Cunning Intelligence in Norse Myth: Loki, Óðinn, and the Limits of Sovereignty Author(s): Kevin J.

Wanner Source: History of Religions, Vol. 48, No. 3 (February 2009), pp. 211-246 Published by: The University of Chicago Press Stable URL: . Accessed: 19/08/2011 19:58
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Kevin J. Wanner


A leading theme in studies of ancient Greece has long been the revolution in thought of logos against muthos, of the challenge posed by, in terms first attested in and perhaps set by Plato (427/8–348/7 BC), a philosophical discourse of the abstract, atemporal, and universal, suited to accounts of the realm of being, to a poetic discourse of the concrete, historical, and particular, suited to exploring the world of becoming.1 In Les ruses d ’intelligence: La mètis des grecs, a collection of essays published in 1974 and translated in 1978 as Cunning Intelligence in Greek Culture and Society, Marcel Detienne and Jean-Pierre Vernant called attention to another important rivalry in the history of Greek thought, one that because it was less dramatic, concentrated, and overt has been less noticed by scholars.2 This second contest was between the kind of intelligence extolled by the classical philosophers—and by dominant strains of Western and Christian thought since—and a kind discussed by Detienne and Vernant under the native heading of metis. Metis is most simply translated as “cunning,”
1 For an account that reviews and criticizes scholarly discourses on this transition, see Bruce Lincoln, “Mythos among the Greeks,” pt. 1 in Theorizing Myth: Narrative, Ideology, and Scholarship (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999), 3–43. 2 Marcel Detienne and Jean-Pierre Vernant, Les ruses d ’intelligence: La mètis des grecs (Paris: Flammarion et Cie, 1974), and Cunning Intelligence in Greek Culture and Society, trans. Janet Lloyd (Hassocks, UK: Harvester, 1978); all subsequent references are to the English translation of this work.

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Cunning Intelligence in Norse Myth

although it carries the wider sense of an intelligence or mode of thinking and operating that is practical, situational, or, in Michel de Certeau’s sense of the term, tactical in nature.3 As described in Detienne and Vernant’s introduction to their collection, metis refers to
forms of wiley intelligence, of effective, adaptable cunning[,] . . . a complex but very coherent body of mental attitudes and intellectual behaviour which combine flair, wisdom, forethought, subtlety of mind, deception, resourcefulness, vigilance, opportunism, various skills, and experience acquired over the years. It is applied to situations which are transient, shifting, disconcerting and ambiguous, situations which do not lend themselves to precise measurement, exact calculation or rigorous logic . . . [It is] a type of intelligence which, although it continued to operate in large areas such as politics, the military art, medicine and the skills of the artisan, nevertheless appears to have been displaced and devalued in comparison with what henceforth represented the key element in Greek learning.4

Although Detienne and Vernant here suggest that philosophers disparaged metis for the same reason that they rejected or tried to tame the myths of the poets—namely, that it was ill suited for thinking and talking about the realm of being—they also propose that metis was problematic because it gave the lie to the dichotomous structure of reality that philosophers had so laboriously delineated in their struggles against the religious and pedagogical authority of the poets.
In the intellectual world of the Greek philosopher . . . there is a radical dichotomy between being and becoming, between the intelligible and the sensible. . . . These contrasting concepts . . . form a complete system of antinomies defining two mutually exclusive spheres of reality. On the one hand there is the sphere of being, of the one, the unchanging, of the limited, of true and definite knowledge; on the other, the sphere of becoming, of the multiple, the unstable and the unlimited, of oblique and changeable opinion. Within this framework of thought there can be no place for metis. Metis is characterised precisely by the way it operates by continuously oscillating between two opposite poles. It turns into their contraries objects that are not yet defined as stable, circumscribed, mutually exclusive concepts but which appear as Powers in a situation of confrontation. . . . When the individual who is endowed with metis, be he god or man, is confronted with a multiple, changing reality whose limitless polymorphic powers render it almost impossible to seize, he can only dominate it . . . if he proves himself to be even more multiple, more mobile, more polyvalent than his adversary.5

3 Michel de Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life, trans. Steven Rendall (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984), xix, 35–37. 4 Detienne and Vernant, Cunning Intelligence, 3–5. 5 Ibid., 5; and for a discussion of places in his works in which Plato disparages such practical or situational intelligence, see 315–16.

In Norse myth. 21. is able to absolutize his authority and eternalize his reign only once he has incorporated.History of Religions 213 Apart from their impact on scholarship on ancient Greece. Detienne’s and Vernant’s studies have inspired a small but significant set of researches into instances of “metic” intelligence in other contexts. who embody the qualities of metic intelligence described by Detienne and Vernant. In it. I neither intend nor attempt to connect Greek and Norse myths historically or genetically. Knowing Words: Wisdom and Cunning in the Classical Traditions of China and Greece (Ithaca. “Êórr’s Honour. 181–84.6 There has yet to appear. namely. Among the more notable of these are Burton L. 66 n. 67–69. the same relationship between cunning intelligence and sovereignty is posited. very different: rather than cunning intelligence being assimilated to the mythological sovereign. 1988). NY: Cornell University Press. 48–76. Oddly enough. quite literally. I agree with Jonathan Z. esp. Zeus. While I do not deny the possibility or even the likelihood that these connections exist. as they are known from textual sources mostly produced or preserved by medieval Icelanders. what rules “is an overwhelming concern for assigning value. it remains partially and perhaps principally invested in a figure who is ultimately instrumental in resisting and overcoming the sovereign and his order. 1994). 158–59. Detienne and Vernant conclude that cunning intelligence—the only power ultimately capable of resisting or overcoming superior force—is treated in Greek myth as necessary to the maintenance of sovereignty: the supreme god. I will also compare the role that Detienne and Vernant reveal cunning intelligence to play in Greek myth to the role it plays in Norse myth. see Margaret Clunies Ross. a god rather lacking in this form of intelligence. 7 Though I have not made an exhaustive search. any substantial application of the French scholars’ insights to the study of Norse culture and myth. Mack. Smith that attempts to establish such links are generally of use to apologetic agendas that seek to privilege one of the two terms being compared as either the source of the other or the closer to some putative and often hypothetical original.7 This article attempts such an application. however. A Myth of Innocence: Mark and Christian Origins (Philadelphia: Fortress. The outcome of events is. In such an enterprise. Lisa Raphals. 1992). In performing my comparisons. however. . I have noticed in studies of Norse myth only one passing reference to Detienne and Vernant’s work on cunning. that control over the former is required for those who would epitomize the latter. I focus on two figures of Norse myth. I will argue. To summarize. Mack’s efforts to uncover the original. esp. it appears in a discussion of Êórr. ed. rather than intellectual 6 Burton L. Cynic-sage character of Jesus of Nazareth’s outlook and message and Lisa Raphals’s work on Chinese thought and religion. Heiko Uecker (Berlin: de Gruyter.” in Studium zum Altgermanischen: Festschrift für Heinrich Beck. the embodiment of this power.

my goal in this article is to compare how two sets of myths depict attempts by sovereign figures to control and/or harness the powers of cunning intelligence. very changeable in his ways. mjök fjölbreytinn at háttum. sonr Fárbauta jötuns. 51. Sá er nefndr Loki eda Loptr. . Smith. 1982]. 46. As Icelander Snorri Sturluson (1178/9–1241) writes in his Edda (ca. It is the scholar who makes their cohabitation—their ‘sameness’—possible. academic “comparison . not ‘natural’ affinities or processes of history. . masters of me¤tis among the norse gods The figure that first springs to mind when we are looking for examples of cunning intelligence at work in Norse myth is Loki.. in Edda: Prologue and Gylfaginning. just as I take advantage of some of their conclusions. or Loptr. a handbook of poetry and myth that is our most accessible native source for preChristian Norse religion. 10 “Sá er enn taldr med Ásum er sumir kalla rógbera Ásanna ok frumkveda flærdanna ok vömm allra goda ok manna. Drudgery Divine: On the Comparison of Early Christianities and the Religions of Late Antiquity (Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 1990). Hann hafdi Âá speki um fram adra menn er slœgd heitir. in his guide to Norse myth. illr í skaplyndi. . son of Fárbauti the giant.”9 My purpose. . John Lindow. Smith. I have been inspired by Detienne’s and Vernant’s analyses of Greek materials. and tricks for every occasion. . Gylfaginning 33. unless noted otherwise. He possessed that intelligence in greater degree than other men that is called cunning [slœgd]. áss. More specifically. 2004). . then.214 Cunning Intelligence in Norse Myth significance. Anthony Faulkes [Oxford: Clarendon. brings differences together within the space of the scholar’s mind for the scholar’s own intellectual reasons. Módir hans er Laufey eda Nál. the principal “tribe” of Norse gods] who some call slanderer of the æsir and originator of deceits and blemish of all gods and men. . 24–25. and often he extricated them with his schemes. For further remarks on why analogy rather than genealogy (or homology) is the proper method for academic comparison. 92–94. 26–27). see Jonathan Z. Loki er frídr ok fagr synum. All translations. . Relating Religion: Essays in the Study of Religion (Chicago: University of Chicago Press. in comparing is to consider how similar yet not identical phenomena arise from and interact with different contexts and actors to test certain hypotheses. “That one is also numbered among the æsir [sing. or Nál.”8 By contrast. 9 Ibid. ed. His mother is Laufey. 1220–25). He is called Loki.”10 Before considering the attributes here assigned to Loki. some discussion of what sort of being he is supposed to be is needed. Hann kom Ásum jafnan í fullt vandrædi ok opt leysti hann Âá med vælrædum” (Snorri Sturluson. . makes much of the fact that Snorri states that “Loki is ‘also numbered among 8 Jonathan Z. and to speculate about how differences in the outcome of these attempts might reflect differences in the myths’ contexts and the interests of their producers/consumers. He brought the æsir constantly into great difficulty. are my own. to the results of comparison. Loki is handsome and fair in appearance. evil in character. ok vælar til allra hluta.

1998). writing that “how Tyr got a giant for a father is one of the true mysteries of this mythology. 69. stating that Loki in poetry is called “bölva smidr. Text. Heroes. Anthony Faulkes. according to one source. prone to trickery. another of the major æsir. ed.15 While only the first of the kennings. A shorter description from later in Snorri’s Edda presents a similar set of qualities. vol. after all. he is counted as one of them even though he may actually not be one.”11 The factor that Lindow and others point to that makes Loki a putative rather than real áss is that “he has a giant father. two tenth-century poems call Loki “mögr Fárbautis” (Fárbauti’s son). 77. this is the second major section of Snorri’s Edda] 16. Studies in Scandinavian Literature and Culture 3 (Columbia. rœgjandi ok vélandi godanna” (maker of mischiefs.” 12 Ibid. Loki’s and Tyr’s having giant fathers and membership among the æsir is an unusual combination. pl. by stanza and page number are to this edition (although I have adopted normalized spellings of the poems’ titles). as far as I am concerned here. 2001). 1987).History of Religions 215 the æsir. Fárbauti”. Setting questions of ancestry and identity aside. This translation is slightly adapted from Snorri Sturluson. if only through its inconsistencies. Gustav Neckel. Norse Mythology: A Guide to the Gods. SC: Camden House. All æsir are nominal æsir. a giant father. all subsequent page-number references to Skáldskaparmál are to vol. 5th ed.v. The source for a giant as Tyr’s father is stanza 5 of the eddic poem Hymiskvida. except Fjölsvinnsmál. we notice that the key traits of Loki according to Snorri’s description are that he is cunning. 1 of this edition. and vanir (a second “tribe” of gods whose few named members are called áss or ásynja as often as vanr or vanadís) are constructed identities with “fictional boundaries of difference” and that the mythos in fact recognizes them as such. also has. 14 Karen Swenson. 2 vols. Rituals. Performing Definitions: Two Genres of Insult in Old Norse Literature. 298. the cunning áss. although Lindow is vexed by this datum. Skáldskaparmál [The language of poetry. 13 Lindow. calumniator and tricker of the gods). Norse Mythology.’ that is. then. and duplicitous. [ed. Hans Kung] (Heidelberg: Carl Winter.12 However. trans. in Edda: Skáldskaparmál. 216.”13 One way to get around the mystery is perhaps simply to admit that the categories of æsir. or poetic 11 John Lindow. hinn slœgi Áss. 1983 [originally published in 1914]). . although only Snorri identifies Fárbauti as a “jötunn” (giant. rev. jötnar. 1991). Anthony Faulkes (London: Everyman. “Loki. jötnar). Given. 15 Snorri Sturluson. and no one among the mythmakers or interpreters seems to doubt that he is a real áss.” usually having an áss father and giant mother. s. Loki’s ancestry will not be treated by me as a key to his nature or function.14 Even if. Edda. Tyr. 1:20. most of the gods whose parentage is known are of “mixed race. resourceful. ed. 1. subsequent references to Hymiskvida and to all other eddic poems. (London: Viking Society for Northern Research. and Beliefs (Oxford: Oxford University Press. The two tenth-century poems are Êjódólfr of Hvinir’s Haustlöng and Úlfr Uggason’s Húsdrápa. that the sources do not seem consistently to align mythic beings’ genealogies with their social identities. in Edda: Die Lieder des Codex Regius nebst verwandten Denkmälern.

” In short. Jan de Vries. from neutral terms such as “craft. 107. Lee M. the poems that were Snorri’s major source also ascribe to Loki qualities that can be labeled metic. Glossary to the Poetic Edda Based on Hans Kuhn’s “Kurzes Wörterbuch” (Heidelberg: Carl Winter. 1961).” “baleful. [Halle: Buchhandlung des Waisenhauses. there is reference to a læva lundr. The various translations for læ and related terms have been taken from Richard Cleasby and Gudbrandur Vigfússon. Loki is called bölvasmidr in Lokasenna 41. List).”19 Although the matter is not uncontroversial. The Poetic Edda. ed. 36–37. Further. Craigie (Oxford: Clarendon. with a supplement by William A.” or “ruin. Beatrice La Farge and John Tucker. “læ. The Poetic Edda. trans.17 Loki is twice—in Lokasenna (Loki’s calumny) and in Hymiskvida (Hymir’s poem)—called by the word lævíss. Neckel ed. listed here is attested elsewhere. 2nd ed. a god named Lódurr. here and throughout this article. Völuspá 35. 2. which means literally “wise in læ” but has been translated as “crafty.v. Ursula Dronke (Oxford: Clarendon. taking Jan de Vries’s entry for læ in his Altnordisches etymologisches Wörterbuch as our guide.” “art. oc lito góda. “læ-wand. 6. Loki is also said to have forged a sword called lævateinn. 2nd ed. which literally translates as “eager for læ” but has been rendered as “guileful.”18 Völuspá contains two further likely linkages of Loki with læ: in stanza 25.. 1874). rev. Brill. and The Poetic Edda. Folklore Fellows Communications 110 [Helsinki: Suomalainen tiedeakatemia. in Edda.” or “skill” to the more negative ones of “fraud. 3 vols. Altnordisches etymologisches Wörterbuch (Leiden: E. he is called by the word lægiarn. anonymous works focusing on mythological or legendary themes and composed between the ninth and thirteenth centuries...” and “calamitous. vol.” “malignant.” “treason. s. Neckel ed.” and “evilloving.” in the underworld (Fjölsvinnsmál [Sayings of Fjölsvidr] 26.” which is either a kenning for Loki or for something he uses—e. A Concise Dictionary of Old Icelandic.” “woe. ed. ed. a wand—against Idunn in Haustlöng 11 (The “Haustlöng” of Êjódólfr of Hvinir. trans.” “misfortune. Mythological Poems. in Die Lieder der Edda. 1937]. 19 “hverir hefdi lopt alt lævi blandit” (Völuspá 25. 8.” 18 Lokasenna 54. An Icelandic-English Dictionary.g. 1903–31]. and see 5). whom many scholars equate with Loki.” “wicked. in Edda. 1992).216 Cunning Intelligence in Norse Myth circumlocutions. . 1962). 7). Carolyne Larrington (Oxford: Oxford University Press. Middlesex: Hisarlik Press. 49–55. Barend Sijmons and Hugo Gering. endows the first pair of humans with “lá . While Jan de Vries rejects identification of Loki and Lódurr. 1997). in Edda.” “harm. Zoëga.” and in stanza 18. this term has a threefold sense of “cunning” (in German.. and Alt17 16 . Hymiskvida 37. he does review the arguments of those who favor it (see his The Problem of Loki. 1:207). 2004 [originally published in 1910]).” “sly.” In Völuspá (The seeress’s prophecy). 104.. and trans.16 In eddic poems. 371. Neckel ed. (Austin: University of Texas Press. “tree of deceit (or poison). “deception” (Betrug). Medieval Academy Reprints for Teaching 4 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press. 95. they convey an ambivalent view of his character and deeds. Loki is often linked to the word læ. in ibid.. the æsir convene in a moment of crisis to determine “who had blended all the air with læ. and trans. .” “evil. Richard North [Enfield Lock. and “injury” (Schaden or Verlust). J.” “bane. Geir T. in ibid. which can be translated into English in a number of ways. 1996). 1997]. Hollander. I provide only the stanza number and do not indicate line divisions in poetry citations)..

but tries at once to make them good” (Er ist erfinderisch und findig. 20 and 26. It may be noted here that Georges Dumézil argued in a book-length study. Malling. and trans. Willy Krogmann wrote of Loki.. this text is found in a fourteenth-century manuscript as part of Óláfs saga Tryggvasonar en mesta). an instantiation of what Detienne and Vernant call “informed prudence” (Cunning Intelligence. [Berlin: de Gruyter. T. he is surprised by the results of his actions.History of Religions 217 some treat the term lá as identical with læ. . 21 Haustlöng 5. in Flateyjarbók: En samling af norske konge-sagaer. Descriptors for Loki used by Snorri and the poets are echoed in the relatively late. which nicknames him “Loki læuiss” and (like Snorri) says that of all beings Loki has the greatest “slægd” (cunning).22 But while germanische Religionsgeschichte. 52–54). 403. that Loki ought to be regarded as a Norse personification of the abstract psychological quality “impulsive intelligence. . R. Dumézil.20 As final examples. (Oslo: P. 1860– 68). see Sörla Âáttr. Loki is called “bragdvíss” (wise in tricks) in Êjódólfr of Hvinir’s Haustlöng. based partly on an extended but in the end rather inessential comparison with the Ossetian figure Syrdon. it is clear from these descriptions of Loki that he embodies many of the qualities discussed by Detienne and Vernant under the heading of metis.. for the stanzas from Húsdrápa and Êórsdrápa. quote at 70). 8 [Göteborg: Elander. While Dumézil’s core idea. the latter two from the tenth century. water. Faulkes ed.. who accepts their equation (see his Loki: Ein mythologisches Problem. as does Folke Ström. 2:271–72). Gudbrandur Vigfússon and C. taken from the corpus of skaldic poems (which typically are differentiated from eddic poems by their more ornate form and ascription to named poets). . and trans. 11). 77 and 83. 900. Dronke ed. . see Skáldskaparmál 16 and 18. Inge Köck [Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft. doch er blickt nicht weit: Ganz dem Augenblick und seinem Impuls. Many have echoed this general judgment before and since. 1:275.” Acta Philologica Scandinavica 12 [1937–38]: 59–70. 3 vols. that “his cunning must in the future be regarded as the major trait of his character” (muss seine Arglist in Zukunft als der Hauptzug seines Wesens betrachtet werden) (“Loki. Icelandic-English Dictionary. North ed. to the contrary. “firna slœgr” (terribly sly) in Úlfr Uggason’s Húsdrápa. Göteborgs Universitets Årsskrift 62. is clearly not far removed from my own. 20 Cleasby and Gudbrandur Vigfússon. see Poetic Edda. a spider—many have viewed the trait of cunning as fundamental to his character. or air to a trickster or culture-hero. to a chthonic demon of death. 4. to.. hingegeben wird er von den Folgen seiner Handlungen überrascht. 1959]. Faulkes trans. whom I discuss near the end of the last section of this article. 22 In the late 1930s. that Loki is in many ways best regarded as a mythic personification of an abstract mental quality. 123). The first poem is from ca. as the instantiation of prudent intelligence and. and “drjúgr at ljúga” (proficient at lying) in Eilífr Gudrúnarson’s Êórsdrápa. as Loki’s opposite . his understanding ultimately contradicts my view that Loki is a metic figure. no. it is not surprising that while scholars’ interpretations of the core Loki or ur-Loki have varied enormously—he has been seen as everything from an elemental spirit of fire. yet he does not look far ahead: abandoning himself entirely to the moment and to his impulse . most infamously. translations from Edda. ed. Unger. 1957].21 Although we have not yet considered any narratives about him. based mainly on considerations of etymology and runic evidence. . Thus. in which case (assuming Lódurr is in fact identical to Loki) this figure not only typifies this quality but also supplies humanity with it. versucht sie aber sofort wiedergutzumachen) (Loki. trans. 1956]. characterizes the rather ill-defined and passive áss Hœnir. prose Sörla Âáttr (Sörli’s tale. 2 vols. thus. For a more recent discussion by a scholar who accepts the identification. 2:125.” Dumézil describes Loki as “inventive and resourceful.

329–30. each flees in the shape of a bird with a stolen (or recovered) treasure in his beak from a giant who. While no passage ascribes metic qualities to Ódinn as explicitly and succinctly as those from Snorri’s Edda do for Loki. In other words. 24 For a discussion of narratives of such missions of Ódinn. and Stefanie von Schnurbein. 4. 48–49. Wanner. Lilian Friedberg. instead of revealing. Problem of Loki.g. seem secure. there is a figure of equal if not greater importance to the overall mythos who gives Loki a run for this distinction.. however. In order to dupe its victim it assumes a form which masks. 4 (2007): 316–50. de Vries. on separate occasions. Ódinn’s often involve just changes of outfit or sometimes just changes of name rather than of form. its true being. (Loki.. Metis is a “power of metamorphosis” as well as of “disguise. 7–8.. “The Function of Loki in Snorri Sturluson’s Edda. that his plans are the ones that ultimately come to fruition.” trans. esp.. we find when looking at the stories that are told about each that almost every activity and trait that make Loki a model of cunning apply also to Ódinn. 224–31). when we consider instances in which these two gods adopt animal forms: Loki becomes a fly to distract a dwarf from his forging and becomes a salmon to try to escape from the æsir who want to punish him for Baldr’s death. see Skáldskaparmál 35.218 Cunning Intelligence in Norse Myth Loki’s ranking as Norse myth’s paradigmatic instantiation of metic intelligence might. Faulkes ed. at least. . see Skáldskaparmál G58. 2 (2000): 109–24.25 Loki and Ódinn even in one case engage in the same particular animal transformation when. Gylfaginning 50. e. most have been offered by a certain number of scholars. 20–21. therefore. 112–13. Ódinn. while Ódinn transforms into a snake to gain entry through a small hole into a cave. also in bird’s form. A reason for this difference may be that while Loki is rarely concerned with concealing his identity as such. Faulkes ed. while Loki’s transformations are usually physical. for Ódinn’s transformation. Ström. 23 Detienne and Vernant. 2:265–67. see. it is appropriate to view Loki as the greater master of metamorphosis and Ódinn as the master of disguise. 25 For Loki’s transformations. As for the other interpretations of the ur-Loki I have mentioned. In metis [sic] appearance and reality no longer correspond to one another but stand in contrast. History of Religions 40. esp. I argue. see Kevin J. 10–27. “God on the Margins: Dislocation and Transience in the Myths of Ódinn. because the success of his “mission” often depends on his foes’ not recognizing him until the right moment. 42. One ability considered by Detienne and Vernant essential to masters of metis is the changing or masking of form or aspect. Cunning Intelligence.24 This difference fades from view. Loki. Faulkes ed. and Altgermanische Religionsgeschichte.”23 It is true that Ódinn and Loki do not exhibit identical powers or habits of transformation. To some extent. no. that Loki is ultimately shown by the mythos to have the most forethought of any of the æsir or. however. and these schools of thought have been reviewed many times. This is the chief god. Ódinn frequently seeks to do so.” History of Religions 46. no.

For the two instances of Loki’s adopting a female humanoid form. Faulkes ed.” 29 “oc hugda ec Âat args adal” (Lokasenna 24. trans. 1941–51]. 4–5. and I consider that an unmanly quality [args adal]”. 1:76–78. the transformation attains for the god an end apart from or beyond that of mere disguise. “The Relationship between Cunning and Sovereignty in Greek and Norse Myth. Bjarni Adalbjarnarson. it should be noted that Ódinn does not escape being labeled as womanish. 101. metis represents above 26 Loki does so in Haustlöng 12. oc hefir Âú Âar born borit. on the other hand. 88). Ódinn and Loki are also alike in that both switch gender and/or take on feminine qualities. at eigi Âótti karlmönnum skammlaust vid at fara” (Ynglinga saga 7. see Êrymskvida 15–20. either in appearance or in reality..27 Loki. and in another eddic poem. 1:19). transforms into a female. see Saxo Grammaticus. 78–80. (Cambridge: D. Ódinn. 113–14. both Loki and the god Êórr disguise themselves in drag in order to retrieve Êórr’s stolen hammer at a feast of the giants.. ed. 3 vols. Êrymskvida (Êrymr’s poem). Ódinn (Othinus).”30 Thus. In Lokasenna. ed. 1225). There is only one story of Ódinn’s appearing as a woman: in the Dane Saxo Grammaticus’s Gesta Danorum (early 1200s). translation slightly modified from Poetic Edda. for both Loki and Ódinn. 6. ed.. finally attaining this end while in the form of a female physician. Loki is the main gender bender of the pair. . Neckel ed. Larrington trans. Neckel ed. “and I considered that an args adal. from which “flows such great effeminacy [ergi] that it seems to men not without shame to practice it. however. in Edda. . uses magic to adopt several disguises in his efforts to trick or force a reluctant princess to have sex with him.History of Religions 219 pursues him to Ásgardr. 1996). for translation. here euhemerized as a decadent monarch of Byzantium. North ed. on each of the four occasions when he adopts an alternative humanoid form: for example. [Reykjavík: Hid íslenzka fornritafélag. emphasis added). Hilda Ellis Davidson. 1886). moreover.28 Even if. 30 “fylgir svá mikil ergi. 28 “átta vetr vartu fyr iord nedan kyr mólcandi oc kona. and there you bore children.26 In each of these cases. 2 vols. in Lokasenna. Peter Fisher. 27 See book III in Saxonis Grammatici Gesta Danorum. Loki responds to Ódinn’s accusation that Loki is “unmanly” by stating that the chief god had beaten drums like a witch on an island. in calling Ódinn unmanly: in Ynglinga saga (ca. is said to practice the art of seidr. but means to ends for metic actors. identity. species.”29 Loki is not alone. Neckel ed. The History of the Danes: Books I–IX. For Loki and Êórr dressing in drag.. in Heimskringla. Brewer. beneath the earth.. see this article’s next section. Ódinn does so in the story of the mead of poetry in Skáldskaparmál G58. in Edda. For Detienne and Vernant. Trübner.. Such malleability and adaptability are. 101. Ódinn accuses Loki of having been “eight winters . S. the first of a colleciton of kings’ sagas long ascribed to Snorri Sturluson. however. a woman milking cows. here a Trojan king who has colonized the North. oc hugda ec Âat args adal” (Lokasenna 23. in Edda. . and gender are fluid categories. Alfred Holder (Strassburg: Karl J.

. to reverse the natural outcome of the encounter. neither ever triumphs alone. by the giant Hreidmarr for the killing of his son Otr. . see Lokasenna 65 and Reginsmál 6. 45–46. scope.. A. 32 31 . 68. they use their mouths or wits. in a sense. 2000]).” Neophilogus 14 [1929]: 204–14). Christopher Tolkien (London: Nelson. Kaaren Grimstad [Saarbrücken: AQ-Verlag. 13. Ódinn is taken hostage by a human king in the eddic poem Grímnismál and. and by the æsir in the giant-builder episode and after the klling of Baldr (in Gylfaginning 42 and 50.32 So long as such encounters remain straightforward contests of might or physical ability.220 Cunning Intelligence in Norse Myth all a universal technique for inverting the normal result of any contest: “In every confrontation or competitive situation . success can be won by two means. 4o. in Loki’s case. as well as in Lokasenna’s prose epilogue (however. 1960). Among instances in which Ódinn reveals his identity to great effect are the climaxes of the eddic poems VafÂrúdnismál and Grímnismál. 9 in Saga Heidreks Konungs ins Vitra: The Saga of King Heidrek the Wise. There are many instances of each god’s use of types of verbal cunning: for Ódinn’s cursing enemies as he departs. Neckel ed. or by the use of methods of a different order whose effect is. sufficient to persuade that although there are differences in the nature. whatever the circumstances. and trans. and chap. Loki is also taken captive by the giant Êjazi in Haustlöng 8–9. ed. or telling riddles or outright lies. . in cases in which their enemies seem to have gotten the better of them. van Hamel has offered reasons for regarding this epilogue as originally separate material. North ed. ed. in Edda. This pivotal act can take many forms. or. . they wait for the opportune moment to cast off a disguise or assumed form.. Both are repeatedly taken hostage by jötnar. whatever the conditions of the conflict. . . finally. see Grímnismál 53. in Edda. see his “The Prose-Frame of Lokasenna. precisely. I hope. they arrange a timely distraction. In some instances. as I have described. or by men. Neckel ed. Faulkes ed.”31 Singly or together. they adopt a shape that allows them to make an unexpected escape or entry. either thanks to a superiority in ‘power’ in the particular sphere in which the contest is taking place . 34–36 and 48–49. Victory or extrication from such situations comes for both through one of two means: either they wait for the arrival or rely on the action of an ally with sufficient strength to overcome their foes—this is almost always the thunder-god Êórr—or else they plan or watch for the moment when their cunning can reverse the trajectory of the contest or end it in their favor. 44.33 The evidence I have presented thus far is. . The Icelandic Text according to MS Nks 1824 b. as narrated in Völsunga saga 14 (Völsunga saga: The Saga of the Volsungs. for Loki’s curses.. along with Loki. the only one that has the power to ensure victory and domination over others. and applications Detienne and Vernant. the absolute weapon.. sometimes. Cunning Intelligence. . G. in the prose introduction and first nine verses of Reginsmál. and in Skáldskaparmál 39– 40. 173–75. often. 33 Many references to Ódinn’s or Loki’s use of such tactics have already been given. deploying clever or sophistic arguments. Ódinn and Loki habitually confront adversaries stronger than themselves. by the other æsir. 4–6. they flee with a parting curse. 109 and 175. in other instances. bargaining with their captors. which invariably comes true. in Edda. [Metis] is. Faulkes ed.. and trans. Neckel ed.

While Snorri uses the spelling ragnarøkr. “twilight of the gods. 34 and 66–67. if Loki is the most disparaged of the gods. lacking as they do the qualities of eternity.. I seek in the remainder of this article to answer a major question: Why are metic qualities or powers so prominent in Norse myth? Or. is not. Faulkes ed. Ellis Davidson. 1964).” I use the more usual ragnarök (except when I am quoting him). see n. and Wanner. in short.” in which both god and world order will meet their end.36 In Lokasenna. Gods and Myths of Northern Europe (London: Penguin. This disparity. Loki and Ódinn share a set of abilities and traits that make them both paradigmatic instantiations of cunning intelligence as this is defined by Detienne and Vernant in their studies of Greek culture and myth. Ódinn is routinely described as deceitful.and postconversion. there is a clear difference in the way in which Ódinn’s and Loki’s characters and deeds are evaluated in existing sources. Myth and Religion of the North: The Religion of Ancient Scandinavia (London: Wiedenfeld & Nicolson. “God on the Margins. First. Neckel ed. and more important. for two reasons. vernacular and Latin. in Edda. kings.” see Gylfaginning 20. stasis. I will focus more heavily on Loki than on Ódinn in what follows. and perfection. Turville-Petre. in a previous article I examined myths of Ódinn in some detail. primarily moral in nature. Ódinn runs a close second. 4. capricious. reason is that despite the overlap in their customary powers and the uses to which they put them. 50. 22. All victories are tactical and temporary. Having established this. 36 For the name “Bölverkr. Skáldskaparmál G58. how distinctly non-Platonic Norse notions of deity and cosmos are. most often in the context of his dealings with warriors.. Loki. differences in their moral evaluations of these characters should not be exaggerated.” 330–31. 35 Ström. In sources poetic and prose. 50–53. emphasizing the themes of marginality and transience that pervade them: both the god and the order he protects are shown to cling to existence precariously. Faulkes ed. O. 336–37: all these studies cite and summarize primary materials that raise moral questions about (or openly condemn) Ódinn’s character or actions. and engaging in dishonorable and shameful behavior. when 34 For my earlier article. The second. as has often been claimed. .History of Religions 221 of their powers. to frame this question slightly differently. G.34 I stressed. While it can be conceded that our sources on the whole take a more positive view of Ódinn than of Loki. and nobles. I think.35 While Loki is called “bölva smidr.. 24 above. pre. 81–82. E. and the eddic poems Hávamál 109 and Grímnismál 47. is “Bölverkr” (Doer of evil). H. Indeed. attested in multiple sources. Why do two of the three most central and active figures of these myths (the other being Êórr) so eminently embody this brand of intelligence? Although— as my discussion will suggest and (occasionally) explicitly argue—one cannot really understand one of these gods apart from the other. serving perhaps to stave off but never to thwart the inevitability of ragnarök. 1964). R.” one of Ódinn’s pseudonyms. the “doom of the gods.

” Another question. my hypothesis is that Loki may be regarded as Norse myth’s principal or primordial manifestation of metic powers and abilities. . because he bore runes of strife between kinsmen. Ódinn’s own wife Frigg seems to confirm its validity when she implores the pair to maintain silence concerning “what you two æsir engaged in in days of yore. ed. 40 Anne Holtsmark. 101).” Maal og Minne 62 (1962): 81–89. in Edda. 39 See Hárbardsljód 27 and 21. lengthy. . . 19 above. Neckel ed.”38 Even the guileless Êórr confirms Loki’s and others’ judgments on Ódinn’s character when in the eddic poem Hárbardsljód (Hárbardr’s song) he calls his father “ragr” (a pervert) and his mind “illr” (evil)..222 Cunning Intelligence in Norse Myth Loki publicly accuses Ódinn of practicing unmanly arts. Neckel ed. victory to the less worthy. and Jan de Vries’ “Loki .” Arkiv för nordisk filologi 96 (1981): 49–86. und kein Ende” (Loki .. that I will seek to answer in the rest of this article is. sigr” (Lokasenna. however. . Neckel ed. 40 This has hardly stopped anyone from trying. Âvíat med sifiungom sacrúnar bar” (Helgakvida Hundingsbana önnur 34. 101). Neckel ed. Titles of articles such as Anne Holtsmark’s “Loki—en omstridt skikkelse i nordisk mytologi” (Loki—a controversial figure in Norse mythology). for de Vries’ Problem of Loki. and no end) testify to scholarly fatigue and despair at ever coming to grips with “the problem of Loki” (another of de Vries’s titles). it should not be overlooked that Ódinn is repeatedly reprimanded for betraying his chief followers—kings and warrior-heroes. it has profound implications for the interpretation of these figures’ interrelationship and mythic functions. in the sources’ evaluations of Loki and Ódinn does not seem to be that one is evil while the other is good. Jens Peter Schjødt’s “Om Loki endnu engang” (About Loki once again). 83 and 81. “Loki . then. while Ódinn’s are best described as secondary or even derivative. “Om Loki endnu engang. then.” in Festschrift für Franz Rolf Schröder zu seinem 65. the difference is that. Jan de Vries.. Geburtstage September 1958. “einn veldr Ódinn öllo bölvi. 1–10. Jens Peter Schjødt. Studies of Loki are legion. 1959). Another accusation Loki levels against Ódinn in Lokasenna is that “often you gave. in Edda. Attempting to say anything new and substantial about Loki’s role in Norse myth is a daunting task. 158). Two “hvat i æsir tveir drygdot í árdaga” (Lokasenna 25. 22. although Loki will ultimately turn on his longtime allies. in Edda.39 The distinction. see n. it is only Loki whose character is explicitly and fundamentally defined as “cunning” or “sly. inom slævorom. and less than unified in their conclusions. . while both figures possess and deploy metic intelligence in similar ways.”37 Furthermore. “opt Âú gaft. that which you should not give. neither Ódinn nor any of the æsir present defend him against this charge. und kein Ende. 38 37 One Line Long . Why is this so? Preliminarily. Wolfdietrich Rasch (Heidelberg: Carl Winter.. in Edda. Instead. “Loki—en omstridt skikkelse i nordisk mytologi. . If this hypothesis can be demonstrated. Âeim er Âú gefa scyldira.” and Helgakvida Hundingsbana önnur (The second poem of Helgi Hundingr’s slayer) offers this damning judgment of the chief god: “Ódinn alone causes all evil. indeed.

e. 1961). and Altgermanische Religionsgeschichte. 209. although to those who know them it will quickly become clear that I agree.” or “close” (see discussions in de Vries. 2:265). Gleerup.History of Religions 223 factors may account for both the impasse and the industry in Loki studies: the complexity and contradictions of the data and the often uncontrolled subjectivity of the selection and sorting of these data by scholars.. If the perspective I offer on Loki has any claim to originality. Old Norse logi. Anna Birgitta Rooth.g. with almost everyone who has weighed in on the topic of Loki. Part of my justification. W. “fire”.43 As in bible studies. Dumézil’s 1959 edition of Loki (see n. that dutifully catalog all the elements of Loki’s mythos before attempting a synoptic distillation of the fundaments of his character and/or function. 22 above).”42 In my analysis. I will not hesitate to leave elements of Loki’s mythos aside. Loki. Problem of Loki. Smith has warned biblical scholarship—its analytic map simply replicates the territory under analysis and thus loses “both utility and .. . relatively little attention has been paid to questions such as those posed by Bruce Lincoln in the fourth of his “theses on method” for the study of religion: “The same destabilizing and irreverent questions one might ask of any speech act ought be posed of religious discourse. 13–15. on at least a point or two. lokinn). . I favor connecting “Loki” with Old Norse lúka (pp. i. . and I will resist the temptation to account for every anomalous datum relative to my thesis. Relating Religion. 43 One method of explaining Loki to which I do not pay much attention is the etymological. The first of these is ‘Who speaks here?’. Although Loki’s name has been understood in many ways—it has been derived from or connected with. “spider”. “Om Loki endnu engang. and even the name “Lucifer”—and although I lack the expertise to weigh options against one another on strictly linguistic grounds.” “finish. A desire to respect the intricacies of the former while avoiding the pitfalls of the latter has resulted in a row of studies aiming at exhaustion. Problem of Loki. or institution is responsible for a text. Ström. it is in my alignment of this figure with a specific interest group.e. I also will not treat earlier studies in much detail. meaning “to end. then. Swedish locke. K. Skrifter utgivna av Kungliga humanistiska Vetenskapssamfundet i Lund 51 (Lund: C. this ground has been sufficiently worked over that I doubt whether much could be said that is genuinely new and simultaneously founded in the sources. 1949]). for taking another pass at Loki is that earlier treatments have considered the motivation of the story logic or the actors in the myths but have lacked sufficient consideration of the motivations of those who produced our sources for Loki’s character and exploits. group. Loki in Scandinavian Mythology.” 42 Smith. Beyond 41 Among the twentieth-century studies attempting such comprehensive treatments are de Vries.41 This exercise has been repeated so often that Loki studies threaten to reach the point at which—as Jonathan Z. cognitive advantage. since this solution dovetails with my theory that Loki functions to render sovereignty impermanent. then. which is a translated and expanded version of the original French edition (Loki [Paris: Maisonneuve. whatever its putative or apparent author. In studies of Loki. and Schjødt. what person.

one of the earliest extant kennings for Loki. 78. and Rooth. I contend. Whose god was Loki? To experts in Norse myth. 213–14. and von Schnurbein. Davidson. have tried to separate out the epical from the genuinely mythological in the Loki material. like de Vries (Altgermanische Religionsgeschichte. 2002). Ulf Drobin.. To whom do we owe the extant mythos of Loki? What were they doing. One Line Long . 163. He has been regarded. as a rhetorical discourse that seeks to establish. ‘Of what would the speaker(s) persuade the audience? What are the consequences if this project of persuasion should happen to succeed? Who wins what. Problem of Loki. ed. 162–63. 203–4. Loki. 2:255–60) or Hermann Schneider (“Loki. “Loki—en omstridt skikkelse. a gjennomgangsfigur. if using this term for him is objectionable. and material realities and relations— have tended to shy away from identifying Loki with any particular set of real-world actors or partisans. 219. “Theses on Method. 126. Loki. ‘To what audience? In what immediate and broader context? Through what system of mediations? With what interests?’ And further. and Norrøn mytologi. can be translated “mover (or rouser) of tales. 209. filling whatever roles are needed along the way. sagna hrærir. a cipher whose purpose is to supply a connecting thread for story cycles. 46 de Vries. I do not think it gives enough credit to the coherence of Loki’s portrait.” Temenos: Studies in Comparative Religion 3 (1968): 19–39.224 Cunning Intelligence in Norse Myth that. 219. Loki in Scandinavian Mythology. see Dumézil. Problem of Loki. that many of the characteristics of Loki and his myths are better understood if he is regarded as a god—or. 155 (it is from Holtsmark’s work that I take the term gjennomgangsfigur). see Dumézil. as an imagined figure whose qualities and actions embody key elements of the outlook and the interests of 44 Bruce Lincoln. In contrast. as “more at home in a novellistic tale than in a real myth. God and Myths. and will attempt to demonstrate in this article. political. or aiming to do. Paul Acker and Carolyne Larrington (New York: Routledge. “Loki’s Mythological Function in the Tripartite System. this may seem an odd or even nonsensical question.” Archiv für Religionswissenschaft 55 [1938]: 237–51).”46 This view is not without merit or support. Ström. Turville-Petre. conversely. reinforce. “Function of Loki. Some. and/or transform social.” Method and Theory in the Study of Religion 8. “Myth and Epical Motifs in the Loki-Research. he is best thought of not as a god at all but as an “epical figure”—or. Norrøn mytologi: Tro og myter i vikingtiden (Oslo: Det Norske Samlaget. Others who have treated Norse myth as ideology—that is. 6.” in The Poetic Edda: Essays on Old Norse Mythology. loses?’ ”44 In the present case. Holtsmark. It also tends to discourage consideration of this figure’s ideological uses. 11. Anne Holtsmark. 45 Among many examples of this consensus. 1–2. 2:265. 1. 159–75.” 110. in short. to use a marvelously literal Norwegian term. 1970). through its construction? In short. For Loki as an epic rather than religious figure. and how much? Who. and Altgermanische Religionsgeschichte. given that one of the few points of consensus among Loki scholars is that this god “had no cult. such questions become. and trans. esp. contest. 3 (1996): 225–27.”45 To many. 47 Haustlöng 9. quote at 225–26. Jerold Frakes. 193. no. de Vries. Loki. Myth and Religion. express. North ed.” 87–88. 146.”47 Nevertheless.

18. his rule becomes permanent only after he has co-opted and in some cases incorporated the powers of others. West ed. M. S. West (Oxford: Oxford University Press. he need not fear the same fate for himself: “In Greek myth. Theogony and Works and Days. note to lines 886–900. 173. what we might call an End-of-Succession Myth—that traces the process through which Zeus’s power is rendered absolute and everlasting. Theogony.48 In thus characterizing this poem’s subject.. L. the relationship between cunning and sovereignty in greek and norse myth In both Greek myth and Norse myth. M. One key power acquired by Zeus is that of lightning. what else is any god?)—of poets.” West trans. Detienne and Vernant refer not to a limited expression of sovereignty. note to lines 881–1020.”51 While Zeus is shown by Hesiod to possess wits and strength of his own from the start. in Hesiod. Once Zeus possesses this weapon. and ensures that Zeus shall not be overthrown in his turn. similarly perceives at the core of Hesiod’s poem a “Succession Myth”—or. Cunning Intelligence. 49 Detienne and Vernant. Theogony. 730–700 BC). and their relation to power in Greek myth versus Norse myth. . to authority instantiated or exercised by this or that entity. in their view offers a myth in which “the established order” attains both “stability and permanence. Theogony. ed. West ed. 1970). xi. 51 West.” see discussions in ibid. which by definition is universal and unimpeachable. 50 West. see Hesiod. perhaps better. On the dating of this poem. I will begin by focusing on what Detienne and Vernant call the myth about sovereignty related in Hesiod’s Theogony (ca. L. West writes. vii. Cunning Intelligence.. L. see also G. To compare the role played by metic intelligence. 306. Myth: Its Meaning and Functions in Ancient and Other Cultures (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.”49 While in Platonic philosophy such a pure or ideal notion must be represented abstractly.. in Hesiod. and Hesiod. myth permits it to receive concrete form. 1966). 58. “Theogony” and “Works and Days. West (Oxford: Oxford University Press. which in Hesiod’s case is the god Zeus.”50 Though Zeus attains this status by usurping the place of his father. the operations of cunning intelligence are depicted as essential to the establishment and continuing exercise of power.. none can overcome him in 48 Detienne and Vernant. M. editor and translator of the Theogony. 6. 44–45. “puts a stop to the chain of revolutions. Berkeley: University of California Press. Kirk. 397. trans. then. the son stronger than Zeus is a threat that does not materialize. given to him by the Cyclopes. 401. On the “Succession Myth. yet the final results of their incidence and application are very different. The poem’s climax. 1988).History of Religions 225 those who produce claims and stories about him (but. 37. The Theogony. its bearers. West. or the thunderbolt. but to sovereignty as such. and Hesiod. On this theme in Hesiod.

. 2001). . West ed. For him there is no gap between a plan and its fulfillment such as enables the unexpected to intervene in the lives of other gods and mortals. in “Theogony” and “Works and Days. and then a son she was to bear. Only superior metis can give supremacy the two qualities of permanence and universality which turn it into truly sovereign power. But Zeus put her away in his belly first. Zeus becomes “the incarnation of the cunning foresight that allows him to thwart the plan of anyone who might hope to surprise him.52 Zeus remains vulnerable. observes Vernant. 69. and Men: Ancient Greek Myths..” always at his side. has elevated himself into the sphere of being through mastery of the force that ensures successful negotiation of the realm of becoming. trans. West presents this incorporation in his prose translation of the Theogony. 54 Jean-Pierre Vernant. however. “whatever the strength of a man or a god. the Gods. with courage and sound counsel equal to her father’s. . . 13–14. Theogony. one proud of heart. 55 Detienne and Vernant. Theogony. Linda Asher (New York: HarperCollins. West ed. should have the royal station instead of Zeus. 28. He has effectively become an ideal form: “Zeus is no ordinary king. to catch him off guard. Hesiod. . 53 52 One Line Long . . . Cunning Ingelligence.”54 Zeus alone achieves this status since. the wisest among gods and mortal men. All is well once Zeus swallows Metis and thereby becomes the Metioeis—the god who is fully metis [sic]: resourcefulness personified. The Universe. 398–99. to the threat of metis. 29. . to oblique challenges. and see Hesiod. line 385. . so that the goddess could advise him of what was good or bad. there always comes a time when he confronts one stronger than himself. in a move philosophers must view as ironic. as Detienne and Vernant remark. Thanks to the metis within him Zeus is now forewarned of everything . “Strength” and “Domination. By marrying. king of gods and men. For from Metis it was destined that clever children should be born: first a paleeyed daughter . On these lines as the last genuinely Hesiodic of the Theogony. nothing and no one can set him aside and sit on his throne.”55 Thus Zeus. he tricked her deceitfully with cunning words and put her away in his belly on the advice of Earth and starry Heaven. 144–45. .226 Cunning Intelligence in Norse Myth direct combat. 126.” West trans. Theogony.. But when she was about to give birth to the pale-eyed goddess Athene. that is in store for him. though he takes out added insurance by keeping Kratos and Bie. master- Hesiod. lines 886–900. Once Zeus is enthroned and established. . . in what in his opinion are its last genuinely Hesiodic lines: Zeus as king of the gods made Metis his first wife. They advised him in this way so that no other of the gods . . .53 In this way. . The way in which Hesiod has the god gain final control over this power is none too subtle—Zeus marries and then swallows its personification.. see ibid..

so Ódinn kills his grandfather (the jötunn Ymir) and then rules over the cosmos. neither Zeus nor Ódinn belonged to the first generation of beings. on Ódinn’s spear.. Ódinn intervenes in battle as a general or sorcerer rather than as a champion or soldier—although one finds in Saxo or in Snorri’s more euhemeristic moments vague statements about Ódinn as a participant in battle. and Vernant. or magical. 109. 58 On the wedge formation. see also 68. in Heimskringla. in Edda. Universe. Neither were they always rulers. According to their respective cosmogonies. tribally or racially) distinguished. Ódinn the Trojan king is called a “hermadr mikill” (great warrior) (Heimskringla. The same cannot be said. wielding the paradigmatic symbol of the former with his own hands and literally incorporating the latter. there are few specific reports of his exploits and none that are particularly noble. see bk. see Reginsmál 23. on Ódinn’s inspiration of berserkr frenzies. see Ynglinga saga 6. Bjarni Adalbjarnarson ed. Although a god of war. which he Ibid. and he swallows Metis. Neckel ed. as when he teaches kings the devastating “wedge-shaped” formation. Neckel ed. Snorri does not describe Ódinn participating in battle in his Edda. although even here he still acts mainly as a war leader or a source of inspiration for others in battle.. if the two are compared in the preliminary stages of their careers.. the chief god in Hesiod manages to attain one quality worthy of the philosopher’s notions of deity: that of permanence or stability. Just as Zeus overthrows and imprisons his father (Kronos) and the other Titans and then reigns as king of the Olympian gods. 6. who is in every way a less impressive figure than Zeus. in Holder ed. Zeus. 8 in Saxonis Grammatici Gesta Danorum. then..History of Religions 227 ing and swallowing Metis he becomes more than simply a monarch: he becomes Sovereignty itself. Holder ed.”56 Despite Plato’s frustrations with the anthropomorphic qualities and passions of the gods of the poets. as we have seen. Bjarni Adalbjarnarson ed. 28. Clearer differences between Zeus and Ódinn emerge when the measures each takes to attain sovereign power are compared. from whom they and their allies are from then on nominally (or. 1:11). 1:17. 32. however. 263. As for physical strength.57 His major contributions to warfare are strategic. To attain power. 57 56 . Ódinn’s situation is different. see Völuspá 24.. in chap. however. 2 of Ynglinga saga.58 He himself is only ever in one real fight. This is less true. He thus takes immediate control of both strength and cunning. both had to rise up violently against their progenitors. which he has fashioned (with the help of his two brothers) from Ymir’s dismembered corpse. Ódinn is himself without it. as chief of the æsir. of Ódinn. Saxo provides one of the few references to Ódinn personally (and ignobly) committing violence in battle. as when he inspires berserkr frenzies or casts his spear over opposing armies to fill them with fear and/or to dedicate their about-tobe-slain to himself. 179.. and Saxonis Grammatici Gesta Danorum. or else rarely displays it. as the myths would have it. receives from the Cyclopes the thunderbolt.. Although aside from at ragnarök. in Edda.

Why does Ódinn as sovereign tolerate a rival in this arena? Or. Êórr poses no threat to the sovereignty of Ódinn. the one power that. and as a result of his dalliance with the stallion. if not exceeded. as demonstrated most clearly in Hárbardsljód. he does not lack control over it. Loki is more able and/or willing than they to cross boundaries in order to gain benefits or right things gone wrong.” Êórr does not operate as an independent agent. Loki is blamed by the æsir for allowing a giant to use his magically industrious horse to assist in building a new wall for Ásgardr in a set period of time. the giant is not paid anything for his labor. according to Detienne and Vernant. and yet he is matched in it. by Loki. or other enemies of the gods and humans. indeed. Ódinn possesses to an extreme degree. In short. who. for which the giant’s payment will be the sun. the moon. trolls. have often been offered together. Ódinn therefore has his cosmos’s ultimate implement of brute force under control and thus seems prepared to counter any straightforward threats of violence short of the final apocalyptic host of ragnarök. at which point all bets are off (more on this at the end of this section). Although Ódinn does not himself wield this weapon. Under threat of death. If Ódinn. A creature of the status quo. The quintessential “dumb áss. he. Yet despite Ódinn’s lack of physical prowess. is more than able to outwit his son if need arises or simply when he feels like harassing him. The æsir and their cosmos are thus saved from catastrophe. then why Loki? These answers do not exclude one another and. has at his disposal an instrument of supreme force. This is Mjöllnir. as I have described. Like Zeus’s thunderbolt. like Zeus. Why this redundancy in character and function among the æsir? Two answers have been most commonly given by scholars to the question. having many talents but few scruples or inhibitions. the hammer of Ódinn’s son Êórr. The first is that it behooves Ódinn and the other gods within the framework of the preserved myths to keep Loki around. badly (more on this shortly).228 Cunning Intelligence in Norse Myth loses. Loki prevents the job from being finished on schedule by transforming himself into a mare and distracting the giant’s helper. But what of cunning. the first major part of Snorri’s Edda. In this story. A myth that is often used to support this hypothesis is that of the giant-builder in Gylfaginning (The deluding of Gylfi). and the goddess Freyja. Mjöllnir is a weapon without peer—Êórr never fails to kill whatever he strikes—and indeed it is also probably nothing other than a symbol for the power of lightning and storm. in extramythological terms. and the gods also get some added bonuses: they get a security fence to protect the borders of their homeland for free (in the end. must inevitably overcome superior might? This is a quality that. he appears content to remain in his role as defender of Midgardr and Ásgardr and to use his hammer only against giants. Loki gives birth . since Êórr smashes in his head once his true nature has been revealed).

” 117–19. even if Loki does often provide a scapegoat for or a solution to problems generated in the gods’ dealings with others. A. “Om Loki endnu engang. ed.” in The Relevance of Models for Social Anthropology.A. employing often drastic or questionable means. 83.62 59 “hestr beztr med godum ok mönnum” (Gylfaginning 42. and the effects that developments of one character may have had upon the other. Michael Banton. 294. for her use of the concept of negative reciprocity (see 101). he does not free the other æsir either from enforcing standards of negative reciprocity or from suffering injuries or indignities in doing so. 6. 1994). 143. 35). Clunies Ross cites Marshall Sahlins. Problem of Loki.. 60 Margaret Clunies Ross. then why Loki? is that Loki’s character developed and expanded in late paganism alongside.. Thus. Loki clearly acts as a liminal figure who. Loki took center stage in those stories and performed those actions no longer deemed fitting for a figure now regarded as chief of the gods.61 While there is much to recommend this common interpretation of Loki’s character and function. 197–99. I question whether he is in this respect really so different from his fellow deities. 1. Loki has been understood to act as an intermediary who obtains benefits for the gods while preventing or reversing their dispossession by other sorts of beings. “Function of Loki. Viking Collection 7 (Odense: Odense University Press. in Edda. and von Schnurbein. 148.S. “the best horse among gods and men. vol. and Frakes. Neckel ed. in Edda..” which is given to Ódinn. in Faulkes ed. Ström.” a term which many use—rightly enough. Loki. 84–94. If Ódinn. helps the æsir to maintain in their dealings with others what Margaret Clunies Ross. all of the gods active in the myths work to uphold this ideal of negative reciprocity. 1965). esp.” by which she means that they seek to preserve “their own hierarchical superiority” through “stratagems like theft and duplicity rather than the open and public dealings one might expect between social groups.” 171. Many think there is a brief allusion to the myth of the giant-builder in Völuspá 25–26. 139– 236. 62 On theories of Ódinn’s and Loki’s developing personae in “late paganism. “On the Sociology of Primitive Exchange. “Loki’s Mythological Function. I think—as a periodization covering even the earliest extant sources. The Myths. as when Tyr sacrifices his hand to bind the Fenrisúlfr. Prolonged Echoes: Old Norse Myths in Medieval Northern Society. Monographs 1 (London: Tavistock. and owing to an elevation of. when Freyr surrenders his sword in return for his servant Skírnir’s forcing the giantess Gerdr to marry him. The second common answer to the question. After all. .”60 In line with this reasoning.59 In myths like this. or when Êórr on multiple occasions violates the rules of hospitality in the halls of both æsir and jötnar in order to address threats to the mythic status quo.” 63.History of Religions 229 to the eight-legged horse Sleipnir. Loki’s giving birth to Sleipnir is also mentioned in Hyndluljód 40. in effect. labels a standard of “negative reciprocity. Ódinn’s position in the pantheon—that. and they often suffer injury to themselves or their reputations in doing so. 61 See Schjødt. see de Vries. Neckel ed. following Marshall Sahlins.

rather. as eternally begetting and begotten hypostaseis of a single and static divine ousia. overall a weaker argument. esp. hätte es sich um Odin gehandelt. “Loki . “Om Loki endnu engang. “Snorri and Saxo on Útgardaloki. das religiöse Gefühl verletzt hätten im dem Augenblick. one ends up with Ódinn-Ódinn conspiring with Ódinn-Loki to instigate Ódinn-Hödr to kill Ódinn-Baldr. with Notes on Loki Laufeyjarson’s Character. 230. As Lindow has summarized Loki’s career: Ström.” 27.” has been considered by most too radical—as Ulf Drobin acerbically but accurately describes the results of Ström’s analysis of the myth of Baldr’s death. 1994). “Myth and Epical Motifs.” in Word Heath. und kein Ende. Further.”64 This is. Ström is certainly right to stress that Ódinn and Loki approach dramatic and functional identity in the preserved myths. rather.230 Cunning Intelligence in Norse Myth A scholar who has offered both hypotheses while taking this second one to its extreme is Folke Ström. For other critical reactions to Ström’s thesis. 65 Ström.. 82. which. would have injured religious feeling in that moment when he had attained his position as father of the gods.66 These two figures ought not to be regarded.”65 What I think is needed to understand where the significant differences in Loki’s and Ódinn’s mythic qualities and functions lie is a consideration not of the historical development of their myths but. 66 See Schjødt. Loki. who suggests “dass Loki eine Hypostase Odins ist. Loki has been given a wealth of more offensive myths. Another aspect of Ström’s analysis that has been criticized is his suggestion that while there may be an extramythological or historical explanation for Loki’s assimilation to Ódinn.” 248–51). within the framework of the existing myths Loki is always and essentially one and the same as Ódinn. 64 63 . see de Vries. . Loki.”63 Ström elaborates: “In his quality as a secondary Ódinn-figure. die. especially insofar as cunning and duplicity are for each among “den offenbar konstitutiven Eigenschaften seines Wesens. Ódinn and Loki are. esp. Ordheidi: Essays on Germanic Literature and Usage (1972–1992) (Rome: Il Calamo. had they been about Ódinn. as in the Nicene conception of the Christian Father and Son. Anatoly Liberman. Nevertheless. as my discussion above has demonstrated. 38. “In seiner Eigenschaft als sekundäre Odinsfigur ist Loki mit einem Schatz anstössiger Mythen begabt worden. in which the “Norse Pantheon becomes ultimately reduced to one male and one female deity. I think. 85. Career. wo er seine Stellung als Göttervater erreicht hatte” (ibid.” 57. Ström presents his evidence for these claims on 62–95). distinct and temporally conditioned beings whose association is provided in the extant myths with a beginning as well as an end. Wortheide. of the intramythical development of their relationship. and see Drobin. not only because it relies on speculation about what the myths were like before their recorded versions but also because Ódinn hardly maintains a pristine moral reputation in the extant mythos. and Name.” 6. and “Some Controversial Aspects of the Myth of Baldr. however.” Alvíssmál 11 (2004): 17–54. One scholar who has come near to Ström in positing Ódinn’s and Loki’s identity is Schneider (see his “Loki. . Ström’s theory of collapsing gods. 176–234.

and through that his intellectual gifts were placed in the service of the world-maintaining powers. Edda. he is unabashedly against them.68 A number of scholars have read the sources to suggest that Ódinn’s association with Loki dates from the world’s first days and that it was conceived as a strategy through which the shaper of the cosmos sought to neutralize a power that would otherwise be inimical to himself and his order. where he also discusses most of the older scholarship that adopted this view). . although he later abandoned this interpretation under the influence of Dumézil’s Loki (see de Vries. 48–49). As de Vries writes. . In Lokasenna. Faulkes ed. “Loki . quasi-divine figure of Prometheus.”67 There are. when we two in days of yore blended blood together? You said you would not taste ale. 68 67 .. as when he ties a goat’s beard to his testicles to make the giantess Skadi laugh (Skáldskaparmál G56. 219).. . which is then used against him by the æsir (Gylfaginning 50. 251–81.” 9.” 4. . nema ocr væri bádom borit” (Lokasenna 9.. er vid í árdaga blendom blódi saman. his invention of the net. . und kein Ende. the goddess who is the primal instantiation of metis Lindow. . and all of chap. but that in the mythic past . und kein Ende. Neckel ed. Norse Mythology. . Faulkes ed. and his sometimes crudely sexual escapades. Ódinn. “Loki . Perhaps the most recent scholar to champion vigorously this understanding of Loki is de Vries in Problem of Loki (11. see also Lindow. Interpretations of Loki as a “trickster” or “culture hero” have depended on his procuring of treasures and weapons for the gods (Skáldskaparmál 35. Faulkes ed. and his resulting admission into the world of the gods. “The bloodbrothership with Ódinn. I will argue that a more instructive analogue for Loki is the goddess Metis.History of Religions 231 “It seems that Loki’s allegiance is for the most part with the æsir during the mythic present. 69 “die Blutsbrüderschaft mit Odin und seine dadurch erfolgte Aufnahme in die Götterwelt. and Altgermanische Religionsgeschichte. 16–18. While it was once fairly common for Loki to be likened to the fire-stealing. 70 “Mantu Âat. 2:266–67). looking now to identify an analogue for Loki that will help to illuminate his relationship to and role vis-à-vis Ódinn.”70 This passage provides the basis for my contention that the most suggestive Greek parallel for Loki is not Prometheus the forward-thinking metis-user but..”69 Here de Vries calls attention to a relatively neglected datum from Loki’s résumé. 98). ölvi bergia léztu eigi mundo. 2). Loki compels Ódinn to allow Loki to stay at a feast he has crashed by reminding Ódinn of their ancient bond: “Do you remember that. two questions to address now: What are the roots and the nature of Ódinn’s and Loki’s alliance? When and why does it fall apart? To begin to answer these questions. his ambiguous identity. 41–43). . I return to my comparison of Norse with Greek myths. a comparison especially favored by those who wished to see Loki as a trickster or culture hero such as anthropologists have often identified in Native American or African religions. rather. Norse Mythology. regarded as an analogue for Zeus. and in the mythic future . thus. die gefährliche Dämonie Lokis gemildert und dadurch seine intellektualen Gaben in den Dienst der die Welt erhaltenden Mächte gestellt wurden” (de Vries. unless to us both it was borne. 21. 7. Ódinn. tamed the dangerous and demonic power of Loki.

Schjødt argues that the blending of blood with Loki resulted in Ódinn’s becoming “able to control certain of those skills that Loki had acquired through his stay in the underworld. it may be noted that Schjødt. which deliberately ignores the figure of Metis. his sovereignty less than definitive. 82–83).. who suggests that it be understood as part of Ódinn’s quest to defend his supremacy and the cosmic order by acquiring different kinds of wisdom and skills. In Aeschylus. this defeat in battle is preceded and enabled by a loss of control over and final breach with Loki. and his sovereignty depends upon making a deal with Prometheus. 56).232 Cunning Intelligence in Norse Myth itself. For the quotation from Lokasenna. Ódinn does not imbibe Loki whole. og således selv kan skifte køn og ham” (ibid. 73 Schjødt. and the powers he epitomizes. 58–61. 403. as Zeus does Metis. And while it is true that what finally does in Ódinn and his allies is the overwhelming show of force at ragnarök by the giants and monsters that the æsir have long exploited and kept at bay. and Vernant. this occurs when Loki orchestrates the catastrophe that marks 71 The analogous pair of Ódinn:Zeus::Loki:Prometheus works well if one takes Aeschylus’s Prometheus vinctus rather than Hesiod as the basis for comparison of Greek with Norse myth because. 78–79. 27–28. “in Aeschylus’ version. the fact remains that even here Zeus’s combination of force and cunning suffices to render his sovereignty permanent. “Om Loki endnu engang. but merely blends some of Loki’s bodily fluid into his own. Universe. see n. . then Ódinn’s mixing of Loki’s bodily fluid with his own can be read as an effort to attain the same aim. 59). particularly from the underworld or the dead. 74 “Odin bliver istand til at beherske visse af de færdigheder. som Loke har fået gennem sit ophold i underverdenen. thereby leaving Loki. 28 above. see also 52 n. 72 See Hesiod. 8). and in this way he is himself able to change sex and shape.” 56–57. Such an interpretation of this act has been offered by Schjødt.. however.73 Reading the verse from Lokasenna in which Loki is said to have been “eight winters . as Detienne and Vernant observe. who remains his rival in the arena of cunning intelligence (see the further discussion of this source in Cunning Intelligence.” 51–52. seems to derive at least part of his mastery of metic abilities from a commingling of substance with a more primordial bearer of such mastery. like Zeus. reading mólcandi as an intransitive verb.71 If Zeus swallowed Metis—which some conjecture he is supposed to have accomplished by getting her to take the form of water or some other liquid72—as a way to incorporate the power of cunning intelligence and thereby eternalize his sovereignty. which is not something ever accomplished by Ódinn. autonomous. . Still. beneath the earth. Although it does not really effect his point. takes this verse from Lokasenna to suggest that Loki spent his time in the underworld “partly in the form of a woman and partly in the form of a cow” (dels i skikkelse af en kvinde og dels i skikkelse af en ko) (“Om Loki endnu engang. . his reign will be less than permanent. Theogony. West ed. Prometheus takes her place and plays the role which Hesiod assigns to the goddess” (Cunning Intelligence. Because Ódinn’s assimilation of this power is less than total. According to Snorri. a woman milking cows” as referring to time he spent procuring his own powers of transformation and deception. metis remains less fully harnessed by Zeus.”74 Thus Ódinn.

Frigg secured an oath from all things. whom the æsir find in a cave: “And this men guess.” the events of which Snorri immediately recounts. having disguised himself as a woman and learned from Frigg what one thing had not taken the oath. 80 “Êar liggr hann í böndum til ragnarøkrs” (Gylfaginning 49. . living and dead. 77 Ibid. praised and loved by all. 48). directs Ódinn’s blind son Hödr to throw mistletoe at Baldr. Faulkes ed. weep for him. 79 “En Âess geta menn at Âar hafi verit Loki Laufeyjarson er flest hefir illt gert med Ásum” (Gylfaginning 49. agrees to let Baldr return to the lands of the living only “if all things in the world.History of Religions 233 the initial step or turning point in the crumbling of the gods’ order— namely. striking him dead. Faulkes ed. whose spewing poison will kill Êórr. for his part in the deed. not to harm her son. his daughter and the ruler of the eponymous realm of the dead. that there has been Loki Laufeyjarson. who has done most evil among the æsir. which passes straight through him. according to Snorri’s pretty conspicuous rationalization..”79 Finally. Loki is not immediately seized or punished. is quickly slain by a son of Ódinn born specially for the purpose.77 Loki is thus able to compound his crime after Hel.80 Drawing from a number of poetic sources. the gods capture and punish Loki.75 To prevent their coming to pass. 47). 49). among which are his sons the world-engirdling serpent Jörmungandr. he reports that Loki will break free to lead the forces of destruction. animate and inanimate. because. 76 75 . kykvir ok daudir.. 78 “ef allir hlutir í heiminum. who will swallow Ódinn. Faulkes ed.”76 Although Hödr. Faulkes ed. 46). was disturbed by dreams portending his death.. Gylfaginning relates near its end how Baldr. whereas Zeus swallows metis incarnate and thereby makes his regime everlasting. preventing the birth of any progeny clever enough to overthrow him. Ódinn Gylfaginning 22 and 49. the place where Baldr was killed is a “gridastadr” (sanctuary). until Loki.. binding him to three sharp rocks with the guts of his son Narfi and enlisting a snake to drip poison on his face: “There he will lie in bonds until ragnarøkr. and the wolf Fenrir. “ok hefir Âat mest óhapp verit unnit med godum ok mönnum . The gods then amused themselves by chucking weapons and other normally dangerous objects at the seemingly impervious Baldr. En Ódinn bar Âeim mun verst Âenna skada sem hann kunni mesta skyn hversu mikil aftaka ok missa Ásunum var í fráfalli Baldrs” (Gylfaginning 49.. gráta hann” (Gylfaginning 49. Faulkes ed. Snorri calls this “the greatest misfortune that has been committed among gods and men” and reports that “Ódinn bore this injury worst to the extent that he perceived most what great deprivation and loss was in Baldr’s death for the æsir.”78 The one entity that refuses to do so is a gygr (a giantess or troll woman) with the strange name of Êökk (Thanks). Thus. earlier described as best and brightest of the æsir. . the killing of Ódinn’s and Frigg’s son Baldr. 23 and 45.

and Poetic Edda. self-sacrificing.82 While I agree that the passing of the current order and the rise of a new one is presented as a necessary good by the extant mythos. ed. according to Snorri and Völuspá. although he places the sacrifice in the context of warrior-cult practice.. as a self-interested being who desires but ultimately is unable to render himself and his regime permanent.. they suggest that Baldr’s killing ought to be understood as having been engineered by Loki with the assent. will reunite and dwell together in peace and plenty. that it would betray and destroy him and that which he protected. esp. from the wreckage of ragnarök a new world will rise in which Baldr and Hödr. 15–16. Gylfaginning 49. 14–15. While Ódinn and Loki are out of the picture. in which it is not the world that is to be resurrected but the initiate. 103–15). 94–95 (where she explicitly likens Loki to Judas). many have argued in light of it that in Norse eschatology Loki essentially plays Judas to Ódinn’s God-the-Father and Baldr’s Christ.81 Regardless of whether this resurrection motif is considered genuinely pagan or influenced by Christianity. and omniscient Christian god. Thus. Dronke ed. 2000). Ódinn’s “deal with the devil” appears to end in ruin. 53–54. however. 2:53. Hofstra. but some of its more recent proponents include Ursula Dronke and Yvonne S. he has some trouble explaining Loki’s place in this mythologized rite (see his “Der Mythos von Balders Tod. “Völuspá and Sybilline Traditions. esp. that of court poets.” in International Scandinavian and Medieval Studies in Memory of Gerd Wolfgang Weber—ein runder Knäuel. Edda. “En er Âetta sá Loki Laufeyjarson. perhaps even at the order. This interpretation has a long history. (Trieste: Edizioni Parnaso. Völuspá 59–65.” in Latin Culture and Medieval Germanic Europe. Neckel ed. Rather than elevate him nearer to the status of the providential. alongside other of the æsir. Âá líkadi honum illa. 3–24. 1992). Germania Latina 1 (Groningen: Egbert Forsten. Michael Dallapiazza et al. then his imperfect assimilation of this power left open the possibility. the main source for his outline of cosmic history. 58–59). I take Snorri at his word when he says that Ódinn was the most dismayed of the æsir at Baldr’s death and what it portended. The story does not end here. I disagree that Ódinn is meant to have any part in making or any desire in seeing this come to pass. 75–78. er Baldr sakadi ekki. I prefer to see Ódinn as a failed Zeus—that is. 82 81 . Bonnetain: see Dronke. whose substance he had incorporated only incompletely. so rollt’ es uns leicht aus den Händen. Loki himself is one of the last to fall before the world is consumed by fire and sinks into the sea. esp.” Arkiv för nordisk filologi 70 [1955]: 41–60. and trans. Faulkes ed. I do so not because I regard Snorri as a sure witness to northern paganism but because he was a member of that interest group for which I think extant Norse myths most immediately speak. 73–85. Richard North and T. Bonnetain. In short. perhaps the inevitability. of Ódinn as a sacrifice to renew the cosmos.234 Cunning Intelligence in Norse Myth ends up being swallowed by the offspring of the instantiation of cunning intelligence.. Ström offers an interpretation of Baldr’s myth similar to that of de Vries (see Loki. If Loki was a primordial force that Ódinn sought to domesticate in order to establish or sustain his own authority. ed. In other words. Jan de Vries offers a similar view.

”84 Medieval Scandinavia had no comparable memories of supreme. . known hirdskálds were Icelanders who plied their trade in the mobile courts of Scandinavia or the British Isles. If the world was no longer given over to instability and confusion. 84 Ibid.”83 Conceding. constantly on the move while remaining far from their native land and their own homes. 85 On Icelanders’ monopolization of court poetry. and Myth and Religion. Origins of Icelandic Literature (Oxford: Clarendon. xii–xiii. Old Norse Court Poetry: The Dróttkvætt Stanza. Such myths thus offer a “memory of the divine king.85 83 Jean-Pierre Vernant. Vernant argues that it has come down to us essentially as a fossil of Near Eastern and Mycenaean monarchic ideology preserved through oral poetry and ending up in Hesiod and Homer. This fact may go some way toward explaining why Ódinn.” “an image that in the Mycenaean age conveyed social realities and corresponded to ritual practices. told of the progressive emergence of an orderly world. 116. see Faulkes’s introduction to Edda. 23. I argued. O. . I argued that in northern Europe the reality of kingship as a fragmented. that this vision of a world subjugated to the will of a single. E.History of Religions 235 or hirdskálds. I will explain how and why I have reached this conclusion. and after 900 all. But also. decentralized. . Roberta Frank. 43. NY: Cornell University Press. Hans Kuhn. is so much less successful than Zeus in absolutizing his regime. 1983). . Das Dróttkvætt (Heidelberg: Carl Winter. centralized sovereignty for its myths to reflect. 24 above). they were required by their profession to lead a doubly decentered existence. as a symbol of sovereign power. 108. They exalted the power of a god who ruled over all the universe. had their situation as well as interests reflected in these myths. . they were myths of sovereignty. immortal power would have been badly out of step with the democratic impulses of the emergent Greek polis and agora. NY: Cornell University Press. perhaps to an even greater extent than did kings: since most. 1953). . But in the Greek world it could be no more than a survival. . . 1982). Islandica 42 (Ithaca. 284–85. and above all. In the final part of this article. it was because the god no longer had to fight battles against monsters and rivals. Vernant writes that “Greek theogonies and cosmogonies . or else these were far dimmer than for the Greeks. his supremacy was now so manifestly assured that no one could ever question it again. myths of kings and myths of poets In The Origins of Greek Thought. . Faulkes trans. however. Poets too. In my earlier article on Ódinn (see n. G. The Origins of Greek Thought (Ithaca. Turville-Petre. and itinerant institution helps to explain why Ódinn’s myths center around themes of marginality and transience.. 1978).. 30. 21.

on the relationship of kings and poets as holders of different forms of capital. . esp. and The Logic of Practice. “Pagan Myth and Religion. I do not mean only that it was split (as of course it was) into political.” 238–39). this perspective provides a valid and fruitful basis for interpretation. MA: Harvard University Press. . social capital (networks of followers and supporters.). holders of different forms of capital relevant to success within elite fields of practice. and Peter Orton.88 Kings and nobles can be regarded as privileged holders of material capital (wealth. although these sources cannot be treated as a univocal expression of any one viewpoint. and symbolic capital (possession of and power to give titles and other tokens of worth and recognition). . . and Schneider argues that because the Loki we know is “a creature of poetic invention” (ein Geschöpf dichterischer Erfindung).g. 54–57.” 84).236 Cunning Intelligence in Norse Myth While textual evidence for Norse myth survives almost entirely in poetry or in writings based on poetry. 9–30. ed. Norse Mythology.] . 302–19. MA: Blackwell. as a resource convertible into material or symbolic benefits—depended upon recognition of its value by its primary consumers. however. Rory McTurk (Malden. but it was also potentially antagonistic. for skalds’ poetry to function as capital—that is. trans. see esp. that the aristocratic or elite class was not in itself unified..). . this body of material has not often been specifically interpreted as expressing the poets’ interests. By this. Wanner. CA: Stanford University Press. trans. Prolonged Echoes. the only way to discover the “eigentlichen” Loki is to determine which of his qualities are “vordichterisch” (“Loki. Richard Nice (Cambridge. Simply put. Toronto Old Norse–Icelandic Series 4 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press. the relationship between poets and kings was symbiotic.86 Sources for Norse myth have sometimes been read as reflecting the ideology of the class of Scandinavian male aristocrats as a whole. e. Holtsmark writes that the existing mythos often amounts to “a poet’s fantasy about the gods’ lives[. see Lindow. Thus. while poets’ expertise enabled them to produce and disseminate a major form of cultural capital. or territorial factions but also that there was a division between.. kings held the edge in 86 Indeed. foreign alliances. Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste. however. Eller det er en dikters tolkning av hellige steder og ting) (“Loki—en omstridt skikkelse. 2008). Richard Nice (Stanford. 88 Pierre Bourdieu develops and uses these concepts in all his major works. e.89 The continued capacity. Clunies Ross. 89 For an extended application of Bourdieu’s categories and methods to medieval Scandinavian materials. . 1984). Snorri Sturluson and the Edda: The Conversion of Cultural Capital in Medieval Scandinavia. land. or it is a poet’s interpretation of sacred places and things” (en dikters fantasi over gudenes liv. etc. I described this relationship in my article on Ódinn as hinging on the fact that “each group had something the other wanted owing to its dominance in one of two arenas of experience.g. to borrow terminology from the sociologist Pierre Bourdieu. see Kevin J. 1:50 and 103–7. 1990). 2005). see esp. familial. 87 See. etc. 306–11. many who recognize how much we depend on poets for information on Norse myth lament the distorted view of religion or cult that they have afforded us.87 It needs to be emphasized.” in A Companion to Old Norse-Icelandic Literature and Culture. For recent summary accounts of sources for Norse myth.

one is looking for gods who held such a relationship with or meaning for poets. by calling Loki a god of poets. the means of preserving one’s and others’ memories]. a minor áss and attendant of Ódinn in Valhöll and at feasts. In addition. who is probably the apotheosis of history’s first known skald. who was thought to have seized the art of poetry (in the form of mead) from the giants and dispensed it to those he found worthy or capable of versifying. after all. the sources tended to try to resolve this conflict in the poets’ favor: in myths of Ódinn “a certain bias emerges. .e. skalds in terms of time. 349.. there are much better candidates: not only Ódinn. . the ninth-century Norwegian Bragi 90 91 92 Wanner. . those who lack (initially) control over space [i.. to understanding Ódinn and his career as reflecting the social situation of poets and kings .”92 If by “cult” one has in mind a body of adherents who gather at dedicated sites to rehearse myths about and perform rites directed at specific objects of veneration. . . If. There was thus a potential conflict of interests posed by his every appearance in myths produced by poets and consumed by rulers. . while poets supplied kings with a means to extend their names and reputations in time.” 345. [The] representative or embodiment of marginality . “God on the Margins. Norse Mythology. that. Recognizing this allocation of advantages helps us to understand the essence of their transactions: kings provided poets with a space in which to operate and prosper. As I argued. . Lindow. the court] consistently trump those who lack control over time [i. Ódinn was a god both of kings and of poets. . but also Bragi. but when a choice had to be made. I run up against the obstacle already mentioned— namely.”90 Because he was a patron of kings and poets. I do not mean to suggest that skalds actively worshipped him or that they consciously and collectively regarded him as a patron or bestower of benefits. . .History of Religions 237 terms of space. then. Ibid. he was more often depicted as assisting the latter—and very frequently as betraying the former. . Ódinn had the potential to symbolize both sides of this relationship not only in terms of what united them but also in terms of what divided them. [tends to come] out on top over a representative or . . “Everyone agrees that there was never any cult of Loki. . we may perceive in them something of a veiled threat or assertion of superiority directed from the primary producers to the primary consumers of his myths. then I think this claim is correct.. In other words. 219. In turning now to argue that Loki serves in extant sources as a god or symbol more unilaterally aligned than Ódinn with the perspective and interests of poets. as Lindow has put it.e.”91 In short. . . . victim of ephemerality.

If. 187–88. .95 Even if. see n. such poets could hardly have hoped for their efforts to have met with similar results. 3:26–31. at any rate. something subtler but hopefully more significant in mind when I say that Loki can be regarded as a god of poets or as a focal point for expression of the interests of this group. They do not. provides poetry’s central claim to value in all times and places in which it is regarded as more than mere art or pastime: the function of memorialization. . . for example. offer much to the skald who wished to compose or deliver blame. however. though I have largely set it aside in my discussion thus far. 147 (emphasis in original). In my view. “Loki . Loki is the figure who. in Heimskringla. 97 On myth as “ideology in narrative form. In Snorri Sturluson’s Háttatal (List of meters. 96 A more positive. and Turville-Petre. 185–86. then it surely illustrates the least successful potential outcome of this act. if one looks to Lokasenna’s prose epilogue. or “scold” (a term cognate with Old Norse skáld ) in the gods’ court. Bjarni Adalbjarnarson ed. Myth and Religion.93 It is true that the representation and types of inspiration that these two gods offered poets could be regarded as incomplete or lopsided. Not only do the targets of the blame refuse to recognize many of its claims or to rectify their character or behavior accordingly. Icelandic Culture. he boasts that the praise that he has composed for them “will live forever unless humanity passes 93 On the relationship between the historical and the mythical Bragi. see Sigurdur Nordal. trans. Loki ensures that poetry will serve even among the gods that function which. ca. Bjarnar (Ithaca. und kein Ende.” 8.96 I have. or at least with a model of audacity. 1990). a monumental joint panegyric for King Hákon Hákonarson and Earl Skúli Bárdarson of Norway. Theorizing Myth. 95 The same punishment that in Gylfaginning Loki receives for keeping Baldr in Hel (see n. moreover. 32 above). and earn his nickname “the good”: see Snorri Sturluson. in which he castigates—in verse of course—the gods and goddesses one by one. then. Magnúss saga ins góda 16.” see Lincoln.” see de Vries. whose Bersöglisvísur (Outspoken verses) persuades a king to rectify his behavior. on the plane of myth—of narrative ideology97—makes the poet’s art have a real purpose and worth. is Lokasenna. 1220). avoid rebellion.. Vilhjálmur T. Loki has on occasion been described as playing the role of blame-poet. 80 above) seems in Lokasenna’s epilogue to be meted out to Loki in retaliation for his calumny in Ægir’s hall (on this epilogue.94 The only real support for Loki in this role. NY: Cornell University Press. it is possible to think that Loki in his willingness and ability to berate the king of the gods and his guests provided aspiring scolds with some inspiration. 94 On Loki as “Spottdichter. retaliate against its bearer when they later seize Loki and bind and torture him. laying bare their foibles and failings until Êórr arrives and drives him off with the threat of violence. if human. they also. this poem is read as a mythical tableau of blame-poetry’s performance in the court.238 Cunning Intelligence in Norse Myth Boddason. model for poets extending blame is Sigvatr Êórdarson.

then a longer life.History of Religions 239 away or the worlds end. Odyssey. to have been less concerned by the contradiction—at least so far as we can judge. whose life span matches. 102 Ibid. If I voyage back to the fatherland I love. translation from Homer.”103 In the Odyssey. if not immortality. it disqualifies him as a true god—mortal divinity is an oxymoron in such (most?) systems of thought. 210. 1979). his shade expresses regret at having made this choice: “No winning words about death to me. . Homer between his two epics has the same character express preference for both choices. a dubious sort of prize. praise-poetry does its job if it preserves the memory of its subjects while the present world(s) and human race exist. 265. Yet even among human heroes and kings it often seems a matter of uncertainty whether fame and reverence ought to be chosen over.. bk. lines 579–80. then. Anthony Faulkes [Oxford: Clarendon. ed.”101 Here at last is an arena in which Ódinn triumphs over Zeus—only Ódinn will die. Christian. bk. deriving a corollary pertinent to divinity: “The hero must experience death. . 1991]. The Best of the Achaeans: Concepts of the Hero in Archaic Greek Poetry (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. 1990). at least. 35. 265 (emphasis in original). my glory dies. 9. translation from Homer. lines 412–15. 101 Nagy. For one thing. Odyssey. I note that Gregory Nagy has described Greek cult and epic alike as forms “of a cultural institution that is predicated on the natural process of death. bragni<n>ga lof. 100 Homer. 11. since they cannot die. 103 Homer. I’d rather slave on earth for another man—some dirtpoor tenant farmer who scrapes to keep alive—than rule down here over all the breathless dead. 1996). 38). Iliad. and all to make a song for those to come. however. Háttatal 96. bk. The Best of the Achaeans.”100 Nagy develops this point further. eda bili heimar” (Snorri Sturluson. 184 (emphasis in original). in Edda: Háttatal. . This is. Not even the lofty Olympians can match that.102 In the Iliad. lines 488–91. 8. Achilles resolutely opts for kléos over nóstos. from a Platonic. that of the present cosmos? What need does he have of memorial praise? Returning for a moment to ancient Greece. trans. 104 Homer. Fagles trans. .”104 98 “Âat mun æ lifa nema öld farisk. my pride. The hero’s death . The Iliad. Norse myth tellers and mythographers seem. Robert Fagles (New York: Penguin. spinning threads of death through the lives of mortal men. As Nagy observes.”98 In the mortal realm. “fame” over “homecoming”: “If I hold out here and I lay siege to Troy. shining Odysseus! By god. . where we read: “That is the gods’ work. my journey home is gone. The Odyssey. 99 Gregory Nagy. and perhaps even Hesiodic viewpoint.. but my glory never dies. But what of a divine sovereign. . Robert Fagles (New York: Penguin. gives him his power—not only in cult but also in poetry.”99 Such a thought is expressed already in Homer’s Odyssey. 9. trans. however. to be sure.

It hardly matters that Ódinn’s position at the top of the hierarchy is recognized by the sources as contingent and thus as precarious. and Pascalian Meditations. however. He refuses. unlimited. in his case. to put it another way. Deciding to get rid of Ódinn is. or so long as he is. Ódinn’s rank. or the legitimate possession of authority. Thompson. Ódinn may betray or deceive other sovereigns—whether of the human or the giant realms— 105 Pierre Bourdieu. and forces that might hold off or even avert ragnarök. or power. Ódinn is a ruler who desires to possess true sovereignty. power can always be understood as “legitimate imposture. Ódinn can claim to preserve that which he rules and those who identify with him and that order. Ultimately. 2000). clearly does not insulate him from accusations of perfidy or selfishness. Accordingly. can perform. CA: Stanford University Press. which Ódinn has and Loki lacks. poetic—commemoration. it is Loki who decides for him. for neither the genealogical “immortality” provided by dynastic succession nor the intellectual “immortality” provided by forms of cultural— above all. and everlasting. In short. Ódinn is not permitted to decide his own fate—rather. to settle for lesser means of sustaining sovereignty available to mortal kings. he would prefer literal to figurative immortality. ed. By preserving himself. from the perspective of those within as well as those outside the myths. an act that serves clearly to distinguish the two figures. 242–43. but never Ódinn. Gino Raymond and Matthew Adamson (Cambridge. 214. John B. justification and legitimacy. immortal—life over a heroic and celebrated end. What does matter is that since Ódinn is positioned there. moreover. skills.105 Thus our sources for Norse myth might be admired for their relatively clear-sighted perception of the nature of authority. he is often seen as a deceiver and betrayer. Language and Symbolic Power.” as the result of a misrecognition of arbitrary conditions as natural. I am now in a position to complete my response to the question posed in the previous section. it seems clear that he would choose long—or. I think. 1991). “If Ódinn. Having made this claim. To judge by his constant efforts to gather intelligence. therefore. then why Loki?” or. the one deed that Loki. is a less conflicted character than Achilles. namely. In what factor or quality does the significant difference between these two mythic figures lie? My answer is that. MA: Harvard University Press. as Bourdieu reminds us. . trans. simply. in which the crucial difference between them is rank. Richard Nice (Stanford. it lies in the relationship between the two as actors in the mythic world. his interests stand the best chance of being (mis)recognized as universal interests. trans.240 Cunning Intelligence in Norse Myth Ódinn. if not de jure. Yet the fact that no one is ranked above him in the Norse cosmos gives his actions a certain de facto. of the type attained by Zeus in the Theogony: personal.

being mortal.107 it recorded and celebrated (or. like to emphasize (and occasionally bemoan) its rigid meter and stereotyped forms of expression. as a betrayer of something that sits higher than himself. It is from this perspective. something about that someone to be remembered. 16. must fail—in their efforts to attain true or absolute sovereignty have to make do. e. see. . he is also the figure most responsible for securing for Ódinn both of the forms of compensatory “immortality” with which those who fail—or who. however. particularly court poems. decried) specific things done by specific actors at specific times and places. Stated generally. It is crucial to recognize. Indeed. skalds typically were concerned to communicate the “concrete fact. It is probably also for this reason that the term læ.. the status of ideal sovereignty. with its three core meanings of “cunning. then there is nothing that needs commemorating.History of Religions 241 but Loki in turning on Ódinn betrays sovereignty itself or at least that entity who most aspires to attain. In short. that Loki’s betrayal of Ódinn is far from a wholly negative act or set of actions. This is one reason why skaldic poems. 1962). The Savage Mind (Chicago: University of Chicago Press. I contend.” and “injury. myself included. it is Loki who ensures both that Ódinn has an heir to succeed and remember him and that there is something about him that is worth remembering.” in Word Heath.” is so often associated with Loki but not with Ódinn (although we should not discount the equally compelling demands of alliteration in poetry). Ordheidi. these are the three conditions—someone that is gone. 51. 107 Lévi-Strauss refers many times to primitive or mythic thought as a “science of the concrete”.”106 Their poetry was. These points apply especially to skaldic verse as it was practiced in medieval courts. particularly from the vantage point of poets and their interests. and thus the worth it was accorded in the present of its 106 Anatoly Liberman. it is wrong to characterize its content as generic or nonspecific. the importance of court poets and their products hinged on the interruption of sovereignty and the succession of generations—for if a king never dies and is never succeeded. “The Formulaic Mind and the Skalds. and comes nearest to attaining. Any relevance it was expected to have in the future. Although Loki engineers Ódinn’s personal downfall. As Anatoly Liberman observes. Claude Lévi-Strauss. and someone to remember it—required for poetry to function as vehicle of memorialization. that Loki can be or was perceived as more “evil” or “malicious” or “perverted” than Ódinn.g. Wortheide. an “art of the concrete”. can be of so little interest to modern audiences. less often. to rework a famous phrase of Claude Lévi-Strauss.” “betrayal. While those who discuss skaldic poetry. Such verse characteristically spoke to nothing beyond its context of production and delivery.

is trapped in the realm of the dead that Ódinn does not control and that is ruled by Loki’s daughter. Baldr too. has. in the end.110 While this outcome distresses the æsir. when they will become Ódinn’s army. at least one vital mythological function to perform: he must survive and succeed Ódinn by making the transition to the new world. . we see the former securing for the latter an heir in the person of Baldr. as many have noted. 1991].108 Valhöll is the afterlife site where men chosen either through sacrifice or through death in battle go to await ragnarök. Faulkes ed. 48. in the long run or short term. in which his role is basically to show up. its subjects must die. is a remarkably colorless and passive figure with only one real myth to his name. 110 Gylfaginning 49.” “Ynglingatal.” “Hályegjatal” og “Hyndluljód” [Oslo: Solum Forlag. 1). or be expected to. one in which it is Loki’s role to find a “means of destroying the dominant line of succession” among the æsir (Prolonged Echoes. see also 268–77). One fact that speaks against their interpretation is that when Baldr is killed. address how Baldr’s being slated to return from death fits in with her theory. Skaldic court poetry’s value. Baldr’s death constitutes the mythical model for the king’s death” (Balders død er en projeksjon av kongenes død og dermed i siste hånd en projeksjon av de skjebnemessige forhold som styrer verden. then. 51. however. depended on the expectation that an audience would continue to exist who considered it important to recall this originary context. Faulkes trans. Steinsland does not. . Returning to Loki and Ódinn. And for this value to hold. Baldr. but this time it will be for real) along with the major gods. and especially Ódinn. . a projection of the fateful relations that govern the world. Loki does not destroy or arrest but. . activates or realizes succession. die. admittedly.” 60 n. As I stated above. .109 Baldr.242 Cunning Intelligence in Norse Myth producer and first auditors. translation from Edda.. therefore.. Clunies Ross sees this myth as symbolizing a dynastic crisis. That Loki intended to place and keep Baldr here is indicated by the words (probably taken from a lost eddic poem) that he speaks to the æsir while in the form of Êökk: “haldi Hel Âví er hefir” (Let Hel hold what she has).. 109 Gylfaginning 20 and 38–41. lay not chiefly in aesthetics or flattery but in its capacity to commemorate. Faulkes ed. Balders død danner den mytiske modell for kongens død) (Det hellige bryllup og norrøn kongeideologi: En analyse av hierogami-myten i “Skírnismál. . 111 Gro Steinsland has argued that Baldr himself ought to be regarded as the major symbol in Norse myth of kings’ fated transience: “Baldr’s death is a projection of the kings’ death and. 276. therefore. 236. like Loki. 108 De Vries admits to having difficulty making this datum fit his theory that the myth of Baldr’s death symbolizes initiation into a warrior cult (see his “Der Mythos von Balders Tod. 261). he goes to Hel rather than to Valhöll. rather. . I disagree with those who understand Baldr as an “Odinic” sacrifice or who consider Loki complicit in Ódinn’s plans to renew or restore the cosmos. however. 21 and 32–34. in which Valhöll’s residents will all perish (this is. not a new experience for them. and come back. it effectively keeps Baldr from having to take part in the cataclysmic battles of ragnarök. In my view.111 That he does so is due to the choices and actions of Loki.

and there remind themselves about great events. 294).. like the act of killing and sequestering Baldr in Hel. of Midgardsorm ok um Fenrisúlf” (Gylfaginning 53. in Edda. 53–54). but. The first is knowledge that had been accumulated by the old world’s ruler. 14). there is a figure who. as Völuspá puts it. are to be ascribed largely to Loki. there is little in his career of which he ought to be proud. 114 VafÂrúdnismál 54.”113 According to these reports. from whence is come every giantess [or ogress.. dœma. this might be thought to have been transmitted partly by Ódinn himself. another “enigmatic god” whose one indisputable 112 “Setjask Âá allir samt ok talask vid ok minnask á rúnar sínar ok rœda of tídindi Âau er fyrrum höfdu verit. they “talk about the mighty earth-encircler. in the words that he whispered in Baldr’s ear when his son lay on his funeral pyre. in Edda. in Edda. Neckel ed. and the only two figures mentioned as explicit objects of memory in the post-ragnarök world.. will help to round out my argument that myths that center around Ódinn and Loki’s relationship and its eschatological climax are reflective of poets’ interests. . 115 “vard Loptr qvidugr af kono illri. the “rouser of tales. Even. Neckel ed.115 At any rate. while many of Ódinn’s deeds are memorable..”112 Or. though I have yet to mention him.114 The other topic centers around the circumstances of the demise of the old king and his allies which. Not only did Loki lead the force of jötnar that makes the final assault on the gods’ home. 113 “Finnaz æsir á Idavelli oc um moldÂinur. Baldr’s and his companions’ reminiscences in the resurrected world focus on two topics. Baldr and the other reborn gods “all sit down together” in a land that has risen on its own and ordered itself “and [they] talk with each other and remind themselves of their rúnar [mysteries or runes] and talk about those happenings that once had occurred. As medieval and modern commentators on Norse myth (not to mention its many characters who experience or hear reports of the chief god’s exploits) affirm. Loki remains the sagna hrœrir. oc minnaz Âar á megindóma oc á Fimbultys fornar rúnar” (Völuspá 60.” Finally. Faulkes ed. according to Völuspá in skamma (Short Völuspá) he also gave birth to all the worlds’ giantesses and thus can be accounted a literal progenitor of this army. This is Hœnir. mátcan. about the Midgardsormr and about Fenrisúlfr. 55. Neckel ed. or witch] on the earth) (Hyndluljód [Völuspá in skamma is part of this poem]) 41. and about Fimbultyr’s [Ódinn’s] old rúnar. were the direct agents of Ódinn’s and Êórr’s deaths. padan er á foldo flagd hvert komit” (Loptr was impregnated by an evil woman. It is perhaps for this reason that memories of Ódinn that are said to survive ragnarök are rather limited.History of Religions 243 The sources also assign Loki responsibility for ensuring that once Ódinn is gone there will be something about him worth remembering. then. in the new world from which he is absent. two of his immediate offspring. In Snorri’s Edda.

these terms seem to have to do with qualities or functions of the body rather than of the intellect or soul. see n. 8–13 (for sons of Ódinn). Each of the three gods provides the first human pair with some vital endowment: “önd gaf Ódinn. Faulkes ed.” “frenzy. trier of Hœnir’s courage). 17. that of the giant Êjazi’s theft of the goddess Idunn and that of Otr’s ransom. Some think it stands 116 Lindow.” see de Vries. but many references to him emphasize his relationship to Loki and/or Ódinn. 122 For önd translated as “breath. Problem of Loki. Norse Mythology. on its identity as an animating principle. crane.122 Ódr.. mainly on the basis of a few lines from Skáldskaparmál. 179.” or other terms conveying a sense of high mental excitement. “Hœnir. and trans. alternatively. or rooster. Faulkes ed. s. and 6. 900). 29. “blood” or “vital warmth”) for lá and “good color” or “good looks” for lito góda. Loki and Hœnir can each be called “sinni eda sessi Ódins” (Ódinn’s comrade or table-companion). see Poetic Edda. 7. which forms a prelude to the Völsung legend. 1–3.244 Cunning Intelligence in Norse Myth quality is his “close connection” to both Ódinn and Loki. lá gaf Lódurr oc lito góda. 32 above. 119 Skáldskaparmál 4–5.121 Ódinn’s bequest of önd is usually translated as “spirit” or “breath” and may refer to an animating principle. 117 The myth of Êjazi’s theft is known from Haustlöng and Skáldskaparmál G56. at any rate. Hœnir’s gift.” “ecstasy. 121 Schjødt.116 This trio appears as traveling companions in two myths.” and “hugreynandi Hœnis” (Hœnir’s friend. 2:123. Among the kennings for Loki that appear in Êjódólfr’s Haustlöng (ca. Accepting scholars’ equation of Lódurr with Loki. As Lindow describes this god. are “vinr Hœnis. 120 Völuspá 18.” 59. Snorri states that while most of the æsir may be referred to as “sonr Ódins” (Ódinn’s son). 14.117 Hœnir does very little in either of these stories (though the same could be said of Ódinn).119 One gets the sense from these kennings that Loki and Hœnir come the nearest among the æsir to being accounted Ódinn’s peers and that Hœnir was especially privy to Ódinn’s knowledge or experiences. North ed. to establish his identity with some variety of bird. ód gaf Hœnir. “Om Loki endnu engang. our main source for the story of Idunn’s theft and one of the oldest extant sources for Norse myth generally.. 2. while the latter is “máli Ódins” (Ódinn’s confidante). .”120 There is least agreement on how to understand the gifts given by Lódurr: many suggest something like “craft” (or. 118 Haustlöng 3. for references to the story of Otr’s ransom. Neckel ed. in Edda. and 15–16 (for Hœnir and Loki)... Hœnir’s loyal friend. it may also be noted that Hœnir is not among the æsir castigated by Loki in Lokasenna. Dronke ed.v. 180..” “hollr vinr Hœnis.” much of the scholarship on him has revolved around attempting. such as a stork. can (like önd ) be translated as “spirit” or “soul” but also as “inspiration.118 In his Edda. and 19–20. we also find this trio acting together in Völuspá to create man and woman from two logs found on the seashore. and 12. 5. 4.

Near the poem’s end. one who will be able or permitted to make the transition to the new world. but is continually renewed in another life. then Hœnir is the only one who is not a member of the younger generation of gods—on the contrary. 125 VafÂrúdnismál 51. 29. it is ordinarily the second generation of the æsir “whose actions span this world and the next. Each is a primordial and independent instantiation of one of his key attributes.History of Religions 245 for the idea of a higher soul that survives death and that humans do not share with lower life forms. in Edda. Folklore Fellows Communications 94 [Helsinki: Suomalainen tiedeakatemia.. das gedichtete Produkt” (Ström. the root word of Ódinn’s name. after all. 2:124.127 Hœnir’s reappearance at the end of Völuspá may be connected. and not Ódinn. three gods are identified as reappearing after ragnarök: Baldr. it is the poem itself. which has. in Edda. which lists Ódinn’s sons Vídarr and Váli and Êórr’s sons Módi and Magni. VafÂrúdnismál (Sayings of VafÂrúdnir).” see Poetic Edda. Murder and Vengeance among the Gods: Baldr in Scandinavian Mythology. Dronke. Loki. ed. 53–54 128 “In der Poesie is der ódr vor allem ein Ausdruck für die Dichtergabe. the composed product. however. 1931].”126 Perhaps this is why Hœnir is omitted from the combined list of survivors in Gylfaginning. another. Hœnir stands in the same relationship to Ódinn in terms of the powers of ódr as Loki does in terms of the powers of metic or cunning intelligence.124 Hœnir’s presence here has also puzzled many. ódr is above all an expression for the poet’s gift. he dates to the origins of the previous cosmic order. Neckel ed. more concretely expressed..125 As Lindow observes. As Ström writes. konkreter ausgedrückt ist er das Gedicht selbst. 1997). such as poetic genius. his mead of poetry will pass over into the new world. ecstasy” (Problem of Loki. it has been thought strange that Hœnir. more concrete sense. then. Neckel ed. 124 Völuspá 62–63. 54–55. Viewed in this light. and trans.”128 Since. 145. here citing his Contributions to the Study of Othin. hardly distinguishable from him until the 123 De Vries understands ódr to refer to “mental faculties of a higher order. presumably. 15.123 However one translates ódr in this verse. since if one considers those gods named as survivors in Völuspá alongside those given in another eddic poem. and Hœnir. neither Ódinn nor. it makes sense that some part of the power of poetic art and inspired wisdom remain separate from or invested in a figure other than Ódinn. On ódr as that “which does not die. Faulkes ed.” while “the major gods of the Odinic world are not to survive but are to be replaced. Folklore Fellows Communications 227 (Helsinki: Suomalainen tiedeakatemia. . in addition to those translations given above.. “In poetry. is the one to supply humans with this quality— ódr is.. 126 John Lindow. 56). 127 Gylfaginning 53. 30–31). to his association earlier in the poem with ódr. An answer to this puzzle may be suggested through a consideration of Hœnir’s second appearance in Völuspá. Hödr.

232. a myth in which sovereignty becomes the permanent possession of an unimpeachable. 1964]. Angela Hall (Cambridge: D. S. ideal ruler. the saga does not report what becomes of Hœnir.. and Lindow. and thus on the universal need for agents and instruments of memorialization. Lee M. Ódinn’s purpose is to die and to be remembered. Baldr’s is to remain and remember. whose name relates to terms for “memory. And Loki’s is to make sure it all happens.”130 Feeling cheated. Dictionary of Northern Mythology. This story reveals Hœnir. Brewer. Bjarni Adalbjarnarson ed. Hollander [Austin: University of Texas Press.”129 The vanir make Hœnir a chieftain. The king must die. If the Theogony is at its core a myth of kings. Hœnir takes up the latter role. Mímir. 216. 387. even among the gods. It is from this perspective that I have argued that Loki can be understood as a god of poets. 130 “rádi adrir” (Ynglinga saga 4. . Rudolf Simek. Altnordisches etymologisches Wörterbuch. trans. translation from Snorri Sturluson.246 Cunning Intelligence in Norse Myth time comes to accomplish a purpose that he cannot. 1993). who embalms it and consults it for wisdom. to be little more than memory’s mouthpiece. My analysis has thus led me to conclude that Folke Ström was not far off the mark when he argued that many figures of Norse myth can be regarded as offshoots of various qualities of Ódinn—for most purposes even as interchangeable with this god. 8). Because Ódinn cannot do both. but they soon discover that unless Mímir is with him he never says anything other than “Let others decide. in Heimskringla. I would yet emphasize that however close these figures approach to identity with Ódinn. one that insists on the inevitability. then the stories that center around Loki might be read as relating a myth of poets. the vanir cut off Mímir’s head and send it to Ódinn. A last datum concerning Hœnir that may be illuminated by this interpretation of his character or function is that in Ynglinga saga he is handed over to the vanir in an exchange of hostages along with another áss. of sovereignty’s loss and transmission. He satisfies the condition that even though Ódinn cannot be immortal. like any good praise-poet or conveyer of the power of ódr. Norse Mythology. Western Michigan University 129 De Vries. 1:13. Hœnir’s is to allow that memory to be conveyed across the worlds or generations. Heimskringla: History of the Kings of Norway. each has at least one proper and vital function to fulfill in the myths. ódr must be. trans. while the source or muse of poetic inspiration must live on.