Northern Antiquity: The Post-Medieval Reception of Edda and Saga

Northern Antiquity: The Post-Medieval Reception of Edda and Saga

Northern Antiquity: The Post-Medieval Reception of Edda and Saga

Northern Antiquity: The Post-Medieval Reception of Edda and Saga

Excerpt

Of Herculean height and strength, with his long black beard descend
ing to his waist, he resembled a Viking of old, and such I conceive
he at times supposed himself to be. In fact, so deeply was he imbued
with the spirit of antiquity, that a continual antagonism between the
past and the present, or rather, I should say, between the imaginary
and the real existed in his breast. He was two gentlemen at once.
Though a sincerely religious man, still I cannot help suspecting that
in his heart of hearts he looked on Christianity as a somewhat
parvenu creed, and deemed that Thor, Odin, Freya, etc., were the
proper objects of worship. In dull fact, he was an excellent citizen, a
householder, paying rates and taxes, an affectionate husband, and the
good father of a family; but in the dream, the fancy […] he was a
Berserker, a Norse pirate, ploughing the seas in his dragon-beaked
barque, making his trusting falchion ring on the casques of his
enemies, slaying, pillaging, burning, ravishing, and thus gratifying a
laudable taste for adventure. I fear he preferred the glorious dream to
the sober reality. I think he inwardly pined at his own respectability.

Not every post-medieval enthusiast of Edda and saga featured in this volume would have sought to match either the length of Sir George Webbe Dasent’s Viking-style beard or his dreams of berserk service in a dragon-beaked barque. Many, however, would have identified readily enough with other features of this wry but affectionate portrait of one of Victorian Britain’s greatest Northern antiquaries. They would have empathised with the sense of vivid imaginative engagement, and perhaps also with that persistent itch of romantic irresponsibility which no amount of scratching by the fingers of civic or academic probity could entirely alleviate. They would certainly have been unsurprised by the extent to which personal and political commitment to the values of the ancient North could create a level of scholarly energy every bit as Herculean as Dasent’s height. The Englishman was an editor and translator of sagas; a publicist and projector in all matters Northern; and, even by the standards of the age, an intensely politicised philologist. And, no disadvantage to a still marginal subject area in need of influential friends,

[Charles Cavendish Clifford], Travels by ‘Umbra ’ (Edinburgh, 1865), pp. 3–4.

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