- Cross-Dressing in the Poetic Edda:Mic muno Æsir argan kalla
This article examines the concept of cross-dressing as portrayed in one of the most prominent of the Scandinavian mythological poems: the "Þrymsqviða."1 In this eddic lay, Thor adorns himself in women's clothing and journeys to the land of the giants, where Thrym has absconded with his hammer.2 The giant is willing to return Thor's hammer under one condition: that he be given the goddess Freyja for his wife. On the advice of Heimdal and seconded by Loki, Thor reluctantly agrees to dress himself in Freyja's bridal linen and travel to Jötunheimar in her stead. Not surprisingly, Loki—whose claim to fame rests on his gender-bending antics3—offers to accompany Thor as his "bridesmaid." Thor's attire includes not only a wedding dress, but many of the accouterments of thirteenth-century bridal fashion: a woman's head-dress, a veil,4 expensive jewelry, brooches, and even a new bride's household keys. What follows is the sartorial advice offered by Heimdal and Loki: [End Page 425]
Bindo vér Þór þá
hafi hann iþ
micla men Brísinga!
Látom und hánom
um kné falla,
enn á briósti
um hǫfuð typpom!(Edda 113)
'Let's dress Thor in a bridal head-dress,let him wear the great necklace of the Brisings.'Let keys jingle about himand let women's clothing fall down to his knees,and on his breast let's display jewels,and we'll arrange a head-dress suitably on his head!'(Larrington 99)
Several critics have noted the comical and parodic elements in this description of the ultra-masculine Thor in bridal costume.5 From the very beginning of the poem, Thor's manhood comes into question with the shaking of his red beard,6 and dressing the god as a woman may be viewed as the height of parody. The anonymous author's intent can be inferred from his use of the term qvennváðir for Thor's dress—in its compound form a neologism unique to this particular text. The second half of this compound (-váðir) is employed in Old Norse literature and the law codices to signify a warrior's battle armor, for example: vápn eða váðir [weapons and armor], Högna and Héðins váð [coat of mail], and Váðir Váfaðar [Oðin's coat of mail] (Cleasby s.v.). Combined with the word for "woman," qvennváðir is best translated as "woman's weeds," yet the association of váðir with "armor" indicates, according to Helen Damico, that the anonymous author was parodying the figure of Thor by challenging both his masculinity and his military prowess.7 A similar conclusion had been reached much earlier by Jan de Vries when he suggested [End Page 426] that it was the intent of the author of the "Þrymsqviða" to create "einen komischen Kontrast" (de Vries 275) [a comical contrast] to the usual war-like portrayal of Thor. The head-dress Thor wears typically designated a married woman but was also an element of the disguise of cross-dressing worn by Brand in Hallfreðar saga as he eluded capture by his enemy Thorkell (Bragi Halldórsson 1216). The necklace, the Brísingamen, was owned and worn only by the goddess Freyja. Little is known of it outside of the "Þrymsqviða" and two passages in Snorri's Edda, where we are informed that Loki may have stolen it, and Heimdal and he fought over it.8 Its presence as an element of Thor's female costume further emphasizes the connection to goddess Freyja. The house keys were a standard item in female costume and were sometimes presented to the bride before her wedding night. Archeological evidence from graves indicates that even very young girls would hang keys from their belts in the manner of jewelry (von See 550). The fact that Thor's breasts are so prominently displayed when decorated with large gem stones (breiða steina) has...