Myth Study: The Lay of Skirnir

One day, Frey went and sat on Hlithskajalf looking over all the worlds. He looked into Jotunheim and saw a beautiful woman walking from her father’s house so shining that light shined from her arms across the land and sea. It was Gerd, the daughter of the giant Gymir. Frey was so struck by her beauty that he instantly became lovesick for her. And he was so distraught by the fact that he couldn’t have her, that he went home and stayed to himself in his room not talking to anyone. This behavior worried everyone. But he hadn’t told anyone what happened that day so no one knew what was bothering him. So Skadi went to Frey’s servant, Skirnir, asking him to please go and talk with her son and find out who had angered him so much that he stayed in this condition. Skirnir went to Frey and asked him to tell him what was bothering him. Frey responded asking “why should I tell you?, The sun shines all day but it doesn’t soothe my longing”. Skirnir replied “I doubt there is any longing that you can’t tell me. We were young together. We can trust each other”. So Frey told Skirnir of the beautiful woman he saw saying she was more desirable than any young maid from his youth. So Skirnir told him “Give me a horse that will carry me through the dark and flame. And give me your sword that fights by itself”. Then Frey agreed and gave Skirnir the horse and sword. Skirnir took the horse and sword and headed to Jotunheim determined to bring Gerd back to marry Frey. When he arrived at Gymir’s home, he saw fierce dogs chained outside the fence. So he rode over to where there was herder sitting on a mound and said to him “Tell me herdsmen, how to get past the dogs that guard Gymir’s house for a chance to speak with his daughter”. The herder looked at Skirnir saying “Is this the day you die or are you already dead? You’ll never get to talk with Gymir’s daughter”. Skirnir replied “There is always a chance for someone who is prepared to die. When my life was shaped my fate was already set”, and he rode back to Gymir’s home. Once he was there, Gerd heard some noise outside and asked her serving maid “What is that noise I’m hearing inside our walls?”. The serving maid said there was a man outside stepping off his horse and letting it feed. So Gerd told her to go and ask him to come inside and drink some meade, though she fearedthis man may be the one who killed her brother. When Skirnir was inside Gerd asked him “Are you Aesir, Vanir, or Alfar? Why have you come over the flame to our home?” Skirnir told her he was neither Alfar or Aesir or Vanir, though he came there with this offer. “I have eleven apples made of gold that I will give you if you pledge to marry and live with Frey”. But Gerd said she would not accept the apples from any mortal in exchange for her love, not even for Frey and she would never marry him. So Skirnir told her he would give her the gold ring that Odin had placed on his son’s funeral pyre that would drop eight more gold rings from it every ninth night. Gerd told him she would never accept gold for her love either because she lacked no gold with her father. At this, Skirnir began to threaten her. He showed her the sword and said he would cut off her head if she did not agree to marry Frey. But Gerd told him her father would kill him first if he tried. Then Skirnir began to get even more threatening. He told her he would kill her father and beat her, and then cursed her. He said she would be sent to a place where she would never be seen again. She would sit on an eagle’s nest and turned away from the world and never get any food. She would be forced to crawl on her knees humiliated and crying, and would be bound to three-headed Thurs or else never have a mate at all. Then he says Odin and Thor and Frey would all hate her and even the Jotun would hate her and some translations include being given sexual shame. He shouts the curse out loud and tells her “I have already cursed you, but I will lift the curse if you agree to come and marry Frey”. At this, Gerd agreed she would marry Frey. So Skirnir said he would only leave after she proves she will do it by telling him when she will come to marry Frey. She told him she would meet them in a grove called Barri in nine nights. Then Skirnir went back home and told Frey what Gerd had said. Frey complained that it would be difficult to wait nine whole nights. But, (according to the Prose Edda) he did wait until the set time and did marry Gerd.

Discussion: 1) When Skirnir arrived at Gymir’s home Gerd asked if he was Aesir, Alfar, or Vanir which would seem to indicate he wasn’t Jotun. But he said he was none of those. So who is he? Since Gerd said she would not accept these offers from any “mortal”, is Skirnir the same one that Gerd feared had killed her brother? Is this the same one or of the line as the tale involving Andvari’s ring and the deaths that came from that? If so, how did he and Frey grow up together? Was he adopted by the gods? Or a human servant like the children that follow and help Thor or other human children who were taken as servants by the gods?.. 2) Was Frey told what all was done and said to make Gerd agree to marry him? If not, would he have married her if he knew it was that coerced?… 3) In this threat and curse that Skirnir put out, Thorpe’s translation says that he carved runes into the wand to make it happen, but he also called to not only the Aesir and their allies, but the Jotun as well. So with or without the runes, would the Jotun have even honored and brought forth this kind of curse on their own kind for something like this? Would they have actually fought for her against the curse? Or would they remain uninvolved?

What do you think? What thoughts or questions do have about this tale? Feel free to comment and discuss if you like. And I will respond as I am able. That’s all I have for this enrty. See you soon.

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