In Norse mythology, 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. A number of theories have been proposed to explain the two figures, and there are occasional references to them in popular culture.
Old Norse askr literally means "ash tree" but the etymology of embla is uncertain, and two possibilities of the meaning of embla are generally proposed. The first meaning, "elm tree", is problematic, and is reached by deriving *Elm-la from *Almilōn and subsequently to almr ("elm"). The second suggestion is "vine", which is reached through *Ambilō, which may be related to the Greek term ámpelos, itself meaning "vine, liana". The latter etymology has resulted in a number of theories.
According to Benjamin Thorpe "Grimm says the word embla, emla, signifies a busy woman, from amr, ambr, aml, ambl, assiduous labour; the same relation as Meshia and Meshiane, the ancient Persian names of the first man and woman, who were also formed from trees."
In stanza 17 of the Poetic Edda poem Völuspá, the völva reciting the poem describes 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 describes that they were given three gifts by the three gods:
An amount of scholarly disagreement has occurred over the meaning of these gifts 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.
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