Jötunn

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In Norse mythology, a jötunn (plural jötnar) is a type of entity contrasted with gods and other figures, such as dwarfs and elves. The entities are themselves ambiguously defined, variously referred to by a several other terms, including risi, thurs, and troll.

Although the term giant is used to gloss the word jötunn and its apparent synonyms in some translations and academic texts, jötnar are not necessarily notably large and may be described as exceedingly beautiful or alarmingly grotesque. Some deities, such as Skaði and Gerðr, are themselves described as jötnar, and various well-attested deities, such as Odin, are descendants of the jötnar. Several jötnar like Hræsvelgr and Fenrir are animal shaped. While most are described as being roughly human sized, some are indeed portrayed as huge, such as frost giants (hrímþursar), fire giants (eldjötnar), and mountain giants (bergrisar).

Norse mythology traces the origin of the jötnar to the proto-being Ymir, a result of growth of asexual reproduction from the entity's body. Ymir is later killed, his body dismembered to create the world, and the jötnar survive this event by way of sailing through a flood of Ymir’s blood. The jötnar dwell in Jötunheimr. In later Scandinavian folklore, the ambiguity surrounding the entities gives way to negative portrayals.

Etymology

A bergrisi—the traditional Protector of Southwestern Iceland—appears as a supporter on the coat of arms of Iceland.

Old Norse jötunn and Old English eóten developed from the Proto-Germanic masculine noun *etunaz.[1] Philologist Vladimir Orel says that semantic connections between *etunaz with Proto-Germanic *etanan makes a relation between the two nouns likely.[1] Proto-Germanic *etanan is reconstructed from Old Norse etall 'consuming', Old English etol 'voracious, gluttonous', and Old High German filu-ezzal 'greedy'.[1] Old Norse risi and Old High German riso derive from the Proto-Germanic masculine noun *wrisjon. Orel observes that the Old Saxon adjective wrisi-līke 'enormous' is likely also connected. [2]

Old Norse þurs, Old English ðyrs, and Old High German duris 'devil, evil spirit' derive from the Proto-Germanic masculine noun *þur(i)saz, itself derived form Proto-Germanic *þurēnan, which is etymologically connected to Sanskrit turá- 'strong, powerful, rich'.[3] For discussion regarding Old Norse troll and its development, see troll. Several terms are used specifically to refer to female entities that fall into this category, including íviðja (plural íviðjur) and gýgr (plural gýgjar).

Attestations

The jötnar are frequently attested throughout the Old Norse record. For example, in a stanza of Völuspá hin skamma (found in the poem Hyndluljóð), a variety of origins are provided: völvas are descended from Viðòlfr, all seers from Vilmeiðr, all charm-workers from Svarthöfði, and all jötnar descend from Ymir.[4]

Notes

  1. ^ a b c Orel (2003:86).
  2. ^ Orel (2003:472).
  3. ^ Orel (Orel (2003:429-430).
  4. ^ Bellows (1923:229) and Thorpe (1866:111).

References

  • Bellows, Henry Adams (Trans.) (1936). The Poetic Edda. Princeton University Press. New York: The American-Scandinavian Foundation.
  • Orel, Vladimir (2003). A Handbook of Germanic Etymology. Brill. ISBN 9004128751
  • Thorpe, Benjamin (Trans.) (1866). Edda Sæmundar Hinns Frôða: The Edda of Sæmund the Learned. Part I. London: Trübner & Co.

External links

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