In Norse mythology, Rán is a goddess and a personification of the sea. Rán and her husband Ægir, a jötunn who also personifies the sea, have nine daughters, who personify waves. The goddess is frequently associated with a net, which she uses to capture sea-goers. According to the prose introduction to a poem in the Poetic Edda and in Völsunga saga, Rán once loaned her net to the god Loki.
Rán is attested in the Poetic Edda, compiled during the 13th century from earlier traditional sources; the Prose Edda, written during the 13th century by Snorri Sturluson; in both Völsunga saga and Friðþjófs saga hins frœkna; and in the poetry of skalds, such as Sonatorrek, a 10th century poem by Icelandic skald Egill Skallagrímsson.
The Old Norse common noun rán means 'plundering' or 'theft, robbery'. In turn, scholars view the theonym Rán as meaning, for example, 'theft, robbery'. On the etymology of the theonym, scholar Rudolf Simek says, "although the meaning of the name has not been fully clarified, Rán was probably understood as being 'robber' ... and has nothing to do with [Old Norse] ráða 'rule'.
Because Rán is a personification of the sea, skalds employ her name in a variety of kennings to refer to the sea. Examples include Ránar-land ('Ran's land'), -salr ('Rán's hall'), and -vegr ('Rán's way'), and rán-beðr ('the bed of Rán') and meaning 'the bed of the sea'.
Rán receives mention in poem Sonatorrek composed by Icelandic skald Egill Skallagrímsson in the 10th century. In the poem, Egill laments the death of his son Böðvar, who drowned at sea during a storm. In doing so, he mentions Rán:
- Old Norse:
- Mjök hefr Rán rykst um mik;
- emk ofsnauðr at ástvinum.
- Sleit marr bönd mínnar áttar,
- snaran þátt af sjalfum mér.
Rán receives three mentions in the Prose Edda; twice in poetry and once in prose. The first mention occurs in a stanza in Helgakviða Hundingsbana I, when the valkyrie Sigrún assists the ship of the hero Helgi as it encounters ferocious waters:
Henry Adams Bellows translation
- But from above did Sigrun brave
- Aid the men and all their faring;
- Mightily came from the claws of Ron
- The leader's sea-beast off Gnipalund.
Carolyne Larrington translation
- And Sigrun above, brave in battle,
- protected them and their vessel;
- the king's sea-beasts twisted powerfully,
- out of Ran's hand toward Gnipalund.
In the notes for her translation, Larrington says that Rán "seeks to catch and drown men in her net" and that "to give someone to the sea-goddess is to drown them."
Henry Adams Bellows translation:
- "Witch, in front of the ship thou wast,
- And lay before the fjord;
- To Ron wouldst have given the ruler's men,
- If a spear had not stuck in thy flesh."
Carolyne Larrington translation:
- 'Ogress, you stood before the prince's ships
- and blocked the fjord mouth;
- the king's men you were going to give to Ran,
- if a spear hadn't lodged in your flesh.'
Finally, in the prose introduction to Reginsmál, Loki visits Rán (here rendered as Ron) to borrow her net:
The Prose Edda sections Skáldskaparmál and Háttatal contain several references to Rán. Section 25 of Skáldskaparmál ("How shall sea be referred to?") manners in which poets may refer to the sea, including "husband of Ran" and "land of Ran and of Ægir's daughters", but also "father of Ægir's daughters".
Standardized Old Norse
- Ok sem kvað Refr:
- Fœrir bjǫrn, þar er bára
- brestr, undinna festa
- opt í Ægis kjǫpta
- *ursǫl Gymis vǫlva.
Anthony Faulkes translation
- And as Ref said:
- Gymir's spray-cold spæ-wife often brings the twisted-rope-bear [ship] into Ægir's jaws [under the waves] where the wave breaks.
The section's author comments that the stanza "[implies] that they are all the same, Ægir and Hler and Gymir. The author follows with a quote from another stanza by the skald that references Rán:
Chapter 33 of Skáldskaparmál discusses why skalds may refer to gold as "Ægir's fire". The section traces the kenning to a narrative surrounding Ægir, in which the jötunn employs "glowing gold" in the center of his hall to light it "like fire" (which the narrator compares to flaming swords in Valhalla). The section explains that "Ran is the name of Ægir's wife, and the names of their nine daughters are as was written above ... Then the Æsir discovered that Ran had a net in which she caught everyone that went to sea ... so this is the story of the origin of gold being called fire or light or brightness of Ægir, Ran or Ægir's daughters, and from such kennings the practice has now developed of calling gold fire of the sea and of all terms for it, since Ægir and Ran's names are also terms for the sea, and hence gold is now called fire of lakes or rivers and of all river-names."
The protagonist then decides that as they are to "go to Rán" (at til Ránar skal fara) they would better do so in style with gold on each man. He divides the gold and talks of her again:
According to Rudolf Simek, "... Rán is the ruler of the realm of the dead at the bottom of the sea to which people who have drowned go." Simek says that "while Ægir personifies the sea as a friendly power, Rán embodies the sinister side of the sea, at least in the eyes of the late Viking Age Icelandic seafarers."
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