Myth Monday: The Origins of Poetry

*Apologies for being a day late on “Myth Monday”. I had some family visits going on all weekend and got behind on my work. So, here is Myth Monday a day late.

At the feast mentioned earlier, where Aegir was talking with Bragi, he asked about the origins of Poetry. Bragi told him that part of the peace conference at the end of the Aesir-Vanir war, “both sides went up to a vat and spat their spittle into it. But when they dispersed, the gods kept this symbol of truce and decided not to let it be wasted”. So they made a man out of it called Kvasir. He was so wise that no one could ask him any question that he didn’t know the answer to. So he traveled the world teaching people knowledge. One day he happened to stop at the home of two dwarf brothers named Fialar and Galar. But they called him to a private discussion and killed him. Then they poured his blood into two vats and mixed honey with the blood. This became a mead that would make anyone who drinks from it become a poet or scholar. And they told the Aesir that Kvasir had died from his intelligence being suffocated with there being no one educated enough to ask him questions. Then these dwarfs invited a giant named Gilling and his wife to stay with them. They invited Gilling to go out to sea with them. They went along the coast and the dwarfs rowed on to a shoal causing the boat to capsize. Gilling wasn’t able to swim and was drowned. But the dwarfs were able to get the boat sat up and back inside to row back home. They told Gilling’s wife what happened and she began to cry loudly. So Fialar asked her if it would help her grief to look out to sea where he had drowned, and she agreed. But then he told his brother Galar to go above the door-way and drop a millstone on her head because he was tired of her howling. So Galar did as he was told and killed Gilling’s wife.  After this, Gilling’s son Suttung found out what happened and went to seek out the dwarfs. When Suttung found the two dwarfs, he seized them and took them out to sea. There he put them on a skerry below high-water level. They begged him to arrange some way they can reconcile. They offered him the mead of poetry they had made of Kvasir’s blood as a means of atonement. Suttung accepted the offer. He took the mead home with him and put it in a place called Hnitbiorg for safe keeping. Then he put his daughter Gunnlod in charge of it. This is why they call poetry “Kvasir’s blood” or “dwarfs drink” or “Suttung’s mead”. 

* Discussion thoughts: About these dwarfs, What happened between them and Kvasir? Did they kill him for the purpose of making the mead? Did they get upset that he knew so much and it was an afterthought to make the mead? And then what about Gilling and his wife? Did they intentionally let Gilling die? Or are they just a couple of cluts? Did Fialar actually have the wife killed because he was tired of her crying, or was it just so she wouldn’t seek revenge for her husband’s death? 

*For Kvasir himself, Snorri told us in Loki’s binding that it was Kvasir that told the Aesir of the net Loki had been making by examining the ashes in the fire. But “Lokasenna” in the Poetic Edda doesn’t mention him or Loki making the net. So, was Loki bound before the mead of poetry was made? Or did Snorri throw Kvasir into the tale as a writer to add to the story? Regardless of when, though Kvasir was killed would it be worth trying to pray to (or call on) him for help in matters that involve writing, poetry and scholarly work like some do Bragi?  What do you think? What other thoughts do you have from this tale? Feel free to comment and discuss. 

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