Gods Jadar - Short Version

The Gods Remain book cover

The stories that constitute "Greek mythology" are not a real category, and there is very little that we can say that applies to all of them or separates them from other supposed "mythology." They were just the stories the Greeks happened to know, told for any reason, and probably mostly learned from foreigners. But within this extremely heterogeneous body, there is a smaller body of literature that is remarkably similar in form, in feel, and which shares a common purpose. This homogeneous body of literature was preeminent in Athens during the classic age, and it was the basis for most of the classic tragedies. We find it in the form of long family cycles. We have met with two of these in the two previous chapters, the stories of the House of Tantalos (or Pelops) and the House of Kadmos. I know of a third cycle in this identical form, that of the House of Melampous, and remarkably there is a fourth example of this same body of literature, with this same feel and purpose and this same minutely defined form from "dark age" Scandinavia, the cycle of the House of Volsung.

The characteristics of these cycles are these: (1) They begin with a man, often a foreigner, traveling from a great distance and founding a dynasty. (2) They trace the generations of this dynasty, and each of these generations tends to repeat the same behavior patterns. (3) In Greece or in Scandinavia, they cumulate in the principle character of the story, who is always in the second to last generation. And this character makes a decision, and this decision is the center of the whole immense story. (4) In many of the other "Greek" stories, most of the action takes place abroad, very likely because that is where the stories originally came from. In the cycles we are discussing now, once the founder arrives, all the action takes place locally in Greece or Scandinavia-Central Europe respectively. (5) In many of the other "Greek" stories, many of the characters and events are fantastic and supernatural. In the cycles, nearly everything is naturalistic and plausible, with only sparse doses of the supernatural. This sort of realism was also characteristic of both classical Greek and dark-age Scandinavian society. (6) In many of the other "Greek" stories, the monsters are defeated and the heroes are ultimately successful.

In these cycles, both Greek and Scandinavian, the heroes are fighting with forces that are immeasurably more powerful that they are, and ultimately the heroes always lose. The tone and feel of these cycles is tragic throughout. (7) Most of the other "Greek" stories are about adventure or whatever they are about, Gods will make an entrance in these stories about people, do something, and then leave. The Iliad is typical. But these family cycles are about a God. The Greek cycles are about Apollo, and the Scandinavian cycle is about Odin. Apollo and Odin are very dissimilar in some ways, but as we find them in these stories, they are exactly the same. Further, Apollo/Odin is always interacting with some other divine force. In the cycle of the House of Tantalos, Apollo is opposed to the Furies, the Furies are not overcome by Orestes' decision and his acceptance of Apollo, but channeled and limited and controlled. In the cycle of the House of Kadmos, Apollo and Dionysos are both involved. From our fragmentary knowledge of the story it is not clear how they interact, but they don't seem to be in conflict. On the contrary, they would seem to be moving in tandem. Apollo's conflict is with his opposite, unconsciousness. Oedipus chooses Apollo, and though this brings him no advantage whatever, quite the contrary, it does make him Pure and he ends his life as a Holy Man who walks into the afterlife voluntarily.

I have already told the stories of the House of Tantalos and the House of Kadmos in the chapters, "Orestes," and "Oidipous: Devotee of Apollon." The third Greek cycle that I know of is that of the House of Melampous. Our knowledge of this story is even more limited than that of the others, and it can only be pieced together from scattered fragments. Above all, there is nothing equivalent to the Orestia or Sophokles' Oedipus trilogy that can explain the decision its principle character, Alkmaeon, makes.

Here it is, such as we know it:
A man named Amythaon, traveled from Thessaly to the Western Peloponnese and settled, and his son, Melampous grew to manhood there. Melampous' servants discovered that a great many snakes were using a hollow oak tree near his home as a den. The servants killed the snakes, but Melampous cremated them honorably and reared those of their children who had survived.

One day when these young snakes had grown, they crawled onto his shoulders while he slept, and they cleaned the inside of his ears with their tongues. As he slept, he suddenly became terribly frightened for no reason that he could understand. He started awake, still terrified, but in the midst of his fear he found he could understand the language of the birds, and from then on the birds told him what would come to pass. It was quite common both in Greece and in the Germanic countries to acquire knowledge through intimate contact with a serpent, usually through eating serpent's flesh or by getting one's ears licked. In "Oidipous" we have already seen Apollo and Kadmos being deeply affected through contact with a serpent. After Melampous' epiphany with the serpents, he encounters Apollo who adds to the knowledge the serpents have given him.

Melampous did a number of remarkable things during his lifetime, but he is most famous for curing the mad daughters of Proitos, king of Tiryes. He effected this cure by chasing the three daughters across the countryside, doing "a fearful dance, full of God." One daughter died, but the other two were cured. There is brief mention of some of Melampous' descendants. They are said to be prophets with foresight, or they have something to do with Apollo or Dionysos. One, Oikles, was killed on Herakles' expedition to Troy. If Oikles had foresight, as the rest of his family seems to have, then he knew he would not return from the expedition, but he went despite that. A completely historical descendant of Melampous, Megistias, was with the Spartans at Thermopylae. He saw through his power as a prophet, that he and all the others would die if they stayed, yet he stayed despite that. We will see this pattern repeated. The son of Oikles was Amphiaraos, who was a king in the northeastern Peloponnese.

When Kadmos had married Harmonia, all the Gods had attended their wedding, and they had received a necklace from Aphrodite and a robe from Athena. These were the most beautiful and desirable objects on earth, and they were still in the family upon the death of Oedipus. Oedipus' sons, Polynakes and Eteokles, quarreled upon their father's death, and Eteokles ended with the throne of Thebes but Polynakes ended with the Necklace and the Robe. Polynakes wanted to recover the throne of Thebes and was trying to raise an army in the northeastern Peloponnese to do it. Amphiaraos had foresight and knew perfectly well that everyone who went on this expedition would die, and he wanted no part of it. But because of an oath he had taken, Amphiaraos was bound to obey his wife, Eriphyle, in such matters. Polynakes bought Eriphyle's judgement with the necklace, and Eriphyle duly ordered Amphiaros to go. He went, but he commanded his sons to war on Thebes when they grew up, as it would still be unconquered and he would need to be avenged, and to kill their mother then as well. And he rode to his death.

The sons of those who had died on the expedition against Thebes wanted to take revenge for their fathers, but they were told by an oracle that a second expedition would not succeed unless Amphiaros' son Alkmaeon led it. Alkmaeon had not taken his father's commands to heart and did not wish to go, but his mother, Eriphyle, managed to persuade him. He went, Thebes was sacked. But when he returned he found that Eriphyle had been bribed a second time, this time with the Robe. Alkmaeon did not take this calmly. He asked Apollo whether he should kill his mother, Apollo said, unequivocally, yes. He did. The Furies attacked him with the same ferocity as they had Orestes, and he too had to go through a long purification process. He seemed to be completely purified by a man named Phegeus. After that he lived with Phegeus and married Phegus’' daughter, Arsinoe, and he gave Arsinoe the Necklace and the Robe.

But the purification began to wear off and the country around where he lived became infertile. He then continued his wanderings, until he found a river delta that had not existed at the time of his mother's murder. He lived there, and there he was purified by the River-God, Achelous. But he married the River's daughter, Kallirroe, and she became greedy for the Necklace and the Robe. Alkmaeon only wanted to dwell on his delta in peace, but under pressure from Kallirroe he went back to Phegeus and tried to steal the Necklace and Robe through a ruse. He was detected; he was killed. There are different accounts of what happened next. Either Alkmaeon's sons decline to take revenge for their father, or they kill Phegeus and so the Necklace and the Robe kill yet again. In either case the Necklace and the Robe were brought to Delphi and dedicated to Apollo and kept there, and they were able to do no more killing.

It would be interesting to know Alkmaeon's sons' attitude towards Kallirroe, but it probably isn't crucial. Alkmaeon is the principle character in the second-to-last generation, and his decision is the center of the cycle. Unfortunately, we have no way of understanding that decision. The story is about Apollo in conflict, to an extent with the Furies, but above all with the Necklace and the Robe. Alkmaeon's decision was made in the midst of that conflict, and if we had Sophokles' tragedy, Alkmaeon, we would be able to see that decision as something along the line of Melampous' "fearful dance, full of God."
more on House of Melampousmore on Alkmaeon

The fourth of the cycles we need to consider is the cycle that comes from dark-age Scandinavia, it is the cycle of the House of Volsung. It is much better preserved than any of the Greek cycles, we have it in a very complete form in the Volsungasaga. The Volsungasaga is a prose version of a very ancient cycle of stories whose events go back to the Fifth Century AD. The Greek stories we have just heard go back to Mycenaean times—the Fifteenth to the Twelfth Centuries BC.

Here is the story of the House of Volsung:
A man named Sigi, child of Odin, traveled to Hunland from some far off place. He established himself in Hunland (Hungary) and eventually became king of the Huns. The people in all these cycles are bound by personal loyalty much more that by any idea of nationality or race, and the Huns were an international group in any case. There is nothing implausible about a foreigner becoming their king. Sigi's success kept growing, and eventually his wife's brothers killed him out of envy. Sigi's son, Rerir, had to decide whether to kill his uncles or to let his father remain unavenged, either of which was tragic. He chose to avenge. Rerir became even more powerful than Sigi had been, but he had no children and seemed unlikely to produce any. Odin sent him a special apple, part of which he ate, and the result was the birth of Volsung. Volsung became king of Hunland in his time, he too ate of the apple, and this time the result was ten sons and a daughter, Signy.

Signy was to be married to Siggeir, king of the Gauts in what is now Sweden. At the wedding feast, in Hunland, Odin appeared and thrust a sword into an enormous tree. Odin then said that only he who was worthy to possess the sword would be able to draw it out. Only Sigmund, Volsung's eldest son, was able to do that, but Siggeir burned to have the sword and offered to by it. That was absurd, and Sigmund said so with no particular tact. Siggeir left the feast rather abruptly, but he invited Volsung and his sons to come to Gautland and be his guests. Everyone knew there was something wrong with that, but Volsung did not want it said that he had ever run from anything. We went and he and all his sons were killed, either by swords or by a werewolf, save only Sigmund who killed the werewolf and escaped into the forests.

No one knew where he was except Signy. She sent him her two sons by Siggeir, because she knew he would need help if he was to kill her husband. However he found them both inadequately brave; she then told Sigmund to kill them and he did. She changed her shape and lay with Sigmund, reasoning that a son with the blood of Volsung on both sides would be tough enough for the task. The result was Sinfjotli, and she was right. Sigmund and Sinfjotli made a living roaming the forests, murdering and robbing people, eventually they became werewolves. At one point, Odin intervened to save Sinfjotli's life.

When they felt they were ready, they entered Siggeir's hall. They killed the last two of Siggeir's and Signy's children, but they were overpowered by Siggeir's men, captured, and buried alive in a huge mound of earth. But before they were covered, Signy smuggled Odin's Sword to them; this was the Sword Odin had thrust into the tree. With it they cut through a great stone slab, and out through the mound. Then they set Siggeir's hall afire, burning Siggeir and all of his followers in it. Signy said, "Now you know whether I remember the murder of Volsung. For his sake I have born a son to my brother, and I have killed my children, and I am no longer fit to live." And she calmly walked into the flames to join her husband.

Sigmund and Sinfjotli returned to Hunland and recovered the kingship with their swords. Sigmund married a woman named Borghild, and they had two sons, Hamund and Helgi, who had their own adventures but who do not concern us here. Sinfjotli got into a fight with Borghild's brother, killed him, and Borghild poisoned Sinfjotli in return. Sigmund divorced Borghild, and remarried a woman named Hjordis. Hjordis had another suitor who didn't appreciate this, and who invaded Hunland with a large army. Odin was helping this man, and now Sigmund had to fight Odin face to face. Odin parried a blow from the Sword he had given Sigmund and, in doing so, shattered it. Sigmund knew now that he and most of his men were going to die. He urged his men on more fiercely than before, and he did not concern himself with parrying blows.

Meanwhile Hjordis escaped and found shelter with the king of Denmark. There she bore Sigmund's son, Sigurd (elsewhere called Sigfried), and there Sigurd grew up. When Sigurd came of age, the king gave him the pick of any horse the king owned. Odin appeared and directed Sigurd to choose the horse that he would call Grani. Odin knew quite well that Grani was a descendant of his own horse, Sleipnir, and that Grani would be the best and bravest horse in the world.

There had been a man named Hreidmar who had three sons: one, Regin was a dwarf and a supremely skilled metalworker, another, Fafnir was huge and strong and violent, the third, Otr, was a shape-changer and could change himself into an otter and catch fish for the others. Otr was asleep on a riverbank in his animal form, when the Gods Odin, Loki and Hoenir happened along. Loki could never leave anything alone, and he threw a stone at the sleeping otter and killed him. Hreidmar found out who had killed his son and demanded gold from the Gods in compensation; this was the customary practice in those days. Hreidmar was extremely formidable, and the Gods were not at that moment in their full power. The Gods had to take this matter completely seriously, and they sent Loki to find gold.

Loki found a dwarf named Andvar. Andvar lived in a cave behind a waterfall, or else in a lake somewhere in the region of the Dark Elves. Wherever he lived, he had a hoard of gold. Loki forced him to hand it over which he did, all except for a single Ring which he was very reluctant to give up. Loki was not noted for generosity, and he forced Andvar to give over the Ring as well. Then, after the Hoard was Loki's and not Andvar's, Andvar seemed to realize that something had begun. He told Loki that the Hoard was Fated to destroy whoever owned it, and that by far the most dangerous part of the Hoard was the Ring. The Ring had no effect on Andvar in his solitary life in the water—apart from possessing him with greed for it. He had no friends and therefore no one to kill him. But now the Ring was out in the world, and indeed something had begun.

According to the compensation agreement, the Gods were to fill the dead otter's skin with gold and then completely cover it with gold. The did that using all of the Hoard, only one whiskertip still stuck out from the pile. Hreidmar demanded that they produce more gold; Odin had been reluctant to part with the Ring and had held it back. The Ring just covered that last whiskertip and the debt was paid. Hreidmar now had the Hoard and the Ring, and he refused to share it with his sons. Fafnir murdered him in his sleep, took the treasure and refused to share it with Regin. Regin the dwarf didn't dare do anything against Fafnir, and so he left home. Fafnir kept the Hoard and the Ring and became completely dominated by them; eventually he became a grotesque dragon brooding over his Hoard, afraid to leave it, poisoning all the country near it. He would never again leave that place, and his eyes would never again see anything but the Hoard and poisoned withered desolation.

Regin came to the Danish court and eventually became Sigurd's foster-father. He talked Sigurd into taking revenge on Fafnir for him, and he re-forged Sigmund's broken Sword so that Sigurd would have a weapon capable of doing it. First Sigurd had to kill the man who had killed his father. He did. Then Sigurd went after Fafnir, who by now had changed into an enormous dragon. This was no easy matter, but Odin appeared, gave him some good strategic advice as to how, and Fafnir was duly killed. Now Regin emerged from hiding and kept saying that Sigurd had killed his brother and that he himself had a part in the killing. He kept saying it over and over, and he didn't sound friendly, and something clearly was wrong.

Regin came to the Danish court and eventually became Sigurd's foster-father. He talked Sigurd into taking revenge on Fafnir for him, and he re-forged Sigmund's broken Sword so that Sigurd would have a weapon capable of doing it. First Sigurd had to kill the man who had killed his father. He did. Then Sigurd went after Fafnir, who by now had changed into an enormous dragon. This was no easy matter, but Odin appeared, gave him some good strategic advice as to how, and Fafnir was duly killed. Now Regin emerged from hiding and kept saying that Sigurd had killed his brother and that he himself had a part in the killing. He kept saying it over and over, and he didn't sound friendly, and something clearly was wrong.

He traveled on until he came to the country of the Franks, and there he met Brynhild. Brynhild was the sister of Alti, the new king of the Huns. Sigurd is the son of a Hunnish king and is refered to as a Hun throughout the Volsungasaga, and Brynhild is clearly a Hun. But everyone here is seen in completely individualistic terms, and their nationalities mean little. Brynhild was yet another shape-changer, a human who would sometimes change into something else and that something else would have an effect on her human personality. Brynhild would change into a valkyrie, a being in the service of Odin who would choose those who would be slain in battle, exactly like the Greek Ker. And in her normal human form, she was completely of Odin, and her personality reflected this. And through her Sigurd completely accepts Odin, but remember that Odin is dominated by the Ring.

Now Brynhild offers Sigurd Odin's wisdom in the form of a cup of beer filled with spells—which means mind-altering substances. (Our current association of mind-altering substances with minority groups means nothing in the world of the Volsungasaga.) Brynhild gives him instructions on various ways to apply that knowledge towards practical ends, and that too is part of Odin. But this cognitive information is meaningless without the direct knowledge that the special beer helps him accept and even more importantly, without the moral decision she tells him he must make. It is the same moral choice that Oidipous (Oedipus) made. As he chooses this knowledge he chooses her, and she is inseparable from Odin. If he chooses her he will live a life full of power, but it will be short and painful. His life will be short and painful regardless of what he chooses; he knows this. He has already been warned about his life by a seer who has told him accurately and in great detail all the horrible things that will happen to him. He has been further warned by the dying Fafnir that the Hoard will be his doom. Brynhild now tells him:

Now you must choose,
Since to you is offered choice,
Maple Shaft of Sharp Weapons.
A tale or silence,
You take for you,
Your own mind,
All the tale is determined.

"Maple Shaft of Sharp Weapons" is her way of referring to him; she thinks he's hot. She tells him that what will happen has already been determined, as he knows full well. She tells him that within his own mind he must choose whether to "take" or "have" (hafa) what has been determined. This exactly the choice that was offered to Oedipus, and Sigurd responds exactly as did Oedipus. Once again: Sigurd makes exactly the same choice that Oedipus makes. Sigurd chooses Odin, and Oedipus chooses Apollo. And though they are different in many ways, in these cycles, Odin and Apollo are exactly the same. This is also basically the same choice that Orestes makes and that Achilleus made. In the East one obtains knowledge by following a long regimen of exercises, in the West one obtained knowledge by making a moral choice.

We have seen this choice four times now (if we knew more about Alkmaeon, we would have seen it a fifth time), and we are beginning to learn what it is. It is not to be saved from our lives, not to escape, not to "get off the wheel," and certainly not to pretend that the evil and pain in our lives is unreal, the result of our own ignorance. It is exactly the opposite decision, it is exactly the opposite of all that, and each one of us makes it in the same way each time we choose to know anything whatever. Again: we make this choice whenever we choose to know anything, and knowledge of any kind is impossible without it. And Sigurd makes his choice now. He will affirm his Fate, or he will deny it. He will look at it with open eyes, he will know, or he will turn away. He says that there is no point in being a coward, Fate will destroy him and everything he loves in any case. He will accept his song just as it is, full of poetry, pain and heartbreak—beautiful, powerful and short.  more on the choice of Sigurd

Sigurd rode on. He found Brynhild in her fully human form, living with her foster-father, Heimir. Sigurd and Brynhild slept together and again pledged themselves to one another, and Sigurd gave her the Ring.

Sigurd rode on until he reached Burgundy. There he stayed with a king named Gjuki, his wife Grimhild, his daughter Gudrun and his three sons Gunnar, Hogni and Guttorm. Grimhild was a sorceress who wanted to incorporate a potent man like Sigurd into her family. She gave Sigurd a "poison" that caused him to forget Brynhild, and in time he swore a pact of brotherhood with the sons and married the daughter. Grimhild is Odin's opposite. Odin had no reluctance to use sorcery, but he used it to obtain knowledge, never blind manipulation of this sort.

Grimhild then decided that Brynhild would make a good match for Gunnar, and she sent Sigurd and Gunnar to try to win her. Brynhild had been given no poison and would have no one but Sigurd, so she surrounded herself with a wall of flames, knowing quite well that no one could pass through this wall but him. Gunnar was willing to dare the flames, but his horse was not. Grani was of Odin just as the Sword was and just as Byrnhild was, and like her Grani would bear no one less worthy than Sigurd. So Sigurd took Gunnar's shape, and he and Grani plunged through the flames. Brynhild did not know what to make of this stranger who was where no one but Sigurd should have been, but she had vowed to have the man who passed through the flames and for Brynhild the valkyrie to break a vow was not thinkable.

He stayed with her inside the firewall for three nights, but they slept with Odin's unsheathed Sword between them. He explained that it had something to do with a vow he had made. The Sword that should have defended his home sundered it, and the horse that should have helped protect his wife helped to abduct her. The poison was in him and he had no idea who she was, and the Ring affected him as it did everyone—and he was not the innocent young man he had been before he ate the dragon's heart and took the Ring and the Hoard. While she slept, he took back the Ring.

Brynhild married Gunnar, as she had vowed. Sigurd, Gudrun, Gunnar and Brynhild all lived together in Gjuki's household. Brynhild may have been a valkyrie, but she was also a girl. One day they were bathing in the Rhine, and Brynhild pointedly moved farther out in the river than Gudrun, indicating that she was of higher rank, as her husband Gunnar was king. Gudrun questioned this, and Brynhild said that her husband Gunnar had ridden through the firewall whereas Gudrun's Sigurd had been a dependent of the Danish king.

Gurdrun replied that it was Sigurd who had ridden through the fire, not Gunnar, and Sigurd who had been with Brynhild on her wedding night, not Gunnar. And Gudrun said further that Sigurd had given her something he had taken from Brynhild that night. And ignorance was dispelled and knowledge shone forth, and there was no room for doubt. She held up the Ring.

Brynhild was the opposite of Grimhild. Grimhild was a sorceress, she manipulated events, she was concerned with whatever was advantageous to her and to those connected with her. Brynhild was a valkyrie, she was exactly who she was regardless of advantage to herself or to anyone connected with her. She was poetry, she was madness, she was nature, she was completely of Odin, and like the Sword and the Horse, Brynhild was intended for one worthy man only. She couldn't think about what was best for her or anyone else, she was Sigurd's wife, that was the truth and if the truth was impossible then so was she.

Sigurd had eventually recovered from Grimhild's poison and remembered who Brynhild was, but by then it was far too late. He accepted such happiness as was possible and hoped that the horrible things that had been foretold would somehow not happen, he only agreed to leave Gudrun and marry Brynhild again when Brynhild had become so unstable that it was clear she might die. But such a marriage would mean dishonor, and dishonor was impossible for Brynhild. She was clear minded in one way but not in another. She was not sanity, she was Truth, and Truth was no longer possible. She knew Gunnar's weaknesses and played on them until he and his brothers agreed to kill Sigurd; after they murdered Sigurd she killed herself with the Sword. She and Sigurd were burned on the same pyre, lying side by side with the sword between them as in life.

A daughter had been born to Sigurd and Brynhild, named Aslaung. When her mother and father failed to marry, she remained with Byrnhild's foster-father, Heimir. She had her own adventures, but she never fell under the influence of the Ring and she is not part of our story. A son and a daughter were born to Sigurd and Gudrun. The daughter, Svanhild, was spared, but after Sigurd's death the son was murdered at Brynhild's request. Gurdrun was inconsolable, so Grimhild gave her some forgetfulness potion and married her off to Atli, king of the Huns.

That was another bad move, since Atli wanted revenge for his sister Brynhild. Alti also wanted to get his hands on the Hoard that Gudrun's brothers had now taken possession of; the Hoard had been a factor in their decision to murder Sigurd. The brothers knew quite well that there was something wrong with Atli's invitation to visit, but just as the Trojans could never quite decide to give up Helen, the brothers could never quite decide not to go— though that was the obvious thing to do at every point. They knew they might not come back, and they guessed that Alti had a more than casual interest in the Hoard. They sunk the Hoard and the Ring somewhere in the river Rhine, in a place known only to themselves. Alti did indeed kill them as soon as they arrived at his court, but he never got the Hoard. Alkmaeon's Necklace and Robe were neutralized by dedicating them to Apollo in his temple at Delphi, but the Ring always turns Odin's powers against him and those he would help. Odin never overcomes the Ring, the Ring simply returns to the dark waters from which it came.

The Ring was gone, but its effects would last a while still. Sigurd had saved some of the dragon's heart, and when he married Gudrun he had given her some of it to eat. After Alti killed her brothers, she murdered her two sons that she had born him and served their flesh to him at table, and then she told him what he had eaten. Atli berated her but did nothing. Then she waited until he went to bed drunk one night, murdered him in his sleep and set fire to his hall, killing everyone in his household.

Having murdered her husband and her children, Gudrun filled her arms with stones and walked into the sea. But Death was not yet kind enough to visit her, great waves picked her up and carried her to the land of a king named Jonakr. Jonakr married her and had three sons with her, and her daughter Svanhild joined her there. Svanhild was to be married to an old king named Jormunrek, but on her way to his country she fell in love with his son instead. Jormunrek killed both of them. Gudrun would give her sons no peace until they agreed to avenge their sister. They finally agreed and set out towards Jormunrek's country, but they went very much against their will. They severely injured Jormunrek, but then Odin appeared and gave his followers some good tactical advice and the sons never returned.  more on Volsungsaga and the House of Volsung

We have looked at all four cycles now, Greek and Scandinavian, and we have seen that they must be regarded as the same body of literature. They all begin with a man traveling from a distance, usually a great distance, to found a dynasty. They all follow that dynasty through the generations and watch each generation repeat the same patterns. They all have a principle character, Orestes, Oedipus, Alkmaeon or Sigurd, who always comes in the second to last generation, and who makes a decision that is the center of the whole story. The tone, the feel and the events of the stories are tragic, the heroes do not triumph, the heroes lose. But they do succeed in making their decisions, and their decisions are about a God, Apollo in Greece and Odin in Scandinavia, and their decisions teach us who the God is.

This type of story, and possibly some version of the stories themselves, are clearly very old, going back to a time when those who eventually became the Greeks and those who eventually became the Germanic peoples shared the same literature. This would have been before the time when Greek-speaking peoples first entered the Greek peninsula in 2,200 BC, the time of the "Chorded Ware" culture, 3,000 to 2,300 BC. But what really matters is the principle that these stories are about, called Apollo in Greece and Odin in Scandinavia.

Apollo and Odin can be very different in some ways, but as we have seen, in the cycles they are exactly the same. We have already seen that the decisions of Oedipus and Sigurd are exactly the same decision about exactly the same thing. But looked at as a whole, Apollo and Odin are not exactly the same. Briefly, Apollo is consciousness, and Odin is intelligence. Apollo is an unforgiving copy of what is. There is no comfort or refuge about Apollo, he simply is. Apollo never does anything to know what he knows, he is simply aware.

One thing Apollo absolutely is not is a trickster, although Greek Mythology is full of them. They would include Hermes, God of businessmen and thieves, Prometheus, "Foresight," who matched wits with God and won, Autolykos son of Hermes, the greatest of all mortal thieves, Sisyphos, the greatest mortal con artist who fooled Death twice, and the most famous of all: when the greatest con artist lay with the daughter of the greatest thief, the result was Odysseus. The Greeks had plenty of tricksters but Apollo was not one of them, he was consciousness and not manipulative intelligence.

Not uncommonly, tricksters are the creators of mankind and the source of all mankind's knowledge. Coyote of the North American Indians is one example, the Greek Prometheus is another. Zeus, God, did not create mankind, Prometheus did. Zeus, God, is not always on our side. His interest in our welfare is not as strong as it might be, and he is a judge before whom we need an advocate.

Prometheus, the thief, the liar and the swindler, is with us and behind us and for us, completely and without question. Like Coyote and like Prometheus, Odin is the creator of mankind and the source of all the knowledge that mankind needs to survive. And though Odin may be unpredictable in conflicts between individuals, he is without any doubt on the side of mankind. It would be unthinkable for Odin to cause a flood or to have anything but a completely adversarial relationship with Hell, he certainly never sent anybody there. In the Lay of Grimnir, Odin kills someone who insulted him. But though he ends the man's life at his displeasure, it is specified that the man will still feast with the Gods in Valhalla. Civilized people worship power and authority, but for the northern barbarians God was intelligence. Odin was not authority but knowledge and intelligence, and he had the character of knowledge and intelligence. And although he may or may not be reliable in a given situation, he is always ultimately on our side.

Apollo is consciousness, so he automatically knows everything just by being who he is. Odin always obtains knowledge through intelligence and spirituality; he always has to do something to learn. He listens to his ravens who tell him everything that is happening in the world, or he visits the place called Hildskjalf from whence all things are visible. He forces a dead seeress to rise again and tell him what he needs to know, he questions dead mortals in their graves. He drinks a special mead, obviously with more in it than alcohol, to find a "pathway" or an "opening," "gat," he also acquires nine power songs from "the famous vision of Bolthorn." He acquires spiritual wisdom by hanging by the neck for nine days and by sacrificing one of his eyes, we will recall that Oedipus acquired wisdom in the same way. Neither Oedipus or Sigurd or Odin acquired their knowledge by being polite and agreeable, their knowledge comes only from the Edge.

You know something by creating it— that is by perceiving it and bringing it into form. This applies to all knowledge of every type. (See "Truth in the Iliad" on this web site.) This is how everyone knows things on a day-to-day basis—if one does in fact know things, it is quite possible to fill one's head with other things besides knowledge. Apollo and Odin are a source of poetry, literature, song, song is simply an intensification of this process of knowing.

Knowledge comes from what we perceive, from the Real World that always lies outside the safe world that we already "know" and control, the world that lies outside our selves, outside our will. Any degree of knowledge of any kind requires a certain amount of courage; witness those numerous people whose lives contain almost no knowledge whatever. That is why frail mortals like Oedipus, Sigurd and ourselves acquire knowledge by making a moral choice. Everything we love, everything we live our lives for, everything that is the deepest expression of what we are, everything dies.

When we perceive this death, when we feel its breath, when we watch it with open eyes, the result is knowledge and the result is a song. We don't have the power to be OK, but we have the power to be human and nothing has the power to stop us. This song comes from what the Greeks called Apollo and the Germanic peoples called Odin, and we can glimpse it in the decisions of Oedipus and Sigurd. It is on our side, and it is the essence of everything that makes us human.

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