Höðr

Höðr

Höðr (often anglicized as Hod [The name "Höðr" is thought to be related to "höð", "battle", and mean something like "killer". This would seem to fit with the god's mythological role. In the standardized Old Norse orthography the name is spelled "unicode|Hǫðr" but the letter 'unicode|ǫ' is frequently replaced with the Modern Icelandic 'ö' for reasons of familiarity or technical expediency.
The name can be represented in English texts as "Hod", "Hoder", "Hodur", "Hodr", "Hödr", "Höd" or "Hoth" or less commonly as "Hödur", "Hödhr", "Höder", "Hothr", "Hodhr", "Hodh", "Hother", "Höthr", "Höth" or "Hödh". In the reconstructed pronunciation of Old Norse "Höðr" is pronounced IPA2|'hɔðr () while the Icelandic pronunciation is IPA2|'hœðʏr (), corresponding to the Icelandic spelling "Höður". The various anglicizations are pronounced in an ad hoc fashion according to the taste and dialect of the speaker.
] ) is the brother of Baldr in Norse mythology. Guided by Loki he shot the mistletoe missile which was to slay the otherwise invulnerable Baldr.

According to the Prose Edda and the Poetic Edda the goddess Frigg made everything in existence swear never to harm Baldr, except for the mistletoe which she found too young to demand an oath from. The gods amused themselves by trying weapons on Baldr and seeing them fail to do any harm. Loki, upon finding out about Baldr's one weakness, made a missile from mistletoe, and helped Höðr shoot it at Baldr. After this Odin and the giantess Rindr gave birth to Váli who grew to adulthood within a day and slew Höðr.

The Danish historian Saxo Grammaticus recorded an alternative version of this myth in his "Gesta Danorum". In this version the mortal hero Høtherus and the demi-god "Balderus" compete for the hand of Nanna. Ultimately Høtherus slays Balderus.

The Prose Edda

In the "Gylfaginning" part of Snorri Sturluson's Prose Edda Höðr is introduced in an ominous way.

It does seem, however, that Höðr ends up in Hel one way or another for the last mention of him in Gylfaginning is in the description of the post-Ragnarök world.

It is clear from this that Snorri was familiar with the role of Váli as Höðr's slayer, even though he does not relate that myth in the "Gylfaginning" prose. Scholars have speculated that he found it distasteful since Höðr is essentially innocent in his version of the story.

The Poetic Edda

Höðr is referred to several times in the Poetic Edda, always in the context of Baldr's death. The following strophes are from "Völuspá".

Höðr is not mentioned again by name in the Eddas. He is, however, referred to in "Völuspá in skamma".

kaldic poetry

The name of Höðr occurs several times in skaldic poetry as a part of warrior-kennings. Thus "Höðr brynju", "Höðr of byrnie", is a warrior and so is "Höðr víga", "Höðr of battle". Some scholars have found the fact that the poets should want to compare warriors with Höðr to be incongruous with Snorri's description of him as a blind god, unable to harm anyone without assistance. It is possible that this indicates that some of the poets were familiar with other myths about Höðr than the one related in "Gylfaginning" - perhaps some where Höðr has a more active role. On the other hand the names of many gods occur in kennings and the poets might not have been particular in using any god name as a part of a kenning.

Gesta Danorum

In "Gesta Danorum" Høtherus is a human hero of the Danish and Swedish royal lines. He is gifted in swimming, archery, fighting and music and Nanna, daughter of King Gevarus falls in love with him. But at the same time Balderus, son of Othinus, has caught sight of Nanna bathing and fallen violently in love with her. He resolves to slay Høtherus, his rival.

As Høtherus is hunting he is led astray by a mist and meets wood-maidens who control the fortunes of war. They warn him that Balderus has designs on Nanna but also tell him that he shouldn't attack him in battle since he is a demigod. Høtherus goes to consult with King Gevarus and asks him for his daughter. The king replies that he would gladly favour him but that Balderus has already offered a like request and he does not want to incur his wrath.

Gevarus tells Høtherus that Balderus is invincible but that he knows of one weapon which can defeat him, a sword kept by Mimingus, the satyr of the woods. Mimingus also has another magical artifact, a bracelet that increases the wealth of its owner. Riding through a region of extraordinary cold in a carriage drawn by reindeer Høtherus captures the satyr with a clever ruse and forces him to yield his artifacts.

Hearing about Høtherus's artifacts, Gelderus, king of Saxony, equips a fleet to attack him. Gevarus warns Høtherus of this and tells him where to meet Gelderus in battle. When the battle is joined, Høtherus and his men save their missiles while defending themselves against those of the enemy with a testudo formation. With his missiles exhausted, Gelderus is forced to sue for peace. He is treated mercifully by Høtherus and becomes his ally. Høtherus then gains another ally with his eloquent oratory by helping King Helgo of Hålogaland win a bride.

Meanwhile Balderus enters the country of king Gevarus armed and sues for Nanna. Gevarus tells him to learn Nanna's own mind. Balderus addresses her with cajoling words but obtains a refusal. Nanna tells him that because of the great difference in their nature and stature, since he is a demigod, they are not suitable for marriage.

As news of Balderus's efforts reaches Høtherus he and his allies resolve to attack Balderus. A great naval battle ensues where the gods fight on the side of Balderus. Thoro in particular shatters all opposition with his mighty club. As the battle seems lost Høtherus manages to hew Thoro's club off at the haft and the gods are forced to retreat. Gelderus perishes in the battle and Høtherus arranges a funeral pyre of vessels for him. After this battle Høtherus finally marries Nanna.

Balderus is not completely defeated and shortly afterwards returns to defeat Høtherus in the field. But Balderus's victory is without fruit for he is still without Nanna. Lovesick he is harassed by phantoms in Nanna's likeness and his health deteriorates so that he cannot walk but has himself drawn around in a cart.

After a while Høtherus and Balderus have their third battle and again Høtherus is forced to retreat. Weary of life because of his misfortunes against Balderus he plans to retire and wanders into the wilderness. In a cave he comes upon the same maidens he had met at the start of his career. Now they tell him that he can defeat Balderus if he gets a taste of some extraordinary food which had been devised to increase the strength of Balderus.

Encouraged by this Høtherus returns from exile and once again meets Balderus in the field. After a day of inconclusive fighting Høtherus goes out during the night to spy on the enemy. He finds where Balderus's magical food is prepared and plays the lyre for the maidens preparing it. While they don't want to give him the food they bestow on him a belt and a girdle which secure victory.

Heading back to his camp, Høtherus meets Balderus and plunges his sword into his side. After three days Balderus dies from his wound. Many years later, Bous, the son of Othinus and Rinda avenges his brother and kills Høtherus in a duel.

Chronicon Lethrense and Annales Lundenses

There are also two less known Danish Latin chronicles, the "Chronicon Lethrense" and the "Annales Lundenses" of which the latter is included in the former. These two sources provide a second euhemerized account of Höðr's slaying of Balder.

It relates that Hother was the king of the Saxons and son of Hothbrod and the daughter of Hadding. Hother first slew Othen's (i.e. Odin) son Balder in battle and then chased Othen and Thor. Finally, Othen's son Both killed Hother. Hother, Balder, Othen and Thor were incorrectly considered to be gods.

Rydberg's theories

According to the Swedish mythologist and romantic poet, Viktor Rydberg [Investigations into Germanic Mytholgoy, Volume II, Part 2: Germanic Mythology, William P. Reaves Translation, iUniverse, 2004] the story of Baldr's death was taken from Húsdrápa, a poem composed by Ulfr Uggason around 990 AD at a feast thrown by the Icelandic Chief Óláfr Höskuldsson to celebrate the finished construction of his new home, Hjarðarholt, the walls of which were filled with symbolic representations of the Baldr myth among others. Rydberg suggested that Höðr was depicted with eyes closed and Loki guiding his aim to indicate that Loki was the true cause of Baldr's death and Höðr was only his "blind tool." Rydberg theorized that the author of the Gylfaginning then mistook the description of the symbolic artwork in the Húsdrápa as the actual tale of Baldr's death.

Notes

References

* Bellows, Henry Adams (transl.) (1936). "The Poetic Edda". Princeton: Princeton University Press. [http://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/poe/index.htm Available online]
* Brodeur, Arthur Gilchrist (transl.) (1916). "The Prose Edda by Snorri Sturluson". New York: The American-Scandinavian Foundation. [http://www.northvegr.org/lore/prose/index.php Available online]
* Dronke, Ursula (ed.) (1997) "The Poetic Edda: Mythological Poems". Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0198111819.
* Eysteinn Björnsson (2001). "Lexicon of Kennings : The Domain of Battle". Published online: http://www.hi.is/~eybjorn/ugm/kennings/kennings.html
* Eysteinn Björnsson (ed.). "Snorra-Edda: Formáli & Gylfaginning : Textar fjögurra meginhandrita". 2005. Published online: http://www.hi.is/~eybjorn/gg/
* Eysteinn Björnsson (ed.). "Völuspá". Published online: http://www.hi.is/~eybjorn/ugm/vsp3.html
* Guðni Jónsson (ed.) (1949). "Eddukvæði : Sæmundar Edda". Reykjavík: Íslendingasagnaútgáfan. [http://www.heimskringla.no/original/edda/index.php Available online]
* Lindow, John (2001). "Handbook of Norse mythology". Santa Barbara: ABC-Clio. ISBN 1576072177.
* Thorpe, Benjamin (transl.) (1866). "Edda Sæmundar Hinns Froða : The Edda Of Sæmund The Learned". (2 vols.) London: Trübner & Co. [http://www.northvegr.org/lore/poetic2/000.php Available online]


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