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Teutonic Myth and Legend

Library of Alexandria
This volume deals with the myths and legends of the Teutonic peoples—Norsemen, Goths, Vandals, Burgundians, Franks, Angles, Saxons, and all the other Germanic tribes whose descendants now occupy England, Northern France, Switzerland, Belgium, Holland, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Iceland. The volume might have been called Northern European Myth and Legend. It is the body of folk tales, epics and religious beliefs which all Anglo-Saxons have inherited directly from their ancestors, and find most deeply embedded in every-day words and thoughts such as names for the days of the week, names recalling the gods and goddesses of our forefathers. In France and Switzerland—after the Roman conquest—the folk lays were influenced by the higher and milder civilization which prevailed. Where the Roman influence extended the tribal songs were welded into detailed narratives, and each had for a central figure a popular hero like Dietrich of Bern. A similar process subsequently prevailed in the north. Thus originated the saga cycles, distributed over a wide area by wandering minstrels, who altered and adapted them to meet the requirements of time and locality. The highest literary development occurred when educated poets made still freer use of the subject matter of tribal lays and produced epic narratives which were not sung, but recited before cultured audiences. These were later revised and committed to manuscripts for reading. To this class belong two of outstanding merit—the German Nibelungenlied and the distinctive Anglo-Saxon Beowulf.