Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Snorri's Agenda in the Prose Edda

I give Snorri a lot of grief while I'm reading. Heck, I give Snorri a lot of grief when I'm not reading. Often times, I feel like I want to throw Snorri's Edda across the room, I'm so irritated by him. But he's still one of our best sources for the Norse gods and the pantheon. And even I have to admit, through my rage, that Snorri MUST have seen some reason to record them, and it couldn't have all been anti-pagan agenda, or else why bother at all?

But when I read something like this:
He is Öku-Thor, and to him are ascribed those mighty works which Hector wrought in Troy. But this is the belief of men: that the Turks told of Ulysses, and called him Loki, for the Turks were his greatest foes.
it is really, really hard for me to bite my tongue on the aggravation that grabs hold of me. Because it's not just twisting Norse mythology, it's twisting Greek myth too. So why the heck did he feel compelled to insert something like this? Why force a connection to Hector and the Trojan war when there is really no evidence at all to support it? Why draw a link between Thor and Hector, of all the heroes?

Hector wasn't the strongest warrior. He wasn't particularly impressive, aside from his nobility, and the picture Snorri paints of Thor through the myths is not remotely reflective of what Hector stood for. And let's not forget that Hector turned tail and RAN from Achilles when it came down to that final battle. Not exactly a glorious way to go out--and not at all the way Thor is illustrated. No Viking worth his salt would run from a fight against someone like Achilles! The reputation and fame of taking the guy down would be too much to give up! There were any number of heroes who might have made better stand-ins for Thor. Ajax the Great, Achilles himself, so fearless in battle, and with that ridiculous temper to match! Even someone like Diomedes!

So what exactly is Snorri's Agenda, here? After a leisurely brunch of consulting my conscience and digesting my irritation, an idea came to me. A theory, if you will.

The Christian world was hugely enamored of Hector, and ultimately Christianity itself spawned out of the Roman Empire. An Empire which viewed itself as "civilized" and all others, including the Germanic tribes of the north, and certainly the people of the FAR North, as "barbarians." Christians, it might be argued, have translated this same ethnocentricity into the fight against "pagan" sects, and their determination to convert them.

Snorri was clearly an educated man, and he was also a Christian. He knew what the rest of the world thought of his people and their history-- he knew what the rest of Christianity thought of his cultural heritage. Pagan. Barbaric. Uncivilized. And yet, the Greco-Roman traditions were still granted some kind of respect. Homer was still acclaimed, kept alive. Hector was constantly drawn upon as an ideal. So what better way to preserve the myths of his people than by creating a connection between his culture and the history of the "civilized" world? What better way to give his own culture a place of respect, than by turning them and their gods into descendants of that most glorified hero, Hector of Troy!

I'm giving Snorri the benefit of the doubt here, and maybe even looking for a reason to excuse his... offenses. But it makes a LOT of sense when I think of it that way. Snorri, by this one device, would have Christianized Norse mythology enough to justify keeping the record of it while legitimizing the culture of the Norse people as a product of the same civilization, not barbarians at all!

Two birds, one mixed myth.

Now I can continue reading without all the distracting rage.


  1. It makes sense. Maybe Snorri had his own issues... like, not only did he want to convince the world, but maybe his own self, too. If he believed this to be true, he could feel good about himself and not feel like he was descended from uncivilized barbarians.

  2. I have nothing but love for Snorri. He was stuck between compiling the myths, poetry and sagas of his ancestors and catering to the church. Compared to his contemporary Saxo, the Norse gods were treated very well in Snorri's hands.


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