The Innocence

We’re covering the Volsung Saga this week as we wrap up Norse mythology. It’s a great epic. One of my favorite parts is where ten brothers are taken prisoner by their sister’s husband. The husband, Siggeir, has them all tied to trees in the woods and each night a she-wolf (who also happens to be Siggeir’s mom) eats one of the brothers.

By the time the sister, Signy, finds out what was happening, only the eldest brother, her twin Sigmund, is left.

So Signy does what any rational person would do – she sends her servant with a jar of honey for Sigmund.

As directed, the servant smears the honey all over Sigmund’s face, then leaves.

“Why doesn’t the servant just unite him?” my students ask.

“That’s a good question,” I say. “But they don’t for mythological reasons.”

“Or why doesn’t Signy just send a knife or a sword with her servant?” my students ask.

“That’s a good idea,” I say, “and that’s probably what I would have done. But mythology.”

“Why didn’t Signy go herself at least?” my students ask.

This is how mythology class (and middle school in general) goes. They live to question. To poke at things and prod and think back hard at them. Several times each an hour students interrupt, blurting out questions. Not especially helpful questions, and not always on topic. But they ask “Why not this?” and “What if that?”

“Because mythology,” I reply. This is also how mythology class goes.

So anyway. Sigmund’s there, tied to a tree in the woods at night next to the bones and gristle of his brothers with a face covered in honey and the she-wolf shows up. When the wolf starts licking his face, Sigmund catches her tongue in his teeth. He bites hard, holding on as the wolf pulls back with all her might, trying to break free. The wolf pulls so hard that she breaks the tree, freeing Sigmund.

It’s not how I would go about getting loose from a tree, but it is certainly as effective as it is memorable.

It’s one of the stories I enjoy telling as much as I like hearing their reactions to it. Some are more innocent than others:

Who does that indeed?

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