“Thor, Thjálfi, Loki, and Röskva,” by Constantin Hansen, in Illustreret Danmarkshistorie for Folket (Illustrated History of Denmark for the People) by Adam Kristoffer Fabricius, published in 1853. Works from artist Lorenz Frølich, frequently featured at this blog, also illustrate the tales and histories in this volume. In Hansen’s illustration here, Thor and Loki are travelling to Jötunheim and have just received Þjálfi and Röskva into their party as Thor’s servants.
In the image above, Thor is on the left, followed by Þjálfi, then Loki, and Röskva is furthest to the right, bringing up the rear of the group of travelers.
Thjálfi and Röskva’s story begins, as most stories do, with a pair of goats.
Thor and Loki were traveling to Jötunheim in Thor’s chariot, as ever pulled by Thor’s loyal goats Tanngrisnir and Tanngnjóstr (teeth-gnasher and teeth-grinder). Weary from their journey, they stopped one night at the home of a peasant farmer to rest and take their evening meal. In exchange for the farmer’s hospitality, Thor shared the meat of his two goats the farmer’s family.
The steeds of Thor were not just any goats: after being consumed, they were resurrected the next day when Thor used Mjölnir to bless them. After his meal with the farmer’s family, he laid the hides of Tanngrisnir and Tanngnjóstr safely away from the fire, and asked the family to carefully place the bones back in the hides.
The farmer’s son was not a good host to Thor: he split a leg bone and sucked it dry of marrow before returning it. When Thor resurrected his mighty goats the next morning, one was found to be lame.
The hot-headed hammer-wielder was prepared to destroy all in his sight. Before death could be dealt, a bargain was struck between Thor and the farmer: the son Thjálfi and daughter Röskva would enter Thor’s service.
After Thor agreed to terms the party went on to Jötunheim, though they were forced to leave the goats and Thor’s chariot behind. Thus in Hansen’s illustration they walk to Jötunheim on foot rather than by quicker means.
Their adventures continued, but we’ll tell those stories another day.
Scholar of Norse mythology Martin Arnold points out (pp. 48-50) that Thor’s stewardship of Thjálfi and Röskva establishes a powerful symbol of Thor’s protection of humanity. Juxtaposed with Thor’s blessing of the goats, where we see Thor’s role in daily ritual and other blessings, we get a clearer picture of Thor as a central figure to Germanic cultures. Thor protected them, blessed them, fought alongside them, and sometimes listened to prayers for mercy, though could kill them when angered.
One final note: as with other women in Norse mythology such as Jörð, Sif, or Þrúðr, Röskva is less developed as a character than her brother, and is not mentioned beyond her entry into Thor’s tale here and the trip to Jötunheim, both of which are related in Snorri Sturluson’s Gylfaginning of the Prose Edda.