THE SYMBOLISM OF
E R I C



The plot of the drama is quite straightforward: Eric, brave aspirant to the throne of Norway, after five years of fighting manages to proclaim himself king. But he does not aim for personal power: his goal is to unify his country, to make it cohesive, so that unity can be lasting and survive after him. For this, in addition to the political and diplomatic acumen (which comes from the god Odin) and the warrior force (infused by the god Thor), he requires a third power that, soon, he recognizes in the power of love (represented by the goddess Freya). Only in this way, harmonizing these three divine powers, he can tame the revolt of the Sigualdson dynasty, headed by the crown prince Swegn, assisted by his wife Hertha and his sister Aslaug, whom Eric falls in love with and will make his queen, realizing his own mission.

This sublime drama conceals a very rich symbolic apparatus.

On closer inspection, three distinct (and perfectly interconnected) levels of interpretation can be found.

The first is the "romantic" one: a marvellous love story between a passionate woman and a man with a strong temper; the development of this love affair unfolds on perfectly plausible character, thanks to the historical-geographical context in which it was inserted.

The second level is the "political-philosophical" one: the reconciliation between wisdom, strength and love reveals itself as having a need for improvement, both in the social sphere (political, in this case) and in the subjective sphere (in view of an ideal fulfillment of human personality). Again, the direct reference to the three main Norse deities — Odin, Thor, and Freya — makes the drama particularly successful and fitting.

The third level — the most hidden and, in some ways, the most important — is precisely what we can define as “symbolic".

Sri Aurobindo's poetry is too refined to expire in the didactic genre, but if one reads the affective story of Eric and Aslaug with the right introspection, one will soon discover that it is the poetic-theatrical transposition of the intercurrent relationship between the Divine and the human soul. All the details are present to make it clear, moreover with a transport, a realism, a brightness so vivid and concrete, to be once again admired and dazzled by the incomparable poetic genius of Sri Aurobindo.

Initially, all the main characters — Eric, Aslaug, Hertha, Swegn — appeared to be driven by purely selfish personal ambitions. However, as the narrative unfolds (and, in parallel, the development of the psychological texture of the characters themselves) it becomes increasingly clear that each of them, in reality, is a representative symbol — or, for at least, the instrument of greater power than the small individual personality of the facade.

In this sense, Eric’s characterization appears to be particularly emblematic and suasive. In the beginning, he recalls the anthropomorphic image that the popular religions have built of God: a stern, despotic, violent, intransigent, vindictive, jealous and biased being. And then take us, step by step, to the understanding that is not at all like that and, indeed, we find ourselves in the presence of a being that from the beginning weaves a complex interweaving of events — interior and exterior — to bring everyone (even those who appear initially his adversaries) to the most complete and joyful fulfillment. The final coup de théâtre unveils in a wonderful way the vision and perfection of this meticulous, sublime weaving.

The very same names chosen for the main characters are quite explicit.

In the case of Eric, this person’s name is formed by two compound words: ei and ríkr, which in ancient Norse means "the eternal Sovereign", while Aslaug derives from áss and laug, translatable as "the beloved divine” or, more precisely, the" joint "(laug) of the" Divine "(áss).

In this lyrical drama, in reality, there is not a single detail from which the living symbolism does not transpire, throbbing behind every single line (of exemplary beauty, however: the poetic rhythm is magically compelling and the musicality is simply perfect), aimed at recalling the long relationship of approach and mutual love between the soul and the Divine (with all the initial hesitations on the part of the human soul towards a Divine whose modus operandi does not understand, attracted and at the same time dismayed from such a love affair on the part of the One who is indisposed to claim nothing less than a complete, entrancing, perfect union, that is to say, that total blissful fusion which is already the essential reality underlying each individual soul) and that there is nothing put there by chance, or to satisfy purely exhortative needs: everything is planned with a millimetre precision to represent the eternal adventure of the soul.

Merging oneself in the drama provided with this interpretative key, one finds such a quantity of correspondences with one's own interior path, to be stunned by such adherence to what we can rightly call the concrete facts of the soul!

All the main characters (not just Eric and Aslaug) have clear symbolic connotations.

Hertha, in particular, represents material nature. Exactly as for the other two characters, the symbolic meaning is explicit from its name, directly connected to the Norse god of the sea Njördr (the sea, for the Vikings, was the greatest dispenser of prosperity — and the corresponding god was in fact patron of the fishermen and of the sailors); Tacitus, who was the first Roman writer to cite this god, rendered it in Latin as Nerthus, but an erroneous reading of the N made Herthus, from which it derived Hertha, which became the name of the Germanic goddess of fertility, Mother Earth or Mother Nature. Hertha constitutes that particular aspect of Mother Nature that works in a hidden way to help the human soul to unite with the Divine. Even when you do not understand her intentions (to the point of appearing accidental), or even when it seems to plot for our defeat, in fact she paves for us the most complete way (which is rarely the easiest or the most direct!) finally arriving at a detailed and rich union beyond imagination.

Swegn, in ancient Norse (sveinn), means "boy" ... It represents here the typical representative of the current humanity, which is in an adolescent phase, having not yet reached a complete human maturity, or the full awareness of one's being, if not in some single and rare individual (not by chance, the Ṛgveda indicates the human being as "the infant of a year" ... But from the early Vedic to today humanity is a little grown up, hopefully — now it has come in adolescence, precisely, with all the intemperance typical of early youth!). As a whole, humanity is composed mostly of beings centered on what Sri Aurobindo calls "frontal personality", and are therefore interested in trying to affirm their ego in the surrounding world. Nothing to do with moralistic hues that would charge such behaviour to some congenital or imposed wickedness, or some inherent wickedness of man: it is, so to speak, a need of natural expansion and growth, which each brings within self. At some point, however, it becomes necessary to understand (in the practice of life, above all, and not only at the theoretical and mental level) that the ego is not the true self, but its shadow deformed in ignorance, which is why it reveals necessary to transcend it, so as to be accomplished in a real (and regal!) self-knowledge.

To return to our drama, Eric urges Swegn to understand the necessity of such spoliation that, in the reality of things, it reveals an assumption of the true inner dimension of each individual being, with all the practical consequences (also external) that derive from it ... Only in this way can the individual become a real in-dividual, integrated and complete, discovering and expressing his right role in the cosmic game, concretely enjoying that beatific unity which is the secret basis of everything.

Ultimately, Swegn represents what Sri Aurobindo calls the “soul of desire" that, in the human being, veils and deforms the true soul, the pure psüché. Not surprisingly, Aslaug is Swegn's sister, and she will eventually be placed on the throne that her brother had claimed to occupy! However, Swegn will not have an inglorious fate at all: in the economy of nature, once it has overcome its own alienation, it is also destined to rise to its own truth and, as a direct result, to its rightful position in the world.

The divine Eric ultimately comes to create the unity of his kingdom, managing to conquer the heart of his most bitter enemy. The double Vedic ideal foresaw self-conquest (sva-rāja) together with the conquest of the surrounding world (sam-rāja). In the widest possible sense, the Supreme Being finally harmonizes all the apparent opposites present in one's eternal Becoming phenomenal, thanks to the power of love.

Ultimately, Sri Aurobindo seems to tell us, through this work (in full adherence with his whole life experience), that the destiny of the world will prove superior to every human expectation, since the "universal monarch" intends to give up his throne to the soul-of-the-earth, which for a long time feared to be undermined by the hand of a tyrannical Demiurge, from which it felt frightened and attracted at the same time.

It follows that, in a diametrically opposite way to what is attributed to the anthropomorphic God of religions, strictly extra-cosmic, which would "create" the word ex-nihilo, with the absurd intention of making a valley of tears so that its creatures could to expire who knows what sins (see in this regard the biting invective of Bonvesin de la Riva in his lyric entitled “Disputatio de Sathana cum Virgine”, in which the Devil says he is simply one of the many actors of this grandiose universal staging, expressly wanted by that divine Director who, in his paradise, surrounded by cherubim eternally singing his praises, was so bored that he felt the need to create an antagonistic power to fight, in order to find a remedy for such incurable tedium!), the TRUE Divine has drawn the whole universe from his own Being, and it is He himself who gradually brings out his infinite powers of consciousness in the infinite cosmic manifestation. The Absolute is not an abstract entity, other than a "relative" eternally condemned to insecurity and pain: it is itself in the heart of matter — indeed, it is he himself who, with a part of himself, has become involved in the phenomenon! Being and Becoming are the two complementary and parallel aspects — one essential, the other actual — of a single, inseparable Reality.

Last curiosity: it is probably a pure case, but it is at least singular to notice how the first mythological Eiríkr (Eric) of which is handed down in the Nordic tradition, is made to descend from a certain "king Agni"! We must not forget that the Norse tradition is one of the many lush branches of the only great Indo-European tree: the trunk is common to all traditions, starting from the Vedic roots, and includes in itself the Indian, Greek, Latin, Celtic, Germanic (including Norse), Ugro-Finnish, Persian, Baltic-Slavic cultures and others. And this is, precisely, another of the recurring themes in the works of Sri Aurobindo: bringing together the great Eurasian family, currently still torn in two pieces — on the one hand, the so-called European pragmatism is exalted (today reached the climax of its hybris, with the blunder of a scientism that is waning the whole world), on the other an attitude has been exacerbated in an exclusive way towards a static transcendence and divorced from life, making the Orientals more and more bent on their navel (which has led to a disastrous fatalism from which now try hard to get out, most of the time simply to sweep the disvalues of the consumer society). This fracture has also had a usefulness and an intrinsic justification (to sectorialize in order to elaborate every single aspect of the existing in the most minute details, and then return to unity enriched by this analytic work), however the now, juxtaposed, to bridge the gap created between Odysseus and Buddha and to recover the true sources of our great Indo-European civilization.


Tommaso Iorco