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22.10.2019

Hrimgerdr

In Norse mythology, Hrímgerðr (also Hrimgerdr or Hrimgerd) ("frost-Gerðr") is a female jötunn.

A classic example of woman – man flyting is the quarrel in the Eddic poem Helgakviða Hjörvarðssonar. This verbal duel between Hrimgerdr and Atli (and later Helgi) is famous enough that it has its own name, the Hrimgerdamal.

The flyting begins after the main character, Helgi, and his companion Atli tether their ships in a fjord for the night. Atli takes first watch, and a giantess, Hrimgerdr, approaches him. The fjord is called Hati’s Fjord, and she is Hati’s daughter. (Hati, significantly, means “Hater”, so we know he’s not the friendly, helpful giant type.)

Their flyting follows the classic pattern, beginning with each demanding to know who the other is (Introduction – see the flying between Odin and Thor in Harbardsljod), and proceeds from there to insults. This is when we learn that Helgi has killed Hrimgerdr’s father, whom she describes in familiar terms:

‘My name is Hrimgerd, my father’s name Hati,
whom I knew as the most mighty of giants,
many a bride he had snatched from their homes,
till Helgi hewed him down.’
(Orchard)

The insults that fly are just as nasty as in man to man sennur, with Hrimgerdr accusing Atli, and by extension Helgi, of impotence and effeminacy (“You would neigh, if your balls weren’t cut off”) at a time when calling a man a “mare” was a legitimate reason for that man to kill you, and Atli responding by affirming his masculinity by calling himself a “stallion” and saying that if he came ashore she’d “lower her tail”. (HH 20-1) The sexual taunting is of a very feminine kind – the invitation is anything but sincere, simply a stick to beat the male with.

Helgi’s response is equally blunt: he tells her  directly that he refuses to sleep with her to compensate her for her father, and furthermore he thinks that the most loathsome of the giants should be her mate instead (HH 24-50).

The difference between Skadi and Hrimgerdr is mainly that Hrimgerdr openly boasts about drowning “Hlodvard’s sons in the sea”. Perhaps that’s why Skadi was more acceptable to the Aesir – she hadn’t actually killed any humans or attacked any gods.

The parallels continue. In Martinez-Pizzaro’s paper he discusses bridal-quests and flyting as genres, and sees many continuities between them. Skadi’s viewing of the gods’ feet is a burlesque of the interview with the bride in the quest narratives, where a proxy of the would-be groom’s (Skirnir, for example) inspects the bride.

Skadi, as befits a parody version, acts as her own proxy, while in the quarrel between giantess and human hero Atli acts as a proxy for Helgi, until the very end, where Hrimgerdr addresses Helgi directly, and he rejects her. In fact, Hrimgerdr’s version is even worse – she offers to “raise her tail” like a mare for Atli, so she is implicitly exposing her genitals to Helgi’s representative.

The duel ends when the heroes trick Hrimgerdr into talking with them until sunrise, when she is turned to stone. This is odd, because normally it’s dwarves and not giants who are allergic to sunlight, but clearly the composer of the poem was thinking of Alvissmal, where a dwarf who wishes to marry Thor’s daughter is tricked in the same way. Clearly Hrimgerdr had to suffer for her presumption.

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