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NOT THAT ANYONE has asked lately, but here are swordplay tidbits collected from a variety of sources, some even overlapping with others. In Parts 1 and 2 today and tomorrow, we’ll encounter Odin, Sigmund/Siegmund, Signy/Sieglinde, and Sigurd/Siegfried; Mohammad’s son-in-law Ali ibn Abi Talib; Merlin, Arthur, and Galahad; Masamune and Tokugawa; Generals Grant and Lee; and satirist Stan Freberg.
Maybe you’d like to share your favorite swordplay?
Gram, the Völsunga Sword. A mysterious stranger (I’ll bet he has an eye patch) thrusts a sword named Gram (“Wrath”) into a tree named Barnstokkr (“Offspring-trunk”). The tree is growing in the middle of a hall, venue for a wedding feast. Signy is marrying Siggeir, whose family has massacred all of Signy’s family except for her (some say twin) brother, Sigmund.
Sigmund is the only one capable of withdrawing Gram out of Barnstokkr. Later, Sigmund and his sister Signy have a child, Sigurd.
Pause here for Freudian interpretations.
Sigmund and his sword get revenge until Odin (the guy with the eye patch) says “gnógr er gnógr, Old Norse for “enough is enough,” and breaks Gram in two. Signy saves the pieces for the kid to play with someday.
Or maybe for more serious reassembly.
Sigurd is raised by Regin, who tries unsuccessfully to reforge Gram. Sigurd is successful and splits an anvil with it.
Later, Sigurd assays Gram’s edge by tossing a piece of wool upstream and watches as the current draws it across the sword, cleaving the wool in two.
I recall a Crusader movie years ago in which a Saracen and his scimitar do the same trick with a falling piece of silk. Which reminds me….
The Arabic Zulfiqar. Ali ibn Abi Talib, 601–661, was a cousin and son-in-law of the Islamic prophet Muhammad. According to Wikipedia, his sword Zulfiqar is “historically frequently depicted as a scissor-like double bladed sword on Muslim flags….”
Wikipedia says, “The meaning of faqār (فَقَار) means ‘splitter, differentiatior.’ ” I say this syntax is redundant, and wonder if the word is really “differentiator.”
Wikipedia also cites “authorities preferring faqār and rejecting fiqār as ‘vulgar,’ but the vocalization fiqār still sees the more widespread use.”
Well, you know how some people are when you try to correct them. And, in case you’re wondering, tālib (طالب) is Arabic for “student.” Tālibān (طالبان ) is Arabic for “two students.”
Back to Gram aka Nothung. Sigurd uses Gram to kill the dragon Fafnir, which suggests where Richard Wagner got the idea for the Ring Cycle. Just think Sigmund/Siegmund, his sister Signy/Sieglinde, their kid Sigurd/Siegfried, Regin/Mime, and the sword Gram/Nothung.
Arthur’s Sword Excalibur. According to one tale (there are many variations), the fifth-century wizard Merlin set the magical sword Excalibur into a stone. It could be withdrawn only by the true king.
This kid named Arthur, son of King Uther Pendragon, easily pulls it out and the rest is Arthurian Legend.
In other versions of the tale, Excalibur and the one in the stone are two different swords. Indeed, in one story, King Arthur asks the Lady of the Lake for Excalibur. In another, it’s Sir Galahad who withdraws the sword from a floating stone.
How come these swords keep getting lodged into things? I guess it’s to provide a deus ex machina for identifying heroes.
By 1136 A.D., when Geoffrey of Monmouth got around to writing all this down, he called it Historia Regum Britanniae (History of the Kings of Britain), and so the legend has evolved. Sort of like our Washington cutting down the apple tree, skipping a coin across the Potomac, and other nonsense.
Tomorrow in Part 2, we’ll encounter documented history of a Japanese sword and a U.S. tale of two others, as satirized by Stan Freberg. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2020