Sunday, February 06, 2005

I am sorry that I have not written anything lately. Not much is happening honestly. However, I just got my new journal named "The Journal of Indo-European Studies", which is a scholarly journal that studies the Indo-Europeans.

The first article that I read in it was entitled, "The Death of Baldr" by Martin West. It tried to explain the story of the death of Baldr in the Icelandic Sagas. The story goes that everyone loved Baldr so much because he was so beautiful and to protect him, the goddess Frigg asks everything in the world not to harm Baldr. Well, Loki hears this and goes to a party where all the Gods are throwing things at Baldr, which bounce off of him without harming him. He talked to Frigg and askes if there is anything that can harm Baldr. She answers that there is a mistletoe in a far off valley which she did not ask since it was so insignificant. Loki gets the mistletoe and makes a dart out of it. He then returns he gives the dart to the blind God Hodr and tells him to throw it at Bladr, which he does. The dart kills Bladr and Loki is blamed for it.

Well, this article sets out to explain the elements of the story in a new way. Essentially, the author says that the story is about circumventing prohibitions by things were are neither X nor not-X, things that are in an inbetween state. In this story, the mistletoe is inbetween the earth and the sky and Hodr is not dead or alive (based on some linguistic evidence, which states that someone who is living can see themselves, which the dead cannot do). He goes on to say, "In the original form of the Baldr myth, then, there must have been some such prophecy or provisio as "he cannot be harmed by any creature that sees the light of day, or by any thing that grows upon the earth."" (JIES Vol 32 p. 5)

To prove his point he goes on to say that the Icelandic writers got the mistletoe wrong since it does not grow in Iceland. They say that Loki had to pull it up out of the ground and not from up in the tree. My experience with mistletoe is that it can grow close to the ground just as much as it can up in a tree. My problem with his conclusion is that I can pull something up out of a tree and much as I can pull it down from the tree. The semantic difference is slight. Thus the Icelanders may have just been writing down something and still getting it correct.

For the second part that Hodr is in the same X and not-X category as the mistletoe, he gives a bunch of references to languages that state that someone who could see themselves was alive. Thus, since Hodr could not see himself but was still alive, he was in the same state as the mistletoe.

I posit that there is a much easier way to understand this story. You do not need an "earlier" tale to explain elements in the story. Essentially, the story is a cautionary tale about the ephermery of beauty. That even the most beautiful thing dies. Loki knows this and searches out the one thing that could destroy Baldr. The instrument is not just mistletoe but mistletoe from a certain valley far away but it exists nonetheless. Loki finds this mistletoe then makes a dart from it and gives it to the blind God because he wants to heighten the ironic moment that a blind being could kill the most beautiful thing.

As you can see, we can explain the purpose of the story without having to resort to "earlier" versions for which we have no physical evidence. The story stands as it comes down to us in the Icelandic sagas. If the author could extract more evidence of an earlier version, I would be more convinced of his thesis.

Anyway, I am going to ask a friend of mine here that did her Master's in this subject to see if I am really off base or what.

posted by Chris  #6:18 PM | 0 comments |