The Colors of the Rainbow in Snorri’s Edda

EddaThe Colors of the Rainbow in Snorri’s Edda

Kirsten Wolf

Maal og Minne: 1 (2007): 51–62


In the second part of his Edda, the Gylfaginning, Snorri Sturluson gives a systematic account of Norse mythology from the creation of the world to its end. The story is presented in the form of a dialogue, which involves three kings, who answer questions put to them by a certain King Gylfi of Sweden, who wishes to find out about the Æsir. One of Gylfi’s many questions concerns the way to heaven from earth. It is explained to him that Bifrƒst, the rainbow, is what links earth and heaven, that is has three colors, and that one of the colors is red (rau›r). The two other colors are not named in Snorri’s Edda nor are they specified anywhere else in Old Norse-Icelandic literature with the exception of Hauksbók, which describes the appearance of the rainbow in rather unclear terms.

The article seeks to determine through an examination of Old Norse-Icelandic color terminology and an analysis of studies of the rainbow by medieval writers what Snorri might have had the three kings tell Gylfi, if Gylfi had asked for an identification of the other two colors of the rainbow. It is demonstrated that Snorri’s idea of the three colors of the rainbow is most likely derived ultimately from Aristotle’s Meteorologica and that the two unidentificed colors in the Edda are probably green (grœnn) and blue (blár).


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