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Bestla

In Norse mythology, Bestla is the mother of the gods Odin, Vili and Vé by way of Borr, the sister of an unnamed being who assisted Odin, and the daughter or, depending on source, granddaughter of the jötunn Bölþorn. Bestla is attested in the Poetic Edda, compiled in the 13th century from earlier traditional sources, the Prose Edda, written in the 13th century by Snorri Sturluson, and in the poetry of skalds. Scholars have commented on the obscurity of the figure's name and have proposed that she may be the wise being Mímir's sister.

Name

The name Bestla remains obscure. Scholars have proposed potential meanings such as 'wife' or 'bark, bast'. According to Rudolf Simek, "the name appears to be very old" due to its obscurity.[1]

Attestations

In the Poetic Edda, Bestla receives a single mention. This sole attestation appears in the poem Hávamál 140, where Odin recounts his gaining of nine magical songs from Bestla's unnamed brother—in other words, Odin's maternal uncle:

Benjamin Thorpe translation:
Potent songs nine from the famed son I learned
of Bolthorn, Bestla’s sire,
and a draught obtained of the
precious mead, drawn from Odhrærir.[2]
Henry Adams Bellows translation:
Nine mighty songs I got from the son
Of Bolthorn, Bestla's father;
And a drink I got of the goodly mead
Poured out from Othrorir.[3]

In his translation of the Poetic Edda, Henry Adams Bellows comments that the placement of the stanza at the point in which it appears in Hávamál appears to be the result of manuscript interpolation and that its meaning is obscure.[3]

In the Prose Edda book Gylfaginning, the enthroned figure of High tells Gangleri (described as king Gylfi in disguise) of the genealogy of the god Odin. High recounts that Odin, Vili, and Vé are the children of Borr and Bestla, and that Bestla is the daughter of Bölþorn, who High says is a jötunn.[4] Bestla receives a second mention in the Prose Edda book Skáldskaparmál, where a work by the skald Einarr skálaglamm refers to Odin as "Bestla's son".[5]

Theories and interpretations

On the basis of the Hávamál stanza handled above (wherein Odin learns nine magic songs from the unnamed brother of Bestla), some scholars have theorized that Bestla's brother may in fact be the wise being Mímir, from whose severed head the god Odin gains wisdom.[6]

Notes

  1. ^ Simek (2007:37).
  2. ^ Thorpe (1907:45).
  3. ^ a b Bellows (1923:92).
  4. ^ Faulkes (1995:11).
  5. ^ Faulkes (1995:69).
  6. ^ Examples include Rydberg (1886), Bellows (1923:92), and Puhvel (1989:212).

References

  • Bellows, Henry Adams (1923). The Poetic Edda. American-Scandinavian Foundation.
  • Faulkes, Anthony (Trans.) (1995). Edda. Everyman. ISBN 0-460-87616-3
  • Puhvel, Jaan (1989). Comparative Mythology. Johns Hopkins University Press. ISBN 978-0-8018-3938-2
  • Thorpe, Benjamin (Trans.) (1907). Edda Sæmundar Hinns Frôða The Edda of Sæmund the Learned. Part I. London Trübner & Co
  • Simek, Rudolf (2007) translated by Angela Hall. Dictionary of Northern Mythology. D.S. Brewer. ISBN 0-85991-513-1