A literal translation of the destiny related stanzas: 17-20 and 31
How these stanzas define the ancient Scadinavian Örlög is (tentatively) explained HERE
The völva’s account stops at stanza 9 and is followed by a string of 9 stanzas giving the list of dwarf names. Thus, this account begins again at s 17: Everything happened as described in s. 1-8, until…
Unz ţrír kvámu 1. Until three came
ór ţví liđi 2. out of their people
öflgir ok ástkir 3. strong-always and loving-always
ćsir at húsi, 4. ćsir to the house (of mankind),
fundu á landi 5. they found on the ground
lítt megandi 6. little having might
Ask ok Emblu 7. Ask(r) and Embla
örlöglausa 8. örlög-less.
Comment on the vocabulary
v. 2. liđ means a host/people. The ‘three’, in the first line left their ‘people’, i.e. the Giants.
v. 3.afl-gir is an adjective derivation of afl-gi = force-always. The same for ást = a lover.
v. 5. The word land describes the ground as opposite to the sea, “where the sea stops,” wherefrom comes the traditional image of the beach where Ask and Embla were found.
v. 7. The names of the first two human persons are here in the accusative (direct object complement of verb ‘found’). We can read the name of the man as Ask or Askr which are identical in the accusative. Askr means ash-tree but the experts vainly sought a name of tree (or anything else), which could be linked to the name Embla. Some translators claim to have found a solution, which reflects nothing but their personal beliefs. A traditional example is that of a shoot of vine, which is supposed to find its support on the solid ash, image of the fragile woman being carried by her strong man. All this is ridiculous also from the point of view of the name ‘Embla’.
Comment on the meaning of the stanza
Honesty however leads me to point out that line of 17 speaks of an ‘askr’ which is a man and that 19 begins by saying that Yggdrasill is also an ‘askr’, which gives to it/him a kind of status of a pillar. In fact, if we closely examine the structure of the Icelandic married couple, it seems that indeed the man is an (often disputed) pillar in the outer world whereas the woman is the (uncontested) pillar of an inner world represented by the family dwelling.
This stanza gives us also three invaluable indications on what defines a ‘true’ human being.
Firstly, Ask and Embla are found together and we will see that, moreover, all the features given to them by the gods in stanza 18 are given to both together, without reference to their genre. This unrelentingly separates us from all the cultures where the gods allot qualities to the male, and afterwards to the female, exemplified in note 1 HERE. This stanza thus describes, without reference to sex, what Ask and Embla both miss to be true human beings.
Secondly, they are both ‘lítt megandi’ i.e. ‘having little might’, unable of action. Thus, a fundamental quality of human is to be able to act on the world.
Thirdly, they are both ‘örlöglauss’, without destiny. Thus, the second fundamental character defining a human being is to have a destiny. In Anglo-Saxon literature, the wyrd, fate or destiny, is presented as an unbearable constraint imposed on us, whereas here, constraint or not, it is one of the two paramount characters of human beings. To rebel against our destiny is to some extent to leave our human status. However, the first human capacity, the one of acting, moderates the fate’s inexorability. Our human destiny is to be (recursively!) wedged between an inexorable outer destiny and our capacity to act and we have to manage it.
Önd ţau né átto, 1. Breath they did not own,
óđ ţau né höfđo, 2. intelligence they did not have
lá né lćti 3. ‘the sea’ [internal waters] does not flow
né lito góđa; 4. nor (shows) a hue good (beautiful);
önd gaf Óđinn, 5. breath gave Óđinn
óđ gaf Hśnir, 6. intelligence gave Hśnir
lá gaf Lóđurr 7. ‘sea’ gave Lóđurr
oc lito góđa. 8. and beautiful hue.
This stanza does not explicitly speak of örlög but it shapes the general structure of these stanzas.
Comment on the vocabulary
The verbs eiga and hafa, to own and to have, are here in their preterit subjunctive case.
The verb láta, like English ‘to let’, has several meanings. I use one meaning in line 3. (“to let run/flow”) and I consider that another meaning is implied in line 4. (“to let appear/show”). It is a subjunctive present: the preterit of the two first lines is not kept.
Lá is the sea water near the seashore. I suppose that this word is used to evoke the internal liquids that any living being carries inside, as opposed to the land (see s. 17) on which the putative human beings are lying.
Comment on the meaning of the stanza
This comment has been developed in "Örlög", where we meet a triple of gods, Óđinn, Hśnir, Lóđurr who give to human beings their fundamental qualities by which they will be able to acquire a destiny and a capacity to act.
The present comment attempts to provide some explanations on the name of these gods and their bond with another triple of gods, called Óđinn, Vili and Vé. The latter appear from the very start of the construction of the universe in two principal sources. One is Snorri Sturluson who carefully describes the way in which these three gods transformed the original giant, Ymir, so that the various parts of his ‘body’ are used to create the world in which we live. We also know their names by Lokasenna where Loki accuses Frigg to have taken as husbands Vili and Vé during some Óđinn’s absence.
Insofar as each triple starts with Óđinn and that they are ordered, it is tempting to seek bonds between Vili and Hśnir, and between Vé and Lóđurr. We will see that this research is not conclusive but that analyzing their names and by itself interesting.
Vili is undoubtedly related to vil, ‘a wish, a desire’. The word even took the pejorative meaning of ‘satisfaction of our own yearnings’. Vili is certainly very close to Óđinn since skaldic poetry created the kenning ‘Vili’s brother’ to indicate Óđinn.
Hśnir comes from an Indo-European root meaning ‘the high one, the inflamed one’ to which also one of Óđinn’s names is attached, Hár (the High one). In Völuspá stanza 63 (this stanza has already been reworked, you may see it HERE), Hśnir is one of the gods surviving Ragnarök and he seems to collect Óđinn magical inheritance. In addition, he seems to be a silent god of whom we know little.
Finally, what brings the closest Vili and Hśnir they are their bonds with Óđinn.
The word vé means sanctuary what gives to Vé a status of a god of the consecrated places. It is associated the verb vígja, to hallow, and, as such it is linked to Thórr’s hallowing hammer. No kenning connects him to Óđinn.
The word ló means ‘light’ and etymology connects the name Lóđurr to the one of ‘distributor of fire’ [Note 4]. The often advanced assumption that Lóđurr is another name of Loki runs up against the fact that the ‘wicked’ Loki cannot have given ‘the sea and beautiful hue’ to humankind. It should however be remembered that, for a long time, Loki is nothing different a god embarrassing to the Ćsir by its often ambiguous role with respect to the giants. Only after Baldr’s murder and his insulting attitude in Lokasenna he becomes the ‘wicked one’, described by Snorri with such an amount of aggressiveness. In addition to being a giant-god, he may have been also an ‘evolving god’.
Finally, which brings the closest Vé and Lóđurr is fact that they hardly have any bond with Óđinn, which does not enlighten us much, I must confess.
[Note 4] Loki is very often associated to fire through a pun on his name and the one a giant called Logi. As a matter of fact log is a flame and loga means ‘to burn with a flame’. Logi is certainly a representative of the flames. A paltry pun: Loki/Logi makes them identical. However, the only precise knowledge we have about Logi is an eating competition between Loki and Logi were opposed and Logi wins because: “What eats faster than Loki? – wild-fire,” as goes a riddle. All this hints at Loki having a power similar to but different of the one of fire.
Ask veit ek standa, An askr know-I stands,
heitir Yggdrasill, it is named Yggdrasill,
hár bađmr, ausinn high tree, sprinkled
hvíta auri; with white mud;
ţađan koma döggvar wherefrom come the dews
ţćrs í dala falla, that in the vale,
stendur ć yfir grćnn it stands up always green above
Urđar brunni. Urđr’s source.
Comment on the vocabulary
Askr, here with the accusative, ask, means an ash-tree. The saying ‘askr Yggdrasill’ appears several times in Norse literature. This is why almost everyone claims that the tree of the world is an ash-tree… with the modern meaning of the word, Fraxinus excelsior. This is a typical anachronism and I have the feeling that the only goal of the ‘ash-tree-fanatics’ is to introduce yet another contradiction in our mythology: Everyone knows that an “always green ash-tree” does not exist. In skaldic poetry one of the classical techniques is the one of using heiti, i.e. replacing the name of an object by another of close meaning. For example, stating ‘ash-tree’ instead of ‘tree’. There even exist lists of heiti which indicate which replacements were used successfully by the old poets. For example the heiti for a tree (“viđar heiti”) contain the word askr. It means that a traditional way to speak uses the word ‘ash’ to speak of a ‘tree’. In this list of heiti, we fin also the words sverđa, skipa, hesta (sword, boat, horse) which could express the word tree, according to the context. (Source: Jónsson, Skjaldedigtning B1, downloadable at http://www.septentrionalia.net/etexts/skjald_b1.pdf ) . Here, the word bađmr of the third line us provides a nonambiguous context.
Yggdrasill breaks up into yggr = fear and drasill (or drösull) = horse (exclusively in poetry).
- On yggr. The word yggr does not appear in Cleasby-Vigfusson that gives onlyt ýgr = wild. It is found in deVries who associates it to uggr = fear. It is also given by Lexicon Poeticum which identifies it with ýgr. The last two dictionaries announce that Yggr is one of the traditional names of Óđinn, which does also C-V but not at the word yggr.
- On drasill. The three dictionaries we use here give the words drasill and drösull with this spelling. The spelling ‘Yggdrasil’ is how translators write it, reduced to its root and avoiding to write the letter marking the nominative, here the second ‘l’.
Bađmr means tree. In the manuscript, it is written batmr.
Ausinn: The verb ausa = to sprinkle, here in the past participle, ausinn.
Döggvar = old nominative and plural genitive of dögg, dew
Comment on the meaning of the stanza
Lines 3-6 describe a way of explaining why the dew can settle on grasses even from an uncloudy sky.
By its roots, Yggdrasill is the support of all the Chtonian forces, which include Niđhöggr. I call it the ‘bottom snake’ because I do not stress the ‘i’ (níđ, slandering, and niđr, the son or ‘at the bottom’, have very different meanings).
By its trunk, its higher roots and its lower branches, it is the support of the nine inhabited worlds.
By its high branches and its leaves, it is the carrier of all heavenly forces. The moisture of the air, with or without clouds, contains some amount of moisture that settles in dew. The allegory contained in lines 3-6 is thus understood without contempt. It nevertheless could also bear a more mystical meaning, namely that the trees pour down an essence life that flows on our world.
Ţađan koma meyjar
ţrjár ór ţeim sć/sal,
er und ţolli stendr;
Urđ hétu eina,
- skáru á skíđi, -
(örlög seggja, line 12)
Skuld ina ţriđju.
Ţćr lög lögđu,
ţćr líf kuru
örlög seggja [or segja?]
1.From there come maids
3. three out of their sea/hall
4. which below a pine stands;
5. Urđr is called one,
6. the other Verđandi,
7.- they scraped on a wooden tablet -
(12) (“the örlög of humankind” as in 12 with seggja=humankind’s)
8. Skuld the third one.
9. They fixed the laws
10. lives they chose
11. of the children of humanity,
12. örlög of_human_ones (or örlög they said).
The Norns’s names are given in a special order which is certainly significant since the poem specifies that Urđr “is the one” and Skuld “is the third.
The word urđr is one of the Norse words meaning ‘fate’, as örlög and sköp among others. It is linked to the verb verđa, the plural preterit of which is urđu, thus meaning “they became.” As for “spinning of the wyrd” we should be weary of possible Greek influences through the Parcae’s roles. This kind of misunderstanding should be deemed unavoidable since all translators are cultivated persons whose culture has been influenced by the Greek and Latin civilizations – as I am, though a feeble instance. Because of the meaning of urđu, we can suppose that Urđr is somewhat linked to something that happened in the past. Since the Norns do not deal only with individual destinies, we must understand that this ‘past’ actually is the sum of what happened to humankind, including our genetic inheritance, and even more generally the result of the whole evolution of our universe.
Verđandi is also linked to verb verđa, now in its present participle tense, thus meaning ‘becoming’. Here, there really no link with the Parcae since becoming is an action that takes some time and I feel cheated by people who claim she is the Norn of present time. Present time is a nice grammatical category but its semantics are almost empty since it has, so to say, a foot in our past and the other foot in our future. Verđandi is the Norn of what is presently under transformation and I see her as the Norn of evolution and action.
The word skuld means a debt, i.e., a commitment that cannot be avoided. When the saga or poetry characters complain of the unavoidable fate decided by the Norns, they essentially refer to Skuld. This name is also associated to a verb, skulu (shall and they shall). Its preterit is skyldi. It thus seems that Skuld is a sort of mix of a present and a past sense. It very clearly does not refer to any period of time, which confirms my doubts that the Greek categorizations would apply at all to the Norns.
As announced the ordering of the three Norns in s. 20 should significant and as already stated, I am very weary of an order based on time, namely past, present and future. Instead, I want to propose an ordering such that each Norn plays a specific role, while each can be active in all three segments of time, but based on logical relationships instead. The above analysis of name Urđr suggests someone who, as a conscientious doctor provides a complete check-up, or as an auditor provides an audit on the states of affairs. We could thus qualify her as being a controlling authority, who builds up a statement of accounts describing how humankind, and also individuals, have been, and are expected to manage their existence. The role of Verđandi is easier to grasp, she is the active authority who decides on the way the all actors of our universe have behaved and will behave in view of the account provided by Urđr. For Skuld also, her name tells of her role: she is who evaluates the debts, and, with Verđandi’s help sees that the debts are repaid. We could thus call her a repaying authority (more dignified than a simple collector).
I think I do not need to recall again that these three activities cooperate among them along the line of time. The order met in s. 20 can be understood as measure of the amount of direct constraint their decisions wield on people, even though all three are not easy to stand. Controlling asks for no more action than being aware of what has been happening. Acting with efficiency implies a kind of common agreement between the leading authority and the many actors who are involved. When mistakes have been done, the repaying authority is in charge of forcing on the actors what and how they should (skuld) repay, they like it or not.
This analysis should and will be reflected our view of örlög, ‘produced’ by the Norns, in a text to come relative to örlög in general.
Temporary end of Norn's names
Commentary on the vocabulary and the stanza structure
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. We should keep in mind these two meanings.
A ţollr is a pine-tree. As already pointed out, 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. A detailed explanation is provided below.
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 another 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/settle.
The verb kjósa does kuru in its preterit plural; it means ‘to choose’.
Lastly, the last line always gave serious trouble to the translators.
This ‘seggja’ can 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 chosen here, as seggja, which makes of it the genitive plural of seggr, a messenger (who 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 themselves hesitated: There are two manuscripts (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 available 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 its örlög to humankind.
Jackson’s argumentation is based on an analysis of the structure of the lists met in both writings, Anglo-Saxon and Norse. Before presenting (in a simplified form!) her argumentation, let us notice that modern writings also show list structures and I just gave you one 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 adding a separating line of ‘*’ 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 think her to be one of her kind, than seeking the list markers of a beginning or an ending 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 as being a 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 structural characters similar to the ones of as in other lists, particularly those of lists describing two joined topics, here a list of Norns names and a list of Norns’ actions. In particular, line 7, seemingly oddly inserted in the list of Norns names is an end_of_list marker used elsewhere in much longer lists. The use of ‘at segja’ in line 12 does not respect this structure and imposes upon us to feel line 7 as not fully complete.
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.
Ek sá Baldri, I looked at Baldr
blóđgum tívur, blood-covered divine being,
Óđins barni, Óđinn’s son,
örlög fólgin; (I saw) örlög hidden;
stóđ of vaxinn was standing (fully) grown
völlum hćri in the fields taller
mjór ok mjög fagr slender and very beautiful
Comment on the vocabulary
The verb sjá, to see, gives sá in its preterit first person. The name of Baldr god is in the dative case so that we must understand the verb sá á (to ‘see on’ = to look at). This meaning will which expands to the two following lines. On the other hand, örlög in line 4 is in the accusative case, one must thus understand ‘sá’ alone and the völva says that she saw his hidden örlög.
The declension of tívi is a little irregular. This word is used in general in the plural and its dative is ‘normally’ tívum. Dronke tries to find either an explanation to this variation (tivur) and she fails being convincing... I’ll certainly not do better than her!
The verb fela, to hide, confuse/entrust, does folginn in its past participle.
The adjective hár, high, does hćri in the comparative. Mistletoe is ‘higher’ that the other trees or plants.
Comment on the meaning of the stanza
After being run through by Höđr’s arrow, Baldr’s corpse has certainly been covered with blood. If we have to see an allusion here, we can reasonably think of no one else than Óđinn who was wounded by a spear while hanging at the world tree had also to be blood-covered, as described in Hávamál stanza 138. You will find other comments at this stanza, see HERE . In addition, it seems that the warriors who did not die in combat could nevertheless join Óđinn in Valhöll by being made ` marked with “Óđinn’s sign” by a spear, another bloody process related to Óđinn.
The Baldr’s örlög is hidden. Everyone’s örlög is hidden. It seems however that Frigg and Óđinn were informed of anyone’s örlög, as that is noted several times in Eddic poems. Since this stanza underlines this topic, it must mean that neither Frigg nor Óđinn were able to know their son’s one. We already spoke of the gods’ panic where they were aware of Baldr’s imminent death. Note 3 of the text on "Örlög", even says that Óđinn believed that the Haminjur - certainly those of the gods’ clan - had left as long as such a disaster could occur. Baldr is the first to die within the gods’ family and we can easily imagine that his death announces that others of the Ćsir could die as well. Baldr’s death can thus be looked upon as the first signal of Ragnarök’s coming.
The last four lines further increase the feeling of ‘end of a world’ for the Ćsir. One of the three murderers of their son, mistletoe, is proudly standing upon the fields, as if pointing out their ultimate mortality, even if a long-term one. It may seem that the universal chaos forces have been defeated by the Ćsir, but they strikingly, though poetically, force their remembrance upon the Ćsir through a vigorous mistletoe branch.