Thor and Hrungnir

 - translated by Rev W C Green, annotated by Shaun Brassfield-Thorpe

This story is told by Bragi (1), the god of poetry, to AEgir (2), a magician, who visited the gods at Asgard. (3)

Thor had fared eastwards to fight trolls (4); but Odin rode Sleipnir (5) to Jotunheim (6) and came to the giant named Hrungnir (7). Then asked Hrungnir who ever was he with golden helm that rode wind and wave. "He hath," said he, "a wondrous good horse." Odin said he would wager his head that no horse so good could be found in Jotunheim. 'Twas a good horse indeed, said Hrungnir, yet declared he had a horse of far longer stride; it was named Goldmane (8). And Hrungnir was wroth, and he leapt upon his horse, and galloped after Odin, thinking to pay him out for his boastful words. Odin galloped so fast that he was ever in advance on the opposite hill, and Hrungnir was in such giant fury that before he was aware he had gotten past the fence-gate of the Ases (9). But when he came to the hall door the Ases asked him in to drink. Then were brought those cups out of which Thor was wont to drink, and Hrungnir tossed them off one and all. And when he was well drunk, then there was no stint of big words: he would (he declared) take up Valhalla (10) and carry it to Jotunheim, but Asgard he would sink, and slay all the gods save Freyja (11) and Sif (12) who he would bear home with him. And now Freyja came to fill his cups, and he declared he would drink up all the Ases' ale.

But when the Ases were weary of his monster strength, then they called to Thor, who presently came into the hall, bearing aloft the hammer, and he was right wroth. "Who," he asked, "ruled this, that hound-witted giants should drink here? Who gave Hrungnir leave to be here with peace in Valhalla? Why should Freyja fill the cup for him, as at the banquet of the Ases?" Then answered Hrungnir, looking at Thor with no friendly eyes, that Odin bade him in to drink, and that he had his warrant of peace. Then said Thor that Hrungnir would rue this bidding ere he won out. It were but little honour to Asa-Thor, said Hrungnir, to slay him weaponless; 'twere more proof of courage if he dared fight with him on the border land at Griotuna-gard (13). "And 'twas great fool's work," said he, "that I left my shield and hone behind: if I had here my weapons, we twain would even now try the combat: but I shall count it in thee a dastard's act if thou slay me weaponless."

Thor was not one to shun single combat on this challenge to the duel, which none had ever offered him before.

So then Hrungnir went his way, and galloped hard till he came to Jotunheim. And his journey was much talked of among the giants; as was also this, that a meeting was appointed of himself and Thor. Much was at stake (thought the giants) on this, whether of the twain would win the victory. They might look for evil from Thor, should Hrungnir fall, for he was their strongest.

Then did the giants make at Griotuna-gard a man of clay: nine miles high he was, and three miles broad between the armpits. But they could get no heart big enough to match him, till they took one out of a mare, and that was not steady when Thor came. Hrungnir had the heart which is so famous, of hard-stone, and spiked, three-cornered like the Runic character afterwards made, which is called Hrungnir's heart (14). His head was also of stone; his shield too was a stone broad and thick, and he held this shield before him, as he stood at Griotuna-gard awaiting Thor; but he had for weapon a hone (15), and this he brandished over his shoulder, and he seemed no easy foe. On one side of him stood the clay man, Mokkur-calf (16) but he was sore afraid, running with water for very fear, 'tis said, when he saw Thor. To the appointed lists came Thor, and with him Thialfi (17). Then ran Thialfi forward to where Hrungnir stood, and said to him: "Thou standest unwarily, O giant; thou holdest thy shield before thee. But Thor hath seen thee, and he travels by the nether way, below the earth, and will come at thee from beneath." Then Hrungnir cast his shield under his feet, and stood thereon, but wielded with two hands his hone. Soon he saw Thor in Asa fury, who came on fiercely, and brandishing his hammer cast it from afar at Hrungnir. Hrungnir, uplifting the hone with both hands, cast it against him: and hone met hammer in flight, whereupon the hone brake in sunder, one part falling to earth, (whence are quarried all hones) but the other part dashed into Thor's head, so that he fell forward on the ground. But the hammer Mjollnir (18) came full on Hrungnir's forehead, and shattered his skull to pieces. And prone he fell upon Thor, so that his foot lay over Thor's neck. But Thialfi fought with Mokkur-calf and slew him with little glory.

Then went Thialfi to Thor, and would fain lift Hrungnir's foot from off him, but he had not the strength. And all the Ases came thither when they heard Thor was fallen, and would lift the foot off him but they availed nothing. At last came Magni (19) son of Thor and Iron-Chopper (20), he was then three years old; he thrust Hrungnir's foot off Thor, and said: "See, father, what shame it is that I came so late: I ween I would have smitten this giant to death with my fist had I encountered him." Thor then stood up, and greeted his son well, and said he would become a stout fellow. "And I will give thee," he said, "the horse Goldmane, which was Hrungnir's." Whereat Odin spake, and said that Thor did wrong in giving that good horse to an ogress' son and not to his own father. Thor went home to Thrudvang (21) with the hone still standing in his head. Then came thither the Sibyl named Groa (22) wife of Orvandil (23) the valiant; she chaunted her charms over Thor till the hone began to loosen. And when Thor found that, and thought there was hope of the hone coming out, he wished to reward Groa for her leech-craft and to make her glad. So he told her these tidings, how he had waded from the North over ice-waves, and had carried on his back in a basket Orvandil from the North out of Jotunheim: adding this, that one toe of his had stood out of the basket and got frozen, wherefore he, Thor, broke it off and cast it up to heaven, and made a star of it there, which was named "Orvandil's toe." Thor said withal that it would not be long ere Orvandil came home. Whereat Groa was so glad that she remembered no more her charms, and the hone became no looser. And it stands yet in Thor's head.

Wherefore men are warned not to cast a hone across the floor: for then the hone moves in Thor's head.

 

Notes :

 (1)  - 'Bragi' literally is a title roughly meaning 'Lord' which is thus equivalent to the literal meanings of  both / either 'Baldur' and 'Frey'. As a god in his own right he is seldom recorded - see the following sources : Skalskaparmal, 1; Gylfaginning, 25; Grimnismal, 44; Lokasenna 8-14; Sigdrifamal, 16 (where he is linked to the runes); Grettis Saga (as husband of Idunn); Hakonarmal, 14; Eireksmal, 3. The art of poetry (bragr) is said by Snorri to come from his name. Generally the function of 'god of poetry' is ascribed in the Stav tradition to Odin, and Odin is called by the name 'Bragi' by Egill Skalagrimsson in Hofudhlausn, 31, which might indicate that Bragi is but another of Odin's aspects. It is possible that the 'god' Bragi was a deified mortal, the 9th century poet Bragi enn gamli Boddason ('Bragi Boddason, the old) although it would also be possible to argue that Bragi Boddason got his name through an identification with the god of poetry.

(2)  - 'AEgir' translates as either 'The Sea' or 'Sea Giant' - see the following sources : Skaldskaparmal, 23, 31, 58; Lokasenna; Grimnismal, 45; Egill's Sonatorrek,8. AEgirs nine daughters, the waves, are Heimdall's mothers. AEgir was also known by the names Hler and Gymir, which suggests that he is Frey's father-in-law (Gymir being the father of Gerdr, Frey's wife). 

(3)  - 'Asgard' - literally 'the enclosure of the AEsir gods'.

(4)  - 'Troll' - used here as another term for 'Jotunn' (or 'Thurs'). These terms are usually translated as 'giant' although the emphasis should be placed less on size than on might.

(5)  - 'Sleipnir' - Odin's eight legged horse that can travel between the worlds. Sleipnir's mother was Loki, who copulated with the stallion 'Svadhilfari' (roughly 'one who travels unluckily'). Sleipnir (roughly 'the sliding one' or 'the slipper') is thus the half-brother of Hel, Fenrir and Jormundgandr. Of many sources see - Gylfaginning 14, 41, 48; Hyndluljodh, 40; Baldrs Draumar, 2; Sigdrifamal, 15; Hervarar Saga, stanza 72; Saxo's Latin Gesta Danorum 1,24.

(6)  - 'Jotunheim' - the home of the giants (see (4) above). Also recorded as Jotunheimr or in the plural form Jotunheimar, and probably also designated by the term Utgard (the world beyond). Jotunheim is one of the seven (or nine) worlds and lies to the East. Of countless references, see - Voluspa 8, 48; Skirnismal 40; Thrymskvidha 7,9 for descriptions of meta-geographical location.

(7)  - 'Hrungnir' - perhaps best translated as 'Brawler', 'Fighter' or similar, there is a possibility that the component 'hrung' is in fact related to the term 'rune', or else a piece of wood (from the same root as 'rung' e.g. on a ladder). Aside from the story above (which appears in Skaldskaparmal, 17 but seems to stem from Thjodholf's work Haustlong), Hrungnir is also mentioned in : Harbardhsljodh 14; Hymiskvidha 16; Lokasenna 61; Grottasongr 9. There are many theories which seek to 'explain' this particular myth, but whatever the case may be, Hrungnir seems to have had a fairly important role in the mythology at one stage and possibly belongs to an earlier mythic layer.

(8)  - 'Goldmane' (in Old Norse 'Gullfaxi') is recorded only in this story and in the list of horses given in the Thulur, although it is typical horse-name and several similar steeds are mentioned elsewhere e.g. 'Gulltoppr' (also meaning 'Gold mane') which is named as Heimdal's horse (Gylfaginning 26, 46; Skaldskaparmal 8) and also appears in the list of horses in Grimnismal 30 and the Thulur. The '-faxi' component can be found in several horse names e.g. Hrimfaxi.

(9)  - 'Ases' - used here to mean AEsir ('the gods' or more specifically, one tribe of gods), the singular form being 'As'.

(10) - 'Valhalla' - or 'Vallhall' or 'Vallholl' (literally 'the hall of the slain'). Valhalla appears throughout the mythology and literature of the North but for detailed descriptions see : Grimnismal 8-10, 18-26; Gylfaginning 37-40, Vafthrudhnismal 41.

(11) - 'Freya' - Freya is one of the better known goddesses and won't be discussed here, but it is worth noting her frequent role as potential abductee e.g. in Thrymskvidha (although Idhunn is the only goddess actually to be kidnapped in extant myth - see Gylfaginning 25, which is based on Thjodhlfr's poem Haustlong)

(12) - 'Sif' - is Thor's wife. Her name is problematic and could translate as 'wife' or even less helpfully 'relation by marriage' but this tells us little of her nature. She is apparently the mother of Ull (Thus Thor is Ull's step-father) but as Ull is a very ancient god indeed, either this is a later adaptation of the gods' genealogies, or, Sif is a very ancient goddess (and this is quite possible). For more on Sif see - Gylfaginning 30; Skaldskaparmal 4, 14, 22, 33; Hymiskvidha 3, 15, 34; Hjarbardhsljodh 48; Thrymskvidha 24.

(13) - 'Griotuna-gard' - (or in Old Norse 'Grjotunagardhar') roughly means 'the place enclosed by a stone wall' or 'stone town', although it is worth noting a potential Old Norse play on words here i.e. Gr-jotun-agardhr. This enclosure is only named thus by Snorri in the above tale, and is probably based on the earlier 'Grjotun' (roughly 'Stone town', perhaps a kenning for mountain, wilderness etc) which is the home of the Jotun, Geirrodhr, in Haustlong.

(14) - 'Hrungnir's heart' - in old Norse 'Hrungnis hjarta' is one name given (only recorded by Snorri, in the above myth) to the ancient symbol still extant on pictorial and memorial runic stones e.g. those in Gotland. "Hrungnir's heart" resembles the Valknut ('the knot of the slain', three inter-woven triangles, a symbol sacred to Odin) and again with the Triskele (basically a three-legged swastika e.g. the symbol of the Isle of Man). Other similar symbols (such as three inter-woven horns, of the type used either for drinking or blowing) also belong to this general type (e.g. on a rune-stone from Skoldelev). Very little can be said for sure about the symbolism or function   involved in the '"Hrungnir's heart" design, but while it certainly appears to embody the same principles as the Valknut, it should not simply be regarded as a variation, as it does seem to have had different connotations.

(15) - 'Hone' - used here to indicate a 'Whet-stone'. Whet-stones / hones were evidently a symbol of kingship in some regions and archaeological finds suggest a cultic significance (e.g. the Sutton Hoo ship-burial recoveries). The Whet-stone should not be dismissed as an insignificant weapon, it can be very effective and in Stav terms could fall into the categories of either the tein or (stone) knife / sax.

(16) - 'Mokkur-calf' - (Old Norse 'Mokkurkalfi') roughly means 'foggy leg' - the '-kalfi' being the same root as the English 'calf' (i.e. lower leg). This said, the name is slightly problematic and possibly is either a kenning or simply a corruption of an earlier term. Mokkurkalfi occurs only in this myth, but the concept of a 'constructed' monster is quite wide-spread in Indo-European myth and legend.

(17) - 'Thialfi' - (or Thjalfi) is Thor's servant, along with his sister Roskva. They are the children of Egill, who lives somewhere on the way to Jotunheim. The name 'Thjalfi' has never been satisfactorily explained, perhaps the most reasonable possibility being that it stems from '*THewa-alfaR' and thus means 'serving elf' - although there is no reason to assume Thjalfi is an elf. Other possibilities that don't seem to have been explored academically as yet would include an association to the word 'thrall' or 'trel' (i.e. a slave / servant) although linguistically this seems very unlikely; or that Thjalfi is related to terms for either speed and / or mental function. For more information see the stanzas from Eilifr Gudhrunarson's Thorsdrapa; Harbardhsljodh 39; Gylfaginning 43-46. There are also over a dozen Swedish rune-stones which contain the name 'Thjalfi' although here they are used as personal names, which begs the usual question with such matters - which came first?

(18) - 'Mjollnir' - Thor's famous magic hammer, which has a somewhat multiplicitous nature, perhaps most importantly as both a weapon (as in the story above) and as a fertility object (as in Thrymskvidha). The hammer is used in many hallowing rituals, as well as being worn (much like a crucifix) as a religious symbol. It is debatable whether the hammer (which has been around in symbolic form since at least the bronze age) was ever exclusively the symbol of the cults of Thor; certainly it is now used as a token of the whole Gothonic pagan religion and this may always have been the case. Mjollnir appears in many sources e.g. see Skaldskaparmal 17, 33; Gylfaginning 20, 41, 44, 52; Hymiskvidha 36; Vafthrudhnismal 51 and Saxo's Latin Gesta Danorum III, 73, where the hammer's handle is said to have been broken in a battle. Usually, Mjollnir is translated as 'Crusher' - from the Old Norse 'mala' (to crush) and the Gothic 'malwan' (to crush or grind) but the etymology and thus translation is far from clear. Commonly it is believed to stem from the Proto-Norse '*melluniaR' but this is questionable. Other theories include links to the Old Slavic 'mlunuji' and Russian 'molnija' (both of which mean 'lightning' and thus fit well with Thor's mythic functions); or that it could be related to the Old Norse 'mjoll' ('new snow') and Icelandic 'mjalli' (white colour') and thus could mean something like 'shining lightning weapon' - although personally I find this dubious, and one might as easily suggest it means 'bringer of weather' which fits the myths just as easily.

(19) - 'Magni' - (meaning roughly 'the mighty one') is one of Thor's sons, by the giantess Jarnsaxa (see (20) below). Magni is the brother of Modhi (probably 'the angry one'); they also have a (half?) sister named Thrudhr (either 'power' and/or 'woman'). It is possible to see Modhi and Magni as representing 'Mott' and 'Megin' or 'Might' and 'Mane' (i.e. physical and non-physical power). After the battle of Ragnarokr and Thor's death facing Jormundgandr, the brothers inherit the hammer Mjolnir (see (18) above). Further references to Magni can be found in : Vafthrudhnismal 15; Harbardhsljodh 9, 53 and in the surviving parts of the 10th century Thorsdrapa by Eilifr the Skald.

(20) - 'Iron-Chopper' (Old Norse 'Jarnsaxa') is the Jotun-wife of Thor, and is probably distinct from Sif, although Sif and Jarnsaxa seem to be indicated as being the same figure in Skaldskaparmal 21. The name is perhaps better translated as 'the one with the Iron sword (or knife), and could well be a kenning-name for another mythological figure. Jarnsaxa is also named as being one of Heimdall's mothers in the Voluspa in skamma : Hyndluljodh 37. The association of Thor with 'Jarn' (iron) should not be surprising, and iron attributes occur frequently in relation to him e.g. Jarngreipr or jarnglofi, his iron gauntlets.

(21) - 'Thrudvang' or 'Thrudhvang' (roughly 'field of power') is the name of Thor's home, where his enclosure / 'palace' is situated (this is called 'Bilskirnir' - roughly 'the place of lightning rays', although other translations are possible). Thrudhvang obviously is closely related to the name of Thor's daughter (see (19) above) and appears by this name in Gylfaginning 20; and Ynglinga Saga 5. In Grimnismal 4 it is referred to as 'Thrudhheim' (roughly 'home of power').

(22) - 'Groa' - is one of the most interesting, yet sadly not well recorded, female deities. The name Groa is probably related to the verb 'groa' (meaning 'to grow' or 'to thrive') and thus 'Grower' or 'Thriver' are reasonable English equivalents. Like virtually every female deity, Groa is generally supposed to be a fertility goddess (well, they all are, after all, what else can women do?) but this seems to be a complete simplification if not total inaccuracy when the sources are studied closely. Aside from the above myth, Groa is a central figure in Grogaldr, where she is the mother of Svipdag the god/hero of the Svipdagsmal (Grogaldr is usually placed as part of this composite myth). Clearly Groa is a powerful sorceress, and a figure worthy of study.

(23) - 'Orvandil' (also Old Norse 'Aurvandill', Anglo-Saxon 'Earendel' and several other variants) is another example of a once major, now all but lost, mythic figure. He appears as Horwendillus in the Danish sources, (Saxo book III, 85-87), as the father of Amlethus (the original Hamlet) and also in the Middle High German work 'Orendel'. Although connected myths have been lost, the name survives (as a personal name) in Langobardian as 'Auriwandalo' and Old High German 'Orentil'. The story of Orvandil's toe being turned into a star seems to have once been well established in the Gothonic world. Apart from its similarities to other mythic episodes e.g. the creation of stars from the eyes of the dead Jotun, Thjazi (Skathi's father), the Anglo-Saxon version of the name, Earendel, literally means 'morning star' or 'starlight'. Although there has been plenty of speculation as to the etymology or more precise meaning of the name(s), they remain a mystery, although worthy of consideration is the possibility that originally Aurvandill was a deity of the Vandals. Another possibility that surprisingly doesn't seem to have been investigated would be that this figure (and also his wife Groa) are Vanir deities. But like most things connected with the myths and the runes, such possibilities remain in the realms of mystery.