rod of iron is, I believe, reproduced also in Old Norse mythology. When
Thor was on his way to the giant Geirrdøth, he stopped at the house of
Víthar's mother, the giantess Gríth. She lent him her rod, Gríðarvölr. (39) That this rod was of
steel is evident from what is said of it in þórsdrápa. (40) Víthar is the avenger of the gods. (41) In Vpá., 55, after Víthar slays the wolf, we read: 'There was his father
avenged.' In Vafthr., 53: 'The wolf shall swallow the father of mankind;
Víthar shall avenge this.' In Grímn. 17: 'With thicket and high grass
is Víthar's land, Vithi, grown; and there the son says from the horse's
back that he has courage to avenge his father.' I suggest that this conception
of Víthar as an avenger is based on Isaiah lxiii. 4: 'For the day of vengeance
is in mine heart.' In the preceding verse we read: 'I have trodden the
winepress alone; and of the people there was none with me.'
Grímn., 17, runs as follows:
ok háu grasi
Víðars land Viði;
en þar mögr of læzk
af mars baki
frœkn at hefna föður.
Light is thrown on this passage (translated above) by Hávamál, 119:
ok háu grasi
vegr er vætki trøðr.
'With thicket and high grass is grown the way, which no one treads.'
Víthar, the avenger, dwells, then, in the lonely waste inhabited by no man, or god, except himself. The name of his land , Viði, is derived from viðr, forest. (42) Víthar is called 'the silent,' (43) doubtless because he inhabits the solitary wilderness where he converses with no one.
We have here a masterly picture, entirely Scandinavian in spirit, of Odin's son meditating vengeance in the solitary waste. We can but admire it the more when we recognise from what vague hints it developed.
One of these hints may be found in Isaiah lxiii. 3: 'I have trodden the winepress alone, and of the heathen (lit., of the people, de gentibus) there was none with me.' (44) This passage has been brought into connection with the words in Rev. xii. 6, of the woman who has given birth to a man child who is to rule the heathen (omnes gentes) with a rod of iron: 'she fled into the solitary wilderness.' (45)
In Vpá., 55, where we read of Víthar's coming to fight against the wolf, Víthar is called 'the great son of the father of victory, i.e. Odin' (inn mikli mögr Sigföður). In Grímn., 17, where his vengeance is predicted, he is designated as 'the son.' In Snorri's Edda also, he is called Odin's son. We may trace this epithet back to its starting-point in Rev. xii. 5, where 'he who is to rule all nations with a rod of iron' is called filius masculus, and where we read of him: 'raptus est filius eius (i.e. mulieris) ad Deum et ad thronum eius.' And this 'son' was taken (for example, by Bede) to refer to Christ, the Son of God. In like manner, Víthar corresponds, as I have already shown, to 'the Son of God' in the Serbian story.
In Grímn. 17, the avenger Víthar speaks from horseback. According to Rev. xix. II, he who is to rule all peoples with a rod of iron, 'sat upon a white horse.' The Scandinavian myth represents the silent god as speaking when his time approaches. The remarkable expression in Grímn., 17: 'He himself says (læzk) that he shall avenge his father,' may be due to the fact that the avenger, in Isaiah lxiii. 4, speaks in the first person, and says: 'For the day of vengeance is in mine heart, and the year of my redeemed is come.' When transferred to Víthar, this may have called forth the idea that there shall come a time when he need no longer dwell as a skógarmaðr, an exile in the lonely wilderness.
We read of the avenger in Rev. xix. 15: 'and he treadeth (calcat) the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God.' In Isaiah lxiii. 3-4: 'I have trodden (calcavi) the winepress alone, and of the people there was none with me: for I will tread (calcavi) them in mine anger, and trample (conculcavi) them in my fury......For the day of vengeance is in mine heart, and the year of my redeemed is come.' Even as the avenger here treads down the people with his foot, so in the Middle Ages was applied to the same Son of God the saying that He crushed with His foot the head of the serpent. (46) These words brought it about that the figure on the Gosforth Cross, which represents the Son of God, places his foot in the mouth of the wolfsnake, and that the avenger Víthar treads in Fenrir's mouth.
The shoe that Víthar has on the foot with which he treads in the monster's mouth, is especially mentioned in Snorri's Edda (I, 192). To throw light on this characteristic, E. H. Meyer (47) has with good reason called attention to a passage in Bede (Opp., III, 617) where the historian says (in a symbolical sense) that Christ appeared seeming to have a shoe on his foot. (48) Here also the mystical allegory has become, in the Scandinavian myth, part of a graphic material picture.
In Vafthr., 50-51, Odin asks: 'Which of the Asir shall rule over the possessions of the gods when Surt's flame shall be extinguished?' And the giant answers: Víthar and Váli shall occupy the dwelling of the gods when Surt's flame shall be quenched.' So far as Víthar is concerned, this conception rests on Rev. ii. 26-27, where the Lord says: 'And he that overcometh, and keepeth (custodiet) my works (opera) unto the end, to him will I give power over the nations: and he shall rule them with a rod of iron.'
Víthar's mother is the giantess Gríðr. This name signifies 'passionate violence,' (49) and corresponds in its etymological meaning to the expression furor irae in the words of the Apocalypse: ipse calcat torcular vini furoris irae dei omnipotentis (Rev. xix. 15). Compare Isaiah lxiii. 3: calcavi eos in furore meo et conculavi eos in ira mea. The myth-making imagination of the heathen Norsemen has occasionally isolated the attributes of a god and made out of them mythical persons who are represented as his relatives. Thus Thor's might (megin) and anger (móðr) are imagined as his sons Magni and Móði. In the same way, Víthar's gríð, i.e. his furor irae, the rage with which he is filled at the moment of vengeance, is represented as his mother Griðr. The fact that a mother of the avenger is spoken of in the Apocalypse, probably helped to bring this about. The rod of iron was doubtless called originally gríðarvölr, as being the rod which the avenger used in his rage; but later it was understood as the rod of his mother Gríth. She doubtless kept it for her son's use at the end of the world. (50)
In the Revelation, the mother of the avenger is driven out into the wilderness. Víthar's mother dwelt outside of the world inhabited by gods and men: Thor met her on his journey to the giant Geirrøth.
I have already hinted, in the preceding remarks on Víthar's fight with Fenrir, that Fenrir, as E. H. Meyer has pointed out, has also adopted peculiarities which belonged to the beast (bestia) in Revelation. The imagination of the Scandinavians pictured the wolf Fenrir as the most prominent and the worst of the gods' enemies in ragnarøkkr, and represented the father of the gods as setting out against him. Compare Rev. xix. 19: 'And I saw the beast, and the kings of the earth, and their armies, gathered together to make war against him that sat on the horse, and against his army.' In the strophe of Völuspá, which deals with Víthar's fight with the wolf, the latter is called valdýr, 'animal of slaughter.' This is a reproduction of bestia, of whom we read: 'And it was given unto him to make war with the saints, and to overcome them' (Rev. xiii. 7). In the same strophe, the wolf is called mögr Heðvrungs, 'the sons of Hvethrung.' Hveðrungr is probably a mythical representative of the raging sea. (51) Compare AS hweoðerung, 'murmuratio,' se brym hweoðerode, 'the billows roared.' The expression mögr Hveðrungs applied to Fenrir, may, then, be explained by the expression de mari bestiam ascendentem (Rev. xiii. I).
The name Fenrir, or Fenrisúlfr, has been explained as if it were a genuine Scandinavian derivative of ON fen in the poetical meaning of that word, viz. 'sea,' and designated the monster as a water-demon. But this explanation cannot be correct; for there does not exist in Old Norse any productive derivative ending -rir, gen. -ris. (52) Moreover, Fenrir cannot be properly called a water-demon.
I have endeavoured to show that the statements regarding the wolf Fenrir arose under the influence of Christian conceptions of the devil as lupus infernus, combined with stories about Behemoth and about the 'beast' in the Apocalypse. In accordance with this theory, I believe that the name Fenrir, Fenrisúlfr, arose from the foreign infernus lupus, as changed in Old Norse by popular etymology. The weakly accented first syllable of infernus has fallen off in the Norse name, as in the Old Saxon word fern, 'hell,' from Lat. infernum, in the Hêliand. Fenrir is formed by means of the derivative ending -ir, gen. -is, which is very much used in mythical names, among others in the giant names. Fenrir is an alteration of *Fernir. The reason for this alteration is that the Old Norsemen brought Fenrir, by popular etymology, into connection with fen, in the meaning 'fen, swamp, mire.' The transference of thought was natural; for hell and the lower world were connected to some extent in the popular imagination with deep or boundless morasses. (53) Moreover, the statements regarding Behemoth, in Job xl. 16, that 'he lieth.....in the covert of the reed, and fens,' may have contributed to this popular etymology.
In Vafthr., 46, 47, Fenrir
(i.e. wolf of hell) is used to designate the wolf that swallows the sun.
Still other features were transferred from Behemoth and lupus infernus
to the wolf that swallows the sun. In Vpá., 40, 41, the Sibyl says:
Austr sat en aldna
ok fæddi þar
verðr af þeim öllum
í trollz hami.
feigra manna, etc.
'In the east sat the old one, in Ironwood, and gave birth there to Fenrir's brood; of them all a certain one shall become the robber of the gleaming heavenly body in the form of a monster. He fills himself with the bodies of doomed men.'
This account of how the wolf that swallows the sun gorges himself with dead men's bodies (fjörvi) is connected with the account of the Serbian tale of how the sinful go into the power of Dabog, and how he has devoured them from time immemorial, just as a German poem represents the devil as devouring souls. (54)
E. H. Meyer calls attention (55) to the statement, who is nourished in the east until the day of doom, there shall slay and devour sons and mothers, children and fathers.
While the wolf Fenrir has to some extent its prototype in Behemoth, the Mithgarthsorm has its prototype in Leviathan. In Job xl. Leviathan is associated with Behemoth as a mighty creature similar in nature. In Scandinavian mythical stories, the Mithgarthsorm and the wolf Fenrir appear side by side; they are even represented as brothers. The Icelanders thought of the Mithgarthsorm as lying in the sea, surrounding all lands, and biting its own tail. (56) This conception is taken direct from the Christian conception of Leviathan. Bede (57) says: Leviathan animal terram complectitur tenetque caudam in ore suo. In the Christian Middle Ages, the similarity between the Mithgarthsorm and Leviathan was so striking to the Icelanders that they identified the two. Thus in an old book of homilies, (58) we find Miðgarðsormr written over leviaþan as a gloss.
39. Snorra Edda, ed. AM., I, 286. Back
40. Málhvættan háf skotnaðra, st. 6; stáli, st. 9; knátti hlym þél við möl glymja, st. 6. Back
41. Hann má kalla.........hefni----ás goðanna, Snorra Edda, ed. AM., I, 266. Back
42. As far as the meaning is concerned, we may compare modern Norw. dial., vi(d)a, used of 'the tree-limit, the highest place where trees grow on the mountain side'; also 'forest land.' The name Viði, with short vowel in the first syllable, is etymologically entirely different from the name of the god, Víðarr, with long í. Back
43. Hann má kalla hinn þögla ás (Snorra Edda, ed. AM., I, 266); Víðars ins þögla (id., I, 286). Back
44. These words are applied to Víthar by E. H. Meyer, in Völuspa, p. 202 f. Back
45. Mulier fugit in solitudinem; xii. 14: desertum. Back
46. Compare E.H. Meyer, Völuspa, pp. 202-204: Dominus conterens pede caput serpentis. Back
47. Völuspa, p. 204. Back
48. Incarnatus vero Dominus veniens quasi calceatus apparuit. Back
49. Icel. gríð means 'violence, rage.' Back
50. Compare the altered conception of the name Darraðarljóð. Back
51. In Ynglingatal, Hel is called Hveðrungs mær; but this is, in my opinion, in imitation of mögr Hveðrungs in Völuspá, both Hel and Fenrir being elsewhere called Loki's children. The mention of Hveðrungr among the names of giants in Snorri's Edda (I, 549; II, 470) is likewise easily explained as based on the words just quoted from Völuspá. It was probably a misunderstanding of the same passage that occasioned the mention of Hveðrungr as a name of Odin, in Snorri's Edda (II, 472, 555). Back
52. Words like elrir, Sviðrir, and others, do not disprove the above statement. Back
53. Compare the Danish place-names Helmose, Helkjær, palus lethalis (Saxo, ed. Müller, p. 348). Die hell ist enmitten dâ daz ertrîche aller sumpfigest ist (Berthold von Regensburg). See E. H. Meyer, German Mythol., p. 173. Back
54. The word fjörvi (nom. fjör) does not literally mean 'bodies.' Its usual signification is 'life, vital power,' Lat. anima, and it corresponds to AS feorh, which sometimes has about the meaning 'soul' (e.g. nô þon længe wæs feorh æðelinges flæsce bewunden, Béow., 2424). Back
55. Völuspá, pp. 149, 174. Back
56. Gylfaginning, chap. 34. Back
57. De rat. tempor. Back
58. Homiliubók, ed. Wisén, p. 75. Back