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.



Nordic Influences – I

I was always intrigued by the Scandinavian mythology. It is one of the few mythologies (possibly the only one) where the Gods will die fighting all evil, in the epic battle of Ragnarok. This came as a surprise because God(s) are supposed to triumph over evil, even if eventually. As I went through their holy books – Prosic and Poetic Edda, I came across some very interesting facts we take at face value.

Weekdays: The names of the six days of the week are named after six Gods of the Scandinavians – Sunday was Son(Sun)’s Day, Monday was Moon’s Day, Tuesday was the Brave Tyr’s Day, Wednesday was the All Father Wodan (Odin)’s Day, Thursday was Almighty Thor’s Day and Friday was Freyr’s Day. I guess most early cultures followed the lunar six days calendar; hence it was the Romans who added a seventh Saturn’s Day.

Directions: According to these legends, the sky is held up at the four corners by four dwarves– Austri, Vestri, Nordi and Sudri, who became East, West, North and South, the four cardinal directions.

Jack and Jill: The old English nursery rhyme has its roots in pagan mythology too. Legends say that with the Moon God are two children whom he carried away from earth-a boy who was called Hjuki (Jack), and a girl whose name is Bill (Jill). These were identified as the spots on the moon. They had been sent out in the darkness of night by their father, to draw a special kind of mead from the spring Byrger, which broke forth from the source of mythical fountain of Mimer, atop a hill. They filled their pail to the brink. (Jack and Jill went up the hill to fetch a pail of water.)

This was a fountain special to the Gods and they did not want mortals to share it. When they began to descend the mountain, the Moon God chased them. As they fell down, He seized them and took them away with their pail. (Jack fell down and broke his crown and Jill came tumbling after.)

 I will talk about more facts in forthcoming posts.



An old beloved TV Series

The problem with having a high speed broadband internet is that when you aren’t downloading anything on it, you feel you are wasting your money. So while desperately trying to fill up my second 2 Terabyte hard disc, I suddenly noticed that a very old serial was on the torrent – Street Hawk. I loved the show as a kid. So much so, that despite being a pampered brat, I could be coaxed into almost anything so that I would be allowed to watch it on DD1 every Sunday. And boy, did my mother blackmail me for the watching privileges. As a 5 year old, I would wake up early (on a Sunday), do my homework, polish my shoes, get ready as a good kid, eat green veggies and do almost anything without a peep for this show.
This was a short-lived series they broadcast in India in 1990, about a vigilante on a special motorcycle. Although it was on air for only 13 episodes, it still had a cult following. Its theme music is catchy and I believe anyone who has seen the series will still be able to identify it. So while I was watching it as a grown up, which also happened to bring back one of the best things I looked forward to as a child, I noticed a few stunts which I believe, have probably affected some of the very popular films and games. Amusingly enough, no one has noticed it so far. Keep in mind that the series originated in the mid 80s.
In the second episode of the series, Street Hawk is chasing George Clooney’s car over a “flood control channel” area. Now I am not sure what that area means, but it looks damn similar to the area where Arnold chases T-1000 in Terminator 2. Street Hawk makes the exact same jump as Arnold would do later with his Harley in the ’90’s. Only difference being, the Arnold scene looked much better.
Throughout the series, the protagonist is asked to change into his Street Hawk identity by his friend using the phrase – “Suit Up!!” Barney of HIMYM, sounds familiar?
In the same episode, George Clooney is being chased by cop cars. To ditch them, he sideswipes a scaffolding (pursuit breaker) so that it falls down just behind them, stopping those cars. NFS fans, reminds you of Most Wanted chases?
And in case you might be thinking, George Clooney did appear in the series before he became an icon.
Which series did you guys love as kids?