|Interesing books. Myths of the Norsemen - CHAPTER VII: IDUN|
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CHAPTER VII: IDUN
The Apples of Youth
Idun, the personification of spring or immortal youth, who, according
to some mythologists, had no birth and was never to taste death,
was warmly welcomed by the gods when she made her appearance in
Asgard with Bragi. To further win their affections she promised them
a daily taste of the marvellous apples which she bore in her casket,
and which had the power of conferring immortal youth and loveliness
upon all who partook of them.
"The golden apples
Out of her garden
Have yielded you a dower of youth,
Ate you them every day."
Wagner (Forman's tr.).
Thanks to this magic fruit, the Scandinavian gods, who, because
they sprang from a mixed race, were not all immortal, warded off the
approach of old age and disease, and remained vigorous, beautiful, and
young through countless ages. These apples were therefore considered
very precious indeed, and Idun carefully treasured them in her magic
casket. No matter how many she drew out, the same number always
remained for distribution at the feast of the gods, to whom alone she
vouchsafed a taste, although dwarfs and giants were eager to obtain
possession of the fruit.
"Bright Iduna, Maid immortal!
Standing at Valhalla's portal,
In her casket has rich store
Of rare apples gilded o'er;
Those rare apples, not of Earth,
Ageing Жsir give fresh birth."
Valhalla (J. C. Jones).
The Story of Thiassi
One day, Odin, Hoenir, and Loki started out upon one of their usual
excursions to earth, and, after wandering for a long while, they
found themselves in a deserted region, where they could discover no
hospitable dwelling. Weary and very hungry, the gods, perceiving a
herd of oxen, slew one of the beasts, and, kindling a fire, they sat
down beside it to rest while waiting for their meat to cook.
To their surprise, however, in spite of the roaring flames the carcass
remained quite raw. Realising that some magic must be at work, they
looked about them to discover what could hinder their cookery, when
they perceived an eagle perched upon a tree above them. Seeing that he
was an object of suspicion to the wayfarers, the bird addressed them
and admitted that he it was who had prevented the fire from doing its
accustomed work, but he offered to remove the spell if they would give
him as much food as he could eat. The gods agreed to do this, whereupon
the eagle, swooping downward, fanned the flames with his huge wings,
and soon the meat was cooked. The eagle then made ready to carry off
three quarters of the ox as his share, but this was too much for Loki,
who seized a great stake lying near at hand, and began to belabour
the voracious bird, forgetting that it was skilled in magic arts. To
his great dismay one end of the stake stuck fast to the eagle's back,
the other to his hands, and he found himself dragged over stones and
through briers, sometimes through the air, his arms almost torn out
of their sockets. In vain he cried for mercy and implored the eagle
to let him go; the bird flew on, until he promised any ransom his
captor might ask in exchange for his release.
The seeming eagle, who was the storm giant Thiassi, at last agreed
to release Loki upon one condition. He made him promise upon the
most solemn of oaths that he would lure Idun out of Asgard, so that
Thiassi might obtain possession of her and of her magic fruit.
Released at last, Loki returned to Odin and Hoenir, to whom, however,
he was very careful not to confide the condition upon which he had
obtained his freedom; and when they had returned to Asgard he began
to plan how he might entice Idun outside of the gods' abode. A few
days later, Bragi being absent on one of his minstrel journeys, Loki
sought Idun in the groves of Brunnaker, where she had taken up her
abode, and by artfully describing some apples which grew at a short
distance, and which he mendaciously declared were exactly like hers,
he lured her away from Asgard with a crystal dish full of fruit,
which she intended to compare with that which he extolled. No sooner
had Idun left Asgard, however, than the deceiver Loki forsook her,
and ere she could return to the shelter of the heavenly abode the
storm giant Thiassi swept down from the north on his eagle wings,
and catching her up in his cruel talons, he bore her swiftly away to
his barren and desolate home of Thrym-heim.
"Thrymheim the sixth is named,
Where Thiassi dwelt,
That all-powerful Jцtun."
Lay of Grimnir (Thorpe's tr.).
Isolated from her beloved companions, Idun pined, grew pale and sad,
but persistently refused to give Thiassi the smallest bite of her
magic fruit, which, as he well knew, would make him beautiful and
renew his strength and youth.
"All woes that fall
On Odin's hall
Can be traced to Loki base.
From out Valhalla's portal
'Twas he who pure Iduna lured,--
Whose casket fair
Held apples rare
That render gods immortal,--
And in Thiassi's tower immured."
Valhalla (J. C. Jones).
Time passed. The gods, thinking that Idun had accompanied her husband
and would soon return, at first paid no heed to her departure, but
little by little the beneficent effect of the last feast of apples
passed away. They began to feel the approach of old age, and saw
their youth and beauty disappear; so, becoming alarmed, they began
to search for the missing goddess.
Close investigation revealed the fact that she had last been seen in
Loki's company, and when Odin sternly called him to account, he was
forced to admit that he had betrayed her into the storm-giant's power.
"By his mocking, scornful mien,
Soon in Valhal it was seen
'Twas the traitor Loki's art
Which had led Idun apart
To gloomy tower
And Jotun power."
Valhalla (J. C. Jones).
The Return of Idun
The attitude of the gods now became very menacing, and it was clear
to Loki that if he did not devise means to restore the goddess,
and that soon, his life would be in considerable danger.
He assured the indignant gods, therefore, that he would leave no
stone unturned in his efforts to secure the release of Idun, and,
borrowing Freya's falcon plumage, he flew off to Thrym-heim, where
he found Idun alone, sadly mourning her exile from Asgard and her
beloved Bragi. Changing the fair goddess into a nut according to
some accounts, or according to others, into a swallow, Loki grasped
her tightly between his claws, and then rapidly retraced his way to
Asgard, hoping that he would reach the shelter of its high walls ere
Thiassi returned from a fishing excursion in the Northern seas to
which he had gone.
Meantime the gods had assembled on the ramparts of the heavenly
city, and they were watching for the return of Loki with far more
anxiety than they had felt for Odin when he went in search of
Od-hroerir. Remembering the success of their ruse on that occasion,
they had gathered great piles of fuel, which they were ready to set
on fire at any moment.
Suddenly they saw Loki coming, but descried in his wake a great
eagle. This was the giant Thiassi who had suddenly returned to
Thrym-heim and found that his captive had been carried off by a falcon,
in whom he readily recognised one of the gods. Hastily donning his
eagle plumes he had given immediate chase and was rapidly overtaking
his prey. Loki redoubled his efforts as he neared the walls of Asgard,
and ere Thiassi overtook him he reached the goal and sank exhausted in
the midst of the gods. Not a moment was lost in setting fire to the
accumulated fuel, and as the pursuing Thiassi passed over the walls
in his turn, the flames and smoke brought him to the ground crippled
and half stunned, an easy prey to the gods, who fell ruthlessly upon
him and slew him.
The Жsir were overjoyed at the recovery of Idun, and they hastened
to partake of the precious apples which she had brought safely
back. Feeling the return of their wonted strength and good looks with
every mouthful they ate, they good-naturedly declared that it was
no wonder if even the giants longed to taste the apples of perpetual
youth. They vowed therefore that they would place Thiassi's eyes as
a constellation in the heavens, in order to soften any feeling of
anger which his kinsmen might experience upon learning that he had
"Up I cast the eyes
Of Allvaldi's son
Into the heaven's serene:
They are signs the greatest
Of my deeds."
Lay of Harbard (Thorpe's tr.).
The Goddess of Spring
The physical explanation of this myth is obvious. Idun, the emblem of
vegetation, is forcibly carried away in autumn, when Bragi is absent
and the singing of the birds has ceased. The cold wintry wind, Thiassi,
detains her in the frozen, barren north, where she cannot thrive,
until Loki, the south wind, brings back the seed or the swallow,
which are both precursors of the returning spring. The youth, beauty,
and strength conferred by Idun are symbolical of Nature's resurrection
in spring after winter's sleep, when colour and vigour return to the
earth, which had grown wrinkled and grey.
Idun Falls to the Nether World
As the disappearance of Idun (vegetation) was a yearly occurrence,
we might expect to find other myths dealing with the striking
phenomenon, and there is another favourite of the old scalds which,
unfortunately, has come down to us only in a fragmentary and very
incomplete form. According to this account, Idun was once sitting upon
the branches of the sacred ash Yggdrasil when, growing suddenly faint,
she loosed her hold and dropped to the ground beneath, and down to
the lowest depths of Nifl-heim. There she lay, pale and motionless,
gazing with fixed and horror-struck eyes upon the gruesome sights
of Hel's realm, trembling violently the while, like one overcome by
"In the dales dwells
The prescient Dis,
Ash sunk down,
Of alfen race,
Idun by name,
The youngest of Ivaldi's
She ill brooked
Under the hoar tree's
She would not happy be
With Norvi's daughter,
Accustomed to a pleasanter
Abode at home."
Odin's Ravens' Song (Thorpe's tr.).
Seeing that she did not return, Odin bade Bragi, Heimdall, and another
of the gods go in search of her, giving them a white wolfskin to
envelop her in, so that she should not suffer from the cold, and
bidding them make every effort to rouse her from the stupor which
his prescience told him had taken possession of her.
"A wolf's skin they gave her,
In which herself she clad."
Odin's Ravens' Song (Thorpe's tr.).
Idun passively allowed the gods to wrap her in the warm wolfskin,
but she persistently refused to speak or move, and from her strange
manner her husband sadly suspected that she had had a vision of great
ills. The tears ran continuously down her pallid cheeks, and Bragi,
overcome by her unhappiness, at length bade the other gods return
to Asgard without him, vowing that he would remain beside his wife
until she was ready to leave Hel's dismal realm. The sight of her
woe oppressed him so sorely that he had no heart for his usual merry
songs, and the strings of his harp were mute while he remained in
"That voice-like zephyr o'er flow'r meads creeping,
Like Bragi's music his harp strings sweeping."
Viking Tales of the North (R. B. Anderson).
In this myth Idun's fall from Yggdrasil is symbolical of the autumnal
falling of the leaves, which lie limp and helpless on the cold bare
ground until they are hidden from sight under the snow, represented
by the wolfskin, which Odin, the sky, sends down to keep them warm;
and the cessation of the birds' songs is further typified by Bragi's