The Northern Way

Grimm's Teutonic Mythology

Chapter 25

Chapter 25: Time and World

(Page 1)

In the last chapter we examined myths having reference to the alternation of seasons, to phenomena of the year. Our language affords several instances of transition from the notion of time to that of space.

Ulphilas translates cronoj, kairoj, wra alternately by mêl, hveila, þeihs, yet so that 'mêl' usually stands for cronoj or kairoj, rarely for wra and 'hveila' mostly for wra, seldomer for cronoj and kairoj; the former expressing rather the longer section of time, and the latter the shorter. Mêl, OHG. mâl, AS. mœl, ON. mâl, lit. mark or measure, is applied to measured speech or writing as well as to a portion of time; on the contrary, hveila, OHG. huîla, MHG. wîle, AS. hwîl (p. 702), denotes rest, and is purely a notion of time, whereas mêl was transferred from space to time. We come across þeihs (neut. gen. þeihsis) only twice, viz. Rom. 13, 11: 'vitandans þata þeihs, þatei mêl ist,' eidotej ton kairon, oti wra, and 1 Thess. 5, 1: 'bi þô þeihsa jah mêla,' peri twn cronwn kai twn kairwn. Each passage contains both þeihs and mêl, but the choice of the former for cronoj and the latter for kairoj shows that þeihs is even better adapted than mêl for the larger fuller notion, and the most complete arrangement would be: þeihs cronoj, mêl kairoj, hveila wra. I derive þeihs from þeihan (crescere, proficere, succedere), as veihs gen. veihsis (propugnaculum) from veihan (pugnare); so that it expresses profectus, successus, the forward movement of time, and is near of kin to OHG. dîhsmo, dêhsmo (profectus), probably also to dîhsila (temo), our deichsel, AS. þîsl, thill, for which we may assume a Goth. þeihslo, þeihsla, the apparatus by which the wagon is moved on. Schmeller 4, 294 cleverly connects têmo itself with tempus: the celestial wagon-thill (p. 724) marks the movement of nocturnal time (Varro 7, 72-5), and þeihsla becomes a measure like the more general þeihs. Even if the connexion of the two Latin words be as yet doubtful, that of the two Gothic ones can hardly be so. But now, as the Goth. þeihs has no representative in the other Teutonic tongues, and in return the OHG. zît, AS. tîd, ON. tîð seems foreign to Gothic, it is natural, considering the identity of meaning, to suppose that the latter form arose from mixing up þeihan (crescere) with teihan (nuntiare), and therefore that the AS. tîd stands for þîd, and OHG. zît for dît; besides, the OHG. zît is mostly neut., like þeihs, whereas the fem. zît, tîd would have demanded a Goth. þeihaþs. Of course a Goth. þeihs ought to have produced an OHG. dîhs or dîh (as veihs did wîh); but, that derivation here branched in two or three directions is plain from the ON. tîmi, AS. tîme (tempus, hora), which I refer to the OHG. dîhsmo (1) above, and a Goth. þeihsma, with both of which the Lat. tempus (and têmo?) would perfectly agree (see Suppl.).

Like hveila, the OHG. stulla, and stunt, stunta, AS. ON. stund (moment, hour), contain the notion of rest, and are conn. with stilli (quietus), standan (stare), while conversely the Lat. momentum (movi-mentum) is borrowed from motion. (2) We express the briefest interval of time by augenblick, eye-glance; Ulph. renders Luke 4, 5 en stigmh cronou 'in stika mêlis,' in a prick of time, in ictu temporis; 1 Cor. 15, 52 en riph ofqalmou, 'in brahva áugins,' brahv being glance, flash, micatus, AS. twincel, and traceable to braíhvan (micare, lucere), OHG. prëhan, MHG. brëhen; (3) AS. 'on beorhtm-hwîle' from bearhtm ictus oculi, 'on eágan beorhtm,' Beda 2, 13; ON. 'î augabragði,' conf. Sæm. 11b. 14ª. 19b. OHG. 'in slago dero brâwo,' N. ps. 2, 12, in a movement of the eyelid (conf. slegiprâwa palpebra, Graff 3, 316); 'antequam supercilium superius inferiori jungi possit,' Caesar, heisterb. 12, 5. 'minre wîlen (in less time) dan ein oucbrâ zuo der andern muge geslahen,' Grieshaber p. 274. 'als ein oucbrâ mac ûf und zuo gegên,' can open and shut, Berth. 239. 'ê ich die hant umbkêrte, oder zuo geslüege die (or better, diu) brâ,' Er. 5172. 'alsô schier sô (as fast as) ein brâwe den andern slahen mac,' Fundgr. 1, 199 (see Suppl.). (4)

A great length of time is also expressed by several different words: Goth. áivs (m.), OHG. êwa (f.), Gr. aiwn, Lat. aevum shading off into the sense of seculum, O. Fr. aé (p. 678); the OS. eo (m.) means only statutum, lex, as the Goth. mêl was scriptura as well as tempus. Then Goth. alþs (f.), by turns aiwn (Eph. 2, 2. 1 Tim. 1, 17. 2 Tim. 4, 10), and bioj or genea; ON. öld; OHG. with suffix altar (aevum, aetas), though the simple word also survives in the compound wëralt (assimil. worolt), MHG. werlt, our welt, AS. wërold, Engl. world, Fris. wrald, ON. vërald, vëröld, Swed. werld, Dan. verd: constant use accounts for the numerous distortions of the word. (5) Its Gothic form, wanting in Ulph., would have been vaír-alþs or 'vaírê alþs,' virorum (hominum) aetas, aetas (lifetime) passing into the local sense of mundus (world), just as seculum, seècle, has come to mean mundus, monde. We saw on p. 575 that Greek mythology supposes four ages of the world, golden, silver, brazen and iron: a fancy that has travelled far, (6) and was apparently no stranger in Scandinavia itself. Snorri 15 gives the name of gull-aldr to the period when the gods had all their utensils made of gold, which was only cut short by the coming of giantesses out of Iötunheim. Had he merely borrowed this golden age from the classics, he would have taken the trouble to discover the other metals too in Norse legend. (7) But in the Völuspâ (Sæm. 8ª) we see that other ages are spoken of, skegg-öld (see p. 421), skâlm-öld, vind-öld and varg-öld, which are to precede the destruction of the world.

To translate kosmoj, Ulph. takes by turns, and often on immediately after the other, the two words faírhvus and manasêþs; both must have been in common use among the Goths. Manasêþs (8) and for kosmoj, thus fully conciding with the above developed sense of weralt. Faírhvus I take to be near of kin to OHG. fërah, AS. feorh, MHG. vërch, so that it expressed lifetime again, like aevum; it is also connected with OHG. firahî (homines), and would mean first 'coetus hominum viventium,' then the space in which they live. It has nothing to do with faírguni, earth, mountain (see Suppl.).

As kosmoj properly means the ordered, symmetrical (world), mundus the clean, the well-trimmed, bright, and as the Frisian laws 126, 26 speak of 'thi skêne wrald'; so the Slavic sviet, svèt, swiat is, first of all, light and brightness, then world, the open, public, (9) all that the sun illumines, whatsoever is 'under the sun.' (10) So the Wallach. lume, the Hung. világ, signify both light and world. The Lith. swietas, O. Pruss. switai, world, is borrowed from Slavic. Like mundus, the Slav. sviet passes into the time-sense of seculum, vièk (Dobrowsky's Inst. 149). The older Slavs called the world mir and ves'mir, Dobr. 24. 149; mir is also the word for peace, quietness, and seems akin to mira or mèra, measure (order ?). The Finnic for world is maa' ilma, the Esth. ma ilm (from ilma, the expanse of air, and maa, earth), the Lapp. ilbme.

The ON. heimr is mundus, domus, and akin to himiun, himil (p. 698), as mundus also is applied both to world and sky; heimskrîngla, orbis terrarum. Ulphilas renders oikoumenh, Luke 2, 1. 4, 5. Rom. 10, 18, by midjungards; to this correspond the AS. middangeard, Cædm. 9, 3. 177, 29. Beow. 150. 1496; the OHG. mittingart, Is. 340. 385-6. 408. Fragm. theot. 17, 6. mittigart, Fragm. th. 17, 3. 20, 20. 25, 9. mittiligart, Gl. Jun. 216. T. 16, 1. mittilgart, T. 155, 1. 178, 2. 179, 1; the OS. middilgard; the ON. miðgarðr, Sæm. 1b. 45b. 77b. 90ª. 114b. 115b. Sn. 9. 10. 13. 45. 61; and even a Swed. folksong 1, 140 has retained medjegård. O. Engl. middilerd, medilearth, like the Gr. mesogaia. Fischart's Garg. 66ª has mittelkreiss, mid-circle. We saw (p. 560) that miðgarðr was, to the Norse way of thinking, created out of Ymir's eyebrows, and appointed to men for their habitation. The whole compound, doubtless very ancient, is of prime importance, because it is native to our oldest memorials, and at the same time strictly Eddic. Nor is that all: in similar harmony, the world is called in ON. Oegisheimr, Sæm. 124b. 125ª, and in MHG. mergarte, Annolied 444. Rol. 106, 14. Kaiserchr. 501. 6633. Karl. 38b; i.e. the sea-girt world, conf. Goth. marisáivs (ocean), and OHG. merikerti (aetherium), (11) Diut. 1, 250. Lastly, OHG. woroltring, O. ii. 2, 13. iii. 26, 37. iv. 7, 11. v. 1, 33. 19, 1. erdring, O. i. 11, 47. MHG. erdrinc, Mar. 198-9, orbis terrarum, Graff 4, 1163.

According to the Edda, a huge serpent, the miðgarðs ormr, lies coiled round the earth's circumference, 'umgiörð allra landa': evidently the ocean. When Alexander in the legend was carried up in the air by griffins, the sea appeared to him to twine like a snake round the earth. But that 'world-serpent,' hateful to all the gods (sû er goð fîa, Sæm. 55ª) was the child of Loki, and brother to the Fenris-ûlfr and Hel; he was called Iörmungandr (Sn. 32), the great, the godlike (conf. p. 351), and like Hel he opens wide his jaws, Sn. 63 (see Suppl.).
Everything shows that the notions of time, age, world, globe, earth, light, air and water ran very much into one another; in 'earth-ring,' ring indicates the globular shape of the earth and its planetary revolution. Manasêþs, faírhvus, and wëralt point to spaces and periods filled by men. (12)

So far as 'world' contains the notion of seculum and life, it is significantly called, even by the OS. poet, a dream: liudio drôm, Hel. 17, 17. 104, 7. 109, 20. manno drôm 23, 7. 103, 4. AS. gumdreám, Beow. 4933; 'la vida es sueño.' Its perishableness and painfulness have suggested yet other designations: 'diz ellende wuoftal (weep-dale),' Tod. gehugde 983, as we say 'this vale of tears, house of sorrow' (see Suppl.).

From its enormous superficial extent is borrowed the phrase 'thius brêde werold,' Hel. 50, 1. 131, 21; MHG. 'diu breite werlt,' Mar. 161; our weite breite welt. Also: 'thiz lant breitâ,' O. ii. 2, 18. daz breite gevilde, Mar. 34. Wigal. 2269. diu breite erde, Roth. 4857. Wh. 60, 29. Geo. 4770, eureia cqwn. This reminds one of the name of Balder's dwelling spoken of on p. 222-3, breiða blik, which seems to include the two notions of breadth and brightness. An expression used by miners is remarkable in this connection: 'blickgold, blicksilber' is said of the clear molten metal gleaming on the fining-hearth, and 'der breite blick' when there is a plentiful yield of it. (13) The beautiful bright world is, as it were, a wide glance.

When 'world' or 'heimr' is merely used in the general sense of dwelling place, we can think of several worlds. The Völuspâ, Sæm. 1ª, supposes nine worlds and nine firmaments (îviðir), conf. Sæm. 36b. 49ª, just as Sn. 222b speaks of nine heavens (see Suppl.). (14)
Of these worlds, not abodes of the living human race, those that demand a close investigation are: the Flame-world, the Dead-world, and Paradise; but all are connected more or less with the upper world, that inhabited by man, and passages exist from the one to the other.

The ON. system supposes a world-tree, askr Yggdrasils, which links heaven, earth and hell together, of all trees the greatest and holiest. It is an ash (askr), whose branches shoot through all the world, and reach beyond heaven. Three roots spread out in three directions, one striking toward the âses into heaven, another to the hrîmþurses, the third to the under world. From under each root gushes a miraculous spring, namely, by the heaven root Urðarbrunnr (p. 407), by the giants' root Mîmisbrunnr, by the hell root Hvergelmir, i.e. the roaring (or the old) cauldron, olla stridens (p. 563). All these wellsprings are holy: at the Urðar-well the âses and norns hold their council, the giants' well is watched by a wise man Mîmir (p. 379), I know not whether a sage old giant himself or a hero, anyhow a semidivine being, or nearly so. Every day the norns draw water from their well, to water the boughs of the ash: so holy is the water, that it imparts to anything that gets into the well the colour of the white of an egg; from the tree there trickles a bee-nourishing dew, named hunângsfall (fall of honey). On its boughs, at its roots, animals sit or dart about: an eagle, a squirrel, four stags, and some snakes; and all have proper names. Those of the stags are elsewhere names of dwarfs, notably Dâinn and Dvalinn. The snake Nîðhöggr (male pungens, caedens) lies below, by Hvergelmir, gnawing at the root. The squirrel Ratatöskr (15) runs up and down, trying to sow discord between the snake and the eagle who is perched aloft. The eagle's name is not given, he is a bird of great knowledge and sagacity; betwixt his eyes sits a hawk Veðrfölnir. (16)

The whole conception bears a primitive stamp, but seems very imperfectly unfolded to us. We get some inkling of a feud between snake and eagle, which is kept alive by Ratatöskr; not a word as to the purpose and functions of hawk or stags. Attempts at explaining Yggdrasil I have nothing to do with; at present, before giving my own opinion, I must point out two coincidences very unlike each other. This tree of the Edda has suggested to others before me the tree of the Cross, which in the Mid. Ages gave birth to many speculations and legends. Well, a song in the 'Wartburg War,' MsH. 3, 181 sets the following riddle:


1. In dîhan, dîhsmo the d remained, in zît it degenerated. Just so the Goth. þvahan first became regularly OHG. duahan, then irregularly tuahan, now zwagen; the OS. thuingan first OHG. duingan, then tuingan, now zwingen. Less anomalous by one degree are OHG. zi for Goth. du (to), and our zwerg for ON. dvergr (dwarf), MHG. twerc. [Back]

2. Numeral adverbs of repetition our language forms with stunt as well as mâl, but also by some words borrowed from space, Gramm. 3, 230. [Back]

3. Beside the inf. brëhen (MS. 1, 47ª. 185ª. Gudr. 1356, 2) we are only sure of the pres. part.: ouge-brehender klê, MS. 1, 3b. brehender schîn 2, 231ª; for the pret. brach, MS. 2, 52ª. Bon. 48. 68, could be referred to brechen, conf. 'break of day,' p. 747, yet the two verbs themselves may be congeners. In OHG. the perf. part. appears in prëhan-ougi (lippus), a compound formed like zoran-ougi, Gramm. 2, 693. The Goth. brahv assures us of the princ. parts in full, braíhva, brahv, brêhvum (like saíhva, sahv, sêhvum). But instead of an adj. bráhts (bright), even the Gothic has only a transposed form baírhts, OHG. peraht, AS. beorht, ON. biartr; yet our Perahta is afterwards also called Prehta, Brehte (pp. 277-9), and other proper names waver between the two forms, as Albrecht Albert, Ruprecht Robert. [Back]

4. Can brâwe, OHG. prâwa, ON. brâ, be derived from brëhen? Perhaps the set phrases in the text reveal the reason for it. In that case the OHG. prâwa must be for prâha, and we might expect a Goth. brêhva? Then the Sanskr. bhrû, Gr. ofruj, would be left without the vivid meaning of the Teut. word. [Back]

5. Its true meaning was so obscured, that other explanations were tried. Maerlant at the beginn. of his Sp. Hist.: 'die de werelt êrst werrelt hiet, hine was al in dole niet. Adam die werelt al verwerrede.' This deriv. from werren (impedire, intricare) was, if I mistake not, also hit upon by MHG. poets, e.g. Renner 2293. Equally wrong are those from wern to last, and werlen to whirl. It is quite possible, that werô alt (virorum aetas) was intended as an antithesis to a risônô alt (gigantum aetas) which preceded it. [Back]

6. In our Mid. Ages the World was personified, like Death, and the various ages were combined in a statue with a head of gold, arms of silver, a breast of brass and iron, and feet of earth, MS. 2, 175b; another representation gave the figure a golden head, silver breast and arms, brazen belly, steel thighs, iron legs, earthen feet, MS. 2, 225ª; a third, a golden head, silver arms, brazen breast, copper belly, steel thighs, earthen feet, Amgb. 27b. This medley, though borrowed from Daniel 2, 31-43, reminds us of ancient idols formed out of various metals, and also of Hrûngnir with the stone heart, and Möckrkâlfi who was made of loam, and had a mare's heart put into him, Sn. 109. Hugo in his Renner 13754 speaks of a steel, diamond, copper, wood, and straw world. [Back]

7. We may connect the golden age with Frôði, whose mill ground gold and peace. The Finns say, in Ukko's time gold was ground in the mills, honey trickled from the oaks, and milk flowed in the rivers (conf. p. 697), Ganander 98. [Back]

8. Always with single n, as in mana-maúrþrja, mana-riggvs, manags (many), manáuli, and as in OHG. mana-houpit, mana-luomi, manac, conf. MHG. sunewende, p. 617 n. The reason of this peculiarity grammar must determine. [Back]

9. To bring to light, impart to the world, is in Serv. 'na svièt izdáti.' [Back]

10. The Lett. word pasaule seems to have been modelled on this 'sub sole' in Eccles. 1, 3. 2, 22. So 'unter disem wolken,' Rol. 9, 31. [Back]

11. The Finnic ilma? Festus says mundus meant coelum as well as terra, marc, aër. [Back]

12. As we often use 'world' and 'earth' indifferently, so did the MHG. poets. The beginning of time is expressed at option either thus: 'von anegenges zît, daz sich diu werlt erhuop (up-hove), and muoter ir kint getruoc (bore),' Rol. 285, 12. 'sît (since) diu werlt êrste wart,' Ulr. Trist. 3699; or thus: 'sît disiu erde geleget wart,' Rol. 187, 7. 'sît diu erde alrêrst begunde bern (to bear),' Karl 70b. [Back]

13. In Matthesius's Sermons 84ª: 'Now this Cyrus hath a silver kingdom, wherein the word of God, as silver refined in the fire, is preached zu breitem plick.' 91b: 'He hath sent his apostles into all the world, that they may preach the gospel zu breitem plick, as ye mining folk say.' 101ª: 'Elsewhere lead appeareth in blocks, as at Goslar, where the Ramelsberg is zu breitem plick almost all lead.' [Back]

14. Nine choirs of angels, Fundgr. 1, 101. Pass. 339. 341. 'niu fylkîngar engla,' Fornald sög. 3, 663; conf. the nine punishments of hell, Wackernagel's Basel MSS. 24b [Buddhist books describe 18 hells, some hot, some cold]. [Back]

15. The word contains rata (elabi, permeare), Goth. vratôn, and perh. taska, pl. töskur, pera: peram permeans? Wolfram in Parz. 651, 13 has 'wenken als ein eichorn,' dodging like a squirrel. The squirrel is still an essential feature in the popular notion of a forest, conf. RA. 497 and the catching of squirrels at Easter (supra p. 616), perhaps for old heathen uses. [Back]

16. The eagle's friend, for haukr î horni (hawk in the corner) means a hidden counsellor. [Back]

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