There are many stories of amazing horses in ancient myth and legend. It seems that our ancestors loved their horses as much as we like our cars. The Vikings were no exception, and Norse mythology contains several stories about exceptional horses. The most famous Norse steed, however, was Odin’s eight-legged horse Sleipnir, who was unmatched in strength and speed. But what exactly made Sleipnir so special?
In North Mythology, Odin the Allfather is usually represented on his throne, accompanied by his ravens Hugin and Munin and his two wolves Geri and Freki. But Odin is also a warrior god, and when he goes to war, it is on the back of his horse Sleipnir (The origin of the name “Sleipnir” would come from the old Norse “the slipper” ; This powerful horse has the particularity of having 8 legs.
Like many of the amazing creatures of Norse mythology (such as Fenrir the wolf and the Midgard Serpent Jormangandr), Sleipnir was a son of Loki, the trickster giant that lived among the Asgardian gods. But, surprisingly, Loki was the mother of Sleipnir, not the father. According to the story, in the early days when the nine worlds of the Norse cosmos were just being created, Asgard, the realm of the Aesir gods, did not yet have the mighty fortifications that surrounded it. The gods were approached by an unnamed builder, who offered to create magnificent fortifications for the home of the Aesir gods, in return for the hand of the goddess Freya in marriage, as well as the sun and the moon. The gods agreed on the condition that the builder complete the work within three seasons and with the help of no man. They believed that this made the task impossible, and that they would not have to pay the agreed rate. The Builder agreed on the condition that he could have the help of his horse Svadilfari. Loki convinced the gods to agree. How could one horse help the builder complete this mammoth task in time?With the help of Svadilfari the builder made amazing progress, and as the deadline drew near, it seemed that he would indeed complete the work. Unwilling to pay the agreed price and blaming Loki for putting them in this situation, the Aesir gods demanded that Loki rectify the problem.
In order to do this, Loki turned himself into a magnificent mare and used his charms to distract Svadilfari. Without the help of his horse, the builder was unable to complete the work on time. Not only did the Aesir gods cheat the builder so that they would not have to pay his price, but when they discovered that the builder was a giant, they summoned Thor to kill him with his hammer.
Loki, meanwhile, found himself impregnated by Svadilfari, and in due course became the mother of the eight-legged horse Sleipnir.
Sleipnir is the incarnation of a great horse, very muscular. Its coat is grey like a stormy sky, while its tail and mane reflect a darker grey. A legend tells that runes were engraved on the teeth of sleipnir at the request of the valkyries.
Sleipnir has 8 legs, in fact each leg is doubled. Some representations show it with a split from the hips and shoulders, as two legs both distinct and joined together.
While in other representations, it is only from the knee that the leg is divided. In our modern culture, the image of Sleipnir has been used many times in video games such as “Final Fantasy”, “Ragnarok” or various card games. In these cases, the mythological description is very rarely respected, in favour of a more modern and diverted representation of the animal.
Sleipnir was certainly not the only horse in Asgard. According to the Prose Edda the Aesir ride across the Bifrost bridge daily on their horses.
The account also provides a list of their steed, starting with Sleipnir, the best of them. It seems that Sleipnir also had his own children, as according to a riddle described in a 13th century text, Sleipnir is an ancestor of Grani, a horse owned by the hero Sigurd, and probably given to him by Odin himself.
The special strength and speed of Sleipnir is emphasised in many stories from Norse mythology. In the story of the death of Balder, a son of Odin, Hermodr rides Sleipnir down to Helheim in order to treat with the goddess Hel for his return. Only Sleipnir has the strength to jump over the gates that block entry into the realm of the dead.
In another story, Odin rides Sleipnir to Jotunheim, the realm of the giants, where he encounters the giant Hrungir, who complements Odin on the quality of his horse. The leads Odin into boasting, challenging the giant to find a horse in Jotunheim that is Sleipnir’s equal. Hrungnir’s own horse Gullfaxi is enraged by this, and Hrungnir mounts his horse in order to attack Odin. But Odin quickly rides away. Hrungnir and Gullfaxi pursue him, but on his eight-legged horse Odin is too fast.