Monday, July 9, 2012

Runes 101 - Runes in Mythology 8

Well, it's done; I've published my first novel, The Son of Nine Sisters.  Having enjoyed writing it so much, I have moved, full throttle, into writing the sequel and, through my initial research for the second book, I had an interesting "Rune" siting, which I wanted to share with you.
Finnask æsir
á Iðavelli
ok um moldþinur
mátkan dœma
ok minnask þar
á megindóma
ok á Fimbultýs
fornar rúnar

This verse, from Völuspá (The Prophecy of the Seeress), talks about what happens after Ragnarök, when Magni and Módi, Baldr and Höðr, and Hoenir come together at Ida Plain.  While there, they reflect on the past, the things that happened before.  However, it is the last few words that caught my eye not only because they mention Runes, but because they are translated in a variety of ways.

"Fimbultýs fornar rúnar" translates into "Odin's ancient Runes".  Fimbultýr is considered another name for Odin.  (Týr's name is in the word, and, in Old Norse, "fimbul" means great.  So, I am unsure as to why Fimbultýr is not Týr, as he was a great god, but that's a research project for another day.)  Of the four sources I checked, only one had this exact translation - Odin's ancient Runes.  In the Prose Edda (English translation), Snorri claims that they called to mind "their ancient wisdom", wisdom being supplanted for the word "Runes".  However, the word "rúnar" is written in the Old Norse version I reviewed, but it was not in conjunction with the other two words from the Poetic Edda - Fimbultýs fornar.

Retelling the myths, Kevin Crossley-Holland omits completely anything relating to ancient Runes or wisdom, rather talks about the assembled gods calling up memories; in my mind, this means reminiscing.  However, he does allude to something "magical" by stating that these memories they share are known only to them.  This could be the secret of the Runes.

It is the fourth interpretation that struck me the most, by its sheer implication of word choice.  Lee M. Hollander refers to the Runes as "unfathomed" Runes, instead of ancient.  This opens up the meaning of the phrase to numerous interpretations.  Is he implying that the gods are talking about something that Odin did not consider in his planning?  Or that Odin did not fully understand the extent of the power of the Runes he was casting?  Is he perhaps suggesting that the Runes are unfathomed only by humans or by the gathered gods?  He interprets the previous line as "going over the great world doom".  Perhaps he is implying that the current gods are attempting to learn from the mistakes of the prior gods, while still recognizing and appreciating their greatness and accomplishments.

I wish I had more than one semester of Old Norse under my belt, but I have to say this verse is open to many interpretations that range from the gods gathered at Ida Plain simply reminiscing and remembering the past, perhaps to find or share a common ground, to considering what happened in the past and learning from its lessons.  What do you think?

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