Just some quick insults

[Please note: despite the title, this has taken a week to actually finish up and get posted…]

Perhaps you spent a little time under the mistletoe over the past few days.  One hopes the experience did not pierce your heart, either metaphorically or literally, as happened to poor Balder (I thought this would be a quick post until I got distracted by, in order, reading the linked Matthew Arnold poem, eating a “womelet” — an omelet baked onto a Belgian waffle — at a diner called the Fat Hen, and spectating at the College Intramural Flag Football National Championships.  It’s been quite the day.)

It’s hard to know just what to make of Loki with respect to the other Norse gods and goddesses.  Snorri counts him as one of the Aesir, but he’s the son of a giant and called “Slanderer of the Gods, the Source of Deceit, and the Disgrace of All Gods and Men.”  He’s some sort of outsider who’s been brought into the fold and manages to remain there despite causing trouble that eventually turns into murderous havoc.  It seems at some point Odin and Loki may have become blood brothers; in the poem Lokasenna, Loki rebukes Odin, who seeks to bar him from a feast: “Do you remember, Odin, when in bygone days we mixed our blood together?  You said you would never drink ale unless it were brought to both of us.”

Maybe the strange position Loki occupied made perfect sense to the medieval listener, but the modern reader — who’s probably tempted to say “Just kill him, or at least unfriend him!” — can have difficulty casting about for analogues.  Can we compare Loki to Odysseus, possessing a cunning that the gods, who prove themselves willing to break oaths, need to survive their encounters with giants?  After all, while Odysseus comes out fairly well in the Odyssey, other Greek authors put him in a more antagonistic role.  Perhaps Loki’s simply another iteration of the Trickster God, but the sheer malice he shows on multiple occasions seems to complicate that.  The fact that at the end of the world he’ll lead the armies of darkness and fire may tempt us to equate him with Lucifer/Satan himself, although, particularly in evaluating The Witch’s Spell, one must be very careful not to Christianize it.

An example of how difficult it can be to imagine Loki comes in Lokasenna, or “Loki’s Quarrel,” a poem in the Poetic Edda.  We learn that after arranging the manslaughter of Balder by Hod, he has the gall to show up at a feast of Aesir and elves to which he, unsurprisingly, hasn’t been invited.  He crashes the party, insists on Odin’s fulfilling his oath and giving him a seat, and methodically insults every single guest.  A couple of examples you might enjoy:

“Be silent, Freyja, you’re a witch

and much imbued with malice,

you were astride your brother, all the laughing gods surprised you,

and then, Freyja, you farted.”

Njord the sea-god sticks up for her, pointing out that Loki’s borne children, which doesn’t leave him a lot of room to talk about sexual peccadilloes.  Loki retorts:

“Be silent, Njord, from here you were

sent east as hostage to the gods;

the daughters of Hymir used you as a pisspot

and pissed in your mouth.”

A couple more, to Tyr and Thor:

“Be silent, Tyr, it came about that your wife

had a son by me;

not an ell or a penny have you ever had for this

injury, you wretch.”

“Your journeys in the east you should never

brag of before men,

since in the thumb of a glove you crouched cowering, you hero!

And that was hardly like Thor.”

He also makes fun of Heimdall’s dirty back and Odin’s drum-playing, if you’re interested.  Only Thor’s threat of violence runs him off, and the Aesir do get to him soon after, binding him with his son’s guts to a sharp rock and letting venom drip onto his face.  Still, Loki seems to get the last sardonic laugh when he arrives at Ragnarok, sailing a ship made of dead men’s nails…

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6 Comments

  1. ihatedanger said,

    January 3, 2010 at 5:00 pm

    Since time immemorial, people have loved fart jokes…

  2. mordicai said,

    January 4, 2010 at 4:59 am

    Doesn’t Virgil like, ALWAYS combine Odysseus with an epitaph? Baby-killer!

    • January 12, 2010 at 11:58 pm

      Hm…do you mean Vergil or Homer? Vergil definitely calls him “dire” a couple of times in Aeneid Bk 2, but Homer’s more who I think of for excellent epithets. I’m way more up on the Iliad than the Odyssey, though.

  3. Andy said,

    January 12, 2010 at 2:05 pm

    This is a nice thought: “You said you would never drink ale unless it were brought to both of us.” Gotta remember that for my wedding vows someday 🙂

    • January 12, 2010 at 11:49 pm

      Oh wow. That actually would be an amazing thing to say at a wedding, no horseshit. Mordicai, did you include that in yours??


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