Desclian's Reviews > Scyld and Scef; Expanding the Analogues

Scyld and Scef; Expanding the Analogues by Alexander Bruce
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's review
Apr 16, 10

it was ok
bookshelves: studies-medieval, studies-cultural-historical, studies-myth-and-folktales
Read in April, 2010

Unfortunately poor, especially since it starts off so well. 'Scyld & Scef' begins as a discussion of the two characters in Widsith and Beowulf, as well as Anglo-Saxon genealogies, linking them to two of Dumezil's three Indo-European categories (Scyld = warrior, Scef = farmer). The third category, the priestly, Bruce claims to be represented by the Christian God. Bruce then points out many interesting facts, such as Scyld and Scef appearing often in genealogies at the interconnection between Germanic heroes and Judeo-Christian figures (for instance as the direct son of Noah). Bruce's arguments begin to feel somewhat off, though, when he begins to discuss Icelandic genealogies and the role of Scyld as the wife of Gefjon and son of Odin. Bruce's arguments become weak (even though he quotes some rather famous and good scholars) and take only certain parts of Dumezil's theories while ignoring others (for instance, if Odin represents with Tyr the priestly cast, then why is his son suddenly representing the warrior class? Where has the priestly cast gone?). Finally, some of Bruce's arguments mark him as a "modern" author, in the sense that he looks through our modern sensibilities when examining the past, instead of keeping a more open mind. For instance, he assumes too easily that genealogies were used as 'propaganda' in the modern sense of the word and discusses no other function beyond strengthening rule. At times the author seems strangely condescending of the past, once remarking with odd confusion that "[t:]he adaption of Scef throughout these genealogies illustrates how one culture in the process of shaping its identity will look to its own perceived past for answers." This seems obvious to me, and is actually how most identity is formed, both in cultures as well as in people in general.

Bruce's work, in the end, is very well researched and through, and presents very interesting examples, but his conclusions are, at times, oddly unfounded. In the end, though, Bruce comes through and does make certain points on the issue of "ur-sources," noting a growing (and I think good) awareness that finding a single source for a group of stories is not only often impossible, but damaging as well. Stories should be viewed in their own context, and as coming from a particular culture (and therefore able to tell us about that culture). Bruce's discussion, then, comes from the right place, but too often slips, at least for my taste.

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