The Death of Kvasir - Suttung

The death of Kvasir occasioned the dissemination among men of a
knowledge of the poetic arts. It happened in the following manner:
Kvasir was in the habit of journeying hither and thither in the world
for the purpose of teaching wisdom to men. Once upon a time he was
invited to visit the home of the Dwarfs Fjalar and Galar; they begged
permission to speak a word or two with him in private, and promptly killed
him. His blood they allowed to drip into two crocks and a kettle; then they
mixed honey with the blood and from this pottage they brewed a mead
possessing the peculiar virtue that whoever should drink of it would
become a skald or a soothsayer. The two crocks are called Son and Bodn,
and the kettle Odrœrir. The Dwarfs told the Æsir that Kvasir had been
drowned in his own perfect wisdom, no man being wise enough to match
wits with him. Some time later the Dwarfs invited into their home a Giant
named Gilling and his wife. The Dwarfs asked the Giant to row out to sea to
fish with them; as they were rowing along the shore, the boat struck a reef
and overturned. Gilling, being unable to swim, was drowned, while the
Dwarfs managed to right the boat and reach land. When they told the
Giant’s wife of the accident, she moaned and wept aloud. Fjalar suggested
that it might ease her grief to look out to sea where her hushand had
perished, and the thought pleased her; whereupon Fjalar directed his
brother Galar to take a millstone, post himself above the door, and drop the stone
on her head as she stepped out, for he was heartily wearied with her
lamentations. Galar did as he was told. When Suttung, Gilling’s son,
learned what had happened, he came upon the Dwarfs, took them captive,
and marooned them on a reef over which the sea washed at flood tide. In
their distress they begged Suttung to have mercy on them and offered to
give him the precious mead in recompense for his father’s death. Suttung
accepted their proffer, and in this way a reconciliation was effected
between them. He hid the mead at a place called Nitbjorg and set his
daughter Gunnlod to keep watch over it.

When all these events came to the knowledge of Odin, he set out
determined to secure the mead for himself. In his journey he came to a
meadow belonging to Suttung’s brother Baugi, where he saw nine thralls at
work cutting hay. On his asking if they wanted their scythes sharpened they
gladly accepted his services. Taking his whetstone from his belt he put
such a fine edge on the scythes that the thralls were eager to buy the
whetstone from him. He was willing to sell, but finding that each one of
them coveted it, he tossed the whetstone into the air; all of them tried to
catch it at one time, and thus had the misfortune to cut one another’s
throats with their scythes. Now Odin found lodging for the night with Baugi.
Baugi complained to Odin that his nine thralls had killed one another, and
that he was at his wits’ end to get laborers in their stead. Odin, who had
called himself Bolverk, offered to do nine men’s work
for Baugi, if Baugi would only procure him a draught of Suttung’s mead by
way of wages. Baugi answered that, though he had no sort of control over
the mead, which Suttung kept in his own charge alone, he was willing to go
in the company of Bolverk and try to gain possession of the mead for him.
While summer lasted, Bolverk did the work of nine men for Baugi; but when
winter came, he demanded his hire. The two accordingly visited Suttung, to
whom Baugi explained the agreement between himself and Bolverk; but
Suttung refused outright to let them have so much as a single drop. Bolverk
then proposed to Baugi that they would have to try to get hold of the mead
by some sort of trickery, and Baugi was nothing loath. Bolverk produced an
auger called Rati and asked Baugi to bore a hole with it through the
mountain, that is, provided the auger would bite rock. Baugi set to work and
had not bored a great while before he declared that he had made a hole
clear through the stone of the mountain. On Bolverk’s blowing into the hole,
however, the grit flew back into his face; having thus discovered that Baugi
meant to fool him, Bolverk enjoined him to bore again in sober earnest.
Baugi plied the auger a second time; and when Bolverk blew once more,
the dust flew inward. Bolverk now transformed himself into a snake and
crawled through the hole. Baugi tried to pierce his body with the auger but
failed. Odin soon made his way to the spot where Gunnlod sat guarding the
mead, and remained there with her three nights. She gave him leave to
drink thrice of the mead; the first time he drained Odrœrir, the second time
Bodn, and the third time Son. Then taking on the form of an eagle, he flew away
as fast as ever he could fly. When Suttung became aware of what was
going on, he too assumed the shape of an eagle and spread his wings in
pursuit of Odin. When the Æsir caught sight of Odin flying toward home,
they placed their crocks out in the courtyard. On alighting within the walls of
Asgard, Odin spewed the mead into the crocks; but Suttung having by that
time nearly overtaken him, he let a part of the mead slip behind him. The
gods, however, were not in the least disturbed, and permitted who would to
gather up the dregs. Odin made a gift of the mead to the Æsir and to all
who understand the art of poetry; the remnants of mead which fell into the
mire became the allotted portion of poetasters.


Peter Andreas Munch: Norse Mythology: Legends of Gods and Heroes. The American-Scandinavian Foundation, New York. 1926, pp. 97-100.
The Younger Eddas: Skaldskaparmal, pp. 92-96.
Rasmus B. Anderson (Ed.): The Elder Eddas of Saemund Sigfusson and the Younger Eddas of Snorre Sturleson. Norræna Society, London-New York. 1906.

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