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The meaning of «eir»

In Norse mythology, Eir (Old Norse "protection, help, mercy"[1]) is a goddess or valkyrie associated with medical skill. Eir 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; and in skaldic poetry, including a runic inscription from Bergen, Norway from around 1300. Scholars have theorized about whether these three sources refer to the same figure, and debate whether Eir may have been originally a healing goddess or a valkyrie. In addition, Eir has been theorized as a form of the goddess Frigg and has been compared to the Greek goddess Hygieia.

In the Poetic Edda poem Fjölsvinnsmál, the watchman Fjölsviðr presents a list of the maidens that attend the lady of the keep—Menglöð—that includes Eir, and states that they all sit on the hill Lyfjaberg (Old Norse "hill of healing"[2] or "healing mountain"[3]). The exchange between the hero Svipdagr and Fjölsviðr mentioning Eir is as follows:

After the exchange, Svipdagr asks if these figures will give aid if blóts are made to them. Fjölsviðr responds that Svipdagr is correct:

In chapter 35 of the Prose Edda book Gylfaginning, the enthroned figure of High provides brief descriptions of 16 ásynjur. High lists Eir third, and says no more about her other than noting that "she is an extremely good physician."[7] In chapter 75 of the Prose Edda book Skáldskaparmál Eir appears within a list of valkyrie names, but Eir is not included in the list of ásynjur in the same chapter.[8]

In skaldic poetry, the name Eir is frequent in kennings for women. A sample construction is Eir aura ("Eir of riches"), occurring in Gísla saga.[9] The name is already used in this way by the 10th century poets Kormákr Ögmundarson and Hallfreðr vandræðaskáld.[10] Similarly, the name Eir is used in a woman kenning in a runic inscription inscribed on a stick from Bergen, Norway around the year 1300. The stick records a common mercantile transaction followed by a verse from a displeased scribe (edits applied per the translator's notes):

Mindy Macleod and Bernard Mees posit that the first line of the inscription essentially means "women make me miserable" or potentially "marriage makes me miserable," whereas the second line means "women often take a lot of sleep from me."[11]

The name remained frequently used in woman kennings in rímur poetry.[12]

Regarding the seemingly three different, seemingly conflicting, mentions of Eir, Andy Orchard says that the etymology of the name Eir may appear to fit the role of Eir as a goddess and servant of Menglöð best, but that one should consider that the valkyries also have the ability to waken the dead.[13] John Lindow is skeptical of there having been a belief in Eir as a goddess, stating that "whether we should trust Snorri and imagine the existence of a goddess Eir is problematic".[14] Rudolf Simek says that Eir may originally have been simply a valkyrie rather than a goddess, and lists the servant of Menglöð by the same name as a separate figure.[15]

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