Literature Study GuidesMythologyPart 7 Introduction To Norse Mythology Summary

Mythology | Study Guide

Edith Hamilton

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Mythology | Part 7, Introduction to Norse Mythology | Summary

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Summary

Edith Hamilton describes Asgard, the home of the Norse gods, as a "grave and solemn place," in sharp contrast with the radiant heavens of other mythologies. These gods know that the forces of evil will destroy them one day, and their value lies in their willingness to fight until that day comes.

The heroes and heroines of Norse mythology have a similarly bleak outlook, ultimately helpless against evil, but they do not give up the fight, either. Heroism is important in this culture, and it rests on the concept of fighting for lost causes, and dying before yielding.

Hamilton draws heavily from two Icelandic Eddas that date to the 1300s.

Analysis

In her introduction to Greek mythology in Part 1, Edith Hamilton praises the Greek emphasis on beauty and rich storytelling as evidence of their high level of sophistication and civilized nature. Her brief presentation of the Norse stories, compared with the detailed accounts she provides of the Greek and Roman myths, indicates that Hamilton views these stories as considerably less important to Western European culture, even though she acknowledges their influence in the English-speaking world. She does not offer the same effusive praise for Norse culture that she offers for the classical world, so these myths serve as a foil to the classical tradition. The Greek myths are filled with gods and goddesses who exhibit human frailty as well as human joy. The classical tradition features a generally positive outlook; even the forbidding underworld offers rewards to those who are worthy. The Norse tradition keeps the gods more removed from humanity, and contains an inherent pessimism about the human state. At the same time, the gods and the heroes of these stories operate with a high level of honor and idealism in the face of a universe stacked against them.

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