Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Thor vs. Odin in the Hárbarðsljóð (II)

Greybeard mocks ThorOkay, first of all, the Hárbarðsljóð might be the greatest poem ever written in the entirety of all poetry. Second of all, did this exchange really just happen?* (And you wonder why I say Odin doesn't ever use his Rune Magic Superpowers!)
Harbarth spake:
30. "Eastward I was, | and spake with a certain one,
I played with the linen-white maid, | and met her by stealth;
I gladdened the gold-decked one, | and she granted me joy."
Thor spake:
31. "Full fair was thy woman-finding."
Harbarth spake:
32. "Thy help did I need then, Thor, | to hold the white maid fast."
Thor spake:
33. "Gladly, had I been there, | my help to thee had been given."
Really Odin? Really, you just said you could have used Thor's help to hold the woman down? My friend, do you not remember Superpower numbers 16 and 17?! You can win the affection of any woman with runic magic! You don't need force! The fact that Thor is ALL OVER THAT makes me laugh, too. This is an exchange where you really feel like these are just two guys shouting about their conquests across a body of water talking about their conquests in a bar.
Odin: Yeah, I went out to Easttown and hooked up with this chick -- she was really wild in bed, man. It was crazy.
Thor: You let me know next time you hook up, I'll totally pick up the slack if she's too much for you to handle. Har Har.
But of course the camaraderie can't last. This is a flyting poem! And now things start getting downright mean:
  Harbarth spake:
48. "Sif has a lover at home, | and him shouldst thou meet;
More fitting it were | on him to put forth thy strength."
If Odin is testing Thor's character (he's already accused him of taking bribes to look the other way against the Aesir, told him his mother is dead, accused him of cowardice in the face of his enemies, and now this suggestion of his wife's infidelity**), he's hitting all the major notes. And in Thor's response we can see his loyalty to those he loves. But he does sound kind of distressed, if you ask me:
49. "Thy tongue still makes thee say | what seems most ill to me,
Thou witless man! Thou liest, I ween."
In the end, Odin refuses Thor passage across the water and Thor has to find the long way home with only Odin's insults and accusations for company. I have to wonder though -- if Thor had held his temper and given back as good as he got, would Odin have revealed himself and given Thor a lift?

More than ever, I think this was a test. And more than ever, I think Thor failed. Not only that, but this whole poem only reinforces my thoughts about Loki and Thor's relationship. I wonder how much Thor lived in Baldur's shadow -- sure he was powerful, and sure the PEOPLE loved him, but I'm not sure we see that love and support for Thor inside the Aesir family dynamic.
Related:  Thor vs. Odin (I)

*If you're wondering, I am in fact reading this poem for the first time, and these blogposts are essentially my "real time" responses to the text. Most entertaining Norse Myth ever, you guys.

**Loki, in the Lokasenna, claims that Sif took him to bed as her lover, also. Someday I'm going to have to revisit the character of Sif blogpost I wrote a while back to take this additional source into account. There are also two mentions of Thjalfi in this poem, where he's running around with Thor on various adventures for future blogpost fun!


  1. I hate to think ill of the Mighty Odin, but I think that the "holding down" part might mean she was not that willing.

    1. I agree -- which makes no sense, because of the aforementioned runic super powers! It just boggles my mind. But Odin is... an odd character. The more I read of him, the less I really trust him at all, and the more I think his relationship with Loki makes more sense than I'm entirely comfortable with.

  2. Best name ever of a poem too, I might add. Now if I could only figure out how to say it without swallowing my tongue.

    1. That's Old Norse/Old Icelandic/Modern Icelandic for you -- if you aren't swallowing your tongue, you're doing it wrong! And the ð is always a toss-up for me, whether I'm supposed to be going with a "th" or "d" sound.

  3. What threw me off was the part before. That part sounds as you described harland saying thor could have held her down and thors all hell yes.

    But the part right before that " I gladdened the gold-decked one, | and she granted me joy."

    Makes it sound like she was into it.. its awkward.

    Is that talking about rape, a thressome some missing context. It also says met by stealth ... is that ssying took by surprise or they met in secret ?

    1. It's Very awkward for a modern audience, absolutely. I came back to this part of the poem a few years ago, but to me, it definitely read as forceful rape of the white-linen maid (the stealth could have been either behind the back of her guardian or surprising her altogether), even if he did have a more mutually gratifying experience with the golden one. It sounds like he is recounting multiple experiences to impress Thor and put him to shame. Taking women both willing and unwilling.

      If we take the context of this poem into account--a flyting poem likely written post-Christianity, with the intent to undermine Thor particularly as a god worthy of worship--then it makes a little bit more sense to me that we'd have this kind of interaction. It makes Thor over into a witless brute. And maybe there was a time when he WAS a brute (or at least was perceived as one)--I don't think the gods are unchanging--but that isn't the Thor I know, now, a god of loyalty, a guardian to those beneath the heel of our society.

      Let me find the link to my return to this poem and see if it is at all helpful, additionally.

    2. here is that later reflection: https://blog.amaliadillin.com/2018/09/further-reflections-on-harbarsljo.html


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