HOW ODIN BROUGHT THE MEAD TO ASGARD
ESIDES the gods who lived in Asgard and ruled over Midgard,
the world of men, there were the Vans, who ruled the seas
and the air. The greatest of these was Njord, who kept the
winds in the hollow of his hand and vexed the seas with
storms or spread over them the peace of a great calm. His
son Frey sent rain and sunshine upon the earth and cared for
the harvests, while his daughter Freyja was so full of love
that she made the whole world beautiful with tenderness, and
filled the hearts of men with the sweetest joys they ever
 It happened almost at the beginning that the gods and the
Vans went to war with each other, and long and fierce was
the struggle between them. When peace was made at last,
Njord, Frey, and Freyja found homes for themselves in
Asgard, and henceforth they were all as one family.
While the council at which peace was made was being held, a
great jar stood in the open space between the two parties,
and when the meeting was over the gods were so glad to be
rid of the troublesome war that they resolved to create
something that should always remind them of the council. So
they took the great jar and out of it they moulded the form
of a man, and called him Kvaser.
Kvaser was grown up when he was born, and a wonderful man he
 too. In all the world there was nobody so wise as he;
ask him any question, and he could answer it. He knew how
the gods lived, how the world was made, and what sort of
places heaven and hell were. Kvaser was good, too, as all
really wise men are. He was a great traveller, always going
from place to place, and always welcome, because wherever he
went he made men wiser and better. People sometimes think
poets rather useless sort of men; but that was not the
opinion of the gods, for when they made the first poet they
made the very best man they could think of.
But poets cannot keep out of trouble any easier than other
men, and sometimes not half so well. One night as Kvaser was
travelling along through one of those deep
 valleys that run
down to the sea in that country, he came to the house of two
dwarfs with very queer names, Galar and Fjalar. They were
not only little in size, but small and mean in nature, and
like all other people of little nature, they were very
envious and cruel, and they hated Kvaser because he was so
much nobler than they. Galar had a dark, ugly face, which
looked still uglier when he saw Kvaser coming towards the
"Fjalar! Fjalar!" he called out, "here comes the wise man
who always talks in rhymes, and thinks he knows so much more
than anybody else."
And when Fjalar saw the poet walking across the fields, a
black shadow came over his face like a thunder-cloud.
whis-  pered, looking around to see that nobody
could hear, "we've got him alone; let's kill him, and see
how much good his wisdom will do him."
Meanwhile Kvaser was slowly approaching the house, and the
sea, as it dashed against the rocks, was making a song in
his mind. If you had heard him sing it, you would have heard
the voices of the waves as they toss their white caps and
chase each other foaming and roaring and tumbling on the
beach. When Kvaser came up to the dwarfs they pretended to
be very glad to see him, and told him he was the one person
above all others they had wanted to see, because they had a
question they had been waiting a long time to ask him.
Kvaser was so noble himself that he never thought evil of
any one, and when they asked him to
 go with them into a very
dark and lonely part of the valley, so that nobody could
hear their talk, he had no suspicion that they meant any
harm; but no sooner had they come to the place than they struck
him down from behind. Having killed him, they caught his
blood in two jars and a kettle, and mixed it with honey, and
so the wonderful mead as made. It took not only sweetness
but life to make true poetry.
Not long after this Galar and Fjalar killed a giant named
Gilling, and were punished for it too; for the giant's son,
Suttung, when he discovered how his father had been put to
death, took the dwarfs out to sea and put them on a little
rocky island where they would certainly be drowned when the
tide came in, and rowed off to leave them; but the rascals
 so hard to be taken off, he finally promised to let them live
if they would give him the mead. Then Suttung took the mead
home and put it in his cellar, and told his daughter Gunlad
to watch it day and night, for he knew what a precious drink
it was. So the mead passed out of the dwarfs' hands into
the keeping of a giant.
Now the gods were very fond of Kvaser, and when a long time
had passed without any word from him, they asked Galar and
Fjalar if they knew anything about him, and the dwarfs said
he had been choked by his own wisdom; but Odin knew that
this was a false story. He kept his own counsel, and said
nothing about what he was going to do, but one day the gods
missed him, and knew he had gone on one of his long
 As he walked along nobody took him for a god; he looked like
a very handsome labourer, and in fact that is what he really
was. He had pretty much the whole world in his charge, and
he had to work very hard to keep it in any kind of order.
Words could hardly describe the beautiful country in which
Odin took his way,—its deep, quiet green valleys, with
the sparkling cold streams rushing through them; its steep mountains,
crowned with fir and pine; its great crags standing out into
the sea; and its fjords breaking the coast into numberless
bays. Odin enjoyed it all, for the gods love beauty, but he was
thinking all the time how he should get the mead out of the
giant's cellar. He knew perfectly well that Suttung would
never give it up willingly, and that he must get it either
by force or by
 stratagem. Suttung was very strong, and the
cellar was cut out of the solid rock; and the more Odin
thought about it the harder it seemed to him. If he had been
a man he would have given up, but that was not his way;
besides, he had loved Kvaser, and the mead was his blood,
and he meant to bring it to heaven.
Now Suttung had a brother named Bauge, who was a farmer, and
one afternoon, as his nine thralls were mowing in the
fields, they saw a stranger coming towards them. It was a
very uncommon thing to see a stranger in that out-of-the-way
place, and the men all stopped work to watch him. He was a
farm labourer like themselves, but he was very large in
stature, and had a very noble face and manner.
"A fine meadow of grass," he said
 in a deep musical voice as
he joined them, "but you find it hard work; your scythes are
They certainly did look tired and overworked.
"Hand me your scythes and I will whet them for you,"
continued the stranger. The thralls were very glad to have
anybody do that for them, so they gave him their scythes
without saying a word. In a moment the valley rang with the
quick strokes of the stone on the hard metal, and the sparks
flew in showers around them. The men had never seen such a
whetting of scythes before, and their astonishment grew
greater still when they found that the grass seemed to fall
like magic before them. The mowing, which had been so hard,
was now the easiest thing in the world.
 "Sell us the whetstone," they shouted, crowding around the
"Well," said he very coolly, "I will sell it, but I must
have a good price for it."
Then each demanded it for himself, and while they were
quarrelling as to which should have it, the stranger threw
it high into the air, and bade them fight for it, which they
did so fiercely that each slew his fellow with his scythe,
and the stranger was left alone in the field. He threw the
whetstone away, walked off, and as the sun was going down,
came to the giant's house and asked if he might stay all
night. Bauge was willing, as people were in those days, to
give supper and a bed to the stranger, and asked him in.
After supper they talked together, and Bauge told the
stranger that his
 nine thralls had been fighting in the
field and had killed each other, and that he was in great
trouble because he did not know where to get men to do his
"I'll do it," said the stranger.
"Yes," said Bauge, "but you are only one.
"That is true," he answered, "but try me and I'll do the
work of all nine."
Bauge looked as if he didn't believe it, but it was one good
man gained, at least, and that was something.
"What shall I pay you?" continued Bauge, determined to
finish the bargain before the man had time to change his
mind. The stranger thought a few moments as if he were
uncertain what pay he wanted.
"I'll do the work," he said slowly,
 at last, "if you will
give me a drink of the mead in your brother's cellar."
Bauge was very much surprised; he could not understand how
the man knew anything about the mead. He was very sure,
however, that Suttung would not give him a drop of it, and
he thought it was a good chance to get his work done for
nothing. "Well," said he, "I can't promise you that, for
Suttung takes precious good care of the mead, but I will do
what I can to help you get it."
So the bargain was made, and the next morning the stranger
was at work; and all summer, early and late, he was in the
fields doing the work of nine men. Bauge often wondered what
kind of a man his new farm-hand was; but so long as the work
was done he cared for nothing more, and he asked no
ques-  tions. The stranger once said his name was Bolverk, and
that was all he ever said about himself. The months went by,
winter came, the work was all done, and Bolverk demanded his
"We'll go and ask my brother for it," said Bauge; so they
both went to Suttung. Bauge told his brother the bargain he
had made with his workman, and asked for a little of the mead.
"No" said Suttung very crossly, looking suspiciously at
Bolverk; "it's no bargain of mine, and not a drop shall you
Bolverk seemed not at all surprised at his ill fortune, and
Bauge thought that he had gotten his work done for nothing; but
after they had gone a little way together and were hidden
from the house by the trees,
 Bolverk drew out an auger from
under his clothing.
"Bauge," said he, "you promised to help me get that mead. I
am going into Suttung's cellar for it."
Bauge smiled at the idea of cutting through a thick rock and
getting into the cellar with that auger, but when it was
handed to him he took it without saying a word and began to
bore. It was an astonishing auger, for no sooner had he
pressed it against the rock than it began to fly around with
wonderful rapidity, the chips of stone fairly making a
cloud about him. Once he stopped, for he was afraid he
really would get into the cellar, and told Bolverk he had
bored through, but Bolverk knew that couldn't be true,
because the chips still flew out, so he told Bauge to go on.
In a little time the
au-  ger slipped through. Bauge looked
around, but there was no Bolverk, and while he stared in
every direction a large worm crept up the rock and into the
hole. When Bauge caught sight of it he thrust the auger
hastily into the hole, but Bolverk's voice answered back from
the cellar, "Too late, Bauge; you needn't bore any longer."
Then Bauge suspected that a man who had done the work of
nine men summer, and suddenly changed himself into a worm,
must be somebody more than common. Bolverk was actually
in Suttung's house, but how was he to get out again with the
Gunlad, the young lady who had been charged by her father to
watch the precious drink day and night, was sitting quietly
beside it, when she
 was suddenly surprised, and not a little
frightened, by the apparition of a young and beautiful man
standing before her. What the handsome young man said to her
nobody knows, but he probably told her he was very much
exhausted, and hinted that she was very lovely; that he had
never seen any one he admired so much before. At any rate,
he persuaded her to let him drink three draughts of the
mead, only three. They were certainly the most astonishing
draughts anybody ever heard of, for with the first he
emptied one jar, with the second he emptied the other jar,
and with the third he finished the kettle.
And now another wonderful change took place. Bolverk had
entered as a worm, but no sooner had he drunk the mead than
in an instant he
be-  came an eagle, and before Gunlad knew
what had happened, with splendid wings outspread he was
rising upward in broad, easy flight. Through the still air,
faster and faster, higher and higher, in wide circles that
swept far round the summits of the mountains, in swift
majestic flight he rose until the earth had vanished out of
sight, and his mighty pinions beat against the gates of
Rising upward in broad easy flight
So Odin brought the mead to heaven, where it remains to this
day, and only those whom the gods love are permitted to
drink of it.
Hundreds of additional titles available for
online reading when you join Gateway to the Classics