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The context of Thor's journey to Utgard - Essay Example

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The story of “Thor's Journey to Utgard,” as related in the Prose Edda by Snorri Sturluson, describes a brief and somewhat ill-fated trip undertaken by the Norse gods of thunder and trickery, Thor and Loki. The gods are soon joined by two companions, a brother and sister called Thialfi and Roskva…
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Download file to see previous pages The story of “Thor's Journey to Utgard,” as related in the Prose Edda by Snorri Sturluson, describes a brief and somewhat ill-fated trip undertaken by the Norse gods of thunder and trickery, Thor and Loki. The gods are soon joined by two companions, a brother and sister called Thialfi and Roskva. Renowned for their strength and wit respectively, Thor and Loki are tricked by Utgartha-Loki (Utgard-Loki or Loki of Utgard) while attempting to demonstrate their fitness to stay in Utgard, the land of the giants. Instead of being engaged in fair contests against the giants, as Thor and his companions perceived, they were actually fighting against natural phenomena, against which no one, man or god, ever stands a chance. In five separate contests Thor, Loki and Thialfi all make valiant efforts and assume their challenges willingly, but each time their efforts prove to be in vain, and they are thwarted by the trickster king of the giants. Snorri Sturluson penned the Prose Edda, of which Thor's Journey to Utgard is part, in approximately 1220 CE. (Sturluson) Though Sturluson was a Christian, he treated the pagan mythology respectfully, finding a way to relate the ancient stories of Norse Mythology without speculating as to their veracity. In Prose Edda, Sturluson attempts to present the entire, comprehensive arc of Norse Mythology-- from creation through the ongoing conflict between the Gods of the ?sir and the giants of Utgard to Ragnarok, the ultimate destruction of the cosmos. (Lindow 170) These myths were deeply rooted in not only the religious sentiments prevalent in that time and place but in philosophy and even law. As such, they would have been highly accessible, familiar, and inspirational to the common people. The society which spawned the myth of Thor's encounter with Loki of Utgard was focused primarily on warriors. Legal documents of the time survive today. They explain that two of the highest virtues of a warrior are a practical knowledge of martial arts and the ability to drink without becoming drunk. Both of these laws can be easily and directly related to two of the three challenges undertaken by Thor in the myth-- to empty a drinking horn in three droughts or fewer, and to successfully wrestle an opponent of Utgard-Loki's choice. Though he loses both of these challenges due to the king's trickery, Thor comports himself valiantly and is given a third opportunity to demonstrate his worthiness to stay among the giants. Thor fails in this challenge as well, again as a result of deception on the part of Utgard-Loki, but the king of the giants is apparently satisfied with his efforts and those of his companions, and all are permitted to stay the night in Utgard. The legal codexes of medieval Scandinavia are still accessible today to scholars. They place a great deal of emphasis on warriors, who were considered the most important class of society. The codexes detail specific rules for becoming a warrior as well as for maintaining that status, which anyone could earn if they fulfilled the requirements. According to the codexes, in order to be accepted as part of the warrior class one was required to demonstrate his worthiness to the king as well as the warrior society. (Enoksen) In order to prove himself, a man who wished to become a warrior would be engaged in ritualized challenges, or glima. Myths like the tale of Thor's journey to the land of the giants served to explain the basic format of such challenges, and to relate them directly to the laws of the land. This particular myth relates to another less-frequently mentioned expectation of warriors in medieval Scandinavia: That they be wise enough to engage in battle only against foes who they might reasonably be able to defeat, and to accept that some battles simply cannot be won, no matter how valiantly they are fought. After his companions Loki and Thialfi both fail in their challenges, Thor is enjoined to empty a particular drinking horn in no more than three droughts. He fails in this task, but only ...Download file to see next pagesRead More
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