Oedipus Borealis: The Aberrant Body in Old Icelandic Myth and Saga

Oedipus Borealis: The Aberrant Body in Old Icelandic Myth and Saga

Oedipus Borealis: The Aberrant Body in Old Icelandic Myth and Saga

Oedipus Borealis: The Aberrant Body in Old Icelandic Myth and Saga

Synopsis

"Oedipus borealis argues that many well known figures in the Icelandic saga literature are based on mythic prototypes, and that both saga heroes and mythic figures are modeled on a pattern in which physical disability or deformity is linked with both sexual deviance and supernatural powers. In stark contrast to modern narrative, where aberrance is the sign of the villain or the victim, the mythic mind sees aberrance as the sign of the hero. The saga hero Egil Skallagrimsson is discussed as a paradigm. Four other saga heroes who are skalds are considered in light of the pattern established by Egil. Their anomalies, too, are linked with their poetic talent. After examining characters widely disparate from the saga skalds, the model holds: only in the narratives having a Christian purpose do we find the link among disability, deformity, sexual aberrance, wisdom, craft, and power broken. With the would-be Icelandic saint, Gudmund the Good, disability is no longer the mark of a great man, but now appears in its modern interpretation: a character-building setback that the hero must overcome." Title Summary field provided by Blackwell North America, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Excerpt

'Oedipus' may be the best known name from Greek myth, but the associations we make with the character are far from mythic. A living myth is always inchoate, roiling with the achronicity of illud tempus, a messy cluster of self-contradictory and mutually exclusive motifs, and always immanent, surfacing only partially with each unique telling of the story and never coalescing into a canonical version, let alone a text. In contrast with such a context in living myth, the two modern contexts for Oedipus are the stylized works of individual authors consciously selecting motifs on the basis of narrative or conceptual coherence. These two modern contexts are, first, Sophocles' tragic drama Oedipus the Tyrant in its translations and classroom environments and, second, Freud's hypothetical model of a phase of male psychological development, the "oedipal stage," and the ensuing disorder deriving from its failed negotiation, the "oedipal complex."

Sophocles' play Oedipus the Tyrant was first performed in Athens around 430 BCE or perhaps a year or two later. For this play, as is the case for all Attic tragedies on mythic themes, the playwright selected, or perhaps in some cases invented, a set of coherent details from the mass of mythic motifs available to him (and not all variant details would have been available to any one person, of course) to produce the tragedy that Aristode would later hold up to the Western world as the paradigm for dramatic unity. The plot is well known: Oedipus, the overconfident tyranos of Thebes, sets out to discover the pollution that has brought a plague on the city, only to learn by the end of the play that he himself is the city's pollutant, for he has unwittingly killed his father, Laius, the previous king of Thebes, and married Laius's widow, his own mother, Jocasta, on whom he has fathered four children. As the culturally informed Attic audience knew, and as the play's tide character learns bit by bit, Laius and Jocasta had been warned that any son of theirs would kill his father and marry his mother; to prevent those crimes, they ordered the newborn exposed after first mutilating his feet. They assumed him dead, but the shepherd charged with exposing him had in fact given him away and the crippled boy, now known as Oedipus, "SwellFoot," had been raised by the king and queen of Corinth as a supposititious . . .

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