The Milky Way

The Milky Way

Irung's Way and Irung's Wall

by Peter Krüger


[Germanic Astronomy]
The Milky Way has fascinated mankind at all times.  We find a splendid description, for example, in Aratus Phainomena (ca. 270 BC):

"If ever on a clear night, when Night in the heavens shows to men all her stars in their brightness and no star is borne faintly gleaming at the mid-month moon, but they all sharply pierce the darkness— if in such an hour wonder rises in thy heart to mark on every side the heaven cleft by a broad belt, or if someone at the side point out that circle set with brilliants— that is what men call the Milky Way. A match for it in colour thou wilt find no circle wheel, but in size two of the four belts [zodiac, celestial equator] as large, but the other two [Tropic of Cancer, Tropic of Capricorn] are far inferior."

So too in Germanic sources we find many references to the Milky Way as summarized in an excerpt from Jacob Grimm's Teutonic Mythology, chapter 15:

It is normally described as a way or street, for example as Wattlingestrete or Iringesstrâza (Widukind), Iringes uuec, Iuuåringes uueg, Euringsstrass.

Interestingly in Þiðreks Saga af Bern (ch. 387) we find a different story. There we find a description of Irung's final battle with Högni, who causes him to fall against a stone wall, which is still called Irûngs veggr in memory of the hero:

Ok þá lætr Írungr sigast við steinvegginn, ok þessi steinveggr heitir Írungsveggr enn í dag. 
"Irung then sank against the stone wall and this wall is still called Irung's wall today."  (Edward Haymes tr.)
Jacob Grimm accounts for the difference by assuming a mistake by the writer of  Þiðreks saga:

"The Norse redactor confounded vegr (via, way) with veggr (murus, wall); his German source must have had Iringes vec, in allusion to the 'cutting his way' in Widukind."

Even though this conclusion sounds logical, I suggest that the Milky Way has indeed been known in Germanic sources both as a way and a wall. As described in my essay 'Asgard's wall - the Milky Way', there are good reasons to identify the wall of Asgard, erected by an unnamed mountain giant with the rising Milky Way starting from the area of  Sagittarius to the rising of the Pleiades (identified as Mjöllnir) and Taurus (Thor).

The story about Irungs veggr could therefore be further evidence for the above mentioned identification. Irung himself is surely a star hero and a constellation, like Vati (Wade), the namesake of Wattlingestrete/Watling Street. The name Vati ('the wading one') points in the direction of Orion, the constellation standing on the heavenly river Eridanus/Vimur. Compare Thor's adventure of crossing the river Vimur.

[Germanic Astronomy]