You know: in a foolish, undiscriminating way, I've been happy these last few months. I don't know why. I just am. I love my friends; I love my pupils; I love what I read; I -- dammit -- love my thoughts. I love the taste of oranges.
Thornton Wilder in a letter to Gertrude Stein, Aug 14, 1936

Tuesday, May 27, 2014


5. Vargr (wolf or monster) was used in Icelandic law codes to refer to outlaws (see no. 4) who could be
12th century woodcarving showing
Sigurd cleaving the anvil upon which
Regis has just forged his sword
hunted down like wolves. The phrase "wolf in hallowed places" suggests an outlaw guilty of murder or of a particularly serious offense, especially committing a crime within a hallowed place or sanctuary.

8. These lines are somewhat convoluted. The sense of the passage is that Rerir is caught between a rock and a hard place: he must either kill his maternal uncles or let his father go unavenged.

11. The ability to put on a shape made of feathers, i.e., a bird shape, is commonly attributed to supernatural women in Old Icelandic literature.

18. Odin is often portrayed in the legendary sagas as visiting men in such a disguise. His headgear, referred to as a deep hood, was probably a form of hat. The story of how Odin lost his eye to obtain wisdom is told by Snorri in the Prose Edda.

26. Laukr (leek) may also refer to garlic. Both leek and garlic are considered in many cultures to have magical or medicinal properties.

30. The conversation that follows is a senna, or a contest of insults. Such contests are frequent in Old Icelandic literature. Most of the insults in this senna make use of one of the worst possible affronts in the culture, i.e., accusations of effeminacy or passive homosexuality. In Iceland, to accuse someone of passive homosexuality was punishable by outlawry.

37. Odin again. One of Odin's function was that of psychopomp, guide to the underworld.
“Odin the Wanderer” by Georg von Rosen (1886)

45. Odin's eight-leggged horse.

46. This passage may also be read, "I know of the kin of this serpent."

47. Loki is the trickster of Old Norse myth. He is an ambiguous figure, sometimes on the side of the giants, sometimes on the side of the gods. The two aspects of his character are evident in this tale: he places the gods in danger, only to rescue them.

56. Hugin may refer to one of Odin's two ravens. More probably the word refers not to any specific raven but to a huginn, a poetic synonym for raven. "To gladden the raven" meant "to kill men in battle."

59. According to the "Lay of Fafnir," Sigurd withheld his name because of an ancient belief that  a
Sigurd slays Fafnir
dying man could curse his enemy if he knew his enemy's name.

62. A reference to Ragnarok, the end of the world. Surt is a fire-giant who, after defeating the god Frey in a final battle, will cover the world with flame.

72. Bragi, a god of poetry. Bragi may have been a ninth-century Norwegian poet who was elevated to the status of a god by later writers.

91. Probably a reference to Brynhild's being a valkyrie.

93. Presumably the reference is to Grimhild's "ale of forgetfulness," which Sigurd consumed in chapter 28.

98. According to widespread medieval belief, the arteries were considered the ducts of air, whereas the veins were understood to be passages for blood.

108. A difficult passage. Literally it reads: "You said you would visit me and wait for me in Hel."

Brynhild (Brunhilde)

Selected from the endnotes to  The Saga of the Volsungs
Translated by Jesse L. Byock
Penguin,  1990

Friday, May 9, 2014


The Complete Thriller Portfolio is now available on Flickr. This is best viewed as a full-screen slideshow while imagining scary music playing in the background.

Thriller Portfolio