Cradle of Civilization

A Blog about the Birth of Our Civilisation and Development

The consort of Mars, Nerio, in Germanic religion

Posted by Fredsvenn on October 26, 2016

The consort of Mars was Nerio or Nerine, “Valor.” She represents the vital force (vis), power (potentia) and majesty (maiestas) of Mars. Her name was regarded as Sabine in origin and is equivalent to Latin virtus, “manly virtue” (from vir, “man”).

In the early 3rd century BC, the comic playwright Plautus has a reference to Mars greeting Nerio, his wife. A source from late antiquity says that Mars and Nerine were celebrated together at a festival held on March 23. In the later Roman Empire, Nerine came to be identified with Minerva.

Nerio probably originates as a divine personification of Mars’ power, as such abstractions in Latin are generally feminine. Her name appears with that of Mars in an archaic prayer invoking a series of abstract qualities, each paired with the name of a deity. The influence of Greek mythology and its anthropomorphic gods may have caused Roman writers to treat these pairs as “marriages.”

Minerva was the Roman goddess of wisdom and sponsor of arts, trade, and strategy. She was born with weapons from the head of Jupiter. After impregnating the titaness Metis, Jupiter recalled a prophecy that his own child would overthrow him.

Fearing that their child would grow stronger than he and rule the Heavens in his place, Jupiter swallowed Metis whole. The titaness forged weapons and armor for her child while within the father-god, and the constant pounding and ringing gave him a headache. To relieve the pain, Vulcan used a hammer to split Jupiter’s head and, from the cleft, Minerva emerged, whole, adult, and bearing her mother’s weapons and armor.

Minerva was the daughter of Jupiter. She was the virgin goddess of wisdom, war, medicine, art, music, poetry, schools, commerce, weaving, crafts, and magic. She is often depicted with her sacred creature, an owl usually named as the “owl of Minerva”, which symbolised her association with wisdom and knowledge.

She was the Etruscan counterpart to Greek Athena. From the 2nd century BC onwards, the Romans equated her with the Greek goddess Athena. Like Athena, Minerva was born from the head of her father, Jupiter (Greek Zeus).

Stemming from an Italic moon goddess *Meneswā (‘She who measures’), the Etruscans adopted the inherited Old Latin name, *Menerwā, thereby calling her Menrva. It is assumed that her Roman name, Minerva, is based on this Etruscan mythology.

By a process of folk etymology, the Romans could have linked her foreign name to the root men- in Latin words such as mens meaning “mind”, perhaps because one of her aspects as goddess pertained to the intellectual. The word mens is built from the Proto-Indo-European root *men- ‘mind’ (linked with memory as in Greek Mnemosyne and mnestis: memory, remembrance, recollection, manush in Sanskrit meaning mind).

In Germanic paganism, Nerthus is a goddess associated with fertility. Nerthus is often identified with the van Njörðr who is attested in various 13th century Old Norse works and in numerous Scandinavian place names. The name Nerthus is generally held to be a Latinized form of Proto-Germanic *Nerþuz, a direct precursor to the Old Norse deity name Njörðr.

The connection between the two is due to the linguistic relationship between Njörðr and the reconstructed Proto-Germanic *Nerþuz, Nerthus being the feminine, Latinized form of what Njörðr would have looked like around the first century. This has led to theories about the relation of the two, including that Njörðr may have once been a hermaphroditic deity or that the name may indicate the otherwise forgotten sister-wife in a divine brother-sister pair like the Vanir deities Freyja and Freyr.

While scholars have noted numerous parallels between the descriptions of the two figures, Njörðr is attested as a male deity. Various scholarly theories exist regarding the goddess and her potential later traces amongst the Germanic peoples, including that the figure may be identical to the unnamed sister-wife of Njörðr mentioned in two Old Norse sources.

In Norse mythology, Njörun (Old Norse Njǫrun, sometimes modernly anglicized as Niorun) is a goddess attested in the Prose Edda, written in the 13th century by Snorri Sturluson, and various kennings (including once in the Poetic Edda). Scholarly theories concerning her name and function in the pantheon include etymological connections to the Norse god Njörðr and the Roman goddess Nerio, and suggestions that she may represent the earth and/or be the unnamed sister-wife of Njörðr.

Several scholars have suggested that the stem syllable in her name, Njǫr-, may represent the element *ner- as in Tacitus’ earth-goddess Nerthus (*Ner-þuz), whose name is etymologically identical with that of the Norse god Njǫrðr, and that Njörun may therefore be a name for the earth. Ásgeir Blöndal Magnússon additionally suggests a connection with the Roman goddess Nerio.

The possible etymological connection with Njǫrðr and Nerthus suggests that Njörun may be a preserved name for the sister-wife of Njörðr, who is highly unusual in the Old Norse context in being unnamed.

As was noted by Albert Morey Sturtevant, Njǫrun and Gefjon are the only female names recorded in Old Norse texts that have the suffix -un. Two other god-goddess pairs distinguished by suffix are preserved in the Old Norse corpus, Ullr and Ullin and Fjörgyn and Fjörgynn, and there is a possible third example in Old High German Phol and Volla.

Albert Murey Sturtevant notes that “the only other feminine personal name which contains the suffix -un is Njǫr-un, recorded only in the þulur […], and among the kvenna heiti ókend. Whatever the stem syllable Njǫr- represents (perhaps *ner- as in *Ner-þuz>Njǫrðr), the addition of the n- and un-suffixes seems to furnish an exact parallel to Gef-n : Gefj-un (cf. Njǫr-n : Njǫr-un).”

In Norse mythology, Gefjon or Gefjun (with the alternate spelling Gefion) is a goddess associated with ploughing, foreknowledge, and virginity. In addition, the Prose Edda describes that not only is Gefjon a virgin herself, but that all who die a virgin become her attendants.

Regarding the plough and Gefjon, Davidson concludes that “the idea behind the taking of the plough round the countryside seems to be that it brought good fortune and prosperity, gifts of a benevolent goddess. Gefjon and her plough thus fit into a large framework of the cult of a goddess associated with fertility of both land and water.”

Scholars have proposed theories about the etymology the name of the goddess, connections to fertility and ploughing practices, the implications of the references made to her as a virgin, five potential mentions of the goddess in the Old English poem Beowulf, and potential connections between Gefjon and Grendel’s Mother and/or the goddesses Freyja and Frigg, who scholars have theorized about ultimately stem from a single goddess common among the Germanic peoples.

The etymology of the name Gefjon has been a matter of dispute. In modern scholarship, the element Gef- in Gef-jon is generally theorized as related to the element Gef- in the name Gef-n. The name Gefn is one of the numerous names for the goddess Freyja, and likely means “she who gives (prosperity or happiness).” The connection between the two names has resulted in etymological results of Gefjun meaning “the giving one.”

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