HOW ODIN LOST HIS EYE
N the beginning of things, before there was any world or
sun, moon, and stars, there were the giants; for these were
the oldest creatures that ever breathed. They lived in
Jotunheim, the land of frost and darkness, and their hearts
were evil. Next came the gods, the good Æsir, who
made earth and sky and sea, and who dwelt in Asgard,
above the heavens. Then were created the queer little
dwarfs, who lived underground in the caverns of the
mountains, working at their mines of metal and precious
stones. Last of all, the gods made men to dwell in Midgard,
the good world that we know, between which and the
glorious home of the Æsir stretched Bifröst, the
bridge of rainbows.
In those days, folk say, there was a mighty ash-tree named
Yggdrasil, so vast that its branches shaded the whole earth
and stretched up into heaven where the Æsir dwelt,
while its roots sank far down below the lowest depth. In
the branches of the big ash-tree
 lived a queer family of
creatures. First, there was a great eagle, who was wiser than
any bird that ever lived—except the two ravens, Thought
and Memory, who sat upon Father Odin's shoulders and
told him the secrets which they learned in their flight over
the wide world. Near the great eagle perched a hawk, and
four antlered deer browsed among the buds of Yggdrasil. At
the foot of the tree coiled a huge serpent, who was always
gnawing hungrily at its roots, with a whole colony of little
snakes to keep him company,—so many that they could
never be counted. The eagle at the top of the tree and the
serpent at its foot were enemies, always saying hard things
of each other. Between the two skipped up and down a
little squirrel, a tale-bearer and a gossip, who repeated each
unkind remark and, like the malicious neighbor that he was,
kept their quarrel ever fresh and green.
In one place at the roots of Yggdrasil was a fair fountain
called the Urdar-well, where the three Norn-maidens, who
knew the past, present, and future, dwelt with their pets,
the two white swans. This was magic water in
 the fountain,
which the Norns sprinkled every day upon the giant tree to
keep it green,—water so sacred that everything which
entered it became white as the film of an eggshell. Close
beside this sacred well the Æsir had their council hall,
to which they galloped every morning over the rainbow
But Father Odin, the king of all the Æsir, knew of
another fountain more wonderful still; the two ravens
whom he sent forth to bring him news had told him. This
also was below the roots of Yggdrasil, in the spot where
the sky and ocean met. Here for centuries and centuries the
giant Mimer had sat keeping guard over his hidden well, in
the bottom of which lay such a treasure of wisdom as was
to be found nowhere else in the world. Every morning
Mimer dipped his glittering horn Giöll into the
fountain and drew out a draught of the wondrous water,
which he drank to make him wise. Every day he grew wiser
and wiser; and as this had been going on ever since the
beginning of things, you can scarcely imagine how wise
Now it did not seem right to Father Odin
 that a giant should
have all this wisdom to himself; for the giants were the
enemies of the Æsir, and the wisdom which they had
been hoarding for ages before the gods were made was
generally used for evil purposes. Moreover, Odin longed
and longed to become the wisest being in the world. So he
resolved to win a draught from Mimer's well, if in any way
that could be done.
One night, when the sun had set behind the mountains of
Midgard, Odin put on his broad-brimmed hat and his
striped cloak, and taking his famous staff in his hand,
trudged down the long bridge to where it ended by Mimer's
"Good-day, Mimer," said Odin, entering; "I have come for a
drink from your well."
The giant was sitting with his knees drawn up to his chin,
his long white beard falling over his folded arms, and his
head nodding; for Mimer was very old, and he often fell
asleep while watching over his precious spring. He woke
with a frown at Odin's words. "You want a drink from my
well, do you?" he growled. "Hey! I let no one drink from
 "Nevertheless, you must let me have a draught from your
glittering horn," insisted Odin, "and I will pay you for it."
"Oho, you will pay me for it, will you?" echoed Mimer,
eyeing his visitor keenly. For now that he was wide awake,
his wisdom taught him that this was no ordinary stranger.
"What will you pay for a drink from my well, and why do
you wish it so much?"
"I can see with my eyes all that goes on in heaven and upon
earth," said Odin, "but I cannot see into the depths of
ocean. I lack the hidden wisdom of the deep, —the wit that
lies at the bottom of your fountain. My ravens tell me
many secrets; but I would know all. And as for payment,
ask what you will, and I will pledge anything in return for
the draught of wisdom."
Then Mimer's keen glance grew keener. "You are Odin, of
the race of gods," he cried. "We giants are centuries older
than you, and our wisdom which we have treasured during
these ages, when we were the only creatures in all space, is
a precious thing. If I grant you a draught from my well, you
will become as one of us, a wise and dangerous
 enemy. It is
a goodly price, Odin, which I shall demand for a boon so
Now Odin was growing impatient for the sparkling water.
"Ask your price," he frowned. "I have promised that I will
"What say you, then, to leaving one of those far-seeing eyes
of yours at the bottom of my well?" asked Mimer, hoping
that he would refuse the bargain. "This is the only
payment I will take."
Odin hesitated. It was indeed a heavy price, and one that he
could ill afford, for he was proud of his noble beauty. But
he glanced at the magic fountain bubbling mysteriously in
the shadow, and he knew that he must have the draught.
"Give me the glittering horn," he answered. "I pledge you
my eye for a draught to the brim."
Very unwillingly Mimer filled the horn from the fountain of
wisdom and handed it to Odin. "Drink, then," he said;
"drink and grow wise. This hour is the beginning of trouble
between your race and mine." And wise Mimer foretold the
Odin thought merely of the wisdom which
 was to be his.
He seized the horn eagerly, and emptied it without delay.
From that moment he became wiser than any one else in the
world except Mimer himself.
Now he had the price to pay, which was not so pleasant.
When he went away from the grotto, he left at the bottom
of the dark pool one of his fiery eyes, which twinkled and
winked up through the magic depths like the reflection of a
star. This is how Odin lost his eye, and why from that day
he was careful to pull his gray hat low over his face when
he wanted to pass unnoticed. For by this oddity folk could
easily recognize the wise lord of Asgard.
In the bright morning, when the sun rose over the
mountains of Midgard, old Mimer drank from his bubbly
well a draught of the wise water that flowed over
Odin's pledge. Doing so, from his underground grotto he
saw all that befell in heaven and on earth. So that he also
was wiser by the bargain. Mimer seemed to have secured
rather the best of it; for he lost nothing that he could not
spare, while Odin lost what no man can well part with,—one
of the good windows
 wherethrough his heart looks out
upon the world. But there was a sequel to these doings
which made the balance swing down in Odin's favor.
Not long after this, the Æsir quarreled with the
Vanir, wild enemies of theirs, and there was a terrible battle.
But in the end the two sides made peace; and to prove that
they meant never to quarrel again, they exchanged hostages.
The Vanir gave to the Æsir old Niörd the rich,
the lord of the sea and the ocean wind, with his two
children, Frey and Freia. This was indeed a gracious gift; for
Freia was the most beautiful maid in the world, and her
twin brother was almost as fair. To the Vanir in return
Father Odin gave his own brother Hnir. And with
Hnir he sent Mimer the wise, whom he took from
his lonely well.
Now the Vanir made Hnir their chief, thinking that
he must be very wise because he was the brother of great
Odin, who had lately become famous for his wisdom. They
did not know the secret of Mimer's well, how the hoary old
giant was far more wise than any one who had not quaffed
 magic water. It is true that in the assemblies of the
Vanir Hnir gave excellent counsel. But this was
because Mimer whispered in Hnir 's ear all the
wisdom that he uttered. Witless Hnir was quite
helpless without his aid, and did not know what to do or
say. Whenever Mimer was absent he would look nervous
and frightened, and if folk questioned him be always
"Yes, ah yes! Now go and consult some one else."
Of course the Vanir soon grew very angry at such silly
answers from their chief, and presently they began to
suspect the truth.
"Odin has deceived us," they said. "He has sent us his
foolish brother with a witch to tell him what to say. Ha!
We will show him that we understand the trick." So they
cut off poor old Mimer's head and sent it to Odin as a
The tales do not say what Odin thought of the gift.
Perhaps he was glad that now there was no one in the
whole world who could be called so wise as himself.
Perhaps he was sorry for the danger into which he had
thrust a poor old giant who had never
 done him any wrong,
except to be a giant of the race which the Æsir hated.
Perhaps he was a little ashamed of the trick which he had
played the Vanir. Odin's new wisdom showed him how to
prepare Mimer's head with herbs and charms, so that it
stood up by itself quite naturally and seemed not dead.
Thenceforth Odin kept it near him, and learned from it
many useful secrets which it had not forgotten.
So in the end Odin fared better than the unhappy
Mimer, whose worst fault was that he knew more than
most folk. That is a dangerous fault, as others have found;
though it is not one for which many of us need fear being