Mikael Males

Vellekla, Snorri, and Óðinn in the Tree

Is This the Right Chronological Order?

Fimmtudaginn 8. október 2015 kl. 16.30
Öskju 132

Mikael Males
Mikael Males

The stanzas in Hávamál describing how Óðinn is hanging in a wind-blown tree have been subject to much debate. Historians of religion find them particularly valuable since this is one of the rare instances where a ritual of sorts is described. Others have found them suspicious because of the many—or rather too many—parallels between these stanzas and the Passion of Christ. Needless to say, these two positions cannot easily be reconciled.

In this talk, I wish to reassess the evidence, but more importantly, I shall introduce a new and quite different argument into the debate. A semantic analysis of the word Óðrørir/Óðrerir will show that these stanzas have been affected by Snorri’s reinterpretation of Vellekla, and that the Christian parallels must therefore in all likelihood be understood as, indeed, Christian.

I will attempt to strike a middle ground between the two opposing schools of interpretation. Skaldic poetry shows us that Óðinn had been associated with hanging—indeed his own hanging—for a long time, and while he may not have been wounded by a spear before, the Passion suggested such a use of the weapon, the spear itself had been his all along. Óðinn’s lack of food or drink and his resurrection, by contrast, are probably pure borrowings. Even so, the analysis will show that Christian composition need not imply that an ostensibly traditional motif lacks all foundation in pre-Christian tradition.

Mikael Males is a postdoctoral fellow of Old Norse Philology at the University of Oslo. He specializes in skaldic poetry and Icelandic grammatical literature. His main focus lies on medieval reception of the native tradition and on the interplay Latin learning and local poetics.

The lecture will be delivered in English.