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Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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Note to stanza

3. Hofgarða-Refr Gestsson, 1. Ferðavísur, 2 [Vol. 3, 245]

[4] úrsvǫl vǫlva Gymis ‘the spray-cold vǫlva <seeress> of Gymir <sea-giant> [= Rán]’: Rán is a sea-goddess and the wife of Ægir, the sea-god or sea-giant (Skm, SnE 1998, I, 36, 41, 95). She seems to personify the destructive power of the sea, as becomes clear in this stanza and above all in the eddic Helgi poems (HHund I 29-30; HHj 18) and in Egill St 7/1-2V (Eg 78). She is said to possess a net with which she fishes for everyone who drowns (see Note to SnH Lv 6/3II). In prose sources such as Eyrbyggja saga (Eb ch. 54, ÍF 4, 148) there are indications of a notion of a realm of the dead in which those who drown are received by Rán. On Rán, see also Note to Þul Ásynja 2/7. On the motif of the sea as a malevolent, threatening female being, see Clunies Ross (1998a, 166-7). The kenning vǫlva Gymis is formed according to the normal pattern ‘woman of …’ but is unusual in its choice of the base-word vǫlva ‘seeress’. Vǫlva must have negative connotations here, as in a few other instances in eddic and skaldic sources (see Kommentar IV, 292 and LP: vǫlva). The choice of base-word underscores the threatening character of the sea-goddess.


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