Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Reclaimed Kennings of Baldur

In Drápa af Maríugrát, a skaldic poem of the 1300s, Jesus is repeatedly referred to as a "prince of the sun". He is called the öðlingr ... bjartra röðla, "atheling of the bright sun", the fylki sunnu, "king of the sun", sunnu grundar siklings , "king of the sun's grassy fields", hilmi sólar, "helmsman/ruler of the sun", lofðung‹r› hauðrs ... sólar, "the prince of the sun's land", máttugr anzar mána stjettar, "mighty defender of the paths of Mani", sólar vísir, "leader of the sun", Höll ítarlig himna stillis, "glorious moderator of the Hall of Heaven", mildingr ... mána hauðrs, "the merciful prince of Mani's land", mána hauðrs stilli, "moderator of Mani's land", hilmis sunnu, "helmsman of the sun", hilmir vænnar stjettar ... bjartrar sólar, "helmsman of the beautiful paths of the bright sun", sólar kóngs, "king of the sun", birti dróttins ... mána strandar, "the bright lord of Mani's shores", sólar þengils, "thing-leader of the sun", hirði mána bryggju, "herdsman of Mani's bridge", and sæll ... sólar stillir sóma prýddr, "blessed honor-adorned moderator of the sun".

Although the intent of the poem is to designate Jesus as the ruler of the heavens, and indeed, he is sometimes so called, it is curious that he is paired with the sun so often. In three places, he is actually referred to as a protector of the paths of the sun and the moon, a place which in the heathen mythology belonged to Baldr. This suggests that the skald had his kennings ready to hand, and could simply transfer what had been kennings of Baldr directly to Jesus. Indeed, in a couple places, the skald seems to lift paraphrases of Thor as well, lát þú kveikjast loginn dróttins leiptra skríns í hjarta mínu, "Let thou kindle the fire of the lord of the shrine of lightning in my heart", and lýðr er allr leiptra stillis lofi dýrligstu skyldr að ofra, "All people should offer endearing praise to the leader of lightning". It would seem as if Christian poets were free to lift the epithets of various heathen Gods and with a slight twist, apply them all to God or to Christ. Yet when these adaptations are obvious, we may have an inroads to reclaiming important kennings and conceptions of our ancient Gods.

Scholars have speculated that the poet of Drápa af Maríugrát was reworking Planctus siue lamentacio beate Marie, which was a prose translation into Icelandic of Liber de passione Christi et doloribus et planctus matris eius, by the Italian abbot Ogerius de Locedio of the 12th century, but as a skaldic poem, the choice of kennings was the poet's. He may have many times needed to translate a phrase meaning "lord of the heavens", but that he does so with kennings that are strikingly reminiscent of Baldur's epithets is telling. Knowing this, we may reclaim these kennings for Baldur, who was known as a great moderator of the heavens, and who protected the sun and the moon on their courses.


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