Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Indo-European Mythology part 1: Discussion of the primary sources for three the mythology of three Indo-European cultures, including their dates of origin and authorship

          Many of the Indo-European cultures and religious writings were deviated by monotheist religions, Christianity and Islam being the two major aggressors. This has left us deprived in many cases of primary sources for mythology which were not influenced or tainted by these monotheistic beliefs. However there are three Indo-European cultures' primary sources that remained intact over all and in some cases without any major changes at all. These are the Norse, Hellenic, and Vedic cultures.

          The primary sources for the Norse culture, though written by those of the Christian faith, are the Eddas. The Eddas where written in the 13th century and are composed of two versions; The Poetic Eddas and the Prose Eddas. The Poetic Eddas are a collection of ancient Norse poems that derive from the Icelandic manuscript called the Codex Regius. This manuscript has been attributed to Sæmundr, a 12th century Icelandic priest. The Prose Eddas, also known as the Younger or Snorri's Eddas, were written by the historian Snorri Sturluson around 1220 BC. Snorri attempted to make the Poetic Eddas more approachable and relay the subtleties of the verse to readers. The main issue with these two sources is this: The Poetic Eddas were a part of the Codex Regius, which is believed to have been written in the 13th century. (Wikipedia) This means there is most certainly influence from Christianity in these writings. As Snorri used the Poetic Eddas as the foundation for his writings this means that the influence still taints the original Pagan mythology behind their inspiration. This influence can cause a great deal of damage in relating the cultural and spiritual meanings that originally inspired the beliefs giving us only a dim insight into our Norse ancestors.

          There are many extensive sources from which we can draw information about Hellenic mythology. The first is the Orphic Hymns which are a collection of 87 hymns to the Hellenic gods written sometime around the 3rd of 2nd century BCE. (Atsma , Orphic Hymns) They are attributed to Orpheus, who very well might be a fictional character. This makes the authorship of the hymns very sketchy to say the least. An entire religious cult sprang from teachings and philosophy of this author. There are sources such as Plato who refer to this cult and its teachings. (Parker 483-510) The second major source is the Homeric Hymns which are 33 poems about the Hellenic gods. Authorship is considered anonymous, though the majority of the poems have been attributed to Homer since they are in the same dactylic hexameter as the Iliad and Odyssey. The hymns are dated to be somewhere around the 6th century BDC. (Atsma , Homeric Hymns) Two other sources for Hellenic mythology can be seen in the Iliad and the Odyssey. Both of these epic poems are attributed to Homer, though there is some debate about his authorship of both. The Iliad is about the 10 year siege of the city Troy. The Odyssey centers around the hero Odysseus and his ten year journey home to Ithaca after the fall of Troy. All these sources have survive in their original forms, barring translation errors, unlike so many of the more oral traditions of the Norse and the Celts. The only major issue I see with the use of these texts is the issue with translations and the fact that some of the authorships are unknown or up for debate.

          The most fascinating of the Indo-European cultures and their primary sources for mythology have always been the Vedic to me. Their primary mythology is found in the Vedas. The Vedas are a large body of texts, poems and hymns, which are composed in Vedic Sanskrit. The Vedic texts are organized into four collections. The first three are focused on the performance of sacrifice and the fourth is focused on the magical workings and practices such as spells and incantations, among other things. The following are the books and a bit about each one:

  • The Rigveda: contains hymns to be recited by the hotr (priest who performs offerings accompanied by specific chants.)
  • The Yajurveda: containing formulas to be recited the adhvaryu (the officiating priest)
  • The Samaveda: containing formulas to be sung by the udgatr (similar to the hotr)
  • The Atharvaveda: collection of spell, incantations, apotropaic charms and speculative hymns

          Parts of the Vedas have been dated as far back as mid 2nd to mid 1st millennium BCE. This makes them among the oldest sacred text in the world. Overall these writings have been unchanged by monotheism in any type. The one issue with the use of these as a primary source is that some parts of the Vedas can be seen to be in conflict with each other. Also there is again the issue of the unknown authorship. With a sacred text that has been around for so long it can be easy to make slight changes over time which can end up with major deviations from the original writings.

Works Cited

Atsma, Aaron. Theio Greek Mythology. 2011. 1 3 2013 <http://www.theoi.com/>.
Parker, Robert. "Early Orphism." Powell, Anton. The Greek World. Taylor & Francis, Inc, 2002. 640.
Wikipedia. Wikipedia - Edda. 21 2 2013. 1 3 2013 <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edda>.

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