RSDRPA 9:5-8

Codex RegiusCodex TrajectinusCodex WormianusEmended & Modernized
9 : 5-8 VariantsVariants 
[a ostali striano ; stridann Hu stli stran
stravm hrekk mimis ekkiorbec mimi ekior straum Hrekkmmis ekkjur;
stophnisv] for stey[pir
The bracketed words are supplied from W.
stop- hnsu fr steypir
strilvndr me v]a/l griar.-lyndrvolstrlund me -vll Grar.

There are obviously two sentences here. My interpretation of both differs considerably from that of all editors:

Hrekkmmis ekkjur hu stli stran straum; steypir Grar fr stopvll hnsu me strlund, i.e. "the widows of the Mmir of mischief [waves] caused a violent stream, strident with steel. Grr's toppler [rr] carried the battle-tree [jlfi] across the bumpy land of the porpoise [ocean]".

Line 5 makes no sense in the mss., and the majority of editors agree on the emendation hu. I accept this, but interpret the meaning of lines 5-6 in a different manner. Hrekkmmis ekkjur are generally thought to be Gjlp and Greip, Geirr's daughters. The only "evidence" for such an interpretation comes from Snorri's prose account, and I am vary of accepting this. I can find no hard evidence in the poem that Thor encountered the two sisters during his journey across the ocean (or river).

Hrekkmmis ekkjur ] Hrekk-mmir "mischief-Mmir" is obviously a giant appellation. Ekkjur usually means "widows", but according to the Lexicon Poeticum, the basic meaning of ekkja is "a single, unmarried woman, regardless of whether she has formerly been married or not". In poetry the term was frequently used loosely to mean simply "women, wives", just like brir "brides" [cp. Haustlng 15:7 Svlins ekkja = inn's "widow" = Earth]. So who are these "widows"?

I believe they are gisdtur "daughters of gir", who, in poetry, were used as personifications of the ocean waves. I read Hrekkmmir as a name for gir, whose name is a synonym of "ocean". The poet may have coined it, punningly, from the word hregg-mmir, "storm-mmir", a poetic term for the sky (see Skldskaparml 68, and Nafnaulur). The ocean-giant was, indeed, full of mischief. Snorri names the nine daughters of gir in Skldskaparml 33 and 76: Himinglva, Dfa, Blughadda, Hefring, Unnur, Hrnn, Bylgja, Bra, Klga. Most of these names are synonyms for "wave", but the name Blughadda "the one with bloody hair" suggests their violent function in the current half-stanza, which may be compared to a verse fragment by Einar Sklason (Skldskaparml 76), where the ocean's turbulence is caused by Himinglva, one of the sisters:

sir hvasst at hraustum
Himinglva yt svar ...

i.e. "Himinglva violently agitates the roar of the sea against the brave ..."

We meet these nine maidens again in a disputed stanza by Snbjrn, quoted in Skldskaparml 33, where they are referred to as "nine brides of the island-quern, who revolve the cruel skerry-mill (Grtti) beyond the earth's edge":

Hvatt kvea hrra Grtta
hergrimmastan skerja
t fyrir jarar skauti
eylrs nu brir...

I have already mentioned the great world-mill in the commentary to half-stanza 6:5-8. Seemingly, the great mill Grtti was revolved by nine giantessess "beyond the earth's edge". The churning of the mill caused a gigantic maelstrom in the Northern Ocean, so forceful that it was able to suck down whole ships with their crews.

At this point of his journey, Thor has surely passed "beyond the earth's edge", where the mischievous daughters of Hrekkmmir (gir) churn up immense currents in the ocean.

It is of interest to note that these nine giantesses are still alive and well as late as the Fornaldarsgur. In chapter 12 of Hjlms saga og lvis, we come across them in a terrible mood. Their names are not so pretty this time, and neither are they themselves:

Hjlmr s sjinn og s nu trllkonur svo strar og illlegar, a engar ttist hann s hafa eim lkar. r hfu rifi sundur ll skipin, en drepi alla mennina og bori gss allt land ... r htu svo: Hergunnur, Hremsa, Nl og Nefja, Runa og Trana, Greip og Glyrna, Margerur hin nunda. Hn hafi kryppu stra, og bar hana hrra en hfui. Hn hafi eitt auga, og st a fyrir miju enni, og var kerla ekki frnileg yfirlits ... r voru stuttklddar pkurnar og gptu kjftunum, en skku hfuin.

Hjlmr looked out to sea, and saw nine giantesses, of such immense size and evil demeanour, that never had he seen their likes. They had torn apart all the ships, slain all the men, and carried all the spoils ashore ... Their names were: Hergunnur, Hremsa, Nl og Nefja, Runa og Trana, Greip og Glyrna, and Margerur the ninth. Her great hunchback reached over her head, she had one eye in the middle of her forehead, and was extremely ugly to behold ... These vixens wore short mantles, and their maws were open wide, and their heads shook violently.

hu stli stran straum ] The dative stli is usually taken to mean "against the steel, against the spear-point", cp. skotnara (6:4), hlyml (6:6). The meaning would then be "they caused a violent stream [to rush] aginst the spear-point". Although a bit forced, this may well be so, but I suspect otherwise. In my commentary to half-stanza 8:1-4, I suggested that the poet used the word sver-fen as an image for the extreme cold of the Arctic Ocean, which cuts through the body like a sword of ice; and juxtaposed this image with the river Slr, the current of which is mingled with bitter swords. I would suggest that the poet here continues this imagery. The giantesses of the ocean waves, gir's daughters, create a violent current (stran straum), which is also "strident with steel" (stli stran). The poet's use of language is extremely skilful here, and meaningful puns may be suspected. Hu stli str would mean "made war with steel". The meanings of the verbs stra and hrekkja can be similar: "to cause harm, pain". In modern Icelandic, they are synonyms, meaning "vex, tease, harass".

The alliteration in this half-stanza must be commented upon. All the alliterating words begin with ST-: stli-stran-straum, stop-steypir-strlund. It should also be noted that that former half-stanza (9:1-4) is almost as rich in S-sounds: sinni-skaunar, seil-sjla-sjlflopta. The hissing, soughing, sounds of the streams of the sea become resoundingly audible. [Reading this stanza aloud always brings to my mind a line from Dylan Thomas' UNDER MILKWOOD: "the only sea I saw was the see-saw sea".]

My emendations in lines 7-8 may seem drastic, but the damaged state of Codex Regius only gives us:

[...] for stey [...] a/l griar

The missing parts are provided by Codex Wormianus, and partially supported by Codex Trajectinus. I am unable to agree with the text "established" by the scholars:

stophnsu fr steypir
strlundr me vl Grar

i.e. strlundr steypir stophnsu fr me Grarvl, i.e. "the wrathful feller of the mountain-porpoise (giantess) went forth with (or: wielded) Grur's staff".

My reasons for refusing to accept such a reading are two:

1. Stop-hnsa = "mountain-porpoise" = giantess. This seems unacceptable. Stop doesn't mean "mountain". Stop means "bump, unevenness, that which makes one stumble", from which primary meaning a secondary meaning has been derived "unsteadiness, readiness to stumble". I can find no examples of stop = "mountain" in the texts. The adjective stopall means "stumbling, or, causing one to stumble".

2. vl Grar = Grarvl. There is no evidence for such a staff outside Snorri's prose account of the tale. This account is extremely dubious (see Analogues). We have already learned that Thor withstood the force of the ocean currents by plunging his spear into the bottom of the ocean. He must surely have used both hands to do so. So how can he suddenly be wielding this so-called Grarvlr "staff of Grr"? It is clearly absurd. Grr was a giantess, the mother of Varr by inn. Snorri's tale seems to be made out of whole cloth, or perhaps his failed attempts to understand the complex language of rsdrpa.

In any case, I would suggest a totally different interpretation (based on two minor emendations), which totally eliminates the famous Grarvlr.

stop- hnsu fr steypir
strlund me -vll Grar

steypir Grar ] "the feller of the giantess" is Thor. A mythic kernel may be suspected: Did Thor slay Grr, the mother of Odin's son, Varr?

stopvll hnsu ] Vllr hnsu "the land of the porpoise" is the ocean. Stopvllr means "uneven land". This modifies the kenning, making the ocean "uneven", i.e. "billowy, turbulent", which is obviously fitting here.

strlund ] I prefer to read strlund as the accusative of strlundr "battle-tree", i.e. "warrior". r fr me strlund = "Thor waded with the warrior (jlfi) hanging onto him". The word might also be interpreted as a dative of strlund "wrathful temper", in which case me strlund = wrathfully.

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