Sunday, July 5, 2009
I love the Icelandic sagas. They are a collection of very plain stories about regular people, mostly farmers, making their lives, having their children, quarreling with the neighbors, etc. The drama is minimal in the sagas, centered mostly around disputes between neighbors who steal each other's livestock.
Longer than the descriptions of the crimes are the detailed stories about how justice is achieved. You could say that the Icelandic sagas are like the Law & Order of 1100 A.D. Once justice is attained, or whenever someone dies or is killed, as Snorri Sturluson, would say, "So-and-so is out of the saga." End of story.
The ancient Greeks were way more into drama. Their myths are screaming with intrigues, interpersonal subterfuges and plots and romance and betrayal. My, my! I think that's why their popularity has endured through all the centuries since they were written down. One of my favorite Greek mythic devices is the bit in which, after a hero dies or when the life of two great friends/lovers/enemies ends, the gods place these characters in the sky; i.e. they become constellations.
I've always wondered if the sagas are ordinary because Iceland itself is so dramatic - volcanoes, ice caps, midnight sun in summer and utter darkness in winter, a nine week growing season - while the Greek myths are uber drama-filled because Greece is a gentle landscape where it's easy to grow food and prosper - where there's more time to act out, in other words. This is a theory I mull over often, though I've not come up with any conclusions.
As for the myth cycle of Reya, well, every day I say to myself, Jake is now out of the saga. Maybe I could place him in the sky as a constellation, at least in a painting. Is that a good idea? What do you think?