Ríg (Norse god)

Ríg (Norse god)

Ríg or Rígr is the name applied to a Norse god described as "old and wise, mighty and strong" in the Eddic poem "Rígthula" (Old Norse "Rígsþula" - Song of Ríg). The prose introduction tells that Ríg is another name for Heimdall, who is moreover called the father of mankind in "Völuspá".

Rig wandered through the world and brought into being (apparently by fathering them) the progenitors of the three classes of human beings as conceived by the poet. The youngest of these sons inherited the name "Ríg" and in turn his youngest son, Kon the Young or "Kon ung" ("konung" meaning 'king' in Old Norse) also inherited the name or title "Ríg". This third Ríg was the first true king and the ultimate founder of the state of royalty as appears in the "Rígsthula" and in two other works in connection. In all three sources he is connected with two primordial Danish rulers named Dan and Danþír.

The poem "Rígthula" is preserved incomplete on the last surviving sheet in "Codex Wormianus" following "Snorri Sturluson's" Edda. A short prose introduction explains that the god in question was Heimdall who wandered along the seashore until he came to a farm where he called himself Ríg. The name Ríg appears to be the oblique case of Old Irish "rí", "ríg" "king", cognate to "rex" in Latin and "rajan" in Sanskrit.

That Heimdall as an ancestor, or kinsman, of humankind appears in the first two lines of the eddic poem "Völuspá":'

I ask for a hearing of all the holy races
Greater and lesser, kinsmen of Heimdall.


"Rígsthula" tells how Ríg happened upon a farm-hut which was owned by Ái 'great-grandfather' and Edda 'great-grandmother'. They offered Ríg shelter and poor, rough food for a meal. That night Ríg slept between the pair in their bed and then departed. Nine months later Edda gave birth to a son who was "svartan" (dark/black in color). They named him Thræl (thrall, serf, slave). Thræl grew up strong but ugly. He married a woman named Thír (slave girl, bondswoman) and they had twelve sons and nine daughters with names mostly suggesting ugliness and squatness. They became the race of serfs.

Travelling further, Ríg came across a nice house where lived a farmer/craftsman, Afi "grandfather" with his wife Amma "grandmother". The food was good and this couple also let Ríg sleep between them. Nine months later, a son, Karl (churl, freeman) was born whose face and hair was red. Karl married a woman named Snör (daughter-in-law) and they had twelve sons and ten daughters with names mostly suggesting a neat appearance or being of good quality. One of the names is "smiðr" (smith). These become the ancestors of the lesser farmers and herdsmen.

Travelling further, Ríg came to a mansion inhabited by Faðir (Father) and Móðir (Mother). They gave him excellent food served splendidly and, nine months later, Móðir gave birth to a beautiful baby named Jarl (earl, noble) whose hair was blond and who was "bleikr" (bright white in color). When Jarl grew up and began to handle weapons and to use hawks, hounds, and horses, Ríg reappeared, claimed Jarl as his son, gave Jarl his own name of Ríg, made him his heir, taught him runes, and advised him to seek lordship.

Through warfare Jarl became lord of eighteen homesteads with much wealth besides. Jarl also gained the hand of Erna 'Brisk' daughter of "Hersir" 'lord'. Erna bore eleven sons to Ríg-Jarl but no daughters. All of the sons were given high sounding names, mostly meaning 'son'. They became the ancestors of the warrior nobility.

The youngest son, named Kon, was the best of them. He alone learned rune-craft as well as other magic and was able to understand the speech of birds, to quench fire, and to heal minds. He also had the strength of eight normal men. His name was Kon the young ("Konr ungr" in Old Norse), the name and title to be understood as the origin of the Norse word "konungr" 'king' (though in fact that etymology is false). Kon, like his father, also gained the name or title of Ríg.One day, when Kon ung was riding through the forest hunting and snaring birds, a crow spoke to him and suggested Kon would win more if he stopped hunting mere birds and rode to battle against foemen, that he should seek the halls of Dan and Danp who were wealthier than he. At that point the poem breaks off.

A marriage by Kon ung into the family of Dan and Danp seems to be where the tale was headed as seen in the two other sources which mentions this Ríg. According to Arngrímur Jónsson's Latin epitome of the lost "Skjöldungasaga":

Ríg (Rigus) was a man not the least among the great ones of his time. He married the daughter of a certain Danp, lord of Danpsted, whose name was Dana; and later, having won the royal title for his province, left as his heir his son by Dana, called Dan or Danum, all of whose subjects were called Danes.

The other tradition appears in chapter 20 of the "Ynglinga Saga" section of Snorri Sturluson's "Heimskringla". The story speaks of King Dygvi of Sweden:

Dygvi's mother was Drótt, a daughter of King Danp, the son of Ríg, who was first called "konungr" in the Danish tongue. His descendants always afterwards considered the title of "konungr" the title of highest dignity. Dygvi was the first of his family to be called "konungr", for his predecessors had been called "dróttinn" ['chieftain'] , and their wives "dróttning", and their court "drótt" (war band). Each of their race was called Yngvi, or Ynguni, and the whole race together Ynglingar. Queen Drótt was a sister of King Dan Mikillati, from whom Denmark took its name.

Despite genealogical discrepancies (to be evaded only by imagining more than one "Danp" and more than one "Dan") the accounts relate a common tradition about the origin of the title "konungr" 'king'.

Kon ung, whose magical abilities are so emphasized, is as much a magician as a warrior: a magician king, perhaps a sacred king. Dumézil (1958) pointed out that Kon alone represents the supernatural function, represented by the brahman caste in India, the flamen function in Rome, the Druids in some Celtic cultures, and by the clergy in the three estates of medieval Europe. Instead of the three estates of clergy/priest, warrior, and commoner, with serfs outside the system, the "Rígsthula" presents three estates or castes in which the clergy/priest class has been subsumed within the warrior class and identified with royalty. Also, although in Rome and India the color "white" is assigned to the brahman and priestly functions and "red" to the warrior function, here the noble warrior is white in color while the red coloration is ascribed instead to the commoner in place of the green or blue or yellow color which appears in other cultures associated with Proto-Indo-European society. Dumézil saw this as a Germanic adaptation of Indo-European inheritance.

The "Rígsthula" account may be an attempt to harmonize different tales. Though Ríg seems to be father in all three families of sons born nine months after he has departed, in fact the sons seem to take after their parents in all ways and it is not clear that they are in any way special, except for the third. But the superiority of the third of three sons is a common motif in Indo-European legend and folklore.

That the "Rígsthula" names the three couples as "Great-Grandfather" and "Great-Grandmother", "Grandfather" and "Grandmother", "Father" and "Mother", suggests a conflicting concept in which Jarl, the first real noble, is descended in the fourth generation through fathers each of which was superior to his own father, each of which rose above the station of his siblings and founded a new sub-class within the common class of humanity.

ee also

* Norse mythology for general references

External links

* [http://www.cybersamurai.net/Mythology/nordic_gods/LegendsSagas/Edda/PoeticEdda/Icelandic/Rigsthula.htm Rígsþula (Old Norse)]
* [http://www.cybersamurai.net/Mythology/nordic_gods/LegendsSagas/Edda/PoeticEdda/Rigsthula.htm Rígsþula (English)]
* [http://userpage.fu-berlin.de/~alvismal/10rigr.pdf Amory, Frederic (2001). "The Historical Worth of the "Rígsþula".] (PDF) "Alvíssmál" 10. Freie Universität Berlin. ISBN 3861356120.
* Dumézil, Georges (1958). "The Rígsþula and Indo-European Social Structure", "Gods of the Ancient Northmen". Ed. Einar Haugen, trans. John Lindow (1973). Berkeley: University of California Press. ISBN 0520035070.

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