Monday, 13 July 2009

Problem statement on sagas and history of the Danes.

The more I look into the complexity of this topic, the more it scares me off! I have done my best to read Beowulf, Hervarar Saga, Voluspa, Snorri’s Edda, various sagas and a range of Internet comments in great detail and 6 issues stand out:

1. Most of the material seems to be terribly corrupted by time, oral delivery over some hundreds of years and individuals with an agenda to nurture.

2. I am not sure that even fairly modern writers are honest. At best they also have their own agendas to promote. That goes for academics as well as for private laymen. Most of them build on knowledge as old as Axel Olrik and Gudmund Schuette – if not straight out of what they were told by their history teachers and what they have read in Saxo Grammaticus.

3. If there are modern researchers who have come up with something new, they seem surprisingly quiet about it. Why? Is it the “afraid-syndrome” playing up? This is not as strange as it sounds, because I begin to get a feeling that virtually everything we have learnt so far is a pack of ‘spin’, propagated and cemented in our brains since Saxo and Aggesen. Snorri had quite frankly no idea what was going on in Denmark hundreds of years earlier and conveyed a lot of his ‘knowledge’ as if it were concerned with local Icelandic events and myths. It is relatively easy to prove this.

4. Everything I read seems to be concerned with either places unknown or South Jutland. Now, that is interesting! Why does South Jutland pop up all the time? The old saga-headquarters, Lejre, ostensibly the geographic location of Hrodulf (Rolf Krake’s) hall, Heorot, is but a flash in history’s pan, while South Jutland teems with names and finds that exceed anything Lejre can offer – notwithstanding the 2 halls recently excavated.

5. Why is no one picking up, seriously, on the migration period’s strong evidence about the central role of the Huns and a whole raft of Gothic tribes along the Baltic Sea – and their more than likely push up through Denmark (i.e. South Jutland) in the critical years of 400-500? If someone has, then it is kept well hidden in academic circles and only presented as intimations or in headline format. Very little has penetrated to the public domain. It is difficult material, as Scandinavia and the Baltic coastal Goths/Geats were uninteresting to those who could write. Additionally, archaeological evidence is rather muddled due to the mass-movement of peoples and prolific trade across the whole of Europe. Finds, therefore are difficult to use as tracking evidence.

6. But why does no one – absolutely NO ONE – mention Peter Grove, the Danish author, who in 1960 courageously took up the challenge of shooting common knowledge down, rewriting the baptism of Denmark? He may have been a little far out in his theories, but he surely pulled up the weed, shook the soil off the roots to ensure the old tales would never grow again and laid a foundation worth pursuing for anyone with time and resources on their hands. I think he was aware of Niels Lukman’s doctoral thesis from 1943 (which I unfortunately can’t find published anywhere); and Lukman certainly shook his contemporaries.

Danish academics seem to sit on their hands, being afraid of bringing some of the new information out in the public domain – or perhaps I just can’t find it?
Perhaps the ‘Ivory Tower’ wakes up one day. It is well worth the risk taking up the thread after Lukman and Grove. Somewhere out there, there is another “smoking trail” of the Danes, who they were and how they came to occupy the area we today call Denmark, but the task needs to be multi-disciplinary: Archaeology, History, Literary – and done with courage.

We are tired of Saxo’s syrupy imaginations and political poetry, Beowulf’s bombastic nonsense with its Christian overlay, Snorri’s misunderstandings and worst of all: the hundreds of years of misleading tales about Denmark’s first 2-300 years until the first “Danish” power manifested itself just after 700 CE (proven by Danevirke, the wall across South Jutland’s root) – just like I indicated in my little write-up on Gorm and Thyra about the origin of the name Danebod (Tanmarkar Bot). It seems that we can relegate Roar and Helge, Rolf Krake, Uffe hin Spage and many others to either a fantasy-world or to a world that has very little to do with Denmark, but may find its origin 1000 Km south-east!

All these early stories flow over with Huns, Goths, foreign lands – and South Jutland.
How come?
I shall elaborate later, but for now, just consider one of the many raids on South Jylland that took place in the 3-4th C. The attacking force came in an enormous oak war-"canoe", manned by around 30 warriors and landed in the area around Nydam (now South Schleswig) around 350 CE, where they were thoroughly beaten – and then what?
Who were they? Who beat them? Why did they attack? Did the defenders later succumb? What organised society was able to muster an army within hours of the landing, delivering a decisive, defensive battle? Not to mention the subsequent cult-action when sacrificing the beaten army's weapons in their local sacred lake?
South Jylland has more than its fair share of sacrificial sites. Apart from an ever present readiness there must have been a rich tradition telling stories about the glorious deeds of the ancestors.

I am afraid I have ventured into a jungle of questions - more than I will ever be able to answer. But if I find the answers through someone else, they will surely be published in my blog.

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