Other Norse Myths Concerning the Death of Balder (in Saxo)

The ancient Danish historian Saxo also has an account — no doubt
drawn chiefly from Norse sources — of the death of Balder. It differs
materially from the narrative in the Eddas. In Saxo’s story the name of
Balder’s slayer is Hother, son of Hothbrod. He is not a blind god, but a bold
and well-favored prince who from his youth has distinguished himself for
bodily strength and adroitness in all manly exercises. He has no equal as a


swimmer and as a bowman, and no one can match him in playing the harp.
He loves Nanna, the daughter of his foster father Gevar, and she returns
his love. Odin’s son, the mighty Balder, sees her and pays court to her;
being disappointed in his suit, he seeks to kill Hother. From certain Forest-
Maidens Hother learns the entire plot; in consultation with his foster father
Gevar he ascertains that the only means of wounding Balder is the sword
of the Forest-Troll Miming. With much difficulty he gains possession of this
sword. Balder makes war on Hother and Gevar, in the course of which he
loses a great battle at sea, although all of the gods, even Odin and Thor,
fight on his side; Thor crushes down with his cudgel all that oppose him until Hother
succeeds in splitting the shaft of it; then even the gods take flight. Now
Hother weds Nanna and becomes king of Sweden, which land is his
domain by hereditary right. Balder continues the struggle against him, now
with a greater measure of good fortune, gains the victory over him in two
battles, and thus wins the kingdom of Denmark, which Hother has sought
to lay under tribute to himself. But Balder’s unhappy love for Nanna
consumes his strength. No longer able to walk, he is compelled to ride in a
chariot. In order to help him regain his vigor, three Celestial Maidens brew
for him a drink made from the poison of serpents. Hother, meanwhile, gains
knowledge of the posture of affairs from the same three Forest-Maidens
who assisted him before, and makes opportune haste to join battle with
Balder; the battle which ensues between them lasts a whole day, and
neither side wins a decisive victory. During the night Hother sallies forth to
meet the Maidens who are preparing the potent draught; he asks them to
give him some of it, but they dare not heed his request, although they are
well disposed toward him in all things else. On his return journey by a
happy chance he encounters Balder alone. He wounds him with his sword,
and Balder dies three days afterward. Hother now becomes king also in
Denmark. Odin, meaning to avenge the death of Balder, seeks the advice
of soothsayers, and the Finn Rostiophus tells him that Rind, daughter of the
king of Ruthenia (Russia) is to bear him a son who will avenge
his brother. Assuming a disguise, Odin enters the service of the king as a
soldier and performs such incredible deeds of valor that he becomes the
king’s most highly trusted henchman. Now he pays court to Rind with the
consent of the king; but, too haughty to accept him, she sends him away
with a box on the ear. The next year he returns in the guise of a smith and
fashions for the princess the most lovely ornaments of gold and silver; but
instead of the kiss he asks for, he gets only a second box on the ear, the
princess being unwilling to favor a man so old. The third time he appears
as the gayest of knights, but his courtship meets with no better luck than
before. At last he returns in the likeness of a young girl, and so finds a
place among Rind’s handmaidens. The handmaiden, as he calls himself,
pretends to unusual skill in healing. When the princess in the course of time
falls ill of a dangerous malady, the handmaiden is summoned and, on
being promised her love as a guerdon, restores Rind to health. Thus Odin
gains what he has long sought. Rind becomes his consort and bears him a
son, whom Saxo calls Bous and who is no doubt to be identified with the
Vali of the Eddas. Of him Saxo relates only that he makes war on Hother,
that Hother falls in battle, but that Bous receives a mortal wound from
which he dies on the following day. The Eddas, on the other hand,
represent Vali as still living, inasmuch as he is one of the small number of
gods who are to survive the Twilight of the Gods.


Sources:

Peter Andreas Munch: Norse Mythology: Legends of Gods and Heroes. The American-Scandinavian Foundation, New York. 1926, pp. 94-96.
The Danish history of Saxo Grammaticus (book I-IX)



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