The Poem

(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

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...

(The entire section is 1042 words.)