Stanza 20  

 

20.

Ţađan koma meyjar

margs vitandi

ţrjár ór ţeim sć/sal,

er und ţolli stendr;

Urđ hétu eina,

ađra Verđandi,

- skáru á skíđi, -

(örlög seggja, line 12)

Skuld ina ţriđju.

Ţćr lög lögđu,

ţćr líf kuru

alda börnum,

örlög seggja [ou segja ?]

 

1.From there come maids

2.much knowing

3. three out of their sea/hall

4. which below a pine stands;

5. Urđr [fate, a word associated to the verb to become ] is called one,

6. the other Verđandi [becoming]

7.- they scraped on a wooden tablet, -

(12) (örlog of humankind” resulting from 12, see explanations below.)

8.Skuld [a debt, associated to the verb shall] the third.

9.they fixed the laws

10. they them lives chose

11. of the children of humanity,

12. örlög of_human_ones/said.

 

The words underlined in the ON version are commented below.

 

Dronke chooses to read sćr (an accusative singular) which translates as ‘lake’. She argues in favor of this translation using mythological reasons of the magic power of female water beings. Cleasby-Vigfusson, however, insists on the fact that this word is never used for a lake and always for the sea or the ocean. He provides a long list of compound words that illustrates that sćr always indicates the ocean or the sea. Dronke’s argument still applies for female marine beings. For example, Anglo-Saxon mythology tells that Beowulf’s only really dangerous adversary has been Grendel’s mother who dwells under the sea. Similarly, Scandinavian mythology says that the dead sailors do not join the dwellings of the sea god Ćgir, but those of the sea goddess, Rán.

Note also that salr does sal in its accusative singular and stays as a possible candidate, even if its mythological power is lower. A standing hall, besides, is more obvious than a standing lake or sea.

A ţollr is a pine-tree. Skaldic poetry often replaces the more general, as here ‘tree’ by the more particular, as here pine-tree. Due to the context, this is an obvious allusion to the world tree, Yggdrasill.

In stanza 60, we find again this way of speech where the word used, ţinurr, has the same meaning as ţollr.

 

The verb skára, points at the action of mowing, which is not at all adapted to the context. The experts read skara, which means to scrape/poke and skaru gives ‘they scraped’. The ON grammatical use in of the verb skara is similar to that of the English language, someone ‘skarar an inscription (direct object - called here ‘accusative’) on a support (indirect object - called here ‘dative’). You see that in line 7 the verb is followed with a dative and it carries no accusative, it thus does not specify the meaning of what the Norns skara.

We must also note that line 7 cut the list of the names of Nornes in an almost ‘rude’ way, where from comes the pair of - - added by the editors of the poem.

 

The preposition á followed by a dative means on/upon. Since most translators do not read line 12 just after line 7, they tend also to forget to translate this slightly useless ‘upon’, in their understanding of these lines. They thus render the unambiguous dative skíđi as an accusative: “they scrape wooden tablets.”

 

Skíđ (here in the dative singular) means a piece of wood or a wooden tablet (incidentally in this context, it also means ‘ski’). To scrape or incise or carve a tablet or a twig are typical ways to express the fact of writing runes.

 

The verb leggja does lögđu in its preterit plural; it means place/lay/take care build/build/settle.

 

The verb kjósa does kuru in its preterit plural; it means ‘to choose’.

 

Lastly, the last one line always posed problems with the translators enormously.

This ‘seggjacan be read as the verb segja (to say). With this choice, örlög is an accusative related to this verb. It can also be read, as given in here, as seggja, which makes of it the genitive plural of seggr, a messenger (who is indeed says ‘something’) and, in poetry, a human person. The choice between the two understandings is complicated because we know that the Middle Ages copyists hesitated also: Two manuscripts exist (Codex Regius and Hauksbók) the first of which gives ‘seggja' and the second one ‘at segja’. I think that this dilemma has been definitively solved by Elizabeth Jackson in a downloadable article found at http://userpage.fu-berlin.de/~alvismal/9scaro.pdf . She proposes an elegant solution as follows: “The present article will argue, first, that the verb for line 12 is provided in line 7…)”. This solution consists in keeping seggja and reading line 12 just after line 7:skáru á skíđi/örlög seggja (they scraped on a wooden tablet/the örlög of the humans). Note a significant difference between the two versions. If Norns segja (state) the örlög, any logical person will conclude: “they only state, therefore someone else allots this örlög”. Jackson’s interpretation makes it clear that the Nornes are these who allot humankind its örlög.

 

 

Jackson’s argumentation is based on an analysis of the structure of the lists met in the Anglo-Saxon and Norse literature. Before presenting to you (in more than slightly simplified form!) her argumentation, let us notice that we also have list structures and I just gave you an example of it.

The comments above are a list of eight items each member of which is separated from different by a blank line. I announced the last item list by beginning it with “Lastly, the last line…” and leaving two blank lines before the present paragraph. It, thus, is apart from the list above, which is completely implicit but can be easily guessed due to the ‘markers’ I used.

Mrs. Jackson does not do anything odder, even if I it believe her to be one of kind, than seeking the list markers of end and beginning that provide a specific list structure  according to the topic of the list. I do not know if she refers to Lévi-Strauss’s structuralism but I see in her work seems bright illustration of the hidden structures defining relationships in between the lines of a stanza in Skaldic poetry.

She reckons in the two lists of s. 20 the same structural characters as in other lists, particularly those of the lists describing two joined topics, here a list of Norns names and a list of the Norns’ actions. In particular, line 7, seemingly oddly inserted in the list of Norns names is an end_of_list marker of used elsewhere in lists. The use of ‘at segja in line 12 does not respect this structure.

 

A small practical conclusion

 

When an internet site speaks of Germanic mythology and states or implies that Norns spin the örlög, or the wyrd, we can recognize that it confuses Germanic and Greek mythology.