04 July 2017

There Were Giants in the Earth in Those Days -- Jakob Grimm's 'Teutonic Mythology'

Jakob Grimm

Teutonic Mythology 
Chapter I. 
From the westernmost shore of Asia, Christianity had turned at once to the opposite one of Europe. The wide soil of the continent which had given it birth could not supply it long with nourishment; neither did it strike deep root in the north of Africa. Europe soon became, and remained, its proper dwelling-place and home.
It is worthy of notice, that the direction in which the new faith worked its way, from South to North, is contrary to the current of migration which was then driving the nations from the East and North to the West and South. As spiritual light penetrated from the one quarter, life itself was to be reinvigorated from the other. 
The worn out empire of the Romans saw both its interior convulsed, and its frontier overstept. Yet, by the same weighty doctrine which had just overthrown her ancient gods, subjugated Rome was able to subdue her conquerors anew. By this means the flood-tide of invasion was gradually checked, the newly converted lands began to gather strength and to turn their arms against the heathen left in their rear. 
Slowly, step by step, Heathendom gave way to Christendom. Five hundred years after Christ, but few nations of Europe believed in him; after a thousand years the majority did, and those the most important, yet not all.

In a book that deals so much with Heathenism, the meaning of the term ought not to be passed over. The Greeks and Romans had no special name for nations of another faith (for ἑτερόδοξοι, βάρβαροι were not used in that sense); but with the Jews and Christians of the N.T. are contrasted ἔθνος, ἔθνεα, ἐθνικοί, Lat. gentes, gentiles; Ulphilas uses the pl. thiudós, and by preference in the gen[itive] after a pronoun, thái thiudó, sumái thiudó (gramm. 4, 441, 457), while thiudiskó translates ἐθνικῶς Gal. 2, 14. As it was mainly Greek religion that stood opposed to the Judæo-Christian, the word Ἕλλην also assumed the meaning ἐθνικός, and we meet with ἑλλενικώς = ἐθνικῶς, which the Goth would still have rendered thiudiskós, as he does render Ἕλληνες thiudós, John 7, 35. 12,20. 1 Cor. 1, 24. 12, 13; only in 1 Cor. 1, 22 he prefers Krêkôs. This Ἕλλην = gentilis bears also the meaning of giant, which has developed itself out of more than one national name (Hun, Avar, Tchudi); so the Hellenic walls came to be heathenish, gigantic (see ch. XVIII). In Old High German, Notker still uses the pl. diete for gentiles (Graff. 5, 128). In the meanwhile pagus had expanded its narrow meaning of κώμη into the wider one of ager, campus, in which sense it still lives in It. paese, Fr. pays; while paganus began to push out gentilis, which was lapsing into the sense of nobilis. All the Romance languages have their pagano, payen, &c., nay, it has penetrated into the Bohem. pohan, Pol. paganin, Lith. pagonas [but Russ. pagan = unclean]. The Gothic háithi campus early developed an adj háithns agrestis, campestris = paganus (Ulph. in Mark 7, 26 renders ἑλληνίς by háithnô;), the Old H.G. heida as adj heidan, Mid. H.G. and Dutch heide heiden, A.S. hæð hæðin, Engl. heath heathen, Old Norse heið heiðinn; Swed. and Dan. use hedning. The O.H.G. word retains its adj. nature and forms its gen. pl. heidanêro. Our present heide, gen. heiden (for heiden, gen. heidens) is erroneous, but current ever since Luther. Full confirmation is afforded by Mid. Lat agrestis = paganus, e.g. in the passage quoted in ch. IV from Vita S. Agili; and the 'wilde heiden' in our Heldenbuch is an evident pleonasm (see Supplement).

I can only start at the end here: '(see Supplement)'. See Supplement! And in a parenthesis, forsooth. I can only laugh, not in mockery but wonder. Or awe, if one can be said to laugh in awe. We have here the first footnote, not attached to the text but to the title of the first chapter. Grimm hasn't even said anything yet, and he is already providing footnotes more packed with learning and meaning than whole scholarly books I have read within these lonesome, latter years. (The second chapter is titled 'God'. What if there's a similar footnote on that? Reading it might have the same effect as seeing God face to face.) And Grimm with a wave of his hand tells me, merely, that there's more where this came from: 'see supplement.'

And why, pray, need we see the Supplement? To be filled in on the 'evident pleonasm' of 'wilde heiden' of course. If 'pleonasm' gives you pause, and small wonder if it does, it means 'the use of more words than necessary to convey meaning (e.g., to see with one's eyes), either as a fault of style or for emphasis', as Google tells us. And if we glance at the usage graph for pleonasm -- Google was kind enough to include with its definition -- we will see that this word was in its heyday when Grimm (1785-1863) was employing it to indicate that saying 'wild heathens' ('wilde heiden') was redundant.

So if 'pleonasm' isn't quite as current as 'woke', it also isn't as played out by the poseurs. Now you might well find 'pleonasm' pedantic, or indeed all of this splendid Goliath of a footnote, which is much longer than the first four paragraphs of the book itself -- the first volume of four, mind you. True enough, pedantry can also be a pose, but not here, I think. The immensity of the learning we discover in this footnote, deeply and firmly rooted in languages, fifteen different languages all related to each other, is not just here for display. It provides the philological underpinnings of so much of the grand sweep of history Grimm is about to set before us in those first four amazing introductory paragraphs: the transformative coming together of the Christian and the Heathen in Europe.

The all-knowing panoramic eye that takes in a thousand years of history at a glance seems godlike in a way that writers of the 19th century excelled at, and surely a part of the reason they did so was the view they embodied that Europe and Christianity were of course superior. The soil of Asia was not fertile enough for Christianity to flourish there, and in Africa, well, it could barely get roots down in Africa. But Europe now, Europe had just what Christianity needed. It had the vigor and courage of the onrushing northern invaders, so many of whom were Teutonic. And even if these Germanic peoples possessed in their heathendom one of the two elements that would make Europe "exceptional", and that would be used to "justify" its exceptionalism -- and, therefore, much else that was not admirable -- vis à vis the rest of the world, nevertheless the rediscovery of who those heathens were through their myths and their language was surely also a worthy object of study. And it remains worthy. Wrong again, Alcuin.

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