On Odin As Jupiter In The Icelandic Rune Poem

It is always nice to be vindicated. This is a page from a manuscript – AM 687d 4° – which constitutes one of the oldest presentations of the Icelandic Rune Poem. That is to say – the occasionally rather cryptic explication of just what each Rune is to mean.

The relevant word for our interest, I have highlighted in red.

It occurs in the fourth line, detailing what the Icelandics termed ‘Oss’ ( ᚬ ) – and which in the Elder Futhark is Ansuz ( ᚨ ).

That is to say, the ‘Aesir’ Rune, the ‘Spear of the Divine’ (I phrase it thus not only due to the Spear-God Himself and the archaic rune’s shape, but also given its continuance in the Anglo-Saxon sphere as a rather direct ‘Ash’ – the famed spear-wood so prominent even amidst the Greeks).

What is the text of the line ?

Per R.I. Page’s rendering (where, due to the age of the manuscript, some semi-illegible text has had to be ‘enhanced’ – as expressed in the square brackets):

“o er alldingautr ok asg[ar]dz iofjur ok vjalhallar visi Jupi[ter] Oddviti”

Or, in translation (and with my own annotations to draw out particular points of interest):

“Oss is the Aged Gautr” [God]

“and Ruler / Prince of Asgard” [interestingly, the term used – jöfur – is actually from a root which means ‘Boar’; potentially carrying forward an archaic Indo-European tradition around the boar and its position in the fight seen also in the Vedas]

“and Chief of Valhalla” [the term used, ‘Visi’ [and c.f the ‘Visir’ used in the Runologia version of the poem], I would take to be descended from Proto-Germanic *Wisaz – that is to say, ‘Wise’; itself from Proto-Indo-European *Weyd, which means ‘To See’. Between PG *Wisaz and the term used in the manuscript, there may be a PG *Wisona – which means ‘To Point Out’, ‘To Direct’ … and which should therefore posit ‘Visi(r)’ as an effective functional correlate for Latin ‘Dictator’ [from PIE *Deyk – ‘To Point Out’, whence also ‘To Teach’, ‘Vindication’, ‘Vengeance’, ‘Dikaiosune’ [Justice] etc.]. Wisdom and Leadership]

“Emperor Jupiter”

Now, as for why I’ve chosen to render ‘Oddviti’ as ‘Emperor’ – I am, in fact, meaning it in the more archaic Roman sense of the term: ‘Imperator’. ‘War-Leader’.

Oddr refers to a ‘sharp point’, of a weapon – the proverbial ‘Tip of the Spear’ we may say.

Viti, meanwhile, similarly refers to a point of direction – a ‘beacon’ or a signal-fire (a sense continued in the modern Icelandic ‘Viti’ to mean ‘Lighthouse’); and I would tentatively connect it also to Old Norse ‘Vita’ & ‘Vit’ – terms for ‘Knowing’ and ‘Wisdom’ which show up also to convey ‘(Fore)Seeing’ (for example, Lokasenna 29 – wherein it is stated of Frigg: “örlög Frigg, hygg ek, at öll viti” : i.e. She knows / sees Orlog [Cosmic Order] and one’s place in relation to it the best of all) – and which, entirely unsurprisingly, also stem from PIE *Weyd (‘To See’). Perhaps amusingly for our ‘Imperator’ concept – this would render ‘Vidi’ [as in ‘Veni Vidi Vici’] a rather direct cognate.

Whatever the intricacies of the relevant linguistics, the sense being communicated by ‘Oddviti’ is a reasonably clear one: the Leader, directing the force and the thrust of the weapon (or body of men – but, then, I repeat myself), likely from the front – its ‘face’.

In this, it has much in common with that epithet of Lord Agni we find in the Vedas: Anikavat ( अनीकवत् ): similarly utilized to refer to the God as War-Leader, the figure rather literally Leading The Charge, and built from a term (Anika – अनीक) that refers to the leading edge or point of a weapon (and may also refer to an army).

And, of course, the array of ‘Her(ja)’ relevant Odinic theonymy that we are so familiar from elsewhere [i.e. Harja or Harjaz as a warband, and the God spoken of as its Leader – Herföðr, Herjan, and in a sense, HerGautr perhaps as well].

So, all of this brings us to the key question here:

Why is it that this particular formulation of the Icelandic Rune Poem cross-identifies Odin with Jupiter?

Well, the answer is reasonably apparent – by the time the manuscript in question was being written (about five hundred years ago), Iceland had been Christianized for some centuries. Explicating elements of the authentic Old Norse tradition entirely in their own terms would be an exercise in difficulty. Whereas Classical forms and understandings were part of the ‘high cultural’ milieu of most of Northern Europe to varying degrees – and so, even in a Christianized context, speaking of Jove would mean something. It is a referential touchstone (or, if you like, ‘beacon’ – Viti) upon which to hang one’s (wide)hat.

Now at this point, somebody down there in the Cheap Seats is presumably just itching to bring up the longstanding equation of Odin with Mercury via the ‘Interpretatio Romana’ approach. And therefore claiming that, of course, this vitiates any suggestion of Odin as Jupiter – or, more pointedly, that He is Dyaus Pitar (the Sky Father – and we must always remember that, per the Vedas, Dyaus Is Rudra).

Except, as has been discussed quite exhaustively elsewhere, that identification of Odin as Mercury is … not what it seems. It’s a Roman writing about a foreign group and making a semi-educated guess as to where he thinks the lead God of that people might ‘fit in’. Some of his statements (like the worship of Hercules – Whom we may quite reasonably infer to be Thor) make sense. Others … not so much, and must be cast over with a critical eye.

We know from both Vedic and Hellenic evidence that the Sky Father going about in disguise and potentially looking like a vagrant is an ancient and archaic Indo-European perception. For the Hellenics, it occurs when Zeus is testing adherence to ‘Xenia’ [‘Sacred Hospitality’] (interestingly, a duty shared with Hermes and Athena) – for the Vedic Aryans, we find Lord Rudra as AdiVratya [‘First of the Outlaws’, to translate a bit figuratively] doing exactly the same thing. (And, of course, we have Odin in the Grimnismal undertaking similar behavior toward Geirroth)

We could go on at further length demonstrating how seemingly every point raised to attempt to ‘iron-clad’ an ‘Odin is Mercury not Dyaus / Jupiter’ argument can, in fact, either be utilized to show fundamental adherency to the Sky Father typology for Odin (if not, necessarily, the particular form of Sky Father understanding which had become most prominent amidst the Romans two thousand years ago), or at least be interpreted quite differently. But that would be a series of matters for other pieces.

However, what makes some other attempted ‘Interpretatio Romana’ postulations interesting is that they were undertaken not by culturally (and physically) remote Romans – but by Germanic peoples themselves.

This linkage of Odin with Jupiter in the Icelandic Rune Poem is one example – another is Saxo Grammaticus making the quite sensible identification of Odin as Pluto. To quote from the Gesta Danorum:

“Where, then, are the captains of the Goths, and the soldiery of Hiartuar? Let them come, and pay for their might with their life-blood. Who can cast, who whirl the lance, save scions of kings? War springs from the nobly born: famous pedigrees are the makers of war. For the perilous deeds which chiefs attempt are not to be done by the ventures of common men. Renowned nobles are passing away. Lo! Greatest Rolf, thy great ones have fallen, thy holy line is vanishing. No dim and lowly race, no low-born dead, no base souls are Pluto’s prey, but he weaves the dooms of the mighty, and fills Phlegethon with noble shapes.”

Now, as we have earlier and repeatedly demonstrated, the Classical conception of Zeus, Hades, Poseidon – is simply three ‘facings’ of the Sky Father deific. Zeus Triophthalmos. And, of course, there was some awareness of this preserved amidst the Classical milieus – seen not only through the Zeus Three-Eyed just immediately aforementioned but via the linguistics around, for instance, Dis Pater.

It can fairly be argued, I think, that in each case – Saxo Grammaticus, and this Icelandic text – that there was a certain level of ‘outsider’ perspective going on even so. Saxo Grammaticus was a Christian author, and it is entirely plausible that various of the elements he incorporated which seem ‘strange’ in comparison to other Nordic texts or practice were as a partial result of this.

Yet it would be most curious indeed to attempt to assert that a claim of Odin as Lord of the Glorious/Ancestral Dead would somehow be Christian ‘defamation’. Rather than an eminently logical and reasonable ‘Interpretatio Romana’ that does actually state something accurately apt about Odin’s role within the cosmos and the cosmology.

Similarly, I would be at a loss to explain why a linkage of Odin with Jupiter would be made with such ‘defamatory’ intent in mind by the late Icelandic chronicler who compiled the rune poem. It is simply as it appears – a reasonably direct statement of a Classical equivalency as they understood it.

And – most importantly – one which accords STRONGLY with the evidence we have exhaustively compiled from a comparative Indo-European perspective elsewhere.

Never let it be said that occasional insights of brilliant truth cannot somehow come down to us even in later times and texts.

ᚬ Óss er algingautr
ok ásgarðs jöfurr,
ok valhallar vísi.
Jupiter oddviti.

3 thoughts on “On Odin As Jupiter In The Icelandic Rune Poem

  1. This double cross (ᚬ) runic rune sign is of ancient origin.
    In Sumerian and then Akkadian writing, this meant: ancient, Old God, and the 1-digit sign.
    In the runic writing of the Szekler Hungarians (and also in the writing of their predecessors, the Huns), the meaning of the sign (ᚬ) was 1. And it also meant that God.
    And that One is God, One is Spirit.
    In the coat of arms of the first kings of the Hungarians, the Turul (Saker falcon), the double cross meant the same thing: One is God.
    And this is what it means in the coat of arms of Hungary even today.


  2. Pingback: On Odin As Jupiter In The Icelandic Rune Poem – Glyn Hnutu-healh: History, Alchemy, and Me

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