The following passage is translated from the Prose Edda, an Old Icelandic anthology on Norse Myth written around 1220 by Snorri Struluson as a question and answer game between Odin, king of the gods, here called Hárr, lit. the high one, and Gangleri, king of Sweden. The poor king has unwittingly entered a contest of wits with the supreme god of the Old Norse pantheon, whom he does not recognise in his disguise, and has staked his life, that he shall be able to ask Hárr something about the world he does not know. Snorri, who was, as all Icelanders after 1000 AD, a devout Christian and had a strictly philological interest in the tales of the pagan gods, uses this device of the question and answer game to draw a comprehensive picture of Norse myth from the creation of the world until its final destruction in the apocalyptic battle between the giants and the gods. Here is the passage where Gangleri asks Odin about the sun and the moon and the reason for their restless course across the heavens. For those interested in the appearance of the original text, the first translated sentence is given along with the Old Norse.

Hárr segir: Sá maðr er nefndr Mundilfari, er átti tvau börn. Þau váru svá fögr ok fríð, at hann kallaði son sinn Mána, en dóttur sína Sól ok gifti hana þeim manni, er Glenr hét.

Hárr says: ” There was a man, by the name of Mundilfari, who had two children. They were so fair and bright, that he called his son Moon, and his daughter Sun, whom he gave in marriage to a man by the name of Glenr.” Note that in all Germanic languages retaining gender distinction, such as modern German, Icelandic, Swedish, etc. the sun is always feminine and the moon masculine, as opposed to the romance languages, where the opposite is true.

“But the gods considered this to be an outrage and took the two siblings and placed them up in the heavens. They let Sun drive the horses who drew the chariot of the sun, which the gods had shaped from a fiery spark that flew out from the fiery region of Múspellsheimr. The horses are called Árvakr and Alsvidr and under their shoulders the gods set two bellows to cool them. Moon controls the path of the moon and rules over its phases.”

Gangleri said: “Swift goes the sun – as if scared! Fearing her own death, she would not give more haste to her steps.” Hárr answered: “No wonder she runs so fast. Near is the one who seeks to catch her, and there is no other way out, than to run away.” Gangleri said: “Who is this man so hostile to her?” Hárr says: “There are two wolves. The one who runs after her is called Skoll. He scares her and shall eventually take her. And the one running in front of her is called Hati Hródvitnisson. He wants to catch the moon – and catch it he shall.”

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