Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1042
Voluspo. Odin, chief of the gods, calls an ancient wise woman to prophesy for him. She tells first of the creation of the earth from the body of the giant Ymir and catalogs the dwarfs who live beneath the earth. She then describes Yggdrasil, the great ash tree that supports the universe. Its roots reach clear to the underworld, and it is guarded by the three Norns—Past, Present, and Future—who control the destinies of human beings. She also tells briefly how Loki tricked the giant who built Asgard, the home of the gods, and how Loki himself was punished when he killed Odin’s much-loved son Balder. He was bound to a rock so that the venom of a serpent dripped onto his face. The prophet last foretells a great battle. Odin and the other gods will confront the forces of evil, such as the wolf Fenrir, one of Loki’s children, who is fated to kill Odin himself. In conclusion, the wise woman foretells the emergence of a new world that will rise out of the destruction of the old one.
The Ballad of Grimnir. Odin makes a wager with his wife, Frigg, about the relative virtues of two men they have saved from being lost at sea. Frigg accuses King Geirröth, the man Odin has saved, of miserliness and lack of hospitality. Odin goes to Geirröth disguised as Grimnir and is taken prisoner and tortured. The king’s son, Agnar, befriends the prisoner, however, and is rewarded with the mythological lore that makes up most of the poem.
The Lay of Hymir. Thor seeks a kettle big enough to brew ale for a feast of all the gods. He and the god Tyr go to the home of the giant Hymir, where they escape the wrath of Hymir’s nine-hundred-headed grandmother. Hymir then provides a feast for them at which Thor eats two oxen. Finally, they join in a fishing contest in which Thor demonstrates his prowess by hooking Mithgarthsorm, the great serpent that surrounds the earth. Thor and Tyr steal the kettle and carry it home.
The Lay of Thrym. Loki manages to recover Thor’s hammer when the giant Thrym steals it and holds it hostage, demanding Freyja for his wife. Thor goes to Thrym, disguised as Freyja in bridal dress, and takes Loki, disguised as his serving woman, with him. After Thor and Loki have some difficulties in accounting for their huge appetites and masculine looks, Thor is given the precious hammer as a wedding gift, whereupon he slays Thrym and the two return to Asgard.
Balder’s Dream. Acting on an ominous dream his son Balder has had, Odin rides into the underworld, where a wise woman tells him that the blind god Hoth, guided by Loki, will throw the dart of mistletoe that will kill the otherwise impervious Balder. The murder will later be avenged by Vali, whom Odin conceives for that purpose.
Lay of Völund. Völund is a hero who, along with his brothers, captures and lives with the swan maidens, Valkyries who live on earth disguised as swans. When the swan maidens leave, the brothers seek them. In doing so, Völund is captured by a Swedish king, Nithuth, who accuses him of stealing his treasure. While making his escape, Völund kills Nithuth’s sons and sends their skulls, set in silver, to their father. He then makes good his escape by flying away on wings he has made for himself.
The Lay of Helgi the Son of Hjorvarth. Helgi is befriended by a Valkyrie who sends him a sword that allows him to do great deeds. Together with Atli, he subdues the ferocious daughter of a giant. Later, as a king in his own right, he marries Svava, the Valkyrie who aided him. He dies in a duel with King Alf.
The First Lay of Helgi Hundingsbane. At an early age, Helgi, a son of Sigmund, begins to do valorous deeds. Urged on by the Valkyrie Sigrun, he later engages another king, Granmar, in a sea battle in order to release Sigrun from her obligation to marry Granmar’s son Hothbrodd.
Of Sinfjotli’s Death. Helgi’s...
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