The Colors of the Rainbow in Snorri’s Edda

Kirsten Wolf


In the second part of his Edda, the Gylfaginning, Snorri Sturluson
gives a systematic account of Norse mythology from the creation of the
world to its end. The story is presented in the form of a dialogue, which
involves three kings, who answer questions put to them by a certain
King Gylfi of Sweden, who wishes to find out about the Æsir.
One of Gylfi’s many questions concerns the way to heaven from
earth. It is explained to him that Bifrƒst, the rainbow, is what links
earth and heaven, that is has three colors, and that one of the colors
is red (rau›r). The two other colors are not named in Snorri’s Edda nor
are they specified anywhere else in Old Norse-Icelandic literature with
the exception of Hauksbók, which describes the appearance of the
rainbow in rather unclear terms.
The article seeks to determine through an examination of Old
Norse-Icelandic color terminology and an analysis of studies of the
rainbow by medieval writers what Snorri might have had the three
kings tell Gylfi, if Gylfi had asked for an identification of the other two
colors of the rainbow. It is demonstrated that Snorri’s idea of the three
colors of the rainbow is most likely derived ultimately from Aristotle’s
Meteorologica and that the two unidentificed colors in the Edda are
probably green (groenn) and blue (blár).



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ISSN 1890-5455

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