The Sinhalese people are native to Sri Lanka, speak Sinhala, are majority Theravada Buddhists, and today make up about 75% of the island’s population. They also have a pretty cool origin myth. The Mahavamsa, a Sri Lankan epic from the 400s CE, tells how the Indian prince Vijaya was the grandson of a lion. (No mention of whether Vijaya had a mane or ate really, really raw meat.)
According to the Mahavamsa, Prince Vijaya traveled to the island of Sri Lanka and married Princess Kuveni, a lady of Sri Lanka’s previous inhabitants the Yakkhas. Vijaya eventually overcame the Yakkhas, and with his followers took control of Sri Lanka, becoming the first of the Sinhalese people.
The Mahavamsa says the Sinhala never forgot their origins: Sinhala literally means “of lions.” In the Sinhalese tradition the lion is the mythical ancestor of kings and a symbol of royal authority. Because, you know, the first king was a quarter lion and people tend to remember that.
APOLLO was a major Greek god who was associated with the bow, music, and divination. The epitome of youth and beauty, source of life and healing, patron of the civilized arts, and as bright and powerful as the sun itself, Apollo was, arguably, the most loved of all the Greek gods. He was particularly worshipped at Delphi and Delos, amongst the most famous of all religious sanctuaries in the Greek world.
Son of Zeus and Leto, and the twin brother of Artemis, Apollo was born on the island of Delos (in Hesiod’s Theogony he is clutching a golden sword). His mother, fearful of revenge from Zeus’ wife Hera, had chosen barren Delos as the safest retreat she could find. At his first taste of ambrosia, he was said to have immediately transformed from babe to man. Apollo was then given his bow, made by the master craftsman of Mount Olympus, Hephaestus.
As with the other major divinities, Apollo had many children; perhaps the most famous are Orpheus (who inherited his father’s musical skills and became a virtuoso with the lyre or kithara), Asclepius (to whom he gave his knowledge of healing and medicine) and, according to the 5th-century BCE tragedian Euripides, the hero Ion.
The legendary female warrior of Scathach is pretty cool. First, there’s her name, which means “the shadowy one” in Gaelic. Then there’s her castle, Dun Scaith (Castle of Shadows), reportedly sat on Isle of Skye northwest of Scotland.
Getting to Dun Scaith, and Scathach, was a complicated business. First, one had to know where Scathach lived. Her location was apparently something of a commonly-known secret. Once someone knew her location, one had to travel across the Irish Sea, known for its storms and choppy seas, and travel to the remote, craggy islands of northwest Scotland. Upon arrival, one then had to get past Scathach’s warrior daughter to get an audience with Scathach herself.
Scathach is important in Irish legends for the unique place she holds as a woman warrior who trained other women, as well as men. Her training was notoriously dangerous, teaching things like pole vaulting over castle walls and underwater fighting, but everyone agreed that if you survived Scathach’s training you were a great warrior. Scathach is also famous for having trained Cu Chulainn, who went on to become the central figure in the Ulster Cycle, part of the origin stories for Ireland itself.
Nanabozho is a prominant trickster figure, found in most Algonquin tribes’ belief system. Stories about him vary considerably from tribe to tribe. His parents change, is sometimes given siblings, and stories about his deeds would fill a book. Nicknamed “the Great Hare” although he is rarely shown as a rabbit, Nanabozho is a transformer figure, a creator and provider of food and representative of the various life force(s). Although a bit of a trickster figure, Nanabozho is not truly immoral or even seriously inappropriate. He is viewed as a virtuous hero and friend of humankind who happens to have a mischievous side.
There’s so much contradictory information about Nanabozho so that is where I will stop. If you want to read some of the many tales about Nanabozho, here is a list to get you started.
EDDA is a term used to describe two Icelandic manuscripts that were copied down and compiled in the 13th century CE. Together they are the main sources of Norse mythology and skaldic poetry that relate the religion, cosmogony, and history of Scandinavians and Proto-Germanic tribes. The Prose or Younger Edda dates to circa 1220 CE and was compiled by Snorri Sturluson, an Icelandic poet and historian. The Poetic or Elder Edda was written down circa 1270 CE by an unknown author.
Snorri Sturluson’s work was the first of the two manuscripts to be called Edda, however, scholars are uncertain how this exactly came about. Snorri himself did not name it. The term, ‘Edda’, was later ascribed to Snorri’s work by a different author in a manuscript from the early 14th century CE, the Codex Upsaliensis, which contained a copy of Snorri’s Edda within it. Gudbrand Vigfusson, in The Poetry of the Old Northern Tongue, quotes the Codex Upsaliensis as saying, “This Book is called Edda, which Snorri Sturlason put together according to the order set down here: First, concerning the Æsir and Gylfi.” The first use of the word ‘Edda’, that has thus far been located, was in a poem called the Lay of Righ (Háttatal), which was authored by Snorri.
In this poem, the word ‘Edda’ is used as a title for “great-grandmother.” Multiple theories exist, but one suggests that the term may have become associated with Snorri’s manuscript because, like a great-grandmother, it carries a breadth of ancient knowledge and wisdom. Another theory that is more widely accepted by scholars today proposes that ‘Edda’ is closely associated with the word Oddi, which is the Icelandic town where Snorri grew up.
ANTIQUITAS by Barry Strauss on Apple Podcasts:
CHECK out this fascinating podcast about ancient leaders and legends.