Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

other hand, civilization at the South has passed into luxury, has produced effeminacy, till individual freedom has been lost under grinding despotism. But in modern civilization a third element has been added, which has brought these two powers of Northern freedom and Southern culture into equipoise and harmony. This new element is Christianity, which develops, at the same time, the sense of personal responsibility, by teaching the individual destiny and worth of every soul, and also the mutual dependence and interlacing brotherhood of all human society. This Christian element in inodern civilization saves it from the double danger of a relapse into barbarism on the one hand, and a too refined luxury on the other. The nations of Europe, to-day, which are the most advanced in civilization, literature, and art, are also the most deeply pervaded with the love of freedom and the most civilized nations on the globe, instead of being the most effeminate, are also the most powerful.

The Scandinavian people, destined to play so important a part in the history of the world, were, as we have said, a branch of the great Indo-European variety. We have seen that modern ethnology teaches that all the races which inhabit Europe, with some trifling exceptions, belong to one family, which originated in Central Asia. This has appeared and is proved by means of glossology, or the science of language. The closest resemblance exists between the seven linguistic families of Hindostan, Persia, Greece, Rome, Germany, the Kelts, and the Slavi; and it is a most striking fact of human history, that from the earliest period of recorded time down to the present day a powerful people, speaking a language belonging to one or other of these races, should have in a great measure swayed the destinies of the world.

Before the birth of Christ the peninsula of Denmark vas called by the Romans the Cimbric Chersonesus, or Cimbric peninsula. This name came from the Cimbri, a people who, one hundred and eleven years before Christ, almost overthrew the Roman Republic, exciting more terror than any event since the days of Hannibal. More than three hundred thousand men, issuing from the pe

ninsula of Denmark and the adjacent regions, poured like a torrent over Gaul and Southern Germany. They met and overthrew in succession four Roman armies; until, finally, they were conquered by the military skill and genius of Marius. After this eruption was checked, the great northern volcano slumbered for centuries. Other tribes from Asia — Goths, Vandals, Huns - combined in the overthrow of the Roman Empire. At last the inhabitants of Scandinavia appear again under the name of Northmen, invading and conquering England in the fifth century as Saxons, in the ninth century as Danes, and in the eleventh as Normans again overrunning England and France. But the peculiarity of the Scandinavian invasions was their maritime character. Daring and skilful navigators, they encountered the tempests of the Northern Ocean and the heavy roll of the Atlantic in vessels so small and slight that they floated like eggshells on the surface of the waves, and ran up the rivers of France and England, hundreds of miles, without check from shallows or rocks. In these fragile barks they made also the most extraordinary maritime discoveries. The sea-kings of Norway discovered Iceland, and settled it A. D. 860 and A. D. 874. They discovered and settled Greenland A. D. 982 and A. D. 986. On the western coast of Greenland they planted colonies, where churches were built, and diocesan bishoprics established, which lasted between four and five hundred years. Finally, in A. D. 1000, they discovered, by sailing from Greenland, the coast of Labrador, Nova Scotia, and Massachusetts Bay; and, five hundred years before the discovery of Columbus, gathered grapes and built houses on the southern side of Cape Cod. These facts, long considered mythical, have been established, to the satisfaction of European scholars, by the publication of Icelandic contemporaneous annals. This remarkable people have furnished nearly the whole population of England by means of the successive conquests of Saxon, Danes, and Normans, driving the Keltic races into the mountainous regions of Wales and North Scotland, where their descendants still remain. Colonizing themselves also everywhere in Northern Europe, and even in Italy and Greece, they have left the familiar stamp of their ideas and habits in all our modern civilization.*

§ 2. Idea of the Scandinavian Religion. The central idea of the Scandinavian belief was the free struggle of soul against material obstacles, the freedom of the Divine will in its conflict with the opposing forces of nature. The gods of the Scandinavians were always at war. It was a system of dualism, in which sunshine, summer, and growth were waging perpetual battle with storm, snow, winter, ocean, and terrestrial fire. As the gods, so the people. War was their business, courage their duty, fortitude their virtue. The conflict of life with death, of freedom with fate, of choice with necessity, of good with evil, made up their history and destiny.

This conflict in the natural world was especially apparent in the struggle, annually renewed, between summer and winter. Therefore the light and heat gods were their friends, those of darkness and cold their enemies. For the same reason that the burning heat of summer, Typhon, was the Satan of Egypt; so in the North the Jotuns, ice-giants, were the Scandinavian devils.

There are some virtues which are naturally associated together, such as the love of truth, the sense of justice, courage, and personal independence. There is an opposite class of virtues in like manner naturally grouped together, sympathy, mutual helpfulness, and a tendency to social organization. The serious antagonism in the moral world is that of truth and love. Most cases of conscience which present a real difficulty resolve themselves into a conflict of truth and love. It is hard to be true without hurting the feelings of others; it is hard to sympathize with others and not yield a little of our inward truth. The same antagonism is found in the religions of the world. The religions in which truth, justice, freedom, are developed tend to isolation, coldness, and hardness. On the other hand, the religions of brotherhood and human sympathy tend to weakness, luxury, and slavery.

* See, for the history and religion of the Teutonic and Scandinavian race, Cæsar ; Tacitus; Grimm's Deutsche Mythologie ; Geschichte und System der Altdeutschen Religion, von Wilhelm Miiller ; Northern My. thology, by Benjamin Thorpe ; The Sea-Kings of Norway, by S. Laing; Manual of Scandinavian Mythology, by G. Pigott; Literature and Romance of Northern Europe, by William and Mary Howitt; Die Edda, von Karl Simrock ; Aryan Mythology, by George W. Cox; Norse Tales, by Dasent, etc. But one of the best as well as the most accessible summaries in English of this mythology is Mallet's Northern Antiquities, in Bohn's Antiquarian Library. This edition is edited by Mr. Blackwell with great judgment and learning.

The religion of the German races, which was the natural growth of their organization and moral character, belonged to the first class. It was a religion in which truth, justice, self-respect, courage, freedom, were the essential elements. The gods were human, as in the Hellenic system, with moral attributes. They were finite beings and limited in their powers. They carried on a warfare with hostile and destructive agents, in which at last they were to be vanquished and destroyed, though a restoration of the world and the gods would follow that destruction.

Such was the idea in all the faith of the Teutonic race. The chief virtue of man was courage, his unpardonable sin was cowardice. “To fight a good fight,” this was the way to Valhalla.

Odin sent his Choosers to every battlefield to select the brave dead to become his companions in the joys of heaven.

§ 3. The Eddas and their Contents. We have observed that Iceland was settled from Norway in the ninth century. A remarkable social life grew up there, which preserved the ideas, manners, and religion of the Teutonic people in their purity for many hundred years, and whose Eddas and Sagas are the chief source of our knowledge of the race. In this ultimate and barren region of the earth, where seas of ice make thousands of square miles desolate and impenetrable, where icy masses, elsewhere glaciers, are here mountains, where volcanoes with terrible eruptions destroy whole regions of inhabited country in a few days with lava, volcanic sand, and boiling water, was developed to its highest degree the purest forin of Scandinavian life.

The religion of the Scandinavians is contained in the Eddas, which are two, - the poetic, or elder Edda, consisting of thirty-seven poeins, first collected and published at the end of the eleventh century; and the younger, or prose Edda, ascribed to the celebrated Snorro Sturleson, born of a distinguished Icelandic family in the twelfth century, who, after leading a turbulent and ambitious life, and being twice chosen supreme magistrate, was killed A. D. 1241. The principal part of the prose Edda is a complete synopsis of Scandinavian mythology.

The elder Edda, which is the fountain of the mythology, consists of old songs and ballads, which had come down from an immemorial past in the niouths of the people, but were first collected and committed to writing by Sæmund, a Christian priest of Iceland in the eleventh century. He was a Bard, or Scald, as well as a priest, and one of his own poems, “The Sun-Song,” is in his Edda. This word “Edda" means "great-grandmother," the ancient mother of Scandinavian knowledge. Or perhaps this name was given to the legends, repeated by grandmothers to their grandchildren by the vast firesides of the old farm-houses in Iceland.

This rhythmical Edda consists of thirty-seven poems.* It is in two parts, — the first containing mythical poems concerning the gods and the creation; the second, the legends of the heroes of Scandinavian history. This latter portion of the Edda has the original and ancient fragments from which the German Nibelungen-lied was afterward derived. These songs are to the German poem what the ante-Homeric ballad literature of Greece about Troy and Ulysses was to the Iliad and Odyssey as reduced to unity by Homer.

The first poem in the first part of the poetic Edda is the Völuspa, or Wisdom of Vala. The Vala was a proph

* See Die Edda, von Karl Simrock. Stuttgart, 1855. Literature and Romance of Northern Europe, by William and Mary Howitt. London, 1852. Geschichte und System der Altdeutschen Religion, von Wil. helm Müller. Gottingen, 1844. Mallet's Northern Antiquities, edited by Blackwell, in Bohn's Antiquarian Library.

« AnteriorContinuar »