The poem Thórsdrápa is a fascinating tale that recounts one of the great adventures of the Norse god Thor. It takes us on a journey through the realm of the giants to meet Geirrøðr, with vivid descriptions of the departure, voyage across the sea, and trek through the wilderness.
Thórsdrápa was written by the court poet Eilífr Goðrúnarson, who was at the court of Earl Hákon of Hlaðir. Little is known about him, but he was from Iceland and lived during the second half of the 10th century.
As one of only a few poems about Thor it remains an important piece of Norse literature to this day. Much like Hymiskvida and Thrymskvida it sees Thor venturing into Jotunheimr, facing off with one of the jotnar.
One really interesting part of the poem I think is its rich use of kennings for Thor. Elsewhere, Loki as well as other characters are also described in rather prosaic ways. Loki for example is the “Winding sea snake’s father” or the “Never faithful searcher”. Thor is described in a number of different ways, based on his actions or associations as laid out in Skáldskaparmál.
Short summary of Thórsdrápa
One of the central themes of the poem is the immense difficulty that Thor and his companion, Thjalfi, encounter while facing a powerful river that has been stirred up by a mythical female being. Despite this, the poem praises the courage of the two heroes as they confront this challenge.
Thórsdrápa also describes Thor’s triumphant struggle against a host of giants. As soon as they arrive, the pair is set upon by a gang of giants from the cave of Geirrøðr, but Thor and Thjalfi quickly put them to flight. However, the biggest challenge for Thor is yet to come. When he is brought into Geirrøðr’s house, he is tricked into sitting in a seat that is raised to the ceiling, crushing him. Nonetheless, Thor strikes the ceiling with the stick given to him by Gridr, and he descends, crushing two giantesses, daughters of Geirrøðr, beneath him.
The climax of the poem is the epic fight between Thor and Geirröðr, which involves the throwing of red-hot pieces of iron and the eventual killing of Geirröðr and some other giants. Through this battle, the poem highlights Thor’s incredible strength and bravery, cementing his status as a legendary figure in Norse mythology.
The winding sea-snake’s father
Did wile from home the slayer
Of the life of the gods’ grim foemen;
–(Ever was Loptr a liar)–
The never faithful Searcher
Of the heart of the fearless Thunderer
Declared green ways were lying
To the walled stead of Geirrøðr.
No long space Thor let Loki
Lure him to the going:
They yearned to overmaster
Thorn’s offspring, when the Seeker
Of Idi’s garth, than giants
Greater in might, made ready
In ancient days, for faring
To the Giants’ Seat, from Odin’s.
Further in the faring
Forward went warlike Thjálfi
With the divine Host-Cheerer
Than the deceiving lover
Of her of enchanted singing:
–(I chant the Ale of Odin)–
The hill dame’s Mocker measured
The moor with hollow foot-soles.
And the war-wonted journeyed
Till the hill-women’s Waster
Came to Gangr’s blood, the Vimur;
Then Loki’s bale-repeller,
Eager in anger, lavish
Of valor, longed to struggle
Against the maid, kinswoman
Of the sedge-cowled giant.
And the honor-lessener
Of the Lady of the Sea-Crag
Won foot-hold in the surging
Of the hail-rolled leaping hill-spate;
The rock-knave’s swift Pursuer
Passed the broad stream of his staff’s road,
Where the foam-flecked mighty rivers
Frothed with raging venom.
There they set the staves before them
In the streaming grove of dogfish;
The wind-wood’s slippery pebbles,
Smitten to speech, slept not;
The clashing rod did rattle
Against the worn rocks, and the rapid
Of the fells howled, storm-smitten,
On the river’s stony anvil.
The Weaver of the Girdle
Beheld the washing slope-stream
Fall on his hard-grown shoulders:
No help he found to save him;
The Minisher of hill-folk
Caused Might to grow within him
Even to the roof of heaven,
Till the rushing flood should ebb.
The fair warriors of the Aesir,
In battle wise, fast waded,
And the surging pool, sward-sweeping,
Streamed: the earth-drift’s billow,
Blown by the mighty tempest,
Tugged with monstrous fury
At the terrible oppressor
Of the earth-born tribe of cave-folk.
Till Thjálfi came uplifted
On his lord Thor’s wide shield-strap:
That was a mighty thew-test
For the Prop of Heaven; the maidens
Of the harmful giant stiffly
Held the stream stubborn against them;
With Grídr’s staff fared sternly.
Nor did their hearts of rancor
Droop in the men unblemished,
Nor courage ‘against the headlong
Fall of the current fail them:
A fiercer-daring spirit
Flamed in the dauntless God’s breast,–
With terror Thor’s staunch heart-stone
Trembled not, nor Thjálfi’s.
And afterward the haters
Of the army of sword-companions,
The shatterers of bucklers,
Dined on the shield of giants,
Ere the destroying peoples
Of the shingle-drift of monsters
Wrought the helm-play of Hedinn
Against the rock-dwelling marksmen.
The army ile folk of sea-heights
Fled before the Oppressor
Of headland tribes; the dalesmen
Of the hill-tops, imperiled,
Fled, when Odin’s kindred
Stood, enduring staunchly;
The Danes of the flood-reef’s border
Bowed down to the Flame-Shaker.
Where the chiefs, with thoughts of valor
Imbued, marched into Thorn’s house,
A mighty crash resounded
Of the cave’s ring-wall; the slayer
Of the mountain-reindeer-people
On the giant-maiden’s wide hood
Was brought in bitter peril:
There was baleful peace-talk.
And they pressed the high head, bearing
The piercing brow-moon’s eye-flame
Against the hill-hall’s rafters;
On the high roof-tree broken
He crushed those raging women:
The swinging Storm-car’s Guider
Burst the stout, ancient back-ridge
And breast-bones of both women.
Earth’s Son became familiar
With knowledge strange; the cave-men
Of the land of stone overcame not,
Nor long with ale were merry:
The frightful elm-string’s plucker,
The friend of Sudri, hurtled
The hot bar, in the forge fused,
Into the hand of Odin’s Gladdener.
So that Gunnr’s Swift-Speeder
Seized (the Friend of Freyja),
With quick hand-gulps, the molten
High-raised draught of metal,
When the fire-brand, glowing,
Flew with maddened fury
From the giant’s gripping fingers
To the grim Sire of Thrúdr.
The hall of the doughty trembled
When he dashed the massy forehead
Of the hill-wight against the bottom
Of the house-wall’s ancient column;
Ullr’s glorious step-sire
With the glowing bar of mischief
Struck with his whole strength downward
At the hill-knave’s mid-girdle.
The God with gory hammer
Crushed utterly Glaumr’s lineage;
The Hunter of the Kindred
Of the hearth-dame was victorious;
The Plucker of the Bow-String
Lacked not his people’s valor,–
The Chariot-God, who swiftly
Wrought grief to the Giant’s bench-thanes.
He to whom armys make offering
Hewed down the dolt-like dwellers
Of the cloud-abyss of Elf-Home,
Crushing them with the fragment
Of Grídr’s Rod: the litter
Of hawks, the race of Listi
Could not harm the help-strong
Queller of Ella’s Stone-Folk.
Featured Image Credit: Lorenz Frølich, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons