Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Bragi

Bragi is the skaldic god of poetry in Norse mythology. Bragi is generally associated with bragr, the Norse word for poetry. The name of the god may have been derived from bragr, or the term bragr may have been formed to describe 'what Bragi does'. A connection between the name Bragi and English brego 'chieftain' has been suggested but is generally now discounted. A connection between Bragi and the bragarfull 'promise cup' is sometimes suggested, as bragafull, an alternate form of the word, might be translated as 'Bragi's cup'.

Snorri Sturluson writes in the Gylfaginning after describing Odin, Thor, and Baldr:

One is called Bragi: he is renowned for wisdom, and most of all for fluency of speech and skill with words. He knows most of skaldship, and after him skaldship is called bragr, and from his name that one is called bragr-man or -woman, who possesses eloquence surpassing others, of women or of men. His wife is Iðunn.

In Skáldskaparmál Snorri writes:

How should one periphrase Bragi? By calling him husband of Iðunn, first maker of poetry, and the long-bearded god (after his name, a man who has a great beard is called Beard-Bragi), and son of Odin.

That Bragi is Odin's son is clearly mentioned only here and in some versions of a list of the sons of Odin (see Sons of Odin). But "wish-son" in stanza 16 of the Lokasenna could mean "Odin's son" and is translated by Hollander as Odin's kin. Bragi's mother is never named. If Bragi's mother is Frigg, then Frigg is somewhat dismissive of Bragi in the Lokasenna in stanza 27 when Frigg complains that if she had a son in Ægir's hall as brave as Baldr then Loki would have to fight for his life.

In that poem Bragi at first forbids Loki to enter the hall but is overruled by Odin. Loki then gives a greeting to all gods and goddesses who are in the hall save to Bragi. Bragi generously offers his sword, horse, and an arm ring as peace gift but Loki only responds by accusing Bragi of cowardice, of being the most afraid to fight of any of the Æsir and Elves within the hall. Bragi responds that if they were outside the hall, he would have Loki's head, but Loki only repeats the accusation. When Bragi's wife Iðunn attempts to calm Bragi, Loki accuses her of embracing her brother's slayer, a reference to matters that have not survived. It may be that Bragi had slain Iðunn's brother.

A passage in the Poetic Edda poem Sigrdrífumál describes runes being graven on the sun, on the ear of one of the sun-horses and on the hoofs of the other, on Sleipnir's teeth, on bear's paw, on eagle's beak, on wolf's claw, and on several other things including on Bragi's tongue. Then the runes are shaved off and the shavings are mixed with mead and sent abroad so that Æsir have some, Elves have some, Vanir have some, and Men have some, these being beech runes and birth runes, ale runes, and magic runes. The meaning of this is obscure.

The first part of Snorri Sturluson's Skáldskaparmál is a dialogue between Ægir and Bragi about the nature of poetry, particularly skaldic poetry. Bragi tells the origin of the mead of poetry from the blood of Kvasir and how Odin obtained this mead. He then goes on to discuss various poetic metaphors known as kennings.

Snorri Sturluson clearly distinguishes the god Bragi from the mortal skald Bragi Boddason whom he often mentions separately. Bragi Boddason is discussed below. The appearance of Bragi in the Lokasenna indicates that if these two Bragis were originally the same, they have become separated for that author also, or that chronology has become very muddled and Bragi Boddason has been relocated to mythological time. Compare the appearance of the Welsh Taliesin in the second branch of the Mabinogi. Legendary chronology sometimes does become muddled. Whether Bragi the god originally arose as a deified version of Bragi Boddason was much debated in the 19th century, especially by the German scholars Eugen Mogk and Sophus Bugge. The debate remains undecided.

In the poem Eiríksmál Odin, in Valhalla, hears the coming of the dead Norwegian king Eric Bloodaxe and his host, and bids the heroes Sigmund and Sinfjötli rise to greet him. Bragi is then mentioned, questioning how Odin knows that it is Eric and why Odin has let such a king die. In the poem Hákonarmál, Hákon the Good is taken to Valhalla by the valkyrie Göndul and Odin sends Hermóðr and Bragi to greet him. In these poems Bragi could be either a god or a dead hero in Valhalla. Attempting to decide is further confused because Hermóðr also seems to be sometimes the name of a god and sometimes the name of a hero. That Bragi was also the first to speak to Loki in the Lokasenna as Loki attempted to enter the hall might be a parallel. It might have been useful and customary that a man of great eloquence and versed in poetry should greet those entering a hall.

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