Medieval Icelandic Literature and Greek Mythology

Scandinavian giants and the titan Prometheus

13th century AD, Icelandic | 8th century BC, Ancient Greek.

The giant Prometheus was chained by Zeus to a pillar on a mountain, and every day an eagle came and pecked away at his liver, and every night it grew back again, and the next morning the cycle would start anew.

‘In both Scandinavian and Greek mythology,’ said Quintin, ‘the enemies of the gods are the giants. Scandinavian myths often have the god Thor going across to giantland to do battle with the giants who live there. It is an ongoing fight between them. Thor, with his thunderous hammer which he flings like a thunderbolt. And the fight is never resolved because, as the Icelandic writer Snorri Sturluson makes clear in the book about the old pagan mythology that he wrote in the thirteenth century, the old gods and the new formed a sort of confederation when the Aesir arrived in Europe, under the banner of Odin and Thor. So the old gods of Europe were never really defeated. Frey and Freyja of the Vanir, for example, came to live with Thor and Odin in Asgard. And they all got a great cauldron and mixed their poetic spittle together, which means that their myths and stories were all blended together.'

‘And the Greek god Zeus, with his thunderbolts and lightening, did battle with the Greek Titans,’ replied Miranda. ‘They belonged to the old order too, to his father’s generation, before Zeus defeated them and the new order could be established; according to the Greek poet Hesiod, who wrote in the eighth century BC. But do you know the best bit in Hesiod’s Theogony, the ancient Greek poem that deals with all this? Have you seen those Buddhist statues with three or more heads and lots of arms?'

'Of course,' replied Quintin.

'Well, during the war between Zeus and the Titans, Hesiod tells us that three of the giants’ brothers, Kotto, Gyes and Briareus, each had fifty heads and a hundred hands, just like those statues.'

'Well, how about this then,' replied Quintin. 'Zeus has the giant Prometheus chained to a pillar at the top of a mountain, and every day an eagle comes and pecks away at his liver, and every night it grows back again. What better torture for Zeus to give to someone who dares to believe in reincarnation than to have his liver pecked at by a bird of prey during the day, just as though he was a body lying dead on a platform above a charnel house, then to be revived and made healthy again during the night in time for the next turn of the cycle?'

An account of the Norse gods in: Byock, Jesse L, 2005. Snorri Sturluson: The Prose Edda, Norse Mythology, translated from Old Norse with an introduction. Penguin Books Limited.

Prometheus in Hesiod's Theogony from: Wender, Dorethea Schmidt, 1973. Hesiod: Theogony · Works and Days. Theognis: Elegies. Translated from ancient Greek with an introduction. Penguin Books Limited. Theogony, pp 23–57. Zeus's punishment of Prometheus and his rescue by Heracles, p 40 [514–39].

See for yourself

Snorri Sturluson – Wikipedia

Prose Edda (Younger Edda) – Wikipedia

Elder Edda and Younger Edda – Project Gutenberg; free out-of-copyright editions, ebooks

Hesiod's Theogony – Wikipedia

Hesiod – Wikipedia

Prometheus – Wikipedia

Giants – Wikipedia

Homer and Hesiod – including Hesiod's Theogony and Works and Days, translated by Hugh G. Evelyn-White, with an intoduction


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