Iðunn’s abduction: kenningar and heiti  in Haustlöng stanzas 2-13


(Þjóðólfr úr Hvíni (~ 855-930))


Plan: Introduction

1. kenningar and their context in stanzas 2-13

2. List of kenningar and the information they bring forth 

3. Supplement: “Þjazi helps understanding Hræsvelgr 





This poem describes the myth of Iðunn’ abduction in stanza 2 to stanza 13. She is the guardian of the golden apples that are the ‘shapings’ (a rendering of  plural of Old Norse sköp meaning ‘shaped’), that ensure a long life to the ancient Scandinavian gods, named Æsir in Old Norse. These gods have the striking feature of being submitted to fate. Thus, when their fate will be completed, they will die as any other component of our universe. It nevertheless seems that the deciders of destinies, the three Norns, did not impose ageing to the Æsir and they thus have been able to work out some magic shapings (sköp) by which they are able to endlessly delay their ageing. These shapings are golden apples and elf-goddess Iðunn, wife of the god of poetry, Bragi, is in charge to sustain their magic. In order to counter these shapings, a powerful giant called Þiazi will force Loki to deliver to him Iðunn and her magic, and he then installs her in giants’ residence. The gods indeed start to age and they threaten Loki of death if they do not recover both Iðunn and her magic. Loki succeeds in recovering Iðunn, and Þiazi who at once started to chase them, is killed thanks to a trick devised by the Æsir.

The story told by these Haustlöng stanzas is well-known, since Snorri Sturluson minutely described it in the first chapter of his Skáldskaparmál. This poem abounds in kenningar difficult to interpret because they refer to a large amount of lore, that has obviously been well-known to an audience living at the beginning of the 10th century. These stanzas have been quoted by Snorri Sturluson and Faulkes’ translation (1987, p. 86-88, Skáldskaparmál ch. 22) of Snorri’s Edda provides a translation[1]. The text below presents the kenningar in their context, followed by a commented  list of them. These kenningar are interesting by the particular light they throw on the major characters of the poem.




1. The context of the kenningar in stanzas 2-13


In this section, kenningar are written as they appear in the text, not in their canonical  shape


The Old Norse (ON) version given below is due to Koch, found as “unpublished” though available, in Skaldic base at http://www.abdn.ac.uk/skaldic/db.php?id=1438&if=default&table=text (beware, this address is virus ridden)

In the following, words of same hue AND underlining belong to the same kenning.


Stanza 2 (the only translated stanza in this presentation)


Koch’s ON version



Segjöndum fló sagna

snótar ulfr at móti

í gemlis ham gǫmlum

glammi ó fyr –skǫmmu;







settisk ǫrn, þars æsir,

ár (Gefnar) mat (or mar) bôru

(vasa byrgi-Týr bjarga

bleyði vændr) á seyði

Almost literal translation facing the VN version



Towards the tellers, flew (took his flight), of sagas

of the lady the wolf, to meet,

in, of an old eagle, the shape among eagles

noisily not- little-time-ago;

(Slightly changing the word order)

Towards the tellers of sagas, it flew

the wolf of the lady, to meet them,

in the shape of an old eagle among eagles

noisily, long ago.


sat down the eagle, where to Æsir,

of harvest-Gefjon meat/horse had installed.


(was the Týr fence of the chasms

fear lessened) on the hearth.

(Slightly changing the word order, and “fear lessened” understood as “insensitive to fear”)

The eagle sat down where to Æsir

had installed the meat/horse of harvest Gefjon on the hearth.

(the fence-Týr of the fells

was insensitive to fear)

Prose interpretation





The wolf of the lady flew, long ago, to the meeting of the tellers of sagas where they were cooking an ox, in the shape of an immensely old eagle.











The eagle sat down where to Æsir had installed the ox on the hearth in order to cook it.

 The giant who was going to imprison Iðunn was insensitive to fear.





Comments on stanza 2 vocabulary


 - tellers of sagas = those who transmit knowledge, the Æsir.


- fló: the three verbs flýja, to flee, and flá, to fly (to strip), fljúga, to fly (to take flight) can have the same preterit fló.


- the wolf of the lady = Þjazi.


- hamr, masc. plur. hamir, the skin, the form, can make its singular dative in ham instead of traditional hami.

- ó fyr –skǫmmu: ó is a negation; fyr = before, ahead, (here, followed by a dative); skǫmmu is the dative of adjective skammr = brief, short.


- vændr, here undoubtedly an irregular form of the last participle of vana, to decrease. Vandr may mean decreased’, and being “fear decreased” qualifies either “someone who is without fear” or someone who not very courageous since he approaches the Æsir in such a disguise. In any case, the other possible meanings of vændr are also ambiguous regarding Þjazi’s courage.


- Gefjon’s ‘meat’ or horse alludes to Gefjon’s myth (see http://www.nordic-life.org/nmh/GylfiGefjonTale.pdf ). It is either an ox or its flesh, which amounts to the same here. Its abundance (ár) stresses that it is an enormous ox.


- a “Týr of the fells” (byrgi-Týr bjarga) is a giant and he “builds a fence” around Iðunn and thus this kenning announces Þjazi’s future actions. This wink to the reader shows that Þjóðólfr is addressing an audience quite aware of the myth and only the rhythm of his poetry and its kenningar will be able to surprise them and attract their interest.



Kenningar of stanza 2


- saga tellers (Segjöndum sagna)= the Æsir who maintain the tradition while telling their adventures to mankind, also called ‘myths’.


- wolf/monster of the lady  (snótar ulfr) = the giant Þjazi who carries Iðunn away as a wolf seizes his prey.


- in the shape of an old eagle among eagles  (í gemlis ham gǫmlum), where ‘an old eagle among eagles’ points at the oldest eagle.


- the abundance of the meat (or horse) of Gefjon (ár Gefnar mat) is an ox that will become a topic of conflict between Þjazi and the Æsir and will enable Þjazi to force Loki to betray the Æsir.

 - the fence-Týr of the cliffs (byrgi-Týr bjarga) = the giant Þjazi who will retain Iðunn captive in Giant-country, a country of cliffs.



Stanza 3


(Stanza 2 only is translated. We will provide summaries of the stanzas that indicate the context in which the kenningar are stated).


The parts underlined here are kenningar or a single word carrying the meaning of another word (i. e. one word metaphors called heiti).

 The ‘technical notes’ explaining my choices are intended to the readers interested in the Norse language.



The gods do not manage to bone the decoy-reindeer, so that the adorner helmet-hooded of the chains says that there is some fraud here. The very-wise seagull of the large wave of the death-caught ones spoke from the ancient tree - the friend of Hænir did not like it.


Tormiðluðr vas tívum 

tálhreinn meðal beina; 

hvat kvað hapta snytrir 

hjalmfaldinn því valda; 

margspakr of nam mæla 

már valkastar báru 

(vasat Hœnis vinr hánum 

hollr) af fornum þolli.           



Kenningar and descriptions


- ‘decoy-reindeer’ (tál-hreinn = bait- reindeer) is the ox that will be used to trap Loki.

 -‘wise-adorner-farmer god helmet-hooded-of-the-chains (snytrir hapta hjalm-faldinn) (Óðinn)’. The polysemic Norse word snytrir, rendered here by ‘adorner’ stands for an artist who decorates places and it describes also a tidy farmer or craftsman. This word is also linked to the adjective snotr, meaning ‘wise’. These meanings are given in Lex. Poet. only (thus in Latin). The word hapt (or haft) means a chaining device and means also ‘the gods’. The helmet-hooded-of-the-chains (snytrir hapta hjalm-faldinn) points at a warrior god, here Óðinn. This kenning provides us two images associated with Óðinn: one, very well known, is the one of a warrior; the other, almost ignored, is the one of a wise and tidy craftsman or farmer.


- ‘very-wise seagull of the wave of the ‘caught’ by death’ (margspakr már báru val-kastar). The very-wise gull is Þjazi in the form of an eagle. The wave of the people caught by death is the moving crowd of the dead ones. We will find further this image of a crowd of corpses evoking a liquid mass.


- the ancient tree (fornum þolli) = Yggdrasill which is the tree par excellence of Scandinavian mythology. Note that Þjazi is said to be located in Yggdrasill while he speaks, which hints at Hræsvelgr, the eagle perched at Yggdrasill’s top.


- the friend of Hænir (Hœnis vinr) could as well be Óðinn as Loki. The following will show us that it designates Loki who hates this very-wise seagull.



Stanza 4



The cliffs wolf/monster requires of Meili of the light foot to serve a share of the bait-reindeer to him. The friend of the Æsir raven had to blow the fire. The battle-greedy whale wind divinity landed near the gods’ safeguard.


Fjallgylðir bað fyllar 

fet-Meila sér deila 

(hlaut) af helgum skutli 

(hrafnásar vinr blása); 

ving-rǫgnir lét vagna 

vígfrekr ofan sígask, 

þars vélsparir váru 

varnendr goða farnir.



Kenningar and descriptions


- cliffs wolf/monster (Fjallgylðir) = Þiazi. This is a very traditional kenning to designate a giant.



- Meili of the light foot (fet-Meila). Mieli is one of Óðinn’s sons. He is called ‘Þórr’s brother’ elsewhere but without any more details. Although Hœnir is not Óðinn’s son, the context suggests to see here a kenning for Hœnir, since Loki ‘still less’ is an Óðinn’s son.


- friend of the Æsir raven (hrafnásar vinr) = Óðinn’s friend = Loki. In these ancient times, Óðinn and Loki were certainly still friends as long as they have been blood brothers. Note that the two kenningar could be read reverse by making of Loki a ‘Meili of the light foot’ and of Hœnir ‘the friend of the Æsir raven’. That would hardly change the meaning of the poem.


- the divinity of the wind (vind-rögnir) is a double kenning. This is Hræsvelgr, the eagle perched on the top of Yggdrasill, whose name means “corpse swallower” and who creates the winds while beating his wings. Another interpretation is possible because the name Vinþórr is known to speak of Þórr about to fight. Both assumptions point at Þiazi. It is useful to meet Hræsvelgr as a heiti for Þiazi, revealing unknown and deep links between the two beings.


- the complete kenning is “vígfrekr vind-vagna rögnir” = battle-greedy wind-whale divinity, which describes a vind vagna rögnir, that is an enormous divine eagle, correctly describing Hræsvelgr.


- safeguard of the gods (varnendr  goða): the three Æsir participating in this adventure or Óðinn. Note the irony of this kenning since they will not be able to prevent Iðunn’s abduction and will rather become the gods’ Achilles heel.



Stanza 5




The good-looking and pleasant Master of the ground asked Farbauti’s son to cut out for the free men the whale of springtime creaking belts. The Æsir’s tricky disturbing one laid on the table four shares.


Fljótt bað foldar dróttinn

Fárbauta mög várar

þekkiligr með þegnum

þrymseilar hval deila.

En af breiðu bjóði

bragvíss at þat lagði

ósvífrandi ása

upp þjórhluti fjóra



Kenningar and descriptions


- good-looking and pleasant Master of the ground (dróttinn foldar þekkiligr): Óðinn.


- Farbauti’s son (Fárbauta mǫg) is Loki, a traditional kenning.


- free men (þegnum dat. plur.) : the gods. A classical metaphor, when a human person is described, is to give him/her the name of a god or a goddess. Even giant Þjazi is called Týr in stanza 2. Here we meet an example of the opposite where the gods are dubbed as “free men.”


- whale of the belts squeaking at spring (Hval þrymseilar vára). The context says that this complex kenning indicates the same ox as above. Authors do not agree on the meaning of this kenning. Here is my proposal: It is obviously a large animal (‘whale’) which is described as fastened to heavy loads it has to pull. At springtime, oxen are put to work. Leather belt straps emits characteristic crackings well-known to anyone who has carried loads fastened by leather straps.


- the tricky one disturbing the Æsir (bragðvíss ósvífrandi ása).: Who better than Loki can be both tricky and disturbing to the Æsir?



Stanza 6




Wildly famished Mörnir’s father gobbled the bear of the tree-roots yoke furiously and the deep minded guardian-Týr of the prey violently struck the monster between its shoulders with a stick.

(Þiazi furiously devoured the ox and (supposedly) wise Loki violently struck him between the shoulders with a stick.)

Ok slíðrliga síðan 

svangr (vas þat fyr lǫngu) 

át af eikirótum 

okbjǫrn faðir Marnar, 

áðr djúphugaðr dræpi 

dolg ballastan vallar 

hirði-Týr meðal herða 

herfangs ofan stǫngu.


Kenningar and descriptions


- slíðrliga svangr faðir Marnar = wildly famished father of Mörnir i.e. Þjazi whose voracity is underlined here. In Þórsdrápa 7 Eysteinn Björnsson’s translation (https://notendur.hi.is//~eybjorn/ugm/thorsd00.html ) Þórr is “þverrir barna mörnar” = a diminisher of Mörn’s children.


- okbjörn eiki-rótum = yoke-bear of oakwood roots= bear of the oaktree-roots yoke. We note Þjóðólfr attributes quite complex kenningar to this ox, though it is a very secondary character.


- dólgr = monster, a word pointing at Þjazi throughout this poem.


- djúphugaðr hirði-Týr herfangs = deepminded (wise) guard-god of the preyi.e. the deep minded god, guardian of the prey, what Loki is supposed to be. He keeps on eye on the ox, the prey, but to qualify him as being ‘deep minded’ appears quite ironic here.



Stanza 7




All the gods could observe that the cargo of Sigyn’s arms remained stuck to the stick and to the foster father of the ski goddess .The stick was stuck to the Giant-country ghost as well as the hands of Hœnir’s friend.


Þá varð fastr við fóstra 

farmr Sigvinjar arma, 

sás ǫll regin eygja, 

ǫndurgoðs, í bǫndum; 

loddi rô við ramman 

reimuð Jǫtunheima, 

en holls vinar Hœnis 

hendr við stangar enda.


Kenningar and descriptions


- cargo of Sigyn’s arms  (farm Sigvinjar arma): Sigyn is Loki’s wife and the ‘cargo of her arms’ is Loki.


- foster-father of the ski goddess (fóstra öndurgoðs): goddess of the ski = Skaði, a giantess. Her foster father is Þjazi.


- Giant-country ghost (reimuð  Jǫtunheima) is Þjazi. This kenning is particularly striking, it speaks of Þjazi as if he was dead.


- the context tells that ‘Hœnir’s friend’ (vinr Hœnis) is stuck to the stick, thus the kenning points at Loki.



Stanza 8




The bloody bird [or, ‘sweating’] flew a long time with the learned god, a good catch. The heavy airy one and Þórr’s ‘over’-friend was near to dislocate. The father of the wolf had to beg from Miðjung’s friendly companion.

 (Þjazi, with his good catch, flew a long time with Loki, so that Loki was ready to dislocate. Loki was thus forced to beg peace from Þjazi.)


Fló með fróðgum tívi 

fangsæll of veg langan 

sveita nagr, svát slitna 

sundr ulfs faðir mundi; 

þá varð Þórs of-rúni 

(þungr vas Loptr of sprunginn) 

málunaut, hvat's mátti, 

miðjungs friðar biðja.



Kenningar and descriptions


- bird of blood (or of sweat) (nagr sveita) is Þjazi.


- learned god (or ‘the god of dubious sexuality and disorganized wisdom’) (fróðgum tívi) is Loki, described here in a way as ambiguous as himself. (“learned god” is the traditional translation which will be discussed in the Note below).


- a good catch (fangsæll) indicates Loki. A woman may also be called a ‘catch’ by her husband. This fangsæll carries also inuendos on the fact that Loki is a ‘catch’, ridiculously stuck to Þjazi as he his.


- father of the wolf  (ulfs faðir): the wolf is Fenrir, one of Loki’s sons.


- Þórr’s ‘over’-friend (Þórs of-rúni): a humorous way to call Loki as long as Þórr obviously hates him.


- þungr Loptr of sprungin = ‘heavy airy dislocated one (torn appart): still a way of making fun of Loki who is often called a “lofty one.” Here, his joints dislocate while being hung to the stick attached to Þjazi’s back.


- ‘málunaut miðjungs’ = Miðjungr’s dear friend. Miðjungr is the name of a giant and there exist several assumptions trying to interpret this two words (of them, the simplest: ‘the half-young person,’ points at Þjazi) though all fail to be a valid kenning. We miss some information about Miðjungr. The text states that Loki is forced to biðja friðar málunaut miðjunsg « beg peace from Miðjung’s dear friend. » In Norse, one begs something (genitive, here friðar) from someone (dative, here málunaut that actually is an accusative).


Note  on the kenning  með fróðgum tívi (s. 8, l. 1) usually translated as “with the learned god.” Preposition með can be followed by a dative or an accusative. The usual translation « wise deity » supposes that ‘fróðg’ is equivalent to fróðr and that tívi is an irregular dative, which normally reads tiva. Besides, Loki has just before been acting foolishly by striking an obviously combative supernatural being. He thus cannot be a ‘wise deity’, fróðr must here be ironical. All this is very puzzling and I suggest that Þjóðólfr’s intention has been to mock Loki by recalling that he is not a really masculine deity but a neutral one. He thus uses tívi as a neutral noun of the 2nd declension instead of the normal weak masculine, which provides a dative and an accusative tívi. This would enable us to read fróð-gum as ‘wise-fuss’ in the accusative, as if he, Loki, was carrying away, or ‘treating’ Þjazi [Since the one actually carrying is Þjazi, gumr should be a dative. The classical translation avoids this ‘error’ but an ironical meaning is quite possible]. In that case með (+ acc.) fróðgum tívi would take the meaning of : « with the sexually undefined deity wise in fuss, » which qualifies Loki to the point.

I kept above the classical translation because both are plausible and mine is more complex.



Stanza 9




The bush of Ymir’s family asked the fussy saga-stirrer to bring him the pain-alleviator maid who knows the Æsir’s herb of great age.

The girdle-thief of the gods’ Brising brought then the goddess of the brook of the source of harvest to the home of the rock-king.


Sér bað sagna hrœri 

sorgœran (or sorgeyran)  mey fœra, 

þás ellilyf ása, 

áttrunnr Hymis, kunni; 

Brunnakrs of kom bekkjar 

Brísings goða dísi 

girðiþjófr í garða

grjót-Níðaðar síðan.



Kenningar and descriptions


- bush of Ymir’s family (átt-runnr Hymis): Þjazi. The concept of family tree is familiar for us, and this ‘bush’ is a family tree. Remember that a tree, Yggdrasill, is an essential piece of Norse spirituality thus speaking of tree for a particular family would be quite grandiloquent, and a bush is enough!


- fussy saga-stirrer (sagna hrœri): Loki’s various fussy interventions force the Æsir into adventures that will become matter of sagas. ‘Creator of sagas’ would be too much laudatory for such a behaviour.

- Either ‘the pain alleviator maid’ (sorgeyran mey) is Iðunn, either ‘mad with grief fussy saga-stirrer’ (sagna hrœri sorgœran) is Loki. Þjóðólfr has been able to manage this double meaning in a subtle way that is explained a a few lines below.


- Æsir’s herb of old age (ellilyf ása): the word ‘herb’ is used here to summarize the magic ‘shapings’ (sköp) that make it possible to delay ageing. In Norse mythology, this herb is more usually represented as golden apples of which Iðunn is in charge, and that allows the Æsir to avoid aging, in spite of the fact that their destiny dooms them to die on one remote day, of unspecified date.

- girdle-thief of gods’ Brising (Brísings-goða dísi girðiþjófr). Loki has “stirred a saga” in order to humiliate Freyja who was undoubtedly very proud of her necklace Brisingamen, which displayed her female power. See a paganized version of the myth at http://www.nordic-life.org/nmh/BrisingamenTale.htm

- goddess of the brooks of the source of harvest (dísi bekkjar brunnakrs): harvests are regarded as a manifestation of earth magic, and this magic has a ‘source’ whose benefits are spread like brooks all over the country. Iðunn, often called a pleasure giver, as it happens also in this poem, is clearly described as a fertility goddess what brings her closer to Freyja and of Freyr - who is also the god of agricultural fertility.

- the house of the rock-king  ([í] garða grjóf-Níðaðar): the house of the stony king. The translation “home of king of the rock” would allude to Þjazi’s place of residence while this kenning evokes the house of someone who is ‘rocky’, that is without softness (see a grammatical explanation in Note 1). Iðunn’s fate, of which we can suppose that she will have to ‘provide delight’ the the giants, will be very painful. It is a constant of the Norse civilization to describe any woman’s feeling of horror if she has to closely mix with giants.


An explanation on the choice sorg-œran/eyran


The meaning of the word sorgœran has been disputed. At first, we know that œr is sometimes equivalent to eyr. This is illustrated by the name of mead of poetry container, spelled as óðreyrir or óðrœrir. One can thus read either sorg-œran, or sorg-eyran.

The sorg part means ‘pain’.


The usual choice of seeing in sorg-œran a masculine adjective in the accusative leads to build a kenning with this accusative case adjective associated to a dative substantive (hrœri). The kenning thus obtained perfectly fits the context of a Loki hanged to the staff stuck on Þjazi’s back.

In order to better use the grammar of the text, we will rather consider both of them as classical nominalization of an -a ending verb into an ‘–an’ ending substantive that are the same in the dative and the accusative. An example of such an operation is given by verb drottna (to lead) that does drottnan in its accusative and dative.

It then follows that sorgœran may equally well associated to the dative hrœri as to accusative (mey), where the form sorgœran is chosen in order to adapt to Loki’s context In the case of  mey, we obviously have to choose sorgeyran that does of Iðunn a ‘pain-alleviator’.


A few words on the history of sorgeyran


Finnur Jónsson’s volume A of “Den Norsk-Islandske Skjadedigtning, p. 18” (1912), gives the verbatim content of the manuscripts. Here, we see two possible forms “sorg eyra and “sorg eura. The form “sorgœran” appears only in volume B, showing that Finnur decided to relate this adjective to Loki.


Note 1 on grjót-Níðaðar:


Níðuðr (here in the genitive) is the name of a king who abducts and wounds ‘smith Völundr’. He is thus a symbol for a king whose ruthlessness will lead to disaster.. The words composed on grjót are never built by putting grjót in the genitive, which is usually regarded as an adjective-made substantive. Thus, the canonical meaning of ‘grjót-’something is stony-something.

Here, grjót-Níðaðar thus means ‘of the stony ruthless king, who forged himself his disastrous fate’.




Stanza 10




Dwellers of the sloping (or shiny) edges were not afflicted by the arrival of billows-swirl (or ‘protection provider’) coming from the South; Freyr’s whole family became old and gray; the ‘holly ones’ were rather ugly.


Urðut brattra barða 

byggvendr at þat hryggvir; 

þá vas með jǫtnum 

unnr nýkomin sunnan; 

gættusk allar áttir 

Ingvifreys at þingi 

(váru heldr) ok hárar 

(hamljót regin) gamlar.



Kenningar and descriptions


- Dwellers of the sloping (or shiny) edges (bjartra barða byggvendr). Sloping or shiny, edges are cliffs and calling the giants ‘cliff dwellers’ is a traditional kenning.

 - Swirls of the billow (or ‘protection provider’) (Ið - unnr). Þjóðólfr presents Iðunn’s name in such way that it becomes a kenning - með jötnum unn  - [unn is the accusative of unnr and, precisely, Iðunn is in the accusative case in this sentence] which he thus reads as iðu-unnr (vaves-swirl). The words með jötnum’, in the middle, nicely split this kenning in two parts.

De Vries’ etymological dictionary provides the following etymology: “= an action” followed by “unna = to offer, to love,” more probable but less in agreement with the aqueous kenning for Þjazi “wolf of the vave beachcomber of the corpses” met in the following stanza. Thus, Iðunn, a “swirl” is tightly associated to Þjazi, a “wave beachcomber.” This association hints at the fact that, once brought to Giantland, Iðunn will be integrated to this world and treated as a giantess is.

- the whole family of Freyr  (allar áttir Ingvifreys): Freyr’sclan, that is all of the Æsir.




Stanza 11




Until the wolf, beachcomber wave of the corpses (and wrecks) of Gefn, the beer waitress is found, and that the annoying servant and Gefn’s fraud spirit, Gefn, the beer waitress.

The angry leader spoke as follows: you will be excluded, Loki, except if, by trick, you bring back the famous maiden who increases love among the chains.


Unz hrynsæva hræva 

hund ǫlgefnar fundu 

leiðiþirr ok læva 

lund ǫlgefnar bundu; 

þú skalt véltr, nema, vélum, 

- vreiðr mælti svá - leiðir 

mun stœrandi mæra 

mey aptr, Loki, hapta.



Kenningar and descriptions


- The wolf of the wave beachcomber of the corpses of Gefn, the beer waitress (hund hrun-sæva hræva öl-Gefnar).

Gefn is a goddess name and Iðunn is said to provide pleasure. The “goddess provider of pleasure” is thus Iðunn. We know that “Iðunn’s wolf” is Þjazi and he is described as a “wave beachcomber of corpses and wrecks.” All this evokes a sea of corpses and wrecks, the waves of which  break under the influence of Þjazi. He is not a kind of universal killerbut rather a kind of universal undertaker’: He is in charge of carrying the corpses, whose waves break on the shores of Hel, somewhat similar to Charon in Greek mythology. He is called however here a wolf, which means also monsterand this makes of him a monstrous conveyor – similar to a inhuman machine - of corpses.

- the annoying servant and the spirit of fraud of Gefn, the beer waitress (leiðiþir ok læva lund öl-Gefnar). We have just seen that this last expression indicates Iðunn and the “annoying servant” who cooks the meat is Loki. Snorri tell us how he cheated on Iðunn’s freedom to deliver her to Þjazi.


-  the angry leader (vreiðr leiðir). Ingvifreyr is often believed to be this leader because his familybecame old as stated by stanza 10. Usually, Þórr is the god who gets angry and often threatens Loki of death, and Óðinn is the leader of all. Thjoðorlfr might be alluding to these gods, each of them being personaly angry.

- a famous maiden who increases gods’ love (mun stœrandi mæra mey hapta). The proper meaning of the word haft / hapt is the one of shackles. By metaphor, this word names the powers’, thus the gods. This way of speech stresses that the powerful onesfetter us, a still very modern opinion. Here, there is a possibility that the ‘powerful ones’ are the giants who fettered Iðunn for their own delight. In both cases, this kenning points at Iðunn who is always a source of pleasure provider for the powerful ones.


Stanza 12



I heard (to say) that the test of Hœnir’s mind (Loki) recovered by a reverse trick Æsir’s delights/games, he flied increasedby a hawk skin, and the vigorous evil-spirited king Mörn’s father (Þjazi) caused towards the hawk’s son (Loki) a gale of an eagle of the blades-play of the feathers (Hræsvelgr).

(Snorri tells us that he borrowed Freyja’s hawk-skin, by which is power has been ‘increased’.)


Heyrðak svá, þat (síðan 

sveik opt ásu leikum) 

hugreynandi Hœnis 

hauks fló bjalfa aukinn, 

ok lómhugaðr lagði 

leikblaðs reginn fjaðrar 

ern at ǫglis barni 

arnsúg faðir Marnar.



Kenningar and descriptions


- test of Hœnir’s mind (hugreynandi Hœnis). Loki and Hœnir are friendly in this poem and we cannot imagine a Loki who would not try even his friends.

- (Æsir’s) delights/games (leikum). In stanza 9, Loki ‘deprived’ the Æsir of their delights/games by delivering Iðunn to Þjazi. In stanza 12, he did the reverse, he ‘deprived back’ (sveik opt)  the Æsir (ásu: accusative plural of áss) of their games (leikum: dative plural – following the complex grammatical use of verb svíkja = to deprive someone [acc.] of something [dat.]) where ‘Æsir’s games’ points at Iðunn doings. Leikum mau be the dative plural of either  leika (she-companion, doll, a sexual game) or leikr  (game, sport). Both  makes of Íðunn a ‘game organizer’ or a woman delivering sexual games.  In a fascinating paper, “The Rights of the Player”, Terry Gunnell recalls the existence and the social importance of all these leikarar (entertainers, jugglers, singer, musicians) and he stresses that (after Christianization) the laws ` refused to give them a legal statute - just like in France until the 18th century. This can let to us suppose that Iðunn played such a role with the Æsir. In addition, all these leikarar had the ‘unbearable’ behavior of individualists scoffers, somewhat similarly to Loki. Thus the ‘impossible’ couple  Loki-Iðunn could well have played the role of a leikari couple in charge of  entertaining the gods, as the human leikarar did the powerful ones of our world.  I cannot develop this at once, but this will be the topic of a research to come.

We can thus add to the kenningar associated with Iðunn the expression ásu leikum subjected here to syntax with the verb svíkja and having the canonical form ásu leikr or ásu leika.

- ‘king, Mörn’s father’ (regin faðir Marnar), evil-spirited (lómhugaðr) is Þjazi.

- hawk’s son (ǫglis barni). Here Loki is in a hawk shape and the poet wishes to underline his small size in front of Þjazi’s enormous one. Obviously, Þjazi’s strength seems to dominate the Æsir and they are all frightened when seeing this immense monster swooping down on them.

- the eagle of the blades-play of the feathers (arnsúg leikblaðs fjaðrar). We can obviously see here a kenning for Þjazi but it has been just pointed at by long a kenning (king, etc.). It might then be sensible to see here a kenning for someone else. The eagle Hræsvelgr who “swallows the corpses” (as means his name) perched at the top of Yggdrasill is well-known for creating the winds and the storms with his wings. It uses its feathers as gigantic blades to generate storms. This last kenning would then specifically point at Hræsvelgr whose name becomes a heiti for Þjazi The two giants become somewhat identical at this point.



Stanza 13 (four first lines)


Summary (four first lines)


The ginnregin (holy powers) quickly start to burn shafts and wooden scraps and the son of Greip’s wooer is singed, here ends his travel.


Hófu skjótt, en skófu, 

skǫpt, ginnregin, brinna, 

en sonr biðils sviðnar 

(sveipr varð í fǫr) Greipar



Kenningar and descriptions


 - Ginnregin (ginn-regin). Regin means ‘divine powers’ and prefix ginn- qualifies what is holy, ‘valuable’. The Æsir are called here ginnreginwhile other poems seem to place the ginnregin higher than them in the divine hierarchy (as far as there is one).

 - Greip’s love son  (sonr biðils Greipar ): Þjazi. The kenningar related to Þjazi suggest that he belongs to the very first generations of giants. Independently, Greip is the name of a giantess in the poem called Þórr’s praise(Þórsdrápa) but we know nothing of the relationship between her and Þjazi’s father beloved one. They might be two different characters bearing the same name.


2. A list of kenningar and the hidden information they provide



In this section, kenningar are written under their canonical  shape, not as they appear in the text


This poem uses a considerable number of kenningar and our comments on them will reveal secret or unexpected aspects of the characters they name. The exact role of Giants in Norse mythology appears somewhat mysterious and illogical since their only role seems to survive and destroy. The kenningar in this poem will enable us to understand their role as collectors of crowds of anonymous corpses (and/or shipwreck).




He is called “Meili of the light foot” (fet-Meili) in s 4. I do not think that this kenning carries much significant knowledge. De Vries suggests, among others, to link this name to the substantive hani, a rooster, and to its song. Richard North’s eccentric assumption making of Hœnir a ‘coquerel’ in order to underline his supposed boasting feature is at best useless to understand the poem. The truth is that Hœnir appears somewhat neutral here but he never ‘sings’ out of place.




s. 3: (snytrir hjalm-faldinn hapta) helmet-hooded [Óðinn] adorner of the chains [the gods] ,

The nominative  snytrir can be a problem since C-V and deVries give only snyrtir (polisher, cleaner). LexPoet., however, gives also snytrir “who decorates, who adorns”. This word includes also the idea of a careful craftsman or a person who adorns his land as does a good gardener. Óðinn is already endowed with many functions in Scandinavian mythology but this function of careful leader who adorns his family, to the best of my knowledge, appears only in this poem. As long  as it has been created in a still harshly Heathen Scandinavia, it is difficult to see here a Christian influence.  Christ does also presents this aspect of ‘careful shepherd’ but he obviously protects some human ones and not other ‘un-existing’ gods.

Óðinn is also said to wear a helmet, which defines a warrior (or a she-warrior in Sigrdrífa’s case) and introduces a benevolent war leader who is friendly with his troops, as certainly were the many Scandinavian chieftains  who have been said to “waste gold” in order to highlight their generosity.


Hapt or aftr means shackle but it can also be any kind of binding device. It is here in the genitive plural. It is a traditional way to speak about the gods in general. This way of speech obviously underlines the ‘binding power’ of the gods.


s. 4: raven–Æsir (hrafnáss) is a classical kenning pointing at Óðinn.


s. 5: (þekkiligr dróttinn foldar) pleasant/beautiful Master of the earth.

Adjective þekkiligr means handsome and pleasing, it is in line 3, whereas foldar dróttinn appears in line one. It happens here that the only other nominative that þekkiligr could perhaps qualify is another adjective in line 6, bragðvíss (cheating, crafty one), that points at Loki. This is why there no other solution than associating þekkiligr to dróttinn (prince, leader), although Óðinn is not qualified in this way in other mythological texts.

Here again,  we meet the image of a pleasant Óðinn, one is not at all traditional and he never is called ‘handsome’. This kenning also evokes a war chief who likes his troops.


Him as a ‘pleasing’ character is more than unusual, to say the least. It seems that Þjóðólfr tries to mellow Óðinn because he (Þjóðólfr) will now tell a story in which Óðinn should have behaved more carefully in order to prevent Loki’s irresponsible behavior. Moreover, the tale paralleling unn’s and Skaði’s destinies, http://www.nordic-life.org/nmh/Idun&SkadiENG.htm ,  will explain that Íðunn’s abduction is Óðinn’s first defeat, his first step towards death because the “goddess of long-life” cannot come back unharmed from her stay with the giants. This is very similar to the idea that Hervör (see her tale at http://www.nordic-life.org/nmh/HervorsMyth.htm ) cannot come back unharmed of a stay in a burial mount, as it is three times stated in Hervarar saga ok Heiðreks.


s. 5: la sauvegarde des dieux (varnendr  goða) 




s. 4: Friend of the raven of the Æsir (hrafnáss vinr) = Óðinn’s friend,

s. 5: Farbauti’s son (Fárbauta mǫgr) and the crafty one who disturbs the Æsir (bragðvíss ósvífrandi ása

s. 6. Deep minded (wise) god-keeper of the prey (djúphugaðr hirði-Týr herfangs).

s. 7: Cargo of Sigyn’s arms (farm Sigynjar arma).

s. 8: A good catch (fangsæll) and Þórr’s ‘over’-friend (Þórs of-rúni), and the “dislocated heavy airy one” (þungr Loptr of sprunginn), learned god  (fróðr Týr), father of the wolf (ulfs faðir), Miðjungr’s dear friend  (málunautr miðjungs).

s. 9: Fussy saga-stirrer (sorgœran sagna hrœrir) (see comments relative to Iðunn) and girdle-thief of gods’ Brising (Brísings-goða dísi girðiþjófr).

s. 11: Annoying servant (leiðiþir), and (ok) spirit of the frauds of Gefn, the beer waitress  (læva lund öl-Gefnar) where Gefn, the beer waitress = Iðunn.

s. 12: Testing of Hœnir’s mind (hugreynandi Hœnis), and hawk’s son (ǫglis barn) .


Almost all kenningar depicting Loki are ironic. He has perhaps been in the past Óðinn’s friend and never was he Þórr’s.

That he is Farbauti’s son recalls us that he belongs to a family of giants.

According to some legends, he would be responsible for the earthquakes each time his wife, Sigyn, goes away in order to empty the basin where she collects the venom of the snake that stays above him – an heavy cargo to carry in her life. The kenning ‘cargo of Sigyn’s arms’ speak of him as goods though it carries the idea that Sigyn cares for her Loki.

He is certainly intelligent though not ‘deeply minded’, since this poem illustrates some silliness in his behavior with Þiazi.

A “good catch” makes of him some kind of captured game or else, by allegory, a woman since a Norse way of speech expresses that when she marries, a woman is “caught,” as game is. This is in accordancde with the feeling of undecided sexuality that he gives off.

“The heavy airy dislocated one” is a humorous way to describe Loki whose shoulder is dislocated under the effect of his own weight while he is very often called the airy one in Norse literature.

That Loki is a “saga-stirrer” means that he provokes sagas – usually not for the best, instead of being the creator of beautiful sagas.

The theft of Freyja’s necklace episode shows him as pettily jealous of female power, and as unable to keep his booty.

Calling him an “infuriating servant” shows him in a subordinate condition he is not even able to properly take on.

Calling him “spirit of fraud of Iðunn” underlines that the abduction of Iðunn happens through Loki’s fraud that enabled Iðunn’s abduction.

The kenning “test of Hœnir’s heart” underlines his ‘infuriating saga-stirrer’ feature.

 Hawk’s son” shows him as a kind of hawk-‘coquerel’ by playing on his tiny size as compared to Þjazi’s.




s. 9: (sorgeyran meyr) ‘pain alleviator maid’, and ‘goddess of the brooks of the source of harvest’ (dís bekkjar brunnakrs).

Discussion of sorgeyran mey.

It appears that sorgœran can be applied to Iðunn with the meaning of ‘who alleviates pain’ and also to Loki with the meaning of ‘mad with pain’. How Þjóðólfr’s poetic skill could produce this small miracle is understood at the price of very technical explanations that were given at the end our analysis of stanza 9.


Discussion of dísi (dís, goddess) bekkjar (brook, gen. plur.) brunn-akrs (source-harvest, gen. sing.)

The word dísi itself brings a problem. The ‘canonical’ plural of dís is dísir which does dís in the singular accusative which is imposed by the structure of the sentence (since Þjazi takes along Iðunn). We can then suppose that Þjóðólfr chose a plural in –ar, one of the forms of which can do its singular accusative in -i, dísi.

That Íðunn is a goddess of the fertility of harvests is not one of her known attributes. It is however reasonable to trust Þjóðólfr (see also the comments of stanzas 10 and 11, just below).


 s. 10: (Ið - unnr) wave-swirl [from iða = swirl et unnr = wave], or provider [iðja = to act] of harmony and love [unna = to bestow, to love]

That Iðunn be a goddess of af love producing harmony rather than children, is also a function which is not usually allotted to her. A swirl carries towards the bottom, a wave carries far away, then the meaning based  on iða - unnr does not seem to be very meaningful.  The explanations of stanza 11 will disclose its deep meaning.


s. 11: (öl-Gefn) Gefn, the beer waitress, and (munr stœrandi) [love increasing] mæra meyr [famous maid] hapta [of the chains: the gods]), that is the famous maiden who increases the Æsir’s love.

The indirect role of a beer waitress is to create an environment favoring  harmony among drinkers, which confirms that Iðunn is “the one who works at bringing harmony" as claimed by  the second understanding of the kenning in stanza 10.

Stanza 11 of the poem also explains why she is the wave carrying away the gods towards the ‘swirl’ of pleasure, which now explains the “swirl-waves” in stanza 10.


All Iðunn’s kenningar are strongly laudatory and nothing but latent Christocentrism can frown at a presumably exuberant sexuality. Besides, this Iðunn’s sexual exuberance might be possible but this is not what the poem states: her role is of creating an euphoric environment, just as a cabaret hostess or any lakari (entertainer). Moreover,  it seems that many fake forgetting one of  main  youth features which can summarize in intellectual, physical and genetic power.


s. 12: As we commented in s. 12, the kenningar ásu leikr or ásu leika may be applied to Iðunn.

That she is protective to the Æsir is illustrated by several kenningar: she is the young woman who “alleviates pain,” who “works to protect’, who is called “Gefn, the beer waitress and Æsir’s delight. All this strengthens her aspect of keeper of the golden apples of youth. It is also clear that organizing games and bringing delight may possibly hint at a role of which Christian morality disapproves (sexuality and theater acting during the Middle Ages). This theme will be again underlined by a heiti in s. 12.

On another hand, two kenningar are out of this scheme. “The waves of an eddy” bring us down to sea floor and drown imprudent ones who let waves carry them. With some skill and a long apnea, it is easy to escape from this situation, though not without fright.

The ‘goddess of the brooks of the source of the harvest’ puts her divine functions under a new light. Since Freyr became the symbol of earthly fertility in addition to his role in male fertility, we all tend to associate also his female counterpart, Freyja, with earth fertility. Þjóðólfr throws a doubt on this assertion and reminds us that there is not ground-fertilizing goddess in our mythology. Now, he allots this role to unn, and this in turn implies that when she will leave Ásgarðr, as the poem “Galdr of Óðinn’s raven” tells us, earth itself will lose its fertility as Ragnarök draws closer.


Þjazi (and Hræsvelgr)


S 2: (úlfr snótar) wolf/monster of the lady and (byrgi-Týr bjarga) fence-Týr of the cliffs.


S 3: (margspakr már báru valley-kastar) very-wise seagull of the wave of the ‘caught’ by death.

Bára, a wave, is a ‘weak declension’ feminine that does báru in the genitive, dative and accusative singular. Here it is often seen as a genitive but could also be looked upon as a dative meaning ‘in the wave’ (dative), which would result in ‘caught in a death vague’. A double meaning is quite possible.


S 4 (Hræsvelgr): (vin-grögnir = vind-rögnir) wind divinity and (Þiazi): Hræsvelgr - (vagna vígfrekr) battle greedy whale = Þjazi.

The word vindr, wind, does many compounds in vind- as in vind-hjálmr (wind-helmet), that is ‘sky’. Rögnir designates a divinity.


S 6: (dólgr) monster and (slíðrliga svangr faðir Marnar) wildly famished Mörnir’s father.


S 7: (fóstri öndurgoðs) foster father of the ski-goddess and (reimuðr Jötunheima) ghost of giant-land.

The form öndurgoðs is a typically masculine or neutral genitive. The word goð (god) was indeed neutral in Heathen times and this word can label a goddess, here thus Skaði.


S 8: (nagr sveita) bird of blood/sweat and (mælunautr miðjungs) Miðjungr’s dear friend.

Here the form mölunaut is understood as málnaut, singular accusative of málnautr (in the text Loki begs Þjazi).


S 9: (átt-runnr Hymis) the bush of Ymir’s family and (garðr grjóf-Níðaðar) house (yard) of a rock-king (who is led by a tragic destiny) '.

Níðuðr (here in the genitive) is the name of the king who kidnapped and disabled ‘Völundr the blacksmith’. He is thus known as a king whose brutality will lead to disaster. The words made up on grjót are never built using the genitive. This form is usually understood as name-adjective transformation. Thus, the canonical meaning of grjót - something is ‘stony something’ and not ‘something of stone’.

Here grjót-Níðaðar thus means `(a noun complement is rendered by a genitive) ‘of the stone rough king who is of a brutish type and who got a unhappy destiny by his own behavior’.


S 11: (hund hrun-sæva hræva öl-Gefnar) wolf of the beachcomber of the corpses and wrecks, of beer waitress Gefn (Iðunn).

- hræva is the plural genitive of hræ (corpse, wreck). I use the two simultaneous meanings ‘corpse and shipwreck’ because we cannot dissociate one from the other. (In a lecture on the giants, Gunnel made Cleasby’s opposite choice, he rejected ‘corpses’ and only kept shipwreck’, which also mutilates the text, since word hræ has both meanings. See details in section 3.

- öl-Gefnar: Gefn is a name of goddess, goddess of öl, beer, qualifies Iðunn.

Hund (dog, wolf) and hrun-sæva ‘ruin-sea’, beachcomber, are in the nominative, which can be read as two coupled descriptors (‘wolf and beachcomber of the corpses and the wrecks ').

We could also cut out the complete kenning in two parts: hund öl-Gefnar (Iðunn’s wolf) and, in parallel hrun-sæva hræva (beachcomber of the corpses or of the wrecks). Both point at  Þjazi.


S 12 (lómhugaðr  ern faðir Marnar) evil-spirited king, and (reginn lagði) (arnsúgr leikblaðs fjaðrar) (the god produced) an eagle-draught of wind of the play-blade of feathers. (Þiazi with a hint to Hræsvelgr).


Note: in S. 12 both kenningar above could exchange some of their attributes without much  changing the meaning. For example ern (vigorous) can, as here, qualify Mörn’s father or  ‘god’, or any other nominative. On the contrary, it cannot qualify arnsúg because it is an accusative.

- Mörn is a name of giantess, here in the genitive.

- Súgr, gust of wind, is here in the accusative (súg). It is necessary thus that a character ‘did’ (lagði in the poem) this gust of wind. I chose to read that reginn was this character.

- Leikblaðs, the ‘play-blade’ evokes a powerful warrior,  which qualifies Þjazi.


S 13: (sonr biðils Greipar) son of Greipr’s love.


‘Wolf’ or ‘monster’ are two traditional words used for speaking of giants and the ‘fence-Týr of the cliffs’, i.e. the cliff-divinity who puts Iðunn inside a fence obviously point at Þiazi.

The ‘very-wise seagull of the waves of the death-caught ones’ contains a new information about Þiazi. The ‘death-caught ones’ are obviously corpses and ‘wave’ introduces the idea of a moving sea of corpses. The seagull convoys the waves, so that Þiazi seems to be flying above a sea of corpses and he convoys them where the waves takes them along. Lastly, he is very wise, which suppresses the shrill chatter of the seagulls and makes of them wise birds convoying the corpses. It is now useful to remember the kenning in stanza 11, in which he is the ‘the wolf of the beachcomber wave of the corpses. Þiazi thus seems to drive the stream of corpses throughout their shift until a beachcomber wave’ throws them on a mysterious shore.


In stanzas 4 and 12, Þiazi is directly compared to Hræsvelgr and I cut out two longer kenningar to emphasize the part hinting at Hræsvelgr. Both kenningar allude to Hræsvelgr’s role as a producer of winds and storms, and we should not forget the meaning of his name. I know that Simek stated in his dictionary of Scandinavian mythology: “it is absolutely wrong to conclude that Hræsvelgr is a demon of death merely because of his name.” This statement is not quite clear since we hardly know what is a “demon of death” and carrying a name such as “corpses-swallower”, at the very least, connects him to the dead ones. What partly justifies Simek’s remark is that neither Snorri nor Þjóðólfr, nor VafÞrúðnismál 37, connects him directly to the dead ones: all we know is that he creates the winds and “er sitr á himins enda (he sits at the end of the sky - or on Yggdrasill’s crown). This supports Simek’s opinion. Conversely, we have just seen that Þjóðólfr gives to Þiazi a very clear role of guiding crowds of corpses - undoubtedly produced by a slaughter or a natural disaster. This role is very different from the one of a psychopomp for selected individuals as Óðinn and Freyja are, though it does not at all opposes the existence of psychopomp gods. It is therefore not absurd to think that this role might have been the one of giants or of some giants. Thus, with such a name as Hræsvelgr, this last being compared to Þiazi, both might be taking part in this task. This moderates Simek’s assertion without contradicting it since, on the one hand, Þiazi nor Hræsvelgr are “demons of dead ones” as he claims, though they are looked upon as kinds of “waste collectors” for heaps of anonymous corpses.


Stanza 7 calls him a ‘ghost of giant-land’ so that he can be looked upon as a ‘living-dead’ one, called a draugr in the sagas that describe the behavior of such individuals (refer also to http://www.nordic-life.org/nmh/DraugarQuietOnes.htm and Hervör’s myth at http://www.nordic-life.org/nmh/HervorsMyth.htm ). Obviously, this kenning can be used here in a purely allegorical way, it does not prevent that it draws yet another link between Þiazi and death.

 We have just seen that Hræsvelgr is known as a wind-god and that Þiazi is compared to him. In stanza 12, “eagle of the play-blades of feathers” expresses in a picturesque way how very strong winds can be felt as a “set of play-blades" that slices what it meets.


As for stanza 13 kenning, that Þiazi’s father had been Greip giantess’s lover provides a lone branch of ‘Ymir’s family bush’ (s. 9) of which we know very little, except some of its branches gave rise to the Æsir.




S 5: (þegnum dat. plur.)

S 10 : Freyr’s full ‘families’ (allar áttir Ingvifreys) : the Æsir

S 13: (Ginnregin)




S 6: Ancient tree (forn þollr) = Yggdrasill




S 10: Dwellers of the steep (or shiny) edges (bjartra barða byggvendr), where barð is seen as a masculine.


Iðunn’s roles


S 9: Æsir’s herb of old age (ellilyf ása) the ‘golden aples’ enabling the Æsir to avoid aging.

S 12: (Æsir’s) delights/games (leikum) dat. plur. of leika.


The ox upon which the fight started


S 2: plentiness of Gefjon’s meat (ár Gefnar mat)

S 3: decoy-reindeer’ (tál-hreinn)

S 5:  Whale of spring cracking straps (Hval þrymseilar vára)

S ­6: Bear of the yoke made of tree roots (ok-bjǫrn eiki-rótum)



3. Þjazi helps understanding who Hræsvelgr is



Terry Gunnell (refering to an article cited below) presented a conference entitled: “Hræsvelgr, the Wind-Giant, Reinterpreted.” In this conference, he does reinterpret the name Hræsvelgr named: “corpse swallower” by the past experts, as being “hræ (corpse, carrion) and svelgr (swallower). He points out that Old Norse word hræ has another principal meaning, that of ‘shipwreck’ that was hitherto neglected. Moreover, Old Norse svelgr has also a metaphorical meaning of ‘swallower’ but its proper meaning is that of ‘sea swirl, maelstrom, water stream’. He argues that the meanings ‘shipwreck’ and ‘sea swirl’ better fit the information brought to Hræsvelgr’s persona by Eddic texts than ‘corpse swallower’.


Note in passing: [This last interpretation gave birth to a legend that assumes that giants eat corpses, which is not confirmed at all by the mythological sources and it does not even deserve a discussion: this is pure commentators’ fabrication.]


Gunnell’s argumentation is somewhat too long to be reported in detail, but it is very well built and completely convincing. A fact is, however, that Gunnell, if he well exhausted all the sources relating to Hræsvelgr, neglected a capital source relative to the giants in general, the one of the kenningar used by Þjóðólfr úr Hvíni (~ 855-930) to qualify Þjazi, Iðunn’s kidnapper, in his Haustlöng poem. I do not claim at all that Þjazi and Hræsvelgr are two names of the same ‘individual’. Both nevertheless hold the role of an extremely powerful giant and it would be amazing that kenningar not directly related to Iðunn’s removal in Haustlöng were not somewhat common to all the most significant giants. We will now see that indeed three of the kenningar qualifying Þjazi can be applied to Hræsvelgr.


The most obvious of these kenningar is in stanza 4 of the poem where a complicated Þjazi kenning contains the expression vin-grögnir to point at him. This expression is not directly translatable, but all translators read vind-rögnir ( = wind-divinity) which is indeed very close to the original version. Besides, Vafþrúðnismál stanza 27 explicitly described Hræsvelgr as being the one whose wings create the wind that blows over humankind. This creates an indisputable relationship between Hræsvelgr and Þjazi.


Gunnell holds that Hræsvelgr is who carries away shipwrecks but it could just as easily be that he carries corpses, if we come back to the traditional meaning he rejected. In this case, the stanza 3 kenning, describing Þjazi with the word val-kastar becomes highly significant. Indeed, the word valr does not mean anything else than ‘killed one’, as opposed to hræ. The word kast indicates a casting, a meeting, a wrapping. The word val-kastar thus indicates people who took the form of, who met, who were wrapped inside a killed person. They are human corpses and not shipwrecks. The whole kenning reads margspakr már báru val-kastar (very wise seagull of corpse-shaped ones inside a wave). It does point at a lofty being (a wise gull) moving a wave made of a crowd of corpses.

Lastly, stanza 11 contains a complex kenning, a part of which describes Þiazi as being hrun-sæva hræva. Word hræva is the plural genitive of hræ , a word we presently all know. Word sæva is a slightly irregular singular genitive of sær (sea) and hrun-sæva literally means: sea-collapse, that is a beachcomber. Þiazi is thus described here as a ‘beachcomber of corpses (and shipwrecks)’, which still brings it closer to Hræsvelgr.


Haustlöng contains many other kenningar that have nothing to do with Hræsvelgr and it is obvious that the two characters share the function of leading large amount of corpses (and/or shipwrecks) till ‘the end of the sea’, whatever it might be. Because of one of the meanings of svelgr (maelstrom) Gunnell supposes that Hræsvelgr sinks these shipwrecks. Yet another  possible meaning of svelgr is the one of a ‘sea stream’ so that stanza 11 kenning, while speaking of a beachcomber, can perfectly describe the action of carrying along the corpses-shipwrecks in order to throw them on a beach or against rocks as beachcombers usually do.


In conclusion, it appears logical to me to use descriptions and kenningar common to Hræsvelgr and Þiazi for better understanding the mythological role of the ‘important’ giants who play a role similar to the one of Greek Charon. Charon’s boat, in Scandinavian mythology becomes the power of the strong swells which provides a less confined and less anthropomorphic image of the realm of death than the Greek vision. A Greek influence, which some will not fail to evoke, appears to me too reducing to seriously hold.



Reference:  Jón Hnefill Aðalsteinsson « A piece of Horse Liver : Myth, Ritual and Folklore in Old Icelandic Sources » (1998). Reykjavík. (Gunnel’s reference).



[1] - the reference is Snorri Sturluson, Skáldskaparmál ch. 22, translation Anthony Faulkes, Everyman 1987.

An old translation is also available here: http://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/pre/pre05.htm

The poem itself was recently translated into English by Richard North, The Haustlöng of Þjóðolfr of Hvinir, Antony Rowe Ltd, 1997.

Note that I did not try to translate the poem (except stanza 2), though I put all my care in spotting and translating its kennings and their context.