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Pagan Words and Christian Meanings.

Richard North, Costerus, n. s., 8 i (Amsterdam; Atlanta, Georgia: Rodopi, 1991). xvi + 198 pp. ISBN 90-5183-305-9. Du. gu. 65; $32-50.

This book is a brave attempt to revive the search for Anglo-Saxon paganism by a cautious investigation of Old English and Old Norse literary and linguistic relations. Thus Eddic traditions of Ooinn's theft of the poetic mead are used to argue that behind the Caedmon story lay a pre-Christian association of poetry with drinking and with divine inspiration; a suggested relationship of OE giedd to ON geo is invoked to argue that OE giedd wrecan refers to a |purging of the soul' by elegiac composition in cases where vengeance is not possible; and an examination of Old Norse and Old Saxon cognates of OE hyge and sefa leads to the conclusion that the semantic relationship between these two words was one of contrast and complementarity, the former reflecting the active/male, and the latter the passive/female side of the early Germanic concept of mind. The Eddic references to Ooinn's ravens are used to explain the cuckoo and the anfloga of The Seafarer 53 and 62 in terms of a Germanic tradition of augury bound up with a belief in birds as agents of knowledge.

Concentrating on Old-Icelandic literature, the author argues that Havamal in its surviving form reflects the joining together of a gnomic poem and a magico-mythological poetic sequence, both pre-conversion in origin, by means of some stanzas containing two fabliau-type narratives about Ooinn, both relatively late, and that the finished product, dating from the late twelfth century, was intended to be performed as an antiquarian entertainment by a speaker in the role of Ooinn's temple-priest Loddfafnir, sometimes impersonating Ooinn himself, the point being to give something of a mumbo-jumbo impression of the pagan religion to a Christian audience. North finally examines attitudes to paganism in four family sagas, finding a scholarly and informed interest in it in Egils saga, a hostile contrast of it with Christianity in Eiriks saga rauoa, and, in Laxdoela saga and Njals saga, a romanticization of pagan heroes suggesting that the less saga authors knew about paganism, die more they were inclined to treat it sympathetically.

North could have referred to H. Lie on Egill at York (Edda, XXXIII (1946)), H. Mageroy on the Christ-Baldr motif (Saga Conference proceedings, Copenhagen, 1985), and to more articles by P. R. Orton (e.g., NM, LXXXIV (1983); Leeds Texts and Monographs, n.s., 11 (1989)) than the one he cites, even if Orton's SN, LXIII (1991) article and Seth Lerer's Literacy and Power in Anglo-Saxon Literature (1991) appeared too late for him to use. There are many misprints, and on pp. 10-11 the Elder and Younger Eddas are the wrong way round. Nevertheless, this is a challenging, thoughtful and learned book.
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Author:McTurk, R.W.
Publication:Medium Aevum
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 22, 1993
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