Bragi is the skaldic poet of the Æsir. His name literally means “poet” and may be derived from the Old Norse word for poetry, bragr.
He is the son of Óðin, possibly by the giantess Gunnlöð, and husband of the goddess Iðunn. Bragi is attested in Snorri’s Prose Edda, the Poetic Edda, some lists of Óðin’s sons, and Eiríksmál and other skaldic poetry.
There are also a number of skalds named after him, as one would expect – including Bragi Boddason, Bragi son of Hálfdan the Old, and Bragi Högnason.
There aren’t many stories directly concerning Bragi. He is mostly indirectly famous as the first poet, the inspiration behind the skaldic works, and for being married to the beautiful goddess of vitality and youthfulness.
In the Lokasenna, Bragi is insulted by Loki, who calls him out as the most cowardly of the gods, and the least willing to join a fight. He also accuses Iðunn of marrying her brother’s slayer – hinting that perhaps Bragi has somehow been responsible for her brother’s death (lore which appears to have been lost to us).
It is also in Lokasenna that Frigga proclaims that if she had a son as brave as Baldr at the banquet, Loki would get his ass kicked. This is one of the passages offered up as evidence that Bragi is Gunnlöð’s son, and not Frigga’s, as she would then be insulting her own son, Bragi, in front of all the gods.
Snorri describes Bragi thus:
“One is called Bragi: he is renowned for wisdom, and most of all for fluency of speech and skill with words. He knows most of skaldship, and after him skaldship is called bragr, and from his name that one is called bragr-man or bragr-woman, who possesses eloquence surpassing others, of women or of men.”
Thoughts on Bragi
Even though Bragi is renowned for his poetry and for being the patron of the skalds, most of the lore we have surrounding him basically just insults his courage and his lack of prowess in battle.
If we take a look at skalds of the Viking Age, however, it wasn’t the job of a skald to run into battle. Skalds served in the courts of chieftans, and later on in the courts of kings, where they inspired listeners with tales of great heroes, the shenanigans of the gods, and the brave deeds of their lords. They were the Old Norse equivalent of pep bands, propaganda, and PR reps.
It would make no sense for a good skald to get themselves hacked to pieces in a bloody battle – who would sing about the bravery of the warriors and the military savvy of the jarl?
This seems to be in opposition to the Old Norse cousins across Europe, the Celts, whose bardic god Ogma was one of the best and most celebrated warriors. He riled the men up before a battle with impassioned recitations and ran into the fray demoralizing the enemy with song.
Aside from singing the praises of their chieftain, Nordic skalds were also traditionally sent as greeters of important guests and messengers to other powerful lords. As the most verbally gifted, they were best suited for the rolls of diplomats and ambassadors. This also put them in the best position to acquire the latest and greatest news first, and to spread the good word. This was a time in history before newspapers, town criers, and Twitter!
Since most of the gods were paired with their opposites or complimentary influences (such as Freyr and Gerð, or Njörðr and Skaði) Bragi is the older, wiser partner to Iðunn, the rather gullible goddess of eternal Spring. Long-bearded Bragi is a Winter god of leisure and entertainment, when the work of the harvest season was over and folks settled into the long months of cold and snow.
In the less active months of Winter, a skald would be a great asset to any longhouse! Storytellers, poets, and singers always held a place of honour in cultures that maintained an oral tradition.
Since skaldic poetry was strictly metered and required no small amount of creativity to produce endless kennings, it would be fair to say that respected Old Norse skalds definitely earned their place in history.
Signs and Symbols
Harps and other traditional bardic instruments. Long beards and storytellers. Stories, legends and poetry, e.g. the Eddas. Symbols of comfort, luxury, and relaxation. Winter hearths and fire places. Concerts, plays and performances.