Harðgreipr

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Harthgrepa or Harðgreip in Old Norse[1] (« Hard-grip ») is a giantess who appears in the legend of the Norse hero Hadingus, which is reported by Saxo Grammaticus in his Gesta Danorum.

Nursemaid, lover and companion of Hadingus[edit]

After killing king Gram, the king of Norway Suibdagerus occupied Denmark and Gram's two sons, Guthormus and Hadingus, had to flee. They were brought up by the giants Wagnhoftus and Haphlius.

When Hadingus was adolescent, fighting was all he ever thought about. Harthgrepa, Wagnhoftus's daughter, tried to make him discover love and made repeated attempts to seduce him. Finally, she sang him a song ending by:

tie with me the bond of passion.
For I first gave you the milk of my breast,
tended you as a baby boy,
performing all a mother's duties,
rendering every necessary service.
Saxo Grammaticus, History of the Danes (Ⅰ, ⅴⅰ)[2]

Hadingus put forward that the big size of the giantess hindered this project. Harthgrepa replied that she had the ability to change size at will: "I become huge to fright the fierce, but small to lie with men" (ibid.).[2] She then became Hadingus' lover.

When Hadingus decided to go back to his country, she came with him, dressed like a man. They spent one night in a house whose host had just died. Harthgrepa practised magic, making Hadingus put a wood stick carved with spells under the corpse's tongue, thus compelling him to speak. He cursed them and predicted their future, especially Harthgrepa's death.

Another night, while they were sleeping in a wood, a huge hand entered their shelter. Harthgrepa then got bigger and, holding firmly the hand, pulled it so that Hadingus could chop it off.

A short time after, she was killed, torn apart by giants.

Interpretations[edit]

Georges Dumézil's interpretation[edit]

In The Saga of Hadingus, Georges Dumézil tries to demonstrate that the legend of Hadingus shows many similarities with myths concerning the god Njord, and more generally that Hadingus shares many features with the Vanir. Some of his arguments have to do with Hadingus' relationship with Harthgrepa.

Before their integration into the Æsir, the Vanir used to have incestuous relationships (Freyr and Freyja are for instance Njörd and his sister's children). Hadingus' relationship with Harthgrepa is a quasi-incestuous one, all the more so that Harthgrepa insists on the fact that she was like a mother to him.

Dumézil also draws a parallel between Hadingus / Harthgrepa relationship and the one between Freyr / Gunnar helming and Freyr’s priestess as related in Ögmundar þáttr dytts.

He also reminds that the Vanir used to practise this kind of magic known as seid. Even if Harthgrepa's magic (compelling a dead man to speak) does not come within the seid practices, both are described as shameful and liable to a punishment. In this respect, Harthgrepa's death can be compared to the Æsir's attempts to kill Gullveig.[3]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Harðgreip is listed as a giantess in one of the thulur sometimes included in editions of Snorri Sturluson's Skáldskaparmál.
  2. ^ a b Peter Fisher, translation of : Saxo Grammaticus, Gesta Danorum, 2006.
  3. ^ Saxo Grammaticus does not give the reason for Harthgrepa's death. Dumézil explanation is only one among others. Axel Olrik (Kilderne tit Sakses Oldhistorie, 2, 1894) for instance argued that she was killed by creatures of her own race for having betrayed them, since she had sided with a human.

Sources[edit]

Primary source[edit]

Secondary source[edit]