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TÝR ("God") is a Scandinavian deity associated with law and war. Although his name reflects the Indo-European words for "god" and "day" (IE, *deywos >; PGmc., *Tíwaz; cf. Sansk. dyaus, Gk. Zeus, and Lat. deus ), Týr no longer represents the transcendence and majestic glory of the luminous sky. He must have played a more important role at some stage, for his name can simply mean "god," both originally and in Viking times. His sovereign powers also meant that Norse court poets could substitute his name for that of Óðinn when it was combined with an object or characteristic associated with Óðinn: Victory-Týr, Týr of the Hanged, and Týr of Ships' Cargoes all designate Óðinn. More mysterious is the occurrence of Týr as the name of a young boy in the Eddic poem Hymiskviða ; this figure may not have any relationship to the god.

By the time of the first written sources, Týr was not a supreme being, a creator of the world, or a heavenly father, but he still had an honorable position among the leading Æsir, the primary group of Norse gods. According to Snorri Sturluson, Týr is the boldest and most courageous of the gods and is invoked by warriors because he can grant victory. He possesses extensive knowledge, whence the Old Norse expression týspákr (as wise as Týr). Yet few other details are given: the identity of his father is uncertain, he does not appear to be married, and the only myth in which he plays a significant role is the story of the fettering of the wolf Fenrir.

The gods had been warned that the monstrous offspring of Loki and the giantess AngrboðaFenrir, the witch Hel, and the serpent Miðgarðsormrwould cause them great harm. Óðinn cast Hel into the cold, dark world of Niflheimr and dispatched the Miðgarðsormr to the rim of the cosmic ocean, but the wolf was still in the custody of the Æsir. As the whelp grew up, only Týr dared to feed him, and the gods thought it time to chain him. They tried twice, but the wolf easily broke loose. The Æsir got the dark elves to manufacture an unbreakable fetter. From the rustle of a moving cat, the beard of a woman, the roots of a cliff, the breath of a fish, the sinews of a bear, and the spittle of a bird, the elves made a band as soft as silk yet able to withstand any force. The gods took Fenrir to a remote island, where they challenged him to free himself again. Having prided himself on snapping the other bonds, he did not deign to pit himself against something so fragile-looking. When the gods insisted, he became suspicious and only consented to be bound with the ribbon if one of them placed a hand in his mouth as a pledge of good faith. All were reluctant to do this except Týr, who lost his hand when the wolf found himself bound fast. The gods chained Fenrir to a huge boulder and gagged him with a sword, where he remained until the Æsir's final battle against the giants and monsters at Ragnaro̜k. Each god had his own special opponent in that conflict, and Týr was killed by Garmr, the monstrous dog that guarded the entrance to Hel's realm.

Týr's action is an example of heroic abnegation, and Georges Dumézil (1974; 1985, pp. 268274) has noted the parallel between Týr and Mucius Scaevola, who sacrificed his right hand to convince Lars Porsena, the Etruscan leader threatening Rome, that he and three hundred young men were ready to give up their lives to kill him. Porsena then signed a peace treaty that saved Rome from destruction. There are also parallels with non-Germanic gods: the Irish god Nuadu and the Indian god Súrya are one-armed as well. Týr the one-handed seems to be juxtaposed with the spell-working, one-eyed Óðinn, just as Nuadu with his one hand stood beside Lug with his magic and his closed eye.

Týr's sacrifice has been correlated with his function as god of law (De Vries, 1967, pp. 1314, 2224; Dumézil, 1973, p. 45), mainly on the basis of his association with the Germanic thing (the assembly of the warriors), where priests, perhaps of Tíwaz, kept the peace (cf. Tacitus, Germania 11), and the Germanic concept of war as a vápnadómr (judgment by arms) with set rules. The interpretatio Romana of Germanic Tíwaz as Mars (cf. the translation of Lat. dies Martis as OE. Tiwesdæg, Eng. Tuesday ) can thus be correlated with Dumézil's view of Týr as the Germanic representative of the juridical aspect of sovereignty (Dumézil, 1977, pp. 196200; Dumézil, 1985, pp. 265272; Polomé, 1984, pp. 402405). Dumézil, however, sees Týr's action not as heroic but as the embodiment of fraudulence, because it involves deliberate perjurythe gods had promised Fenrir that they would release him if he could not break the band. Most scholars view the deceit as ethically acceptable because it neutralizes an uncontrollable danger threatening the community of the Æsir. Clunies Ross (1994, p. 221) points out that both the wolf and Týr show courage, and both suffer. She interprets this myth as illustrating the interrelatedness of the worlds of gods and giants: giant nature does not lie in a world different from that of the gods, but instead lies inside it.

Evidence for the worship of Týr is scanty outside of Denmark, where place-names such as Tislund (Týr's grove) attest to his widespread veneration. Týr is commemorated in only two place-names in Norway (Tysnes, "Týr's peninsula"; Tysnesø, "Tysnes island" or "The island near Tyr's peninsula"); here the cult appears to have been adopted from Denmark. Týr's name has also been seen in some of the place-names of southern England, and Old English writers occasionally glossed the Latin Mars by Tiw or Tig. There are no Swedish place-names associated with Týr. Most likely, the importance of his cult elsewhere in the Germanic region diminished over time. He is also associated with the t-rune, which was called the "victory rune." Warriors engraved it on their sword hilts and guards, thereby invoking Týr twice.

See Also

Dumézil, Georges; Eddas; Germanic Religion, overview article; Óðinn; Runes.


Clunies Ross, Margaret. Prolonged Echoes: Old Norse Myths in Medieval Northern Society, vol. 1: The Myths. Odense, Denmark, 1994.

De Vries, Jan. Altgermanische Religionsgeschichte, vol. 2. 2d rev. ed. Berlin, 1967.

Dumézil, Georges. Gods of the Ancient Northmen. Berkeley, Calif., 1973.

Dumézil, Georges. "'Le Borgne' and 'Le Manchot.'" In Myth in Indo-European Antiquity, edited by Gerald James Larson, pp. 1820. Berkeley, Calif., 1974.

Dumézil, Georges. Les dieux souverains des Indo-Européens. Paris, 1977.

Dumézil, Georges. L'oubli de l'homme et l'honneur des dieux. Paris, 1985.

Polomé, Edgar C. "The Indo-European Component in Germanic Religion." In Myth and Law Among the Indo-Europeans, edited by Jaan Puhvel, pp. 5582. Berkeley, Calif., 1970.

Polomé, Edgar C. "The Indo-European Heritage in Germanic Religon: The Sovereign Gods." In Athlon: Satura Grammatica in honorem Francisci R. Adrados, edited by Alberto Bernabé et al., vol. 1, pp. 401411. Madrid, 1984.

Elizabeth Ashman Rowe (2005)