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The Heroes and Life in Valhalla — Corruption — The Treasures of the Gods — The Rape of Idun

The Heroes and life in Valhalla

Concerning the mighty deeds and the destinies of the gods much has here been recounted; much less concerning their daily life in Asgard with those of mankind who came into their fellowship Both Freyja and Odin made the Heroes welcome: Freyja in Folkvang, and Odin in Vingolf and Valhalla. We learn nothing, however, as to which of these domains was to be preferred; we have evidence only as to the manner in which Odin and the Heroes fleeted the time in Valhalla. It would seem that men generally thought of Valhalla as the resort of the fallen Heroes; there they passed their days in mirth and gladness. Odin himself chose them through the Valkyries; and the foremost among them were welcomed by certain Æsir or by doughty elder Heroes who went forth to meet them. In Valhalla the Heroes amuse themselves day by day with battles and banquets. In the morning, donning their armor they sally on the field to fight and kill one another; yet they rise again unharmed, sit down to eat and drink, and remain the best of comrades. The Heroes are a great company, constantly increasing; but their number is never so great that they do not have enough to eat from the flesh of the boar Sæhrimnir. The cook, named Andhrimnir, each day boils the boar in a kettle called Eldhrimnir; but at evening the beast is lust as much alive and unhurt as before. The Heroes drink ale and mead poured out for them by the Valkyries; Odin alone and those whom he desires to honor drink wine. All the mead they drink runs from [49} the udder of Heidrun, a goat that stands on the roof of Valhalla cropping the branches of a tree called Lærad. The mead fills a great drinking-crock in the hall, enough of it to make all the Heroes drunken. Lærad possesses not only the inherent virtue of producing all the mead; on the roof of Valhalla there stands also a hart named Eikthyrnir, who gnaws at the tree and from whose antlers drops fall down into Vergelmir; thence flow forth twelve rivers that water the domain of the Æsir, and in addition thirteen other rivers.

On the Heroes and life of Valhalla

Page 49, line 11 — "To visit Odin in Valhalla" was a common expression, meaning to fall in honorable combat. When champions challenged each other to an island duel to the death, they were in the habit of invoking for each other a journey to Valhalla (cf. p. 9, for the throwing of spears over the heads of a hostile army). When a warrior had fallen and had been laid in his barrow, he too was dedicated to Valhalla in the course of an oration delivered beside the grave. The saga recounts expressly such a ceremony in the case of Hakon Adelsteinsfostri's burial. Many of the ancient lays bear witness to the reception accorded the Heroes by Odin in Valhalla. Of Helgi Hundingsbane we read that Odin took him into his counsels; and at once Helgi turned toward his quondam enemy Hunding and bade him do the service of a thrall:

You shall, Hunding,
Wash the feet
Of every man,
Kindle the fire,
Bind the dogs,
Herd the horses,
Give swine their swill,
Before you sleep.
In the old lay on Erik Bloody-Axe, Eiríksmál, we learn that it was a matter of great moment for Odin to give Erik an honorable reception on his coming to Valhalla in the company of five other kings:
What mean these dreams? (said Odin)
I dreamed I rose before day dawned,
To prepare Valhalla
For fallen warriors;
I woke the Heroes,
Bade them arise,
Strew the benches with straw,
And scour the vessels;
Bade Valkyries bear wine
Meet for a prince.
From the earth yonder
I wait the corning
Of highborn heroes;
Glad now is my heart.
[314} Bragi, seized with wonder at the clatter and commotion, guesses that it is Balder who is about to return to the halls of Odin. But Odin says that such talk is folly; the roads are already resounding with the advance of Erik's company. Then Odin commands Sigmund and Sinfjotli to go out to meet the king. Bragi asks why Odin looks for Erik rather than for other kings. "Because he has harried so many lands and borne a bloody sword ", answers Odin. Yet Bragi has still more questions to ask: "Why did not Odin grant victory to such a warrior?" "It were safer for the gods to have such a hero in their own midst as a bulwark against the Fenris Wolf," is Odin's reply. Thereupon Erik is bidden welcome and invited to enter the hall. "Who are the princes that come with you from the battle?" "They are five kings — I name them all by name for you — I am myself the sixth." With this speech ends the portion of the poem that has been preserved to our time.

According to the Hákonarmál, a poem composed by Eyvind Skaldaspillir to the honor of Hakon Adelsteinsfostri, Odin sends the Valkyries Gondul and Skogul to choose from among the Yngling kings those who were to visit Odin. They see Hakon throw off his byrnie, fighting desperately; him they choose, and Gondul says: "Now the retinue of the gods will increase, since they have asked Hakon to join their company with a great army." Hakon inquires of the Valkyries why the battle has taken such a turn: "We were surely worthy of the victory." "It lay in our hands," answered Skogul, "that you kept the field and that your enemies fled."

Now shall we ride,
Quoth mighty Skogul,
To the gods' green home;
We bring Odin tidings
That soon the prince comes
Himself to see him.
Odin bids Hermod and Bragi go forth to meet him and invite him to enter. Bragi invests him with the rights that pertain to the Heroes and promises him sojourn in Valhalla: there await him eight brothers who have gone before him.
All of our armor,
Quoth the good king,
We will hold in our keeping; [315}
Helmet and byrnie
No man lays aside;
It is well to be ever ready.
Further may be mentioned the Krákumál, a much later poem (from the 12th century) attributed to Ragnar Lodbrok. Ragnar recites the verses, celebrating one of his victories, in a den of serpents not long before his death. At the close we read: "I know that the benches of Balder's father (Odin) always stand ready for the banquet; forthwith we shall drink ale from the horn; the hero will not bewail his death in magnificent Odin's hall; I will not enter Odin's home with words of fear on my lips. Now am I fain to end my lay; for the Disir (Valkyries) whom Odin has sent to me from Valhalla bid me come into his home, even to himself. Gladly shall I drink ale with the Æsir in the high seat; all hope of life has fled, and laughing I go toward death."

Vingolf is mentioned as the resort of Heroes in only one passage in Snorri's Edda (I, 84); otherwise it is the hall of the goddesses. It is not mentioned at all in the Eddic Poems.

Of the names for the rivers which according to Snorri's Edda flow forth from the antlers of the hart, the greater number connote roaring or rapid streams, or cold or deep streams: Sid, Vid, Sœkin, Eikin, Svol, Gunntro, Fjorm, Fimbulthul, Gipul, Gopul, Gomul, Geirvimul, — all these run through the domain of the Æsir; the others are: Yourn, Vin, Tholl, Holl, Grad, Gunnthrain, Nyt, Not, Nonn, Ronn, Vina, Vegsvin, Thjodnuma. Grímnismál records still others by name.

Corruption

In the morning of time, when Asgard and Valhalla were newly built, the gods lived in innocence, happiness and peace. "Glad in their courtyard they played at chess, nor of gold lacked anything"; so runs the description in the Voluspá of this golden age of the Æsir. Then came three mighty Thursar maidens out of Jotunheim, and enmity arose between Æsir and Vanir. One link in the chain of strife was the burning in Valhalla of a woman named Gullveig; "three times they burned the thrice born, again and again-yet still she lives." The Æsir take counsel together to learn whether peace may still be preserved. Nothing can be done. Odin hurls his spear over the ranks of the enemy, and the first battle of the hosts begins. The walls of the Æsir stronghold are penetrated and the Vanir pour through the breach into Asgard. Yet eventually peace is declared between Æsir and Vanir, [50} the story of which has already been told above. [1] Now the golden age of innocence is at an end; the gods are compelled to defend themselves against their foes, sometimes by the use of guile, as on the occasion when they tricked the Giant mason. [2] Other Giant women — Skadi and Gerd, for example — gain entrance to the dwellings of the Æsir, and Asgard's sanctity is no more. The season of tranquility gives way to a season of turbulent warfare, in which the gods more than ever before have need of magical weapons, of the aid of Heroes. The gods no longer rule the world as princes of peace; the most eminent of them become gods of war. To this period are to be referred the numerous myths having to do with valorous deeds and guileful practices; and the gods fall far short of always winning victory and glory. Corruption extends from gods to men; the divinities of battle, the Valkyries, ride forth into the world of mortals and here too peace is as a tale that is told.

  1. p 4.
  2. p 24.

On Corruption

Page 50, line 19 — Of the "three mighty Thursar maidens" nothing can be said with certainty; nor of Gullveig. There are conjectures pointing to the Norns and to a personification of the corrupting influence of gold. See Finnur Jónsson's explanation of the connection between passages in the Voluspá, in his brochure, Vølu-spá, Vølvens spådom (Studier fra sprog- og oldtidsforskning. no. 84), Copenhagen 1911.

The treasures of the Gods

Loki's malice was in reality the occasion of the acquiring by the Æsir of all the precious weapons and treasures that served them in such good stead during their warfare with the Giants. Once on a time Loki cut off all of Sif's hair. When Thor found out what had happened, he seized on Loki and threatened to crush every bone in his body; he relented only on [51} Loki's swearing that he would get the Dark-Elves to fashion for Sif hair from gold that would grow like other hair. Loki went with his task to certain Dwarfs known as the Sons of Ivaldi; and they, made not only the hair but also the ship Skidbladnir and the spear Gungnir. Loki promptly laid a wager of his own head with another Dwarf, named Brokk, that the Dwarf's brother Sindri was not craftsman enough to make three other talismans as precious as these. Brokk and Sindri repaired to the smithy, where Sindri, laying a pig's hide in the forge, asked Brokk to blow the bellows without pause till he himself returned to take the hide out again. No sooner had Sindri gone than a fly alighted on Brokk's arm and stung him; he kept the bellows going nevertheless, and when Sindri lifted his workmanship from the forge, it turned out to be a boar with golden bristles. Next he laid some gold in the forge, asked Brokk to blow as before, and went away; at once the fly came back, settled on Brokk's neck, and stung him twice as hard as the first time. Brokk notwithstanding held out till Sindri returned and lifted from the forge the gold ring Draupnir. Then he laid some iron in the fire and asked Brokk to blow, insisting that the work would be spoiled if the blowing stopped; but the fly came once more, settled between Brokk's eyes, and stung him on the eyelids so that the blood ran down and blinded him. He could not refrain from loosing his hold on the bellows with one hand to drive the fly away. Just at that moment the smith returned and declared that his handiwork had been on the very point of coming to nothing; he lifted it from the [52} forge, and it proved to be a hammer. Giving all three pieces to Brokk, he told him to make his way to Asgard and demand payment of the wager. The Æsir took their places on the judgment seats and came to the decision that Odin, Thor, and Frey were to judge between Loki and Brokk. Loki gave to Odin the spear Gungnir, which never failed of its mark; to Thor he gave the golden hair, which took root as soon as it was fixed on Sif's head; and to Frey he gave the ship Skidbladnir, which always found favoring winds and which could be folded up and placed in a pocket as occasion might befall. Brokk gave to Odin the ring Draupnir, from which each ninth night there dropped eight other rings as heavy as itself. To Frey he gave the boar Gullinbusti, who was able to run through the air and over the sea more swiftly than any horse; no night was so black, no murky region so dark as not to be illumined by his passage, so powerful was the light that shone from his bristles. To Thor he gave the hammer Mjollnir; with it he could strike as hard a blow as he pleased at anything that came in his way, and yet the hammer suffered not the least dent; he could throw it so as always to hit what he aimed at, and the hammer would return to his hand of its own power; when he so desired, he could make it small and put it in his pocket; he had but one fault to find: the shaft was rather short. The Æsir promptly judged that Brokk had won the wager; in Mjollnir they had acquired the very best defence against the Rime-Thursar. Loki wanted to redeem his head, but the Dwarf would not consent. "Catch me if you can," said Loki; and no [53} sooner had he spoken than he was far away, for he wore shoes that could carry him through the air and over the seas. The Dwarf asked Thor to seize him, and Thor did so. Brokk was about to cut off Loki's head, but Loki declared that the wager called for his head only, and not for his neck. Brokk then began sewing Loki's lips together. He was unable to make an incision with his own knife, but with his brother's awl he managed to make openings through which, he could sew the mouth up tight; that done, he tore out through the lips the thong he had used in sewing them together. [1]

  1. Snorri's Edda I, 340-46.

The rape of Idun

The story has already been told [2] of how the Giantess Skadi was received into the society of the Æsir and of how Njord was given to her as a husband by way of recompense for the murder of her father Thjazi. Loki's wiles provided the direct occasion for these events. Once on a time Odin, accompanied by Loki and Hænir, set forth on a journey that took them across mountains and over wastes where it was no easy matter to find food. At length, on descending into a valley, they caught sight of a drove of oxen; seizing one of the herd they kindled a fire, and began to boil the flesh. When they supposed the meat to be cooked, they took it off the fire; but it was far from done, and they had to let it boil a while longer. The same thing happened a second time; so they fell to debating the [54} strange occurrence and wondering what might be the cause. As chance would have it, they were sitting under a tree, and so they heard a voice above their heads saying that he who sat perched in the tree was to blame for the tardiness of their cooking. Looking more closely, they saw an immense eagle. The eagle said that if they would allow it to still its hunger from the flesh of the ox, the meat would be cooked soon enough. They gave their consent, and the eagle forthwith swooped down and made off with both of the two hind quarters and both fore quarters. Loki became so angry that he picked up a staff and struck at the eagle. The eagle flew away, and one end of the staff stuck fast to the body of the bird and the other end remained fixed to Loki's arms, so that he was dragged over stock and stone till he thought his arms would be pulled from their sockets. He begged the eagle for mercy, but was not freed till he had given his promise to steal Idun out of Asgard, and her apples to boot. Not before he had sealed his promise with an oath was he permitted to return to his companions. When they had come back to Asgard and the appointed hour was at hand, he told Idun that he had discovered certain apples in a wood lying beyond the bounds of Asgard; she would no doubt find them worth having, and accordingly she would do well to visit the spot, taking her own apples along as a means of comparison. Idun permitted herself to be hoodwinked, and the eagle promptly came and carried her off. The eagle, none other than the Giant Thjazi in disguise, bore her away to his own estate of Thrymheim, where he kept [55} her a long while in durance. The Æsir soon noticed that Idun's apples were gone, for they grew old and gray and could find no means of renewing their youth. They met in solemn conclave to inquire into the disappearance of Idun; then some one told that he had seen her walk forth from Asgard attended by Loki. The gods summoned Loki before the assembly and threatened him with death or dire tortures. He became so frightened that he promised to bring Idun back again if Freyja would only lend him her falcon disguise. His request being granted, he flew off to Jotunheim and arrived at Thrymheim at a time when Thjazi happened to be out at sea engaged in fishing, and Idun was alone at home. Loki transformed Idun into a nut and made off with her as fast as he could fly; but just afterward Thjazi returned, and not finding Idun, assumed the shape of an eagle and set out in pursuit of Loki. Little by little the eagle gained on the falcon. When the Æsir saw the two birds drawing near in their flight, they made haste to gather a heap of shavings outside the walls of Asgard, and at the very moment the falcon came inside they kindled the fire. The eagle was unable to come to a stop before it was directly above the bonfire; its wings bursting into flame, it was incapable of continuing the flight. Thus the Æsir got Thjazi into their power and put him to death just within the gates of Asgard.

Thjazi was one of the most formidable of the Giants. His father Olvaldi's wealth was so great that when Thjazi and his two brothers, Idi and Gang, were to divide their patrimony, they were compelled to [56} measure out the gold by mouthfuls. When Thjazi's daughter Skadi came to demand payment of a penalty for the death of her father, she was not satisfied with being permitted to choose a husband [2]; she required in addition that the Æsir should make her laugh, something she deemed to be impossible. Loki again was called on to deal with the emergency; so he played some vulgar tricks with a goat, and she was compelled to laugh in spite of herself. Odin took Thjazi's two eyes and tossed them up into the heavens, where they became two stars. [3]

  1. pp 13, 50.
  2. p 13 f.
  3. Snorri's Edda I, 208-14.

On the rape of Idun

Page 56, line 11 — The myth of Thjazi and Idun seems to have been widespread and well-known (cf. note to p. 76). The skalds sometimes refer to Idun as "Thjazi's booty," and to gold as the [316} "Giants' mouth-reckoning" or as the "Giants' words." According to Snorri's account in the Ynglinga Saga, Skadi became thoroughly tired of Njord and later wedded Odin; their son was Saeming, ancestor of the Haloigja family.

It is not certain just which stars were supposed to have been formed from Thjazi's eyes. In the opinion of J. Fr. Schroeter (Maal og Minne 1919, p. 120 f.) they are the two stars β and γ in Ursa Minor.

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