettir were impatient and violent and Starkath was worse still. Oedipus kills his father partially because of his own violent nature; at one point he curses his sons because they served him with a cup that had belonged to his father. Because of that curse, they abandoned him, and his impatience with Kreon and Teiresias in Oidipous the King is completely in character.

Kullervo killed his uncle/foster-father whom he hated. The Son of Kalev killed his father's friend who had given him his father's sword. Sigurd killed his foster-father's brother and then his foster-father as well—since his foster-father was planning to kill him. His foster-father whom he killed had given him his sword. Starkath killed his foster-father's son, his king and the man who had pulled him out of his lethargy and awakened his potency, all in one person. Vikar seems to have been older than he was, and seemed to be his spiritual father. Later in his life, he killed the king he served on a second occasion. Beowulf supplanted the man who had been his uncle, his king and the man who had given him his sword, and he had some kind of relationship with the king's wife. Grettir killed the father of his surrogate father who tried to kill him. Oedipus killed his father and took over his father's wife, household and throne.

Kullervo's potency was always destructive and out of control, he was killed by his own sword which had a will of its own and consented to his death. The Son of Kalev's potency led to terrible crimes and to his death. He injured the man he had gotten his sword from, and as a result his sword deliberately killed him. Sigurd killed the man he got his sword from, and that caused his potency to turn against him (by making him owner of the Ring) and caused the sword to sunder his house. We do not know the significance of Starkath's sword, but we only have fragments of his story—presumably Vikar gave it to him. Beowulf supplanted the uncle/king he received his sword from, but later his strength would break that same sword and cause his death. Grettir killed the monster/father he got his sword from, and when Grettir was killed the final blow was delivered with that sword. Among his other powers he was an outstandingly strong swimmer, and that ability began the chain of events that caused his downfall. There is no sword in our Athenian version of Oedipus' story, but the Iliad refers to funeral games that were held in his honor in Thebes. So in that version Oedipus is buried with honor in his own country. Unless we postulate a version so different as to constitute a different story, which there is no reason to do, then it seems probable that Oedipus committed suicide and then the universal way Greek men committed suicide was with their swords. What is in our story is that the potency that enabled him to kill Laios' whole party single-handed led to both of his crimes, and of course it was that killing that led him to the kingship and his marriage. Both of these are the embodiment of potency, and both became grotesque.

When we step back and look at these people, we see a pattern. Nearly all have intimate and positive relationships with their mothers, but nearly all have distant and all have destructive relationships with their fathers or surrogate fathers. Most of them have impatient violent personalities, they all achieve great potency, and they harm or destroy their father-figures in the process. Their potency is always great but always warped, and it destroys them and all that they would cherish and preserve. None of these people are victors, they all lose. But they don't fail because they choke up or wilt or make a wrong choice, they fail in spite of their wills and because of the way they have been formed and the father they have been given. If there is a natural cycle to a life, wherein it grows according to its nature, follows its path and bears fruit before it dies, then their lives bore no fruit and dissipated into the void. This was reflected in their attempts at sex and marriage, which were either not made or were disastrous. They were tragic, the meaning in their lives was the path and the will with which they followed it, there was nothing at the end.