The Northern Way

Grimm's Teutonic Mythology

Chapter 23

Chapter 23: Day and Night

(Page 1)

All the liveliest fancies of antiquity respecting day and night are intertwined with those about the sun, moon and stars: day and night are holy godlike beings, near akin to the gods. The Edda makes Day the child of Night.

Nörvi, a iötunn, had a daughter named Nôtt, black and dingy like the stock she came of (svört oc döck sem hon âtti ætt til); (1) several husbands fell to her share, first Naglfari, then Anar (Onar) (2) a dwarf, by whom she had a daughter Iörð, who afterwards became Oðin's wife and Thôrr's mother. Her last husband was of the fair race of the âses, he was called Dellîngr, and to him she bore a son Dagr, light and beautiful as his paternal ancestry. Then All-father took Night and her son Day, set them in the sky, and gave to each of them a horse and a car, wherewith to journey round the earth in measured time. The steeds were named the rimy-maned and the shiny-maned (p. 655-6).

The name Dellîngr, the assimilated form of Deglîngr, includes that of the son Dagr, and as-lîng if it mean anything means descent, we must either suppose a progenitor Dagr before him, or that the order of succession has been reversed, as it often is in old genealogies.

For the word 'dags, dagr, dæg, tac' I have tried to find a root (Gramm. 2, 44), and must adhere to my rejection of Lat. 'dies' as a cogener, because there is no consonant-change, and the Teutonic word develops a g, and resolves its a into o (uo); yet conf. my Kleinere schriften 3, 117. (3) On the other hand, in 'dies' and all that is like it in other languages, there plainly appeared an interlacing of the notions 'day, sky, god,' p. 193. As Day and Donar are both descended from Night, so Dies and Deus (Zeus) fall under one root; one is even tempted to identify Donar, Thunor with the Etruscan Tina (dies), for the notion day, as we shall see, carries along with it that of din: in that case Tina need not stand for Dina, but would go with Lat. tonus and tonitrus. Deus is our Tiw, Ziu, for the same name sometimes gets attached to different gods; and it is an additional proof how little 'dies' has to do with our 'dæg, tag'; likewise for coelum itself we have none but unrelated words, p. 698-9. From the root div the Ind. and Lat. tongues have obtained a number of words expressing all three notions, gods, day and sky; the Greek only for gods and sky, not for day, the Lith. for god and day, not sky, the Slav. for day alone, neither god nor sky, and lastly our own tongue for one god only, and neither sky nor day. Here also we perceive a special affinity between Sanskrit and Latin, whose wealth the remaining languages divided amongst them in as many different ways. The Greek hmar, hmera I do regard as near of kin to the Teut. himins, himil; there is also Hmera a goddess of day.

The languages compared are equally unanimous in their name for night: Goth. nahts, OHG. naht, AS. niht, ON. nôtt [[night]] (for nâtt), Lat. nox noctis, Gr. nux nuktoj, Lith. naktis, Lett. nakts, O. Sl. noshti, Pol. and Boh. noc (pron. nots), Slovèn. nozh, Serv. notj, Sanskr. nakta chiefly in compounds, the usual word being nis, nisâ (both fem.). Various etymologies have been proposed, but none satisfactory. (4) As day was named the shining, should not the opposite meaning of 'dark' lurk in the word night? Yet it is only night unillumined by the moon that is lightless. There is a very old anomalous verb 'nahan' proper to our language, from whose pret. nahta (5) the noun nahts seems to come, just as from magan mahta, lisan lista come the nouns mahts, lists. Now Goth. ganahan, OHG. kinahan, means sufficere, so that nahts would be the sufficing, pacifying, restful, quiet, at the same time efficient, strong, arkia , which seems to hit the sense exactly. Add to this, that the OHG. duruh-naht is not only pernox, totam noctem durans, but more commonly perfectus, consummatus, 'fullsummed in power,' MHG. durnehte, durnehtec, where there is no thought of night at all. Where did Stieler 1322 find his 'durchnacht, nox illunis'? = the Scand. nið (p. 710), and meaning the height of night (see Suppl.).

Both day and night are exalted beings. Day is called the holy, like the Greek ieron hmar: 'sam mir der heilic tac!' Ls. 2, 311. 'sâ mir daz heilige lieht!' Roth. 11b. 'die lieben tage,' Ms. 1, 165ª. 'der liebe tag,' Simplic. 1, 5. Hence both are addressed with greetings: 'heill Dagr, heilir Dags synir, heil Nôtt ok nipt! ôreiðom augom lîtit ockr þinning, ok gefit sitjondom sigur!' they are asked to look with gracious eyes on men, and give victory, Sæm. 194ª; and the adoration of day occurs as late as in Mart. von Amberg's Beichtspiegel. 'diu edele naht, Ms. 2, 196b. 'diu heilige naht,' Gerh. 3541. 'sam mir diu heilic naht hînt!' so (help) me Holy Night to-night, Helbl. 2, 1384. 8, 606. 'frau Naht, Ms H. 3, 428ª (see Suppl.)

Norse poetry, as we saw, provided both Night and Day with cars, like other gods; but then the sun also has his chariot, while the moon, as far as I know, has none ascribed to her. Night and Day are drawn by one horse each, the Sun has two; consequently day was thought of as a thing independent of the sun, as the moon also has to light up the dark night. Probably the car of Day was supposed to run before that of the Sun, (6) and the Moon to follow Night. The alteration of sexes seems not without significance, the masculine Day being accompanied by the feminine Sun, the fem. Night by the masc. Moon. The Greek myth gives chariots to Helios and Selene, none to the deities of day and night; yet Aeschylus in Persae 386 speaks of day as leukopwloj hmera, the white-horsed. The riddle in Reinmar von Zweter, Ms. 2, 136, lets the chariot of the year be drawn by seven white and seven black steeds (the days and nights of the week). Here also the old heathen notion of riding or driving deities peeps out. Again, a spell quoted in Mone's Anz. 6, 459 begins with 'God greet thee, holy Sunday! I see thee there come riding.' This is no doubt the heathen god Dag riding along on Scinfahso with his shiny mane (ON. Skinfaxi, Sn. 11); but if we took it for the white god Paltar on his foal (p. 222-4), we should not be altogether wrong. We shall have more to say presently on the personification of Day; but that spell is well worthy of consideration (see Suppl.).

Nevertheless our poets express the break of day by the sun's uprising, and more especially the fall of night by his setting; but neither the beginning nor end of night by the moon, whose rising and setting are seldom simultaneous with them. I will now give the oldest set phrases that express these phenomena.

The sun rises, climbs: Goth. sunna ur-rinniþ, Mk. 4, 6. 16, 2. OHG. ar-rinnit; daranâh ir-ran diu sunna, N. ps. 103, 22; MHG. si was ûf er-runnen, Mar. 189. ON. þâ rann dagr upp [[then rose day up]], Ol. helg. cap. 220. Rinnan is properly to run, to flow, and here we see a strict analogy to the O. Rom. idiom, which in like manner uses manare of the rising day: 'diei principium mane, quod tum manat dies ab oriente,' Varro 6, 4 (O. Müller p. 74); 'manar solem dicebant antiqui, cum solis orientis radii splendorem jacere coepissent' (Festus sub v.). Ulphilas never applies ur-reisan (surgere) to the sun. The Span. language attributes to the rising sun a pricking (apuntar): 'yxie el sol, dios, que fermoso apuntaba,' Cid 461; 'quando viniere la manana, que apuntare el sol,' Cid 2190. After rising the sun is awake, 'with the sun awake' means in broad daylight (Weisth. 2, 169. 173. 183), 'when sunshine is up' (2, 250). AS. 'hâdor heofonleoma com blîcan,' Andr. 838 (see Suppl.).

The sun sinks, falls: Goth. sagq sunnô (pron. sank), Lu. 4, 40. gasagq sáuil, Mk. 1, 32. dissigqái (occidat), Eph. 4, 26. OHG. sunnâ pifeal (ruit), pisluac (occidit), (7) Gl. Ker. 254. Diut. 1, 274ª. MHG. sîget: diu sunne sîget hin, Trist. 2402. diu sunne was ze tal gesigen, Wh. 447, 8. nu begund diu sunne sîgen, Aw. 1, 41. ON. both sôlarfall [[sunset]] and sôlsetr [[sunrise and sunset]], Engl. sunset; so OHG. 'denne sunnâ kisaz,' cum sol occumberet, Diut. 1, 492ª, implying that he sits down, and that there is a seat or chair for him to drop into at the end of his journey. is setting is called OHG. sedalkanc, Hym. 18, 1; sedal ira kât (goeth) 14, 2. AS. setelgong, (8) setlrâd, Cædm. 184, 19. oððæt sunne gewât tô sete glîdan 1248. OS. sêg sunne tô sedle, Hel. 86, 12. sunne ward an sedle 89, 10. geng thar âband tuo, sunna ti sedle 105, 6. scrêd wester dag, sunne to sedle 137, 20. sô thuo gisêgid warth sedle nâhor hêdra sunna mid hebantunglon 170, 1. Dan. for vesten gaaer solen til säde, DV. 1, 90, in contrast to 'sôl er î austri (east),' Vilk. saga p. 58-9. The West (occasus) stands opposed to the East (oriens), and as OHG. kibil means pole, and Nordkibel, Suntkibel the north and south poles (N. Bth. 208), a set phrase in our Weisthümer may claim a high antiquity: 'bis (until) die sonne unter den Westergibel geht' (1, 836); 'bis die sonne an den Wg. schint' (2, 195); 'so lange dat die sonne in den Westergevel schint' (2, 159). The first of these three passages has the curious explanation added: 'till 12 o'clock.' (9) Ovid's 'axe sub hesperio' Met. 4, 214 is thus given by Albrecht: in den liehten westernangen. The similar expression in ON. seems to me important, Grâgâs 1, 26: 'fara til lögbergs, at sôl sê â giâhamri enum vestra,' giâhamarr being chasmatis rupes occidentalis. I shall have more to say about that in another connexion; conf. however Landnâma bôk 215: sôl î austri ok vestri. MHG. diu sunne gie ze sedele, Diut. 3, 57. als diu sunne in ir gesedel solde gân, Morolt 38ª; but what place on earth can that be, whose very name is told us in 14b, 'ze Geilât, dâ diu sunne ir gesedel hât' ? the capital of India? (see p. 743 note.) I suppose kadam, MHG. gaden (cubiculum), Mor. 15ª is equivalent to sedal, unless the true reading be 'ze gnâden.' The sun gets way-worn, and longs for rest: dô hete diu müede sunne ir liehten blic hinz ir gelesen, Parz. 32, 24. He goes to his bed, his bedchamber: Dan. 'solen ganger til senge,' DV. 1, 107. 'solen reste, Ernst 1326. diu sunne dô ze reste gie, Ecke (Hag.) 110. nu wolte diu sunne ze reste und ouch ze gemache nider gân, Dietr. 14d; so M. Opitz 2, 286: 'muss doch zu rüste gehen, so oft es abend wird, der schöne himmels-schild.' OE. the sun was gon to rest, Iwan 3612. Our gnade (favour), MHG. genâde, OHG. kinâda, properly means inclining, drooping, repose (p. 710), which accounts for the phrase 'diu sunne gienc ze gnâden' (dat. pl.), Mor. 37ª. Wolfdietr. 1402. Even Agricola no longer understood it quite, for he says in Sprichw. 737: 'it lasted till the sun was about to go to gnaden, i.e. to set, and deny (!) the world his gnade and light by going to rest.' Aventin (ed. 1580 p. 19b) would trace it back to our earliest heathenism and a worship of the sun as queen of heaven: 'never might ye say she set, but always that she went to röst and gnaden, as the silly simple folk doth even yet believe.' The last words alone are worth noticing; the superstition may be of very old standing, that it is more pious, in this as in other cases, to avoid straight-forward speech, and use an old half-intelligible euphemism. On this point Vuk 775 has something worthy of note: you must say 'smirílo se suntse' (the sun is gone to rest, conquievit), and not zadye (is gone) nor syede (sits); if you say zadye, he answers 'zashao pa ne izishao' (gone, not come out); (10) if you say syede, he tells you 'syeo pa ne ustao' (sat down, not risen); but to 'smirí se' the answer is 'smiryó se i ti' (rest thee also thou). (11) And with this I connect the Eddic saw on the peculiar sacredness of the setting sun: 'engi skal gumna î gögn vega sîðskînandi systor Mana,' Sæm. 184b, none shall fight in the face of the late-shining sister of the Moon (see Suppl.).


1. This passage was not taken into account, p. 528; that Night and Helle should be black, stands to reason, but no conclusion can be drawn from that about giants as a body. Notice too the combination 'svört ok döck,' conf. p. 445. Here giant and dwarf genealogies have evidently overlapped. [Back]

2. Conf. Haupt's Zeitschr. 3, 144. [Back]

3. [Sanskr. dah urere, ardere (Bopp's Gl. 165) does seem the root both of dies and Goth. dags, which has exceptionally kept prim. d unchanged. MHG. tac still retained the sense of heat: 'für der heizen sunnen tac,' MS. 2, 84ª.----Suppl.] [Back]

4. [Bopp 198b and Pott 1, 160 explain nisâ as 'lying down' from sî to lie; and naktam as 'while lying.' Benfey assumes two roots, nakta 'not-waking,' 2, 369 and nis conn. with Lat. niger 2, 57.---Suppl.] [Back]

5. The plurals of Goth. ganah, binah are lost to us; I first assumed ganahum, binahum, but afterwards ganaúhum, because benaúht = exesti in 1 Cor. 10, 23, and ganaúha autarkeia occurs several times. The u (aú before an h) is the same as in skal skulum, man munum, OHG. mac mugum, in spite of which the noun is maht. But the Goth. mag magum proves the superior claim of a, so that nahts (nox) would presuppose an older nah nahum, nahta, even though Ulphilas had written nah naúhum, naúhta. [Back]

6. i.e. day or morning is there before the sun, who backs them up, so to speak: unz daz diu sunne ir liehtez schînen bôt dem morgen über berge, Nib. 1564, 2. [Back]

7. Intrans., as we still say niederschlagen, zu boden schlagen. [Back]

8. ON. and AS. distinguish between two periods of the evening, an earlier aptan œfen = vespera, and a later qveld, cwild = conticinium: 'at qveldi,' Sæm. 20ª. 73b, means at full evening, when night has fallen and its stillness has set in. I derive cwild, qveld from cwellan, qvelja to quell or kill, as in many passages it means liter. interitus, occisio, nex; so we may explain it by the falling or felling of the day (cadere, whence caedere), or still better by the deathlike hush of night; conf. Engl. 'dead of night, deadtime of n.', the conticinium, AS. cwildtîd. If 'chuiltiwerch' in a doc. of 817 means cwildweorc, work in the late evening, which is not to be put upon maidservants, then OHG. too had a chuilt corresp. to cwild and qveld, qvöld. In Cædm. 188, 11 I propose to read: 'cwildrôfu eodou on lâðra lâst,' i.e. (belluae) vesperi famosae ibant in vestigia malorum. [Back]

9. In fixing boundary-lines Westergibel is even used topographically, Weisth. 1, 464-5. 485. 498. 550-6. [Back]

10. Kopitar tells me, 'zashao etc.' is rather an imprecation: mayest thou go in (perhaps, lose thy way) and never get out! So 'syeo etc.', mayst thou sit down and never get up! [Back]

11. Mod. Greek songs say, o hlioj ebasileue, ebasileye (Fauriel 1, 56. 2, 300. 432), i.e. has reigned, reigns no more in the sky, is set; and the same of the setting moon (2, 176). [Back]

Index  |  Previous page  |  Next page