The Northern Way

Grimm's Teutonic Mythology

Chapter 30

Chapter 30

(Page 1)


Mære however means not only fama, but fabula; and here some other and more interesting personifications present themselves.

We perceive that the existence, organization and copiousness of poetry, as of language itself, reach back to a remote antiquity, that the resources and beauties of both gradually decay, and have to be recruited in other ways. Ancient poetry was a sacred calling, which bore a direct reference to the gods, and had to do with soothsaying and magic.

Before our modern names dichter (Ducange sub v. dictator) and poet were imorted from abroad, we had no lack of native ones more beautiful. At first the inditing and uttering of poetry seem to have gone together, the sänger (OHG. sangari, MHG. senger and singer) was likewise the poet, there was no question as to who had made the song. Ulphilas calls the adwn liuþareis (OHG. liodari?); and perhaps would distinguish him from the saggvareis (praecentor). Again, aoidoj comes from aeidw, as oida from eidw, the digamma, ascertainable from video and Goth. váit, being dropt; we must therefore assume an older a#eidw and a#oidoj, (1) the singer and the godlike seer (mantij, Lat. vates) are one. With this I connect the Goth. inveita (adoro, p. 29); from the sense of celebrating in festive song, might proceed that of worshipping. In the Slavic tongue slava is gloria, slaviti venerari, slavik [O. Slav. slaviy, Russ. solovéy] the glorifying jubilant bird, as amdwn is fromaeidw, and our nahtigala from galan, canere. If aoidoj means a seeing knowing singer, poet, soothsayer, why may not a Goth. inváits, supposing there was such a word, have expressed the same?

When the creative inventive faculty, as in poihthj , i.e., faber (and our smid equally stood for the framer of the lied or lay, ON. lioða-smiðr), was to be specially marked, this was done by the OHG. scuof, OS. AS. scôp (p. 407-8n.), which reminds at once of the supreme Shaper of all things and of the shaping norn. The ON. has no skôpr (2) that I know of, but instead of it a neuter skâld, which I only grope after dubiously in OHG. (pp. 94. 649), and whose origin remains dark; (3) skâldskapr, AS. scôpcræft = poësis. The Romance poetry of the Mid. Ages derived the name of its craft from the Prov. trobar, It. trovare, Fr. trouver, (4) to find, invent, and trobaire, trovatore, trouvere is inventor, as scuof is creator. A word peculiar to AS. is gid, gidd (cantus, oratio); Beow. 2124. 3446. 4205-12. 4304. 4888, or giedd, Cod. exon. 380. 25 [yeddynges, Chauc.]; giddian (canere, fari), Cædm. 127, 6. Cod. exon. 236, 8. Beow. 1253; gidda (poeta, orator): 'gidda snotor,' El. 419. 'giedda snotor,' Cod. exon. 45, 2. 293, 20. Leo has traced it in the Ir. hat cit, git (carmen dictum). (5)

A far-famed word is the Celtic bard, Ir. bard, pl. baird, Wel. bardh, occuring already in Festus: 'bardus Gallice, cantor qui virorum fortium laudes canit.' Lucan's Phars., 1, 447: 'plurima securi fudistis carmina bardi;' the lark was called bardaea or bardala (Ducange sub v.), songstress like ahdwn, nahtigala and slavik. No old authority gives a hint that such bards were known to the language or customs of Germany (see Suppl.).

Song, music and dance make glad (terpousi) the heart of man, lend grace to the banquet (anaqhmata daitoj, Od. 1, 152. 21, 430), lulling and charming our griefs (brotwn qelkthria, Od. 1, 337). God himself, when ailing, comes down from heaven, to get cheered by the minstrel's lay (p. 331). Hence poetry is called the joyous art, and song joy and bliss. We know the gai saber of the trobadors; and joculator, joglar, jongleur, is derived from jocus, joc, jeu, play and pleasantry. Even the Anglo-Saxons named song and music gleo (glee, gaudium), wynn (our wunne, wonne), or dreám (jubilum): 'scôp hwîlum sang hâdor on Heorote, þa wæs hæleða dreám,' Beow. 987; 'gidd and gleo' are coupled 4025; the song is called 'healgamen' (aulae gaudium), the harp 'gamenwudu, gleobeám,' playing and singing 'gamen-wudu grêtan,' to hail, to wake the frolic wood, Beow. 2123. 4210; 'gleobeám grêtan,' Cod. exon. 42, 9. 'hearpan grêtan' and 'hearpan wynne grêtan' 296, 11. Beow. 4029. Then, beside grêtan, there is used wrecan (ciere, excitare): 'gid wrecan,' to rouse the lay, Beow. 2123. 4304. 4888. 'gid âwrecan' 3445. 4212. 'wordgid wrecan' 6338. 'geomorgidd wrecan,' Andr. 1548. The gleoman, gligman, is a minstrel, gleocræft the gay science of music and song. In Wigalois p. 312 six fiddlers scrape all sorrow out of the heart; if one could always have them by! And Fornald. sög. 1, 315, says: "leika hörpu ok segja sögur svâ at gaman þaetti at." I will quote a remarkable parallel from Finnish poetry. It is true, the lay is called runo, the poet runolainen, and runoan to indite or sing, the song is laulu, the singer laulaya, and laulan I sing; but in the epic lays I find ilo (gaudium) used for the song, and teen iloa (gaudium cieo) for singing (6)(see Suppl.).

A thing of such high importance cannot have originated with man himself, it must be regarded as the gift of heaven. Invention and utterance are put in the heart by the gods, the minstrel is god-inspired:qespij aoidh, Od. 1, 328. 8, 498. aoidh qespesih, Il. 2, 600. qespij aoidoj o ken terphsin aeidwn , Od. 17, 385. Gods of the highest rank are wardens and patrons of the art divine, Zeus and Apollo among the Greeks, with us Wuotan and Bragr, Wäinämöinen with the Finns. Saga was Wuotan's daughter (p. 310), as the Muse was Zeus's; Freyja loved the minnesong: 'henni lîkaði vel mansöngr,' Sn. 29.

On the origin of poetry the Younger Edda (Sn. 82 – 87) gives at full length a myth, which the Elder had alluded to in Hâvamâl, (Sæm. 12. 23-4). Once upon a time the Aesir and Vanir made a covenant of peace, and in token of it each party stept up to a vessel, and let fall into it their spittle, (7) as atonements and treaties were often hallowed by mingling of bloods (RA. 193-4); here the holy spittle is equivalent to blood, and even turns into blood, as the sequel shews. The token of peace (griðamark) was too precious to be wasted, so the gods shaped out of it a man named kvâsir, of all beings the wisest and shrewdest. (8) This Kvâsir travelled far in the world, and taught men wisdom (frœði, OHG. fruotî). But when he came to the dwelling of two dwarfs, Fialar and Galar (OHG. Filheri, Kalheri?), they slew him, and let his blood run into two vats and a cauldron, which last was named Oðhrœrir, and the vats Sôn and Boðn. Then the dwarfs mixed the blood with honey, and of this was made a costly mead, (9) whereof whosoever tasted received the gift of poesy and wisdom: he became a skâld or a frœða-maðr (sage). We came upon a trace of this barrel of blood and honey among the dwarfs, p. 468.
Fialar and Galar tried to conceal the murder, giving out that Kvâsir had been choked by the fulness of his wisdom; but it was soon reported that they were in possession of his blood. In a quarrel they had with giant Suttûngr, they were forced to give up to him the precious mead, as composition for having killed his father. Suttûngr preserved it carefully in Hnitbiörg, and made his daughter the fair Gunnlöð keeper of it.

The gods had to summon up all their strength to regain possession of the holy blood. Oðinn himself came from heaven to earth, and seeing nine labourers mowing hay, he asked them if their scythes wanted sharpening. They said they did, and he pulled a whetstone (10) out of his belt, and gave them an edge; they cut so much better now, that the mowers began bargaining for the stone, but Oðinn threw it up in the air, and while each was trying to catch it, they all cut one another's throats with their scythes. (11) At night Oðinn found a lodging with another giant, Suttûng's brother Baugi, who sorely complained that he had that day lost his nine men, and had not a workman left. Oðinn, who called himself Bölverkr, was ready to undertake nine men's work, stipulating only for a drink of Suttûng's mead. (12) Baugi said the mead belonged to his brother, but he would do his best to obtain the drink from him. Bölverkr accomplished the nine men's work in summer, and when winter came demanded his wages. They both went off to Suttûng, but he would not part with a drop of mead. Bölverkr was for trying stratagem, to which Baugi agreed. Then Bölverkr produced a gimlet name Rati, (13) and desired Baugi to bore the mountain through with it, which apparently he did; but when Bölverkr blew into the hole and the dust flew back in his face, he concluded that his ally was no honester than he should be. He made him bore again, and this time when he blew, the dust flew inwards. He now changed himself into a worm, and crept in at the hole; Baugi plunged the drill in after him, but missed him. In the mountain Bölverkr passed three nights with Gunnlöð, and she vowed to let him have three draughts of the mead: at the first draught he drained Oðhrœrir, at the second Boðn, at the third Sôn, and so he had all the mead. Then he took the shape of an eagle, flew his fleetest, and Suttûngr as a second eagle gave chase. The Aesir saw Oðinn come flying, and in the courtyard of Asgarð they set out vats, into which Oðinn, hard pressed by Suttûng, spat out the mead, and thus it turned into spittle again, as it had been at first. (14) The mead is given by Oðinn to the âses, and to men that can skill of poesy. This explains the fluctuating names of the poetic art: it is called Kvâsis blôð (Kv. sanguis); dverga drecka, fylli (nanorum potus, satietas); Oðhrœris, Boðnar, Sônar laug (O., B., S. aqua); Hnitbiarga laug (Hn. aqua); Suttûngs miöðr (S. mulsum); Oðins fengr, fundr, dryckr (O. praeda, inventio, potus); Oðins giöf (O. donum); dryckr Asanna (Asarum potus).

Some of these names are well worth explaining minutely. Boðn is rendered oblatio, Sôn reconciliatio: neither of them, at all events when first used by the dwarfs, can have had any such meaning yet. We can easily connect boðn with AS. byden, OHG. putin (Graff 3, 87); sôn certainly agrees with the OHG suona (emendatio), not with Goth. sáun (lytrum). Sæm. 118b. 234a has 'Sônar dreyri' in the sense of 'sônar dreyri,' atonement-blood (conf. sônar göltr, p. 51). More meaning and weight attaches to the cauldron's name, which occurs also in Sæm. 23b. 28a. 88a, the last time spelt correctly. To explain the word, I must mention first, that a Goth. adj. vôþs, dulcis, answers to OHG wuodi, OS. wôthi, AS. wêðe, which is used alike of sweet smell and sweet sound; 'swêg þæs wêðan sanges,' sonus dulcis cantilenae. And further, that an AS. noun wôð (masc.) is carmen, facundia: 'wôða wynsumast,' carmen jucundissimum, Cod. exon. 358, 9. 'wôða wlitegast,' carmen pulcherrimum, El. 748. 'wôð wera,' prophetia virorum, Cædm. 254, 23. 'wôðbora' (carmen ferens), both as poëta, Cod. exon. 295, 19. 489, 17 and as orator, propheta 19, 18. 346, 21. 'witgena wôðsong,' cantus prophetarum 4, 1. 'wôðcræft,' poësis 234, 30. 360, 7 synon. with the scôpcræft and gleocræft above. 'wynlicu wôðgiefu,' jocundum poëseos donum 414, 10 alluding at once to the gay art and to Wôden's gift. Now, whether the sense of 'sweet, gentle,' lay in the noun wôð itself, or was first developed in the derived adj. (which seems nearer the truth, as wôð in some passages of Cod. exon. 118, 4. 125, 31. 156, 8 means only a loud sound, clamor, without any reference to song); it is plain that to it corresponds the ON. ôðr (also masc.) which denotes as well poëma as ingenium, facundia. In the former sense its agreement with the Lat. oda, Gr.wdh (contr. from aoidh), purely accidental with the difference of gender sufficiently shews. It is remarkable that at the creation of Askr and Embla, Sæm. 3b, Hœnir is said to have imparted to them the lacking ôð, which on p. 561 I translated 'reason': perhaps 'speech, gift of speech' would be more correct? (15) Be that as it may, Oðhrœrir seems clearly to be 'poësin ciens, dulcem artem excitans,' which is in striking harmony with the AS. 'gid wrecan' and Finn. 'teen iloa' above; hrœra, OHG. hruoran, MHG. rüeren, means tangere, ciere, and the cauldron would have been in OHG. Wuodhruori, AS. Wôðhrêre. Freyja's husband Oðr (Sæm. 5b. Sn. 37), whom she sought through the world and bewept with golden tears, may have been a personification of poetic art; (16) was he the same as Kvâsir, who traversed the world, and was murdered by the dwarfs?

Thus Oðhrœrir contained the sweet drink of divine poesy, which imparted immortality; and from the exertions made by the gods, particularly Oðinn, to regain possession of it when it had fallen into the hands of dwarfs and giants, follows its identity with amrita, ambrosia and nectar (p. 317-9); the ichor in the veins of gods is like the limpid spittle of the Ases and Vanes.

The pure bee, which has survived from Paradise (17) brings the honey of song to the lips of the sleeper, p. 696 (see Suppl.).

I cannot resist the temptation to add some more legends of how the inspiration of song came to great poets overnight in their sleep: the story of Pindar is told again of Homer and Aeschylus under another form.


1. That eidw I see, andaeidw I sing, both changeei intooi proves no connexion between them, the change being common to many verbs (leipw loipoj, keimai koith); vates, at once seer and singer, is an important link.---Trans. Back

2. Biörn gives a neut. skop (ironia, jocus), skoplegr (ridiculus, almost skwptikoj), which might make one sceptical of the long vowel in AS. scôp, but this is used of a lofty earnest poet in Beow. 179. 987. 2126, though sometimes of a comicus, scenicus. The OHG. salmscôf = psalmista, and the spelling scof scoffes (beside scaffan scuofi) in Isidore does not disprove the long vowel, as the same document puts blomo, blostar for bluomo, bluostar. An OHG. uo in scuof would remove all doubt, but this I cannot lay my hand on. The gloss 'scof, nubilar vel poësis' seems to connect two unrelated words which disagree in quantity, scop tugurium (our schoppen) and scôph poësis. Back

3. ON. skâlda, Swed. skålla, Dan. skolde, Dut. schouden = glabrare; with this agrees the Fr. eschauder, échauder, M. Lat. excaldare (Ducange sub v.) to scald the hair off. So that skâld would be depilis, glaber (Engl. scald), bald-head, whether it meant aged minstrel, or that poets shaved their heads? Even scaldeih may have signified an oak stript of foilage. Back

4. As there is no Latin root, we may suggest our own treffen, ON. drepa [drub], lit. to strike, hit, but also (in antreffen) to hit upon, find. The Gothic may have been drupan, as treten was trudan, which would account for the Romance o. Back

5. Malb. gl. p. 49, conf. Ir. ceat = canere, carmine celebrare. The question is, whether, in spite of this Celtic affinity, the word is not to be found in other Teut. dialects. We might consider ON. geð (mens, animus), OHG. ket, kett, keti, ketti (Graff 4, 144), the doubling of the lingual being as in AS. bed, bedd, OHG. petti (Goth. badi), or AS. biddan, OHG. pittan (Goth. bidjan). The meaning would be a minding, remembering; geðspeki in Sæm. 33b is the wisdom of yore, inseparable from poetry. ‘gyd, gyddian' seems a faulty spelling: giedd shews the vowel broken. Back

6. ‘Tehessä isän iloa,' Kalew. 22, 236. 29, 227, the father (the god Wäinämöinen) was making (waking) joy = he sang; ‘io käwi ilo ilolle' 22, 215, joy came to joy = the song resounded, struck up. Back

7. Hrâki, better perh. hraki, is strictly matter ejected from the rachen (throat), OHG. hracho, as the AS. hraca is both guttur and tussis, sputum; conf. OHG. hrachisôn screare, Fr. cracher, Serv. rakati, Russ. khárkat'. Back

8. Creating out of spittle and blood reminds one of the snow and blood in fairytales, where the wife wishes for children; of the snow-child in the Modus Liebinc; of the giants made out of frost and ice (pp. 440. 465); Aphrodite's being generated out of the sea-foam is a part of the same thing. Back

9. The technical term ‘inn dýri miöðr' recurs in Sæm. 23b. 28a. Back

10. Hein, AS. hân, Engl. hone, Swed. hen, Sskr. s'âna. Back

11. Like Dr. Faust fooling the seven topers into cutting each other's noses off. Back

12. Here Oðinn plays the part of Strong Hans (Kinderm. 90), or of Siegfried with the smith. Back

13. Mentioned also in Sæm. 23b; evidently from ‘rata' permeare, terebrare, Goth. vratôn, so that it would be Vrata in Gothic. Back

14. It is added: ‘en honum var þa svâ nær komit at Suttûngr mundi nâ honum, at hann sendi aptr (behind) suman miöðinn, ok var þess ecki gætt: hafði þat hverr er vildi, ok köllum ver þat skâldfîfla lut (malorum poetarum partem)'; or, as another MS. has it: ‘en sumum ræpti hann aptr, hafa þat skâldfîfl, ok heitr arnar leir (habent id mali poetae, et dicitur aquilae lutum),' because Oðinn flew in eagle's shape. In Mart. Capella, before Athanasia will hand the immortalitatis poculum to Philologia, ‘leniter dextera cordis ejus pulsum pectusque pertractat, ac nescio qua intima plenitudine distentum magno cum turgore respiciens, Nisi haec, inquit, quibus plenum pectus geris, coactissima egestione vomueris forasque diffuderis, immortalitatis sedem nullatenus obtinebis. At illa omni nisu magnaque vi quicquid intra pectus senserat evomebat. Tunc vero illa nausea ac vomitio laborata in omnigenum copias convertitur litterarum………Sed cum talia virgo undanter evomeret, puellae quam plures, quarum artes aliae, aliae dictae sunt disciplinae, subinde quae virgo ex ore diffuderat colligebant, in suum unaquaeque illarum necessarium usum facultatemque corripiens.' What seemed too gross as yet for immortality becomes here, when thrown up by the bride of heaven, the foundation of human science. Conf. Aelian's Var. hist. 13, 22. Back

15. Here, as elsewhere, the ON. dialect becomes unsafe for comparison, because it confounds middle and final d with ð. Back

16. The difficulty noticed in the preceding note forbids my inquiring whether this Oðr be related to Oðinn; the AS. Wôden and wôd (rabies) stand apart from wôð (poësis), conf. supra p. 131-2. Back

17. Anc. laws of Wales 1, 739: bees draw their origin from Paradise, which they left through man's transgression, but God gave them his blessing; therefore man cannot be sung without wax. Leoprechting's Lechrain, p. 80. [Back]

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