by William Reaves, edited by Úlfgrim Vílmeiðson
Copyright © William Reaves
Of Freyja, Snorri Sturluson, the author of the Younger Edda, informs us that she is "the most renowned of the goddesses" and that "songs of love please her and that it is good to call on her in the furtherance of love" (Jean Young translation). We know that she had many lovers; Loki tells us that every one of the Aesir and Elves gathered together for a divine feast has had her as their "hor," (lover), among which he reckons her own brother Freyr (Lokasenna 30). And the dwarves too have partaken of her affection (Fornaldarsaga I, 391). But, in spite of all this, she is said to have only one husband:
"Freyja is as distinguished as Frigg. She is married to a man called Od; their daughter is Hnoss; she is so lovely that whatever is beautiful and valuable is called a "treasure" (hnoss) from her name. Odr went away on long journeys and Freyja weeps for him, and her tears are red gold. Freyja has many names, and the reason for this is that she gave herself several when she went to look for Od among peoples she did not know. She is called Mardoll, and Horn, Gefn, and Syr." (Jean Young, translation)
There has been much scholarly speculation that Odr may simply be a byname of Odin himself, and that Freyja may be a byname of Frigg, but Snorri gives us no indication of that. He clearly distinguishes Frigg and Freyja, and curiously calls Odr a "manni," a man, rather than a god.
Are we to believe that "the most renowned goddess," the patron of love herself is married to an unknown man-- a mythic non-entity-- and that the lore did not preserve the tale of their romantic affair? Surely, it was one of the most popular of the old heathen myths, the story of how a mortal captured the heart of the most beautiful goddess, and thus must have left traces in the literature. In the modern commentary on the mythology, we have been lead to believe that the myth regarding Freyja and Odr has been lost to us, but fortunately it is not. Its outlines can still be recovered from the existing documents preserved to our time.
In the course of this investigation, we will look closely at the histories of the Danish writer Saxo Grammaticus, whose text precedes that of the Icelandic mythographer Snorri Sturleson, as well as two obscure Eddiac poems, sadly neglected and often omitted from modern translations of the Old Norse poetry; they are Groagaldr and Fjolvinsmal. From these sources, supplemented by scattered poetic references, can we hope to recover the epic tale of the greatest mythical romance of the Viking age--The love story of Freyja and Odr.
Several curious passages seem to indicate that Freyja, as well as her brother Freyr, were once held in captivity by the giants. While it is well known that Freyja is an object of desire among the giant race, the known myths contain no tale in which Freyja is ever held in giant hands, yet the skalds seem to refer to such a myth:
1. Voluspa 25
hverir hefdi loft allt Who had all the air laevi blandit with evil mingled? eda aett jotuns or to the Jotun race Ods mey gefna Od's maid had given?
2. Skaldskaparmal 66:
Heyri sonr a, Syrar, Let the son of Harald's true-friend sannreynis, fentanna Give ear and hearken to me: orr greppa laetk uppi I raise my song, the yeast-stream jast-Rin, Haralds, mina. of Syr's snow-covered monsters (greppar).
3. Skaldskaparmal 14.
Tha er utrost When the Earl's foe jarla bagi wished to inhabit Belja dolgs the outer bounds byggja vildi Of Beli's hater
(The Old Norse verses are from Gudni Jonsson's Eddu Kvaedi and Eddu Snorra, 1954; English translation provided by Benjamin Thorpe and Arthur Broedur)
The above references contain valuable information in regard to this previously unknown mythic situation:
1. Freyja was once "given" to the giants. There she is identified as "Od's maid," thus Odr may have some immediate connection to this lost myth. 2. The skald Kormak calls poetry the "jast-Rin" of "Syrar greppar." Gudbrand Vigfusson defines "jast-Rin," literally "yeast-Rhine," as poetry. In this case, poetry is the "yeast-stream" of Syr's snow-covered "greppar." Sveinbjorn Egilsson defines "greppar" as "jaettekvindens," giant women, and Gudbrand Vigfusson as "a strange creature, a monster" with reference to a "a giant." Thus, Syr, a known byname of Freyja is linked to a group of poets, designated by the plural name Grep, who are at the same time "snow-covered monsters." 3. Freyr, whose proper home is Alfheim (Grimnismal 5) is said to inhabit an "utrost" a remote land. We have a direct parallel in the designation of a land as "£trost," outer boundary, in the name "Utgard," Outer yard, a place where Thor encounters the powerful giant Utgard-Loki and his giant subjects. In this remote land, Freyr is referred to as "Belis dolgr" an enemy of Beli, the howler. This epithet suggests that Beli has an immediate connection to Freyr's stay in this outer boundary. Likewise, the myth of Freyr and Beli is lost to us, yet this is a common epithet for Freyr, thus it too must have once been well known.
Two stories preserved by the Danish historian Saxo Grammaticus (died circa 1205 AD), who is widely recognized as having drawn his inspiration for the first nine books of his history of Denmark from the mythic material available to him, shed light on these otherwise obscure poetic references. They are the story of Frodi and his beautiful sister Gunvara, who weds the peasant Erik in Book V of Saxo's Historica Danica, and the tale of Otharus and Syritha, whose very names reflect the Old Norse Odr and Syr, in Book VII. Together these two stories preserve the memory of Freyr and Freyja's captivity among the giants, and how Freyja in particular was rescued by the mortal Odr, also called Erik, and how she became his bride. To some Saxo Grammaticus may seem like an unlikely source of Germanic Mythology, thus let us first examine the nature of Saxo's histories, so that his value as a source is clear.
In the recent translation of Saxo's Histories, titled Saxo Grammaticus, The History of the Danes Books I-IX" translated by Peter Fisher (1996), the renowned Old Norse scholar Hilda Ellis Davidson comments:
"The first nine books, presented here in the translation of Peter Fisher, are regarded by many as no more than a hotch-potch of ancient legends, speeches from heroic poems, selections from Icelandic sagas, rationalized myths, bits of Danish folklore, references to genealogies, echoes from Latin chroniclers and snippets of ....approved authors who featured in university syllabuses of the early Middle Ages."
She says that Saxo "was certainly experimenting with Latin metres and poetic forms in the verse passages found in several of the early books, these again are very close to Icelandic poetry preserved in the Edda and in the legendary sagas, even though the metre is very different." She concludes that "it is generally agreed that there is little of historic value in the first nine" books but that Saxo's works possess "none of the skillful, imaginative presentation of the old myths which is found in the works of his near contemporary, Snorri Sturluson, although the two have used much the same material." She clearly acknowledges that Saxo's tales are a "treasure-trove" of Old Norse mythology and that "many of his tales, apparently derived from Iceland or Norway, are unrecorded elsewhere, and those which are found in the Icelandic sagas may be earlier, by a century or more, than the Icelandic sources in their present form." Thus, it is clear that Saxo is drawing from mythic material almost an entire century earlier than Snorri Sturluson, who like him, was a Christian who converted the tales of the Northern gods into the "histories" of ancient kings. In Saxo's works, as in the works of Snorri Sturluson, the Old Norse gods are often recognizable, however, unlike Snorri, Saxo more often than not cloaks them under obscure names, and it requires a careful examination to uncover their true identities.
In regard to the lost myth of Freyr and Freyja's captivity among the giants, let us begin the investigation by examining the tale of Frodi and his sister Gunvara preserved in Book V of Saxo Grammaticus' Danish History. In the opening of Book V, Saxo introduces us to the young king Frodi, son of Fridlief, in whom we may discover the young Freyr: "After Fridleif's death, the seven year old son Frodi took his throne at the concerted wish of the Danish people." Beside the young king we also find his sister "Gunvara, whose matchless beauty earned her the title of 'the Fair.'" However, the king is too young to rule and the administration of the government is supervised by guardians named Vestmar and Koli, who "were summoned to take charge of the royal upbringing."
Saxo informs us that "Vestmar had twelve sons, three of whom were given a common name, Grep. These were conceived together and delivered all at the same time so that their sharing of one name bore witness to their simultaneous origin." The youngest of the three is something of a poet himself, Saxo notes that he "would overcome all his opponents not so much by clever language as by bullying with a flow of insolence" (112). By the way these beings are described, it soon becomes clear that they are not human. Saxo gives them all the characteristics of animals. Late in the chapter, he describes them as "emitt(ing) blood-curdling cries like howling wolves" (115). The law of hospitality, so sacred among the Germanic people was lost on them; Saxo says in their company "guests and strangers were treated to abuse instead of welcome, so many were the scornful provocation's found among this lewd and impudent crew." Their subjects fared no better at their hands:
"Some they heaved high with ropes and then pushed their dangling bodies to and fro as if they were playing at ball; they laid kid-skins before the advancing steps of others and when they tottered on the slippery surface suddenly pulled hidden cords and tripped them unexpectedly, yet others were stripped of their clothing and flayed with tormenting lashes; on some they inflicted mock hangings by fixing them with nails in the form of a noose; some had their beards and hair set alight with tapers; other men had their genitals and pubic hair scorched. Foreigners were beaten up with bones or compelled to get drunk with vast quantities of liquor till they burst."
And their sexual appetites reached monstrous proportions:
"When Vestmar and Koli's sons grew to adolescence they became hot-blooded, their self-assurance turned to presumption and they defiled their characters by filthy, degenerate practices. So outrageous and unrestrained were their ways that they ravished other men's wives and daughters; they seemed to have outlawed chastity and driven it to the brothel. Nor did they stop at married women but also debauched the beds of virgins. No man's bridal chamber was safe; scarcely any place in the land was free from the imprints of their lust."
Gunvara the Fair seems to have been the sole exception. Great care is taken to insure that she remains undefiled. Saxo tells us that she enclosed herself in a building fortified with ramparts, with thirty household retainers keeping constant vigilance over her. Clearly, the boy-king Frodi and his fair sister are not in human company. Although Saxo has placed these events in his native Denmark, he likely has modeled their captors after the mythological giants who dwell in Jotunheim in the far east. He takes great care to describe how both Frodi and Gunvara had been isolated from the people of the land. Of Frodi, he says:
"(Grep) decided that the privilege of meeting the king should be sought with a bribe and proclaimed that no person might be granted an interview unless he had first offered presents. He also announced that the approach to such a mighty leader should not be a well-worn path, but could only be obtained through the most assiduous canvassing, thinking to lighten his barbarous reputation by this simulated affection for his monarch. The exasperated people could only complain of their oppression in silent groans." (108)
The kingdom itself is protected from invasion by sea by the power of a sorcerer, who acts as a sentinel on the lookout for any ship that approaches Denmark. His name is Oddi and as Saxo tells us "he was a man learned in the magic arts, who would roam the high seas without a boat and often capsize hostile ships by raising tempests with his spells." (128) That he could travel the seas "without a boat," may have a mythological explanation in that giants are depicted on a few occassions as wading out into the ocean, and a giantess in at least one myth stands over a river causing it to flood. Symbollically, these giants may represent storms at sea. Recall too, that Aegir and Ran who rule over the great western ocean are of the giant clan. In the mythology, Jotunheim, the home of the giants, is separated from the worlds of men and gods by the mythic river Elivagar, which the giants attempt to keep the gods from crossing over. Like most mythical things, the Elivagar have many names. On one occasion, it referred to as Gandvik, the Magic-bay (Thorsdrapa 2). It was likely imagined by the early heathens as rife with supernatural storms. Of Oddi, Saxo says, he would "dull the enemy's eyesight by the power of his incantations."(128)
Truly, it is as if Frodi and his sister Gunvara of the captives of the mythic Jotuns, who expressly have no affection for them other than carnal sexual desire for Gunvara. Their curious circumstance remind us at once of the situation of Freyr alluded to by the Old Norse skald. Like Freyr, young Frodi is dwelling in an "utrost," an outer boundary, a place cut off from humanity. An episode in Saxo's story adds weight to the identification of Frodi and Gunvara as Freyr and Freyja; it is the marriage of the young Frodi to the daughter of the King of the Huns.
As we know from the Eddaic poem For Skirnis, the god Freyr once wasted away from love for the radiant giant maid Gerd. Freyr's father, Njord, dispatched Freyr's childhood friend Skirnir to court the giant-maid but she openly disdained the young harvest god. In the end, Skirnir convinced her to accept the proposal and she agreed to meet Freyr nine nights hence. In his usual manner, Saxo retells this myth as history. In Book V of his history, Saxo says that the boy-king Frodi is compelled to woo the daughter of the King of the Huns. He sends Gotvara and her sons the Greps, along with her husband Vestmar, as ambassadors to the Huns. Frodi purchases their services with a costly necklace. Gotvara accompanies her husband and her sons to woo the maid, who like Gerd, openly disdains her suitor. And like Gerd, she is persuaded to wed the boy-king. While it is true that the two stories are merely reminiscent of each other, it is significant that Frodi's wife, like Freyr's is drawn from the far east. In the mythology, Gerd is a native of Jotunheim which lies east of Midgard, while in Saxo's tale, Frodi's wife is the daughter of the King of the Huns. The Huns are a fierce historic people living east of the Germanic tribes; so in this tale and elsewhere in the first nine books of Saxo's history, the Huns naturally represent the mythic Jotuns. Recall too that the skald who places Freyr in an "utrost" designates him as "Beli's enemy." The name Beli which means "the howler" clearly suggests a giant, which immediately reminds of the manner in which Frodi's captors greet Erik and Roller, "with blood-curdling cries like howling wolves."
In the mythology, Skirnir brings costly treasures to bribe the bride-- eleven gold apples, the ring Draupnir, and Freyr's magnificent sword-- while in Saxo's tale, Frodi must bribe the envoys themselves with a costly necklace. If Frodi were Freyr, and his beautiful sister Gunvara were Freyja, then a necklace would have been a logical choice for Saxo, since Freyja wears the most precious of female ornaments, Brisingsamen. Saxo describes this ornament in detail, and here we may have preserved the only detailed description of Freyja's necklace:
"The king recognized that a bribe was needed and offered a gold necklace as the ambassador's fee. This necklace had engraved studs linked together and miniatures of royalty set between, which could be drawn together and separated by pulling a thread inside; more of a luxurious trinket than a useful article" (105)
Saxo's story of Frodi and Gunvara's captivity among the Grep brothers, also illuminates the skaldic reference to poetry as "the yeast-stream of Syr's snow-covered monsters (greppar)." In Saxo's tale, the oldest of the Greps sought to love the king's sister, Gunvara, and aiming to get revenge for having been rejected, he demanded the right to evaluate her many suitors, severing their heads then mounting them outside of her quarters for all new comers to see. From this dire captivity, Gunvara the Fair, in whom we recognize the young Freyja is rescued by a man of humble birth named Erik. He agrees to enter the company of Frodi and Gunvara, only after his brother Roller, "a keen traveler and an investigator of the unfamiliar, swore to gain the companionship of Frodi" (128). After Roller's mother -- Erik's stepmother--who possesses a "supernatural power, for she wielded within her a divine force, being in a way, an associate of the gods" (130) endows them with protective powers, they outwit the sentinel sorcerer and his men, drowning them, and thus insuring, by this bold and dangerous act, that their reputation precedes him into Frodi's kingdom. Once there, Erik is met by the oldest Grep, whom Erik bests in a war of words. Verbally shamed and defeated, Grep enlists the aid of sorcerers to impede the advancing Erik and Roller. But Erik is cautious and with ease overcomes an ill omen laid before them. Erik and Roller soon enter the presence of Frodi, only to be met with "blood-curdling cries like howling wolves," as well as more cruel tricks and knavery. That evening at a feast, Erik first encounters the king's sister, Gunvara the Fair. As she offers him a drink from a large bowl, he takes the bowl and her extended hand and says:
"Didn't your generosity, noble sovereign, intend this as a present for me? Won't you agree to let me have what I am holding as a permanent gift?" The king thought that by 'the gift' he only meant the bowl and assented, but Erik drew then the girl to him as though she had been included in the donation."
Erik proceeds to defeat the family of giants who guard the king and his sister, first killing the Greps, then their father Vestmar, as well as defeating their mother Gotvara and in the process regaining "a massive necklace," which in this context can be none other than the precious Brisingsamen. In due time, Erik weds Gunvara and returns with her to his native Norway.
The presence of the three Greps insure us that this Gunvara, the most beautiful of women, is Freyja whom the skald Kormak referred to as the "Syr of the Greps." The fact that they are eloquent with words, naturally explains his kenning for poetry which is the "yeast-stream of Syr's Greps." Kormak designates the Greps as "snow-covered," further suggesting that they are giant folk. The presence of a distinguished necklace of importance to the story adds creditability to this identification. Thus Gunvara's brother can only be the Norse god Freyr, as his wedding to the daughter of the King of the Huns, a direct parallel to Freyr's own marriage, suggests. With the aid of the skalds, it seems we have stumbled on the first contact between Freyja and "the man called Odr."
In Book VII, Saxo provides us with more information in regard to Freyja and Odr. Here we find the tale of Otharus and Syritha, in which we immediately recognize the thinly disguised names Othar, Old Norse Odr, and Syr, a known byname of Freyja. In this story, Syritha has been carried away by a giant and Otharus seeks to free her. Fortunately, the details given by Saxo here are less of a historical nature, and more of a mythological nature, which would seem to indicate that this tale is closer to the actual myth than the previous tale of Gunvara and Erik. Of Syritha's plight, we are told:
"There was a giant who had the same intentions (to woo the girl), but when he discovered his attempts equally ineffective, he bribed a woman to become the maiden's attendant for a period and to secure her friendship. Eventually she found a cunning excuse for departing the palace and inveigled Syritha far from her father's house. Soon after the giant rushed on her and carried her off to a narrow den on a mountain ledge. Some are of the opinion that he assumed female shape, whereby he craftily lured the girl away from home and finished off as her kidnapper." (226)
This confirms the statement in Voluspa 25 that Freyja, "Od's maid," was "given to the giant race." At once, this account reminds us of the story of how Loki lured Idunn away from Asgard and into the hands of the giant Thjazi. While I am not suggesting that this is Saxo's account of that same tale, I am suggesting that the culprit here may also have been Loki. Saxo seems unsure whether Syritha was lured from her home by a hand maiden in league with the giant or by the giant himself, disguised in feminine form. In the mythology, Loki best fits this description. He is a giant, and is known to have assumed the shape of a female on more than one occasion. He has even borne children, and on at least one prior occasion he has lured a goddess away from Asgard and into giant hands. The use of the word "lopt" in Voluspa 25 seems to confirm this supposition. Modern commentators such as Ursula Dronke also see Loki's handy work present in this verse (although they interpret its meaning differently). Of this verse Ms. Dronke says: "Who had brought the gods to this pass? They looked around for a culprit. The poet gives the lightest of verbal touches to show the answer to their questions. The culprit was, as usual, their redeemer. If the air --lopt--was mixed with ruin --laevi blandit --who would be responsible but Loptr himself, Loki inn laevisi, connoisseur of disaster, expert in blending evil with the good things of the gods, whether it is their mead --blend ek theim sva meini mjod (Lokasenna 3) -- or their air."
Saxo describes Syritha as being in an unusual state, he tells us that "the creature in his attentions had bound back her hair into a tight knot so that the bunch of curls was held in a twisted mass, a tangled cluster that no one could unloose" and that her eyes were fixed in a blank stare-- "when a large crowd of suitors flocked to her because of her beauty, she could not be induced to look upon any of them." These details are probably of mythological significance.
The hair of a fertility goddess, such as Freyja is, may well have been looked upon as a fertility symbol in itself. In the myth regarding Sif's hair, we are told she had golden locks that Loki sheered off. Sif's husband, Thor, compels Loki to restore his wife's golden hair, and, under duress, Loki does. On a symbolic level, Sif's hair represents the golden fields of grain, which are cut every harvest, only to regrow again. Freyja's hair may have had similar significance. We are told that the giant tangled it and pressed it into a hardened mass against her head. When we recognize that the giants represent the powers of frost, it is likely that the tangled mass of hair on the head of a fertility goddess may represent plant life, tangled and frozen beneath the drifts of snow. This may also shed light on Freyja's byname Horn, for the horns of animals are merely hardened masses of hair.
That Syritha's fixed gaze is probably an original part of the Freyja myth, we have some confirmation in the poem Fjolvinsmal. There a hero named Svipdag comes to a well-fortified castle to claim his fated bride Menglad. When he first arrives she is in a dreamy condition sitting on a pedestal surrounded by attendants. In strophe 35, Svipdag asks "What is that mount called on which I see the splendid bride sitting "thruma." thruma means "to remain quietly." And so she remains until the watchman at the gate calls her to meet Svipdag, to whom she is already betrothed. In strophe 42, Fjolsvidr, the watchman at the gate, informs him "There is no man who may sleep in Menglad's soft embrace, except only Svipdag; to him the sun-bright maid is for wife betrothed," and in strophe 46, she demands of him "I must have a token if I was betrothed to thee." The poet informs us that Menglad is a goddess and one of the highest. Eight attendants sit at her feet, indicating that they are subordinate to her, among them is Eir, the goddess of healing, and an attendant of Frigg (Gylfaginning 35). Svipdag recognizes them as goddesses and asks, "Do they deliver those that worship them when necessary?" (str. 40) and he is told "If they are given offerings at their altar every summer, no evil so severe can happen to the sons of men that these maids cannot deliver them from." Menglad is clearly a goddess partial to women, and to whom other goddesses are subordinate. The name Menglad itself means the "Rejoicing in ornaments," or literally "necklace-glad," and is surely appropriate as an epithet of the possessor of Brisingsa-men, the best of feminine ornaments, and mother of the goddesses Hnoss (treasure) and Gersemi (jewel). As early as 1835, the German mythologist Jakob Grimm identifies her with Freyja (Deutsche Mythologi, Vol. 4, ch. 26). Modern commentators such as Kevin Crossley-Holland have suggested the same (see the commentary on Myth 23 in the appendix of The Norse Myths, 1980).
Nothing in the poem is called by its common name, but the poet provides clever clues so that we know of what he speaks. The poet subtly informs us that this fortress is Asgard itself. The watch at the gate is named Fjolsvidr, a byname of Odin according to Grimnismal 47. His watch dogs are named Gifr and Geri, while Odin's are called Geri and Freki (Grimnismal 19). These dogs perform their duties in connection with eleven residents of the citadel called "vardir," watchers, a word used to designate the gods. Heimdall himself is called "vordr goda," the ward of the gods, and Hyndluljod 29 informs us that the Aesir are eleven in number after Balder's death. These eleven watchers remain vigilant "until the powers perish" (str. 15) and the walls of the castle itself shall stand "as long as the world lasts" (str. 15). Inside the citadel, Svipdag sees the branches of "Mimir's Tree, who limbs shade every land." There can be no doubt this is Asgard. Sadly however this poem is widely interpreted as the tale of a human hero wooing a giant-bride and is thus often omitted from modern translations of the Poetic Edda. In truth, it is the final episode in the saga of the courtship and marriage of Freyja and the man called Odr.
Menglad in the poem Fjolsvinsmal sits quietly until her beloved comes for her, while Syritha, in Saxo's history, cannot even be induced to look at Otharus. Saxo explains that she is simply demure and willful, but in mythological terms, it appears that Freyja was under some sort of spell in which her gaze was fixed, and like a fairy tale, it could only be broken by true love's kiss. Odr is discouraged in his attempt to rescue her from giants as she will not even acknowledge him. First Otharus slays the giant who kidnaps her and carries her away, but, soon he considers her ungrateful, as he is unable to win her affections. Unwilling to "use the girl lustfully" (226), he abandons her in the land of the giants. Wandering blindly, she soon comes upon the house of a giantess where she is set to tending goats. Otharus returns and frees her again, but frustrated in his attempts to move her motionless gaze, he returns to his men and sails for home, leaving Syritha to wander alone again in giantland. Then something remarkable happens.
Wandering alone in mountainous terrain, Syritha, by chance, finds her way to Otharus' house before he does. When last they parted, Otharus set sail for home, while Syritha was left alone on foot, and that she should come before him to his own home is truly remarkable. Peter Fisher translates these lines in Saxo's text as "After Syritha had wandered far and wide as before over the rocky landscape, she stumbled in her wanderings on Ebbi's (Otharus' father's) house, where ashamed of her threadbare, needy condition, she made out that she was the child of paupers."
Here the Fisher translation fails us. Thus we must turn to another more exact translation, to uncover the meaning behind this curious passage, one that has the endorsement of Fisher himself. The modern translation of Peter Fisher is highly readable, as it well should be considering the translator's aim which is "readability, as far as this can be consistent with preserving (Saxo's) meaning and tone." But as he notes, Saxo's Latin "tends often to be torturous and repetitive, so that long involved periods must frequently be broken up into two or three English sentences." Fisher also renders obscure words and phrases into more exact diction, sometimes losing the deliberate ambiguity that masks Saxo's historical accounts of purely mythic events. In other words, Fisher tends to opt for an exact description in places where Saxo was purposely ambiguous, since Saxo was sometimes at a loss to describe mythical happenings in realistic historical terms. To date, there has been only one other English translation of Saxo's work, that of Oliver Elton. Peter Fisher himself referred to Elton's translation when preparing his own, and in the introduction of the Fisher text, Hilda Davidson notes that the English edition of Oliver Elton is "an invaluable work to which students of Norse literature owe much." Thus I have chosen, in this instance, to refer to the text of Oliver Elton, hoping to shed light on this remarkable occurrence.
Elton renders the same passage above somewhat differently. Please note he has chosen to translate Syritha as the Old Norse Sigrid, which has no bearing on the meaning of the text:
Sigrid, in her old fashion, ran far away over the rocks, and chanced to stray in her wanderings to the abode of Ebb; where ashamed of her nakedness and distress, she pretended to be the daughter of paupers.
The expression, "in her old fashion," she "ran over the rocks," is striking. Viktor Rydberg, in the English translation of Rasmus Anderson, has rendered this same line, "in a manner which sometimes happened in antiquity, she hastened far away down the rocks." It appears that Saxo is referring to something obscurely here that he cannot explain in a historical manner. But one thing is certain, Syritha rushed far and away over the mountains quicker than Otharus could return home by ship. It is as if she flew, and perhaps indeed she did, when we recall that Freyja owned a dress of falcon feathers with which she could fly. Loki uses it upon two occasions himself when he travels to the land of the giants, once to Geirrod's and once to Thrym's, and each time it is specifically said to belong to Freyja. Thus here, it is likely that Syritha, the "historical" Freyja assumed her falcon-guise and flew to the home of Otharus, the man destined to be her husband.
Once there, Otharus' mother (whom I suspect is actually his stepmother, as we know that Odr's mother Groa had died before this point) recognizes that Syritha, by her features and bearing, is of noble birth and welcomes her into their home as a noble guest. Upon his return, Otharus recognizes her immediately, but still he cannot raise her downcast eyes. Saxo says she buried her face in her robe. On seeing this, Otharus seeks to test her love and arranges a false wedding with one of the girl's of his household hoping to provoke jealousy in Syritha. Syritha is appointed a bridesmaid and asked to light the way to the bridal chamber. She has no emotional reaction whatsoever, until the candle burns down and scorches her hand. The flames do not hurt her, but when Otharus takes her hand, their eyes meet and the spell is broken. As Saxo says "strait away the pretended marriage became a real one and she ascended the nuptial bed as his bride." Symbolically, fire breaks the spell cast on her by the frost-giants.
Although Saxo tells us that Otharus and Syritha "ascended the nuptial bed," it is likely that she still remained chaste. Previously, Saxo emphasizes that Syritha had remained chaste while in the land of the giants, and after her marriage, Saxo says that her father Sivald, who can only be Njord in this context, objected to the marriage. As we find Freyja sitting quietly in Asgard, as the beautiful Menglad, awaiting her husband, it is likely that Freyja was again whisked away, perhaps by her father before the marriage could be consummated. The episode in Fjolsvinsmal naturally completes the story. There we are informed that before Svipdag (Odr) can gain admission to Asgard, he must bring with him a sword, dangerous to the gods., the quest for which forms another major part of his history. That they have met before is made clear by the words of Menglad, who says: "Now that is come to pass which I have hoped, that you, dear youth, have come again to my hall" (str. 50). The beginning of the poem indicates that Svipdag has not been there before, thus she and her betrothed must have met while she resided somewhere other than Asgard.
In conclusion, let me state that the tales of Gunvara, Syritha, and Menglad as recorded in Saxo Gramaticus' History and in the Edda, dovetail one another to form a complete saga relating the first encounter of Freyja and the man called Odr. Stripped of detail, the key points of this important myth are:
At the time when the primeval artists became enemies of the gods, when Loki set the Sons of Ivaldi against the dwarves Brokk and Sindri, the Sons of Ivaldi become offended and leave the company of the gods in anger. This spells disaster for the young fertility god Frey who was being raised in Alfheim, home of the Sons of Ivaldi. They turn their young charge over to the powers of frost. Likewise, Freyr's sister, Freyja is lured away from Asgard and into the hands of giants. There they remain in captivity, likely under the influence of magic which keeps them in a cold and dreamy state, until they can be liberated.
Salvation ironically comes from the same quarter which betrayed them, namely the elves. The wife of Ivaldi's son, Egil, sends her son Ull (Saxo's Roller) , and her stepson Odr out to rescue the fertility gods. Odr is reluctant to go, but after obtaining songs of protection from his dead mother, the famous sorceress Groa, who once attempted to charm a piece of hone out of Thor's head, Odr agrees to go.
Odr and Ull face a perilous journey across the Elivagar, and after many trials, come into the company of the captive Freyr and Freyja. The giants have established a mock court with Freyr and Freyja as their king and queen. The giants particularly wish to defile Freyja, but for some reason she remains pure. Ull and Odr eventually set them free and murder the giants.
Odr and Freyja wander alone in the land of giants. Freyr likely went home with Ull, but this is uncertain. Odr however abandons Freyja as she cannot be made to look at him. He assumes it is willful on her part and leaves her alone in Jotunheim, and heads for home. Miraculously, she arrives at his home even before he does. There he arranges a pretended marriage in order to test her true affections, and during the ceremony, fire weakens the spell she is under and their eyes meet. Freyja and Odr are then wed.
Freyja returns to Asgard, still under the influence of the spell. She eagerly awaits Odr's arrival. From suggestions in the poem Fjolsvinsmal, we learn that he must acquire a dangerous sword, forged by the sons of Ivaldi for the purpose of destroying the gods, and bring it to Asgard as the price of the bride. Other Eddiac poems confirm this information. Having brought the sword with him to Asgard, the gates themselves open for him, and Freyja rushes to meet her beloved. She expresses her desire to live with him in happiness forever, but unfortunately, this is not fated to be.
In the next part of this series, I shall examine the saga of Odr's quest for the sword in greater detail, and examine what all the myths have to say regarding Odr and his character. In the third and final installment, I shall reconstruct the myth of how Freyja and Odr became separated, and how Freyja wandered the worlds in search of him, weeping tears of gold.
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