Idunn | Norse Mythology


Idunn (possibly meaning "ever young ") is one of the Aesir goddesses of Norse mythology. Idunn appears only in the poetic Edda, compiled in the 13th century from ancient traditional sources, and in the prosaic Edda, written in the same century by Snorri Sturluson.

In both sources, she is described as the wife of the sculpted god Bragi, and in the poetic Edda she is also given the role of guardian of the apples that give the gods eternal youth. Various theories surround her figure, and one of the mountains of Venus, Idunn Mons, was named after her.

Etymology of Idunn

The name Idunn has been variously explained as meaning "ever young", "rejuvenating", or "rejuvenation". Since the current English alphabet lacks the character Eth (ð), Iðunn is sometimes written in English as Idun, Idunn or Ithun. The suffix -a is sometimes applied to denote femininity, resulting in forms such as Iduna and Idunna.

As a personal name, the name Idunn appears as a personal name in several historical sources and in the Landnámabók manuscript it appears to have been in use in Iceland as a personal name since pagan times (10th century).

Landnámabók records two instances of women with the name Idunn ; Iðunn Arnardóttir, the daughter of an early settler, and Iðunn Molda-Gnúpsdóttir, granddaughter of an early settler.

The name Idunn has been theorized as originating from the Old English name Idonae.

In the 19th century, author Charlotte Mary Yonge claimed that the derivation of Idonae from Idunn is "almost certain," noting that although Idonae may be "the feminine of the Latin name idoneus, its absence in Latin countries may be taken as an indication that it refers to Idunn ."

Idunn in the Poetic Edda

Idunn within the Edda in the poem Lokasenna is included in some modern editions of the poetic Edda, in the late poem Hrafnagaldur Óðins.

In the prosaic introduction to the poem Lokasenna, Iðunn is introduced as Bragi's wife. Both attended a feast given by Aegir. In stanzas 16, 17, and 18, a dialogue occurs between Loki and Idunn after the latter has insulted Bragi. 

In this exchange, Loki accuses her of having slept with her brother's murderer. However, neither the brother nor the murder is mentioned in other sources.

Then the goddess Gefjun takes the floor, declaring that Loki is joking, and the poem continues.

Regarding the charges levelled at Idunn by Loki, modern scholars such as Lee Hollander explain that Lokasenna was intended to be humorous, and that the charges made by Loki in the poem should not necessarily be taken as true at the time they were composed.

That is, they are charges that are easy for Loki to make, but difficult for his target to refute, or not bother to do so at all.

Idunn in the Prose Edda


Idunn is introduced in section 26 of Gylfaginning, and is described as the wife of Bragi and keeper of an eski (a wooden box made of ash and used to store personal possessions) inside which she kept apples.

The gods ate this fruit when they began to age in order to become young again, which is repeated until Ragnarök. Gangleri (described as King Gylfi in disguise) states that in his view, the gods rely heavily on the good faith and care of Idunn .


In his work Haustlöng, preserved in Skáldskaparmál, the 10th-century scald Þjóðólfur úr Hvini describes an illustration on his shield depicting Iðunn being abducted along with her apples by Þjazi, a Jotun (giant) who used Loki as bait to lure her away from Asgard.

During her absence, the Æsir began to age without the rejuvenating qualities of the apples, so they pressured Loki to come to her rescue.

Having borrowed Freyja's falcon-feather cloak, he saved her, turning her into a nut for the return journey. Angered, Þjazi pursued them in the form of an eagle, but was defeated when the Æsir created a bonfire that set his wings on fire.

Theories about Idunn

Apples and fertility

Some of the various stories that have survived about Iðunn center on his rejuvenating apples. Scholar H. R. Ellis Davidson relates them to religious practices of Germanic paganism.

He notes that baskets of apples were found at the 9th century burial site of the Oseberg ship in Norway, and that fruits and nuts (Iðunn is described being transformed into a nut at Skáldskaparmál) have also been found in early graves of Germanic peoples in England and mainland Europe that may have some symbolic significance, and also that nuts are still recognized as a fertility symbol in southwestern England.

Davidson denotes a connection between apples and the Vanir, a tribe of gods associated with fertility within Norse mythology, citing an example where Skirnir, acting as messenger of the elder Vanir god Frey in stanzas 19 and 20 of Skírnismál, gives eleven "golden apples" to Gerðr to woo her; In Skírnismál, Gerðr mentions his brother's murderer in stanza 16, which, Davidson states, has led to certain suggestions of a possible connection between Gerðr and Iðunn, since they are similar in this respect.

The English scholar also notes a further connection between fertility and apples within Norse mythology; in the second chapter of the Volsunga Saga, when the elder goddess Frigg sends King Rerir an apple after he has prayed to Odin for a son, Frigg's messenger (disguised as a raven) drops the apple on his lap as he sits on a barrow.6 When Rerir's wife eats the apple, she becomes pregnant for six years and her son - the hero Volsung - must be born by Caesarean section.

Davidson also points to the phrase "apples of Hel," used in an eleventh-century poem by the scald Thorbiorn Brúnarson. He states that this may imply that apples may have been intended by the scald as the food of the dead.

Further, he also notes that the Germanic goddess Nehalennia is sometimes depicted with apples, and that there are also parallels with ancient Irish stories. Davidson states that while apple cultivation in Northern Europe can be traced back to the time of the Roman Empire and came from the Near East, the variety of apple trees native to Northern Europe bear smaller, bitter fruit.

He concludes that in the figure of Iðunn "we must have a vague reflection of an old symbol: that of a guardian goddess of the otherworldly, life-giving fruit."

Eternal youth

John Lindow theorizes that the possible etymological meaning of Iðunn - "ever young" - would potentially allow her to realize her ability to provide eternal youth to the gods without the need for their apples, and further states that Haustlöng makes no mention of apples, but refers to Iðunn as the "maiden who understands the eternal life of the Æsir."