The oral traditions of the earliest European ancestors depict a realm in which gods and giants are at a constant battle, fated to destruct their universe. As the Norse Myths retell the driving force of divine power and influence between giants and gods, their opposing relationship provides an insight to understanding the dynamics of Yggdrasill. The Norse Myths seek to prove that the gods are morally advanced whereas the giants are naturally stagnant, providing an antagonistic relationship through interactions of fertile gods overcoming sterile giants.
The Norse account of the creation of the universe provides the first detailed explanation of the natural characteristics of giants and the origin of opposition between gods and giants. Life within the realm of Yggdrasill, spawned from the giant Ymir. “Ymir was a frost giant; he was evil from the first” (1: The Creation, p. 3) Ymir’s son Odin recognized the evil of Ymir, and slaughtered him; his corpse shaped the geography of the natural world with “mountains from his unbroken bones” and “blood to make lakes and to make the sea”(1: The Creation, pg. 4). The gods are forever linked to the ancestral lineage of giants.
With the inclination of inherent evil, stemming from Ymir, gods are forced to progressively take action and stray away from doing wrong, becoming morally advanced. Therefore Odin, the Allfather of the Aesir, recognized maleficent Ymir and created the natural world. Due to the inherent evil of Ymir, the features of the natural world are also connected with evilness. As the myths progress, there is a reoccurring theme of giants connected with nature. There is the giant, Suttung, who dwells with his giantess daughter in the rocks of the mountain Hnitbjorg.
There is the giant Hraesvelg, when in eagle shape, “flaps his wings, wind moves” (15: Lay of Vafthrudnir, p. 77). There is the giantess Skadi who is happiest in “a frozen world as still as death” as she “covered great distances on her skiis” (9: The Marriage of Njord and Skadi, p. 46-47) through the icy, barren mountains. By associating giants with nature, it provides a weakness through the eyes of the gods, enabling them to dominate the giants. For example, as Suttung’s daughter resides in the depths of Hnitbjorg, Odin was able to drill through the rock and drain the guarded mead.
Furthermore the marriage of god, Njord, and giantess, Skadi, proves the sterility of the giants, for even being “touched by the god of plenty; she had yielded little” (9:The Marriage of Njord and Skadi, p. 47). The giantess was drawn to the darkness of the snow-scapes, bringing death and injury as she voyaged; proving that amidst the pairing with the fertility god of the sea, the sterile nature of the giants prevailed. Even the layout of the worlds of Yggdrasill, establish a domination of giants by gods; Asgard rests high above the icy terrain of Jotunheim.
The giants possess qualities of an untamed wilderness, embodying themselves as demons of nature. The gods do not give themselves to become part of the natural world. The giants represent an older dynasty, a mythical race that needs advancement. The connection with the natural world provides the conviction of the preordained defeat of the giants by the gods. Although the unrelenting enemies share similar traits of wisdom and power, the giants consistently fall victim to the gods and are often outwitted and defeated.
The strongest comparison of the strife between gods and giants, comes from the interactions of Odin and Vafthrudnir, as well as Thor and Hrungnir. As Odin thirst for more knowledge, he disguised himself and left the tranquil realm of Asgard and entered the frigid ice-scape of Jutunheim, to contest the wits of the wisest giant, Vafthrudnir. Yet Vafthrudnir was not so wise and did not know all the answers, and verbalized that Odin “will always be wiser and wisest”( 15: The Lay of Vafthrudnir, p. 79). The wisdom of the gods prevailed over the wisdom of the giants, for even the wisest of all giants lost his life in a battle of wits.
The immense wisdom of the giants could not contest the knowledge of the gods, confirming yet another preordained defeat. Just as wisdom appeared to be a shared quality between the enemies, so too was strength and power. As the mightiest God of Thunder, Thor, battled the strongest of all giants, Hrugnir, a giant defeat was imminent. Enticed by the cunningness of Odin, and met with a challenge by Thor, even the strongest giant fell victim to the might of the ruling gods. Thor’s hammer “struck Hrungnir on his forehead and crushed his skull” and “every giant heard [Hrugnir] fall” (19: Thor’s Duel with Hrungnir, p. 09). The superior strength of both mind and body exhibited by the gods vanquished the giants. As much physical might the giants obtain, it often could not measure up to that of Thor’s thus Thorseinherits the name Enemy of the Giants. In every defeat, giants maintain great fury, exhibiting a giant’s wrath against the dominating gods. Yet Thor also embodies a fury, of which may be restrained; such fury was evident as he was enraged with the drunk Hrungir in Asgard. The stubborn nature of the giants portrays the continuous struggle gods have to overcome in order to become morally advanced.
Although the gods and giants do share like qualities, the constant defeat of giants by gods provides evidence that there is great difference between the two. Such differences lead to an understanding that gods are more advanced than the giants. For even though Thor may have great fury, he may be restrained and not circum to the wild fate of the giants. Although the gods sometimes exhibit traits that challenge their moral integrity such as cruelty, and cunningness, ultimately they illustrate goodness versus the evil of giants.
Even though there are some similarities, the large divide between gods and giants stems from the natural monstrosity of the giants. Norse myths tell of many unions between gods and giants, yet this union provides an offspring that does not exhibit beastly characteristics. Thor is son of Odin and giantess, Jord; Thor then married a giantess, Jarnsaxa and had his son Magni. It is the dominate traits of the gods that provide the offspring with morality. Contrasting the unions of gods and giants, the offspring of Loki, a god who is son of two giants, and a giantess birthed three monstrous offspring, “the wolf Fenrir,..
Jormungand, greatest of serpents, and daughter Hel”(7: Loki’s Children and the Binding of Fenrir, p. 33). Given that the “mother is evil” the beastly offspring, show how the giants maintain an interconnection with the natural world, continuing the theme of natural sterility. The opposing relationship between gods and giants, fertility and sterility, is also evident in reproduction. Within the realm of Asgard, copulation occurs between man and female, continuing the cyclic rotation of fertile reproduction, whereas in the realm of Jutenheim the creation of giants may come from a growing of an arm, or the quickened melting of ice, etc.
The opposing enemies greatly contrast in reproduction and offspring, yet the gods continue to prevail with dominating characteristics, of which are without any monstrosity. The Norse myths contrast the interactions of gods and giants. Through constant juxtaposition, norse mythology shows how the fertility of the gods prevail over the natural, sterile giants. By constantly defeating the giants, the gods symbolically imply how the advancement of morality will always reign over the evil of the natural world.