Auðumbla

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Auðumbla (also spelled Auðumla, Auðhumbla, and Auðhumla) is a primeval cow appearing in Norse mythology. It is attested in Gylfaginning, a part of Snorri Sturluson's Prose Edda, in association with Ginnungagap and Ymir. Auðumbla is not mentioned again in the Prose Edda, and apart from one mention in Nafnaþulur, its name does not occur in other ancient sources. Nevertheless, it is generally accepted by scholars as an authentic part of Norse mythos and not dismissed as an invention of Snorri Sturluson.

Normalized text of R Brodeur's translation
Þá mælti Gangleri: "Hvar bygði Ymir, eða við hvat lifði hann?" Then said Gangleri: "Where dwelt Ymir, or wherein did he find sustenance?"
<Hár svarar>: "Næst var þat þá er hrímit draup at þar varð af kýr sú er Auðhumla hét, en fjórar mjólkár runnu ór spenum hennar, ok fœddi hún Ymi." Hárr answered: "Straightway after the rime dripped, there sprang from it the cow called Auðumla; four streams of milk ran from her udders, and she nourished Ymir."
Þá mælti Gangleri: "Við hvat fœddisk kýrin?" Then asked Gangleri: "Wherewithal was the cow nourished?"
Hár svarar: "Hon sleikti hrímsteinana er saltir váru. Ok hinn fyrsta <dag> er hon sleikti steina, kom ór steininum at kveldi manns hár, annan dag manns höfuð, þriðja dag var þar allr maðr. Sá er nefndr Búri[."] And Hárr made answer: "She licked the ice-blocks, which were salty; and the first day that she licked the blocks, there came forth from the blocks in the evening a man's hair; the second day, a man's head; the third day the whole man was there. He is named Búri[."]

Etymology[edit]

While Ymir suckles at the udder of Auðumbla, Búri is licked out of the ice in this 18th-century painting by Nicolai Abildgaard (1790)

Auðumbla's name appears in different variations in Prose Edda manuscripts. Its meaning is unclear. The word auð might be related to words meaning 'wealth', 'ease', 'fate' or 'emptiness', with 'wealth' perhaps being a likelier candidate. The word um(b)la is unclear, but judging from apparent cognates in other Germanic languages, it could mean 'polled cow'. Other vision says þumb could be the word stem.

Another theory links it with the name Ymir. The name may have been obscure and interpreted differently even in pagan times.

The name can be represented or Anglicized as Audumbla, Audumla, Audhumbla, Audhumla, Authumbla, Authumla, Authhumbla, Authhumla, Audhhumbla or Audhhumla. In Swedish it is also Ödhumla. In this case, the letter i in bird and girl has a pronunciation very similar to ö (o with umlaut).

Theories[edit]

The Swedish scholar Viktor Rydberg, writing in the late 19th century, drew a parallel between the Norse creation myths and accounts in Zoroastrian and Vedic mythology, postulating a common Proto-Indo-European origin. While many of Rydberg's theories were dismissed as fanciful by later scholars his work on comparative mythology was sound to a large extent. Zoroastrian mythology does have a primeval ox which is variously said to be male or female and comes into existence in the middle of the earth along with the primeval man.

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