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Rán uses her net to pulls a seafarer into the depths in an illustration by Johannes Gehrts, 1901

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 goddesses 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 in the 13th century from earlier traditional sources; the Prose Edda, written in the 13th century by Snorri Sturluson; in both Völsunga saga and Friðþjófs saga hins frœkna; and in the poetry of skalds.

Contents

EtymologyEdit

The Old Norse common noun rán means 'plundering' or 'theft, robbery'.[1] In turn, scholars view the theonym Rán as meaning, for example, 'theft, robbery'.[2] 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'.[2]

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'.[3]

AttestationsEdit

Poetic EddaEdit

 
Rán pulls her net beside her husband Ægir as depicted by Friedrich Wilhelm Heine (1845-1921) after an original by Friedrich Wilhelm Engelhard (1813-1902)

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.[4]

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.[5]

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."[6]

The second instance occurs in a stanza found in Helgakviða Hjörvarðssonar. In this stanza, the hero Atli references Rán while flyting with Hrímgerðr, a female jötunn:

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."[7]

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.'[8]

Finally, in the prose introduction to Reginsmál, Loki visits Rán (here rendered as Ron) to borrow her net:

[Odin and Hœnir] sent Loki to get the gold; he went to Ron and got her net, and went then to Andvari's fall and cast the net in front of the pike, and the pike leaped into the net.[9]

Translator Henry Adams Bellows notes how this version of the narrative differs from how it appears in other sources, where Loki catches the pike with his own hands.[9]

Prose EddaEdit

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".[10]

In the same section, the author cites a fragment of a work by the 11th century Icelandic skald Hofgarða-Refr Gestsson, where Rán is referred to as 'Gymir's ... völva':

Standardized Old Norse

Ok sem kvað Refr:
Fœrir bjǫrn, þar er bára
brestr, undinna festa
opt í Ægis kjǫpta
*ursǫl Gymis vǫlva.[11]

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.[12]

The section's author comments that the stanza "[implies] that they are all the same, Ægir and Hler and Gymir.[13] The author follows with a quote from another stanza by the skald that references Rán:

But sea-crest-Sleipnir [ship], spray-driven, tears his breast, covered with red paint, out of white Ran's mouth [the sea's grasp].[13]

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."[14]

In the Nafnaþulur section of Skáldskaparmál, Rán appears in a list of goddesses (Old Norse ásynjur).[15]

Völsunga saga and Friðþjófs saga hins frœknaEdit

Rán receives a single mention in Völsunga saga. Like in the prose introduction to the eddic poem Reginsmál (discussed above), "they sent Loki to obtain the gold. He went to Ran and got her net."[16]

In the legendary saga Friðþjófs saga hins frœkna, Friðþjófr and his men find themselves in a violent storm, and the protagonist mourns that he will soon rest in Rán's bed:

Old Norse

Sat ek á bólstri
í Baldrshaga,
kvað, hvat ek kunna,
fyr konungs dóttur.
Nú skal ek Ránar
raunbeð troða,
en annar mun
Ingibjargar."[17]

Eiríkr Magnússon and William Morris translation (1875):

"On bolster I sat
In Baldur's Mead erst,
And all songs that I could
To the king's daughter sang;
Now on Ran's bed belike
Must I soon be a-lying,
And another shall be
By Ingibiorg's side."[18]

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:

Nú hefir fjórum
of farit várum
lögr lagsmönnum,
þeim er lifa skyldu,
en Rán gætir
röskum drengjum,
siðlaus kona,
sess ok rekkju.[17]
"The red ring here I hew me
Once owned of Halfdan's father,
The wealthy lord of erewhile,
Or the sea waves undo us,
So on the guests shall gold be,
If we have need of guesting;
Meet so for mighty men-folk
Amid Ran's hall to hold them."[19]

Scholarly reception and interpretationEdit

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."[2]

NotesEdit

  1. ^ Faulkes (1998: 250) and discussion in Simek (2007 [1993]:260).
  2. ^ a b c Simek (2007 [1993]:260).
  3. ^ Gudbrund Vigfusson (1874:487-488).
  4. ^ Bellows (1936: 299-300). Bellows renders Old Norse Rán as Ron throughout his translation.
  5. ^ Larrington (1999 [1996]: 118).
  6. ^ Davidson (1999 [1996]: 279, 280).
  7. ^ Bellows (1936: 281).
  8. ^ Davidson (1999 [1996]: 127).
  9. ^ a b Bellows (1936: 358-359).
  10. ^ Faulkes (1995 [1989]: 91).
  11. ^ Faulkes (1998: 37).
  12. ^ Faulkes (1995 [1989]: 91). This stanza appears quoted a second time later in Skáldskaparmál, for which see Faulkes (1995 [1989]:140).
  13. ^ a b Faulkes (1998: 92).
  14. ^ Faulkes (1998:95). The chapter continues with discussion regarding the development of these kennings and the concept of allegory.
  15. ^ Faulkes (1998:157).
  16. ^ Byock (1990:58).
  17. ^ a b Friðþjófs saga ins frækna at Norrøne Tekster og Kvad, Norway.
  18. ^ Eiríkr Magnússon and Morris (1875:84).
  19. ^ Eiríkr Magnússon and Morris (1875:86).

ReferencesEdit