Auðumbla (also spelled Auðumla, Auðhumbla or Auðhumla) is the primeval cow of Norse mythology. She is attested in Gylfaginning, a part of Snorri Sturluson's Prose Edda, in association with Ginnungagap and Ymir.
|Normalized text of R||Brodeur's translation|
|Þá mælti Gangleri: "Hvar bygði Ymir, eða við hvat lifði hann?"||Then said Gangleri: "Where dwelt Ymir, or wherein did he find sustenance?"|
|Hárr answered: "Straightway after the rime dripped, there sprang from it the cow called Audumla; four streams of milk ran from her udders, and she nourished Ymir."|
|Þá mælti Gangleri: "Við hvat fœddisk kýrin?"||Then asked Gangleri: "Wherewithal was the cow nourished?"|
|Hár svarar: "Hon sleikti hrímsteinana er saltir váru. Ok hinn fyrsta ||And Hárr made answer: "She licked the ice-blocks, which were salty; and the first day that she licked the blocks, there came forth from the blocks in the evening a man's hair; the second day, a man's head; the third day the whole man was there. He is named Búri[."]|
Auðumbla is not mentioned again in the Prose Edda and, apart from one mention in Nafnaþulur, her name does not occur in any other ancient source. Nevertheless she is generally accepted by scholars as a genuine part of the Norse mythos and not dismissed as an invention of Snorri Sturluson.
Auðumbla's name appears in different variations in the manuscripts of the Prose Edda. Its meaning is unclear. The auð- prefix can be related to words meaning "wealth", "ease", "fate" or "emptiness", with "wealth" being, perhaps, the most likely candidate. The -(h)um(b)la suffix is unclear but, judging from apparent cognates in other Germanic languages, could mean "polled cow". Another theory links it with the name Ymir. The name may have been obscure and interpreted differently even in pagan times.
The name can be represented or Anglicized as Audumbla, Audumla, Audhumbla, Audhumla, Authumbla, Authumla, Authhumbla, Authhumla, Audhhumbla or Audhhumla.
The Swedish scholar Viktor Rydberg, writing in the late 19th century, drew a parallel between the Norse creation myths and accounts in Zoroastrian and Vedic mythology, postulating a common Proto-Indo-European origin. While many of Rydberg's theories were dismissed as fanciful by later scholars his work on comparative mythology was sound to a large extent. Zoroastrian mythology does have a primeval ox which is variously said to be male or female and comes into existence in the middle of the earth along with the primeval man.
In Egyptian mythology the Milky Way, personified as the cow goddess Hathor, was seen to be a river of milk flowing from the udders of a heavenly cow. Hathor also has a role in Egyptian creation myths. Due to the large distance in time and space separating the Old Norse and Ancient Egyptian cultures a direct connection seems unlikely. Similar mythological themes may arise independently in different cultures.