Myth Monday: Loki’s Wager (and the sewn lips)

* Summary taken from Skaldskaparmal (from Faulkes translation of Snorri’s Edda). As usual direct quotes in italics 

Loki, “for love of mischief” cut off all of Sif’s hair. When Thor found out, he threatened to break every bone in Loki’s body. But Loki swore that he would go to the black-elves to make Sif hair of gold that would grow like any other hair. So “Loki went to some dwarfs called Ivaldi’s sons, and they made the head of hair and Skidbladnir and the spear belonging to Odin called Gungnir”. Then Loki saw a dwarf named Brokk and made a wager with him. He wagered his head that Brokk’s brother Eitri could not make three gifts for the gods as good as the three he had gotten from Ivaldi’s sons. At his workshop, “Eitri put a pig’s hide in the forge and told Brokk to blow and not stop until he took out of the forge what he had put in”. When he left the shop, a fly came in and landed on Brokk’s arm. It nibbled at him, but he continued to blow the forge as he was told until Eitri came and took out his creation. The pig’s hide was now a boar with bristles of gold. Next he put gold into the forge and told Brokk again to continue until he returned to take it out. This time, the fly came and settled on Brokk’s neck “and nibbled twice as hard”. But again, Brokk continued his work steadily until Eitri returned and took out what he had made. This time it was a gold ring called Draupnir. Then Eitri put iron into the forge. This time he told Brokk to blow and not stop until he was told because this one “would turn out no good if there was any pause in the blowing”. The fly lighted on Brokk again and this time “settled between his eyes and nibbled his eyelids, and when the blood dripped in his eyes so that he could not see, he snatched at it with his hand as quick as he could while the bellows was on its way down and swept the fly away”. Eitri returned and said that it came close to ruining everything in the forge. Then he took a hammer out of the forge and handed all the gifts to Brokk telling him to take them to Asgard and fulfill the wager. At Asgard, it was agreed that after receiving the gifts “the decision uttered by Odin, Thor, Freyr was to be final”. Loki presented the spear Gungnir to Odin, Sif’s hair to Thor, and Skidbladnir to Freyr and then told of their features. “The spear never stopped in its thrust, the hair was rooted in the flesh as soon as it came on to Sif’s head, and Skidbladnir had a fair wind as soon as its sail was hoisted, wherever it was intended to go, and could be folded up like a cloth and put in one’s pocket if desired”. Then it was Brokk’s turn. He gave Odin the gold ring that every ninth night “there would drip from it eight rings equal to it in weight”. Freyr was given the boar and was told that “it could run across sky and sea by night and day faster than any horse” and no matter how dark it was where it traveled, it was always light enough because of the light shed from its gold bristles. Thor was given the hammer and was told “he would be able to strike as heavily as he liked, whatever the target, and the hammer would not fail, and if he threw it at something, it would never miss, and never fly so far that it would not find its way back to his hand, and if he liked, it was so small that it could be kept inside his shirt” and the only defect in it was that the end of the handle was rather short. It was then decided that the hammer was the best gift as it was the best way for the Aesir to defend themselves from the frost-giants. Loki asked for a chance to redeem his head but Brokk told him no. ” ‘Catch me, then,’ said Loki” and he took off. Brokk couldn’t reach Loki himself because “Loki had some shoes with which he could run across sky and sea” and made use of these. So Brokk asked Thor to catch Loki, and he did. The dwarf was about to cut Loki’s head off. But then Loki said that the head was his but not the neck. So instead of taking his head, the dwarf got a thong and a knife and tried to pierce holes in Loki’s lips to stitch his mouth shut. But the knife would not cut. “Then he said it would be better if his brother Awl was there, and as soon as he spoke his name the awl was there, and it pierced the lips. He stitched the lips together, and it tore the edges off”. So Loki’s mouth was thus sewn shut, and the thong that was used for this was called Vartari. 

My thoughts & questions: (besides my pain at seeing Loki injured)

* I find it interesting that we have always assumed that Loki was the fly. Yet, this doesn’t actually say that it was him. We’ve all heard that Loki turned himself into a fly to stop Brokk when he saw how good they were doing on the gifts. But this tale shows the fly entering from the beginning.  Biting flies do tend to land on one body part after another, so it is at least possible it was just a fly. But then it also seems to disappear when Eitri enters the room. So, technically it could be either one, and definitely not beyond Loki to do something like that. But, since it doesn’t say that in this case, what do you think? And if it is attested to clearly in other text, (as written, not interpretation/retelling) please do email me the citation and reference. I love keeping track of these things (Odd hobby you could say).

* The next thing I wonder about is the shoes that let Loki run across the sky and sea. This description of running reminds me of lightning, could this be a reference to his connection to lightning through his father? Or, compared to other deities in other pantheons who had similar shoes, is it possible Loki is connected to psychopomps or weather deities (beyond thurs being primal nature) that make the weather like those other pantheons skyrunning deities? 

*When it comes to the wager itself, I wonder with Loki being as sly with words as he is, why he didn’t simply point out that Brokk had not one by the terms stated. The wager was that he could not make three gifts as good as the three from Ivaldi’s sons. So when the Aesir said the hammer was the best present, why did Loki not ask about which collective three were the best or point out to Brokk that “that wasn’t our bet” ? Just a curious thought.

What do you think about these things? What thoughts or questions does this tale stir in you? Feel free to comment and discuss. I’ll respond as soon as I’m able. See you soon.

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