Örvar-Oddr (Old Norse Ǫrvar-Oddr, "Arrow-Odd" or "Arrow's Point") is a legendary hero about whom an anonymous Icelander wrote a fornaldarsaga in the latter part of the 13th century. Örvar-Odds saga, the Saga of Örvar-Odd, became very popular and contains old legends and songs. He also appears in Hervarar saga and, concerning the battle on Samsø, in Gesta Danorum.
Oddr was the son of Grímr Loðinkinni and the grandson of Ketill Hængr (both of whom have their own sagas) of Hålogaland. When he was an infant, a völva predicted that he would be killed by his own horse Faxi, at the place where he was born, at the age of three hundred (which may very well signify 360, as a hundred by the time was a unit of numbers denoting 120, not 100 - which have been called a petty hundred).
In order to undo the prediction, he killed his horse, buried it deep in the ground and left his home intending never to return again. As he was leaving, his father gave him some magic arrows (Gusisnautar) which soon earned him the cognomen arrow. After a voyage to Finnmark, Bjarmaland, Holmgård, Constantinople and Jotunheim, he fought successfully against several Vikings.
The two heroes fought many battles together (for more see Hjalmar), until after the famous battle of Samsø against the sons of Arngrim, Örvar-Oddr had to bring the dead Hjalmar (killed by Angantyr) to Uppsala and his betrothed Ingeborg, the daughter of the Swedish king.
While seeking vengeance against Ogmund Tussock for the murder of his blood-brother Thord, Oddr is accompanied by his giant son Vignir. During their voyage, they encounter two large sea-creatures as described by Vignir:
- …these were two sea-monsters, one called Sea-Reek, and the other Heather-Back. The Sea-Reek is the biggest monster in the whole ocean. It swallows men and ships, and whales too, and anything else around. It stays underwater for days, then it puts up its mouth and nostrils, and when it does, it never stays on the surface for less than one tide.
These creatures later described in an Old Norwegian scientific work Konungs skuggsjá (c. 1250), were to come to be understood as what the Norse regarded as the Kraken. This is seemingly one of the first references to the Kraken.
Dressed as an old man, he arrived in Hunaland, where his true identity was soon revealed due to his heroic actions. After defeating the king of Bjalkaland ("pelt country"), who used to pay tribute to the king of Hunaland, he married the princess Silkisif and became the next king.
After all this, he became homesick and went back home. Walking over the grave of Faxi, he mocked the old prophecy, but tripped over the skull of a horse from which a snake appeared. The snake bit him and he died.
The saga includes several stories, such as the voyage of Ottar from Hålogaland to Bjarmaland, the legend of Hjalmar's foster-brother (originally named Söte), Starkaðr, Ketil Höing, Odysseus and Polyphemus, Sigurd Jorsalfare and the Rus' ruler Oleg of Novgorod (the attack on Bjalkaland).
The motive of Örvar-Oddr's mocking the prophecy and death has parallels in the Primary Chronicle, which describes the manner of the death of Oleg (also of Varangian origin) in similar terms. Oleg's death from "the skull of a horse" is also the subject of one of the best known ballads in the Russian language, written by Alexander Pushkin in 1826.
Arrow-Odd: A Medieval Novel, trans Paul Edwards and Herman Palsson, New York: New York University Press, 1970. SBN: 8147-0458-1. (First English translation)
- Proverbs and proverbial materials in Örvar-Odds saga
- The Danish historian Saxo Grammaticus on Orvar-Odd
- The Old Norse text of the Saga