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drove mad

Gullveig

In Norse mythology, Gullveig (Old Norse, potentially "gold drink" or "gold might") is a mysterious figure who appears solely in the Poetic Edda poem Völuspá in association with the Æsir-Vanir War. In the poem, Gullveig is stated to have been burned three times in Odin's hall, yet to have been three times reborn.

Völuspá

Gullveig is only mentioned, at least by that name, in the Völuspá, stanza 21. The seeress, after her account of the coming of the Norns, continues:

The war I remember,       the first in the world,
When the gods with spears       had smitten Gullveig,
And in the hall       of Hár had burned her,
Three times burned,       and three times born,
Oft and again,       yet ever she lives.

Heid they named her       when she came to the house,
The wide-seeing witch,       in magic wise;
She performed seið where she could       worked seið in a trance,
To evil women       she was always a joy.

Hár 'High' is a common name for Odin. Heid means 'gleaming' and as a noun 'honor'. It is a common given name for seeresses or witches in the sagas notably in the Landnámabók, in the Hrólfs Saga Kraka and in Örvar-Odds Saga. Seið is a particular type of magic, often looked on pejoratively. Instead phrase translated here "worked seið in a trance" is sometimes interpreted instead as something like "drove mad the gods with seið.

It is generally assumed that the two stanzas are connected and that Heiðr is another name for Gullveig. The poem continues with a council apparently about who should pay "wergild" for Gullveig and that leads into a war with the Vanir.

Commentators speculate variously on this passage, but with general agreement that in part it speaks about the corrupting power of gold and generally understanding that mistreatment of this Gullveig was the reason for the resultant war between the Æsir and Vanir. Gullveig is usually taken to be one of the Vanir.

Theories

Gullveig's brief mention in surviving texts has resulted in a number of scholars and others speculating on the nature of the figure.

Dumézil

Georges Dumézil (1966 and 1973) believed that the first war was based on a mythical Indo-European pattern that also emerges in the Roman legend of the war between the warlike Romans (comparable to the Æsir) and wealthy Sabines (comparable to the Vanir) and that the Gullveig element corresponded to the role of Tarpeia in Roman tradition. In one common version Tarpeia betrayed the citadel to the Sabines in exchange for what they had on their left arm, meaning their gold bracelets. However the Sabines, while taking advantage of Tarpeia's treachery, fulfilled their part of the bargain by striking her with their shields, which were also on their left arms, until she died.

Dumézil also proposed that a related tradition occurs in Saxo Grammaticus' account (Gesta Danorum, Book 1) of Frigg's theft of the gold from Odin' statue and her adultery. Odin (either from disgust or shame) goes into exile and a certain Mit-othin to some extent gains Odin's position, until Odin returns and drives Mit-othin away.

Rydberg

Viktor Rydberg proposed a connection between the Gullveig stanza of Völuspá to two stanzas in Völuspá hin skamma (found in some editions of the Poetic Edda as the last section of the poem Hyndluljóð):

The wolf did Loki       sire on Angrboda,
And Sleipnir he bore       to Svadilfari;
The worst piece of witchcraft       seemed the one
Sprung from the brother       of Byleist then.

A heart ate Loki—       in the embers it lay,
And half-cooked found he       the woman's heart—
With child from the woman       Lopt soon was,
And thence among men       came every troll-woman.

(Loki is often called "brother of Blyeist" and "Lopt" in other texts.)

If the burned heart of a woman that was eaten by Loki is Gullveig's heart, then Gullveig may live still through a race of troll-women whom Loki then bore. "Troll-women" might refer to malevolent seeresses and witches in general. The word flagð is well established as meaning 'troll-woman, female monster, ogress, giantess, witch'. But it is sometimes here taken metaphorically to mean she-wolves, or all wolves, even monsters in general.

The Lesser Völuspá also refers to Heid and Hrossthjóf (a name otherwise unknown) as the children of Hrímnir in a context that suggests Hrímnir is a giant.

Rydberg took the account of Loki eating the heart as a recaptulation of the previous stanza and so identified Gullveig with Angrboda, the mother of Fenrir. To make this work Rydberg glosses flagð 'troll-woman' as referring to trolls of either gender and includes Fenrir among them. (However Snorri Sturluson in his Edda knew Angrboda only as "a giantess of Jötunheimr" and mother by Loki of Fenrir, Jörmungandr, and Hel and provides no indication that Loki gave birth to any of these himself.)

Rydberg also identifies his Gullveig/Angrboda with the old woman of Ironwood mentioned in Völuspá stanza 49 as raising the kindred of Fenrir, a normal interpretation. More daring is his identification of Gullveig, Angrboda or Woman-of-Ironwood with Aurboda, the wife of Gymir and mother of Gerd and also with the giantess Hyrrokin 'Fire-smoked', who is said to be slain by Thor in a list in the þulur. Accordingly Rydberg believes Gullveig was finally slain by Thor's hammer. Rydberg then notes that in the Svipdagsmál Aurboda is also the name of one of Menglöd's nine serving women (Menglöd is often thought to be a variant of Freyja), that Heid was the name of Hrímnir's daughter, and that in the Völsunga saga Hljóð is both daughter of the giant Hrímnir and a maidservant of Frigg. (This Hljóð marries the hero Volsung and becomes father of the hero Sigmund). Rydberg takes all these as further variants of Gullveig. Rydberg further identifies his extended Gullveig with Grendel's dam in Beowulf.

Rydberg's multiple identifications are generally not accepted by later scholars.

Turville-Petre

A different theory supported by Gabriel Turville-Petre is that Gullveig is a name for the goddess Freyja. In the Prose Edda tale Gylfaginning, Freyja sheds tears of red gold for her husband Ódr in his absence and who is mother of Gersemi and Hnoss, whose names both mean "Treasure". Freyja is often associated with a love for jewelry and treasure in surviving representations.

In Snorri Sturluson's Heimskringla, in the Ynglinga Saga, chapter 4, Snorri relates that it was Freyja who introduced seið among the Æsir as it was in use and fashion among the Vanir. Therefore, all Vanir practice seið. In chapter 7 Snorri relates that Odin also knew seið:

…but it was not thought respectable for men to practise it; and therefore the priestesses were brought up in this art.

See also

Notes

References

  • Dumézil, Georges (1966). La Religion romaine archaique suirvi d'un appendice sur la religion des Etrusques Paris. Editions Payot. Trans. Krapp, Philip (1996). Archaic Roman Religion. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. Republished 1970, Chicago: University of Chicago Press. ISBN 0-8018-5482-2 ISBN 0-8018-5483-0 (hdbk); ISBN 0-8018-5480-6 ISBN 0-8018-5481-4 (pbk).
  • Dumézil, Georges (1973). "The Gods: Æsir and Vanir", Gods of the Ancient Northmen, trans. Einar Haugen. Berkeley: University of California Press. ISBN 0-520-03507-0.

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