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Investigations into Germanic Mythology

  (Redirected from Undersökningar i germanisk mythologi)

Undersökningar i germanisk mythologi (Investigations into Germanic Mythology) is a two-volume work by Viktor Rydberg, published in 1886 and 1889.

Investigations into Germanic Mythology
Author Viktor Rydberg
Original title Undersökningar i germanisk mythologi
Country Sweden
Language Swedish
Subject Germanic mythology
Genre Non-fiction
Publication date
1886, 1889

Henrik Schück wrote at the turn of the 20th century that he considered Rydberg the "last —and poetically most gifted —of the mythological school founded by Jacob Grimm and represented by such men as Adalbert Kuhn" which is "strongly synthetic" in its understanding of myth.[1] Of this work, Jan de Vries said:

At a time, when one was firmly convinced that the Old Norse myths were a late product, Rydberg’s voice resounds. At that time, he swam against the stream, but he clearly expressed that which has become an ever stronger certainty today: a large part of the myths of the Germanic tradition —and that is to say basically the Old Norse tradition—must be set back in a time when the undivided Proto-Indo-European people themselves created the vessel of their worldview in myths.[2]



There is no shortage of scholarly opinion and no consensus on Viktor Rydberg's works on Indo-European and Germanic mythology. Some scholars feel that his work is ingenious,[3] while others feel the work is too speculative. One scholar expressed the opinion that "Rydberg's views" concerning resemblances of Thor and Indra were carried to extremes, therefore receiving "less recognition than they deserved."[4] Others refute individual points of the work.[5] Still others have commented on what they see as fundamental flaws in Rydberg's methodology.[6] While many modern scholars object to any systematization of the mythology including the one imposed by Snorri Sturlusson, believing it artificial, John Lindow[7] and Margaret Clunies Ross[8] have recently supported a chronological systemization of the most important mythic episodes as inherent in the oral tradition underlying Eddic poetry. Rydberg, however, believed that most of the Germanic myths could be fit into such a chronology. H. R. Ellis Davidson has characterized this approach as "fundamentalist".[9]

While Rydberg's ingenuity has been recognized by some,[10] his work has most often been criticized for being too subjective. Yet, within his work, many find points on which they can agree.[11] In the first comprehensive review of the work in English, in 1894, Rydberg's "brilliancy" and "great success" were recognized, alongside an acknowledgement that he sometimes "stumbles badly" in his effort to "reduce chaos to order."[12] In 1976, German-language scholar Peter-Hans Naumann published the first evaluation of the full range of Viktor Rydberg's mythological writings.

One of Rydberg's mythological theories is that of a vast World Mill which rotates the heavens, which he believed was an integral part of Old Norse mythic cosmology. The controversial 1969 work Hamlet's Mill by Giorgio de Santillana and Hertha von Dechend utilizes this theory.

The British literary researcher Brian Johnston has suggested that Henrik Ibsen's play The Master Builder (1892) is rich in references to both Norse mythology and Zoroastrianism, and that Rydberg's book, which presents the different Indo-European religions as being closely connected, may have been a key source for Ibsen.[13]

In 1997, William H. Swatos, Jr. and Loftur Reimar Gissurarson reference Rydberg's explanation of draugur ('mound-dwellers') in their work, Icelandic Spiritualism,[14] while Marvin Taylor cites Rydberg’s definition of the phrase, “dómr um dauðan hvern,” as predating that of a more contemporary writer cited by the author. Both the comprehensive multi-volume Kommentar zu den Liedern der Edda,[15] and Carol Clover's article "Hárbardsljóð as Generic Farce",[16] name Rydberg as one of the early writers who believed the ferryman Harbard of the Eddic poem Hárbardsljóð to be Loki, rather than Odin, although both sources note that this theory has not been accepted by scholars since the late 19th century. The Kommentar states: "Because there is no explicit revelation in the poem Hárbardsljóð concerning the identity of the title figure, Harbard, who is concealed under this name remained disputed until the end of the 19th century.[17] In the third volume of the same work, Rydberg's theory regarding the World Mill is discussed in relationship to the eddic poem Grottosöngr. He has also been mentioned as one of several writers who proposed analogs for Askr and Embla from comparative mythology,[18] and who sought Indo-Iranian analogs for the Eddic Poem, Völuspá.[19]

In 2004, Swedish Doktorand (PhD student) Anna Lindén reviewed the full two-volume work on mythology, concluding in part that it was not more widely received because it was not fully available in one of the three international languages of scholarship: English, German or French.[20] A German translation was being prepared in 1889 by literary historian, Phillip B. Schweitzer, who died in a skiing accident shortly thereafter. A French translation planned by a group of scholars in Lund in 1891 was never completely realized.[21] Rydberg himself knew that his mythology would be regarded as "folly" to the German philologists, who, as adherents to the school of nature-mythology, regarded him as a heretic, in regard to his methods and results.[22]

As Fredrik Gadde explained,

“the book was reviewed by several German scholars, who all took up a more or less disparaging attitude towards Rydberg’s methods of investigation and his results.”[23]

Those contemporary scholars "although they speak with high praise of the author's learning, his thorough insight, his ability occasionally to throw light upon intricate problems by means of ingenious suggestions" were especially critical of what they see as Rydberg’s “hazardous etymologies, his identification of different mythical figures without sufficient grounds, his mixing up of heroic saga and myth, and, above all, his bent for remodelling myths in order to make them fit into a system which (they say) never existed.”[23]


  • 1886, Undersökningar i germanisk mythologi, första delen, (Investigations into Germanic Mythology, Volume I).
    • Teutonic Mythology translated by Rasmus B. Anderson 1889
  • 1889, Undersökningar i germanisk mythologi, andre delen.
    • Viktor Rydberg's Investigations into Germanic Mythology, Volume 2, Parts 1 & 2, translated by William P. Reaves, 2004-2007.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Henrik Schück, quoted by Karl Warburg in Viktor Rydberg, En Lefnadsteckning, 1900.
  2. ^ Jan De Vries, Forschungsgeschichte der Mythologie, 1961, p. 250.
  3. ^ Commenting on specifics of Rydberg's comparative mythology, the Dutch scholar Jan de Vries calls him "sagacious." De Vries, writing in The Problem of Loki, 1933, said:

    The resemblance between Loki and Prometheus, which indeed cannot be denied, was mostly considered to be a proof of his character as a fire-god, even going back to the Aryan period. The sagacious Swedish scholar V. Rydberg argued in the same way, considering him only more particularly to be connected with the heavenly fire, the lightning; this seems to be shown by the etymological meaning of the names Byleistr and Farbauti both parents of Loki.”

  4. ^ E.O.G. Turville-Petre, Myth and Religion of the North, 1964, p. 103
  5. ^ Marlene Ciklamini observed in 1962, "Since Suttungr is unanimously declared to be the possessor of the poetic mead, it is difficult to agree with Rydberg that Hávamál 140 represents Bölþorn's son as the owner. His hypothesis is based on a misinterpretation of the stanza, since Háv. 140 represents the boast of a god who deprived his enemies of the exclusive right to magic and the ownership of the mead.... Rydberg's suggestion that Mímir is Bölþorn's son is not substantiated by any source." Marlene Ciklamini, "Óðinn and the Giants," Neophilologus 46:145-58 (1962), p. 151.
  6. ^ Anatoly Liberman, who characterizes Rydberg as a "thunderous Snorri basher" remarks that “[m]erging Eddic characters and looking for hypostases is an unprofitable occupation. It allows any god (giant, dwarf) to become anybody else, as happened under Rydberg’s pen,” from "Some Controversial Aspects of the Myth of Baldr," 11 Alvíssmál 17-54 (2004), pp. 33-34.
  7. ^ Handbook of Norse Mythology, p. 39-45
  8. ^ Prolonged Echoes, pp. 234-238
  9. ^ Hilda R. Ellis Davidson: “Another approach is the fundamentalist one, illustrated by the 19th century scholar Rydberg. He accepted every detail in Old Norse mythological literature as reliable, and showed much ingenuity in building up a complex mythological scheme to include it all, smoothing over apparent contradictions. Such approaches arise from an assumption that the mythology was once complete and rational," Myths and Symbols in Pagan Europe, 1988.
  10. ^ Mary E. Litchfield wrote: "Rydberg’s researches have made it possible, for the first time, for one to form a definite conception of the cosmology of the mythology, and also because it clears away many inconsistencies that have long clung to it.” The Nine Worlds, Stories from Norse Mythology, 1890 (reprinted by Freedonia Books, Amsterdam in 2001)
  11. ^ Britt-Mari Näsström (1995) Freyja: The Great Goddess of the North. University of Lund, ISBN 91-22-01694-5.:

    “Victor Rydberg suggested that Siritha is Freyja herself and that Ottar is identical with same as[verification needed] Svipdagr, who appears as Menglöd’s beloved in Fjölsvinnsmál. Rydberg’s intentions in his investigations of Germanic mythology were to co-ordinate the myths and mythical fragments into coherent short stories. Not for a moment did he hesitate to make subjective interpretations of the episodes, based more on his imagination and poetical skills than on facts. His explication of the Siritha-episode is an example of his approach, and yet he probably was right when he identified Siritha with Freyja.”

  12. ^ In the introduction to the first English translation of Danish historian Saxo Grammaticus' Gesta Danorum by Oliver Elton, Frederick York Powell wrote in 1894:

    No one has commented upon Saxo's mythology with such brilliancy, such minute consideration, and such success as the Swedish scholar, Viktor Rydberg. More than occasionally he is over-ingenious and over-anxious to reduce chaos to order; sometimes he almost loses his faithful reader in the maze he treads so easily and confidently, and sometimes he stumbles badly. But he has placed the whole subject on a fresh footing, and much that is to follow will be drawn from his "Teutonic Mythology," adding "The skeleton-key of identification, used even as ably as Dr. Rydberg uses it, will not pick every mythologic lock, though it undoubtedly has opened many hitherto closed."

  13. ^ Brian Johnston: The Ibsen Cycle, Pennsylvania State University Press 1992, 302-5
  14. ^ "Viktor Rydberg (1886, vol 1: 554-58) refers to the latter part living in the haugur as the 'ghost' (draugur). For the pagan he explains a ghost or draugur meant a branch of a tree cut from its tree of life, and would wither away eventually.", etc. in Icelandic Spiritualism: Mediumship and Modernity in Iceland, pp. 38-39.
  15. ^ Currently one of four volumes commenting on Eddic poems individually, edited by Klaus von See, Beatrice LaFarge, Eve Picard, Ilona Priebe, and Katja Schultz, ISBN 3-8253-0534-1.
  16. ^ in The Poetic Edda, Essays on Old Norse Mythology, edited by Paul Acker and Carolyne Larrington, 2002, ISBN 0-8153-1660-7, p.117-118 n.55.
  17. ^ Bd. 3, p. 836.
  18. ^ "The Askr and Embla Myth in a Comparative Perspective" (2008) by Anders Hultgård, in Old Norse Religion in Long-Term Perspectives: Origins, Changes, and Interactions, Edited by Anders Andrén, Kristina Jennbart, and Katharina Raudvere, Nordic Academic Press, 2008.
  19. ^ Simek, Rudolf, Dictionary of Northern Mythology, pp. 366-67.
  20. ^ "Viktor Rydberg and the comparative study of the history of Indo-European religion", by Anna Lindén, Doktorand, Lund University; Himlens blå, Örjan Lindberger, Veritas 5 (1991)
  21. ^ Karl Warburg, Viktor Rydberg, En Lefnadsteckning, Vol. II, (1900), p.615
  22. ^ Karl Warburg, Viktor Rydberg, En Lefnadsteckning, Vol. II, (1900), p.615-616
  23. ^ a b Gadde, Fredrick (1942). “Viktor Rydberg and Some Beowulf Questions,” Studia Neophilologica 15:72.

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