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Runic Dictionary

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Þul Óðins 4III l. 3

Sváfnir — Sváfnir


Sváfnir (noun m.): Sváfnir



[3] Sváfnir: Lit. ‘sleep-maker, soother’, i.e. ‘killer’, related to the weak verb svæfa/svefja ‘lull to sleep, soothe’ (cf. the sword-heiti fjǫrsváfnir ‘life-soother’, Þul Sverða 3/8). Unlike the majority of Óðinn-heiti listed here, this name is used in verse, but it has been interpreted in different ways. (a) It appears twice in Grí 34/7 and 54/7 along with the name Ofnir. In the first instance, Sváfnir and Ofnir are two mythical serpents (Þul Orma 1/3, 3/6) and in the second instance these are names for Óðinn. The fact that the names of the two serpents destroying the roots of the world-ash Yggdrasill were taken over by Óðinn could perhaps be explained by the myth of the mead of poetry, when the god turned himself into a serpent to obtain the magic drink. (b) Falk (1924, 26-7) suggests that the name may refer to Óðinn as the one who stabbed the valkyrie Sigrdrífa with a sleep-thorn (Sigrdr, prose, NK 190): Sigrdrífa feldi Hiálm-Gunnar í orrostonni. Enn Óðinn stacc hana svefnþorni í hefnd þess ‘Sigrdrífa killed Hjálm-Gunnarr in battle. But Óðinn stabbed her with a sleep-thorn in revenge for that’. (c) Alternatively, Falk (loc. cit.) proposes that the name could be a derivative from sváf, a heiti for ‘spear’ (Þul Spjóts l. 3; perhaps ‘the Swabians’ weapon’) possibly denoting ‘spear-god’ (cf. Óðinn-names with geir- as a first element, e.g. Geirǫlnir, st. 5/6 below). (d) Falk (loc. cit.) also suggests that the name could have originated from an eponym of the Suevi (the Swabians); cf. Sváfnir konungr, the ruler of Svávaland in HHj (prose, NK 140) and Swæfe in the Old English Widsith l. 22.



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