I’m continuing to read “The Prose Edda” by Snorri Sturleson. As I read through, I’m still finding a lot of good information, but there’s quite a bit that really floors me, and makes me realize that people have always had holes in their creative myths and religions. Holes, humor, and plenty of silliness abound.
The myth of how poetry came to the Aesir (Norse gods) and Mankind.
When the Aesir and the Vanir (another tribe of gods basically) were warring with one another, they called a peace council to try to resolve their differences. As a symbol of cooperation, they all came together in a group and spat into a large vat. Their problems were worked out, and the two tribes were merged (somewhat). To celebrate, the Aesir took the spittle from the vat and made it into a man. The man was so wise and intelligent that there was no question he could not answer. His name was Kvasir, and he traveled the world, teaching men knowledge.
As he traveled, Kvasir came to stay in the home of two dwarves, Fjalar and Galar. These two dwarves murdered Kvasir. (The Edda gives no real motive.) They then blended his blood with honey, and the resulting mead made any man who drank of it into a poet(1). The two dwarves then invited the giant, Gilling, and his wife to their home and murdered them. Gilling’s son, Suttung, heard of this and went to their home to avenge his father. He took the two dwarves and abandoned them on two rocks which would be covered by the high tide causing them to drown. They begged him for mercy and bribed him with the wine. He relented and took the mead for himself, setting his daughter to guard it.
Odin heard that Suttung had the mead, and traveled to Suttung’s brother’s land to see what he could do about obtaining the mead for the Aesir. Baugi, Suttung’s brother, had servants in the field at the time that Odin arrived. Their sickles were dull, and Odin offered to sharpen them with his whetstone. They noted how much easier their work was, and asked Odin to sell them the whetstone. He asked them to pay what they thought it was worth and threw it up in the air. In their greed to own the whetstone, they scrambled and accidentally killed one another on their newly sharpened blades. (The story implies that Odin had counted on this.) Odin then continued on to Baugi’s hall. Baugi was distraught when Odin arrived, because he had no workers for his field.
Odin told Baugi that he could do the work of all of Baugi’s field hands in a summer, but that his price was that Baugi must help him get the mead from his brother, Suttung. Baugi assured Odin that he would do so, and Odin worked the fields, doing the work of all nine of Baugi’s slaves. Baugi, agreed to then follow through with payment. He betrayed Odin though, and Odin barely escaped through the hole they had dug together to get into Suttung’s cellar.
Suttung’s daughter was in the cellar, guarding the mead as her father had directed her. Odin lay with her for three days and nights, and finally convinced her to let him take as much mead as he could in three sips. It was then that Odin transformed into the form of an eagle and flew quickly towards Asgard. The rest of the Aesir saw him coming, and knowing what he was about, prepared a large vat for him to deposit the wine. However; Suttung had discovered the use of his daughter and the theft of his mead, and had transformed into an eagle as well and flown after Odin. Odin, having an angry eagle-shaped giant after him, spit the mead into the awaiting vat. However; because of the urgency of his situation, he didn’t pay attention to this as he should have, and ended up letting some of the mead escape out his rear.
And that’s where bad poetry comes from. It’s comprised of eagle farts. Now you know.
(1)It should probably be noted that a poet in those times wasn’t just someone who wrote poetry, but rather was a man of learning in general.