Sun, 07 Jan 2018
Well, yesterday I wrote an article about the drinking contest in the Gylfaginning and specifically about what was in the horn. I was very pleased with it. In the article, I said several times:
A couple of my Gentle Readers have gently pointed out that I was wrong, wrong, wrong. I am deeply embarrassed.
The punch line of the story is that the end of the horn is attached to the ocean, and Thor cannot empty it, because he is trying to drink the ocean. The horn is therefore not filled with mead; it is filled with seawater.
How could I make such a dumb mistake? As I mentioned, the version I read first as a child stated that the horn was full of milk. And as a child I wondered: how could the horn be full of milk if it was attached to the sea? I decided that whatever enchantment connected the horn to the sea also changed the water to milk as it came into the horn. Later, when I realized that the milk was a falsehood, I retained my idea that there was an enchantment turning the seawater into something else.
But there is nothing in the text to support this. The jötunns don't tell Thor that the horn is full of mead. Adam Sjøgren pointed out that if they had, Thor would have known immediately that something was wrong. But as the story is, they bring the horn, they say that even wimps can empty it in three draughts, and they leave it at that. Wouldn't Thor notice that he is not drinking mead (or milk)? I think certainly, and perhaps he is initially surprised. But he is in a drinking contest and this is what they have brought him to drink, so he drinks it. The alternative is to put down the horn and complain, which would be completely out of character.
And the narrator doesn't say, and mustn't, that the horn was full of mead, because it wasn't; that would be in impermissible deceit of the audience. (“Hey, wait, you told us before that the horn was full of mead!”)
No, it's not. It's because the narrator wants us to assume it is obviously mead, and then to spring the surprise on us as it was sprung on Thor: it was actually the ocean. The way it is told is a clever piece of misdirection. The two translators I quoted picked up on this, and I completely misunderstood it.
I have mixed feelings about Neil Gaiman, but Veit Heller pointed out that Gaiman understood this perfectly. In his Norse Mythology he tells the story this way:
In yesterday's article I presented a fantasy of Marion French, the author of my childhood “milk” version, hearing Snorri tell the story:
But this couldn't have been how it went down. I now imagine it was more like this:
Thanks again to Adam Sjøgren and Veit Heller for pointing out my error, and especially for not wounding my pride any more than they had to.