TEUTONIC MYTH AND LEGEND
by DONALD A. MACKENZIE
An Introduction to the Eddas & Sagas, Beowulf, The Nibelungenlied, etc.
London, Gresham Publications 1912
Hother and Balder
Hother's Accomplishments--His Love for Nanna--Balder becomes his Rival--The Valkyries' Warning--The Sword of Victory--Where it was concealed--Hother's journey to the Other-world--Miming is overcome--Helgi and Thora--War between Gods and Mortals--Hother overcomes Thor--Love-sick Balder--Hother in Solitude--The Great Battle--How Balder was slain--Odin woos Rinda--Balder's Death is avenged.
HOTHER was but a lad when his father Hodbrodd was slain, and him did King Gewar take to his castle to be reared as his own son. Strong and nimble he became, and very comely to behold. He could perform mightier feats than any of his foster-brothers: he could swim deftly and far like to a sea bird, he was a skilled archer, and he could box well with the gloves. Great gifts of mind had Hother also. He was a singer of songs, and a sweet musician. With rare skill he fingered the harp, and played the lute, and such power had he with stringed instruments that he could at will make his hearers merry or sad; he could fill their hearts with pleasure, or stir them with strange terror.
Pleasing indeed was this fair youth, unto beauteous Nanna, his foster-sister, the daughter of King Gewar. Her heart was moved with love towards him, and no less passionately did he love her also. Dear unto Nanna were the fond embraces of Hother.
Now there came a fateful day when Balder, son of Odin, saw Nanna while she bathed. The vision held him spellbound, and he was consumed with burning love by reason of the splendour and beauty of her comely body. When she vanished, the day was made dim, and Balder sighed full oft as he thought with tenderness of the beautiful maid; but when he remembered his rival he was moved to anger, for full well he knew that Hother would be the chief obstacle between him and his heart's desire. In the end he resolved to slay the young hero.
Hother soon came to know of Balder's burning love, and his fierce and bloody purpose. One day he went hunting alone in a deep wood. A deep mist drave over the land and enveloped the trees, so that he knew not whither he was wandering. In time he came to the dwelling of wood maidens. They called him "Hother", and he marvelled greatly thereat. When he asked them who they were, they told him that it was their lot to decide the issue of battle conflicts 1 invisible they fought in the fray, assisting those whom they favoured so that victory might be achieved. Hother wondered to hear. Then they told him that Balder had gazed with eyes of love upon Nanna while she bathed, and was possessed with burning desire to have her for his bride. Hother did they warn not to combat with his rival, because that he was a demigod whose body was charmed against wounds. But to Hother they gave a sword-proof coat of mail, so that he might have protection like unto Balder. They made promise to aid him in battle.
Then the maidens vanished, and their dwelling also, vanished from before the eyes of the young hero, and he found himself standing alone upon a barren plain, where there was not tree nor any shelter whatsoever. The mist was driven before the wind.
The youth thereafter returned quickly unto King Gewar, to whom he related what he had seen, and what had been told unto him concerning Balder. He also made request that Nanna should be his bride.
Gewar was willing indeed that his daughter should wed Hother, but he said that he feared greatly the wrath of Balder, if he came seeking for Nanna and were refused.
"No weapon," Gewar said, "can do hurt to Balder save a certain sword 2 which is guarded in a cave by Miming, the wood satyr. A wondrous ring doth he also possess, which hath power to increase the wealth of him who owns it. . . . But long and dangerous is the road which leads unto the satyr's lair," the king added; "it is wintry cold, indeed, and hardly to be endured."
Hother, however, was resolved to win the sword with which to combat against Balder, and Gewar counselled him to yoke reindeer to his car so that he might be able to traverse the region of extreme and bitter cold with great swiftness.
"When thou dost reach the cave of Miming," Gewar said, "thou must set up thy tent so that its shadow may not fall upon the satyr, for if that should happen he would remain within. Thou must needs wait until the satyr goes out, when the sword and the ring will await for thee."
As Gewar advised, so did Hother do. He went swiftly with his reindeer over the bleak wintry way until he came unto Miming's cave, where he pitched his tent. But long he waited ere the wood satyr came forth. Sad and dreary were the days, and restless and anxious the nights, Then, after waiting through a night of long darkness, Miming came forth, and his shadow fell upon Hother's tent. The youth sprang to his feet, and struck down the satyr with his spear, and then bound him securely. Terrible were the threats of Hother, who vowed that he would slay Miming if he gave not unto him the sword and the bracelet. The satyr held life more dearly than wealth, and gave Hother the ransom which he demanded. In triumph did the young hero return unto the kingdom of Gewar, and his fame was mooted abroad.
Then Gelder, King of Saxony, came to know that Miming had been robbed, and he urged his war-men to go against Hother, so great was his desire to become possessed of the treasure. But Gewar, who had magical powers, divined Gelder's purpose, and he counselled Hother to meet him with his band, and receive the shower of his javelins until there was none left, and then to fall upon the bold invaders.
So Hother went to meet the men from Saxony; he awaited them on the seashore. Eager were Gelder's heroes to make onslaught, and fast and furious did they cast their spears and javelins. But Hother had bidden his trained war-men to resist the missiles with shields interlocked, and not to cast a weapon. When the men of Saxony saw that, they were all the more eager to attack, and soon they flung away all their spears and javelins. Then Hother's men began to hurtle the weapons against the enemy, driving them back in confusion, whereat Gelder) in great alarm, hoisted up, on the mast of his ship, a crimson shield to make known that he desired to surrender, so that his life might be spared. But Hother showed nor anger nor vengeance against him; he approached the king with smiling face and offered his friendship. Thus became he victor by reason of his kindliness as well as his might.
A strong friend to Hother was Helgi, King of Halogaland, who loved Thora, daughter of Cuse, the ruler of the Finns and the Bjarmians. The monarch had a blemish of tongue, so that he stuttered greatly, and was unable to utter with eloquence the sweet speeches of love. Indeed, he not only shrank from addressing strangers, but rarely spoke in his own household. He sent messengers unto Cuse, pleading for his daughter's hand, but they were rejected with disdain, for the king said that the man who could not urge his own suit was unworthy of love's prize.
Then did Helgi seek the aid of Hother, who could speak with fluency and charm, and promised him his lifelong service if he would win for him the heart of Thora. A great fleet did Hother fit out, and he voyaged to Norway, fully resolved to take, by reason of his strength, the maid whom words would conquer not. To Cuse he spake first with eloquent tongue, and the king said that his daughter must first be heard, for he deemed it not right that he should prevail against her wishes, or decide before her will was made known. So Thora was ushered in, and when she heard what Hother said, she gave consent to be Helgi's queen.
But while Hother was thus engaged, Balder invaded the kingdom of Gewar with an armed band, and demanded that he should have Nanna for his bride. The king said that he must needs make request of the maiden, and before her did Balder plead his cause with choice speech and flattering address. But she said that a humble maiden could not be wooed by one of divine birth, and that the pledges of the gods were often broken. Thus did the maiden reject the love of him who sought her.
When Hother returned, Gewar told him of what had happened, and the young hero was filled with wrath because of Balder's presumption. With Helgi he took counsel and together they debated how they could inflict punishment upon the god. They had no recourse save to battle-blows, and Hother fitted out his fleet and went against his rival. Helgi gave him strong aid, as did also Gelder.
Then broke out a war in which the gods fought against mortals. With Balder fought Odin and Thor, clad in full armour, and when the opposing fleets met at sea a great conflict was waged. Hother in sword-proof mail attacked the gods with fury. Now Thor was swinging his great club, and while he urged those about him to press forward, he called upon his foemen to attack. The black-browed god dealt furious blows; he struck down his enemies' shields; he broke through their ranks; for long none could withstand him. Terrible, indeed, was the slaughter, and to the gods it seemed that victory was being given. But Hother went against Thor with Miming's sword. He feared him not, and struck at the great club, which he severed in twain with his keen-edged sword. . . . Then the gods took flight before Hother, and the ships that remained were destroyed by the victors.
Hother rejoiced in his triumph, but he sorrowed greatly because that Gelder had been slain. A great pyre he caused to be built with the wreckage of Balder's warships, and the corpses of the oarsmen were placed there in a heap. Then above these was laid with reverence the body of the dead king. Torches were applied and the flames rose high and bright. The ashes of King Gelder were afterwards laid in a great mound which was erected to his memory, and there was much mourning for him.
Then did Hother return to Gewar, and Nanna and he were wed with great ceremony, while the people rejoiced. To Helgi and Thora, who were also united in their joy, did the young hero give gifts of treasure. Then Hother ruled over Zeeland and Sweden.
As greatly as was Hother praised by men, Balder was mocked because that he had fled.
But the strife came not to an end. In a land battle did Balder contend against his rival, and drove him from the field. For fickle indeed are the fortunes of war. Hother took refuge with Gewar; he who had achieved victory as a subject, was defeated when a king.
Balder's army was afflicted by a water famine, but the divine one dug wells and water streamed forth, so that his parched soldiers were able to slake their thirst. To this day is a spring called Balder's-brynd.
Even by night was Balder made unhappy in his sleep, because he was tormented by dreams of Nanna. His love consumed him like fire, and he grew melancholy and thin and careworn. At length he could no longer walk, and he was taken about in his chariot. He took no pleasure in his victory, because that he had not won Nanna. There was a magical food prepared for Balder, so that he might not be brought unto death.
At this time Frey, who ruled for the gods, took up his abode nigh to Upsala, and revived the abhorrent rites of human sacrifice.
To Sweden did Hother take flight, and Balder possessed himself of Zeeland, where he received the willing service of the Danes, who before had reverenced. his rival. In due season Hother, having fitted out a fleet, again engaged in war with Balder, but was defeated and put to flight. He took refuge in Jutland, in a town which to this day bears the name of Horsens; then he returned to Sweden.
Sad at heart was Hother 3; he was weary of life and refused to be comforted, and he took farewell of all, and wandered alone through solitary places and trackless forests, for solitude is dear to the sick at heart. The people were angry with him because that he had concealed himself in a place apart.
One day Hother, as he wandered through the deep forest, came to a cave in a lonely place in which dwelt the maidens who had given to him the sword-proof coat of mail. They received him with eyes of wonder, and they asked why he paid visit to them. Whereupon Hother bewailed his fate and with sorrow spake of the afflictions he endured. The maidens did he also reproach because that they had not helped him as they had promised. But they told him that he had inflicted greater disasters than he deemed of, and promised him ultimate triumph.
"Victory will assuredly be thine," they said, if thou shalt but find the magical food with which Balder is nourished so that his strength may have increase. Possess thyself of it and he shall certainly die."
Then once again did Hother, encouraged by what the maidens had said, raise a great army to wage war against Balder. A fierce and long conflict was fought, and when night fell the issue was undecided, because that the forces were of equal strength.
Hother could not sleep, for he was afflicted with anxiety, and he went forth to reconnoitre the opposing camp. . . . He beheld three maidens who prepared the magical food for Balder, and followed their footprints through the dewy grass when they fled from him, so that he reached their dwelling and entered therein.
The maidens asked him who he was, for they perceived that he was an enemy, and he said that he was a musician. Then gave they to him a lyre, and he played sweetly thereon, so that their ears were charmed.
He saw them prepare the food for Balder. They had three serpents and their venom dropped into the mixture. One of the maidens offered Hother a portion, but the elder one said that to do so would be treason, because it would increase the strength of one of their foes. But in the end Hother was given to eat, and the maidens also conferred upon him a shining girdle which had power to assure him of victory in conflict.
Then did Hother leave the dwelling to return to his camp. But he had not gone far when he met Balder. Drawing his sword he thrust it in his foe's side so that he fell wounded nigh unto death.
There was great rejoicing in Hother's camp when he returned and told how he had stricken his rival; in Balder's camp there were loud lamentations.
Next day, when the battle was renewed, Balder bade his men to carry him into the midst of the fray upon a stretcher, so that he might not meet with death in his tent.
When night again fell Balder saw standing beside him the vision of Proserpine 4, and she told him that on the morrow she would have him for her guest. At the time appointed Balder died, and he was buried in a great grave mound with pomp and deep mourning.
In after days Harold 5 and other men sought to rob Balder's mound of its treasure, but when they pierced it a great flood of water burst forth 6 and they fled in confusion. So was terror implanted in the minds of youths there, so that they feared to disturb the mound again.
Hother again ruled over his kingdom, but he had great sorrow when Gewar was attacked and burned in his castle by Gunno, a jarl who served him. He took speedy vengeance, and burned Gunno alive upon a pyre.
When Odin came to know of Balder's death, he went unto prophets to divine how he could be avenged, and he came to know that a son would be born to him of Rinda; his name would be Boe, and he would slay Hother.
Now Rinda was a daughter of the king of the Ruthenians, and Odin went forth disguised and entered the service of that monarch. He became the captain of a band and won a distinguished victory; then he fought singlehanded against a host and achieved renown above all other men. There was great wonder thereat. Great gifts were given unto him, and he was honoured in the royal household. Then he secretly told the king of his love for Rinda, and his suit was favoured, but he must needs woo the fair princess and win her heart ere he would have her for his bride.
Not easily was Rinda wooed, because when Odin sought to kiss her, she smote him with anger. A year passed by, and then he went to the Court in foreign guise and said he was a wonder-smith. With bronze did he fashion many fair ornaments, for which he received much gold. To Rinda he made offer of a rare bracelet and rings, but again she smote him when he sought to woo her. Although her sire remonstrated with her, she scorned to wed a man of many years, especially as she was herself of tender age. A third time went Odin to woo the maid. He was disguised as a young warrior, but again he was repulsed. Then had he recourse to magic arts. He had with him a piece of bark on which runes were graven, and with that he touched her, so that she was seized with madness.
Odin returned next in the guise of a woman who was a skilled physician, and offered to cure Rinda, who was prostrate with sickness. In the end he prevailed and won the maiden for himself, and she became the mother of Boe.
At this time the gods ruled at Byzantium, and they were moved to wrath against Odin because that he had practised magic arts; so they deprived him of his high honours and drove him into exile. Oller ruled in his stead. Not until ten years had passed was Odin recalled to the throne, and then Oller fled to Sweden, where he was slain by certain Danes. It is said of Oller that he possessed a bone, graven with fearsome spells, with which he could cross the ocean as if it were a ship.
Odin reigned with greater dignity and power than before, and his renown was spread far among men. Then found he Boe, his son by Rinda, and him he constrained to go forth to avenge the death of Balder.
Thus it came that Hother was slain by Rinda's son in a fierce battle, but Boe 7 was wounded unto death, so that he was borne from the field upon his shield. Next day he died, and the Ruthenian soldiers buried him in a stately mound, so that his memory might not perish in after days, but ever have renown among men.
After Hother's death his son Rorik became king.
2 The Sword of Victory concealed in Mimer's realm. Hother resembles Svipdag very closely. Gewar is the moon-god of the Ivalde myth.
3 Like King Hrethel in Beowulf.
5 Believed to be a historical personage who lived in the twelfth century.
6 Balder is associated with well worship. Wells sprang from his horse's hoofmarks, and he found water for his soldiers. Water defends his mound.
7 Vale, who in mythology is the slayer of the wolf, is thus Boe (Beowulf) in Saxo's Danish legend. He receives his deathwound when he slays Hother, who, as Svipdag, was a dragon guarding beneath a grey rock great treasure, which shone like fire in the flood. At the same time Hother is confused with Hoder, Balder's blind brother. One of Svipdag's names was Odur. So do the divine and heroic elements of a passing mythology intermix in tradition. Each age, each race, and each bard leaves in turn impresses upon a persistent legend. The memory of the mythical hero may survive, or his deeds may become associated with the traditions of a national hero. Mythological incidents which appeal to the popular imagination not infrequently develop into independent narratives.