Myth Monday: How the Aesir Obtained the Poetry Mead

Our last myth discussion was about the origins of poetry and how the mead of poetry was made. Now, we look at how the Aesir obtained the Poetry Mead from Suttung. Again, this is from Skaldskaparmal in Snorri’s Prose Edda. 

Aegir asked Bragi how the Aesir got the mead of Poetry from Suttung. So Bragi told him the story of how Odin sought out and obtained the mead. Odin sat out from home and came to where nine slaves were mowing hay. So Odin asked them if they wanted him to sharpen their scythes, and the men said yes. Odin then pulled his whetstone out of his belt and honed the scythes. When he was done, the men thought the scythes were cutting so much better that they asked Odin if they could buy the whetstone. Odin told them he would sell it to whoever gave what was reasonable for it. The men all made offers and argued over it. Then, Odin tossed the whetstone high into the air and all nine men tried to catch it and “dealt with each other in such a way that they all cut each other’s throats with their scythes”. After this, Odin went and sought lodging for the night with the giant, Baugi, who happened to be the brother of Suttung. Baugi, unaware of who he was talking to and his involvement in the matter, was lamenting over not knowing where he would get more workmen since his slaves had all killed each other. Odin told him his name was Bolverk, and that he would do the work of nine men in exchange for one drink of Suttung’s mead. Baugi told him that he had no say over Suttung’s mead but that he would go with “Bolverk” to ask for the payment when the work was done. So Odin did the work of nine men over the summer, and when winter came, asked for his payment. Baugi went with him, like he said, to see Suttung to ask for the drink of mead. But Suttung refused to give any. So Odin told Baugi they would have to try another way to get it, and Baugi agreed. They got an auger and Odin had Baugi bore a whole in the mountain. Baugi tried to cheat Odin by claiming it was bored through when it wasn’t. But Odin saw that it was a trick and made him finish boring through. When this was done, Odin turned himself into a snake and slithered through the auger hole. Baugi tried to stab the snake but could not reach it. So Odin made his way into the place where Gunnlod was guarding the mead. In order to get the mead from her, he lay with her for three nights. Then she gave him three drinks of the mead. He took all of the first pot in one drink, and did the same for the second and third pot. In this way, he took all of the mead in three drinks. Then he turned himself into the form of an eagle and flew away as hard as he could. But when Suttung saw the eagle’s flight, he took his own eagle shape and flew after him. When the Aesir saw Odin flying, they put containers out in the courtyard. And as Odin flew over Asgard he spat the mead into the containers. But because Suttung was so close to catching him, he sent some of the mead backwards and that part was disregarded. Everyone that wanted it took it, and it was called the rhymester’s share. But Odin gave the mead to the Aesir and those people who are skilled in poetry.

Discussion thoughts: Why did Odin agree to do the work and go through with the plan before knowing if Suttung would agree to giving the mead as payment? Even if he knew he was going to find a way regardless, wouldn’t it have been easier to go to Suttung with some plan instead of working an entire summer? 

Along this same line, was it really necessary to kill the nine slaves? With Odin being as wise and tricky in these things, wouldn’t it have been just as easy to convince Baugi he could do the work better without actually killing the men? 

Secondly, Considering the way myths tend to explain how things came to humans (like Loki’s fishing net and Salmon’s thin tail), is the disregarded mead that anyone who wanted drank of just a way to explain why some people are more adept at writing and poetry than others? 

Finally, Odin layed with Gunnlod for three nights to gain her trust. But when we get to Havamal in the Poetic Edda we see he did this by giving her a “ring-oath” (or proposal) that he made knowing that he would break it. So that makes me wonder, who set the rules about Nostrand and Nidhoggr and the punishment of oath-breakers if Odin himself breaks oaths repeatedly? (Note: I’m not casting judgment here, just wondering who made those arrangements when it all began?) What do you think? As usual, feel free to comment and discuss here.

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