Academic journal article Scandinavian Studies

Baldrs Draumar and the Generic Turn

Academic journal article Scandinavian Studies

Baldrs Draumar and the Generic Turn

Article excerpt

BALDRS DRAUMAR has more than once challenged scholars trying to use the poem as a source of Old Norse mythology. It has often been considered not only self-contradictory but also "a bad poem," although such evaluations are rare nowadays. (1) The apparent ambiguity of Baldrs draumar will seem a disadvantage if the poem is considered literally, that is--as eddic poems generally are--as a presentation of myth. If, on the other hand, Baldrs draumar is taken literarily, as a poem making poetic use of myth, ambiguity and anomaly may be understood in the light of a generic interplay. The presentation of a volva [seeress]--i.e. a spa [prophecy]--is generally a rather straight-forward description of events, but departing from the conventions, the generic alignment of Baldrs draumar shifts to a riddle contest and senna. These two genres by definition evoke mythic events and narratives by brief allusion and in a very condensed form. Whether or not these features are considered primarily mnemonic, they provide effective associations that are most important in the poem. As the generic mode shifts, the expectations of the receiver also shift, and I propose that this generic turn is vital to Baldrs draumar. (2)

The account of Odinn descending to Hel in order to ask about Baldr's dreams is unknown elsewhere, but the poem in several respects corresponds to Voluspa 31-5 (the Codex Regius version (3)): Baldrs draumar II is practically identical to Voluspa 32.5-33.4. (4) The dating of the poems is complicated, (5) and there may have been other poems treating the death of Baldr. (6) The only assumption I will make here, is that Baldrs draumar and Voluspa reflect a more or less common tradition. The story of Hermodr, not Odinn, attempting to bring Baldr back to life in Gylfaginning chapter 49 is not necessarily younger than Baldrs draumar, since Malshattakvadi 9 mentions Hermodr's trying to prolong Baldr's life. (7)

The fourteen stanzas of the poem as preserved in AM 748 1a 4 to present events concerning the death of Baldr in a condensed and puzzling way. Because of Baldr's dreams, Odinn journeys to Hel where he conjures up a volva in order to ask about the future. Odinn's first question is who will die, but he obviously knows the answer since he has journeyed to Hel. There, he does not visit Hel herself, but a volva, who first answers his questions on the basis of her being in the realm of the dead but then in her capacity of seeress. The volva not only resides in Hel but is also buried in a grave within the realm of the dead, and still she is exposed to snow, dew, and rain. After asking who is awaited in Hel (answer: Baldr), he inquires who kills Baldr (answer: Hodr) and who avenges Baldr (answer: Vali, or at least the son of Rind)? Odinn then puts to her the mystifying question concerning the identity of the maids who will weep, probably, for Baldr. This question obviously can have no answer but somehow reveals his identity to the volva, thus, terminating the dialogue as well as the poem. At the same time Odinn's identity is made clear, he also seems to reveal the identity of the volva by stating that she is neither a volva nor a wise woman, but the mother of three giants. (8)

   1 Senn voro asir   allir a pingi
   oc asynior   allar a mali,
   oc um pat redo,   rikir tivar,
   hvi vari Baldri   ballir draumar.

   2 Upp reis Odinn,   alda gautr,
   oc hann a Sleipni   sodul um lagdi;
   reid hann nidr padan   Niflheliar til,
   meotti hann hvelpi,   peim er or helio kom.

   3 Sa var blodugr   um briost framan,
   oc galdrs fodur   go um lengi;
   fram reid Odinn,   foldvegr dundi,
   hann kom at havo   Heliar ranni.

   4 Pa reid Odinn   fyr austan dyrr,
   par er hann vissi   volo leidi;
   nam harm vittugri   valgaldr qveda,
   unz naudig reis,   nas ord um qvad:

   5 "Hvat er manna pat,   mer okunnra,
   er mer hefir aukit   erfit sinni?
   var ec snivin sniovi   oc slegin regni
   oc drifin doggo,   daud var ec lengi. … 
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