The story of Balder's death which LordOmar relates is the version told by Icelander Snorri Sturluson in the Prose Edda, a collection of myths set down in the thirteenth century. However, a much different tale had been written down by the Dane Saxo Grammaticus a hundred years earlier. Saxo's writings were in poor Latin, repetitive, charmless, and replete with moralizing - all good reasons for his stories to lag greatly behind Snorri's in popularity.
According to Saxo:
Balder was a great warrior, who was kept supplied with special food by a group of Valkyries. The food, which had had snake poison dripped on it, made Balder invincible to all mortal weapons.
Now Balder loved the maiden Nanna, who was also wooed by Hoder. Hoder came upon Balder's pet Valkyries, who conspired with him against their hero, giving Hoder a belt of victory. Hoder learned that if he procured a special sword from the satyr Mimingus, he would be able to slay Balder and win Nanna's hand. He undertook a long and perilous journey through a cold, dark underworld to find the satyr, whom he surprised and overwhelmed, stealing the sword for himself.
There followed a long series of battles between Hoder and Balder. Balder was supported by the gods of Asgard, and won at least one victory. In another battle he was defeated, and all his ships were put to flight. Hoder took the opportunity to marry Nanna. When Balder heard this news, he was grief-stricken, and had to be carried about the land in a wagon. Finally, one day, Hoder wounded Balder with the magic sword. Balder had a dream foretelling his death, and indeed perished three days later of the wound, after a last battle of his men against Hoder's. He was given a royal funeral and buried in a large barrow.
Odin was, understandably, furious. He wooed a maiden named Rind, with whom he had a son called Boe, who grew up to kill Hoder in battle, bringing the cycle to a close.
It is possible that the wide divergence between the two stories is due to the geographical distance between the two authors (Iceland
). It is somewhat more likely, however, since they lived in a Christian
in which all the old myths were rapidly fading or forgotten, that both of them were working from slightly different, already age-old, fragmentary accounts, and filled in the empty spaces as seemed right to each. Observe the similarities between the two accounts:
- Balder has a dream foretelling his death
- Balder is supported by the gods
- Balder is usually invulnerable to weapons
- Balder is slain by Hoder (or Hod; they're the same) using a special, specific weapon
- Balder is avenged by another of Odin's sons
- someone journeys to the underworld during the course of the tale
- there are other similarities, but they're a bit more obscure.
This is a wonderful reminder that the vagaries, inconsistencies, and unsureties inherent in historical scholarship have changed little in a thousand years.