The Northern Way

Skáldskaparmál pages 89 - 92

SKÁLDSKAPARMÁL THE POESY OF SKALDS (1)

I. A certain man was named Ægir, or Hlér. He dwelt on the island which is now called Hlér's Isle, (2) and was deeply versed in black magic. He took his way to Asgard, but the Æsir had foreknowledge of his journey; he was received with good cheer, and yet many things were done by deceit, with eye-illusions. And at evening, when it was time for drinking, Odin had swords brought into the hall, so bright that light radiated from them: and other illumination was not used while they sat at drinking. Then the Æsir came in to their banquet, and in the high-seats sat them down those twelve Æsir who were appointed to be judges; these were their names: Thor, Njördr, Freyr, Týr, Heimdallr, Bragi, Vídarr, Váli, Ullr, Hœnir, Forseti, Loki; and in like manner the Asynjur: Frigg, Freyja, Gefjun, Idunn, Gerdr, Sigyn, Fulla, Nanna. It seemed glorious to Ægir to look about him in the hall: the wain-scottings there were all hung with fair shields; there was also stinging mead, copiously quaffed. The man seated next to Ægir was Bragi, and they took part together in drinking and in converse: Bragi told Ægir of many things which had come to pass among the Æsir.

He began the story at the point where three of the Æsir, Odin and Loki and Hoenir, departed from home and were wandering over mountains and wastes, and food was hard to find. But when they came down into a certain dale, they saw a herd of oxen, took one ox, and set about cooking it. Now when they thought that it must be cooked, they broke up the fire, and it was not cooked. After a while had passed, they having scattered the fire a second time, and it was not cooked, they took counsel together, asking each other what it might mean. Then they heard a voice speaking in the oak up above them, declaring that he who sat there confessed he had caused the lack of virtue in the fire. They looked thither, and there sat an eagle; and it was no small one. Then the eagle said: "If ye are willing to give me my fill of the ox, then it will cook in the fire." They assented to this. Then he let himself float down from the tree and alighted by the fire, and forthwith at the very first took unto himself the two hams of the ox, and both shoulders. Then Loki was angered, snatched up a great pole, brandished it with all his strength, and drove it at the eagle's body. The eagle plunged violently at the blow and flew up, so that the pole was fast to the eagle's back, and Loki's hands to the other end of the pole. The eagle flew at such a height that Loki's feet down below knocked against stones and rock-heaps and trees, and he thought his arms would be torn from his shoulders. He cried aloud, entreating the eagle urgently for peace; but the eagle declared that Loki should never be loosed, unless he would give him his oath to induce Idunn to come out of Asgard with her apples. Loki assented, and being straightway loosed, went to his companions; nor for that time are any more things reported concerning their journey, until they had come home.

(1. Usually translated "Poetical Diction." 2. Now Læssø.)

But at the appointed time Loki lured Idunn out of Ásgard into a certain wood, saying that he had found such apples as would seem to her of great virtue, and prayed that she would have her apples with her and compare them with these. Then Thjazi the giant came there in his eagle's plumage and took Idunn and flew away with her, off into Thrymheimr to his abode. But the Æsir became straitened at the disappearance of Idunn, and speedily they became hoary and old. Then those Æsir took counsel together, and each asked the other what had last been known of Idunn; and the last that had been seen was that she had gone out of Asgard with Loki. Thereupon Loki was seized and brought to the Thing, and was threatened with death, or tortures; when he had become well frightened, he declared that he would seek after Idunn in Jötunheim, if Freyja would lend him the hawk's plumage which she possessed. And when he got the hawk's plumage, be flew north into Jötunheim, and came on a certain day to the home of Thjazi the giant. Thjazi had rowed out to sea, but Idunn was at home alone: Loki turned her into the shape of a nut and grasped her in his claws and flew his utmost.

Now when Thjazi came home and missed Idunn, he took his eagle's plumage and flew after Loki, making a mighty rush of sound with his wings in his flight. But when the Æsir saw how the hawk flew with the nut, and where the eagle was flying, they went out below Ásgard and bore burdens of plane-shavings thither. As soon as the hawk flew into the citadel, he swooped down close by the castle-wall; then the Æsir struck fire to the plane-shavings. But the eagle could not stop himself when he missed the hawk: the feathers of the eagle caught fire, and straightway his flight ceased. Then the Æsir were near at hand and slew Thjazi the giant within the Gate of the Æsir, and that slaying is exceeding famous.

Now Skadi, the daughter of the giant Thjazi, took helm and birnie and all weapons of war and proceeded to Ásgard, to avenge her father. The Æsir, however, offered her reconciliation and atonement: the first article was that she should choose for herself a husband from among the Æsir and choose by the feet only, seeing no more of him. Then she saw the feet of one man, passing fair, and said: "I choose this one: in Baldr little can be loathly." But that was Njördr of Nóatún. She had this article also in her bond of reconciliation: that the Æsir must do a thing she thought they would not be able to accomplish: to make her laugh. Then Loki did this: he tied a cord to the beard of a goat, the other end being about his own genitals, and each gave way in turn, and each of the two screeched loudly; then Loki let himself fall onto Skadi's knee, and she laughed. Thereupon reconciliation was made with her on the part of the Æsir. It is so said, that Odin did this by way of atonement to Skadi: he took Thjazi's eyes and cast them up into the heavens, and made of them two stars.

Then said Ægir: "It seems to me that Thjazi was a mighty man: now of what family was he?" Bragi answered: "His father was called Ölvaldi, and if I tell thee of him, thou wilt think these things wonders. He was very rich in gold; but when he died and his sons came to divide the inheritance, they determined upon this measure for the gold which they divided: each should take as much as his mouth would hold, and all the same number of mouthfuls. One of them was Thjazi, the second Idi, the third Gangr. And we have it as a metaphor among us now, to call gold the mouth-tale of these giants; but we conceal it in secret terms or in poesy in this way, that we call it Speech, or Word, or Talk, of these giants."

Then said Ægir: "I deem that well concealed in secret terms," And again said Ægir:" Whence did this art, which ye call poesy, derive its beginnings?" Bragi answered: "These were the beginnings thereof: The gods had a dis-

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