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What is Norse Mythology

Updated on October 19, 2016
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I learned about making sheep's wool during my stay in South Africa. An interesting process to oversee.

Legendary Heroes

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Norse Mythology

What do you know of Legendary Heroes?

  • Norse Mythology

A mythology derives its characteristics from the land and peoples of its origin.

The land of the Norse was a cold, cruel land of frost, snow, and ice.

Life was a continual struggle for survival against these elements.

It is only natural that Norse Mythology was filled with gods who also had to battle against huge frost giants.

There were heroic gods safe in their home on sunny Mount Olympus, knew that they and their home on Asgard would eventually be destroyed.

In a way their prophecy was fulfilled, for Christianity all but extinguished talk of the old gods, except in Iceland.

There, in the thirteenth century, Snorri Sturluson, a poet, scholar, and historian, collected many of the Norse myths and legends into a book called the Prose Edda.

Much of his writing was based on an earlier verse collection called the Poetic Edda.

These two books are the primary sources for an individual's knowledge of Norse Mythology.

It is too bad that children do not know these myths as well as they know those of the Greeks. In some ways the Norse tales seem more suited to children than the highly sophisticated Greek tales.

These stories appeal to the child's imagination, with their tales of giants and dwarfs, eight-legged horses and vicious wolves, magic hammers, and rings.

Primarily they are bold, powerful stories of the relationships among the gods and their battles against the evil frost giants.

Odin is the serious protector of the humans he created, willingly sacrificing one of his eyes to obtain wisdom that would allow him to see deep into their hearts.

The largest and the strongest of the gods is Thor, owner of a magic hammer that will hit its mark and then return to his hands, and Balder, the tragic god of light, is the most loved by all the other gods.

Amusing stories indeed!

  • Epic of Legendary Heroes

An epic is a long narrative or a cycle of stories clustering around the actions of a single hero. Epics grew out of myths or along with them, since the gods still intervene in earlier epics like the Lliad and the Odyssey.

Gradually, the center of action shifted from the gods to human heroes, so that in tales like ''Robin Hood'' the focus is completely on the daring adventures of the man himself.

The epic hero is a cultural or national hero embodying all the ideal characteristics of greatness in his time.

Thus Odysseus and Penelope , his wife, represented the Greek ideals of intelligence, persistence, and resourcefulness.

Odysseus survived by his wit rather than his great strength. Both King Arthur and Robin Hood appealed to the English love of justice and freedom: King Arthur and his knights represented the code of chivalry; Robin Hood was the champion of the commoner, the prototype of the ''good outlaw.''

The epics, then, express the highest moral values of a society. Knowledge of the epics gives children an understanding of a particular culture; but more importantly, it provides them with models of greatness through the ages.

  • The Epic of Gilgamesh

The epic of Gilgamesh, recorded more than four thousand years ago in Mesopotamia, is one of the oldest hero stories.

The epic poem, first discovered written on clay tablets in the library of Assur-Bani-Pal, an Assyrian King who ruled from 668 B.C, is the compilation of many earlier myths.

The original stories actually concerned three figures: Gilgamesh, a Sumerian King; Enkidu, a primitive wild man; and Utnapishtim, the man we would call Noah. In Gilgamesh the King we are introduced to the God-king who plays the central role in the three books, written by a Canadian author, Ludmila Zeman who retold and illustrated the story in three episodes.

The god-king is bitter and cruel because he has not experienced the power of human companionship.

When his desire to build a great wall threatens his people's survival, the sun god sends Enkidu, another man as strong as Gilgamesh, to earth, where he lives in the forest and cares for the animals. When he threatens of the Gilgamesh's hunters,

Gilgamesh sends the lovely singer Shamar to tempt Enkidu out of the forest. In spite of his beastly appearance, she teaches him about human love and they leave the forest to confront Gilgamesh.

The two men engage in a terrible struggle on Gilgamesh's famous wall, but because their powers are equal they seem to be at an impasse.

Then Gilgamesh stumbles on a stone and would fall to his death except that Enkidu reaches out a hand to help him.

Gilgamesh's experience with human kindness is transforming, and the two become like brothers. In the second book, The Revenge of Ishtar, the two meet the goddess Ishtar, who offers to marry Gilgamesh and give him a chariot of gold.

When he spurns her, he makes a great enemy who will plague him all his life and cause the deaths of Shamar and Enkidu. In the Last Quest of Gilgamesh, the great king is so heartbroken by the death of his friends that he sets out to find the secret of immortality.

When he learns that Utnapishtim is the only human who knows that secret Gilgamesh endures a terrible journey across the waters of death to Utnapishtim's island. Utnapishtim explains that he arrived on the island on a great ark after he had been warned of a terrible flood that would destroy the earth.

Gilgamesh cannot accomplish the task that Utnapishtim sets him to become immortal, and after one more battle with Ishtar he returns home heartbroken at his failure.

Enkidu is sent by the gods to show him that the immortality he craves is there in the great civilization he has created. Zeman's majestic illustrations, done in mixed media and incorporating motifs from Mesopotamia art, have a wonderful sense of timelessness.

  • The Lliad and the Odyssey

According to tradition, a blind minstrel named Homer composed the epic poems the Lliad and the Odyssey about 850 B.C.; but scholars generally believe that parts of the stories were sung by many persons and that they were woven into one long narrative before they were written.

The Lliad is an account of the Trojan War fought over Helen, the most beautiful woman in the world. When Helen is kidnapped by Paris, a Trojan, her Greek husband, king Menelaus, enlists the Greeks in a ten-year siege of Troy that is led by the Greek warriors, Agamemnon and Archilles.

The complex story is long and difficult to understand, although specific incidents, such as the final defeat of the Trojans by the cunning device of the Trojan Horse, do intrigue some children.

The Odyssey is the story of the hazardous ten-year journey of Odysseus called Ulysses by the Romans from Troy to his home in Ithaca, following the end of the war. Odysseus has one terrifying experience after another, which he manages to survive by his cunning.

For example: He defeats the horrible one-eyed Cyclops by blinding him and ten strapping his men to the undersides of sheep, which were allowed to leave the cave.

His ship safely passes between the whirlpool of Charybdis and the monster Scylla, but later is shipwrecked and delayed for seven years.

A loyal servant and his son aid the returned hero in assuming his rightful throne and saving his wife. Penelope has had a difficult time discouraging the many suitors who wished to become king.

While children or teachers might be acquainted with episodes from the story, it is the total force of all his trials that presents the full dimensions of this hero.

  • The Ramayana

The Ramayana is the epic tale of India that tells how the noble Rama, his devoted brother , and his beautiful, virtuous wife, Sita, manage to defeat the evil demon Ravana. Heir to the throne, Rama is banished from his home through the trickery of his stepmother. Prince Rama, his brother, and the devoted Sita spend fourteen years in wandering and adventure one day Sita vanishes, kidnapped by Ravana.

Rama searches for her unsuccessfully and then turns to a tribe of monkeys for help. Finally Sita is found, and with the help of an entire army of monkeys, Rama rescues her.

To be cleansed from her association with the demon, Sita must withstand a trial by fire. Her faithfulness proved, she is united with her beloved Rama. Peace and plenty prevail during Rama's region.

Composed in India by the sage Vlamiki during the fourth century B.C, the Ramayana represented some 24,000 couplets that were memorized and repeated. It constitutes part of the gospel of Hindu scripture, for Rama and his wife are held as the ideal man and woman. Jamake Highwater has written Rama, a novel based on the Ramayana, for older readers.

  • Heroes of the Middle Ages

Some historians believe there was a King Arthur who became famous around the sixth century. Defeated by the invading Saxons, his people fled to Wales and Brittany and told stories of his bravery and goodness.

Other stories became attached to these, and the exploits of Tristram, Gawaine, and Lancelot were added to the Arthurian cycle.

The religious element of the quest for the Holy Grail, the cup used by Christ at the Last Supper, was also added. Whether or not the chalice actually existed, it remains as a symbol of purity and love. In the fifteenth century, Sir Thomas Malory's Morte d'Arthur was one of the first books printed in England and became a major source of later versions.

  • In the short novel The Dragon's Boy, Jane Yolen tells of the boyfriend of Arthur, here called Artos.

Artos has been raised by Sir Ector in a small castle. One day while searching for a prized dog he discovers a cave in which a dragon dwells. Both fascinated and terrified. Artos agrees to seek wisdom from the dragon when he is not doing his work at the castle.

Children will find this a compelling introduction to the Arthur legends as they sympathize with the lonely boy who confronts his fears to discover the truth about the supposed dragon, his own parentage, and his future as the great King Arthur.

  • There were other books introduced to children, like about Arthur and Merlin.

Norse Mythology

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    • DDE profile image
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      Devika Primić 3 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      hi alancaster149 I am South African and English is my first language now I am learning the Croatian language and speaking English at home which has made a difference in my English language trying to focus on the Croatian grammar is tough and then speaking English is also another challenge sometimes I feel like I am speaking more of the foreign language and not much of English. I did read much of the Saxons etc. What is Norse Mythology is one of my most interesting researches and thanks for sharing your thoughts on this hub and more.

    • alancaster149 profile image

      Alan R Lancaster 3 years ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire)

      DDE this should be compulsory reading for secondary school pupils. I think you strayed a bit with the comparatives, but maybe that's just me thinking so. Your English is well worth reading as well, even if only for the straightforward prose value.

      I have the translation of Snorri Sturlusson's prose "Edda" edited by Anthony Faulkes and published by Everyman, ISBN 0-460-87616-3. I also have a small library of Norse literature that I've used for some of my own writings here in a bid to raise awareness of the theme.

      Well done again, DDE! By the way did you know it was the incoming Saxons at the time of the battle of Mount Badon who called the Celts 'Welsh', meaning 'Foreigners'. The Saxons were a struggling minority at the time, fearful of losing their grip on this new 'Eden' and having to return to the low-lying 'sump' they came from on the North Sea coast north of Flanders

    • DDE profile image
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      Devika Primić 3 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      Jackie Lynnley awesome comment from you and so to the point thanks very much for coming by and voting up and sharing, I appreciate all comments

    • Jackie Lynnley profile image

      Jackie Lynnley 3 years ago from The Beautiful South

      Wow, lot of coverage here. Very well done, voting up and sharing!

    • DDE profile image
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      Devika Primić 3 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      Shyron E Shenko you are so right about "Lord of the Rings" and Norse tales with such vikings something is from Norse Mythology. Thanks for votes up and interesting, and for commenting. Have a great weekend.

    • Shyron E Shenko profile image

      Shyron E Shenko 3 years ago from Texas

      Very interesting DDE. I agree with you this sounds more like children's tales, espically with magic hammers and rings. I wonder if the Norse tales is where the idea for "Lord of the Rings" came from.

      Voted up and interesting.

      --Shyron

    • DDE profile image
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      Devika Primić 4 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      mylindaelliott Thanks for commenting on my hub What is Norse Mythology have a good week

    • mylindaelliott profile image

      mylindaelliott 4 years ago from Louisiana

      It's all mystical and marvelous.

    • DDE profile image
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      Devika Primić 4 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      Interesting comment form you I decided to write on something different and my son has great interest in mythology and of heroes so glad you stopped by thanks for the votes up and useful have enjoy the rest of the week

    • D.A.L. profile image

      Dave 4 years ago from Lancashire north west England

      Hi Deveka,

      Excellent topic choice . Always been interested in Myths and Legends. I come across many such subjects relating to plants with Norse mythology featuring in many. Off the top of my head Norse mythology is alluded to with the Ash tree, Elm tree and the Rowan. Rowan actually derives from a Norse word meaning Charm. Voted up. Useful.

    • DDE profile image
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      Devika Primić 4 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      thumbi7 thanks for the votes up, shared, and for commenting

    • DDE profile image
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      Devika Primić 4 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      rajan jolly thanks for commenting on my hubs

    • DDE profile image
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      Devika Primić 4 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      tobusiness so glad you stopped by thanks and have a nice day

    • thumbi7 profile image

      JR Krishna 4 years ago from India

      Many of these things are new to me. Interesting article

      Voted up and shared

    • rajan jolly profile image

      Rajan Singh Jolly 4 years ago from From Mumbai, presently in Jalandhar,INDIA.

      I had absolutely no idea of Norse mythology. Very informative and thanks for sharing.

    • tobusiness profile image

      Jo Alexis-Hagues 4 years ago from Bedfordshire, U.K

      Devika, a very interesting and informative hub, well done!

    • DDE profile image
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      Devika Primić 4 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      ChitrangadaSharan thanks for commenting have a great day

    • DDE profile image
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      Devika Primić 4 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      midget38 so glad you commented thanks

    • ChitrangadaSharan profile image

      Chitrangada Sharan 4 years ago from New Delhi, India

      Very interesting and informative hub!

      I have read about this but you shared some information, I did not know.

      Thanks for sharing this interesting hub!

    • midget38 profile image

      Michelle Liew 4 years ago from Singapore

      Lovely insights into all the famous myths!

    • DDE profile image
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      Devika Primić 4 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      Mhatter99 thanks for stopping by so glad you did

    • DDE profile image
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      Devika Primić 4 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      Thanks MsDora for commenting I really appreciate your efforts have a good week

    • Mhatter99 profile image

      Martin Kloess 4 years ago from San Francisco

      Thank you for this.Though a bit free.

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Isaac Weithers 4 years ago from The Caribbean

      DDE, I appreciate all the research you did. Not familiar with the term in your title, but remember some of the legends. Thank you for the reminders. Good job!

    • DDE profile image
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      Devika Primić 4 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      kashmir56 thank you for stopping by.

    • kashmir56 profile image

      Thomas Silvia 4 years ago from Massachusetts

      Thanks my friend for the very interesting read !

    • DDE profile image
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      Devika Primić 4 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      Nicholas Fiorito sounds an interesting idea thanks for the thought have a great day

    • DDE profile image
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      Devika Primić 4 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      Thanks Billybuc I have been working on this hub for days thought of writing something different nice of you to stop by.

    • Nicholas Fiorito profile image

      Nicholas Fiorito 4 years ago from Northern NJ

      Intersting, although I'd love another Hub with more info on the Norse pantheon and perhaps how it differs from other pre-Christian pantheons we are familiar with. Well done ;)

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      A bit different for you my friend and interesting. I knew quite a bit of this but you managed to toss in a few facts I did not know. :)

      bill