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Sinmara (1893) by Jenny Nyström

In Norse mythology, Sinmara is a female figure or jötunn,[2] usually considered a consort to the fiery jötunn Surtr, the lord of Muspelheim. Sinmara is attested solely in the poem Fjölsvinnsmál, where she is mentioned alongside Surtr in one (emended) stanza, and described as keeper of the legendary weapon Lævateinn in a later passage. Assorted theories have been proposed about the etymology of her name, and her connection with other figures in Norse mythology.


The etymology of the name Sinmara is obscure; the latter element of the name, mara, may be a cognate to "(night-)mare", as suggested in the Copenhagen edition of the Poetic Edda (1787-1828) annotated in Latin. Here the sin- element is identified as meaning "sinew" or rather "nerves", so that the total phrase comes out as "nervous (or nerve-afflicting) nightmare".[1][3]

It has also been proposed that the sin- element may refer to sindr (Old Norse "cinders").[4] Rudolf Simek opines that sin cannot be related to the term sindr, while this would equal a "meaningful interpretation in regard to the colour", he theorizes that a more likely interpretation is "the pale (night-)mare", noting that this would fit the wife of a fire jötunn.[5]

Adolfo Zavaroni and Emilia Reggio suggest the interpretation "Perpetual-incubus." The sin- element is here theorized as being the same as in the male name Sinwara, found in a runic inscription on the "Næsbjerg brooch" from Denmark, Old High German sin-vlout "great flood", Old English sin-niht(e) and Old Saxon sin-nahti "eternal night", and Gothic sin-teins "daily".[6] J. Fibiger assumed the meaning "the great mare" based on the Sin- element in the Old High German word Sinfluth "great flood" (a variant of previously mentioned sinvlout).[7]

Viktor Rydberg proposed that the name Sinmara is composed of sin, meaning "sinew", and mara, meaning "the one that maims", noting that mara is related to the verb merja (citing Guðbrandur Vigfússon's dictionary[8]), Rydberg concludes that the name Sinmara thus means "the one who maims by doing violence to the sinews," thus identifying her as Nidhad's wife, who orders Völund's sinews cut to prevent his escape, in the eddic poem Völundarkviða.[9]


The Eddaic poem Fjölsvinnsmál is a bridal quest, in which Svipdagr eventually gains entry to the mansion that houses his would-be bride Menglöð. Svipdagr (under the pseudonym Vindkaldr) poses questions to the watchman Fjölsviðr ("Much Wise"[10]) and gathers intelligence about the mansion, he gleans the fact that the guard-hounds of the mansion can only be distracted by the meat of the cock Víðófnir. This is where Sinmara figures, as the keeper of Lævateinn, the only weapon capable of slaying the cock:

Hildebrand et al. edition:
Fjǫsviþr kvaþ:
'Lǽvateinn heitir,   es gørþi Loptr rúnum
fyr nágrindr neþan;
Í Lǽgjarns keri   liggr hjá Sinmǫru,
ok halda njarþlásar niu.'[11]
Henry Adams Bellows translation:
Fjolsvith spake:
"Lævatein[a] is there, that Lopt with runes
Once made by the doors of death;
In Lægjarn's chest[b] by Sinmora lies it,
And nine locks fasten it firm."[12]

That Sinmara will only award the weapon to one who brings her the tail feather of the cock creates an insurmountable paradox to obtaining it. Fjölsviðr insinuates that a man may succeed in obtaining the weapon Lævateinn if a man carries a certain hard-to-obtain item to Sinmora (here she is referred to as eir aurglasis or "the goddess of gold").[13][14][c] Svipdag in turn inquires what treasure it is that would so delight Sinmara ((hin) fǫlva gýgr or "the giantess pale").[15][16][d] Fjölsviðr then replies Svipdagr must bring the "bright sickle" to Sinmara, and then she will give Lævateinn to Svipdagr:

Hildebrand et al. edition:
Fjǫsviþr kvaþ:
'Ljósan lea   skaltu í lúþr bera
þanns liggr í Viþofnis vǫlum,
Sinmǫru at selja,   áþr hón sǫm telisk
vápn til vígs at lea.'[17]
Henry Adams Bellows translation:
Fjolsvith spake:
"The sickle bright in thy wallet bear,
Mid Vithofnir's feathers found;
To Sinmora give it, and then shall she grant
That the weapon by thee be won."[18]

Sinmara has so far been mentioned twice explicitly, and twice by periphrases. In certain editions and translations, she is mentioned explicitly a third time as a product of emendation (in an earlier strophe than quoted above), thus in the modified readings of certain editions and in Bellows' translation, Fjölsviðr names Sinmara and Surtr together, and says that the two are endangered by the rooster Víðópnir that sits atop the tree Mímameiðr:

Hildebrand et al. edition:
Fjǫsviþr kvaþ:
'Viþofnir heitir,   en hann stendr veþrglasi
á meiþs kvistum Mima:
einum ekka   þryngr hann ørófsaman
Surt ok Sinmǫru.'[19]
Henry Adams Bellows translation:
Fjolsvith spake:
"Vithofnir his name, and now he shines
Like lightning on Mimameith's limbs;
And great is the trouble with which he grieves
Both Surt and Sinmora."[20]

However in the original reading this same strophe does not give mention of Sinmara:

Copenhagen (Arnamagnæan) edition of 1787:
Fjösviþr qvaþ:

'Viþofnir han heitir;   En hann stendr veþr-glasi

á Meiþs kvistvm Míma:
einum ecka   þrúngr han ó-rof saman
Svrtr sinn mavtv.'[21]
Benjamin Thorpe translation:
Vidofnir he is called; in the clear air he stands,
in the boughs of Mima's tree:
afflictions only bring together indissoluble,
the swart bird at his lonely meal.[22]


Henry Adams Bellows comments that Sinmara is "presumably Surt's wife".[20] In the theories of Viktor Rydberg, Sinmara is the wife of Mímir, the mother of Nótt, Böðvildr, "and other night díses". According to Rydberg, the byname Sinmara refers to "Mímir-Niðhad"'s "queen ordering Völund's hamstrings to be cut."[23]

Hjalmar Falk states that "Sinmara [...] is probably no other than Hel, Loki's daughter." He says that Sinmara is called hin fölva gýgr "pale giantess"[24] in Fjölsvinnsmál, just as the classical Roman poet Virgil speaks of the pale Orcus, a god of the underworld in Roman mythology, and that Hel is blue or half blue and half light, like the Roman goddess Proserpina, whom Saxo equates to Hel in his Gesta Danorum. Falk further notes that Sinmara is referred to as aurglasis Eirr, which he translates as "the goddess of the gold ring", and compares Hel's being called Gjallar sunnu gátt "wearer of the necklace" in stanza 9 of the poem Forspjallsljóð.[25] Björn Olsen associates the kenning with veðurglasir, a name of Yggdrasill in stanza 24 of the same poem, and translates aurglasir as a name for the root system of the world-tree.


  1. ^ a b Lexicon Mythologicum section in: Arnamagnæan Foundation (1828:696-7)(Copenhagen edition of Poetic Edda, Vol. 3, p.696-7). Sinmara's name described as nervis illustris and lists the cognates Old English: Mære, Swedish: Mara, Danish: Mare, German: Nacht-Mär, Flemish: Nacht-Maer, Night-Mare
  2. ^ "Sinmara.. furia gigantea allegoricae"[1]
  3. ^ Arnamagnæan Foundation (1787:295) (Copenhagen edition of Poetic Edda Vol. 1, p.295), glosses Sinmara's name as nervis illustrem inline in the Latin translation facing text.
  4. ^ Simek (2007:285) citing Gutenbrunner (1940).
  5. ^ Simek (2007:285).
  6. ^ Zavaroni and Emilia (2006:72).
  7. ^ Fibiger (1854:20).
  8. ^ While Anderson's English translation of Rydberg's Teutonic Mythology gives the word "maim" and cites Gudbrand Vigfusson's Icelandic-English Dictionary (1874), the dictionary has "to bruise, crush" in its entry for Merja on page 424.
  9. ^ Rydberg (2004:518) = Rydberg Vol. 2 (1907:518)
  10. ^ Bellows (1923:239).
  11. ^ Hildebrand, Gering, and Möbius (1904: 202), strophe 26
  12. ^ Bellows (1923:245), strophe 42 (Bellows contiguously numbered the strophes carried over from Grógaldr, hence his Fjölsvinnsmál begins at strophe 17)
  13. ^ Hildebrand, Gering, and Möbius (1904: 205), strophe 27
  14. ^ Bellows (1923:246), strophe 44
  15. ^ Hildebrand, Gering, and Möbius (1904: 205), strophe 28
  16. ^ Bellows (1923:246), strophe 45
  17. ^ Hildebrand, Gering, and Möbius (1904: 206), strophe 30
  18. ^ Bellows (1923:247), strophe 46
  19. ^ Hildebrand, Gering, and Möbius (1904: 202), strophe 18
  20. ^ a b Bellows (1923:243), strophe 34 and note
  21. ^ Arnamagnæan Foundation (1787: 293-4), strophe XXV
  22. ^ Thorpe (1907:98).
  23. ^ Rydberg (2003:196).
  24. ^ Thorpe (1907:99).
  25. ^ Falk (1894:61).

Explanatory notes[edit]

  1. ^ Hævatein in original mss. reading; cf. Arnamagnæan Foundation ed. (1787:295) and Thorpe tr. (1907:96–97)
  2. ^ printed as saeg iárnkeri in Arnamagnæan Foundation ed. (1787:295) and rendered as "an iron chest" in Thorpe tr. (1907:96–97). However, Bellows (1923:246-7) explained as sæ-gjarn "Sea-lover" emended by Falk to Lægjarn "Lover of Ill," an epithet of Loki.
  3. ^ Rydberg Vol. 3 (1911:764) gives "the dis of the shining arm-ring"
  4. ^ Rydberg Vol. 3 (1911:764) gives "the ashes-coloured giantess"


texts and translations
  • Arnamagnæan Foundation (1787). Edda Saemundar hinns Fröda: Edda rhythmica seu antiquior, vulgo Saemundina (in Latin). 1. p. 295.; Vol. 3 (1828)
  • Hildebrand, Karl; Gering, Hugo; Möbius, Theodor (1904). Die Lieder der Älteren Edda (in German). Schöningh. (base edition for Bellows's translation)
  • Bellows, Henry Adams (1923). The Poetic Edda: Translated from the Icelandic with an Introduction and Notes. American Scandinavian Foundation.