Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Sons of Odin

Various gods and men appear as Sons of Odin or Sons of Wodan/Wotan or Sons of Woden in old Old Norse and Old High German and Old English texts.

Only four gods, Thor, Baldur, Váli/Bous, and the Carl of Denmark are identified as sons of Odin, and ergo (inherently) Metal Gods, in the Eddic poems, in the skaldic poems, in Saxo Grammaticus' Gesta Danorum, and in the Gylfaginning section of Snorri Sturluson's Prose Edda. But silence on the matter does not indicate that other gods whose parentage is not mentioned in these works might not also be sons of Odin. Carl, for example, is never explicitly identified as a god in these works, but his godhood is undeniable; his legendary skill with his 'stringed' axe could only suggest divinity.

According to all skaldic poems, Eddic poems, and Snorri Sturluson's Edda, Thor's mother is Jörd, a giantess representing the earth.

Baldur is son of Odin by his wife Frigg, attested by an excerpt from the Eddic poem Lokasenna in which Frigg says to Loki:

If I still had a son, sitting here,
As brave as Baldur was,
You would not escape unscathed from the hall,
Before you fought with him.

If any of the other gods present at the banquet are her sons, this would be a taunt to them, but that does not seem to be the case. Snorri also presents Baldur as a son of Odin and Frigg in his Edda. In the Gylfaginning section Snorri calls Baldur "the second son of Odin".

In Saxo's Gesta Danorum (Book 3), however, Baldur is "a demigod, sprung secretly from celestial seed", that is, a son of Odin by a mortal woman (though Saxo considers all these gods to have been in reality human beings and apologizes in this section for not carrying this through consistently).

Váli, the avenger of Baldur in Norse tradition, is mentioned in several Norse texts as the son of Odin by Rind, of whom Snorri says in the Gylfaginning: "Thor's mother Jörd and Váli's mother Rind are reckoned among the Ásynjur." In Saxo's account Váli is named Bous (sometimes Anglicized as Boe) and is fathered by Odin with Rinda, "daughter of the King of the Ruthenians".

In the Skáldskaparmál Snorri calls Vidar a son of Odin by the giantess Gríd. In various kennings Snorri also describes Heimdall, Bragi, Tyr and Höd as sons of Odin, information that appears nowhere else in the Edda.

For Heimdall and Vidar there is no variant account of their father. The same may not be true for Bragi if Bragi is taken to be the skaldic poet Bragi Boddason made into a god. But Tyr, according to the Eddic poem Hymiskvida, was son of the giant Hymir rather than a son of Odin. As to Höd, outside of the single statement in the kennings, Snorri makes no mention that Höd is Baldur's brother or Odin's son, though one might expect that to be emphasized. In Saxo's version of the death of Baldur, Höd, whom Saxo calls Høtherus, is a mortal and in no way related to Saxo's demi-god Baldur.

Hermód appears in Snorri's Gylfaginning as the messenger sent by Odin to Hel to seek to bargain for Balder's release. He is called "son" of Odin in most manuscripts, but in the Codex Regius version—the Codex Regius is normally considered the best manuscript—Hermód is called sveinn Óðins 'Odin's boy', which might mean Odin's son but in the context is as likely to mean Odin's servant. However when Hermód arrives in Hel's hall, Snorri calls Baldur his brother. To confuse matters other texts know of a mortal hero named Hermód or Heremod.

Some manuscripts of the Skáldskaparmál give, along with other material, a list of the sons of Odin, which does not altogether fit with what Snorri writes elsewhere and so is usually thought to be a later addition. As such it is omitted from some editions and translations, but it does appear in Anthony Faulkes' translation. If not by Snorri, the list is all the more valuable in that it represents an independent tradition. The text reads:

Sons of Óðinn Baldr and Meili
Víðarr and Nepr Váli, Áli
Þórr and Hildólfr Hermóðr, Sigi
Skjöldr, Yngvi-Freyr and Ítreksjóð
Heimdallr, Sæmingr Höðr and Bragi

Sigi is ancestor of the Volsungs. Skjöld is ancestor of the Skjölding dynasty in Denmark. Yngvi is ancestor of a legendary Swedish Ynglings. Sæming is ancestor of a line of Norwegian kings. All appear in Snorri's pseudo-historical Prologue to the Prose Edda as sons of Odin and founders of these various lineages, perhaps all thought to be sons of Odin begotten on mortal women. See Yngvi for discussions of this personage who is mostly identical with Frey in extant texts, even though in almost all sources Frey (often called Yngvi-Frey) is instead the son of Njörd. But a Faroese ballad recorded in 1840 names Odin's son as Veraldur, this Veraldur being understood as another name of Frö, that is of Frey. See Frey for details.

Hildolf and Itreksjod are otherwise unknown as sons of Odin. The name Hildolf appears in the eddic poem Hárbardsljód applied by the ferryman Harbard to his supposed master, but Harbard is actually Odin in disguise and there is no clear reference here to a son of Odin. Hildolf and Itreksjod may have been legendary founders of families purportedly descended from Odin in traditions that have not survived.

Meili also appears in the eddic poem Hárbardsljód where Thor calls himself Odin's son, Meili's brother and Magni's father. In Snorri's Gylfaginning Ali is only another name for Vali and Nep is the father of Baldur's wife Nanna. If this list is correct in giving Odin a son named Nep, and if that Nep is identical to the father of Nanna mentioned by Snorri, then Nanna would also be Baldur's niece. But marriage between uncle and niece, though common in many cultures, does not normally appear in old Scandinavian literature.

Tyr, Höd, and Bragi are conspicuously absent from this list, one reason to believe it is not from Snorri's hand.

Some manuscripts have a variant version of the list which adds Höd and Bragi to the end and replaces Yngvi-Frey with an otherwise unknown Ölldner or Ölner. This may be an attempt to bring the list into accord with Snorri, even though it still lacks Tyr. Some manuscripts add additional names of sons of Odin which are otherwise unknown: "Ennelang, Eindride, Bior, Hlodide, Hardveor, Sönnöng, Vinthior, Rymur."

The prologue to Snorri's Edda and the alternative list discussed above both include the following:

* Sigi. He was the ancestor of the Völsung lineage (see Völsunga saga) who were Frankish kings according to Snorri.
* Skjöld. In Snorri's Ynglinga Saga in the Heimskringla, Skjöld's wife is the goddess Gefjön and the same account occurs in most, but not all, manuscripts of the Edda. But Saxo makes Skjöld the son of Lother son of Dan. And in English tradition Skjöld (called Scyld or Sceldwa) is son of Sceafa or of Heremod when a father is named.
* Yngvi. A son of Odin in the prologue to the Edda but identified with Frey son of Njörd in the Ynglinga Saga. In both accounts this figure is ancestor of the Yngling dynasty in Sweden (from which later kings of Norway also traced their descent).
* Sæming. Snorri's Ynglinga Saga relates that after the giantess Skaði broke off her marriage with Njörd, she "married afterwards Odin, and had many sons by him, of whom one was called Sæming" from whom Jarl Hákon claimed descent. Snorri then quotes a relevant verse by the poet Eyvindr skáldaspillir. However in his preface to the Heimskringla Snorri says that Eyvindr's Háleygjatal which reckoned up the ancestors of Jarl Hákon brought in Sæming as son of Yngvi-Frey. Snorri may have slipped here, thinking of the Ynglings. As to the many sons, it is possible that some of the otherwise unknown sons in the previous section may be sons purportedly born by Skadi.

According to Herrauds saga:

* Gauti. Gauti's son Hring ruled Östergötland (East Götaland), so Gauti appears to be the eponym of the Geatas in Beowulf. Some versions of the English royal line of Wessex add names above that of Woden, purportedly giving Woden's ancestry, though the names are now usually thought be in fact another royal lineage that has been at some stage erroneously pasted onto the top of the standard genealogy. Some of these genealogies end in Geat, whom it is reasonable to think might be Gauti. The account in the Historia Britonum calls Geat a son of a god which fits. But Asser in his Life of Alfred writes instead that the pagans worshipped this Geat himself for a long time as a god. In Old Norse texts Gaut is itself a very common byname for Odin. Jordanes in The origin and deeds of the Goths traces the line of the Amelungs up to Hulmul son of Gapt, purportedly the first Gothic hero of record. This Gapt is felt by many commentators to be an error for Gaut or Gauti.

According to Hervarar saga ok Heidreks konungs ("The Saga of Hervor and King Heidrek") versions H and U:

* Sigrlami. He was son of Odin and king of Gardariki. His son Svafrlami succeeded him. Svafrlami forced the dwarves Dvalinn and Durin to forge himself a superb sword, Tyrfing. They did so and cursed it. In version R Sigrlami takes on the role of Svafrlami and his parentage is not given.

In the prologue to the Edda Snorri also mentions sons of Odin who ruled among the continental Angles and Saxons and provides information about their descendants that is identical or very close to traditions recorded in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. Snorri may here be dependent on English traditions. The sons mentioned by both Snorri and the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle are:

* Vegdagr/Wægdæg/Wecta. According to Snorri Vegdeg ruled East Saxony. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle does not make it clear that Wægdæg and Wecta are identical (or perhaps it is Snorri or a source who has wrongly conflated Wecta with Wægdæg). In the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle the Wecta form of the name heads the lineage of the kings of Kent (of whom Hengest is traditionally the first) and the Wægdæg form of the name heads the lineage of the kings of Bernicia.
* Beldeg. According to Snorri's prologue Beldeg was identical to Baldur and ruled in Westphalia. There is no independent evidence of the identification of Beldeg with Baldur. From Beldeg the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle traces the kings of Deira and Wessex.

Other Anglo-Saxon genealogies mention:

* Weothulgeot or Whitlæg. According to the genealogies in the Angian collection, Weothulgeot was ancestor to the royal house of Mercia and the father of Whitlæg. According to the Historia Brittonum, Weothulgeot was father of Weaga who was father of Whitlæg. But the two Anglo-Saxon Chronicle versions of this genealogy include neither Weothulgeot nor Weaga but make Whitlæg himself the son of Woden. In all versions Whitlæg is father of Wermund father of Offa. According to the Old English poem Widsith Offa ruled over the continental Angels. Saxo, though not mentioning Whitlæg's parentage, introduces Whitlæg as a Danish king named Wiglek who was the slayer of Amleth (Hamlet).
* Casere. He was ancestor to the royal house of East Anglia.
* Winta. He was ancestor to the royal house of Lindsey/Lindisfarne. This genealogy is found only in the Anglian collection, not in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle.

Saxo Grammaticus' Gesta Danorum (Book 4) speaks of Froger, the King of Norway, who was a great champion. Saxo relates:

According to some, he was the son of Odin, and when he begged the immortal gods to grant him a boon, received the privilege that no man should conquer him, save he who at the time of the conflict could catch up in his hand the dust lying beneath Froger's feet.

King Fródi the Active of Denmark, still a young man, learning of the charm, begged Froger to give him lessons in fighting. When the fighting court had been marked off, Fródi entered with glorious gold-hilted sword and clad in a golden breastplate and helmet. Fródi then begged a boon from Froger, that they might change positions and arms. Froger agreed. After the exchange, Fródi caught up some dust from where Froger had been standing and then quickly defeated Froger in battle and slew him.

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