Sunday, July 15, 2007

Travels to Gamla Uppsala


"Beowulf is the editorial title of a long heroic poem considered the supreme achievement of Anglo-Saxon poetry because of its length (3182 lines) and sustained high quality. Briefly, it is the poetic presentation of a man Beowulf as the ideal example of Germanic heroic culture, treated for a Christian audience with an explicit symbolism of the conflict of man with the powers of evil. In its dramatic portrayal of moments of high adventure and tragedy in the life of its hero, it employs parallelism, contrast, and a kind of tragic irony through allusive echoes of Germanic heroic lays and historic traditions well-known to its listeners. It has something of the depth and tone of an epic but not the form and construction commonly associated with that ancient classical term. Through Germanic history, legend, and folklore in a style and diction that sustains the best qualities of 'classical Anglo-Saxon verse', it presents a universally appealing tragedy of the human predicament.

The chief human protagonists in Beowulf are Scandinavian peoples: the Danes, prominent in the earlier part of the poem, who endure the marauding attacks of Grendel until both the monster and its avenging mother are overcome by Beowulf; the Geats, of whom Beowulf afterwards becomes king and in whose defence he meets his death in battle against a fire-breathing dragon; and the Swedes, whose conflicts with the Geats are recounted in passages interwoven into the narrative in the later part of the poem."

So, why am I telling you of this poem? In the poem, one of the stories concerns a family and its ceremonial burial grounds which we visited today. The kings of the Ynglingar dynasty, in the middle of the Iron age's sixth century, were buried under three huge mounds about 40 miles northwest of Stockholm. Seeing it listed as one of the three recommended short trips outside of Stockholm in most of the guides, we boarded a speedy train, and were at the university town of Uppsala in 40 minutes.

Making our way out of the train station, and to a bus stop on a few blocks away, we encountered a friendly bus driver who dropped us off a few minutes later at the entrance to Gamla Uppsala (old Uppsala).

The museum contains two floors of exhibits detailing the history of the site, from its early history as a burial ground, to its eight hundred years as a place where kings, popes, and movement leaders have used it to inspire their followers.

Under each of the three main mounds is a large stone vault cairn, measuring about twenty feet on a side,and eight feet high. In the middle of the floor is a small clay urn containg the cremated remains of the person to which the mound was dedicated. What was found within each of the urns suggests that the persons were burned in an intensely hot funeral pyre while dressed and arranged with items which would accompany them to the next life. One of the urns indiccated the individual was resting on a bear skin, and accompanied by two hounds and a goshawk. Some quantities of a horse, pig, and domesticated hens no doubt come from the food supply with which the dead man was provided. The personal equipment included two bone combs, a belt loop, pieces of a board game, and glass beakers. Fragments of gold tinsel and bone figurines were also found. One mound is thought to contain a teenager and a woman, another a man and woman, and the third a single man. Stories abound which attempt to identify these people, but most agree they were members of the royal family of the Swedish empire at the time.

It was a very impressive place, comparing favorably with many other spiritual and archaelogical treasures which link cultural myths and legends with physical evidence and groundings.

On the way back to the train station, we stopped by the University, and visited a museum, saw some Rune stones, and had a great lunch at a restaurant along the river. Pat and I found it so nurturing to have a big hamburger, french fries (with Heinz ketchup), and a Corona. I'm glad to know that Swedish university students share my tastes in good food.

No links today, I've included all the photos we took today.

1 comment:

scopsteward said...

Hi Greg,
This is
leaving a 'calling card' since I just linked to your Gamla Uppsala page.
I'm building a site at:

The Swedish leg of my Beowulf pilgrimage should be posted in about a week.

I liked your report on the site and the way you connected it with Beowulf. I liked this spot very much - I was there on July 3, a clear, warm day with the canola in full bloom. I'll make a second visit in a year or two.

Best wishes,

Mike Walton