Wednesday, March 3

Apples in Mythology: The Golden Apple Part II

After exploring some of the Greek myths involving golden apples, I now want to make a trip many miles to the north, where the apple found its way into Norse mythology.  Many parallels exist between the apple's representation in Greek and Nordic myths, chiefly the belief that the apple offered immortality and youth to those who ate it.  However the apple's association with fertility in Norse mythology also draws on similarities to other cultures. 
As in Greek mythology, the Nordic gods kept the apples in a protected garden, where they were a great source of envy among mortals.  The Norse goddess of spring Idun (also Iðunn) is believed to have been the guardian of the life-giving apples.  The granter of youthfulness and fertility, most likely because of her association with apples, Idun was the wife of the skaldic god Bragi and grew her apples in the land of Asgard.
A paradise full of fruited fields,  rolling hills and rivers that ran though lush forests, Asgard was also the site of a banquet held each year by Idun where she would serve apples to the gods allowing them to maintain their youthfulness.  Mortal giants jealous of those who would never wither and die, ceaselessly made attempts to possess the apples by trying to lure Idun away from Asgard.    This was finally achieved by a shrewd and witty giant named Thiaze (also Þjazi).  Having the ability to take the shape of many living things, Thiaze in the body of an eagle swooped down amongst a gathering of gods feasting on an ox, where he was able to convince them to give him the choicest cuts of meat.  One of these gods was the fiery tempered and mischievous Loki known for being a trickster.  Upon realizing that he himself had been duped, Loki stabbed Thiaze with a sharp branch in a fit anger.  Thiaze took to the sky and Loki, unable to release his grip from the branch was pulled towards the heavens.  Begging to be let loose, Loki made a deal with Thiaze.  In exchange for his release Loki agreed to lure Idun and her apples away from Asgard.  He accomplished this by leading Idun to a nearby forest where he told her he had discovered apples that would be of interest to her.  He told her it would be wise to bring along her own apples so that she might compare them to the ones he had found.  Once out of Asgard, Idun was no longer protected and Thiaze still in the form of an eagle swooped down, snatching Idun in his talons and took her back to his home. 

Thiazi flying away with Idun as Loki looks on

In Idun's absence, the Nordic gods soon began to gray and turn frail.  Knowing they must have the apples in order to maintain their youth, Odin the most knowledgeable and powerful of the gods, summoned the aging immortals to his hall for a meeting.  It was quickly determined that Loki was the last one to see Idun and her apples.  Odin decided to give Loki a chance to redeem himself by bringing Idun back to Asgard.  He was told that if he could not accomplish this, he would be the first of the immortals to perish. 
Loki knowing he only had one chance to to make things right, took the form of a falcon and made his way to Jötunheimr the land where Thiaze resided.  He found Idun alone, as Thiaze was out hunting.  He turned her into a nut and carried her back to the safety of Asgard.  Thiaze upon returning gave chase, pursuing Loki all the way back to Asgard.  Flying above Asgard Thiaze was caught in the flames of a great fire built by Odin, Thor and the other gods where he burned and fell to the ground his head crushed by the great hammer of Thor.  Loki having returned safely turned Idun back into her true from, thus allowing her to feed bits of apple to the withering toothless gods slowly restoring their youth and immortality.  

See: The Golden Apple Part I

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