Tonight I started reading the Saga of the Volsungs aloud to Ezekiel and Sora. It is my first time reading this classic. I cannot believe I have never experienced it before now. This is powerful myth, and Jesse Byock’s understated prose translationn is a great way of drinking that myth straight: there are no frills to get in the way; the stories strike the audience more forcefully in this naked state. I can see why C.S. Lewis became addicted to them.
We’re only 1/3 of the way through, but already there are some unforgettable images: the Volsung brothers being eaten by the she-wolf night after night; Sigmund escaping the same fate when Signy coats his face with honey and he bites the wolf’s tongue off; the sword that Odin(?) puts in the tree Barnstock, which only Sigmund can remove — an episode that combines elements of the Arthurian Excalibur story with Homer’s contest to string the bow of Odysseus.
The character of Signy is awe-inspiring. She is like Jocasta, Medea, Rizpah, Antigone, Electra, Maeve, and Dierdre all rolled into one. Her life was absolutely hellish, and she must have been a woman of iron to tame the inner demons that came with all the traumatic and terrible things she both saw and committed: witnessing her father’s murder by her husband, her brothers’ deaths by the she-wolf, being wife to the murderer for long years, cold-heartedly killing her sons by that husband, committing incest with her one surviving brother and giving birth to a son trained to take vengeance on his unwitting stepfather. But all the emotional anguish of such a life is only implied, not described, by the Saga. All it tells is the events. Truly Signy’s death — walking of her own will into the burning house of her hated husband — is worthy of her.
I can’t wait to read the rest.