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Thor’s Day Alert #4: The Forging of the Treasures

Happy Thor’s Day, everybody!

Today, the good stuff: a Norse myth preserved for us by the hand of the Icelander Snorri Sturluson, as translated by Jean I. Young in The Prose Edda and excerpted below.

To set up the story, you should know that Sif was Thor’s wife, and was described as “the most beautiful of women.” Her hair was golden (and the phrase “hair of Sif” became a kenning – sort of a poet’s stock metaphor in the sagas – for gold itself).

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Once, for a joke, Loki, Laufey’s son, cut off all Sif’s hair, but when Thor got to know this he seized Loki and would have broken every bone in his body, had he not sworn to persuade the dark elves* to make hair from gold for Sif that would grow like other hair.

After that Loki went to the dwarfs called the sons of Ivaldi, and they made the hair and Skidbladnir and the spear that Odin had, which is called Gungnir. Then Loki wagered his head with a dwarf called Brokk that his brother Eitri would not be able to make three other treasures as fine as these.

When they came to the smithy, Eitri laid a pigskin in the furnace and told his brother Brokk to work the bellows and not to stop until he had taken what he had put there out of the forge. No sooner had he left the smithy than a fly settled on Brokk’s hand and stung him, as he was working the bellows, but he kept them going as before, until the smith took the object from the forge — and there was a boar with bristles of gold.

Next he put gold in the furnace and told him to blow without stopping until he returned. He went away, and then the fly came and settled on Brokk’s neck, stinging him twice as badly as before. He went on blowing, however, until the smith took from the forge the gold ring called Draupnir.

Then he put iron in the furnace and told him to blow, and said that everything would be spoiled if the bellows stopped working. This time the fly settled between his eyes and stung him on the eyelids so that the blood ran into his eyes and he could not see at all. He stopped the bellows and as quickly as possible brushed the fly away with one hand. At that moment the smith came in and said that everything in the furnace had been within an ace of being spoiled. Then he took from the forge a hammer and gave all the treasures to his brother Brokk, telling him to take them to Asgard to settle the wager.

When he and Loki brought out their treasures, the Aesir sat down on their thrones and the verdict given by Odin, Thor and Frey was to stand good. Loki then gave Odin the spear, Gungnir; Thor, the hair Sif was to have; and Frey, Skidbladnir, and he explained what kind of treasures they were: the spear never missed its mark, the hair would grow to her skin as soon as it was put on Sif’s head, and Skidbladnir got a breeze to take it where it had to go as soon as its sail was hoisted, and it could be folded together like a cloth and carried in one’s pouch, if so desired.

Then Brokk produced his treasures. He gave Odin the ring*, saying that every ninth night eight others as heavy as itself would drop from it. To Frey he gave the boar, saying that it could run through the air and over the sea day or night faster than any horse, and that no matter how gloomy it might be at night or in the world of darkness, it would always be brilliantly light where it was travelling.

Then he gave the hammer to Thor and said that he could hit anything that was in his way with it as hard as he could and the hammer would never break; and if he hurled it at anything he would never lose it — no matter how far it was flung it would return to his hand; also, if he desired, it could become so small that he could keep it in his shirt. It had, however, one fault; it was rather short in the handle.

The decision of the gods was that the hammer was the most valuable of all the treasures and the best defense against the frost ogres, and they decided that the dwarf had won the wager.

Then Loki offered to redeem his head but the dwarf said that he could not expect to do that.*

“Catch me then!” said Loki, and when the dwarf tried to seize him he was already a long way off. Loki had shoes in which he could run through the air and over the sea.

Then the dwarf asked Thor to catch him and he did so. The dwarf wanted to cut off his head, but Loki said he had a claim on his head but not his neck. The dwarf took a thong and a knife and tried to pierce holes in Loki’s lips to sew them up, but the knife would not cut. Then he said that his brother’s awl would be better and, as soon as he had mentioned it, there it was, and it pierced the lips. He sewed up the mouth, and [Loki] tore the thong out through the holes. The thong with which Loki’s mouth was sewn up is called Vatari.

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I hope you enjoyed the story of how the treasures of the Norse gods were created. Be sure to stop by sometime before next Thor’s Day — I’ll shed some light on the passages I marked with an asterisk. If you’re confused by a couple of them, don’t worry — even the venerable Sturluson sometimes stumbled as a writer.

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