Eternal youth was not an issue that the gods of Asgard had to give much thought to. Not usually. Because they had a goddess of youth, a beautiful maid whose name was Idun. She kept them all eternally young by giving them golden apples.
So long as they had Idun and her apples, the gods had nothing to fear from the ravages of time.
Of course, everyone else wanted Idun and the golden apples for themselves. The Jotunn — as the greatest enemy of the gods — were especially desirous of the succulent flesh of those golden apples.
But the gods guarded Idun very closely, and no matter how many frost giants tried to get into Asgard to get at her, they always failed, and usually ended up with a pummeled skull for their troubles. (You’d think Thor actually enjoyed killing them, looking at how eagerly he went about the task! Oh, wait…he did enjoy it.)
But even the Jotunn sometimes found opportunities smiling upon them.
There was a powerful Jotunn shape-changer named Thiazi who preferred to spend most of his time in the form of a bird, swooping over Midgard. Maybe he had a deep reason for it, or maybe it was just the thrill of flight. All that matters is that one day he was flying overhead when he saw Odin, Loki and Honir in the midst of roasting an ox down on the surface of Midgard. (Don’t ask me why: maybe they were slumming it.)
But the ox wouldn’t burn, because it was under an enchantment.
Now, such a wise god as Odin and such a tricky god as Loki really ought to have been able to tell that. They’ve got no excuse. But Thiazi could see the enchantment, and he could see that here was a good chance to stick it to the gods a little. He landed beside the ox — still in his eagle form — and told them about the enchantment on it, promising that he’d break the spell if they let him have all the meat he wanted from it.
Again, they shouldn’t have needed his help, and he knew that perfectly well. Who could be better at breaking enchantments than the all-seeing Odin, or the eternally crafty Loki? But Thiazi thought it would be silly to waste the opportunity, and that was why he made the offer.
To his great surprise, they accepted his offer.
So Thiazi broke the spell on the ox, waited for the meat to roast, and then grabbed hold of its succulent flesh in his beak and tore.
All the meat came off in one huge chunk, leaving nothing behind but bones and some entrails as Thiazi soared off into the sky.
The gods, outraged at seeing their dinner flying away, tried to stop Thiazi from getting away with his prize.
The only one who came close was Loki, who stabbed him in the side with a stick. That shouldn’t have stopped Thiazi from flying away — and indeed it didn’t stop him! — but it did let Loki tag along, because he had fused his hands to the other side of the stick.
As to what happened next, well, you could ask Loki, or you could ask Thiazi, though you might find his answer rather mute.
Loki, for what it’s worth, claims that he was helpless as they flew along through the air over Midgard, and that Thiazi demanded a reward for safely releasing Loki. (Thiazi’s daughter Skadi has a different tale to tell, insisting that the mischief was all Loki’s idea, because he thought it might be good for a laugh.)
Whatever the truth of the matter, Loki paid Thiazi’s price: he smuggled Idun and her golden apples out of Asgard, handing her over to Thiazi.
But why did Idun go with him? No one knows: Loki says it was because he was just too charming to resist, and Idun never seems to want to answer the question. Maybe we’re happier not knowing.
In any case, the gods felt Idun’s absence very quickly, and soon they were growing old at an alarming rate. (Even faster than you or I!)
It was, predictably, the sharp-eyed Heimdall who let them know that Loki was behind the disappearance of Idun, and it was when they confronted Loki about Idun’s disappearance that he told them the sad tale of his near death at the talons of Thiazi.
None of the gods were terribly convinced by the story, but they didn’t really care, either. All they cared about was getting Idun back, and since it was Loki who had lost her, it would have to be Loki who retrieved her, unless he wanted to be the first god to taste death. (As often as they threatened to kill him, you would think Loki would have more fear of the monotony of the threats than of the threatened death.)
Well, Loki wasn’t particularly eager to be slowly bludgeoned to death by a Thor weakened with age, so he agreed to retrieve Idun and the golden apples.
Freyja had a cloak that allowed her to turn into a speedy hawk, and Loki borrowed it to go track down Thiazi. Once he found Thiazi’s home, Loki waited in a tree as if he was an ordinary bird, and even Thiazi didn’t notice him there. (Perhaps because he was molting a bit; even in hawk form, he was aging rapidly without Idun’s assistance.)
Eventually, Thiazi went out for another flight, and Loki hurriedly flew inside the instant the larger bird was gone.
For ease of transport, Loki turned Idun and her apples into a nut, then grabbed it up in one of his talons, and set off for Asgard as quickly as his wings would take him.
Thiazi returned home long before Loki could reach Asgard — he hadn’t even left Jotunnheim on his little flight, so the theft was all too quickly discovered — and he set out in pursuit, knowing that his massive eagle wings would let him fly far faster than Loki’s little hawk wings.
It might have gone badly for Loki if the gods hadn’t been expecting such a turn of events. Foresight was, after all, Odin’s strong suit.
Loki zipped above the walls of Asgard and dove through an open window. Then the gods raised a mighty bonfire on top of all the walls of Asgard, and the flames signed Thiazi’s feathers, sending him plummeting to the earth. Dazed and helpless, Thiazi wasn’t able to get away in time, and Thor’s hammer crushed his skull, despite the wobble of age in Thor’s elbows.
Inside, Loki hastily restored Idun to her normal self — and she hadn’t even grown old, since she had never been deprived of her golden apples — and she distributed the golden apples to the gods, quickly restoring them to their normal selves.
I really didn’t want to use this one. Not because it’s all that bad of a comparison, it’s just that I used Norse for “H” as well! Plus I was trying to stay out of Europe as much as possible. But all my other “I” leads sort of fizzled out…
Okay, right, sorry, on with the comparison. Obviously, I’m going Greek again here, but at least it’s two-fold.
First, you’ve got Idun herself: obviously she’s easily compared to Hebe, in that they’re both goddesses of youth. In fact, both their names mean “youth.” On the other hand, there aren’t any myths involving Hebe being abducted or the gods growing old without her care. Not as far as I know, anyway. (Though there is at least one myth of her power being used to restore youth to an old mortal. (Her husband’s nephew Iolaos, specifically. Oddly, though, her husband’s mother is still alive, even though her grandson is aged and feeble. How does that work? Just what kind of woman is Alcmene anyway?)) She could, perhaps, also be compared to Ganymede, who rather took over Hebe’s job at some point. And he’s often associated with eagles, his abduction having become — at some point — the work of an eagle (or Zeus in the form of an eagle) rather than the earlier whirlwind. But there’s not really much in the way of myths about Ganymede, either, apart from his abduction and the price Zeus sent to his father in recompense.
The second comparison isn’t so much Idun as her golden apples: there are golden apples in Greek mythology, too. Actually, there are multiple types of golden apples, but I’m thinking here of the Golden Apples of the Hesperides. (The ones used to trick Atalanta are decidedly very different, as is the golden apple hurled by Eris at the wedding of Peleus and Thetis. No way any of those apples confer immortality or eternal youth!) The ancient texts don’t really go into a lot of detail about why the Hesperides are guarding those golden apples, but a lot of modern authors — myself included — have assumed that they play some role in the creation of nectar, and/or the eternal youth of the gods.
It’s funny, now that I think about it.
I really can’t think of a single ancient text that implies anything of the sort, but I was so convinced of it that I made the role of those golden apples in the creation of nectar a major plot point in one of my novels.
I wonder if that means our modern perception of this particular Greek myth has actually been colored by the Norse myth of Idun and her golden apples?
That’d actually be pretty cool.