Fáfnismál by Rob
February 24, 2009, 3:39 pm
Filed under: mythology

The Fáfnismál, found in the Codex Regius, details the section from the Volsung Saga in which Sigurd kills Fafnir and, after learning of Regin’s planned treachery, kills him too.


Sigurd and Regin went up to the Gnitaheith, and found there the track that Fafnir made when he crawled to water. Then Sigurd made a great trench across the path, and took his place therein. When Fafnir crawled from his gold, he blew out venom, and it ran down from above on Sigurd’s head. But when Fafnir crawled over the trench, then Sigurd thrust his sword into his body to the heart. Fafnir writhed and struck out with his head and tail. Sigurd leaped from the trench, and each looked at the other. Fafnir said:

“Youth, oh, youth! of whom then, youth, art thou born?
Say whose son thou art,
Who in Fafnir’s blood thy bright blade reddened,
And struck thy sword to my heart.”

Sigurd concealed his name because it was believed in olden times that the word of a dying man might have great power if he cursed his foe by his name. He said:

“The Noble Hart my name, and I go
A motherless man abroad;
Father I had not, as others have,
And lonely ever I live.”

Fafnir spake:
“If father thou hadst not, as others have,
By what wonder wast thou born?
(Though thy name on the day of my death thou hidest,
Thou knowest now thou dost lie.)”

Sigurd spake:
“My race, methinks, is unknown to thee,
And so am I myself;
Sigurd my name, and Sigmund’s son,
Who smote thee thus with the sword.”

Fafnir spake:
“Who drove thee on? why wert thou driven
My life to make me lose?
A father brave had the bright-eyed youth,
For bold in boyhood thou art.”

Sigurd spake:
“My heart did drive me, my hand fulfilled,
And my shining sword so sharp;
Few are keen when old age comes,
Who timid in boyhood be.”

Fafnir spake:
“If thou mightest grow thy friends among,
One might see thee fiercely fight;
But bound thou art, and in battle taken,
And to fear are prisoners prone.”

Sigurd spake:
“Thou blamest me, Fafnir, that I see from afar
The wealth that my father’s was;
Not bound am I, though in battle taken,
Thou hast found that free I live.”

Fafnir spake:
“In all I say dost thou hatred see,
Yet truth alone do I tell;
The sounding gold, the glow-red wealth,
And the rings thy bane shall be.”

Sigurd spake:
“Some one the hoard shall ever hold,
Till the destined day shall come;
For a time there is when every man
Shall journey hence to Hel.”

Fafnir spake:
“The fate of the Norns before the headland
Thou findest, and doom of a fool;
In the water shalt drown if thou row ‘gainst the wind,
All danger is near to death.”

Sigurd spake:
“Tell me then, Fafnir, for wise art famed,
And much thou knowest now:
Who are the Norns who are helpful in need,
And the babe from the mother bring?”

Fafnir spake:
“Of many births the Norns must be,
Nor one in race they were
Some to gods, others to elves are kin,
And Dvalin’s daughters some.”

Sigurd spake:
“Tell me then, Fafnir, for wise thou art famed,
And much thou knowest now:
How call they the isle where all the gods
And Surt shall sword-sweat mingle?”

Fafnir spake:
“Oskopnir is it, where all the gods
Shall seek the play of swords;
Bilrost breaks when they cross the bridge,
And the steeds shall swim the flood.

“The fear-helm I wore to afright mankind,
While gaurding my gold I lay;
Mightier seemed I than any man,
For a fiercer never I found.”

Sigurd spake:
“The fear-helm surely no man shields
When he faces a valiant foe;
Oft one finds, when the foe he meets,
That he is not the bravest of all.”

Fafnir spake:
“Venom I breathed when bright I lay
By the hoard my father had;
(There was none so mighty as dared to meet me,
And weapons nor wiles I feared.)”

Sigurd spake:
“Glittering worm, thy hissing was great,
And hard dist show thy heart;
But hatred more have the sons of men
For him who owns the helm.”

Fafnir spake:
“I counsel thee, Sigurd, heed my speech,
And ride thou homeward hence;
The sounding gold, the glow-red wealth,
And the rings thy bane shall be.”
(V. “For it often happens that he who gets a deathly wound yet avenges himself.”)

Sigurd spake:
“Thy counsel is given, but go I shall
To the gold in the heather hidden;
And, Fafnir, thou with death dost fight,
Lying where Hel shall have thee.”

Fafnir spake:
“Regin betrayed me, and thee will betray,
Us both to death will he bring;
His life, methinks, must Fafnir lose,
For the mightier man wast thou.”

Regin had gone to a distance while Sigurd fought Fafnir, and came back while Sigurd was wiping the blood from his sword. Regin said:

“Hail to thee, Sigurd! Thou victory hast,
And Fafnir in fight hast slain;
Of all the men who tread the earth,
Most fearless art thou, methinks.”

Sigurd spake:
“Unknown it is, when all are together,
(The sons of the glorious gods,)
Who bravest born shall seem;
Some are valiant who redden no sword
In the blood of a foeman’s breast.”

Regin spake:
“Glad art thou, Sigurd, of battle gained,
As Gram with grass thou cleanest;
My brother fierce in fight hast slain,
And somewhat I did myself.”

Sigurd spake:
“Afar didst thou go while Fafnir reddened
With his blood my blade so keen;
With the might of the dragon my strength I matched,
While thou in the heather didst hide.”

Regin spake:
“Longer wouldst thou in the heather have let
Yon hoary giant hide,
Had the weapon availed not that once I forged,
The keen-edged blade thou didst bear.”

Sigurd spake:
“Better is heart than a mighty blade
For him who shall fiercely fight;
The brave man well shall fight and win,
Though dull his blade may be.

“Brave men better than cowards be,
When the clash of battle comes;
And better the glad than the gloomy men
Shall face what before him lies.

“Thy rede it was that I should ride
Hither o’er mountains high;
The glittering worm would have wealth and life
If thou hadst not mocked at my might.”

Then Regin went up to Fafnir and cut out his heart with his sword, that was named Rithil, and then he drank blood from the wounds. Regin said:

“Sit now, Sigurd, for sleep will I,
Hold Fafnir’s heart to the fire;
For all his heart shall eaten be,
Since deep of blood I have drunk.”

Sigurd took Fafnir’s heart and cooked it on a spit. When he thought that it was fully cooked, and the blood foamed out of the heart, then he tried it with his finger to see whether it was fully cooked. He burned his finger, and put it in his mouth. But when Fafnir’s heart’s-blood came on his tongue, he understood the speech of birds. He heard nut-hatches chattering in the thickets. A nut-hatch said:

“There sits Sigurd, sprinkled with blood,
And Fafnir’s heart with fire he cooks;
Wise were the breaker of rings, I ween,
To eat the life-muscles all so bright.”

A second spake:
“There Regin lies, and plans he lays
The youth to betray who trusts him well;
Lying words with wiles will he speak,
Till his brother the maker of mischief avenges.”

A third spake:
“Less by a head let the chatterer hoary
Go from here to Hel;
Then all of the wealth he alone can wield,
The gold that Fafnir gaurded.”

A fourth spake:
“Wise would he seem if so he would heed
The counsel good we sisters give;
Thought he would give, and the ravens gladden,
There is ever a wolf where his ears I spy.”

A fifth spake:
“Less wise must be the tree of battle
Than to me would seem the leader of men,
If forth he lets one brother fare,
When he of the other the slayer is.”

A sixth spake:
“Most foolish he seems if he shall spare
His foe, the bane of the folk;
There Regin lies, who hath wronged him so,
Yet falsehood knows he not.”

A seventh spake:
“Let the head from the frost-cold giant be hewed,
And let him of rings be robbed;
Then all the wealth which Fafnir’s was
Shall belong to thee alone.”

Sigurd spake:
“Not so rich a fate shall Regin have
As the tale of my death to tell;
For soon the brothers both shall die,
And hence to Hel shall go.”

Sigurd hewed off Regin’s head, and then he ate Fafnir’s heart, and drank the blood of both Regin and Fafnir. Then Sigurd heard what the nut-hatch said:

“Bind, Sigurd, the golden rings together,
Not kingly is it aught to fear;
I know a maid, there is none so fair,
Rich in gold, if thou mightest get her.

“Green the paths that to Gjuki lead,
And his fate the way to the wanderer shows;
The doughty king a daughter has,
That thou as a bride mayst, Sigurd, buy.”

Another spake:
“A hall stands high on Hindarfjoll,
All with flame is it ringed without;
Warriors wise did make it once
Out of the flaming light of the flood.

“On the mountain sleeps a battle-maid,
And about her plays the bane of the wood;
Ygg with the thorn hath smitten her thus,
For she felled the fighter he fain would save.

“There mayst thou behold the maiden helmed,
Who forth on Vingskornir rode from the fight;
The victory-bringer her sleep shall break not,
Thou heroes’ son, so the Norns have set.”

Sigurd rode along Fafnir’s trail to his lair, and found it open. The gate-posts were of iron, and the gates; of iron, too, were all the beams in the house, which was dug down into the earth. There Sigurd found a mighty store of gold, and he filled two chests full thereof; he took the fear-helm and a golden mail-coat and the sword Hrotti, and many other precious things, and loaded Grani with them, but the horse would not go forward until Sigurd mounted on his back.


Odin, Thor, and the giant Hrungnir by Andrew Hart
June 4, 2008, 11:11 am
Filed under: mythology

From the Prose Edda, by Snorri Sturluson

“Now an account shall be given of the source of those metaphors which have but now been recorded, and of which no accounts were rendered before: even such as Bragi gave to Ægir, telling how Thor had gone into the east to slay trolls, and Odin rode Sleipnir into Jötunheim and visited that giant who was named Hrungnir. Hrungnir asked what manner of man he with the golden helm might be, who rode through air and water; and said that the stranger had a wondrous good steed. Odin said he would wager his head there was no horse in Jötunheim that would prove equally good. Hrungnir answered that it was a good horse, but declared that he had a much better paced horse which was called Gold-Mane. Hrungnir had become angry, and vaulted up onto his horse and galloped after him, thinking to pay him for his boasting. Odin gal loped so furiously that he was on the top of the next hill first; but Hrungnir was so filled with the giant’s frenzy that he took no heed until he had come in beyond the gates of Ásgard. When he came to the hall-door, the Æsir invited him to drink. He went within and ordered drink to be brought to him, and then those flagons were brought in from which Thor was wont to drink; and Hrungnir swilled from each in turn. But when he had become drunken, then big words were not wanting: he boasted that he would lift up Valhall and carry it to Jötunheim, and sink Ásgard and kill all the gods, save that he would take Freyja and Sif home with him. Freyja alone dared pour for him; and he vowed that he would drink all the ale of the Æsir. But when his overbearing insolence became tiresome to the Æsir, they called on the name of Thor.

“Straightway Thor came into the hall, brandishing his hammer, and he was very wroth, and asked who had advised that these dogs of giants be permitted to drink there, or who had granted Hrungnir safe-conduct to be in Valhall, or why Freyja should pour for him as at a feast of the Æsir. Then Hrungnir answered, looking at Thor with no friendly eyes, and said that Odin had invited him to drink, and he was under his safe-conduct. Thor declared that Hrungnir should repent of that invitation before he got away. Hrungnir answered that Ása-Thor would have scant renown for killing him, weaponless as he was: it were a greater trial of his courage if he dared fight with Hrungnir on the border at Grjótúnagard. ‘And it was a great folly,’ said he, ‘when I left my shield and hone behind at home; if I had my weapons here, then we should try single-combat. But as matters stand, I declare thee a coward if thou wilt slay me, a weaponless man.’ Thor was by no means anxious to avoid the fight when challenged to the field, for no one had ever offered him single-combat before.

“Then Hrungnir went his way, and galloped furiously until he came to Jötunheim. The news of his journey was spread abroad among the giants, and it became noised abroad that a meeting had been arranged between him and Thor; the giants deemed that they had much at stake, who should win the victory, since they looked for ill at Thor’s hands if Hrungnir perished, he being strongest of them all. Then the giants made a man of clay at Grjótúnagard: he was nine miles high and three broad under the arm-pits; but they could get no heart big enough to fit him, until they took one from a mare. Even that was not steadfast within him, when Thor came. Hrungnir had the heart which is notorious, of hard stone and spiked with three corners, even as the written character is since formed, which men call Hrungnir’s Heart. His head also was of stone; his shield too was stone, wide and thick, and he had the shield before him when he stood at Grjótúnagard and waited for Thor. Moreover he had a hone for a weapon, and brandished it over his shoulders, and he was not a pretty sight. At one side of him stood the clay giant, which was called Mökkurkálfi: he was sore afraid, and it is said that he wet himself when he saw Thor.

“Thor went to the meeting-place, and Thjálfi with him. Then Thjálfi ran forward to the spot where Hrungnir stood and said to him: ‘Thou standest unwarily, Giant, having the shield before thee: for Thor has seen thee, and comes hither down below the earth, and will come at thee from beneath.’ Then Hrungnir thrust the shield under his feet and stood upon it, wielding the hone with both hands. Then speedily he saw lightnings and heard great claps of thunder; then he saw Thor in God-like anger, who came forward furiously and swung the hammer and cast it at Hrungnir from afar off. Hrungnir lifted up the hone in both hands and cast it against him; it struck the hammer in flight, and the hone burst in sunder: one part fell to the earth, and thence are come all the flint-rocks; the other burst on Thor’s head, so that he fell forward to the earth. But the hammer Mjöllnir struck Hrungnir in the middle of the head, and smashed his skull into small crumbs, and he fell forward upon Thor, so that his foot lay over Thor’s neck. Thjálfi struck at Mökkurkálfi, and he fell with little glory. Thereupon Thjálfi went over to Thor and would have lifted Hrungnir’s foot off him, but could not find sufficient strength. Straightway all the Æsir came up, when they, learned that Thor was fallen, and would have lifted the foot from off him, and could do nothing. Then Magni came up, son of Thor and Járnsaxa: he was then three nights old; he cast the foot of Hrungnir off Thor, and spake: ‘See how ill it is, father, that I came so late: I had struck this giant dead with my fist, methinks, if I had met with him.’ Thor arose and welcomed his son, saying that he should surely become great; ‘And I will give thee,’ he said, the horse Gold-Mane, which Hrungnir possessed.’ Then Odin spake and said that Thor did wrong to give the good horse to the son of a giantess, and not to his father.

“Thor went home to Thrúdvangar, and the hone remained sticking in his head. Then came the wise woman who was called Gróa, wife of Aurvandill the Valiant: she sang her spells over Thor until the hone was loosened. But when Thor knew that, and thought that there was hope that the hone might be removed, he desired to reward Gróa for her leech-craft and make her glad, and told her these things: that he had waded from the north over Icy Stream and had borne Aurvandill in a basket on his back from the north out of Jötunheim. And he added for a token, that one of Aurvandill’s toes had stuck out of the basket, and became frozen; wherefore Thor broke it off and cast it up into the heavens, and made thereof the star called Aurvandill’s Toe. Thor said that it would not be long ere Aurvandill came home: but Gróa was so rejoiced that she forgot her incantations, and the hone was not loosened, and stands yet in Thor’s head. Therefore it is forbidden to cast a hone across the floor, for then the hone is stirred in Thor’s head. Thjódólfr of Hvin has made a song after this tale in the Haustlöng. [It says there:

On the high and painted surface
Of the hollow shield, still further
One may see how the Giant’s Terror
Sought the home of Grjótún;
The angry son of Jörd drove
To the play of steel; below him
Thundered the moon-way; rage swelled
In the heart of Meili’s Brother.

All the bright gods’ high mansions
Burned before Ullr’s kinsman;
With hail the earth was beaten
Along his course, when the he-goats
Drew the god of the smooth wain forward
To meet the grisly giant:
The Earth, the Spouse of Odin,
Straightway reft asunder.

With the bitter foe of earth-folk.
Rocks shook, and crags were shivered;
The shining Upper Heaven
Burned; I saw the giant
Of the boat-sailed sea-reef waver
And give way fast before him,
Seeing his war-like Slayer.

No truce made Baldr’s brother

Swiftly the shining shield-rim
Shot ‘neath the Cliff-Ward’s shoe-soles;
That was the wise gods’ mandate,
The War-Valkyrs willed it.
The champion of the Waste-Land
Not long thereafter waited
For the speedy blow delivered
By the Friend of the snout-troll’s crusher.

He who of breath despoileth
Beli’s baleful hirelings
Felled on the shield rim-circled
The fiend of the roaring mountain;
The monster of the glen-field
Before the mighty hammer
Sank, when the Hill-Danes’ Breaker
Struck down the hideous caitiff.

In the skull of Odin’s offspring,
Then the hone hard-broken
Hurled by the Ogress-lover
Whirred into the brain-ridge
Of Earth’s Son, that the whetter
Of steels, sticking unloosened

Stood there all besprinkled
With Einridi’s blood.

Until the wise ale-goddess,
With wondrous lays, enchanted
The vaunted woe, rust-ruddy,
From the Wain-God’s sloping temples;
Painted on its circuit
I see them clearly pictured:
The fair-bossed shield, with stories
Figured, I had from Thórlelfr.”

The story of Útgarda-Loki by Andrew Hart
May 14, 2008, 5:11 am
Filed under: mythology

From the Prose Edda, by Snorri Sturluson.

Then spake Thridi: “Now it is evident that he is resolved to know this matter, though it seem not to us a pleasant thing to tell. This is the beginning of this tale: Öku-Thor drove forth with his he-goats and chariot, and with him that Ás called Loki; they came at evening to a husbandman’s, and there received a night’s lodging. About evening, Thor took his he-goats and slaughtered them both; after that they were flayed and borne to the caldron. When the cooking was done, then Thor and his companion sat down to supper. Thor invited to meat with him the husbandman and his wife, and their children: the husbandman’s son was called Thjálfi, and the daughter Röskva. Then Thor laid the goat-hides farther away from the fire, and said that the husbandman and his servants should cast the bones on the goat-hides. Thjálfi, the husbandman’s son, was holding a thigh-bone of the goat, and split it with his knife and broke it for the marrow.

“Thor tarried there overnight; and in the interval before day he rose up and clothed himself, took the hammer Mjöllnir, swung it up, and hallowed the goat-hides; straightway the he-goats rose up, and then one of them was lame in a hind leg. Thor discovered this, and declared that the husbandman or his household could not have dealt wisely with the bones of the goat: be knew that the thighbone was broken. There is no need to make a long story of it; all may know how frightened the husbandman must have been when he saw how Thor let his brows sink down before his eyes; but when he looked at the eyes, then it seemed to him that he must fall down before their glances alone. Thor clenched his hands on the hammer-shaft so that the knuckles whitened; and the husbandman and all his household did what was to be expected: they cried out lustily, prayed for peace, offered in recompense all that they had. But when he saw their terror, then the fury departed from him, and he became appeased, and took of them in atonement their children, Thjálfi and Röskva, who then became his bond-servants; and they follow him ever since.

“Thereupon he left his goats behind, and began his journey eastward toward Jötunheim and clear to the sea; and then he went out over the sea, that deep one; but when he came to land, he went up, and Loki and Thjálfi and Röskva with him. Then, when they had walked a little while, there stood before them a great forest; they walked all that day till dark. Thjálfi was swiftest-footed of all men; he bore Thor’s bag, but there was nothing good for food. As soon as it had become dark, they sought themselves shelter for the night, and found before them a certain hall, very great: there was a door in the end, of equal width with the hall, wherein they took up quarters for the night. But about midnight there came a great earthquake: the earth rocked under them exceedingly, and the house trembled. Then Thor rose up and called to his companions, and they explored farther, and found in the middle of the hall a side-chamber on the right hand, and they went in thither. Thor sat down in the doorway, but the others were farther in from him, and they were afraid; but Thor gripped his hammer-shaft and thought to defend himself. Then they heard a great humming sound, and a crashing.

“But when it drew near dawn, then Thor went out and saw a man lying a little way from him in the wood; and that man was not small; he slept and snored mightily. Then Thor thought he could perceive what kind of noise it was which they had heard during the night. He girded himself with his belt of strength, and his divine power waxed; and on the instant the man awoke and rose up swiftly; and then, it is said, the first time Thor’s heart failed him, to strike him with the hammer. He asked him his name, and the man called himself Skrýmir,–‘but I have no need,’ he said, ‘to ask thee for thy name; I know that thou art Ása-Thor. But what? Hast thou dragged. away my glove?’ Then Skrýmir stretched out his hand and took up the glove; and at once Thor saw that it was that which he had taken for a hall during the night; and as for the side-chamber, it was the thumb of the glove. Skrýmir asked whether Thor would have his company, and Thor assented to this. Then Skrýmir took and unloosened his provision wallet and made ready to eat his morning meal, and Thor and his fellows in another place. Skrýmir then proposed to them to lay their supply of food together, and Thor assented. Then Skrýmir bound all the food in one bag and laid it on his own back; he went before during the day, and stepped with very great strides; but late in the evening Skrýmir found them night-quarters under a certain great oak. Then Skrýmir said to Thor that he would lay him down to sleep,–‘and do ye take the provision-bag and make ready for your supper.’

“Thereupon Skrýmir slept and snored hard, and Thor took the provision-bag and set about to unloose it; but such things must be told as will seem incredible: he got no knot loosened and no thong-end stirred, so as to be looser than before. When he saw that this work might not avail, then he became angered, gripped the hammer Mjöllnir in both hands, and strode with great strides to that place where Skrýmir lay, and smote him in the head. Skrýmir awoke, and asked whether a leaf had fallen upon his head; or whether they had eaten and were ready for bed? Thor replied that they were just then about to go to sleep; then they went under another oak. It must be told thee, that there was then no fearless sleeping. At midnight Thor heard how Skrýmir snored and slept fast, so that it thundered in the woods; then he stood up and went to him, shook his hammer eagerly and hard, and smote down upon the middle of his crown: he saw that the face of the hammer sank deep into his head. And at that moment Skrýmir awoke arid said: ‘What is it now? Did some acorn fall on my head? Or what is the news with thee, Thor?’ But Thor went back speedily, and replied that he was then but new-wakened; said that it was then midnight, and there was yet time to sleep.

“Thor meditated that if he could get to strike him a third blow, never should the giant see himself again; he lay now and watched whether Skrýmir were sleeping soundly yet. A little before day, when he perceived that Skrýmir must have fallen asleep, he stood up at once and rushed over to him, brandished his hammer with all his strength, and smote upon that one of his temples which was turned up. But Skrýmir sat up and stroked his cheek, and said: ‘Some birds must be sitting in the tree above me; I imagined, when I awoke, that some dirt from the twigs fell upon my head. Art thou awake, Thor? It will be time to arise and clothe us; but now ye have no long journey forward to the castle called Útgardr. I have heard how ye have whispered among yourselves that I am no little man in stature; but ye shall see taller men, if ye come into Útgardr. Now I will give you wholesome advice: do not conduct yourselves boastfully, for the henchmen of Útgarda-Loki will not well endure big words from such swaddling-babes. But if not so, then turn back, and I think it were better for you to do that; but if ye will go forward, then turn to the east. As for me, I hold my way north to these hills, which ye may how see.’ Skrýmir took the provision-bag and cast it on his back, and turned from them across the forest; and it is not recorded that the Æsir bade him god-speed.

“Thor turned forward on his way, and his fellows, and went onward till mid-day. Then they saw a castle standing in a certain plain, and set their necks down on their backs before they could see up over it. They went to the cattle; and there was a grating in front of the castle-gate, and it was closed. Thor went up to the grating, and did not succeed in opening it; but when they struggled to make their way in, they crept between the bars and came in that way. They saw a great hall and went thither; the door was open; then they went in, and saw there many men on two benches, and most of them were big enough. Thereupon they came before the king Útgarda-Loki and saluted him; but he looked at them in his own good time, and smiled scornfully over his teeth, and said: ‘It is late to ask tidings of a long journey; or is it otherwise than I think: that this toddler is Öku-Thor? Yet thou mayest be greater than thou appearest to me. What manner of accomplishments are those, which thou and thy fellows think to be ready for? No one shall be here with us who knows not some kind of craft or cunning surpassing most men.’

“Then spoke the one who came last, ‘Who was called Loki: ‘I know such a trick, which I am ready to try: that there is no one within here who shall eat his food more quickly than I.’ Then Útgarda-Loki answered: ‘That is a feat, if thou accomplish it; and this feat shall accordingly be put to the proof.’ He called to the farther end of the bench, that he who was called Logi should come forth on the floor and try his prowess against Loki. Then a trough was taken and borne in upon the hall-floor and filled with flesh; Loki sat down at the one end and Logi at the other, and each ate as fast as he could, and they met in the middle of the trough. By that time Loki had eaten all the meat from the bones, but Logi likewise had eaten all the meat, and the bones with it, and the trough too; and now it seemed to all as if Loki had lost the game.

“Then Útgarda-Loki asked what yonder young man could play at; and Thjálfi answered that he would undertake to run a race with whomsoever Útgarda-Loki would bring up. Then Útgarda-Loki said that that was a good accomplishment, and that there was great likelihood that he must be well endowed with fleetness if he were to perform that feat; yet he would speedily see to it that the matter should be tested. Then Útgarda-Loki arose and went out; and there was a good course to run on over the level plain. Then Útgarda-Loki called to him a certain lad, who was named Hugi, and bade him run a match against Thjálfi. Then they held the first heat; and Hugi was so much ahead that he turned back to meet Thjálfi at the end of the course. Then said Útgarda-Loki: ‘Thou wilt need to lay thyself forward more, Thjálfi, if thou art to win the game; but it is none the less true that never have any men come hither who seemed to me fleeter of foot than this.’ Then they began another heat; and when Hugi had reached the course’s end, and was turning back, there was still a long bolt-shot to Thjálfi. Then spake Útgarda-Loki: ‘Thjálfi appears to me to run this course well, but I do not believe of him now that he will win the game. But it will be made manifest presently, when they run the third heat.’ Then they began the heat; but when Hugi had come to the end of the course and turned back, Thjálfi had not yet reached mid-course. Then all said that that game had been proven.

“Next, Útgarda-Loki asked Thor what feats there were which he might desire to show before them: such great tales as men have made of his mighty works. Then Thor answered that he would most willingly undertake to contend with any in drinking. Útgarda-Loki said that might well be; he went into the hall and called his serving-boy, and bade him bring the sconce-horn which the henchmen were wont to drink off. Straightway the serving-lad came forward with the horn and put it into Thor’s hand. Then said Útgarda-Loki: ‘It is held that this horn is well drained if it is drunk off in one drink, but some drink it off in two; but no one is so poor a man at drinking that it fails to drain off in three.’ Thor looked upon the horn, and it did not seem big to him; and yet it was somewhat long. Still he was very thirsty; he took and drank, and swallowed enormously, and thought that he should not need to bend oftener to the horn. But when his breath failed, and he raised his head from the horn and looked to see how it had gone with the drinking, it seemed to him that there was very little space by which the drink was lower now in the horn than before. Then said Útgarda-Loki: ‘It is well drunk, and not too much; I should not have believed, if it had been told me, that Ása-Thor could not drink a greater draught. But I know that thou wilt wish to drink it off in another draught.’ Thor answered nothing; he set the horn to his mouth, thinking now that he should drink a greater drink, and struggled with the draught until his breath gave out; and yet he saw that the tip of the horn would not come up so much as he liked. When he took the horn from his mouth and looked into it, it seemed to him then as if it had decreased less than the former time; but now there was a clearly apparent lowering in the horn. Then said Útgarda-Loki: ‘How now, Thor? Thou wilt not shrink from one more drink than may he well for thee? If thou now drink the third draught from the horn, it seems to me as if this must he esteemed the greatest; but thou canst not be called so great a man here among us as the Æsir call thee, if thou give not a better account of thyself in the other games than it seems to me may come of this.’ Then Thor became angry, set- the horn to his mouth, and drank with all his might, and struggled with the drink as much as he could; and when he looked into the horn, at least some space had been made. Then he gave up the horn and would drink no more.

“Then said Útgarda-Loki: Now it is evident that thy prowess is not so great as we thought it to be; but wilt thou try thy hand at more games? It may readily be seen that thou gettest no advantage hereof.’ Thor answered: “will make trial of yet other games; but it would have seemed wonderful to me, when I was at home with the Æsir, if such drinks had been called so little. But what game will ye now offer me?’ Then said Útgarda-Loki: ‘Young lads here are wont to do this (which is thought of small consequence): lift my cat up from the earth; but I should not have been able to speak of such a thing to Ása-Thor if I had not seen that thou hast far less in thee than I had thought.’ Thereupon there leaped forth on the hall-floor a gray cat, and a very big one; and Thor went to it and took it with his hand down under the middle of the belly and lifted up. But the cat bent into an arch just as Thor stretched up his hands; and when Thor reached up as high as he could at the very utmost, then the cat lifted up one foot, and Thor got this game no further advanced. Then said Útgarda-Loki: ‘This game went even as I had foreseen; the cat is very great, whereas Thor is low and little beside the huge men who are here with us.’

“Then said Thor: ‘Little as ye call me, let any one come up now and wrestle with me; now I am angry.’ Then Útgarda-Loki answered, looking about him on the benches, and spake: ‘I see no such man here within, who would not hold it a disgrace to wrestle with thee;’ and yet he said: ‘Let us see first; let the old woman my nurse be called hither, Elli, and let Thor wrestle with her if he will. She has thrown such men as have seemed to me no less strong than Thor.’ Straightway there came into the hall an old woman, stricken in years. Then Útgarda-Loki said that she should grapple with Ása-Thor. There is no need to make a long matter of it: that struggle went in such wise that the harder Thor strove in gripping, the faster she stood; then the old woman essayed a hold, and then Thor became totty on his feet, and their tuggings were very hard. Yet it was not long before Thor fell to his knee, on one foot. Then Útgarda-Loki went up and bade them cease the wrestling, saying that Thor should not need to challenge more men of his body-guard to wrestling. By then it had passed toward night; Útgarda-Loki showed Thor and his companions to a seat, and they tarried there the night long in good cheer.

“But at morning, as soon as it dawned, Thor and his companions arose, clothed themselves, and were ready to go away. Then came there Útgarda-Loki and caused a table to be set for them; there was no lack of good cheer, meat and drink. So soon as they had eaten, he went out from the castle with them; and at parting Útgarda-Loki spoke to Thor and asked how he thought his journey had ended, or whether he had met any man mightier than himself. Thor answered that he could not say that he had not got much shame in their dealings together. ‘But yet I know that ye will call me a man of little might, and I am ill-content with that.’ Then said Útgardi-Loki: ‘Now I will tell thee the truth, now that thou art come out of the castle; and if I live and am able to prevail, then thou shalt never again come into it. And this I know, by my troth! that thou shouldst never have come into it, If I had known before that thou haddest so much strength in thee, and that thou shouldst so nearly have had us in great peril. But I made ready against thee eye-illusions; and I came upon you the first time in the wood, and when thou wouldst have unloosed the provision-bag, I had bound it with iron, and thou didst not find where to undo it. But next thou didst smite me three blows with the hammer; and the first was least, and was yet so great that it would have sufficed to slay me, if it had come upon me. Where thou sawest near my hall a saddle-backed mountain, cut at the top into threesquare dales, and one the deepest, those were the marks of thy hammer. I brought the saddle-back before the blow, but thou didst not see that. So it was also with the games, in which ye did contend against my henchmen: that was the first, which Loki did; he was very hungry and ate zealously, but he who was called Logi was “wild-fire,” and he burned the trough no less swiftly than the meat. But when Thjálfi ran the race with him called Hugi, that was my “thought,” and it was not to be expected of Thjálfi that he should match swiftness with it.

“Moreover, when thou didst drink from the horn, and it seemed to thee to go slowly, then, by my faith, that was a wonder which I should not have believed possible: the other end of the horn was out in the sea, but thou didst not perceive it. But now, when thou comest to the sea, thou shalt be able to mark what a diminishing thou hast drunk in the sea: this is henceforth called “ebb-tides.”‘

“And again he said: ‘It seemed to me not less noteworthy when thou didst lift up the cat; and to tell thee truly, then all were afraid who saw how thou didst lift one foot clear of the earth. That cat was not as it appeared to thee: it was the Midgard Serpent, which lies about all the land, and scarcely does its length suffice to encompass the earth with head and tail. So high didst thou stretch up thine arms that it was then but a little way more to heaven. It was also a great marvel concerning the wrestling-match, when thou didst withstand so long, and didst not fall more than on one knee, wrestling with Elli; since none such has ever been and none shall be, if he become so old as to abide “Old Age,” that she shall not cause him to fall. And now it is truth to tell that we must part; and it will be better on both sides that ye never come again to seek me. Another time I will defend my castle with similar wiles or with others, so that ye shall get no power over me.’

“When Thor had heard these sayings, he clutched his hammer and brandished it aloft; but when he was about to launch it forward, then he saw Útgarda-Loki nowhere. Then he turned back to the castle, purposing to crush it to pieces; and he saw there a wide and fair plain, but no castle. So he turned back and went his way, till he was come back again to Thrúdvangar. But it is a true tale that then he resolved to seek if he might bring about a meeting between himself and the Midgard Serpent, which after ward came to pass. Now I think no one knows how to tell thee more truly concerning this journey of Thor’s.”

Animals and Order in Scandinavian Mythology by Andrew Hart
May 7, 2008, 4:58 am
Filed under: mythology

A KЛИHOM original

From ravenous wolves sitting by Odin’s side to golden-bristled boars carrying Frey into battle, animals are ubiquitous to Scandinavian mythology. But there is a major dichotomy in the types of animals found in the Eddas. On one hand, terrifying beasts like Hati, Skol, and Nidhogg wreak havoc on the very fabric of the world. On the other, animals like Huginn, Muninn, and Sleipnir perform useful tasks that are impossible for the gods themselves to accomplish. In Scandinavian myth, savage animals work against the gods and the universal order, while tamed beasts are an integral part of maintaining that order.

Untamed and unpredictable, the savage animals in Scandinavian myth have no qualms about haphazardly destroying the cosmos that the gods struggle daily to maintain. No wild animals exemplify this better than the sons of Angrboda and Loki, Jormungandr and Fenrir. While many animals in Scandinavian myth oppose the gods, none are so central to destroying what the gods create than the giant serpent and wolf. The chaotic power that the two beings possess cannot be harnessed. Though Thor casts Jormungandr into the sea, and though Tyr gives up his hand so that Fenrir can be bound by the fetter Gleipnir, the unstoppable power of disorder overcomes the gods’ attempts to maintain order.

At Ragnarok, the climactic battle of order versus chaos, Fenrir and Jormungandr strike the heaviest blows against the gods. Fenrir, whose jaws open so wide as to scrape the top of the sky, swallows Odin whole before Vidar can kill him. Jormungandr finally gets to engage in a deadly tussle with Thor, who strikes him down with Mjollnir before succumbing to the venomous serpent’s poison. That both deadly brutes ultimately die illustrates the primitive nature of animals in Scandinavian myth. Unlike the personified gods, the animals have no emotion or motivation. Like a primal force of nature, the untamed animals simply refuse to yield.

The relentless chase of Hati and Skoll illustrates the cheerless tenacity with which savage animals attempt to break down order in Scandinavian mythology. Since his birth, Skoll had chased Arvakr and Alsvidr, two horses who carry the chariot that draws the sun across the sky. Skoll’s brother Hati doggedly pursued the moon across the night sky. The two wolves had no motivation to destroy the two objects which light the world and make it hospitable, but like primal destructive forces, they ceaselessly attempt to break down the cosmic order. Their success marks the beginning of Ragnarok and foreshadows the deaths of most of the important gods.

Wild beasts that constantly molest Yggdrasil make up a third major category of destructive savage animals in Scandinavian myth. This category is perhaps the most telling because Yggdrasil is the world, and the relationship of all wild animals to the world is a wantonly destructive one. The Prose Edda deals extensively with the constant mutilation of the tree, naming four harts, Dainn, Dvalinn, Duneyrr, and Durathror among the culprits. It also claims that an eagle eats the tree from the top, though it does not give the eagle a name. The Elder Edda’s Fjosvinnsmal gives the eagle’s name as Vidopnir. Though the Grimnismal of the Elder Edda calls the world tree Laeradr, it still deals with its destruction, claiming that the wild stag Eikthrynir and the untamed goat Heidrun devour the tree’s bark and foliage from a perch atop the roof of Valhalla.

But the most culpable creature in the defacement of Yggdrasil is the giant serpent gnawing its roots, Nidhoggr. The Prose Edda does mention that there are more serpents under Yggdrasil than “every unwise ape can think,” naming Goinn, Moinn, Grabakr, Grafvolludr, Ofnir, and Svafnir as ones who “Tear the trunk’s twigs.” But the gigantic Nidhoggr is the so destructive that every day, the Norns have to take water from the Well of Urdr and sprinkle it on the tree so that it will survive.

Even the most benign creature on Yggdrasil, squirrel Ratatoskr, is a tacit contributor to the tree’s (and thereby the world’s) destruction. Ratatoskr conveys insults from the eagle to Nidhoggr, spurring the two fearsome savage beasts to continue destroying the giant ash tree upon which the realms rest.

Tamed animals in Scandinavian myth serve a diametrically opposite function to their savage brethren. While untamed animals universally conspire against the cosmic order, animals domesticated by the Scandinavian gods work tirelessly to maintain the order. A particularly striking example is that of the unflagging horses that draw the sun’s chariot across the daytime sky. Just like their lupine pursuers, Arvakr and Alsvidr never tire or cease. In fact, the only difference is that the horse is a domesticated animal used for a useful purpose, to draw a chariot, whereas the wolves are untamed and seeking to engage in destruction.

Other domesticated animals serve as aids to the gods. Frey’s golden-bridled boar, Odin’s mount Sleipnir, Hel’s guard dog Garmr, and Odin’s omniscient ravens Huginn and Muninn serve in this capacity. The reason that these roles are filled by animals and not other gods is that they require a single, unceasing action. Gods are personifications, and thus their actions vary. But in order to be all-seeing like Huginn and Muninn, one must constantly fly around and scour the ground from the air. Similarly, in order to serve as a mount for a god, an animal must be on call at all hours. And Garmr must always be on the lookout for intruders and escapees. These functions simply cannot be filled by personified beings who do a variety of things, so the roles are filled by animals.

Another salient example of tamed animals in Scandinavian myth is the tale of Freki and Geri, the two wolves that sit at Odin’s side and devour the food that he never eats. Like all animals in Scandinavian myth, their action is ceaseless and unchanging. But this example proves that, in order to ascertain whether an animal will maintain or destroy the cosmic order, it is unimportant what kind of animal is in question, or even what kind of action the animal is performing; the true distinction between animals in Scandinavian mythology lies in whether the gods have domesticated the animal in question.

Most of the examples of domesticated animals in Scandinavian mythology are animals that are typically domesticated; horses, dogs, birds of prey. Similarly, many of the animal agents of chaos are merely looking to satiate their hunger. Perhaps, then, the main distinction between whether an animal is an agent of order or chaos is whether the animal is looking for food, or is typically a predator? The example of Freki and Geri clearly rules this out. As wolves, the tamed Freki and Geri stand in stark contrast to the destructive and savage Skoll, Hati, and Fenrir. And their only function is to eat Odin’s food, proving that the quest for nourishment is not a determining criterion of order or chaos.

The role of tamed animals in Scandinavian myth stands in seemingly stark contrast to the role of the savage beasts that attack the fabric of the universe. One ceaselessly upholds the cosmic order while the other relentlessly destroys it. But to better understand why this dichotomy is a result of the same traits that all animals in Scandinavian mythology share, it is important to discuss the only Scandinavian story that actually involves the act of domesticating an animal. The primordial cow, Audumla, is the only animal whose conversion from savage to domesticated is chronicled in the Eddas. According to the Gilfaginning, Audumla came into existence a split-second after the creation of the first living being, Ymir. It is crucial to note that Audumla’s existence depends solely upon that of Ymir. The cow did not exist before Ymir was created, but the instant that Ymir came into existence, so did Audumla. And once Audumla’s purpose of sustaining Ymir was done, she disappeared.

Audumla was nourished herself only by licking salty ice, and her very existence depended on the existence of a personified being. It is only logical to suppose that Audumla is merely an animalized form of the primordial hot and cold reservoirs. In this case, the act of domestication is merely the springing into existence of the primordial cow. It becomes apparent how this ties together the diametrically opposed functions of animals in Scandinavian mythology. Whether as primordial hot and cold or as a cow, Audumla ceaselessly carried out one function. Animals in Scandinavian myth are simply unchanging forces. It is only when they are used in conjunction with a personified being—when they are tamed—that they maintain or promote the cosmic order, and when they act alone, they seek to destroy that order.

To the Scandinavians, Nidhogg chowing down on the roots of Yggdrasil or Arvakr pulling the sun’s chariot was as much a fact of life as the wind blowing or the seasons changing. Like a primal force of nature, animals in Scandinavian myth can simply continue an action unquestioningly forever, which allows them to be both the archetypal agent of chaos and of order. The reason for this dualistic role is simple: Animals can do one task forever with no motivation. Unlike the gods whose deeds are varied and who are often distracted by their petty jealousies and arbitrary likes and dislikes, the animals of Scandinavian myth are capable of constantly repeating the same task. Whether this relentless animal drive is used to maintain or destroy the cosmic order depends on whether the animal in question is savage. Once tamed, the emotionless nature of the animals means that they are the ultimate advocates of order in the cosmos. But left savage, animals work just as doggedly to destroy that cosmic order.