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Norse Mythology: Legends of Gods and Heroes
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Thor's Unlucky Journey to Jotunheim — Thor's Visit to Hymir — Thor's Visit to Geirræd — Thor's Combat with Rungnir — Thrym Steals Mjollnir — The Necklace of the Brisings

Thor's unlucky journey to Jotunheim

Thor, god of thunder, was the most ardent enemy of the Giants; yet he did not always come out the victor in his encounters with them. Once on a time he drove off with his goats, attended by Loki. As night fell, they found lodging with a countryman. Here Thor slaughtered his goats, flayed them, and caused them to be cooked; then he invited the countryman, with his wife, his son, and his daughter, to share the meat with him, but asked them to throw all the bones down on the goats' hides. They did as he bade them, all but Thjalfi, the farmer's son, who broke a thigh bone to get at the marrow. At dawn Thor rose, donned his garments, raised Mjollnir aloft, and with the hammer consecrated the goats' hides; at once the goats sprang to their feet, as much alive as ever, except [57} that one of them halted on one hind leg. Then Thor understood that the countryman or some one in his house had been careless enough to break the thigh bone; in anger he knitted his eyebrows and gripped the hammer so tightly that his knuckles grew white. The countryman, and his whole family with him, begged for mercy and offered in recompense all that they possessed. When Thor saw how frightened they were, his wrath cooled and he allowed himself to be appeased. By way of ransom he agreed to take the countryman's two children, the son Thjalfi and the daughter Roskva; and these two have followed him ever since.

Leaving his goats with the countryman, Thor continued on his journey to Jotunheim. He reached the seashore, crossed the deeps of the ocean, and stepped on land once more with his followers. Soon they came to a great forest, which they traversed all day till darkness fell. Thjalfi, swift of foot, carried Thor's wallet filled with food, for there was little to be picked up on the way. When night came, they looked about for a lodging and discovered an immense cabin, with a door on one side just as wide as the cabin itself. They went inside and lay down to sleep At midnight they felt an earthquake so violent that the whole building shook; Thor roused his companions and bade them go into a smaller room through a door in the middle of the wall; as for himself, he sat down at the threshold with Mjollnir in his hand. A dreadful din and rumbling filled his ears. In the morning he went out and saw a gigantic man lying snoring near by in the wood; then he understood what had caused all the [58} noise he had heard. He buckled on his belt of strength but just at that moment the man awoke, and for once, so it is said, Thor found himself little disposed to strike a blow. Instead, he asked the man his name. The man answered: "My name is Skrymir, and small need have I to ask for your name; I know you are Asa-Thor. But what have you done with my glove?" With these words Skrymir bent down to pick up his glove, and Thor saw that what he had taken by night to be a cabin was nothing else than Skrymir's glove, and that the penthouse was the thumb. "Shall we not travel together?" asked Skrymir. "Yes," said Thor. Before starting they ate their breakfasts, each party by itself, Skrymir from his own wallet, Thor and his companions from theirs; then Skrymir proposed that they put their food together in one sack. Thor gave his consent, and so Skrymir tied both their victuals and his own in a bag, which he slung on his back. He walked before them with tremendous paces during the day and at evening chose a night's lodging for them beneath a huge oak tree. "Here I am going to lie down to sleep," he said; "you may take the wallet and eat your supper." Skrymir fell asleep at once and was soon snoring heavily. Thor set about untying the wallet, but with very little success; when he had struggled a long while with his task, he grew angry, seized Mjollnir in both hands, and struck Skrymir on the head. Skrymir awoke and asked if a leaf had not fallen on his head. "Have you had your supper?" he asked. "Yes," replied Thor; "we are just going to bed." In the middle of the night Thor again heard [59} Skrymir snoring so that the whole forest rang with the sound; he stepped up to him, lifted the hammer high in the air, and struck the man such a blow on the crown that the beak of the hammer sank far into the skull. Skrymir woke and asked: "What is up now? Was that an acorn that dropped on my head? How are you faring, Thor?" Thor hurried away, saying that he had just waked up and that the hour was hardly past midnight. "If I might only strike him a third time," thought Thor to himself, "he should never see the light of day again." He kept watch till Skrymir once more fell asleep a little before morning, then ran up to him, and with all his might struck him in the temple so that the hammer sank into his skull up to the very handle. Skrymir sat up, stroked his cheek with his hand, and said: "There must be birds sitting in the tree above me; something dropped from the branches on my head. Are you awake, Thor? It is time to get up now, and you have only a little distance to go to reach the stronghold of Utgard. I have heard you whispering among yourselves that I am not exactly small of stature, but you will see bigger men when you arrive at Utgard. And by the way, let me give you a piece of good advice: Do not be too arrogant; Utgard-Loki's men do not put up with much bragging from small boys. Else you had better turn back again, and that might be the wiser thing to do after all. But if you must and will go farther, walk toward the east; my way lies north, toward the mountains you see yonder." With these words Skrymir picked up the bag of food, slung it on his back, and strode off into [60} the forest; and the Æsir were very glad to be rid of him.

Thor and his followers walked on till midday. Then they caught sight of a castle standing in the plain; but they had to bend their necks till their heads touched their backs before they were able to look over the top of it. The portals were barred with a gate that they could not unlock; but they crept in between the wickets and, seeing a huge hall, bent their steps toward it. The door stood open. They walked inside and there saw many men, all of immense size, sitting on benches. Among them sat the king, Utgard-Loki. They saluted him, but he only laughed scornfully, and asked if the little boy was not Riding-Thor. "You are no doubt bigger than you seem to be," he said; "but what kind of manly exercises do you and your traveling companions know? No one is allowed to sojourn here with us who is not able to do something or other better than any one else." Loki, who was standing behind the rest, spoke up: "There is one sport in which I am ready to try conclusions at once; nobody here is able to eat faster than I." Utgard-Loki answered, "We shall soon find out." Then he commanded a man named Logi to step forward from the end of the bench to the middle of the floor to match his skill in eating against Loki's. A trencher full of meat was carried in and placed on the floor; Loki and Logi sat down, one at each end of the trencher, and ate with all their might. They met in the middle of the trencher; but while Loki had eaten only the meat, Logi had consumed the meat, the bones, and the [61} trencher to boot. So Loki was beaten at this game. "What is that young fellow there able to do?" asked Utgard-Loki. "I will try running a race with some one," answered Thjalfi. "You will need to be swift of foot," said Utgard-Loki; then he went out into the field and asked a little fellow named Hugi to run against Thjalfi. In the first race Hugi was so far ahead that he turned back at the goal to meet Thjalfi. "You had better stretch your legs a bit more if you want to win," said Utgard-Loki; "for that matter, no swifter runner than you has ever visited us." In the second race Hugi reached the goal and turned while Thjalfi still had a long bowshot to run. "A very pretty heat," said Utgard-Loki; "yet I can hardly believe that Thjalfi would win if you two ran a third time." They ran once more; but when Hugi had reached the goal and turned around, Thjalfi had not covered half the course. All agreed that this contest might very well be regarded as finished. "What kind of manly sport are you going to favor us with, Thor?" asked Utgard-Loki; "we have heard great things about your prowess."

"I will drink with any one that cares to drink," answered Thor. "Very good," said Utgard-Loki; then he went into the hall and asked his cupbearer to take down the great horn that the king's men were sentenced to drink from when they had done amiss. "We consider it well done," said Utgard-Loki, "if a man is able to empty this horn at one draught; some require two; but no one is such a weakling that he cannot drain it in three draughts." Looking at the horn, Thor did not think it very large but rather long; [62} thirsty as he was, he placed it to his lips, drank deep, and thought to himself that he should probably not have to bend his head to the horn again. But when he stopped and looked to see how much he had drunk, it seemed to him that there was left not much less than there was before. "You have drunk pretty well," said Utgard-Loki, "but no great amount; to be sure, if any one had told me that Asa-Thor was no better drinker, I should not have believed it; but I am sure you will empty the horn at the second draught." Thor answered not a word, but took as long a pull as he possibly could; still the other end of the horn had not risen as high as he might have wished. When he paused it seemed to him that the level had sunk even less than before, yet now it was possible at least to carry the horn without spilling any of the liquor. "If you care to drink a third time, you have left the greater part till the last," said Utgard-Loki; "but if you are not more skilled in other games than in this, you cannot hope to earn as great a name among us as you have among the Æsir." Thor grew angry and placed the horn to his lips once more. He drank with all his might and kept drinking as long as ever he was able; when he paused to look, he could see that the level had sunk a little, but he did not want to drink any more. "It is easy to see," said Utgard-Loki, "that you are not so great a man as we supposed. Perhaps you would like to try your luck at other exercises, since you have had such bad luck with this one?" Thor answered, "I am willing to risk it; but unless I am much mistaken my drinking would have earned praise [63} at home among the Æsir." Utgard-Loki replied "Our young boys sometimes find amusement in lifting my cat off the ground; it is only a small matter, and I should not have thought of proposing such a thing to Thor if I had not seen with my own eyes that you are far from being as mighty as I had supposed." A large gray cat ran out on the floor of the hall. Thor stepped forward, took hold with one hand under her belly, and lifted; but the more he pulled, the more the cat bent herself into a bow; and when Thor had stretched his hand up as far as he could stretch, the cat raised only one foot off the floor. So Thor was worsted at this game too. Utgard-Loki declared that he might have known as much beforehand, since Thor was small of stature as compared with the big men around him. "Let one of them come out and wrestle with me if you think I am so small," answered Thor, "for now I am really in bad humor."

"Not a man in the hall would demean himself so far as to take a turn with you," said Utgard-Loki, "but I will call in my old foster mother, Elli." She accordingly came in and grappled with Thor; but the more Thor tightened his hold, the firmer she stood; at last she began to use tricks of her own, and in the end Thor perforce sank down on one knee. "Perhaps that will do," said Utgard-Loki; "Thor will hardly challenge any one else here to a wrestling match." With these words he showed Thor and his companions to their seats. They remained there the rest of the night, and were entertained with the utmost hospitality.

In the morning they rose and prepared to continue [64} their journey. Utgard-Loki himself came in and caused a table to be spread for them, laden with all kinds of food and drink. Then they set forth on their way. Utgard-Loki accompanied them out of the castle and, as they were about to depart, asked Thor what he thought of the outcome of his expedition. Thor answered that he knew he had added nothing to his fame and that he felt the keenest disappointment to think that he was leaving behind him the reputation of a mere weakling. "Now I will tell you the truth," said Utgard-Loki, "since you are well outside of the castle. Never with my consent, so long as I live and rule, shall you be allowed to enter it again. And you would never have gained entrance if I had known how strong you were; for you came very near bringing the greatest misfortune on us. The fact is, you have all been hoodwinked. It was I that you met in the forest; I tied the wallet with troll-iron so that you might not guess how to open it. Each single blow that you struck would have killed me outright if, unknown to you, I had not interposed for my protection the huge mountain you beheld outside the stronghold; there you may see even now three valleys, the one deeper than the other, all of them marks of your blows. The like happened with the games you played: Loki was hungry and ate very well, but Logi (logi = flame) was none other than fire itself turned loose, which consumed at one time both meat and trencher. Hugi, the fellow with whom Thjalfi ran his races, was my own thought (hugr), which of course was the fleeter of the two. When you drank from the horn, the wonder [65] grew till I could not trust my own eyes; for the other end lay out in the ocean itself. If you look closely you can see how the level has sunk; that is what we call ebb tide. When you lifted the cat, we were all alarmed; she is the Midgard Serpent that encompasses all lands, but you raised her so high that head and tail barely touched the floor together. The wrestling match with Elli was no less a marvel, for never a man lived, nor ever shall live, but must fall before her (elli = old age). Now we are to part, and it were best for both of us that you never came back; for the future I will not fail to be on my guard against arts of that kind." Thor lifted his hammer, meaning to smite Utgard-Loki, but in a twinkling he had disappeared. Nor was Thor able again to catch sight of the castle; and so he had to return to Thrudvang. Yet before long he was bound on another expedition, this time against the Midgard Serpent itself.

On Thor's unlucky journey to Jotunheim

Page 65, line 18 — The Swedish student of folklore, C. W. von Sydow, has subjected this myth to exhaustive scrutiny in his article Tors färd til Utgard (Danske studier 1910, pp. 65-105, 145-82). He reaches the conclusion that the most important components of the myth are to be traced to borrowings from the Celtic, presumably during the Viking era, but prior to the composition of the Eddic poems Lokasenna and Hárbarðsljóð (in which occur allusions to the episode of Skrymir), or in other words, before the tenth century. Sophus Bugge had at an earlier date expressed a similar opinion (Populœr-videnskabelige Foredrag, Christiania, 1907, p. 19 f.). Bugge laid particular stress on the word "gres-iron" (rendered above as "troll-iron"), used of the bands with which Skrymir bound up the bag; this word is not Northern, but Irish: "grés in Irish means 'art,' and is especially employed of the arts used by a smith in making iron sharp, hard, and shiny." Scholars have, however, also found in the myth ancient domestic motives (von Sydow, with others). Among these, particular interest attaches to Thor's youthful followers, Thjalfi and Roskva. The latter name (Roskva, *earlier Vroskva, related to Gothic wrisqan, pronounced vriskv-, "to bear fruit") points to a feminine divinity of fruitfulness (cf. note to p. 16) who once must have been closely allied with Thor; there are indications that Thor, notably in Sweden, ruled over seasons and harvests (seep. 118). Thjalfi is found in ancient myths of Thor as the retainer of this god; see Axel Olrik's article Tordenguden og hans dreng (Danske studier 1905).

Thor's visit to Hymir

The story of Thor's visit to the Giant Hymir is told in verse in a poem of the Poetic Edda (Hymiskviða) and in prose in Snorri's Edda. In the Eddic poem the myth begins by recounting how the gods, gathered at a banquet given by Ægir, discovered through magic arts that he had in his possession a huge number of kettles. Thor hinted to Ægir that he was inferior to the Æsir, and in revenge Ægir asked Thor to go out and find a kettle large enough to brew ale for all the Æsir at one time. No one had heard of a kettle of this size, till finally Tyr let it be known that his father [66} (his mother's father?), the Giant Hymir, who lived to the eastward of the Elivagar, had one that was a mile deep; but it was impossible for any one to get hold of it without trickery. Thor and Tyr accordingly drove away from Asgard and in due course arrived at the house of man named Egil; there they stabled the goats and continued on foot to Hymir's farm, only to discover that he had gone out hunting. On walking into the hall they found Hymir's wife (?), a hideous Giantess with nine hundred heads. Hymir's daughter (?), Tyr's mother, nevertheless received them kindly and hid them behind eight immense kettles that were hanging in the room, since, as she said, Hymir was not well disposed toward visitors. After a long time Hymir came home. As he stepped in at the door, the icicles that hung from his frosty beard sent forth a tinkling sound. His daughter greeted him with smooth words and told him that Thor and Tyr had come to see him: "There they are, hiding behind a pillar under the staircase." At the piercing looks that shot from the eyes of the Giant, the pillar burst asunder and the crossbeam broke in two; all the kettles fell down and were shattered into bits except one only, which had come more finely tempered from the forge. Thor and Tyr now had to step out from their hiding; Hymir himself was ill at ease when he saw the deadly enemy of the Giants under his own roof. Three oxen were slaughtered for the evening meal, and of these Thor alone ate two. The next day Hymir proposed that they should go out hunting, to see if they could not bag something really worth eating; Thor, on the [67} other hand, offered to row a boat out to sea if Hymir would provide bait for fishing. Hymir pointed to his own herd of cattle, and Thor was not slow in tearing the head off an enormous black bull. Thor and Hymir now rowed so far out to sea that the Giant became alarmed, and then they began to fish. Hymir pulled in two whales at once; while Thor, who had taken his seat aft, baited his hook with the bull's head and started angling for the Midgard Serpent. And sure enough, the Serpent took the bait and the hook with it. Thor hauled his catch up to the gunwale and gave it a blow on the head with his hammer so that the mountains echoed to the sound and the whole earth quaked; but the line parted and the Serpent sank back into the sea. As they rowed homeward Hymir sat in a fit of temper and spoke never a word. When they touched land, he asked Thor either to make the boat fast or to carry in the catch, thinking in either case to put his strength to the test. Thor laid hold of the boat by the prow and drew it ashore without bailing out the bilge water; then he picked up the oars and the bailing dipper and carried them up to the house, and the whales to boot, as if they were nothing at all. Still Hymir was not content; Thor was strong enough both at rowing and at carrying burdens, but the question remained whether he had the power to break the Giant's beaker into bits. Thor hurled it against a stone pillar, but the pillar broke and the beaker was left whole. Then Tyr's mother advised Thor to throw it against Hymir's own hard forehead; Thor did so, and this time the beaker burst, while the Giant's forehead remained unscathed. [68} Hymir felt his loss keenly, yet he said they might have the kettle if they were able to carry it out of the house. First Tyr tried to lift it, but it would not budge an inch. Thor was compelled to bend to the task himself; he took so strong a grip that his feet went through the floor. Finally he succeeded in slinging the kettle over his head, but it was so large that the handles clattered at his heels. Hurrying away, he traveled a great distance before looking back; on doing so at length, he saw Hymir and a whole army of many-headed Giants setting out in pursuit from their rocky fastnesses in the east. He threw the kettle off his shoulders, swung his hammer, and killed every one of the band. He had not gone far on his journey, however, before one of the goats stumbled to earth half dead; it was halt on one foot, and for that mishap malicious Loki was to blame. [1] Thor finally brought the kettle into the presence of the assembled gods; and in it Ægir was thereafter compelled to brew the ale for the yearly banquet which he had to provide for the Æsir.

According to Snorri's Edda, Thor set out all alone, in the likeness of a "young lad," without his wagon or his goats, and so arrived one evening at Hymir's dwelling. He remained there during the night, and in the morning got permission to go out fishing with Hymir, although the Giant did not look for much help from a fellow so young and small. Thor asked Hymir [69} for bait, and on being told to provide for himself he tore the head off Hymir's biggest bull, Heaven-Bellower (Himinhrjótr). Thor plied the oars; but when Hymir thought they were going rather too fast, he asked Thor to lay by, since they had reached his accustomed fishing banks; Thor for his part, wanted to row farther out. When they had gone on some distance, Hymir declared it would be unsafe to venture beyond a certain point for fear of the Midgard Serpent. Thor nevertheless rowed on and on, till Hymir became very ill at ease. At last Thor pulled in his oars, prepared a stout line and a hook to match, and baited it with the bull's head. Then he dropped the line, and the Midgard Serpent took the bait so that the hook pierced the roof of his mouth. The Serpent gave the line such a violent jerk that Thor's knuckles were dashed against the gunwale; furiously angry, he rallied his Æsir strength and pulled so hard that his feet went through the boat and struck the bottom of the sea. He succeeded in drawing the Serpent up to the gunwale; and a terrible sight it was to see Thor fix his piercing eyes on the Serpent and to see the Serpent glare in turn at Thor, spewing venom meanwhile. Hymir grew pale with terror as he caught sight of the Serpent and saw the waves washing into the boat and out again; fumbling for his bait knife, he cut the line off against the gunwale, and the Serpent sank back into the sea. Thor threw his hammer after it, but did not succeed in killing it. Yet he struck Hymir such a blow with his fist that the Giant tumbled overboard head first. Thor himself waded ashore. [70}

    It may be that Loki had misled Thjalfi, Egil's son, to split the goat's thigh bone. As to the supposed time of all these happenings, the Eddic poem reveals nothing; it tells only that the "mountain-dweller" had to pay for the damage with his own children.

On Thor's visit to Hymir

Page 69, line 31 — The myth of Thor and the Midgard Serpent is known also from skaldic poems: Bragi the Elder's Ragnarsdrápa [317} and Ulf Uggason's Húsdrápa. The subject is treated also in a figured stone recently discovered in Sweden. On the presumed Christian prototype of the myth (Christ catching Leviathan on a hook), see, among others, K. Krohn, Finnisch-ugrische Forschungen VII, p. 167 ff. From the side of folklore certain phases of the myth have been investigated by C. W. von Sydow, Jätten Hymes bägare (Danske studier 1915 [=Folkminnen och Folktankar 1914] pp. 113-50). Among scholars no agreement prevails as to the relationship between Tyr and Hymir.

Thor's visit to Geirræd

Once on a time, as Loki was flying about for sport in Frigg's falcon disguise, he was taken with a desire to see how matters stood on the estates of Geirræd. Settling on a window ledge, he looked into the hall. Geirræd bade one of his men take the bird captive; but this was more easily said than done, and Loki was vastly amused at the proposal. He therefore remained sitting on his perch for a while, thinking there would be time enough to escape when the man had clambered up; but when Loki wanted to fly away, his feet clung to the wall and so he was taken in the toils. Geirræd, on examining his eyes, knew that it was no real bird, but a shape-shifter; he spoke to Loki but received no answer. Geirræd then locked him up in a chest, where he left him for three months without food. Finally he took him out again, and Loki was compelled to reveal who he was. To save his life he promised to induce Thor to pay a visit to the farmstead of Geirræd without his hammer, his belt of strength, or his gauntlets. It is not known how Loki managed this affair, but certain it is that Thor set forth on the journey. Loki and Thjalfi went with him. On the way Thor sojourned for a time with the Giantess Grid, who was the mother of the god Vidar and as such a friend of the Æsir. From her Thor learned that Geirræd was a crafty Giant, with whom it was no simple matter to deal. Accordingly she made Thor a loan of a belt of strength, a pair of iron gauntlets, and her own staff, the "Grid-Staff" (Gríðarvolr; volr = staff). Thor presently [71} arrived at the banks of a great river called Vimur, across which he was compelled to wade. Girdling on his belt, he braced himself against the current by means of the staff, while Loki held fast to the belt. By the time he had reached midstream, the water flowed over his shoulders. Then said Thor:

Wax no more, Vimur;
My purpose holds to wade
To the very home of the Giants.
Know this, that as thy waxing
Will wax my Æsir power,
Even as high as the heavens.
Soon he became aware that Geirræd's daughter Gjalp was standing astride the river where it narrowed between rocky walls, and that the swelling of the waters was her work. He picked up a boulder from the bed of the stream and threw it at her, saying, "A river must be dammed at the mouth." The boulder found its mark, and now the current bore him so close to the bank that he was able to catch hold of a mountain ash, by the aid of which he pulled himself ashore. From this incident comes the saying, "The mountain ash is the salvation of Thor." Thjalfi — according to a skaldic poem [1] — had seized the thong of Thor's shield and effected his passage in this way. When Thor arrived at Geirræd's house, he and his companions were lodged in a goat-house [2] where there was but a single chair. Thor sat down in it, but soon noticed that it was being raised with him toward the roof. He thrust [72} the Grid-Staff up against a beam and let all his weight sink heavily into the chair, whereupon there at once arose from below a great crashing and wailing; the din came from Gjalp and Greip, the two daughters of Geirrced, who had lain beneath the chair and whose backs he had thus broken. Then said Thor:
Once I made use
Of my Æsir might,
Yonder in the home of the Giants;
That was when Gjalp and Greip,
Daughters of Geirræd,
Would fain lift me up to the heavens.
Now Geirræd called Thor into the hall to make trial of his prowess in games of skill. Great fires were burning lengthwise of the room, and just as Thor passed in front of Geirræd, the Giant picked up with his tongs a glowing bolt of iron and threw it at him. Thor caught it in his iron gauntlet and raised it aloft, but Geirræd leaped for refuge behind a pillar. Thor hurled the bolt with such force that it went through the pillar, through Geirræd and the wall, and then buried itself in the earth.
  1. See note.
  2. Some manuscripts of Snorri's Edda have "guest-house."

On Thor's visit to Geirrœd

Page 72, line 22 — This myth we know from Snorri's Edda, which in great measure bases its story upon a still partially extant skaldic poem, the þórsdrápa of Eilif Godrunarson. An account of Geirrœd, certainly derived from a Northern source, occurs also in Saxo (see Axel Olrik, Kilderne til Sakses oldhistorie II, 1894, p. 133 ff.; cf. K. Liestøl, Norske trollvisor, p. 53 ff.):

A Danish king named Gorm had heard an Icelandic ("Thulanian") myth about Geruth's (Geirrœd's) farmstead. Determined to pay a visit to Geirrœd, he set out, accompanied by the widely traveled Thorkel Adelfar, with three ships and three hundred bold men. They sailed northward, but just off Halogaland they encountered head winds so that their provisions were presently exhausted. After many adventures they finally reached land, where they discovered such large herds of cattle that they could not refrain from slaughtering, to supply themselves for the voyage, more than they needed at the moment, in spite of the warnings of Thorkel. During the night they were attacked by a rout of hideous Giants, and they were not permitted to depart before they had delivered over one man from each vessel by way of ransom. Thereupon they continued their course to Bjarmiland, where they found continual winter, murky forests, and no end of monsters. Here they landed. Thorkel forbade them all to speak a single word to the inhabitants of the land, on pain of inevitable harm. A gigantic man came down to the shore to bid them welcome, naming each of the voyagers by his right name; Thorkel said it was Gudmund, Geirrœd's brother, who was in the habit of looking after all strangers. He asked Thorkel why they all remained silent, and Thorkel replied that they were dumb from shame at not knowing any other language than their mother tongue. [318} Gudmund invited them to go with him, and they consented; Thorkel meanwhile bade them not to touch anything or anybody and not to taste meat or drink; else they would lose all memory of their earlier life. Gudmund was amazed at the king's not eating a morsel of food, although his own twelve fair daughters waited at the board; but Thorkel always found some excuse or other. Now Gudmund sought to entice the newcomers, offering his daughters in marriage; and four of their number, allowing themselves to be hoodwinked, lost their reason. Once more, but in vain, Gudmund tempted the king with the lovely flowers in his garden. Not until all of his arts had come to naught did he guide them on their way and across a stream so that they might reach Geirrœd's estate. Presently they descried a hideous, ruinous, filthy town; on the walls many severed human heads stood fixed on stakes, and savage dogs lay on guard outside the portals. Thorkel heartened his traveling companions, and quieted the dogs by letting them lick a horn smeared with fat. They had to climb over the gates by means of ladders, and now they saw that the town was teeming with horrible black shapes; fearful odors filled the air. They walked on, Thorkel meanwhile repeating his warnings. Finally they reached Geirrœd's house; it was black with soot and the floor was alive with snakes; spears occupied the place of rafters, and a frightful stench filled the room. On the benches along the wall sat Trolls as rigid as stones, while near the door the watchmen leaped about in goatish antics. First the travelers had to pass through a block of stone split in twain; having done so, they caught sight of Geirrœd, an aged man with a pierced body, sitting in the high seat, and beside him three women with broken backs. The block of stone, said Thorkel, had been split by Thor with the same bolt of iron with which he transfixed Geirrœd; it was Thor too who had broken the backs of the women. Here three men of the company yielded to their desire to touch certain of the treasures, and promptly fell dead. The rest meanwhile passed on into an adjoining room, where treasures of such fabulous value met their gaze that even Thorkel lost command of himself and seized upon a splendid cloak. Instantly all the Trolls raised an outcry, surged in upon the strangers, and killed all who were not able to defend themselves by means of arrows or stones. Only the king, Thorkel, and twenty others escaped. They hurried back whence they had come; in their retreat, however, one of their number succumbed to [319} temptation, married one of Gudmund's daughters, and in consequence lost his wits. Finally the rest reached the ships once more and sailed home.

In this story we meet again the daughters of Geirrœd, with broken backs; here, however, they are three, not two as in Snorri's Edda. Instead of the iron pillar we have here the sundered boulder. In general, the Prose Edda's description of the halls of Hell on the Strand of Corpses (see p. 38) seems to have occupied the saga writer's thoughts while he penned his account of Geirrœd's domain.

Echoes of the myth dealing with Geirrœd occur furthermore in the romantic Icelandic story of Thorstein Bœjarmagn (Fornmanna Sögur III, 174-98), dating from the 14th century. One of Olaf Tryggvason's bodyguard, named Thorstein Bœjarmagn, while on an expedition to the east, fell in with prince Godmund of Glæsisvoll, who was on a journey for the purpose of paying homage to Geirrœd of Risaland. Thorstein bore him company across the boundary river Hemra to Geirrœd's hall. Here he gave Godmund and his men assistance through occult arts in certain competitive games and trials of strength with Geirrœd and his retainers. At last he brought down upon the hall a rain of immense sparks which in the end blinded and killed Geirrœd, whereupon Godmund took sway over the whole of Geirrœd's kingdom.

Snorri relates in his Edda that Thor may sometimes in skaldic phrase be designated as the "Killer of Geirrœd," and I.oki as "Geirrœd's Guest" or "Geirrœd's Shroud."

Thor's combat with Rungnir

Once on a time, when Thor had gone off to the east to kill Trolls, Odin rode on Sleipnir's back into Jotunheim and pressed forward to the dwelling of the Giant Rungnir. Rungnir inquired who the gold-helmeted man might be, who was thus able to ride both air and sea — he must be the master of a good [73} horse! Odin undertook to wager his head that the horse's like was not to be found in all Jotunheim. Rungnir retorted that his own horse, Goldmane, was the swifter of the two; with these words he sprang on his horse in a rage and rode in pursuit of Odin to pay him for his boasting. Odin struck spurs into Sleipnir and maintained his lead; but Rungnir had lashed himself into such a Giant fury that before he knew it he had passed within the gates of Asgard. The Æsir immediately invited him to sit down with them at their drinking, to which he assented and walked into the hall. The beakers were brought forward from which Thor was in the habit of drinking; Rungnir emptied them all without a murmur, and becoming drunk, began to vaunt himself. He would pick Valhalla up bodily and carry it off to Jotunheim; he would level Asgard with the earth and put all the gods to death but Freyja and Sif, and these two he would bear away to his own house. He insisted that Freyja alone had the courage to fill his beaker, and that he would make short work of drinking up all of the Æsir's ale. The Æsir, eventually growing weary of his bragging, summoned Thor; without a moment's delay Thor was on the spot, brandishing his hammer and fuming with anger. Thor demanded to know who had permitted foul Giants to drink there, who had allowed Rungnir to remain in Valhalla, and why Freyja was filling his cup as if it was a banquet for the gods. Rungnir turned unfriendly eyes on Thor and answered that Odin in person had invited him to enter and had given him safe conduct. Thor declared that before the [74} Giant made his escape he would have reason to rue that invitation. "Thor would gain little glory by killing an unarmed man," said Rungnir; "but have you courage enough to fight with me at the boundary stones of Grjottunagard? I was a fool to forget my shield and whetstone at home, for if I had my weapons at hand we could fight it out at once; but if you kill me while I am unarmed, you will be every man's byword for cowardice." That was the first time any one had offered to stand against Thor in single combat, and so he immediately accepted the challenge. Rungnir rode off at top speed; when he arrived at home in Jotunheim, the Giants paid him the highest compliments on his courage. They realized, none the less, how much was at stake: if Rungnir, their most powerful champion, should be worsted, they might look for all manner of mischances. Accordingly they set about the task of making a man of clay, nine miles tall and three miles broad beneath the arms. They were unable to find a heart large enough for him till it occurred to them to make use of the heart of a mare. Rungnir for his part had a three-cornered heart of stone; his head also was of stone, and his shield as well. Taking his position behind his shield he awaited at Grjottunagard the corning of Thor; resting his whetstone on his shoulder, he presented a most formidable figure. The clay Giant, on the contrary, who bore the name Mokkurkalfi, was so terrified that "he made water as soon as he caught sight of Thor." Thor came on the field seconded by Thjalfi. As they advanced Thjalfi called out, "You have made a reckless choice of [75} position, Giant; Thor is closing in on you from below through the earth." Rungnir then placed his shield beneath his feet and stood on it; no sooner had he done so than Thor, heralded by a burst of thunder and lightning, came on the scene in all his Æsir might and from a great distance hurled his hammer at the Giant. Rungnir gripped his whetstone with both hands and threw it at Thor, but it struck the hammer in mid air and was shattered to pieces. One part fell to the, ground, and from these fragments have come all the mountains of whetstone; the other part, piercing Thor's head, brought him to earth. The hammer struck Rungnir on the crown and smashed his skull to bits; he fell across the body of Thor so that his foot rested on Thor's neck. By this time Thjalfi had won an easy victory over Mokkurkalfi. Neither Thjalfi nor any of the Æsir was able to lift Rungnir's foot off Thor's neck; but presently Magni came on the field — the son of Thor and Jarnsaxa, a youngster of three years — and raised the Giant's foot as if in play; it was unfortunate, so he said, that he had not come sooner, in which case he would have struck the Giant dead with his bare fist. Thor rose to his feet and praised his son handsomely; he avowed that the boy in time would amount to something, and by way of reward made him a present of Rungnir's horse Goldmane. Odin, however, declared that Thor had not done right in giving so fine a horse to the son of a Giantess instead of to his own father.

Thor now returned to his home in Thrudvang, but the whetstone remained fixed in his head. To be rid [76} of it he sought the aid of Groa, the wife of Aurvandil the Brave. The woman read magic spells over Thor's head till the whetstone loosened its hold. When Thor noticed what was happening, he wanted to please the woman in his turn; so he told her that, on a journey to the north, he had once waded across the Elivagar carrying Aurvandil in a pannier out from Jotunheim. In proof of his story he related that one of Aurvandil's toes, protruding out of the pannier, became so badly frostbitten that he was compelled to break it off; he then tossed it into the heavens, where it turned into a star that had since been called Aurvandil's Toe. No long time would pass, he added, before Aurvandil returned home again. Groa was so happy at hearing his tale that she forgot all about her magic spells; the whetstone consequently was not fully loosened, and so still protrudes from Thor's head. Therefore no whetstones must be thrown crosswise over the floor, for in that event the whetstone in Thor's head will be set in motion.

On Thor's combat with Rungnir

Page 76, line 20 — This myth Snorri learned to know from the poem Haustlong, the author of which was Harold Fairhair's Skald Thjodolf of Hvin. The same lay deals also with Thjazi and Idun (p. 53 ff.). The general opinion identifies Aurvandil's Toe with Orion. It is worth noticing that both of the myths providing material for the extant fragments of Haustlong have to do with the astronomical notions of our forefathers.

The masculine name Aurvandil, which obviously is of literary origin, occurs also among the ancient Germans: Auriwandalo in Longobard sources, Orentil in Frankish and Bavarian sources; furthermore, Orendel, in a Middle High German epic poem, half legend, half romantic tale, of the same name. A corresponding [320} common noun appears in Anglo-Saxon, ēarendel, glossed with Latin jubar, meaning "effulgence" and "morning-star." These circumstances seem to point to a legendary hero named Aurvandil (cf. the addition "Frœkni": the brave), concerning whom, however, no accurate information is available. He has nothing but the name in common with Horvendillus (a tributary king in Jutland, father of Amleth [Amlóði, "Hamlet"]; killed by his own brother Fengi) in Saxo, the hero of an islet duel in the Viking manner. A. Heusler (Reallexikon der germanischen Altertumskunde III, p. 372 f.) summarizes his conception of the Aurvandil story as follows: "A mythical Aurvandil has left memorials among the Germanic peoples, both the southern and northern, and a star has taken its name from him; it is not certain whether he had a place in heroic literature, and whether the High German epic, supplied with materials from sources so numerous, had any other connection with him than that of the name."

Thrym steals Mjollnir

At length it so happened that Thor found an opportunity to steal into Jotunheim and glut his hatred of the Giants. He had lain down to sleep, and when he awoke he missed his hammer. Enraged beyond bounds, he at once sought the advice of Loki, who promised to go out in search of the hammer provided Freyja would lend him her bird plumage. Freyja being willing, Loki flew off to Jotunheim and came into [77} the presence of Thrym, king of the Thursar, who was sitting on a mound braiding gold cords for his dogs and clipping the manes of his horses. "What news among the Æsir? What news among the Elves? And what brings you to Jotunheim alone?" asked Thrym. "There is something wrong somewhere," Loki answered; "you do not happen to have hidden Thor's hammer, do you?"

"Yes," retorted Thrym, "I have hidden it eight miles deep in the earth, and no man will get it before he brings me Freyja to wife." Loki brought the bad news back to Asgard. He then went with Thor to ask Freyja if she would consent to become the wife of Thrym; highly incensed, she gave them a curt "No" for answer. The Æsir accordingly met in conclave to determine what steps were to be taken; no one was able to suggest anything to the purpose till Heimdal proposed that they should dress Thor to take the place of Freyja, decking him out to that end with the Necklace of the Brisings and other appropriate ornaments. Thor pronounced the plan far beneath his dignity but at last gave in; so they dressed him in bridal linen, adorned him with the Necklace of the Brisings, hung jingling keys at his belt, put a kerchief on his head, and wrapped him in the long garments of a woman. Loki, in the habit of a handmaiden, followed in his train. Hitching Thor's goats to the cart, the two drove off at a pace that split mountains asunder and struck the earth into flames. As they drew near the domain of the Thursar king, Thrym bade the Giants rise to their feet and deck the benches for the coming of the bride. "In my possession are [78} cows with gold horns, black bulls, heaps of treasure, and mounds of jewels," said Thrym; "Freyja is now my sole desire." When evening had come, food was borne in before the two guests. Thor by himself ate a whole ox, eight salmon, and all of the delicacies prepared for the women, and washed it all down with three crocks of mead. "Did any one ever see a bride take bigger and harder bites or drink more mead?" asked Thrym. "For eight days on end," answered Loki, "Freyja has not tasted a morsel, so great has been her longing after Jotunheim." Thrym now bowed his head beneath the kerchief to kiss the bride; but she shot such piercing glances on him that he started back. "Why does Freyja look so grim? Her eyes dart fire."

"Eight nights on end," answered Loki, "Freyja has not slept a wink, so great has been her longing after Jotunheim." Just at that moment the hideous old grandmother came in and asked for a bridal gift. Thrym gave commands that Mjollnir should be borne in and laid on the bride's lap so that the wedding might go forward. When Thor once more beheld his hammer, his heart laughed within him. First he slew Thrym, then the old beldame, and thereafter he crushed into atoms all the kindred of the Giants. Thus Thor got his hammer back again after all. [79}

On Thrym stealing Mjollnir

Page 78, line 26 — This myth is known through the Eddic poem Þrymskviða. On the basis of this lay the Icelandic "rimes," þrymlur, were composed about the year 1400; and both the ancient pagan poem and the þrymlur form the foundation, according to Sophus Bugge and Moltke Moe's Torsvisen i sin norske form (in Festskrift til Hs. Maj. Kong Oscar II ved Regjerings-Jubilœt 1897), for a popular ballad which has been recorded in Norwegian, Swedish, and Danish versions. The Norwegian ballad is published in the article by Bugge and Moe named above, the Swedish in Arwidsson's Svenska fornsånger I, no. 1, and the Danish in S. Grundtvig's Danmarks gamle Folkeviser I, no. 1. The ballads show a close relationship to the Eddic myth; the names, however, have been considerably changed in the course of tradition. Thor is thus called "Torekall" (Norwegian), "Torkar," "Torer" (Swedish), "Tord of Hafsgård" (Danish); Loki (Laufey's son) is called "Låkjen" (Norwegian), "Locke Lewe" (Swedish), "Lokke Leimand" or "Lokke Læjermand" (Danish; he is here Thor's brother); Freyja is called "jungfru Frojenborg" (Swedish), "Freiensborg" (Danish); Thrym is called "Trolletram" (Swedish; cf. Old Norse tramr, "devil"), "Tossegreve" (Danish); and Asgard, "Åsgålen" in the Norwegian ballad, has become "Hafsgård" in the Danish. S. Bugge has found an echo [321} of the Eddic poem in an "Old Danish runic inscription in England," from about the year 1075; see Aarbøger for nordisk oldkyndighed 1899, p. 263 ff. The myth has been discussed by Axel Olrik in the article cited in the note to, p. 65.

The necklace of the Brisings

On most of Thor's expeditions, Loki acted the part of a friend, outwardly at least. Between Heimdal and Loki, on the contrary, there was deadly enmity without ceasing. This enmity showed itself, for example, on the occasion when Loki had stolen the Necklace of the Brisings from Freyja. Loki hid the ornament in the sea at Singastein, and kept guard over it himself in the shape of a seal. Heimdal likewise assumed the likeness of a seal, and so compelled Loki to restore what he had stolen. This is the probable interpretation of the casual references in Snorri's Edda, [1] in which case we have here to do with the old and authentic form of the myth.

A variant of the myth, quite different and far less primitive, is to be found in the legendary Sorla þáttr, [2] dating from the thirteenth century. According to this account, Freyja had received the necklace from four Dwarfs; Odin, however, coveting it, asked Loki to steal it for him. It would prove to be a difficult task, Loki said, for Freyja's house was so well built and so securely bolted that no one would be able to enter without her consent. Odin commanded him to make the attempt nevertheless, and Loki had to obey. When he arrived at the door he could not find even the smallest opening; taking the shape of a fly he crept about the lock a long time, till finally he discovered high up on the door a tiny crevice, through which he succeeded in making an entrance. Freyja lay asleep [80} with the necklace about her neck, the lock facing downward; he accordingly transformed himself into a flea and bit her so hard on the cheek that she awoke and turned on the other side. The lock having in this way been made to face upward, he assumed his natural shape once more and made off with the ornament. Escaping through the door, which it was possible to open from the inside, he brought the treasure to Odin. Freyja, as soon as she awoke, noticed the theft and complained to Odin. He answered that she might have the necklace again on one condition: she was to stir up strife between two major kings so that they would wage unceasing war against each other, the fallen warriors constantly rising to fight again. This compact came to be the occasion of the Battle of the Hjadnings. [3]

  1. See note to 18, line 5.
  2. Fornaldar Sogur 1, 391 ff.
  3. See note to p 130.

On the necklace of the Brisings

Page 80, line 16 — According to Sophus Bugge (Beiträge zur Geschichie der deutschen Sprache XII, p. 69 ff.), this myth was strongly influenced by an old German heroic legend localized in Breisgau (Brisaha) in Baden. Brísinga-men may be rendered as the "Necklace of the Brisings (the name of a people)." It is no doubt to be identified with the ornament Brōsinga-mene in the Anglo-Saxon epic of Beowulf, in which Brōsinga surely appears through an error in tradition instead of Brīsinga. The ancient Northern peoples understood the name to mean the "gleaming ornament," no doubt connecting it with brísingr, "fire," in Modem Norwegian dialects brising "bonfire," "torch" (and brisa, "to shine," "to flame").


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