The Northern Way

Grimm's Teutonic Mythology

Chapter 11

Chapter 11: Paltar (Balder)

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The myth of Balder, one of the most ingenious and beautiful in the Edda, has happily for us been also handed down in a later form with variations: and there is no better example of fluctuations in a god-myth. The Edda sets forth, how the pure blameless deity is struck with Mistiltein by the blind Höðr, and must go down to the nether world, bewailed by all; nothing can fetch him back, and Nanna the true wife follows him in death. In Saxo, all is pitched in a lower key: Balder and Hother are rival suitors, both wooing Nanna, and Hother, the favoured one manages to procure a magic sword, by which alone his enemy is vulnerable; when the fortune of war has wavered long between them, Hother is at last victorious and slays the demigod, to whom Hel, glad at the near prospect of possessing him, shews herself beforehand. But here the grand funeral pile is prepared for Gelder, a companion of Balder, of whom the account in the Edda knows nothing whatever. The worship of the god is attested chiefly by the Friðþiofssaga, v. Fornald. sög. 2, 63 seq. (see Suppl.).

Baldr, gen. Baldrs, reappears in the OHG. proper name Paltar (in Meichelbeck no. 450. 460. 611); (1) and in the AS. bealdor, baldor, signifying a lord, prince, king, and seemingly used only with a gen. pl. before it: gumena baldor, Cædm. 163, 4. wigena baldor, Jud. 132, 47. sinca bealdor, Beow. 4852. winia bealdor 5130. It is remarkable that in the Cod. exon 276, 18 mæða bealdor (virginum princeps) is said even of a maiden. I know of only a few examples in the ON.: baldur î brynju, Sæm. 272b, and herbaldr 218b are used for a hero in general; atgeirs baldr (lanceae vir), Fornm. sög. 5, 307. This conversion from a proper name to a noun appellative exactly reminds us of fráuja, frô, freá, and the ON. týr. As bealdor is already extinct in AS. prose, our proper name Paltar seems likewise to have died out early; heathens songs in OHG may have known a paltar = princeps. Such Gothic forms as Baldrs, gen. Baldris, and baldrs (princeps), may fairly be assumed. (2)

This Baldrs would in strictness appear to have no connexion with the Goth. balþs (bold, audax), nor Paltar with the OHG. pald, nor Baldr with the ON. ballr [[dangerous, dire]]. As a rule, the Gothic ld is represented by ON. ld and OHG. lt: the Gothic lþ by ON. ll and OHG. ld. (3) But the OS. and AS. have ld in both cases, and even in Gothic, ON. and OHG. a root will sometimes appear in both forms in the same language; (4) so that a close connexion between balþs and Baldrs, (5) pald and Paltar, is possible after all. On mythological grounds it is even probable: Balder's wife Nanna is also the bold one, from nenna to dare; in Gothic she would have been Nanþô from nanþjan, in OHG. Nandâ from gi-nendan. The Baldr of the Edda may not distinguish himself by bold deeds, but in Saxo he fights most valiantly; and neither of these narratives pretends to give a complete account of his life. Perhaps the Gothic Balthae (Jornandes 5, 29) traced their origin to a divine Balþ or Baldrs (see Suppl.).

Yet even this meaning of the 'bold' god or hero might be a later one: the Lith. baltas and Lett. balts signify the white, the good; and by the doctrine of consonant-change, baltas exactly answers to the Goth. balþs and OHG. pald. Add to this, that the AS. genealogies call Wôden's son not Bealdor, Baldor, but Bældæg, Beldeg, which would lead us to expect an OHG. Paltac, a form that I confess I have nowhere read. But both dialects have plenty of other proper names compounded with dæg and tac: OHG. Adaltac, Alptac, Ingatac, Kêrtac, Helmtac, Hruodtac, Regintac, Sigitac; OS. Alacdag, Alfdag (Albdag, Pertz 1, 286), Hildidag, Liuddag, Osdag, Wulfdag; AS. Wegdæg, Swefdæg; even the On. has the name Svipdagr. Now, either Bældæg simply stands for Bealdor, and is synonymous with it (as e.g., Regintac with Reginari Sigitac with Sigar, Sigheri) (6); or else we must recognise in the word dæg, dag, tac itself a personification, such as we found another root undergoing (p. 194-5) in the words div, divan, dina, dies; and both alike would express a shining one, a white one, a god. Prefixing to this the Slavic bièl, bèl, we have no need to take Bældæg as standing for Bealdor or anything else, Bæl-dæg itself is white-god, light-god, he that shines as sky and light and day, the kindly Bièlbôgh, Bèlbôgh of the Slav system (see Suppl.). It is in perfect accord with this explanation of Bæl-dæg, that the AS. tale of ancestry assigns to him a son Brond, of whom the Edda is silent, brond, brand, ON. brandr [[fire brand or blade of a sword]], signifying jubar, fax, titio. Bældæg therefore, as regards his name, would agree with Berhta, the bright goddess.

We have to consider a few more circumstances bearing on this point. Baldr's beauty is thus described in Sn. 26: 'Hann er svâ fagr âlitum ok biartr svâ at lysir af honum, oc eitt gras er svâ hvitt, at iafnat er til Baldrs brâr, þat er allra grasa hvîtast oc þar eptir mâttu marka hans fegurð bæði â hâri ok lîki'; he is so fair of countenance and bright that he shines of himself, there is a grass so white that it is evened with Baldr's brows, it is of all grasses whitest, and thereby mayest thou mark his fairness both in hair and body. This plant, named Baldrsbrâ after the god's white eyebrow, (7) is either the anthemis cotula, still called Barbro in Sweden, Balsenbro, Ballensbra in Schonen, and Barbrogräs in Denmark, or the matricaria maritima inodora, which retains the original name in Iceland (see Suppl.). (8) In Skåne there is a Baldursberg, in the Öttingen country a Baldern, and in the Vorarlberg, east of Bregenz, Balderschwang; such names of places demand caution, as they may be taken from men, Baldar or Baldheri, I therefore withhold the mention of several more. But the heavenly abode of the god was called Breiðablik, nom. pl. (Sæm. 41b, Sn. 21-7), i.e. broad splendors, which may have reference to the streaks of the milky way; a place near Lethra, not far from Roeskild, is said to have borne the name of Bredeblick. (9) This very expression re-appears in a poem of the twelfth century, though not in reference to a dwelling- place, but to a host of snow-white steeds and heroes advancing over the battlefield: Dô brâhte Dietherîches vane zvencik dûsint lossam in breither blickin uber lant, Roth. 2635. In Wh. 381, 16: 'daz bluot über die blicke flôz, si wurdn almeistic rôtgevar,' did the blood flow over the paths of the field, or over the shining silks?  


1. Graff 1, 432 thinks this name stands for Paltaro, and is a compound of aro (aar, aquila), but this is unsupported by analogy; in the ninth and tenth centuries, weak forms are not yet curtailed, and we always find Epuraro (eberaar, boar-eagle), never Epurar.  (back)

2. Baldrs, Paltar, must be kept distinct from the compound Baldheri (Schannat no. 420. 448), Paldheri (Trad. patav. no 35), AS. Baldhere. This Paldheri is the same as Paldachar (Trad. patav. no. 18).  (back)

3. Goth. -----kalds \ /vilþeis--------hulþs-------gulþ.

ON.-------------kaldr [[cold]] | but | villr [[wild, false or perplexed]]

     -----------hollr [[faithful, loyal]]--------gull [[gold]].

OHG.-----chalt / \ wildi---------hold--------kold.  (back)

4. Conf. Gothic alþan and alþs aldis, also aldrs; Goth. falþan and OHG. faldan, afterwards faltan. As þ degenerates into d, and d into t, any d put for þ, or t for d, marks a later form: the Goth. fadr stands for faþr, as we see by pater [the AS. 'fæder, módor,' after a usurpation of 1000 years, must have given place to the truer 'father, mother' again]. In the ON. valda [[to wield, to rule, to cause]] pret. olli, we must regard the ll as older than the ld, in spite of the Goth. valdan and OHG. waltan [some would prefer to call valda an archaism].  (back)

5. Baldr may be related to balþ, as tîr to tý, and zior to zio.  (back)

6. The cases are hardly analogous: Bæld-æg and Regin-tac.----Trans.  (back)

7. Homer emphasizes the dark brows of Zeus and Hera, ÑfrÝj kuanša. Conf. leukÒfruj and Artemis leukofrÚnh, white-browed Diana.  (back)

8. Germ. names of the camomile: kuhauge, rindsauge, ochsenauge (ox-eye. Dalecarl. hvitet-oja (white eye), in Båhuslän hvita-piga (white girl).  (back)

9. Suhm. crit. hist. 2, 63. (back)

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