Ask and Embla – The First Two Humans

Ask and Embla (from Old Norse Askr ok Embla)—male and female respectively—were the first two humans, created by the gods. The pair are attested in both the Poetic Edda, compiled in the 13th century from earlier traditional sources, and the Prose Edda, written in the 13th century by Snorri Sturluson. In both sources, three gods, one of whom is Odin, find Ask and Embla and bestow upon them various corporeal and spiritual gifts.

Old Norse askr literally means “ash tree”.

In stanza 17 of the Poetic Edda poem Völuspá, the völva reciting the Poem states that Hœnir, Lóðurr and Odin once found Ask and Embla on Land. The Völva says that the two were capable of very little, lacking in ørlög and says that they were given three gifts by the three Gods:

Old Norse:
Ǫnd þau né átto, óð þau né hǫfðo,
lá né læti né lito góða.
Ǫnd gaf Óðinn, óð gaf Hœnir,
lá gaf Lóðurr ok lito góða
Benjamin Thorpe translation:
Spirit they possessed not, sense they had not,
blood nor motive powers, nor goodly colour.
Spirit gave Odin, sense gave Hœnir,
blood gave Lodur, and goodly colour.
Henry Adams Bellows translation:
Soul they had not, sense they had not,
Heat nor motion, nor goodly hue;
Soul gave Othin, sense gave Hönir,
Heat gave Lothur and goodly hue.

The meaning of these gifts has been a matter of scholarly disagreement and translations therefore vary.

According to chapter 9 of the Prose Edda book Gylfaginning, the three brothers Vili, Vé, and Odin, are the creators of the first man and woman. The brothers were once walking along a beach and found two trees there. They took the wood and from it created the first human beings; Ask and Embla. One of the three gave them the breath of life, the second gave them movement and intelligence, and the third gave them shape, speech, hearing and sight. Further, the three gods gave them clothing and names. Ask and Embla go on to become the progenitors of all humanity and were given a home within the walls of Midgard.