Sunday 20 February 2011

"Gundryggia dort, Kundry Hier"

In his recent excellent article Sourcing Tolkien's "Circles of the World:" Speculations on the Heimskringla, the Latin Vulgate Bible, and the Hereford Mappa Mundi, Jason Fisher mentions J.R.R. Tolkien's preference to "wringing the juice out of a single sentence, or exploring the implications of one word" (quoted from Tolkien Monsters and the Critics, p. 224). I have decided in the course of writing this blog to attempt to adapt a strand of posts where I will attempt to do just that - look at one word or phrase and attempt to extract meaning and the sources of historical etymology from it - words and phrases found either in Tolkien's legendarium or in the primary world of myth and legend (or opera).

This first one was inspired by my attendance last night at English National Opera's production of Richard Wagner's Bühnenweihfestspiel final work Parsifal in the incredibly powerful staging by Nikolaus Lehnhoff. I had seen this production before when I worked at San Francisco Opera and this time it had a special relevance as it was sung in English with John Tomlinson as a stirring Gurnemanz.

What struck me (and not for the first time) was a line in Act 2 when the evil necromancer Klingsor summons the doomed Kundry to seduce the pure, or half fool, Parsifal. In the evil invocation to awaken Kundry, Klingsor says:

"Herauf! Herauf! Zu mir!
Dein Meister ruft dich, Namenlose,
Urteufelin! Hollenrose!
Herodias warst du, und was noch?
Gundryggia dort, Kundry hier!"

"Arise Arise To me!
your master calls you! Nameless one
Primeval witch, rose of hell
You were Herodias, and what else?
Gundryggia there, Kundry here!"

So the phrase I would like to "wring the juice out of" is the very last line of this passage "Gundryggia dort, Kundry hier"

In her personal diary entry for March 14, 1877- Cosima Wagner relates... at lunch R (Wagner) tells me: "She will be called Gundrygia (sic), the weaver of war", but then he decides to keep to Kundry."

So where did Wagner derive this Norse name from - the name of what the nameless one was "dort" (there) and how does the word in Wagner's mind come to mean a "weaver of war"

For me the first part of the name "gunn" looks the most familiar as the Old Norse word - gunnr. According to the entry in the Cleasby-Vigfusson Old Norse dictionary there is an entry for:

"GUNNR, f., older form guðr, [A. S. gûd; O. H. G. gundia], war, battle, only used in poetry, Lex. Poët, passim. COMPDS: gunnar-fúss, -gjarn, -örr, -tamðr, adj. warlike, Lex. Poët. gunnar-haukr, m. a hawk. gunn-blíðr, -bráðr, -djarfr, -fíkinn, -hagr, -hvatr, -mildr, -rakkr, -reifr, -snarr, -sterkr, -tamiðr, -tamr, -þorinn, -öfligr, -örðigr, adj. all laudatory epithets = valiant, Lex. Poët.: of weapons and armour, the shield is called gunn-blik, -borð, -hörgr, -máni, -rann, -tjald, -veggr, n.; the sword and spear, gunn-logi, -seiðr, -sproti, -svell, -viti, n.; of the battle, gunn-el, -hríð, -þing, n.; the carrion crow, gunn-gjóðr, -már, -skári, -valr, n.; of the warrior, gunn-nórungr, -slöngvir, -stœrandi, -veitir, -viðurr, -þeysandi, n. etc., vide Lex. Poët. II. in pr. names; of men, Gunn-arr, Gunn-björn, Gunn-laugr, Gunn-ólfr, Gunn-steinn, etc.; of women, Gunn-hildr, Gunn-laug, Gunn-löð; and in the latter part. Þor-gunnr (-guðr), Hlað-gunnr, Hildi-gunnr" (cite)

On a relavatory website called Guide to Nordic Names we find the following historic analysis of this word:

Ancient Germanic
*guntho = 'battle, fight' [1]
Proto Norse
*gunþi- = 'battle, fight' [2]
*gunþiō = 'battle, fight' [2]
Old Norse
gunnr = 'battle, fight' [2] [3] [4] [1]
Old Saxon
gûth = 'battle, fight' [1]
gûdh = 'battle, fight' [1]
Old High German
gund- = 'battle, fight' [5] [1]

This word survives in English as the word "gun"

So clearly the War part of the name makes sense from the etymological record.

According to Geir T. Zoega's Concise Dictionary of Old Icelandic there is the Old Norse verb - drygja which means "to commit, perpetrate, carry out, practise with secondary meaning
to comply with ones wishes, to obey one (cite p. 97). In Michael Barnes' Glossary to An Introduction to Old Norse (Part 3) the same verb is cited as "carry out, engage in; suffer?"

So one can posit that someone who "weaves" does carry out and perpetrates something. Of course the very meaning of the name points a very important set of characters in Norse mythology who are "war weavers" and carriers out of Wotan's will - the Valkyrie

Going back to the first part of the name GUNNR we find that although not counted among the Valkyries in Wagner's Ring cycle - there is in the corpus of Norse mythology a Valkyrie called GUNNR. We first find her name on the Rök Stone a 9th century memorial block bearing the longest runic inscription which was found in Östergötland, Sweden where it occurs as part of a kenning for the word "wolf" (a good association with Wotan/Walse of course!)

"Þat sagum tvalfta, hvar hæstR se GunnaR etu vettvangi a, kunungaR tvaiR tigiR svað a liggia."


I say this the twelfth, where the horse of Gunnr sees fodder on the battlefield, where twenty kings lie...

In the Prose Edda she is described as riding out with her sisters Rota and Skuld - "Guðr ok Róta ok norn in yngsta, er Skuld heitir, ríða jafnan at kjósa val ok ráða vígum"

We also find mentions of her in the Voluspa among the other Valkyries.

So with this etymology is Wagner saying that at one time this primeval witch was a valkyrie - a weaver or carrier out of war - certainly the Valkyrie were charged with carrying the dead heroes of the battlefield to Valhalla where they are to fight eternally as part of Wotan's army for the final end battle of Ragnarok.

Before calling her Gundryggia , Klingsor says "Herodias warst du, und was noch?" Interestingly there is another Valkyrie link here. In the German Poet Henrich Heine's 1843 poem Atta Troll we are told that it was Herodias, not Salome, who asks for severed head of John the Baptist and for doing so is cursed for all eternity to ride, laughing, with the Wild Hunt -

Yes, she really was a princess,
Was the queen of all Judea,
And the lovely wife of Herod,
Who the baptist's head did covet.

For this blood-guilt must she also
Be accursed; she must, as Night-Spook,
'Til the very Day of Judgement,
Ride along with this Wild Hunt.

In her hands she bears forever
That sad platter, with the head of
John the Baptist, which she kisses;
Yes, she'll kiss the head with fervor.

For, at one time, she loved John -
It's not found within the Bible,
Yet the people keep the saga
Of Herodias' bloody loving (Heine, Atta Troll, XVIII)

We know Wagner was a great reader of Heine's works and based two of his earlier works on poems by him - Der Fliegende Hollander and Tannhauser.

In Germanic folklore thunder was often thought to be caused by an army of wild horsemen flying through the night sky. The riders were said to be the dead heroes following the Valkyries to Valhalla. In Jessie L. Weston's Legends of Wagner's Dramas there is an interesting quote from a passage in Simrock's Deutsche Mythologie in the passage for Herodias "which relates how the enmity of Herod's queen towards John the Baptist was really caused by the saint's rejection of her proffered love. When after death she would have covered the severed head with tears and kisses, it recoiled, and from the dead lips issued a blast of wind so powerful that Herodias was carried away by it and made to joint the wild hunt, and like Dante's sinful lovers sweeps for ever onward before its resistless force. This curious legend appears to owe its origin to a misunderstanding of Hrödes, one of the many names of Wotan, who, in his elementary character of the air, is the original Wild Huntsman. Among the many explanations traditionally given of the object of this mysterious chase we find the god represented as pursuing his flying bride; and vice- versa the deserted goddess seeking her lost husband. This chase being closely associated with St. John's (Midsummer) Day, the remembrance of the saint, coupled with the misunderstanding of the name, probably contributed to the evolution of this quaint legend (author's footnote: cf. Simrock, 'Herodias')."

Note: Need to do more exploring with Hrödes - perhaps related to Hrjóðr meaning "the roarer"

So perhaps it is through this association that Gunndryggia and Herodias become associated - you were the pagan Valkyrie war weaver and that Herodias who was doomed to ride with the Wild Hunt with the severed head of John the Baptist laughing for all eternity (and one thinks of Kundry mocking Christ - "Ich sah ihn...ihn und lachte...")

But wait a minute - there is another Valkyrie in the room that can not be ignored - name THE Valkyrie - Brunnhilde - who is also certainly a "war weaver". It is a matter of knowledge that Wagner considered Parsifal to in many ways be the fifth act of the Ring and as early as 1848/9 in his sub-creative essay for his legendarium -Die Wibelungen has already made connections between the Nibelung hoard and the Holy Grail. For a brilliant analysis of all this connection I refer you to Paul Schofield's excellent book The Redeemer Reborn - Parsifal as the Fifth Act of the Ring.

Certainly Brunnhilde and Kundry share similar dual nature character traits (they are both the loving servant and the traitor - both cursed for their deeds and ultimately play a part in redemption). I also believe, and have yet to prove, that we may find in Kundry's music some echos of Brunnhilde's themes in the Ring (more to come on this). So could "Gunndryggia there" mean - yes, you were the weaver of war - Brunnhilde back there, and Herodias and now here in this life you are Kundry - a seductress and a servant.

Going back to the name Gunnr - we also find parallel meaning in the "hilde" part of Brunnhilde's name a poetic name for battle and in Old Norse to vekja hildi means to "wage war, to fight"

I will end this posting with one more interesting observation made by Schofield - Amalie Materna (pictured) was the first soprano to sing the roles of both Brunnhilde in the 1876 Bayreuth production and Kundry in the 1882 premiere. Wagner gave inscribed copies of his photograph to a number of friends and performers. The inscription given to Frau Materna read "Kundry here, Brunnhilde there, the work's bright jewel everywhere." Clearly Wagner is playing on the line "Gundryggia there, Kundry here," he was know to enjoy making plays on words and ideas that had both humorous and serious levels of meaning. In this light the association of Brunnhilde and Gundryggia, and thus with Brunnhilde having been a former life of Kundry, can be taken seriously as well as playfully."

Perhaps, at least we can see that the etymological history of the phrase points in that direction although I am sure there is more "wringing" to be done!

Please note: the most incredible resource on-line for anything about Parsifal is the website Monsalvat - The Parsifal Pages which I have used many times for this research.

Posted from Andrew Higgins IPAD


NMAB said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
NMAB said...

Great! Thank you so much for your findings...

Fingers said...

Fascinating, many thanks.

ArianeCsonka said...

Such interesting research, thank you for sharing.

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