Skírnismál (Old Norse: 'The Lay of Skírnir') is one of the poems of the Poetic Edda. It is preserved in the 13th-century manuscripts Codex Regius and AM 748 I 4to but may have been originally composed in heathen times. Many scholars believe that the poem was acted out, perhaps in a sort of hiéros gamos.
The prose prologue to the poem says that the god Freyr, the son of Njörðr, sits in Odin's throne, Hliðskjálf (without Odin's knowledge, of course) and looked over all the worlds. On looking to Jötunheimr, the land of the giants, Freyr sees a beautiful girl, Gerðr, and is immediately seized by desire. Fearing that the object of his heart's desire is unattainable, gloom settles upon him.
The poem itself starts with the wife of Njörðr, Skaði, bidding Skírnir (Freyr's servant, so to speak; the nature of his racial status is unclear) to ask Freyr why he is so sad. Freyr's response is sullen, yet he does confess his feelings and asks Skírnir to undertake a journey to woo Gerðr on Freyr's behalf. Skírnir agrees, and Freyr furnishes him with his magical steed and sword.
Skírnir makes his way to Jötunheimr, and eventually arrives at the hall of the giant Gymir. Gerðr, the daughter of Gymir, greets him; Skírnir immediately sets about trying to set up a sexual rendezvous between Gerðr and Freyr. He tries bribing her first with gifts, but when these are refused, he is quick to turn to coercion, with threats of violence and curses that disturb her very female identity. Unsurprisingly, Gerðr has no choice but to submit to Skírnir's wishes and agree to the rendezvous with Freyr.
- Seest thou, maiden, this keen, bright sword
- That I hold here in my hand?
- Before its blade the old giant bends,—
- Thy father is doomed to die.
- I strike thee, maid, with my gambantein,
- To tame thee to work my will;
- There shalt thou go where never again
- The sons of men shall see thee.
In Snorri Sturluson's version of the tale, Skírnir successfully woos Gerðr without threatening to curse her.
Skírnir returns to Asgard and reports to Freyr, who asks him:
Tell me, Skírnir, before unsaddling
- Or stepping forth another pace
- Is the news you bring from Jotunheim
- For better or for worse?
- In the woods of Barri, which know we both so well,
- A quiet still and tranquil place
- In nine nights time to Njörd's son
- Will Gerd give herself.
- One night is long enough, yet longer still are two;
- How then shall I contend with three?
- For months have passed more quickly
- Than half a bridal eve.
There is material evidence that the contemporary audience of Skírnismál believed in the effectiveness of curses like Skírnir's and even attempted to employ them. Aslak Liestøl published a thirteenth-century text which contains a curse that is notably similar to the curse Skírnir's threatened Gerðr with. Liestøl asserts that the runic inscription is a genuine spell, and was intended to work on a real woman.
Carolyne Larrington outlines the different elements of the curse Gerðr is threatened with:
- She will be invisible, but also a public spectacle.
- She will experience intolerable sexual frustration.
- She will have a "physically repulsive" husband.
- She will fall to a low social status, and will lose the little autonomy she has.
- She will experience "[m]ale, authoritarian disapproval".
- Orchard, Andy (1997). Dictionary of Norse Myth and Legend. Cassell. ISBN 978-0-304-34520-5.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
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- Skirnismol Henry A. Bellows' translation and commentary
- Skírnismál Bellows' translation with clickable names
- The Poetic Edda. 1996. Translated by Carolyne Larrington, Oxford University Press, 2014.
- Birkett, Tom. The Norse Myths. Quercus, 2018.
- Gaiman, Neil. Norse Mythology. Bloomsbury Publishing, 2018.
- Skírnismál as Ritual Drama Article by Rick McGregor
- Heinz Klingenberg, "För Skírnis: Brautwerbungsfahrt eines Werbungshelfers", Alvíssmál 6 (1996): 21–62 (see English summary, pp. 59–62).
- Anatoly Liberman, Review of Klaus von See et al., "Skírnismál": Modell eines Edda-Kommentars, Alvíssmál 6 (1996): 114–18.]
- Anne Heinrichs, "Der liebeskranke Freyr, euhemeristisch entmythisiert", Alvíssmál 7 (1997): 3–36 (see English summary, p. 36).
- Larrington, Carolyne. "What Does Woman Want? Mær und munr in Skírnismál". Alvíssmál, vol. 1, 1992, pp. 3-16.