Thor's Combat With Rungnir

Once upon a time, when Thor had gone off to the east to kill Trolls,
Odin rode on Sleipnir’s back into Jotunheim and pressed forward to the
dwelling of the Giant Rungnir. Rungnir inquired who the gold-helmeted man
might be, who was thus able to ride both air and sea — he must be the
master of a good horse! Odin undertook to wager his head that the horse’s like was not to be
found in all Jotunheim. Rungnir retorted that his own horse, Goldmane, was
the swifter of the two; with these words he sprang on his horse in a rage
and rode in pursuit of Odin to pay him for his boasting. Odin struck spurs
into Sleipnir and maintained his lead; but Rungnir had lashed himself into
such a Giant fury that before he knew it he had passed within the gates of
Asgard. The Æsir immediately invited him to sit down with them at their
drinking, to which he assented and walked into the hall. The beakers were
brought forward from which Thor was in the habit of drinking; Rungnir
emptied them all without a murmur, and becoming drunk, began to vaunt
himself. He would pick Valhalla up bodily and carry it off to Jotunheim; he
would level Asgard with the earth and put all the gods to death but Freyja
and Sif, and these two he would bear away to his own house. He insisted
that Freyja alone had the courage to fill his beaker, and that he would make
short work of drinking up all of the Æsir’s ale. The Æsir, eventually growing
weary of his bragging, summoned Thor; without a moment’s delay Thor
was on the spot, brandishing his hammer and fuming with anger. Thor
demanded to know who had permitted foul Giants to drink there, who had
allowed Rungnir to remain in Valhalla, and why Freyja was filling his cup as
if it was a banquet for the gods. Rungnir turned unfriendly eyes on Thor
and answered that Odin in person had invited him to enter and had given
him safe conduct. Thor declared that before the
Giant made his escape he would have reason to rue that invitation. “Thor
would gain little glory by killing an unarmed man,” said Rungnir; “but have
you courage enough to fight with me at the boundary stones of
Grjottunagard? I was a fool to forget my shield and whetstone at home, for
if I had my weapons at hand we could fight it out at once; but if you kill me
while I am unarmed, you will be every man’s byword for cowardice.” That
was the first time any one had offered to stand against Thor in single
combat, and so he immediately accepted the challenge. Rungnir rode off at
top speed; when he arrived at home in Jotunheim, the Giants paid him the
highest compliments on his courage. They realized, none the less, how
much was at stake: if Rungnir, their most powerful champion, should be
worsted, they might look for all manner of mischances. Accordingly they set
about the task of making a man of clay, nine miles tall and three miles
broad beneath the arms. They were unable to find a heart large enough for
him until it occurred to them to make use of the heart of a mare. Rungnir for
his part had a three-cornered heart of stone; his head also was of stone,
and his shield as well. Taking his position behind his shield he awaited at
Grjottunagard the corning of Thor; resting his whetstone on his shoulder,
he presented a most formidable figure. The clay Giant, on the contrary,
who bore the name Mokkurkalfi, was so terrified that “he made water as
soon as he caught sight of Thor.” Thor came on the field seconded by
Thjalfi. As they advanced Thjalfi called out, “You have made a reckless
choice of position, Giant; Thor is closing in on you from below through the earth.”
Rungnir then placed his shield beneath his feet and stood on it; no sooner
had he done so than Thor, heralded by a burst of thunder and lightning,
came upon the scene in all his Æsir might and from a great distance hurled
his hammer at the Giant. Rungnir gripped his whetstone with both hands
and threw it at Thor, but it struck the hammer in mid air and was shattered
to pieces. One part fell to the, ground, and from these fragments have
come all the mountains of whetstone; the other part, piercing Thor’s head,
brought him to earth. The hammer struck Rungnir on the crown and
smashed his skull to bits; he fell across the body of Thor so that his foot
rested on Thor’s neck. By this time Thjalfi had won an easy victory over
Mokkurkalfi. Neither Thjalfi nor any of the Æsir was able to lift Rungnir’s
foot off Thor’s neck; but presently Magni came upon the field — the son of
Thor and Jarnsaxa, a youngster of three years — and raised the Giant’s
foot as if in play; it was unfortunate, so he said, that he had not come
sooner, in which case he would have struck the Giant dead with his bare
fist. Thor rose to his feet and praised his son handsomely; he avowed that
the boy in time would amount to something, and by way of reward made
him a present of Rungnir’s horse Goldmane. Odin, however, declared that
Thor had not done right in giving so fine a horse to the son of a Giantess
instead of to his own father.

Thor now returned to his home in Thrudvang, but the whetstone
remained fixed in his head. To be rid
of it he sought the aid of Groa, the wife of Aurvandil the Brave. The woman
read magic spells over Thor’s head until the whetstone loosened its hold.
When Thor noticed what was happening, he wanted to please the woman
in his turn; so he told her that, on a journey to the north, he had once
waded across the Elivagar carrying Aurvandil in a pannier out from
Jotunheim. In proof of his story he related that one of Aurvandil’s toes,
protruding out of the pannier, became so badly frostbitten that he was
compelled to break it off; he then tossed it into the heavens, where it turned
into a star that had since been called Aurvandil’s Toe. No long time would
pass, he added, before Aurvandil returned home again. Groa was so happy
at hearing his tale that she forgot all about her magic spells; the whetstone
consequently was not fully loosened, and so still protrudes from Thor’s
head. Therefore no whetstones must be thrown crosswise over the floor,
for in that event the whetstone in Thor’s head will be set in motion.


Peter Andreas Munch: Norse Mythology: Legends of Gods and Heroes. The American-Scandinavian Foundation, New York. 1926, pp. 72-76.
The Younger Eddas: Skaldskaparmal, p. 115 ff.
Rasmus B. Anderson (Ed.): The Elder Eddas of Saemund Sigfusson and the Younger Eddas of Snorre Sturleson. Norræna Society, London-New York. 1906.

Back to the main page