Nordic Influences – II

Here are some more interesting influences from Scandinavian Mythology –

Merchant of Venice – The incident of the Pound of flesh:
Its well known that Shakespeare’s works were heavily influenced by different sources. I found an interesting story which is the source of one of his better plots, the pound of flesh, wherein an adamant Shylock wants the pound of flesh, closest to heart, from Antonio. When all attempts to redeem it in gold fails, it is Portia who uses her wits and tells Shylock that he may have the flesh but not a single drop of blood could be shed. This effectively saves Antonio and Shylock’s plans are thwarted.

In Nordic mythology, there were two dwarf families who were accomplished craftsmen of fine metals, Ivalde and Sindre. They provided ornaments to the Gods and embellished their palaces. Ivalde and Sindre’s kinsmen were rivals. Once, the trickster God Loki challenged both clans to produce their best works, and the Gods would reward the better clan. Before the completion of the work, Brok, a member of Sindre’s clan, boasted the greater skill of his fellows. Loki wagered his own head against it, and the bet was readily accepted.
Upon completion, each of the gifts received praises of the Gods. But those of Sindre’s clan were considered best. Brok demanded his prize, Loki’s head, which he had wagered. Loki offered to redeem it, but Brok didn’t accept anything else. Loki, finding no alternative, vanished from sight. But the angered dwarf appealed to the mighty God Thor to seize Loki, who set forth and returned with him.
Thy head is mine,” exclaimed Brok, who prepared to cut it off.
Thine indeed is the head, answered Loki, “but not the neck.”
Brok appealed to the Gods, but they gave judgment that favored Loki. They told Brok that he might take the head, but the neck he must not injure.

Anchors of Ships – Through films, cartoons or actual observations, we have seen how a ship’s anchor looks like. As it turns out, these anchors are the Viking’s way of warding off the evil world-serpent. The story goes like this – One child of the Trickster God Loki was a serpent, Jormungandr. It was prophesied that it would grow big enough to encompass the whole world and fight the Gods in Ragnarok, the ultimate battle. It was also foretold that it would fight the mighty God Thor and both would kill each other, hence it was immediately banished in the oceans.

Considering that Vikings were a great sea-faring race, what followed was an important incident. Much after Jormungandr’s banishment, Thor was fishing, and instead of a fish, he pulled up the world-serpent! Thor saw an opportunity to change the future and grabbed his famous hammer Mjollnir. By the time he retrieved it, Jormungandr dived back and vanished in the ocean.

It was the Mjollnir, which caused the world-serpent to run from a fight; hence it has been used by ships as a symbol of warding off evils in the water. The anchor of any ship represents the Mjollnir, and this shape is still used with slight modifications.

King Arthur’s Excalibur – The Nordic sagas tell of a great hero Sigurd/ Siegfried who killed the dragon Fafnir using the sword Gram (Old Norse “wrath”). This sword had its own history. It was forged by the legendary smith Wayland and was displayed in the fabled hall of the Volsung. Odin, the chief God of Norse, took the sword and stuck it in the tree Barnstokk in the middle of the hall. Odin then announced that the man who removed the sword would have it as a gift. Sigmund, a hero and the father of Sigurd, managed to do so and achieved wealth and fame wielding it later. This motif was used similarly for Arthur, who pulled the sword Excalibur from a stone to prove his rightfulness to rule Britain.

 

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