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the pastures where it feeds. Her name is linked with the royal sisterhood of faithless women—with that of Egypt's great queen, with the queen of King Mark. In Dante's vision of wailing spirits, swept onwards by the storm blasts of hell, after Semiramis and Cleopatra, comes the bane of Troy. 'Elena vidi per cui tanto reo tempo si volse,' and Paris and Tristram—the disloyal guest of Sparta's king betraying the hospitality of Menelaus, the disloyal messenger of Mark stealing the honour of the bride he is sent to guard— are mentioned significantly in one breath. And the same current of association stirs Chaucer, as in his Legend of Good Women he, with a corresponding touch, sets the queen of Cornwall beside the queen of Sparta—'Hide ye your 'beauties, Isoud and Heleine.'
But neither Iseult nor yet Cleopatra has ever quite attained to Helen's pre-eminence of fame, or passed in the same degree into the popular literary tongue. Iseult, with all her sins, the greatest her murderous attempt on faithful Bragwain's life, was yet, in her single devotion to Tristram, in her reckless passion, her fearless gaiety, her surpassing loveliness, an ideal in strict accordance with the medieval conception of a true lover, while the tragic ending of the romance, as, Tristram dead, she dies upon his body, was far more calculated to retain men's sympathies on her behalf than the domestic sequel supplied in the Odyssey to Helen's stormy life, when Menelaus has taken back his queen and she lives an honoured wife in her own land. No less Cleopatra, although she had perhaps forfeited her claim as the ideal lover, in her death might have been accounted worthy to take an exalted place in the saints' calendar of passion. But neither the one nor yet the other, and far less the Cressid of the successive Tales of Troy, beloved of the Middle Ages, can even be quoted as a rival in popularity. It is true that in those tales Cressid occupies a prominent part, and in the earlier version indeed Helen's is a subordinate figure,* She 'was too puzzling as well as too Greek,' Mr. Saintsbury suggests.* But Cressid, even as Chaucer revivified and Shakespeare remodelled her, is of infinitely slighter and baser, if of more human, clay. Helen may be the victim of one god, but she is the daughter of another; she rules men's passions, and where love has no part in their admiration she still dominates and sways the destinies of her beholders. The worship they paid was an abstract worship rather than
* Flourishing of Romance, &c. Saintsbury. 1897. VOL. GZCVI. NO. CCCCII. Z a personal affection; it was not Helen bnt her beauty which reigned. So Marlowe, so the author of'Troilus and Cressida' recognise the source of her dominion, seeing in her not the loveliness which Paris loved, but the glories of 'the face 'that launched a thousand ships.' Hers was the blood royal of beauty, Cressida's the beauty, pitiful at best, of the bird whose bright plumage marks it out a facile prey for the hawk. If, as it is conjectured, Cressida first existed as Briseis, the radiant-eyed captive, Achilles's mistress, it would seem the slave girl had bequeathed the taint of a servitude not far removed from the servitude of hire to the daughter of Calchas the priest, who receives at length the tragic final wage of her mis-spent beauty.
'Lo, faire ladies, Creseide of Troie toun,
So while Cleopatra, Iseult, Cressida, with all the added fame bestowed upon them by the greatest amongst great poets who have sung their praises and recorded their loves, with others not a few, stand out by virtue of that especial gift of exceeding beauty amongst the shadows of the shadow land of death, Helen still stands alone and apart in the imaginations and memories of men.
Greek Helen and the hero-women of northern legend are divided by an abyss unmeasured and immeasurable, and the divergence has been lessened by no later interpretations of either character. For though the ideal of Helen has, after a certain manner, been universalised and denationalised in its adoption by the literary tradition of various countries and peoples, the ideal of Scandinavian epic remains, persistently rooted, a race ideal of a limited area, a distinct and unpliable type, localised firmly in its native surroundings, in the imaginative temperament and mental climate of its birthplace. The three principal women of the ' Volsunga 'Saga' present the Northern ideal in sharpest emphasis.* If Brynhild be taken as the central conception, the tragic and savage figure of Signy in the earlier scenes anticipates one aspect of her character, as in the later section of the story, when Brynhild has passed from the stage, her rival, Gudrun, in the hall of Atli reflects the image, with less royalty and
* 'This is the great story of the North, which should be to all our race what the tale of Troy was to the Greeks ... to those that come after us no less than the tale of Troy has been to us.'—Translator's Preface.
more womanhood, of the same indomitable persistence of purpose, the same inflexibility of passion, beside which the swift loves and hates of Celt or Latin heroism read but as the fitful loves, the changeful hates, the uncertain vengeances of children at play with life.
Between the stories of Helen and the Brynhild of the Saga there are some crude facts of common elementary episode. It is the fate both of the Greek and of the Northern woman to be held successively by two men as their own. The love of either woman brings destruction with it to the men by whom they are most loved. The love of Paris for the wife of Menelaus brings about the slaying of Paris and lays low the walls of Ilion. The love of Gunnar the Guiking for Brynhild results in even more dire catastrophes, death to Sigurd the Volsung, Brynhild's lover by right, Gudrun's husband by fraud—death to Gunnar the king and to all his house—ruin and wide-spreading misery to Gudrun and to the house of Atli. But, far beyond minor coincidences of circumstance and the general drift towards calamity of the two love stories, they have one deeply grounded point of abstract similarity. Both are, in antithesis to stories of will, essentially stories of fate. They are equally stories of lives foredoomed by an irresistible destiny to actions and catastrophes no foresight can avert, no uttermost striving of human endeavour or human wisdom can in any wise alter. True, the gods in the Greek legend play their parts before our very eyes, overpowering the intentions and ordering the deeds and affections of heroes, men and women, as the marionette master the puppets of his theatre, whereas in the Scandinavian saga the unimaged gods* of idol-less temples are shrouded from human sight. And though it would seem in other stories of the North, blue-cloaked, oneeyed, Odin Allfather walks betimes the earth in mystery, here he too has with his fellow gods withdrawn into invisibility. The veil of Olympus is freely lifted; the gods feast and drink in our presence, and their speech is plainly heard. Valhalla lies in mist, of its gods no speech is audible; in Brynhild's day they strike with long arms and very silently. Men feel the turn of the wheel, but the spinner sits in the dark. 'Who are the Norns, who rule the 'lot of all?' is a question which elicits but a dim response, significant in its vagueness. 'Many there be and far apart.'
* 'The religion was too spiritual, the people too inartistic for graven images of the invisible.'—Corpus Poeticum Boreale, vol. i. p. 426, note.
Tet in no other story is the sense of doom so insistently felt. It shadows every page, inflexible, remorseless, giving to the future the immutability of the past, and to the deed undone the irrevocableness of the deed accomplished. Nor, although critics in this will differ according to their several standards of opinion, can the long-drawn portrayal of the heroine of the ' Nibelungenlied,' Chriemhild (the Germanised and medievalised Gudrun of the Saga), in the stanzas of the great Teutonic epic, rival the conception of the Volsung Saga. The slow ripening of Chriemhild's vengeance against Siegfried's slayer during thirteen years of widowhood and seven years of remarriage, the very fact of that remarriage with Etzel, reluctant, but unenforced, her subsequent not unkindly relationship to Etzel, which contrasts sharply with Brynhild's fierce revolt against her wedded life with Gunnar (and indeed likewise with the hatred borne by Gudrun to Atli in the Saga version of her story), has shorn Chriemhild's sorrow and revenge of the dignity of passion. The epic has lost in some indefinite manner, until the last scenes, the breadth, strength, and sombre impressiveness of the Northern version. With Brynhild moreover the antagonist is life itself. With Chriemhild hatred is narrowed to a single point; it is not life hut Hagen who is her enemy.
The chronicle of Brynhild's love and death in the brief condensation of the prose version, compiled, we are told, from fragmentary songs and floating traditions, occupies hut twelve out of the twenty-three chapters into which the Saga is divided. Setting aside the plot as made known to most by Richard Wagner's adaptation of it to the exigencies of the opera stage and his own appreciations of the myth, its episodes' are few, and in parts not wholly decipherable. Brynhild's divine descent from the father of the gods, her pre-existence as one of the Walkurie, is barely hinted at in her gifts of knowledge and foreknowledge. The cause of her condemnation by Odin, the slumber spell worked by the sleep thorn, the fire wall which shields her from ail men save the hero whom she is doomed to follow, are incidents but lightly touched upon. We are told briefly that Brynhild is one of two sisters, daughters of Budli. One, Bekkhild, is a home-abider, skilful in all handiwork. Brynhild is a battle-lover, a forthfarer upon earth, armoured and helmed, a warrior maid of a type far removed from the toy amazons of Renascence romance—from Clorinda, dying gently at Tancred's hands, from Armida, accepting meekly the succour of her sometime lover Rinaldo, from chivalrous Britomart, with her courtly valour and feminine grace. One brother Brynhild has, Atli, Gudrun's husband in far days to come, and a foster-father, Heimi. At the first meeting between Sigurd and Brynhild, in her hall, she teaches him wisdom. And no wiser woman can he find in all the world. 'Thereby swear I,' so Sigurd spake to her, ' that thee will 'I have as my own.' • Thee would I choose though I had all 'men's sons to choose amongst,' Brynhild answers him, and their troth is plighted. Again he comes to her. At a high window in the topmost chamber of her foster-father's dwelling she sits working in threads of gold the deeds of Sigurd, those deeds which were past and those which were to come. There Sigurd sees her. 'I will get from her love 'like my love, and give her a gold ring in token thereof,' said Sigurd, unmindful that already it has been foretold to him 'Heimi's foster-daughter, fair to see, shall rob thee of all 'happiness.' * And he goes to that high chamber, and she, who never before has welcomed any man, gives him welcome. Then Sigurd cast his arms about her, and he kissed her, saying, 'Thou art the fairest ever born.' Word by word the prophecy is fulfilling itself. 'Thou shalt not sleep or 'slumber,' the seer had foreseen, 'nor care for any man, 'except thou look on that maid.' But Brynhild is not only the fairest, not only is she a woman unblamed, 'she knew 'no guilt in her life,' but likewise, as Sigurd has said, amongst women the wisest. Fated she is, as was Helen, but with her fate fares differently. She is no blind, passive victim; the blood of the Asir runs in her veins, and what the blood of Zeus never wrought for Leda's daughter the blood of Odin works mightily in Brynhild. No veil of mortal passion can dim her sight; her eyes are clear to see, and the truth is not hidden from her mind. 'It is not fated 'that we abide with each other.' Even in that first moment of union she speaks her joy's death-sentence. But Sigurd questions, ' What fruit of our lives shall be if we live not 'together?' Again her speech is as relentless as her knowledge is perfect. 'I shall gaze on the hosts of the war 'kings, but thou shalt wed Gudrun, the daughter of Guiki.' So seeing and so knowing—knowing that he 'whom I have 'chosen for my well beloved shall go to another'—she takes his love, and renders love to him again. Not with the reckless surrender of an Iseult, nor with the latent repent