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Norse Mythology: Legends of Gods and Heroes
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The Death of Balder — Ægir's Banquet — The Chastising of Loki — Other Norse Myths Concerning the Death of Balder (in Saxo) — The Death of Kvasir — Suttung — Odin's Debate with Vafthrudnir — Odin (Grimnir) and Geirræd — Harbard and Thor

The death of Balder

Amid confusion and struggle of various kinds life thus ran its course among the Æsir. Yet Balder still remained to them, the god of innocence and purity; while he survived, evil and violence could not gain supremacy in the universe. There came a time, however, when he began to be visited by disquieting dreams, which filled all the gods with foreboding. The Æsir and the goddesses held a general assembly to inquire into the meaning of these portents. Odin himself rode forth on Sleipnir into the very depths of Niflheim to take counsel with a departed sibyl or [81} prophetess. He arrived at the high hall of Hell; and to the east of the door, where lay the grave of the sibyl, he took his station and chanted his incantations to waken the dead. The sibyl, compelled to rise from her grave, asked who had come to disturb her rest. "The snow covered me," she said, "the rain beat on me, and the moist dews fell over me; I had long been dead." Odin answered, "I am named Vegtam, the son of Valtam; tell me now for whom Hel has adorned her hall."

"For Balder the mead is brewed, and the Æsir are sore afflicted."

"Who then shall bring death on Balder?"

"Hod shall bring death to Balder," was her response. "Who shall avenge his death on Hod?" asked Odin. "Rind shall bear a son (Vali) in the West-Halls," she replied; "he shall neither wash his hands nor comb his hair till he has brought Balder's slayer to the funeral pyre; one night old, he shall kill him."

"Speak, be not yet silent," said Odin; "still more would I fain learn: who are the maidens that are weeping sorely and throwing their neckerchiefs into the air?"

"Now I know that you are not Vegtam, as you have said, but Odin," answered the prophetess. "And you are neither sibyl nor wise woman; you are the mother of three Thursar."

"Ride home again, Odin," said the prophetess, "and return to me when Loki has regained his freedom and the Twilight of the Gods is near at hand."

Frigg now bound all things by an oath that they would do Balder no harm-fire and water, iron and all manner of metals, rocks, earth, trees, maladies, beasts and birds, poisons and serpents. Now the Æsir, [82} deeming themselves, secure, even found amusement at their assemblies in having Balder stand forward while the others shot missiles at him, aimed blows at him, or threw stones at him; whatever they might do, he suffered no wound. Loki, meanwhile, was not pleased. Assuming the shape of a woman, he paid a visit to Frigg at Fensalir. Frigg asked the woman what the Æsir were occupied with at their assembly. "They are all shooting at Balder without working him the least injury," she said. "Neither weapons nor trees will do him any harm, for I have bound all things by an oath."

"Is it really true that all things have sworn to spare Balder?" the woman asked. "All things, except only a tiny sprig growing west of Valhalla, called Mistletoe (mistilteinn); I deemed it too young a thing to be bound by an oath." Now Loki went away, tore up the mistletoe, and carried it off to the assembly. Hod, because of his blindness, was standing at the outer edge of the circle. Loki asked him why he too was not shooting at Balder. "I cannot see where he is standing; and besides, I have no weapon," answered Hod. "Nevertheless, you ought to follow the example of the others," said Loki, "and thus pay equal honor to Balder. Take this wand and shoot at him; I will show you where he is standing." Hod grasped the mistletoe, took his position according to Loki's bidding, and let fly at Balder; the bolt sped directly through his body, and he sank down dead. Thus came about the greatest mischance that ever befell gods and men. When the Æsir saw Balder fall to the ground, they were speechless with fear, and none [83} moved a finger to lift him up; they looked at one another, and all alike were filled with wrath at the man who had brought that deed to pass; yet they were powerless to avenge the murder, since the spot on which they stood had been solemnly set aside as a sanctuary. For a time they were unable to utter a word for weeping; Odin above all felt the full force of the blow, for he saw most clearly what a loss had befallen the Æsir through Balder's death. When the gods had in part regained their composure, Frigg asked who among the Æsir would undertake to gain her favor by riding the Hell-Ways to seek speech with Balder and to learn from Hel what recompense she would demand for permitting Balder's release and his return to Asgard. Hermod the Bold, Odin's son, declared himself willing; having got the loan of Sleipnir for the journey, he mounted and took the road with the utmost speed.

The Æsir took Balder's body and bore it down to the sea. There lay his great ship, Ringhorni, drawn up on land; with the intention of using it for Balder's funeral pyre, they strove to launch it but were unable to move it from the spot. They were therefore compelled to send a messenger to Jotunheim to summon the Giantess Hyrrokkin, and she came riding to them mounted on a wolf, which she guided by vipers in lieu of reins. She dismounted, and Odin assigned four Berserks to the task of holding her steed; they could not restrain the wolf, however, before they had thrown it to the ground. The Giantess stepped to the prow of the boat, and at the first effort shoved it off so fast that the rollers burst [84} into flame and the whole earth trembled. Thor, his wrath getting the better of him, wanted to crush her head, but all the other gods interceded on her behalf. Now the body of Balder was carried out onto the ship, and when his wife Nanna saw what was happening, her heart broke for sorrow; so her body also was laid on the pyre. The fire was then kindled and Thor came forward and consecrated the pyre with Mjollnir; just at that moment a Dwarf named Lit ran in front of him, and Thor spurned the Dwarf into the fire, where he too was burned. Beings of many kinds came to see the burning. First of all was Odin, and with him Frigg, the Valkyries, and Odin's ravens. Frey drove a cart drawn by the boar Gullinbusti, otherwise called Slidrugtanni. Heimdal rode his horse Goldtop, and Freyja drove her cats. Throngs of Rime-Thursar and Cliff-Ettins presented themselves likewise. Odin laid on the pile the ring Draupnir. Balder's horse also was led fully caparisoned onto the blazing ship.

In the meantime Hermod was on his way to Hell. Nine nights he rode through dark and deep valleys and saw nothing till he came to the river Gjoll and rode out onto the Bridge of Gjoll, which is paved with gleaming gold. A maiden named Modgud, who keeps watch over the bridge, asked his name and kindred. Then she told him that not many days before, five companies of dead men had ridden across the bridge; "and yet," she said, "it thunders as loudly beneath your paces alone as beneath the feet of all of them together. Nor have you the visage of a dead man; why are you riding alone on the way to Hell?"

"I am riding [85} to Hell," answered Hermod, "in search of Balder. Have you seen him pass along the Way of Hell?" She told him that Balder had already traversed the Bridge of Gjoll: "The Way of Hell lies downward and northward." Hermod rode on till he arrived at Hell-Gate. There he dismounted, tightened his saddle-girths, mounted once more, and struck spurs to his horse; the horse jumped so high above the gate that he did not so much as touch it with his hoof. Hermod rode straight to the hall, dismounted, and stepped inside; there he saw his brother Balder sitting in the high seat. He remained in the hall during the night; in the morning he asked Hel to permit Balder to ride away with him, telling her at the same time how great was the grief of the Æsir. Hel answered that she meant to assure herself beforehand whether Balder was really so much beloved as he was reputed to be. "If all things on earth," she said, "be they quick or dead, will weep for him, then he shall return to the Æsir; but if there is one thing that will not weep, he shall remain with me." Then Hermod arose, and Balder followed him out through the door and bade him give Odin the ring Draupnir in memory of him. Nanna gave into his charge a kerchief for Frigg and other gifts besides, and for Fulla a finger ring. Thereupon Hermod rode forth on his journey till he came back to Asgard, where he imparted to the gods all that he had seen and heard.

The Æsir now sent messengers throughout the whole world to ask all things to weep for Balder's release from Hell; all things did weep, men, beasts, earth, trees, [86} and all manner of metals, and they can still be seen weeping whenever they pass from frost to heat. But when the messengers, their errand done, were returning home again, they discovered among the rocks a Giantess named Thokk; her too they asked to weep Balder out of the bounds of Hell but she replied:

Thokk shall weep
Dry tears
On Balder's pyre.
Nor in life nor in death
Did Karl's son bring me joy;
Hel hold what she has!
Balder's homecoming thus came to nothing. The Giantess was none other than Loki, who by such means finished his evil deed. Retribution, however, soon fell on him. Upon Hod as well Balder's death was to be avenged; and according to the sibyl's decree to Odin, vengeance was to come at the hands of Vali, the son of Odin and Rind. The particulars of his doom are not recorded in the Eddas.

On the death of Balder

Page 86, line 20 — The first section is a summary of the Eddic poem Vegtamskviða or Baldrs Draumar. Vegtam means "the wanderer," more literally "one who is familiar with the way"; Valtam means "one who is familiar with battle." The last of the questions has to do with the same subject as Odin's last question in the verbal duels with Vafthrudnir (p. 102) and with king Heidrek (p. 143). In all three of these instances Odin reveals his identity through this question; and here, as in the two other cases, the query probably alludes to Balder's death. Accordingly Sophus Bugge (Studier I, p. 252 ff.) has taken the position that the maidens referred to are weeping for the death of Balder; if the "neckerchiefs" are taken to mean "sails," the signification may be this, that the waves, daughters of Ægir, hurl the blazing ship with Balder's body on board toward the heavens. As to the "mother of three Thursar," P. A. Munch points to Angerboda, who was the mother of Hel, Fenrir, and the Midgard Serpent.

The material in the following paragraphs of the section is based on Snorri's Edda, which in this case clearly has drawn on [322} poetic sources. The portion dealing with Balder's funeral is founded on a skaldic poem, Ulf Uggason's Húsdrápa, fragments of which still are extant. The remaining portions, dealing with Balder's death and Hermod's journey to Hell, presuppose Eddic poems, probably two in number, of which the strophe of Thokk alone remains.

On Hod, see p. 18. Mistletoe (mistitteinn) means literally the "plant mistletoe," which has had great importance in cult and magic over a wide area. The name of Balder's ship, Ringhorni, means "ring-prowed" (see Hj. Falk, Altnordisches Seewesen [in the periodical Wörter and Sachen IV, 1912] p. 38). Hyrrokkin is "one shrunken (hrokkinn) by fire (hyrr) ". The Dwarf's name, Lit, is no doubt the common noun litr, "color," "complexion." Thokk is the word "thanks," here no doubt used ironically in the sense of "un-thanks," "ingratitude" (cf. S. Bugge, Studier I, p. 62 f.).

The myth of Balder is probably the most disputed of all the Norse myths. Among the suppositions which by this time have been pretty well discarded are that this myth is based on a myth of the seasons (Uhland, Simrock) and that it reflects a struggle between light and darkness conceived morally (N. F. S. Grundtvig). A wholly one-sided theory built up on a separate portion of the myth is that of Frazer (Balder the Beautiful I-II, 1913) according to which Balder is made the personification of the mistletoe-bearing oak, the soul or living principle of which is the mistletoe itself. (Strongly influenced by Frazer is Henrik Schück's treatment of the myth in his Studier i nordisk literatur - och religionshistoria II, 1904.) A new foundation for the solution of the problem has been laid by Sophus Bugge; in his opinion there must exist an historical connection between the Balder-myth and Christianity (Balder = Christ). Kaarle Krohn (Finnisch-ugrische Forschungen V, 1905, p. 83 ff.) seeks confirmation of this view through an examination of connected traditions in the folklore of Finland: "The Eddic myth of Balder, as well as the section of the Kalevala dealing with Lemminkäinen's death, is nothing more or less than a Christian legend." A contrary position is taken by Gustav Neckel (Die Überlieferungen vom Gotte Balder, Dortmund, 1920), who maintains that the connection of the myth with Christianity is not immediate; according to his conception, Balder is to be linked with an Oriental god of fruitfulness who belongs within the same religious and historical limits [323} as Christianity. Neckel believes that the myth came to us by way of Thrace during the period of the great migrations.

On another Norse form of the Balder-myth, see p. 94 ff.

Ægir's banquet — The chastising of Loki

When Ægir had got possession of the huge kettle borrowed by Thor from Hymir, he prepared a great banquet for the Æsir. [1] Odin was one of the guests; others were Frigg, Sif, Bragi, Idun, Tyr, Njord, Skadi, Frey, Freyja, Vidar, Frey's serving men, [87} Byggvir and Beyla, with a host of other Æsir and Elves besides. Loki also made one of the number, but Thor was absent on an expedition to the east. Radiant gold lit the room instead of tapers, and the ale poured forth of itself without the aid of any cupbearer. Ægir's servants, Eldir and Fimafeng, were praised highly on every hand for the skilful performance of their duty. Hereat Loki grew angry and killed Fimafeng, although the spot was holy ground. The Æsir brandished their shields, raised an outcry against Loki, and drove him out into the forest; then they sat down to their drinking. Loki nevertheless shortly returned and, meeting Eldir outside the hall, asked him what the Æsir were discoursing about over their cups. "They are speaking of their weapons and their valorous deeds," answered Eldir; "and none among them has a good word to say for you." Loki said that he purposed to go inside and look on at the banquet and that he intended to bring evil and dissension with him and to mingle misfortune with the mead they were drinking. Refusing to listen to Eldir's warnings, he forced his way with threats. All ceased speaking when they saw Loki enter. He asked permission to still his thirst and, no one answering a word, he demanded that they should either show him to a seat or drive him out once more. Bragi declared that the Æsir never would give him a place among them again; whereupon Loki reminded Odin that once in the morning of time they two had blended blood with each other and thus had become sworn brothers, on which occasion Odin had given his promise that no drink should cross his [88} lips that was not offered to both of them alike. Odin accordingly asked Vidar to make room for Loki at his side, and Vidar promptly arose and poured drink into Loki's cup Loki offered obeisance to all the gods and goddesses and drank to them all — Bragi alone excepted. Bragi now proposed to present him with horse and sword and rings in recompense if he would keep the peace. Loki replied with taunts, maintaining that Bragi had none of the possessions of which he spoke: "Of all the Æsir sitting here, you are most afraid of battle and most wary of flying bolts."

"If I were outside the hall, as certainly as I now sit within the hall, I should carry away your head in my hand," retorted Bragi. "You are brave enough while you are sitting in your seat, Bragi Grace-the-Benches," answered Loki; "if you are angry, come and fight it out with me."

"I beg of you," said Bragi's wife, Idun, "do not taunt Loki herein Ægir's hall."

"Hold your tongue, Idun," rejoined Loki; "of all wanton women I call you the most wanton; with your white arms you have embraced the slayer of your own brother." Idun declared that she only wished to pacify Bragi so that the two would not come to blows. Now Gefjon spoke: "Why do you two Æsir continue to bandy words in this presence? Loki appears not to know that he is on the wrong road, that all the gods are angry at him." Loki at once stopped her lips by reminding her of an amorous adventure in which she had played a part. Hereupon Odin warned Loki to beware of Gefjon's wrath: "For she knows the destinies of men as well as I." Loki at once turned on Odin [89} and said: "You have often granted victory to dastards."

"You, for your part," replied Odin, "lived eight winters under ground as a woman, milking cows." No insult much worse could possibly be thrown in a man's teeth, and so Loki was not slow in making a rejoinder no less coarse, to the effect, namely, that Odin had once sojourned on the island of Samsey engaged in the practice of witchcraft and sorcery after the manner of witches. Frigg now took a part in the discussion, declaring that Odin and Loki had better not reveal what they had been occupied with in the morning of time, and Loki immediately countered with the old story that on a certain occasion when Odin was absent from home, she had had his brothers Vili and Ve for husbands. "Had I here in Ægir's hall a son like Balder, you would not easily escape," answered Frigg. "You plainly wish me to recount still more of my evil deeds," said Loki; "know then, it is my doing that you shall no more see Balder come riding into the hall."

"You are beside yourself," said Freyja, "to dare relate all the evil and heinous acts of your life; Frigg knows the course of destiny, though she tells no man thereof."

"Silence," answered Loki; "I know you only too well. There is scarcely any one in this company, whether of Æsir or Elves, whom you have not had for a lover; you are a Troll, wicked through and through; once the gods surprised you with your own brother."

"It is of little consequence," said Njord, "that women have lovers; it is far worse that you, womanish god, venture into our presence." Loki reminded him that he had once been sent eastward [90} as a hostage and that the women of Hymir had covered him with insults. "Even if I was once a hostage, nevertheless I have begotten a son (Frey) who is the friend of all and the bulwark of the Æsir."

"His mother was your own sister," replied Loki. Tyr now spoke: "Frey is foremost of the brave men of Asgard, he violates neither maid nor wife, and he looses from bonds all those that are bound."

"Hold your tongue, Tyr; never have you been able to bring about peace; do not forget how the Fenris Wolf tore off your right hand."

"Nevertheless," answered Frey, "the Wolf lies in bondage till the Twilight of the Gods; and just as he lies chained outside the river's mouth, so may you come to lie fettered if you do not keep silence."

"For gold you bought the daughter of Gymir and sold your sword besides, so that when the sons of Muspell come riding across the Dark Woods you will find no weapon ready to your hand." Then spoke Byggvir, Frey's serving man: "If I had offspring like that of Ingunar-Frey and if I lived happily as he does, I would crush this crow of evil omen finer than marrow and break all his limbs asunder."

"What is that little thing wagging his tail and whimpering there under the mill? You hid yourself in the straw on the floor when men went forth to battle." On Heimdal's declaring Loki to be drunk, Loki replied: "Hold your tongue, Heimdal. In the morning of time a life most base was dealt out to be your portion, to stand forever with a stiff back, waking and watching on behalf of the gods." Skadi now forecast a threatening future for Loki: "Hitherto your lot has been good, Loki, but you shall [91} not much longer play fast and loose; to the sharp stone the gods shall bind you with your own son's entrails."

"None the less was I chief among those that put your father Thjazi to death," answered Loki. Skadi retorted, "Therefore cold counsels will always go out to you from my house and home." Now Sif stepped forward and poured mead into a horn for Loki; she drank to him and asked him to molest Skadi no more, but his only response was to boast that he, if none else, had enjoyed the favors of Sif. "The mountains are trembling," said Beyla; "I think Thor must be coming; he will find a way of stopping the mouth of him who heaps blame on the Æsir." As Loki was berating Beyla, Thor appeared and, fuming with rage, threatened Loki with his hammer. Still Loki had the boldness to say to him: "You will not be so brave when you go out against the Wolf, and the Wolf devours Odin."

"I will hurl you into the regions of the east so that no man shall lay eyes on you again," answered Thor. "You had better keep quiet about your journeys to the east," said Loki, adding a further reminder of the cowardly way in which Thor had borne himself in Skrymir's glove and how fast he had found the thongs bound about the wallet; "hale and hearty, you nearly perished with hunger."

"If you do not hold your tongue at once, Mjollnir shall strike you, without further ado, down to Hell, even lower than the Gate of Corpses."

"I have spoken what I had to speak," said Loki; "I will now depart, on your account alone, for I know that you strike when you are moved to strike." To Ægir he declared that this banquet was [92} his last, that flames were to consume all that he owned.

Loki now took his leave and hid himself in the mountains, where he built a house with four doors so placed that from within he was able to spy in all directions. Often he assumed the shape of a salmon and lurked among the waterfalls of Franang. He pondered much on what devices the Æsir might employ in order to catch him in the falls; and as he sat in the house brooding on these things, he took flax yarn and wove it into meshes in the manner commonly used in making a net. Before long he saw the Æsir drawing near; for Odin, looking out from Lidskjalf, had discovered his hiding. Losing no time, Loki threw the net on the fire burning before him, and sprang into the waterfall. When the Æsir reached the house, the wise Kvasir was the first to enter; as soon as he saw the ashes of the burned net, he understood that it was a means of catching fish, and he told the Æsir as much. They all set about the task of making a net according to the model in the ashes; when it was finished they went down to the stream and threw the net into the water. Thor had hold of one end, and all the other Æsir held fast to the other end. As they drew the net, Loki swam before it and lay quiet between two stones till the net had passed over him; nevertheless they noticed that the net had touched some living thing. They went up stream and cast in the net a second time, but now they had weighted it so that nothing could pass beneath it. Loki swam ahead of the net till he came within a short distance [93} of the sea; then he leaped over the rope and swam up to the waterfall again. Now the Æsir had caught sight of him; they went up stream a third time and separated into two parties so that each group held one end of the net while Thor waded down the middle of the river. In such a manner they drew the net down toward the sea. In this predicament Loki was compelled either to run out to sea, which would put him in grave danger of his life, or to leap over the, net once more. He ventured the leap anew, but Thor seized him and held him fast by the tail, although the salmon slipped a short way through his hands; this is the reason why the salmon tapers toward the tail. Now Loki was taken captive outside the bounds of any hallowed place, and therefore he could expect no mercy. The Æsir carried him off to a cavern in the mountains. There they took three flagstones, placed them on end, and bored a hole in each one. Next they seized hold of Loki's sons, Vali and Nari; Vali, transforming himself into a wolf, at once tore his brother limb from limb. Thereupon the Æsir took Nari's entrails and with them bound Loki in such a position across the three stones that one of the stones stood under his shoulders, the second under his loins, and the third under the tendons of his knees. The bands turned into iron. Skadi caught a venomous serpent and fixed it above him in such a way that the venom would be sure to drip into his face. Sigyn, Loki's wife, stood beside him holding a basin to catch the dripping poison; but when the basin was filled, she had to go away to empty it; and while she was gone the [94} poison fell on his face and threw him into such violent contortions that the whole earth trembled. This is the phenomenon now known as an earthquake. Thus Loki shall lie bound till the coming of the Twilight of the Gods.

  1. See p 65 ff.

On Ægir's banquet — The chastising of Loki

Page 94, line 5 — The Prose Edda contains no record of Loki's scurrilities in the house of Ægir but does give, immediately after the story of Balder's death, an account of the vengeance of the gods upon Loki. The Poetic Edda is more explicit on the subject; it has an entire lay dealing with Loki's abusive speeches (Lokasenna, called in later manuscripts Ægisdrekka), and a prose appendix declaring expressly that Loki's punishment was reserved till that time. Voluspá too refers to the chastisement of Loki in a passage stating that he was bound with the entrails of Vali.

Lokasenna alludes to many matters not otherwise known; some of these things must no doubt be regarded as inventions of the poet. The accusation that Frigg had loved the brothers of Odin has to do with the same myth as that recorded in Snorri's Heimskringla, Ynglinga Saga, chapter 3. We read likewise in the Ynglinga Saga, chapter 4, that Njord had his own sister to wife while he was still one of the Vanir; among the Æsir, on the contrary, wedding with a sister was forbidden.

Besides much that is vague and obscure in Lokasenna, there is also much that is coarse, which however often has a boldly comic effect. We read of Freyja: Þegi þú, Freyja! þú ert fordœða, ok meini blandin mjok, síz þik at brœðr þinum stóðu blíð regin ok mundir þú þá, Freyja! frata. Of Gefjon: Þegi þú, Gefjon! þess mun ek nú geta, er pik glapði at geði sveinn inn hviti, er þer sigli gaf, ok þú lagðir lœr yfir. Of Nojrd: Hymis meyjar hofðu þik at hlandtrogi ok þér í munn migu. To be accused of being a female animal or a woman was regarded as touching the honor of a man so closely that accusations of that sort were expressly forbidden by law.

Other Norse myths concerning the death of Balder (in Saxo)

The ancient Danish historian Saxo also has an account — no doubt drawn chiefly from Norse sources [1] — of the death of Balder. It differs materially from the narrative in the Eddas. In Saxo's story the name of Balder's slayer is Hother, son of Hothbrod. He is not a blind god, but a bold and well-favored prince who from his youth has distinguished himself for bodily strength and adroitness in all manly exercises. He has no equal as a swimmer and as a bowman, and no one can match him in playing the harp He loves Nanna, the daughter of his foster father Gevar, and she returns his love. Odin's son, the mighty Balder, sees her and pays court to her; being disappointed in his suit, he seeks to kill Hother. From certain Forest-Maidens Hother learns the entire plot; in consultation with his foster father Gevar he ascertains that the only means of wounding Balder is the sword of the Forest-Troll Miming. With much difficulty he gains possession of this sword. Balder makes war on Hother and Gevar, in the course of which he loses a great battle at sea, although all of the gods, even Odin and Thor, fight on his [95} side; Thor crushes down with his cudgel all that oppose him till Hother succeeds in splitting the shaft of it; then even the gods take flight. Now Hother weds Nanna and becomes king of Sweden, which land is his domain by hereditary right. Balder continues the struggle against him, now with a greater measure of good fortune, gains the victory over him in two battles, and thus wins the kingdom of Denmark, which Hother has sought to lay under tribute to himself. But Balder's unhappy love for Nanna consumes his strength. No longer able to walk, he is compelled to ride in a chariot. In order to help him regain his vigor, three Celestial Maidens brew for him a drink made from the poison of serpents. Hother, meanwhile, gains knowledge of the posture of affairs from the same three Forest-Maidens who assisted him before, and makes opportune haste to join battle with Balder; the battle which ensues between them lasts a whole day, and neither side wins a decisive victory. During the night Hother sallies forth to meet the Maidens who are preparing the potent draught; he asks them to give him some of it, but they dare not heed his request, although they are well disposed toward him in all things else. On his return journey by a happy chance he encounters Balder alone. He wounds him with his sword, and Balder dies three days afterward. Hother now becomes king also in Denmark. Odin, meaning to avenge the death of Balder, seeks the advice of soothsayers, and the Finn Rostiophus tells him that Rind, daughter of the king of Ruthenia (Russia) is to bear him a son who will avenge [96} his brother. Assuming a disguise, Odin enters the service of the king as a soldier and performs such incredible deeds of valor that he becomes the king's most highly trusted henchman. Now he pays court to Rind with the consent of the king; but, too haughty to accept him, she sends him away with a box on the ear. The next year he returns in the guise of a smith and fashions for the princess the most lovely ornaments of gold and silver; but instead of the kiss he asks for, he gets only a second box on the ear, the princess being unwilling to favor a man so old. The third time he appears as the gayest of knights, but his courtship meets with no better luck than before. At last he returns in the likeness of a young girl, and so finds a place among Rind's handmaidens. The handmaiden, as he calls himself, pretends to unusual skill in healing. When the princess in the course of time falls ill of a dangerous malady, the handmaiden is summoned and, on being promised her love as a guerdon, restores Rind to health. Thus Odin gains what he has long sought. Rind becomes his consort and bears him a son, whom Saxo calls Bous and who is no doubt to be identified with the Vali of the Eddas. Of him Saxo relates only that he makes war on Hother, that Hother falls in battle, but that Bous receives a mortal wound from which he dies on the following day. The Eddas, on the other hand, represent Vali as still living, inasmuch as he is one of the small number of gods who are to survive the Twilight of the Gods. [97}

  1. See Axel Olrik, Kilderne til Sakses oldhistorie II (1894), p 13 ff.

On other Norse myths concerning the death of Balder (in Saxo)

Page 96, line 29 — This story has throughout the characteristics of romantic medieval sagas. Saxo's Rinda is the Rind (earlier *Vrind) of the Eddas, where however she is merely mentioned. [324} Rind was once actually worshipped as a goddess; on this point the ancient Swedish place name Vrindavi (near Norrköping), i.e., "Rind's sanctuary," bears witness (see E. Brate Arkiv för nordisk filologi XXIX, p. 109 ff.). (The opinion has been advanced that allusions to Odin and Rind occur in certain strophes of the Eddic poem Hávamál, where Odin tells the story of his unlucky courtship of "Billing's maiden"; yet the whole matter is uncertain.) Something more definite is to be learned from a statement of the Skald Kormak, who says, "Odin practised sorcery in order to win Rind." According to Saxo, magic runes were the means employed by Odin in the winning of Rind. An exhaustive literary and historical analysis of Saxo's saga of Balder is to be found in the work by Neckel cited in the note to p. 86.

The death of Kvasir — Suttung

The death of Kvasir occasioned the dissemination among men of a knowledge of the poetic arts. It happened in the following manner:

Kvasir [1] was in the habit of journeying here and there in the world for the purpose of teaching wisdom to men. Once on a time he was invited to visit the home of the Dwarfs Fjalar and Galar; they begged permission to speak a word or two with him in private, and promptly killed him. His blood they allowed to drip into two crocks and a kettle; then they mixed honey with the blood and from this pottage they brewed a mead possessing the peculiar virtue that whoever should drink of it would become a skald or a soothsayer. The two crocks are called Son and Bodn, and the kettle Odrærir. The Dwarfs told the Æsir that Kvasir had been drowned in his own perfect wisdom, no man being wise enough to match wits with him. Some time later the Dwarfs invited into their home a Giant named Gilling and his wife. The Dwarfs asked the Giant to row out to sea to fish with them; as they were rowing along the shore, the boat struck a reef and overturned. Gilling, being unable to swim, was drowned, while the Dwarfs managed to right the boat and reach land. When they told the Giant's wife of the accident, she moaned and wept aloud. Fjalar suggested that it might ease her grief to look out to sea where her hushand had perished, and the thought pleased her; whereupon Fjalar directed his brother [98} Galar to take a millstone, post himself above the door, and drop the stone on her head as she stepped out, for he was heartily wearied with her lamentations. Galar did as he was told. When Suttung, Gilling's son, learned what had happened, he came on the Dwarfs, took them captive, and marooned them on a reef over which the sea washed at flood tide. In their distress they begged Suttung to have mercy on them and offered to give him the precious mead in recompense for his father's death. Suttung accepted their proffer, and in this way a reconciliation was effected between them. He hid the mead at a place called Nitbjorg and set his daughter Gunnlod to keep watch over it.

When all these events came to the knowledge of Odin, he set out determined to secure the mead for himself. In his journey he came to a meadow belonging to Suttung's brother Baugi, where he saw nine thralls at work cutting hay. On his asking if they wanted their scythes sharpened they gladly accepted his services. Taking his whetstone from his belt he put such a fine edge on the scythes that the thralls were eager to buy the whetstone from him. He was willing to sell, but finding that each one of them coveted it, he tossed the whetstone into the air; all of them tried to catch it at one time, and thus had the misfortune to cut one another's throats with their scythes. Now Odin found lodging for the night with Baugi. Baugi complained to Odin that his nine thralls had killed one another, and that he was at his wits' end to get laborers in their stead. Odin, who had called himself Bolverk, offered to do nine men's work [99} for Baugi, if Baugi would only procure him a draught of Suttung's mead by way of wages. Baugi answered that, though he had no sort of control over the mead, which Suttung kept in his own charge alone, he was willing to go in the company of Bolverk and try to gain possession of the mead for him. While summer lasted, Bolverk did the work of nine men for Baugi; but when winter came, he demanded his hire. The two accordingly visited Suttung, to whom Baugi explained the agreement between himself and Bolverk; but Suttung refused outright to let them have so much as a single drop Bolverk then proposed to Baugi that they would have to try to get hold of the mead by some sort of trickery, and Baugi was nothing loath. Bolverk produced an auger called Rati and asked Baugi to bore a hole with it through the mountain, that is, provided the auger would bite rock. Baugi set to work and had not bored a great while before he declared that he had made a hole clear through the stone of the mountain. On Bolverk's blowing into the hole, however, the grit flew back into his face; having thus discovered that Baugi meant to fool him, Bolverk enjoined him to bore again in sober earnest. Baugi plied the auger a second time; and when Bolverk blew once more, the dust flew inward. Bolverk now transformed himself into a snake and crawled through the hole. Baugi tried to pierce his body with the auger but failed. Odin soon made his way to the spot where Gunnlod sat guarding the mead, and remained there with her three nights. She gave him leave to drink thrice of the mead; the first time he drained Odrærir, the second time Bodn, [100} and the third time Son. Then taking on the form of an eagle, he flew away as fast as ever he could fly. When Suttung became aware of what was going on, he too assumed the shape of an eagle and spread his wings in pursuit of Odin. When the Æsir caught sight of Odin flying toward home, they placed their crocks out in the courtyard. On alighting within the walls of Asgard, Odin spewed the mead into the crocks; but Suttung having by that time nearly overtaken him, he let a part of the mead slip behind him. The gods, however, were not in the least disturbed, and permitted who would to gather up the dregs. Odin made a gift of the mead to the Æsir and to all who understand the art of poetry; the remnants of mead which fell into the mire became the allotted portion of poetasters.

  1. See p 13.

On the death of Kvasir — Suttung

Page 100, line 16 — In accordance with the details of this myth, all of the poetic arts are called in the ancient poetic phraseology "Kvasir's Blood," "Drink of the Dwarfs," "Gilling's Ransom," "Odrœrir's (Son's or Bodn's) Contents," "Suttung's Mead," "Boat-Freight of the Dwarfs," "Nitbjorg's Liquor," "Odin's Booty," etc. In the Hávamál occur several strophes referring to the myth; thus we read (strophes 104-10): "I was a guest of the old Giant; little did I get there by holding my tongue; nay, I must needs use many words in Suttung's halls to gain my desire. Gunnlod of the golden chair gave me to drink of the precious mead; but ill did I reward her guileless love. I let Rati's mouth (the auger's bit) gnaw a passage for me through the stone; my life at stake I ventured through the hole, and round about me stood the Giants' roadways (the mountains). The beauteous maid (Gunnlod) served me well; for now Odrœrir is come into the light of day. Yet I fear I should not have escaped from the home of the Giants had not Gunnlod helped me, the kind young girl whom I embraced. The next day the Rime-Thursar came to the hall of the High One (Odin) to learn the High One's fate; they asked after Bolverk, whither he was gone, whether he had come back to the gods, or whether Suttung had done him to death. At that time Odin swore a false oath. Can his oaths still be believed? He beguiled Suttung of his mead and brought sorrow to his daughter." In another passage we read (strophe 13): "The herons of forgetfulness soar above the drinkers and steal away men's wits. With [325} the feathers of that bird was I spellbound in Gunnlod's home." Bolverk means "worker of misfortune." The name of Suttung is of uncertain origin. Odrœrir seems to signify "one who stirs up (sets in motion) the poetic faculties (óðr)." Bodn is no doubt the same word as Anglo-Saxon byden, "vat," "crock"; closely related would then be Modern Norwegian buna (from *buðna), "tub." On these names see further, Hj. Lindroth Maal og Minne 1915, p. 174 ff. According to Sophus Bugge, (Studier I, p. 468 f.), Rati means "rat" (cf. the expression in the Hávamál, "Rati's mouth ").

Odin's debate with Vafthrudnir

Just as Thor was accustomed to make adventurous sorties in order to discomfit the Giants with material weapons, so Odin from time to time undertook to match wits with them; to this end he would send out challenges inviting them to try their wisdom against his own. Among the Giants was an old wiseacre named Vafthrudnir, famous for his knowledge of the ancient history of the universe and of the gods themselves; with him Odin wished to debate for mastery. Frigg begged him to forgo his purpose on the plea that no one could compete with Vafthrudnir; but since Odin was determined, Frigg could do nothing else than wish [101} him luck and express the hope that his wisdom would not be found wanting in the hour of trial. Odin accordingly sought out Vafthrudnir; presenting himself under the name of Gagnrad, [1] he let it be known that he had come to discover whether Vafthrudnir was really so wise as rumor had made him out to be. "You shall not escape from my hall," said Vafthrudnir, "if your wisdom does not surpass my own; meanwhile, take a seat and we shall see which of us two knows the more." Gagnrad, declining the proffered seat, declared that a poor man coming to a rich man's house should either speak sound sense or remain silent; if he let his words run wild, he courted certain misfortune. "Tell me, then, Gagnrad, since you choose to plead your cause from the floor," said Vafthrudnir — and he forthwith began to put questions about the horses of Night and Day, about the river Iving that forms the boundary between gods and Giants, and about the plains of Vigrid, where the battle between the gods and the Giants is destined to take place. Gagnrad made ready response to all these questions and then took a seat to propound his own queries. The one who suffered defeat was to lose his head. Gagnrad in his turn questioned Vafthrudnir about the making of the earth from Ymir's body, about the sun and moon, about day and night, about Ymir's or Aurgelmir's origin in the Elivagar, about Ræsvælg, about Njord, about the life of the Heroes in Valhalla, about which of gods and men were to survive the ruin of the universe, and about the passing of Odin. Vafthrudnir [102} had an answer for every question. Finally Gagnrad asked what it was that Odin whispered in Balder's ear as Balder was being laid on the funeral pile. This question Vafthrudnir was at a loss to answer, and thus he understood that his opponent was none other than Odin himself. Then he confessed that with the mouth of one doomed to death had he bandied words with his guest; Odin after all remained the wisest of the wise.

  1. That is, "he who determines good fortune or victory."

On Odin's debate with Vafthrudnir

Page 102, line 9 — This material forms the subject of the Eddic poem Vafþrúðnismál. The name of the Giant means "one who is skilled in answering intricate questions" (from vefja, "to weave," "to complicate" and Þrúð-, "strength").

Odin (Grimnir) and Geirræd

On another occasion, too, Odin in person gave a great deal of information about the gods, their manner of life, and their dwellings. King Raudung had two sons, Agnar and Geirræd. Once on a time, when Agnar was ten years of age and Geirræd was eight, they rowed off in a boat to catch fish. The wind drove them out to sea. In the darkness of the night their boat was splintered on the shore, and so they made their way to land. There they came across a peasant, with whom they remained throughout the winter. The wife adopted Agnar as a foster son and the husband adopted Geirræd. The peasant couple were in fact none other than Odin and Frigg. When spring was come, the husband made the boys a present of a boat; and as he and his wife walked with them down to the shore, the man talked with Geirræd in private. The boys found favoring winds and finally touched at their own father's boat landing. Geirræd, who had taken [103} his station at the prow, leaped on land; as he did so he pushed the boat back into the sea, calling out to his brother: "Go where the Trolls may get you!" The boat drifted out into the ocean, while Geirræd walked home and received a joyous welcome. Geirræd's father had died in the meantime. Geirræd was made king in his stead, and later became a famous man.

Odin and Frigg were sitting one day in Lidskjalf looking out into the universe. "Do you see your foster son Agnar," asked Odin, "living over thee in a cavern with a Giantess and begetting children with her? My own foster son Geirræd, meanwhile, rules over his lands as a king."

"Yet he is so sparing of his food," answered Frigg, "that he stints his guests when he thinks that too many have come to him at one time." Odin declared that there could be no greater falsehood, and so they made a wager to decide the matter. Frigg sent her handmaiden Fulla to king Geirræd with a message warning him to beware of a certain sorcerer who had found his way into the land, doubtless with the purpose of casting evil spells on the king; the sorcerer might be easily identified because no dog, however savage, would attack him. It was indeed only idle talk that king Geirræd was lacking in hospitality; nevertheless he gave commands to seize a man whom, as it proved, no dog would bite. The man, who was wrapped in a blue cloak, gave his name as Grimnir — in reality it was Odin himself disguised. [1] When they laid hands on him, he had little to say for himself, and therefore the king caused him to be [104} tortured in order to loosen his tongue, by placing him between two fires and forcing him to remain there eight nights. King Geirræd at the time had a son, ten years of age, who bore the name Agnar after his father's brother. Agnar, stepping up before Grimnir, gave him a drink from a well-filled horn, saying that his father did ill in torturing a man charged with no misdeed. Grimnir drained the horn to the lees, by which time the fire had come near enough to singe his cloak. Then he chanted a long lay, in the course of which he sang the praises of Agnar and reckoned up all of the thirteen dwellings of the gods: Thrudheim, Ydalir, Alfheim, Valaskjalf, Sækkvabek, Gladsheim, Thrymheim, Breidablik, the Mounts of Heaven, Folkvang, Glitnir, Noatun, and Vidi, the home of Vidar. Furthermore he sang of the meat and drink of Valhalla, of the dimensions of Valhalla and Bilskirnir, of Heidrun, of Eikthyrnir, of the rivers in the realms of gods and men, of the horses of the gods, of Yggdrasil, of the Valkyries, of the horses of the sun and of the wolves that pursue them, and of the creation of the world. At last he recounted all of his own names and gave Geirræd to understand that he had played the fool and that he had forfeited the favor of Odin. When Geirræd heard that the man was Odin, he sprang up to help him away from the fire. The sword which had lain across his knees slipped from his hand with the point upward, and the king stumbled and fell forward on the sword in such a way that it pierced him through the body; Odin at once disappeared from sight. Agnar, however, ruled many years as king over the land. [105}

  1. Gríma, "a covering for the face," "a mask."

On Odin (Grimnir) and Geirrœd

Page 104, line 31 — This story is drawn from the Eddic poem Grímnismál. This lay and Vafþrúðnismál (note to p. 102) are among the chief sources of our knowledge of the ancient mythology; Snorri's Edda has borrowed extensively from both poems.

Of the homes of the gods, those of Ull and Frey, namely Ydalir and Alfheim, are mentioned in the same strophe, while a whole strophe is given to each of the others (and an entire series of strophes to Valhalla). From these circumstances certain scholars have reached the opinion that there was a close connection between Ull and Frey.

Harbard and Thor

Once on a time when Thor had been away in the regions of the east carrying on his warfare with the Giants, he came on his homeward journey to a sound, on the other side of which stood the ferryman by his boat. Thor called to him, and the ferryman called out in turn, asking who it was that was waiting on the other shore. Thor answered: "If you will only ferry me across, you shall have food from the basket on my back; I ate herrings and oatcakes before starting on my journey and even now I am not at all hungry." The ferryman, who later disclosed that his name was Harbard, retorted with taunts, ridiculing Thor as a barefooted vagrant without breeches.

"Bring your boat to this side," said Thor; "and tell me who owns it."

"The owner is Hildolf the Wise, of Radseysund," answered Harbard; "he has just given me express commands not to ferry vagabonds and horse thieves across the water, but only honest folk that I myself know well; so tell me your name if you want to cross the sound."

Thor told with great pride who he was — "Odin's son and Magni's father" — and threatened to make Harbard pay for his obstinacy if he did not bring the boat over at once.

"No, I will stay here and wait for you," said Harbard; "and you will meet no man more difficult to deal with than myself, now that Rungnir is dead."

"You see fit to remind me of Rungnir and his head of stone," answered Thor; "and yet he sank to earth under my blows. What were you doing while I did that work?"

"I was a companion of [106} Fjolvar five full winters on the island of Algræn; there we sped the time in battle, cutting down warriors; we endured many hardships, but nevertheless we gained the love of seven sisters. Did you ever do the like, Thor?"

"I slew Thjazi and tossed his eyes into the heavens," retorted Thor; "what do you say to that?" Harbard replied: "By artful practices I enticed the Dark-Riders to leave their husbands. Lebard, it seems to me, was a Giant hard to cope with; though he made me a gift of a magic wand, yet I played him false so that his wits forsook him."

"An evil return for a good gift," said Thor. "One oak gains what is peeled from another [1]; each man looks to his own interest — but what else have you done, Thor?"

"I invaded the east and there put to death Giantesses as they made their way to the mountains; great would be the progeny of the Giants if all of them were suffered to live, and small would be the number of men in Midgard. Is there anything else you have done, Harbard?"

"I was in Valland and took my part in battle; I egged the heroes on but never reconciled one to another; to Odin belong the earls that fall in battle, and to Thor the thralls."

"You would mete out unequal justice among the Æsir if it lay in your power to do so."

"Thor has much strength but little courage; fearful as a coward you squeezed yourself into the glove, most unlike what Thor should be; you dared not make the slightest noise, afraid as you were that the Giant might hear you."

"Harbard, dastard that you are! I would kill you if I could only reach across the sound."

"Why should you do so? You have no reason whatever. Have you done anything else worth mentioning?"

"Once in the realms to the east, as I stood guard at the river (Iving?), the sons of Svarang sought my life; they hurled stones at me, but victory did not fall to their lot; they themselves had to sue for peace. What have you done?"

"I too was in the east, and there trifled with a fair maiden who was not unwilling to pleasure me."

"I took the life of Berserk women on the island of Læsey; they had left undone no evil deed, had bereft men of their senses by means of witchcraft."

"Only a weakling, Thor, would take the lives of women."

"She-wolves (werewolves) they were, not real women; they smashed my boat as it lay leaned against the shore; they threatened me with iron bands, and kneaded Thjalfi like dough. What were you doing meanwhile?"

"I was among the armed men marching here with flying standards to redden their spears in blood."

"Perhaps it was you, then, who came and offered us most evil terms?" asked Thor. "I will offer you a recompense of arm rings, as many as they shall deem right who may choose to reconcile us to each other."

"Who has taught you such biting words of scorn, the like of which I never have heard before?"

"The ancient men who dwell in the mounds at home."

"That is a fine name you give to the barrows of the dead. Yet," continued Thor, "your mocking will prove dearly bought if I wade across the sound; no wolf shall howl more hideously than you if I strike you but once with my hammer. [108}

"Sif has a man visiting her, whom you may want to meet; prove your strength there, where your duty demands it." Thor said it was a shameless lie; but Harbard only crowed over having delayed Thor on his homeward journey, and Thor had to own the justice of his taunts. "I should never have believed," said Harbard, "that a boatman would be able to hinder Asa-Thor in his travels."

"I will give you a piece of advice, then: row the boat across, and let us bandy words no more."

"Leave the sound if you choose; I will not ferry you over."

"Show me the way, at any rate," begged Thor, "since you will not help me cross the water."

"That is too small a favor to be denied," answered Harbard, "but it is a long way to go: first some paces to 'Stock' and then to 'Stone'; then take the first turning to the left till you reach Verland; there Fjorgyn will meet her son and show him the road to the land of Odin."

"Can I finish the journey today?"

"With toil and trouble you may reach your journey's end before the sun sinks, if I am not mistaken."

"Our parleying might as well stop, since you do nothing but pick new quarrels; but you will pay for your stubbornness if we ever chance to meet again."

"Go where the Trolls may get you!" said Harbard by way of a last word.

  1. A proverb, the meaning of which is that one man's loss is the other man's gain.

On Harbard and Thor

Page 108, line 25 — The source of this section is the Eddic poem Hárbarðsljóð. Scholars have differed as to who Harbard really was supposed to be; P. A. Munch held him to be a Giant, while others have thought of Loki or Odin. The latter supposition no doubt is the correct one; not only is Harbard (that is, the Greybeard) known as a name for Odin from Grímnismál, but his character as represented in Hárbarðsljóð — warlike and a lover [326} of women, crafty and adept in magic — agrees fully with the myths that are characteristic of Odin. Doubtless it is the poet of Hárbarðsljóð who has originated this scene in which the god of craftiness, Odin, and the god of physical force, Thor, stand face to face. The allusions, too, are no doubt for the most part fictitious, for which reason it is not surprising that all the place names (Radseysund, etc.) and several of the personal names as well (Hildolf, Fjolvar, Lebard, Svarang) are otherwise wholly unknown. Fjorgyn is the mother of Thor; see p. 27 f.


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