Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Cuckoos and Lime Trees

I wonder how old does a scholarly text have to be before it is bad form to quote it in a paper? Or are there some texts that never go out of style? Sometimes, if I am at a loss for words, I find something appropriate from Aristotle and stick it in. Drives professors crazy but they don't want to mark you down cause you are quoting Aristotle as an authority fer cryin' out loud!
I was reading some texts yesterday about sacred trees and animistic beliefs about birds and deities. There is a passage in the Nibelungenlied where Hagen says "Are we to raise cuckoos?" and there is a lot of discussion about what that means with no real conclusions except that it means most likely bastards. However, the leaf that falls on Siegfried when he bathes in the dragon blood is a Linden which is a sacred tree and these elements are the relics of the pre-Christian story.
Most of the scholars agreed that the strange little line was left in by the last poet because it could not be left out. The Linden leaf and invulnerability part of Siegfried's story exists only in the Germanic tales. These don't occur in the Norse versions but made more complicated by the Linden being sacred to Freyja but there is no evidence for a Freyja in the Germanic pantheon.
I think the cuckoo comment is a dig at Siegfried's father, Sigmund, who in the Norse versions that remain, fathered a son on his own sister. Zeus seduced Hera in the guise of a cuckoo. But the cuckoo is connected to the birch tree and Donar, which hints at Siegfried being Thor in fact, especially since the Volsungs are sons of Odin. The Linden could be simply because the leaf is heart shaped but, since Siegfried dies beside a Linden Tree, this could mean that Freyja, who gets half of the dead who have fallen in battle (Odin takes the other half), collected Siegfried.

12 comments:

Kristin said...

Maybe this is where get the word "cuckhold" from?

Tracy said...

He fathered a son on his own sister! Lovely. Just been reading Herodotus on Cambyses - who married two of his sisters (but never left any heirs)

The Red Witch said...

Zeus and Hera were brother and sister. To Sigmund's credit, he was tricked and his sister killed herself after her father and brothers were avenged by the boy they created.

@Maybe this is where get the word "cuckhold" from?
It is but it has to be more than just that. All the scholars who commented on it felt that it was something that was there, not because the poet wanted it there, but because it was an essential part of the narrative.

Kristin said...

@He fathered a son on his own sister! Lovely. Just been reading Herodotus on Cambyses - who married two of his sisters (but never left any heirs)

Sounds like Craster! :-) It also sounds a lot like Arthur and Morgan, who gives birth to Mordred.

@It is but it has to be more than just that. All the scholars who commented on it felt that it was something that was there, not because the poet wanted it there, but because it was an essential part of the narrative.

Well, cuckoos don't build their own nests. They plant their young in other nests and other birds raise them.

anachronist said...

Well, cuckoos don't build their own nests. They plant their young in other nests and other birds raise them.

Exactly my thoughts. Cuckolded husbands also raise offspring which is most probably not their own.

Tracy said...

Zeus and Hera were brother and sister
Now that I never realised - I don't ever recall reading that anywhere.

In Persia it was against the law for brothers and sisters to marry - so here's how Cambyses got round it (according to Herodotus). He summoned the royal judges and asked them if there was any law in the country which allowed a man to marry his sister if he wished to do so. The wily/cowardly judges came up with an answer which neither violated the law nor risked their necks from Cambyses' wrath (since Cambyses was a complete fruitloop and inclined to bury people alive, kill their sons for no reason etc). They said that whilst they could discover no law which allowed brother to marry sister, there was undoubtedly a law which permitted the King of Persia to do as he pleased! So he married her, then also married another, younger sister, whom he murdered.

Reminds me of Caligula.

Guess all of these incest stories are to impress on people that Gods/Kings are not like mortal men, and are allowed to do things which would get anyone else disowned by their community/thrown in jail/on a sex offenders list for life

anachronist said...

Zeus and Hera were siblings, I was fully aware of it. Yes, it was meant to show that gods were above human laws. It was the same in ancient Egypt - pharaohs had to marry a sister or half-sister in order to become crowned. I wonder whether it was a trace of a very old custom...oh and in the Bible Cain and other sons of Adam married their sisters as well.

The Red Witch said...

But when there is no one else, who do you marry but close genetic relatives?
@They plant their young in other nests and other birds raise them.
Which is why the word for cuckoo also means 'fool'.

Kristin said...

@But when there is no one else, who do you marry but close genetic relatives?

Too true. Ancient peoples, like the Egyptian pharaohs, married their sisters to keep their blood "pure". But they were all well aware that too close a genetic relationship meant birth defects, etc. Lack of genetic diversity (and there's a definite lack in the human race as a whole) is not a good thing.

Even now in the US, it's not illegal for first cousins to marry.

Kristin said...

@I wonder whether it was a trace of a very old custom...oh and in the Bible Cain and other sons of Adam married their sisters as well.

Speaking of...Lot fathered children on his own daughters. After the fall of Sodom and Gomorrah, when they hid in the cave, his daughters got him drunk and the next thing you know they're both pregnant.

If you have a small enough population, it's bound to happen. There just isn't anyone else.

Tracy said...

Even now in the US, it's not illegal for first cousins to marry
Kristin, it's always been legal in Britain for cousins to marry - the Royal family would die out if they couldn't (Philip is the Queen's cousin).

But although it's legal, it isn't something you'd encourage your kids to do, apart from all of those double recessive genes, family trees must get really confusing - your aunt would also be your mother-in-law.

The Red Witch said...

At least they are letting in some new blood. Even Diana was related. She was a descendant of Charles II through one of his bastards.