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Nanna (Norse deity)

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Nanna (Norse deity)

Nanna (1857) by Herman Wilhelm Bissen.

In Norse mythology, Nanna Nepsdóttir or simply Nanna is a goddess associated with the god Baldr. Accounts of Nanna vary greatly by source. In the Prose Edda, written in the 13th century by Snorri Sturluson, Nanna is the wife of Baldr and the couple produced a son, the god Forseti. After Baldr's death, Nanna dies of grief. Nanna is placed on Baldr's ship with his corpse and the two are set aflame and pushed out to sea. In Hel, Baldr and Nanna are united again. In an attempt to bring back Baldr from the dead, the god Hermóðr rides to Hel and, upon receiving the hope of resurrection from the being Hel, Nanna gives Hermóðr gifts to give to the goddess Frigg (a robe of linen), the goddess Fulla (a finger-ring), and others (unspecified). Nanna is frequently mentioned in the poetry of skalds and a Nanna, who may or may not be the same figure, is mentioned once in the Poetic Edda, compiled in the 13th century from earlier traditional sources.

An account provided by Saxo Grammaticus in his 12th century work Gesta Danorum records Nanna as a human female, the daughter of King Gevar, and the love interest of both the demi-god Baldr and the human Höðr. Spurred by their mutual attraction to Nanna, Baldr and Höðr repeatedly do battle. Nanna is only interested in Höðr and weds him, while Baldr wastes away from nightmares about Nanna.

The Setre Comb, a comb from the 6th or early 7th century featuring runic inscriptions, may reference the goddess. The etymology of the name Nanna is a subject of scholarly debate. Scholars have debated connections between Nanna and other similarly named deities from other cultures and the implications of the goddess's attestations.


  • Etymology and place names 1
  • Attestations 2
    • Poetic Edda 2.1
    • Prose Edda 2.2
    • Chronicon Lethrense 2.3
    • Gesta Danorum 2.4
  • Archaeological record 3
  • Theories 4
  • Notes 5
  • References 6

Etymology and place names

The etymology of the name of the goddess Nanna is debated. Some scholars have proposed that the name may derive from a babble word, nanna, meaning "mother". Scholar Jan de Vries connects the name Nanna to the root *nanþ-, leading to "the daring one". Scholar John Lindow theorizes that a common noun may have existed in Old Norse, nanna, that roughly meant "woman".[1] Scholar John McKinnell notes that the "mother" and *nanþ- derivations may not be distinct, commenting that nanna may have once meant "she who empowers".[2]


Poetic Edda

Baldr and Nanna (1882) by Friedrich Wilhelm Heine

In the Poetic Edda poem Hyndluljóð, a figure by the name of Nanna is listed as the daughter of Nökkvi and as a relative of Óttar. This figure may or may not be the same Nanna as Baldr's wife.[3]

Prose Edda

In Hel Baldr, holding Nanna, waves to Hermóðr (1893) by George Percy Jacomb-Hood

In chapter 38 of the Prose Edda book Gylfaginning, the enthroned figure of High explains that Nanna Nepsdóttir (the last name meaning "Nepr's daughter") and her husband Baldr produced a son, the god Forseti.[4]

Later in Gylfaginning (chapter 49), High recounts Baldr's death in Asgard at the unwitting hands of his blind brother, Höðr. Baldr's body is taken to the seaside and, when his body is placed unto his ship Hringhorni, Nanna's collapses and dies of grief. Her body is placed upon Hringhorni with Baldr, the ship is set aflame, and the god Thor hallows the pyre with his hammer Mjöllnir.[5]

Sent by Baldr's mother, the goddess Frigg, the god Hermóðr rides to the location of Hel to resurrect Baldr. Hermóðr finally arrives in Hel to find Baldr in a hall, seated in the seat of honor and with his wife Nanna. Hermóðr bargains with Hel, the being, for Baldr's resurrection. Hel and Hermóðr come to an agreement and then Baldr and Nanna accompany Hermóðr out of the hall. Baldr gives Hermóðr the ring Draupnir, which the god Odin had placed on Baldr's pyre, to return to Odin. Nanna presents to Hermóðr a series of gifts: a linen robe for Frigg, a golden ring for the goddess Fulla, and other unspecified items. Hermóðr returns to Asgard.[6]

In the first chapter of the Prose Edda book Skáldskaparmál, Nanna is listed among 8 goddesses attending a feast held in honor of Ægir.[7] In chapter 5 of Skáldskaparmál, means of referring to Baldr are provided, including "husband of Nanna".[8] In chapter 19, means of referring to Frigg are provided, including "mother-in-law of Nanna."[9] In chapter 75, Nanna is included among a list of goddesses.[10] In chapter 18, the skald Eilífr Goðrúnarson's work Þórsdrápa is quoted, which includes a kenning that references Nanna ("wake-hilt-Nanna" for "troll-wife").[11]

Chronicon Lethrense

The chronicle which departs most from the Prose Edda is the Danish Chronicon Lethrense (and the included Annales Lundenses). They tell that Höðr's son, the Danish king Rorik Slengeborre was succeeded by his son Wiglek. This Wiglek married Nanna and he ruled in peace. He died in his bed and was succeeded by his son Wermund, the father of Offe (Offa).

Gesta Danorum

Baldr secretly watches Nanna bathing (1898) by Louis Moe

In book III of Gesta Danorum, Nanna is not a goddess but rather a daughter of the mortal King Gevar. Nanna is attracted to her foster-brother Höðr (also here a human), son of Hothbrodd, and "seeks his embraces". One day, Baldr, who Saxo describes as the son of the god Odin, witnesses Nanna bathing and lusts for her; "the sheen of her graceful body inflamed him and her manifest charms seared his heart, for there is no stronger incitement to lust than beauty." Fearing that Höðr will serve as an obstacle for his conquest of Nanna, Baldr resolves to slay Höðr.[12]

While out hunting, Höðr loses his path in a mist and a group of forest maidens greet him by name. The maidens tell him that they are able to guide fate, and that they appear invisibly on battlefields, where they award victory or defeat at their whim. They inform Höðr that Baldr witnessed Nanna bathing, yet warn Höðr not to challenge Baldr to combat—no matter what he may do—for Baldr sprang from divine seed and is therefore a demi-god. The maidens and their dwelling vanish and Höðr finds himself standing in a wide open plain. Saxo explains that Höðr had been tricked by means of magic.[13]

Höðr returns home, recounts to King Gevar that he had lost his path and been tricked by the forest maidens, and immediately asks King Gevar for his daughter Nanna's hand in wedlock. Gevar tells Höðr that he would most certainly approve of the marriage, but that Baldr has already requested Nanna's hand. Gevar says that he fears Baldr's wrath, for Baldr's body is infused with a holy strength and cannot be harmed by steel. Gevar is, however, aware of a sword that will kill Baldr, and he explains that it is very well protected, and tells him how to retrieve the sword.[14]

After Höðr retrieves the loot, a series of events occur unrelated to Baldr and Nanna. Meanwhile, Baldr takes arms and goes into Gevar's kingdom to claim Nanna as his own. Gevar tells Baldr to reason with Nanna, and this Baldr does with care. However, Baldr makes no progress; Nanna dodges his advances by arguing that the offspring of a deity cannot marry a mortal due to the differences in their nature. Höðr learns of Baldr's actions. Helgi and Höðr battle Baldr and other gods (who are unnamed outside of Thor and Odin), resulting in a victory for Höðr's forces. After the victory, Höðr again asks Gevar for Nanna's hand and so wins Nanna's embraces. Höðr and Nanna go to Sweden and there Höðr becomes ruler.[15]

In Sweden, Höðr is attacked by Baldr and defeated. Höðr flees back to Denmark with Nanna. Despite the victory, Baldr is tormented at night by visions of Nanna, resulting in his deterioration:

[Baldr] was incessantly tormented at night by phantoms which mimicked the shape of Nanna and caused him to fall into such an unhealthy condition that he could not even walk properly. For this reason he took to travelling in a chariot or carriage. The violent passion that soaked his heart brought him almost to the verge of collapse. He judged that victory had yielded him nothing if it had not given him Nanna as a prize.[16]

Archaeological record

The Setre Comb, a comb from the 6th or early 7th century featuring runic inscriptions, may reference the goddess. The comb is the subject of an amount of scholarly discourse as most experts accept the reading of the Germanic charm word alu and Nanna, though there exists questions as to if Nanna is the same figure as the goddess from later attestations.[17]


Some scholars have attempted to link Old Norse Nanna with the Sumerian goddess Inanna, the goddess Nannar/Babylonian Ishtar, or the Phrygian goddess Nana, mother of the god Attis. Scholar Rudolf Simek opines that identification with Inanna, Nannar or Nana is "hardly likely" due to the large distances in time and location between the figures.[18] Scholar Hilda Ellis Davidson says that while "the idea of a link with Sumerian Inanna , 'Lady of Heaven', was attractive to early scholars" the notion "seems unlikely."[19] On the other hand, when pointing at the fact that the Vedic (Indian) twin gods, the Ashwins, are evidently present in the Baltic region's as the Ašvieniai, the argument of geographical distance does not prevail.


  1. ^ For "babble word" etymology, see Simek (2007:227), Orchard (1997:117), and Lindow (2001:236). For Jan de Vries' root theory, see Simek (2007:227). For John Lindow's common noun theory, see Lindow (2001:236).
  2. ^ McKinnell (2005:144).
  3. ^ Larrington (1997:314).
  4. ^ Faulkes (1995:26).
  5. ^ Faulkes (1995:49).
  6. ^ Faulkes (1995:49—50).
  7. ^ Faulkes (1995:59).
  8. ^ Faulkes (1995:74).
  9. ^ Faulkes (1995:86).
  10. ^ Faulkes (1995:157).
  11. ^ Faulkes (1995:83).
  12. ^ Davidson, Fisher (2008:69).
  13. ^ Davidson, Fisher (2008:68—69).
  14. ^ Davidson, Fisher (2008:70).
  15. ^ Davidson, Fisher (2008:70—73).
  16. ^ Davidson, Fisher (2008:73).
  17. ^ Macleod (2006:24)
  18. ^ Simek (2007:227).
  19. ^ Davidson, Fisher (2008:51).


  • Faulkes, Anthony (Trans.) (1995). Edda. Everyman. ISBN 0-460-87616-3
  • Lindow, John (2001). Norse Mythology: A Guide to the Gods, Heroes, Rituals, and Beliefs. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-515382-0
  • Larrington, Carolyne (Trans.) (1999). The Poetic Edda. Oxford World's Classics. ISBN 0-19-283946-2
  • Macleod, Mindy. Mees, Bernard (2006). Runic Amulets and Magic Objects. Boydell Press ISBN 1-84383-205-4
  • McKinnell, John (2005). Meeting the Other in Norse Myth and Legend. D. S. Brewer. ISBN 1-84384-042-1
  • Orchard, Andy (1997). Dictionary of Norse Myth and Legend. Cassell. ISBN 0-304-34520-2
  • Simek, Rudolf (2007) translated by Angela Hall. Dictionary of Northern Mythology. D.S. Brewer. ISBN 0-85991-513-1
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