In Norse mythology, Hodr, Hoder or Hodur (Hǫðr in Old Norse) is a blind god son of Odin according to the Eddas.
He unintentionally killed his brother Baldr, because of a trick of the malicious god Loki. Vali is then engendered by Odin and Rindr to kill Hodr in order to avenge Baldr.
After the Ragnarök battle, the brothers return from the realm of the dead and become rulers.
In the Gesta Danorum, an eleventh-century evhemerist work, he is presented in a completely different form as a warrior hero named Høtherus, a rival of Balderus (Baldr) for the hand of the princess Nanna.
The myth of Hodr's murder of Baldr is one of the most famous and unavoidable in Norse mythology.
All the ancient sources mention Hodr as Baldr's assassin, after having been bewitched by Loki, then killed by Baldr's brother (Vali) in revenge. This role of Hodr is not disputed, but the sources differ in the execution of the murder encouraging debate among scholars.
Moreover, Hodr has been compared to other Indo-European deities or mythological heroes, which suggests that his legend is derived from a proto-Indo-European myth.
Hodr is composed of the noun hǫð, which means "fight" in Old Norse. Its name could then be related to "warrior" or "fighter".
Characteristics of Hodr
Like all the main gods, Hodr is described in the Gylfaginning section of Snorri's Edda, where reference is made to his murder of Baldr:
"There is an Aesir named Hodr who is blind. He is only too strong. The gods would have it that this Aesir need not be mentioned, for the deed he will do with his hands will be long remembered among gods and men.
- Gylfaginning, chapter 283
He is the son of Odin (Baldrs draumar 11, Skáldskaparmál 13), but his mother is not mentioned in the preserved mythological texts. According to Snorri's Edda, Hodr is blind (Gylfaginning 28 and 49, Skáldskaparmál 13), yet this infirmity is not specified in the Eddic poems.
Moreover, he is certainly not blind in the evhemerist texts (Chronicon Lethrense and Gesta Danorum) where he is a warrior king who slays his rival Baldr in battle rather than by accident or naivety. Finally, according to all the sources, he ends up killed in revenge by a son of Odin, the god Vali, fathered solely to avenge Baldr's murder.
The kenning (plural, kenningar) is a figure of speech in Scandinavian poetry that consists of replacing a word, or the name of a character or a creature by a periphrase. In chapter 13 of the Skáldskaparmál part of Snorri's Edda, the author mentions the kennings that can designate Hodr (Haðarkenningar).
"Blind God, Murderer of Baldr, Thrower of Mistletoe, Son of Odin, Companion of Hel, Enemy of Vali"
- Skáldskaparmál, chapter 134
The kenning "Murderer (or Assassin) of Baldr" is also found in the Eddic poems Völuspá 335 and Baldrs draumar 106. "Enemy of Baldr" is another kenning used to designate Hodr in Baldrs draumar 117. At the same time, a kenning for Baldr is "Adversary of Hodr" (Skáldskaparmál), and another for Vali is "Enemy and Murderer of Hodr" (Skáldskaparmál 12).
The works of the Poetic Edda, and the Prose Edda of Snorri Sturluson (who used among others the former for the writing of his text) are the main sources for Norse mythology.
These texts were compiled or written around the thirteenth century, a few centuries after the official conversion of the last Viking kingdoms. They are therefore to be taken with precaution.
Among specialists, the question arises as to the veracity of these stories, whether they are faithful testimonies of pre-Christian beliefs or whether they hide Christian influences, or even inventions or misinterpretations by the authors.
In stanza 31 of the Eddic poem Völuspá, Baldr's death is caused by a branch of mistletoe, and in stanza 32, Hodr is the one who throws it. In stanza 8 of the Eddic poem Baldrs draumar, Odin asks a seeress who will be Baldr's murderer, and she answers in stanza 9 that it will be Hodr with a "renowned branch" (mistletoe).
The murder of the god Baldr is essentially told in chapter 49 of Gylfaginning in Snorri's Edda. In the grip of dreams of his impending death, Baldr tells the Aesir about it, and they are frightened.
The goddess Frigg, Baldr's mother, makes all the elements of nature swear not to harm the god, which they do, thus making Baldr invulnerable. Then the Aesir have fun throwing all sorts of objects at him, which consequently leave him unharmed.
The evil god Loki, jealous of this attention, obtains a confession from Frigg that she forgot to ask the mistletoe for an oath because this plant seems so harmless. So Loki creates a stick of mistletoe, and proposes to Baldr's brother, Hodr, to join in the game and throw it at Baldr.
Since Hodr is blind, Loki guides his throw and the mistletoe pierces Baldr's body and he falls dead. The stunned Aesir cannot take revenge since they are in a sacred place of peace and safety.
The Eddic poems Völuspá 32-33, Baldrs draumar 11 and Hyndluljóð 29 explain that Vali, son of Odin and Rind, avenges Baldr's murder. He does not wash or comb his hair until he has killed Hodr, which he does at the age of only one night.
In Norse eschatology, it is prophesied that a great battle will take place in which the giants, led by the god Loki, will attack the Aesir on the plain of Vígríd, and the fire giant Surt will fight alongside the forces of chaos and set the world on fire.
This event is called Ragnarök. All chains will be broken and the dead residing in Helheim will be released, so according to chapter 53 of the Gylfaginning, Baldr and Hodr will return from the world of the dead.
However, no known text mentions Baldr and Hodr taking part in the battles, but they will be survivors of the catastrophe with Vidar, Vali, Modi and Magni.
The surviving gods, now sovereigns, share their secrets and converse about past events. They also find the "golden tablets" of the Aesir, which could correspond to treasures, or more likely to the pieces of the golden game played by the Aesir at the beginning of time which is mentioned in stanza 8 of the Völuspá.
Two evhemerist texts of Danish origin feature Hodr (as Hother or Høtherus), who is then a warrior king, not blind, who kills his rival Baldr in battle.
Despite their intention, these texts are of mythological interest since they testify to Christianized versions of myths that do not always appear in other preserved sources.
In the case of Hodr, these texts present him in a totally different light than in Snorri's Edda, as a powerful warrior, consciously an enemy and murderer of Baldr.
He always suffers the vengeance of another son of Odin, Vali (named Both or Bous in the Evhemerist texts).
The Chronicon Lethrense (Lejrekrøniken in Danish) is a short text in Latin from the eleventh century, probably written by a Danish cleric, which tells the adventures of Danish heroes and kings from the pre-Christian era. The text is evhemeristic since the gods are presented as men who were mistaken for deities. In this sense, the Chronicon Lethrense is similar to the Gesta Danorum, but is of lesser quality.
In a short paragraph of the text, we learn that Hother (which corresponds to the god Hodr) is a Saxon king, son of the deceased Hothbrodd. During a battle he kills Balder, the son of Othen (Odin), and defeats Othen and Thor. He is then killed in battle by Both (which is then Vali), another son of Othen.
The Gesta Danorum (Gesture of the Danes) is a work in Latin written at the end of the eleventh century by the historian Saxo Grammaticus at the request of the statesman Absalon, who ruled Denmark at the time and wanted to give his country a true national epic.
Saxo Grammaticus presents in his work the history of the first Danish heroes and kings. He was inspired by pre-Christian myths and proposed a strongly evhemeristic version in which the Nordic gods are in fact men of superior power who pretended to be deities.
The Third Book tells the story of Hodr (which corresponds to Höd), son of the deceased Swedish king Hothbrodus and therefore raised by king Gevarus.
The young Høtherus is already very strong, skilled in swimming, archery and wrestling, but also in music. His qualities seduce Nanna, Gevarus' daughter, who falls in love with him.
But Balderus (which corresponds to Baldr), the son of Odin, sees Nanna bathing and her beauty fills him with desire. He decides to get rid of his rival Høtherus.
Meanwhile, Høtherus meets three nymphs in the forest who have the power to control the outcome of battles. They warn the young prince of Balderus' evil intentions, and warn him not to provoke him into battle since he is a demigod.
Høtherus asks Gevarus for his daughter's hand in marriage, but the king fears Balderus' anger. He advises Høtherus to get from the domain of a satyr called Mimingus a magic sword and a bracelet that would increase his strength tenfold.
The hero managed to get his booty, but the Saxon king Gelderus wanted to take it and launched his army towards Sweden. Høtherus succeeds in subduing him and makes him an ally thanks to his verbosity. This quality allows him to win another ally, Helgo the king of Halogia.
Meanwhile, Balderus asks for Nanna's hand in marriage but she refuses him. A battle ensues between Høtherus and Balderus. The gods, including Odin and Thor, fight on Balderus' side.
Høtherus manages to cut the handle of Thor's club, rendering it inoperative, so the gods flee. Høtherus then marries Nanna and becomes ruler of Denmark.
But Balderus returns to battle and defeats his rival who is forced to flee to Gevarus. However, the victory brings him little comfort since his desire for Nanna is not satisfied.
Høtherus and Balderus meet again in battle, but Høtherus is defeated again.
Desperate, he goes into exile. He meets the nymphs who had helped him before, who advise him to get the food that ensures Balderus' strength.
With his newfound confidence, Høtherus sets out again to fight Balderus' army. The battle takes its toll and no army wins.
One night, Høtherus sneaks into the opposing camp and finds the dwelling of the nymphs who prepare Balderus' food. He plays the lyre for them but they refuse to give him the food.
However, they offer him a magic belt that would guarantee him victory. On his way back, Høtherus falls on Balderus and pierces his side. Balderus dies of his wounds and his army gives him a royal funeral.
Odin, Balderus' father, then begets Bous (which corresponds to Vali) with Rinda (Rind) to avenge his son. Høtherus learns from the soothsayers that he will die fighting his new rival.
He then transfers his powers as chief to his son, before fighting Bous and being killed. However, Bous is badly wounded and dies the next day from his wounds.
Inconsistencies and questionable logic in the myth of Baldr's murder have led some scholars to challenge the Gylfaginning's version, particularly the supposed disability of Hodr.
When writing the Edda in prose, Snorri Sturluson used mainly the Eddic and Scaldic poems at his disposal, and organized the myths they told. For the myth of Baldr's murder, Snorri used the scaldic poem Húsdrápa by Ulf Uggason.
The author is said to have composed this poem based on wall frescoes in Hjardarholt depicting myths. According to Viktor Rydberg, Snorri misinterpreted the symbolism of the pictorial representations, which would explain the overall inconsistency of the story.
If Loki was depicted guiding the hand of an eyed Hodr, it was quite symbolic of the evil Loki urging Hodr to "blindly" kill his brother, but Loki was not physically responsible or present, and Hodr was not physically blind.