Thursday, August 21, 2008

Baldur the Bold

Let us do away with the image of Baldur as a milque-toast, for his very name means "bold", and inspires bold action. Havamal has two descriptions that are undoubtedly illustrations of Baldur meant to edify and inspire folk into the best they can be :

Þagalt ok hugalt skyldi þjóðans barn ok vígdjarft vera; glaðr ok reifr skyli gumna hverr, unz sinn bíðr bana, "Discreet and carefully-charitable and bold in a fight should the children of a theoden (king) be ; Cheerful, bright, and joyful should every man be, until he undergoes death." (Havamal 15.)

Mildir, fræknir menn bazt lifa, sjaldan sút ala; en ósnjallr maðr uggir hotvetna, sýtir æ glöggr við gjöfum, "Mild, gentle, graceful, liberal, and bold men live best, seldom bear forth grief and affliction, but the uncourageous man is frightened by everything (literally, every spirit, being, or wight), the stingy ever wail against gifts." (Havamal 48.)

I have translated with the perhaps annoying habit of listing every nuance of the word in question, because it is necessary to convey the full meaning of these words.

Let us consider these statements as descriptions of Baldur's character, as they match what we know of him. To be discreet -- Þagalt -- is to be careful with one's words, and exercise consideration in what is said, both for the sake of prudence as well as the sake of caring about offending another. Hugalt means to be prudent or careful, but it also means to be charitable, and thus denotes someone who is kind and giving, but is no fool or sucker, either. This is the hallmark of the discerning giver. Vígdjarft means "bold in battle", "daring in a fight". This is no coward. This is not someone afraid to fight when it is necessary. If one is to be the son of a king (and here we have a reference as well to Baldur as the son of our theoden Odin), one must be willing to defend justice and right in the kingdom, and thus one must have a stout and valiant heart willing to take on ill wights who threaten the peace of the kingdom. Since Baldur is a defender of the sun and moon, we are probably seeing a thinly veiled reflection of him in Helgi Hjorvardsson when Helgi fights Hati (whom we know is a wolf who pursues the sun and moon) and his daughter Hrimgerd, who disturb the peace of the world by harassing the heavenly lights.

It is important to note that this boldness in battle is linked with Baldur's careful giving, his thoughtful words, and his cheer, brightness, and joy. We are not dealing with someone weak here, but someone so powerful that their giving and bright nature shine for all to see. (And he is so beloved that Hrimgerd, in the Helgi Hjorvardsson episode, is willing to forfeit the wergild for her father's death in exchange for a night with Helgi/Baldur.)

Havamal 48 tells us more, again linking boldness with more gentle qualities, for it is their combination that allows mildness, graciousness, and generosity to share forth from a man, for those who cower and are frightened by everything become stingy and unwilling to demonstrate generosity.

Heill Baldur the Bold! Hail his strong, wise, and merciful judgements! May we ever, day by day, become more like him in our lives, living mildly and courageously.

All translations and the illustration of Baldur copyright 2008 by Siegfried Goodfellow.


Blogger Brainwise said...

A hearty "Hails!" to this post. I always say that Baldur is the "great-hearted warrior of peace." That would mean, as far as I am concerned, that he "is not someone afraid to fight when it is necessary."

It seems that we are in agreement, sir.

1:55 PM  

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