The Untrustworthy Odin

As I’ve mentioned before, the Odin of myth is very different than how he’s portrayed in the Marvel universe — which is fine, of course.

Dr. Karl Siegfried provides an excellent summary and analysis of the first Thor movie and how it both draws on and diverges from Norse myth. Find it here.

In this post, I provide a short summary of how Odin acquires the mead of poetry — a topic I slightly touched on here.

Summary of the Myth

In his Skaldskaparmal (Prose Edda), Snorri relates the tale of how the mead of poetry was hidden away by the giant Suttung who then set his daughter, Gunnloth, to guard it.

Odin wanted the mead so he went to the place where Suttung and his brother Baugi lived. Baugi’s nine workmen were out reaping. Disguised, Odin offered to sharpen the scythes of the workmen with a fancy honing stone. They agreed and, blades sharpened, recommenced cutting.

The scythes cut so well they asked if Odin would sell them the honing stone. He agreed and set a high price on it. All the giants wanted it, so Odin threw it up in the air and the giants in their desire for the stone killed each other.

Workmen dispatched, Odin went to Baugi’s hall where he found Baugi lamenting over his lack of workmen. Odin, naming himself Bolverk (Evil Doer), said he would do the work of all nine men. But he wanted recompense equal to his labor — a drink from the mead of poetry. Baugi said sure, but that he didn’t have control over the mead but knew where it was.

Odin gets to the mead by boring through rock to the chamber in which Gunnloth guards the mead. He seduces her and over three consecutive nights, drinks all the mead. Then he escapes, transforms into an eagle and flies back to Asgard.

In this last paragraph, I’ve combined Snorri’s account with the one in the Havamal. They differ somewhat in the details.

In the Havamal, Odin says that the giants then went to Asgard and asked if one named Bolverk was among them. Odin says no and, presumably, the giants mosey on back to Jotunheim.

And from the Havamal….

Stanza 110 in the Havamal reads (quoted from Bellows translation here):

On his ring swore Othin | the oath, methinks;
Who now his troth shall trust?
Suttung’s betrayal | he sought with drink,
And Gunnloth to grief he left.

The translator notes in this version of the Poetic Edda read: “Othin is keenly conscious of having violated the most sacred of oaths, that sworn on his ring.”

Dr. Jackson Crawford translates the Havamal (and the Poetic Edda) into more modern-day English. Here are a few examples of how Odin is aware of his “evil-doing” nature (the numbers refer to the stanzas):

  • 104: Referring to Gunnloth, Odin says, “I would later giver her a bad repayment for her trusting mind…”
  • 107: “I made good use of the disguise I used; few things are too difficult for the wise.”
  • 108: “I doubt I could have escaped…if I hadn’t used Gunnloth…”
  • 110: “I believe that Odin swore an oath to them — but who can trust Odin?”

So, Odin is….

I condense and relate all the above to show how Odin:

  • Disguises himself and lies.
  • Seduces and betrays.
  • Is totally aware of what he’s doing.

The mead of poetry myth also shows how Odin does all of the above to achieve his own ends. This is consistent with how he instigates war among men so that he can harvest the best warriors to fight on behalf of the gods and men at Ragnarok. More on this in a future post.