The title Þórsdrápa ‘Drápa about Þórr’ (Eil Þdr) by the skald Eilífr Goðrúnarson is recorded in Skm (SnE 1998, I, 25). Þdr is one of a small number of skaldic poems to recount the deeds of this god; others are Bragi Þórr, Þjóð Haustl, and various fragments (Bragi Frag 3, Þdís Þórr 2 and Vetrl Lv 1) which may have been part of poems about Þórr’s fight with Miðgarðsormr ‘world serpent’. The two eddic poems Þry and Hym relate to the god’s fight with Miðgarðsormr and his regaining of his hammer. All stanzas except st. 4 are transmitted in Skm. Most of them (sts 1-3, 5-16, 18-21) appear immediately after a prose account of the myth describing Þórr’s encounter with the giant Geirrøðr. However, the prose narrative differs significantly from the story told in the poem (see below). Some of the poem’s stanzas are transmitted in other contexts (sts 4, 17, 22, 23). Stanza 4 is found not in SnE but in TGT, where it is attributed to Eilífr Goðrúnarson. Finnur Jónsson (Skj AI, 573; TGT 1927, 44; LP: ól, torráðinn) thinks that the attribution of the stanza to Eilífr Goðrúnarson is erroneous and he credits the stanza instead to Eilífr kúlnasveinn (Ekúl). Following the mss, the present edition assigns this stanza to Þdr (st. 4), however, because its subject matter fits well there. Stanzas 17 and 22 are cited in Skm among stanzas illustrating Þórr-kennings, and they are attributed to someone named Eilífr (Skm, SnE 1998, I, 15, 16). In terms of subject matter, they fit in exactly with Þdr, and Finnur Jónsson (1900b, 396) accordingly assigns them to that poem. Subsequent editors have made the same choice (see also SnE 1998, I, 165). Stanza 23 is cited in Skm (SnE 1998, I, 13) to exemplify a kenning for ‘poem’, and is attributed to Eilífr Goðrúnarson. Previous editors (Skj B; Skald; SnE 1998) treat this as a stanza from a lost poem about Hákon jarl Sigurðarson, because they interpret the kenning kon mœran ‘splendid kinsman’ (so ms. U) as a riddling play on Hákon’s name. That interpretation is questionable, however (see Note to st. 23/2). The present edition follows the main ms. R and takes kon mœrar ‘the descendant of the land (= Jǫrð)’ as a kenning for Þórr, which favours assigning it to Þdr. Owing to its subject – the poet is asking for gifts in return for the poem – the stanza has been placed in the so-called slœmr, the concluding portion of the drápa where the poet usually mentions the compensation he expects for his work.
Þdr rightly deserves to be called a drápa in light of its stef or refrain stanzas (sts 11 and 22). However, some standard components of a drápa, namely an introduction and conclusion, are missing, although at least one stanza (st. 23) which may have belonged to the latter has survived. That we have no introduction is regrettable, as it might have given us clues about the genre to which this poem could be assigned: it is either the only skaldic example in which myths are told for their own sake or for religious purposes and not integrated into a praise poem, or it is a praise poem for a ruler who was honoured through the representation of a myth involving Þórr. In other poetic renditions of myths about deities, such as Þjóð Haustl and ÚlfrU Húsdr, the myths are integrated into praise poems, and the poems’ introductory stanzas reflect this. Þdr could be another example of such a panegyric, but since no introduction has survived, this cannot be ascertained. Nothing is known about the circumstances and background of the poem’s composition.
The poem is about one of Þórr’s adventures, relating his journey into the realm of the giants to meet Geirrøðr. Þdr depicts the departure (sts 1-3), the voyage across the sea and the way through the wilderness (sts 4-5) and, at great length (sts 6-10), the difficulty the god experiences confronting a powerful river stirred up by a female mythical being. Stanza 11, a stef stanza that praises the courage of Þórr and his companion, Þjálfi, signals a clear demarcation. It is followed by two stanzas narrating Þórr’s victorious struggle against a host of giants (sts 12-13), by the killing, in a cave, of giantesses who try to crush Þórr against the roof (sts 14-15) and, finally, by Þórr’s fight with Geirrøðr which involves the throwing of red-hot pieces of iron and the killing of Geirrøðr and some other giants (sts 16-21).
From a mythological perspective, Þdr presents some difficulties that will be discussed in more detail below.
(1) The departure (sts 1-3): The first surviving stanza deals with Loki’s request that Þórr should visit Geirrøðr. Loki, portrayed as deceitful, underplays the difficulties of the journey. It is unclear whether now lost stanzas of Þdr contained the background as told in SnE, which describes how Loki, held captive by Geirrøðr, is obliged to promise to lure Þórr into his territory without his usual weapon, the hammer Mjǫllnir, and his girdle of strength. But on his way to Geirrøðr’s realm Þórr visits the gýgr Gríðr and is given her staff Gríðarvǫlr ‘staff of Gríðr’, a girdle of strength and iron grips as a replacement for his usual weapon, the hammer Mjǫllnir. Stanza 2 describes Þórr’s assent to undertake the adventurous journey. The third stanza begins with the somewhat cryptic information that Loki was ready (gǫrr) faster than Þjálfi, Þórr’s companion, who appears at his side in the following stanzas. How this ought to be understood is unclear. The prose narrative in SnE mentions only Loki as Þórr’s companion into the giants’ realm (cf. the comparison of the SnE version and Þdr in Davidson 1983, 530-1); Þjálfi does not appear there at all. Þdr, on the other hand, mentions Loki only in the introduction (sts 1-3). Whenever a companion on Þórr’s journey is identified by name, it is always Þjálfi. He is called Þórr’s companion in the stef stanzas (sts 11, 22) and once in st. 10, where he crosses the river tethered to the strap of Þórr’s shield. SnE attributes that manoeuvre to Loki. Þjálfi is invoked in a kenning, bróðir Vrǫsku ‘the brother of Rǫskva’ (st. 22/1), and probably in an ofljóst construction in st. 18/4 (see Note there). Þjálfi accompanies and actively supports Þórr in his struggles through Geirrøðr’s domain, whereas it would not fit Loki’s mischief-making character to fight alongside the god. Probably for this reason these battles are missing from SnE’s version. We can therefore conclude that Þjálfi in all likelihood was Þórr’s only companion on the adventure portrayed in Þdr. Loki does appear in the first three stanzas of the poem but he is absent thereafter. It could well be that Loki extricated himself from the dangerous journey, and the beginning of st. 3, then, could be interpreted this way: Loki was prepared before the others, and he took it as an opportunity to leave his two companions. Another explanation could be that there existed two versions of the myth, one in which Loki was the companion and which was the source for Snorri’s narration, and another in which Þjálfi accompanied Þórr. Stanza 3 could be an attempt to harmonise them. The sentence Þylk granstrauma Grímnis ‘I recite the lip-streams of Grímnir <= Óðinn> [POEM]’ from the second helmingr of st. 3 serves as a clear demarcation of this section of the poem; with st. 4 the journey begins, first by sea and then across an almost impassable wilderness (sts 4-5).
(2) Crossing the river (sts 6-10): This section constitutes the first climax of this version of the myth. The river is depicted on three levels; first as a wild and powerful torrent with high winds and falling rocks: málhvettr byrr markar ‘roaring wind of the forest [RIVER]’ (st. 7/1-2); hreggi hǫggvin fellihryn fjalla ‘the storm-blasted toppling-noise of the mountains [RIVER]’ (st. 7/5, 7); hretviðri blásin hrǫnn áss ‘the tempest-blown wave of the ridge [RIVER]’ (st. 9/5, 8). It comes with hail, hagli oltnar ‘swollen with hail’ (st. 6/3), and rockslides, … leit harðvaxnar herðar hallands falla of sik ‘… saw the hard shoulders of the sloping-land [MOUNTAIN > ROCKS] fall around him’ (st. 8/1-2). At the same time, the stream has the qualities of an underworld river: it is full of poison, þars þjóðáar fnœstu eitri ‘where great rivers sprayed poison’ (st. 6/7-8), and of swords. This motif appears not just once but three times: hlaupár hjalts ‘the fast-flowing streams of the sword’ (st. 6/3, 4); sverðrunnit fen ‘the sword-filled fen’ (st. 9/4); stríðan stáli ‘made harsh by the weapon’ (st. 10/5). Hence the river is given the same characteristics as Slíðr (Vsp 36), the river of the underworld that is filled with swords and flows through poisonous valleys. On a third and mythological level, the river is associated with female mythical beings. It is referred to by the traditional kenning ‘blood of the giant’ only once (st. 5/3-4). The following two examples clearly indicate that mythical beings were the cause of the river’s sudden and dangerous rise: Ekkjur Hrekkmímis œddu straum stríðan stáli ‘The widows of Hrekkmímir <giant> [GIANTESSES] infuriated the stream, made stubborn by the weapon’ (st. 10/5-6); and the kenning skafls jarðar hauðrs runkykva ‘of the quickeners of the stream of the land of the snow-drift of the earth [RIDGE > MOUNTAIN > RIVER > GIANTESSES]’ (st. 9/6, 7). The kenning ekkjur Hrekkmímis identifies these mythical beings as giantesses or daughters of a giant, probably of Geirrøðr. In the case of runkykva lit. ‘of the stream-quickeners’, the nature of these beings remains unclear. The giantesses causing the river to rise correspond approximately to the prose narrative in Skm (SnE 1998, I, 25), but there the giantess Gjálp, a daughter of Geirrøðr, is the only one mentioned. Þórr sees her standing high up in a ravine straddling the river, a scene most scholars interpret as referring to urination. Although it is not clearly stated, it seems that this is what Snorri believed, although nothing in Þdr itself indicates urination. It is noteworthy that, in Þdr, reference is made not only to one giantess but apparently to a few different mythical beings – Nanna, Fríðr and Mǫrn – who are identified by name. No determinants are associated with these names and it is therefore impossible to treat them as giantess-kennings; rather, they are heiti for female mythical beings. The river is called vǫrr Nǫnnu ‘waters of Nanna’ (st. 6/1, 2), fen Fríðar ‘fen of Fríðr’ (st. 9/1, 4) and snerriblóð Mǫrnar ‘the rushing blood of Mǫrn’ (st. 8/6-7), and these paraphrases for ‘river’ are problematic because it remains unclear exactly what relationship there is between these mythical beings and the river. They could be its source, its owners or perhaps even identical with it, if they are imagined as river-goddesses. Fríðr and Nanna could perhaps be taken as variations of the term ‘woman’ here. Mǫrn, on the other hand, is attested as the name of both a giantess and a river (see Note to st. 8/6, 7). Moreover, this is the only instance in which the river is not designated by a term for ‘water’ such as vǫrr ‘water’, fen ‘fen’, straumr ‘stream’ or run ‘stream’ but by snerriblóð ‘rushing blood’. Kiil (1956, 118) describes snerriblóð Mǫrnar as menstrual fluid, but Clunies Ross’s (1981, 373) interpretation is preferable. She assumes that rivers can take on anthropomorphic qualities; hence Mǫrn would then signify both the river and a mythical being, whose blood would be the water flowing in it. An identity of this kind between mythical beings and bodies of water is paralleled in the daughters of the sea-giant Ægir, who are both waves and mythical beings. As giantesses, they stir up the sea (Snæbjǫrn Lv 1/4, see Note there) and endanger ships (Sveinn Norðrdr 3; HHund I 29/5-8). Just as Ægir’s daughters can be both giantesses and waves, the mountain stream in Geirrøðr’s domain could be both his daughters and the ominous river. A comparable duality between natural phenomena and mythical beings can be seen in the way Þórr is threatened in the cave when the rock he is seated on proves to be a giantess’s headdress. This dangerous shift from natural feature to mythical being is perhaps part of the underworld scenario of the giants’ territory, part of which is also the sword-swollen river. A somewhat different interpretation was put forward by Davidson (1983, 555-7): She regards the river-names Feð (sic), Mǫrn and Nanna as ‘actual Norwegian rivers’ (unfortunately without providing any evidence) and identifies these rivers with the landscape of Norway (ibid., 556). According to her, Þórr’s conquering of the rivers is on the one hand an allegory of Hákon jarl’s reconquest of Norway from the sons of Eiríkr, on the other hand she regards ‘the conquering of the flooded river, swelled by menstrual blood’ as a ‘link with the tradition of Hákon as the restorer of agricultural fertility by virtue of his conquest over the hostile sons of Eiríkr, during whose reign the land was cursed with famine’ (ibid., 557).
(3) Fighting the giants (sts 12-21): The conflict with the giants in their own realm takes place in three separate battles. First, the giants are forced to flee on the banks of the river (sts 12-13), and then Þórr enters their house, where he has some difficulty with a giantess. Unlike in Snorri’s version, Þórr is sitting on a rock which turns out to be a giantess’s headdress, and he ends up being pressed against the roof (st. 14). Þórr shatters it with lightning and rocks so that two giantesses break their backs (st. 15). The third and decisive battle takes place during a feast in Geirrøðr’s hall, where Þórr engages in a sort of ‘game’ with the giants that involves hurling red-hot pieces of iron, ending up in a duel with Geirrøðr. Characteristic of how Eilífr depicts this fight is his use of a food-and-drink metaphor extending through several stanzas (sts 16-19). The hurled iron is paraphrased in kennings whose base-words denote food or drink, the iron is thrown into the opponent’s mouth, and catching the iron is called ‘swallowing it’. Geirrøðr dies in the battle. Afterwards Þórr kills the other giants as well, even if the weapon he uses may vary, according to different interpretations, from the staff Gríðarvǫlr, to his own hammer, to a broken-off twig (cf. Frank 1986, 100; Clunies Ross 1981, 388). The interpretation offered in the present edition takes the hammer named in st. 20 as a context-independent attribute belonging to Þórr. Because Þórr was supposed to enter the giants’ territory without his hammer, as they request he should do according to Skm (SnE 1998, I, 24), the twig would have been the only weapon available to Þórr on this occasion.
Þdr has been interpreted in different ways. Clunies Ross (1981) offers a psychoanalytical interpretation of the myth. Following Kiil (1956), she interprets the rushing river Þórr has to cross as the urine or menstrual fluid of a giantess. From this perspective Clunies Ross sees Þdr as a tale of the young god’s initiation, in which he matures by confronting and overcoming his family relationships. According to her, the river crossing, then, represents Þórr’s youthful conflict with the life-threatening feminine power of incestuous motherly sexuality. She interprets the rowan tree by which Þórr pulls himself out of the river – a detail only present in Skm – as symbolically representing his wife Sif, a woman with no blood-ties to Þórr. Þórr’s overcoming and killing the giantesses who beset him represents his liberation from the sexuality of the women of his own family, and his conflict with Geirrøðr, fought with red-hot iron, symbolises his success in the struggle between father and son for masculine power. The latter is expressed by the glowing piece of iron that is transformed in Þórr’s hand into his characteristic attribute, the hammer.
Whereas Clunies Ross’s (1981) interpretation is rooted in the myth Þdr depicts, Lie’s (1976, 398) study focusses on the poem itself, which he reads as a parody. His point of departure is the kennings, which, according to him, demythologise and anthropomorphise the plot and the gods to the greatest extent possible. The giants are characterised as inhabitants of various countries (e.g., Danir útvés flóðrifs ‘the Danes of the outlying sanctuary of the sea-rib [STONE > COAST > GIANTS]’ st. 13/6, 8) and Þórr and his companion Þjálfi as human warriors. He therefore does not see Þdr as a religious work, but som infam parodi betraktet er det derimot skaldekunst av høy klasse ‘seen as an biting parody, however, it is skaldic art of the highest class’ and artistisk kamuflert persiflage ‘artistically camouflaged persiflage’ (Lie 1976, 398-9) by a man who has turned his back on heathendom. Lie finds evidence for this in a fragment of a Christian poem by Eilífr (Eil Frag). By calling attention to how Þdr develops its characters, Lie has highlighted an essential feature that distinguishes Þdr from other poems.
Marold’s (1990a) interpretation is also based on the kennings in Þdr. The giants are usually referred to in kennings of the type ‘(ethnic) inhabitant of the mountains’, in which the base-word ‘inhabitant’ varies terms for the ethnic populations of certain regions of Norway (Hǫrðar st. 12/3, Rygir st. 21/6), of Scotland (st. 2/6), and of Britain (Britons st. 12/7), as well as Cumbrians (st. 14/3) and inhabitants of the Scandinavian countries Denmark (st. 13/6) and Sweden (st. 13/2). It is noteworthy that more than half of all tenth-century instances of this type of kenning are attested in Þdr. In earlier studies, Davidson (1983, 557-60) and Frank (1986, 102) also explored the political importance of these kennings, which they connected with attempts by the descendants of Eiríkr blóðøx ‘Blood-Axe’ to Christianise Norway with the help of British missionaries, whereby they came into conflict with Hákon jarl. It may be, however, that Britons, Scots and Cumbrians were simply traditional enemies of Norwegian vikings.
There is some evidence that the poem could have been a praise poem for Hákon, the mighty jarl of Trondheim (for his Biography, see SKP I, cxciii-cxcv; for the following cf. Marold 1990a, 119-27). According to Skáldatal (see above) Eilífr was a skald at the court of Hákon jarl. It is known that Hákon had close connections to the god Þórr: In Vellekla st. 14 he is praised for having made the lands of the temple of Þórr, which had been harried by the sons of Eiríkr, once more ‘lawful’ (legally allowed) for the people (Eskál Vell 14, 1-4I). In the same stanza Hákon is called Hlórriði garðs geira ‘Hlórriði <= Þórr> of the fence of spears [SHIELD > WARRIOR = Hákon jarl]’, the sole warrior-kenning with the name of Þórr as the base-word. In the stef of Þdr (st. 11/5-6) it is said that arfi Eiðsfjarðar ‘the heir of Eidsfjorden’ got even more battle-daring courage than Þórr and Þjálfi had when fighting the giants. If the assumption made in the present edition is correct (see Note to st. 11/5-6), and arfi Eiðsfjarðar ‘the heir of Eidsfjorden’ designates Hákon jarl, it would place him and his courage on a par with the gods or even above them. There is other evidence that the myth as told in Þdr, especially Þórr’s victories over the giants, can be interpreted as a mythical model for Hákon’s victories (cf. Davidson 1983, 557-60). In several stanzas the giants are referred to by kennings whose base-words are ethnic names of people who mostly had been enemies of Hákon jarl, such as the Danes (st. 13/6, 8) in the battle of Hjǫrungavágr and the Swedes (st. 13/2) in the viking expeditions in his youth and on his way through Götaland. There are some base-words in giant-kennings that designate the inhabitants of Norwegian regions like Hordaland (Hǫrðar st. 12/3) and Rogaland (Rygir st. 21/6); they might be explained by the fact that these regions were in the hands of the sons of Eiríkr. The kenning Ella steins ‘Ælla of the stone’ (st. 21/8) could also point to Hákon jarl. This Northumbrian king, as legend would have it, was killed by the sons of Ragnarr loðbrók ‘Shaggy-breeches’ in an act of vengeance for their father. Using this name as a base-word of one of the giant-kennings might also point to Hákon jarl since he, too, had avenged his father (cf. Eskál Vell 11-12I).
The following characteristic of Þdr may point in the same direction: The Þórr-kennings, taken together, exhibit a clear vacillation between god- and warrior-kennings. In addition to the traditional kennings for the god of thunder, such as ‘killer of giants/giantesses’ (sts 1, 3, 6, 8, 10, 14, 17), ‘steersman of the chariot (of thunder)’ (sts 15, 20) or ‘son of Jǫrð’ (sts 16, 23), and those kennings directly related to the myth portrayed here, such as ‘diminisher of the path of the water’ (sts 6, 9, 13) and probably also ‘wearer of the belt of strength’ (sts 2, 8), there are kennings that refer to Þórr as a warrior or a leader of an army (sts 1, 3, 10, 18). The warrior-kennings that refer to Þórr or Þjálfi (sts 9, 13) belong to this last group. In that case Þdr would not be a parody but a praise poem based on a comparison between the actions of Hákon jarl and the mythical heroic deeds of the god Þórr. However, as already noted, it is ultimately impossible to ascertain whether the poem narrates mythological material for its own sake or employs it for panegyrical purposes.
The story of Þórr’s fight with Geirrøðr, the giant, seems to have been very popular (on the history of this material, see Mogk 1924; Clunies Ross 1981, 371). Snorri’s version in Skm differs so much from that of Þdr that it must have been based on an additional source or sources. To judge from the ljóðaháttr stanza cited in Skm about Þórr’s crossing of the river Vimur, the source in question could have been an eddic poem. In another stanza (only in ms. U) about Þórr’s fight with Gjálp and Greip, the daughters of Geirrøðr (NK 318), Þórr tells how he once needed all his strength when the giantesses tried to lift him into the sky. In an anecdote from Sneglu-Halla þáttr (Snegl, ch. 3, ÍF 9, 267-9), King Haraldr harðráði ‘Hard-rule’ asks the skald Þjóðólfr Arnórsson to compose a stanza about the conflict between a blacksmith and a tanner, one of whom is to be Þórr and the other Geirrøðr. The skald uses the mythical scene of Þórr hurling a red-hot piece of iron at Geirrøðr (ÞjóðA Lv 5II) as a framework for his composition. Saxo (Saxo 2005, I, 8, 14, 1-20, pp. 560-73) describes an underworld journey by a man named Thorkillus on which he and his companions witness Geruthus, ruler of the land of giants, lying impaled on a piece of red-hot iron along with his daughters, whose backs are broken. Geruthus also appears as king of the underworld in Þorsteins þáttr bæjarmagns (FSGJ IV, 329), in which fiery missiles are thrown about at his court. The visitors are able to withstand them, and they eventually kill the king with the throw of a magical stone.
Only a few clues can help us establish a date for Þdr. Almost nothing is known about the poet’s life aside from what Skáldatal indicates; namely, that Eilífr was a skald at the court of Hákon jarl (see Eilífr’s Biography above). That would fit the interpretation of the poem advanced in the present edition, according to which the poem is likely to have been composed for this ruler (see above). If this is correct, Hákon’s death in 995 establishes the terminus ante quem for the poem’s composition, hence 975-995 seems a possible time frame for the composition of Þdr. Linguistic clues, such as the retention of v- before r- in vreiðr, Vrǫsku (st. 22/1) and the use of the ‑gi negation, etc. (Kuhn 1983, 293-4), are not decisive, because they may reflect Norwegianisms (cf. Seip 1955, 48) or the intentional use of archaic forms.
Þdr is transmitted in the mss of SnE, LaufE and TGT. Stanzas 1-3 and 5-23 are transmitted in mss R, Tˣ and W, stanzas 17 and 22 are also found in ms. U, and st. 23 is also preserved in mss U and B. Stanza 19 is recorded in the mss papp10ˣ, 2368ˣ and 743ˣ of LaufE. Stanza 4, on the other hand, is only preserved in TGT, in the mss W, B and A. Ms. R is the main ms. for every stanza except sts 4 and 10. Ms. W is the main ms. for st. 10 because R is damaged, and W (TGT) is also the main ms. for st. 4.
In addition to the works listed under ‘Editions’ for each stanza, the following edition has been used in the Notes: Sveinbjörn Egilsson (1851); see further Finnur Jónsson (1900b), Reichardt (1948) and Kiil (1956).