Questions about named hero weapons.

I was thinking about named hero weapons and I was wondering when this trend started, It felt like a modern convention as I think of western classical literature and I can’t really
find any examples that quickly came to mind. I quickly realized this isn’t so because of Mjornir. This seems born out by the Wikipedia article about such weapons which as several entries from mythology and then jumps to contemporary culture.

So, I have a few questions.

  1. What was the first named hero weapon?
  2. Are there any weapons in other mythologies that rival Mjolnir in popularity to their fans? Are there any that worldwide are more popular and well known?
  3. The page reminded me of another insanely popular weapon Excalibur which is kinda a late entry into the mythology genres and I’m sure there are others. So, what some other early examples from literature that aren’t on the wikipedia page. I don’t want to place an arbitrary time limit on it but I’m not so interested in modern examples but more to understand the evolution of the magic weapon and can we pinpoint when the popularity began to grow? I’m guessing it was probably fantasy literature and if so, which were the earliest examples.
  4. Just for fun, could you name a weapon name for one historical figure what would it be? My humble example is Moses and his staff Seasplitter.

edit, ok, many would quibble with Moses being historical so lets open it up to naming previously unnamed famous weapons?

For 2, I can tell you that while many Spaniards won’t remember that El Cid’s first sword was named Colada, we are expected to have heard of the upgrade, Tizona. Their reproductions are a popular tourist souvenir, both in letter-opener and actual sizes. 11th century and he’s both a real and a mythological figure: the one warrior so feared that he won a battle after death, just by walking out into the battlefield :smiley: (well, riding out in full armor tied to his horse).

And when your sword is both your most expensive property and your main tool, it makes perfect sense to name it. My computers definitely have names, and I don’t mean some sort of inventory code.

Perfect examples that I’m looking for. You’ll be happy to know that they were covered in the wiki page I forgot to link to. List of magical weapons

And you also almost answered 4. You may or may not be famous but you are undoubtedly a historic figure. What’s you favorite computer’s name?

Probably Sharur, the Lugal-e dates back to the 3rd millennium BCE, which predates any named weapons from the Rigveda like Vajra (2nd millennium)

The Japanese sacred weapons like the Kusanagi & the Seven-Branched Sword and the various Indian god-weapons are probably more popular - who other than scholars and geeks would know of Mjolnir before the Marvel movies? How many Indians (and others, like enthralled South African kids) would have watched the various Ramayan TV shows, though? 100s of millions for each version…

The Imperial treasure sword and Masamune and Muramasa swords shows up a lot in games and anime - check the Japanese section ofthis TV Tropes page.

Then, there’s the Spear of Destiny/Lance of Longinus…we got agreat bandout of it.

There’s a letter opener called Excalibur some people might have heard of

The OP mentioned Excalibur right away.

I would also mention the Gáe Bulg as a notable named weapon from Irish mythology, although not as old an origin as the OP seems to seek. Still a pretty terrible sounding weapon; like a giant hunting arrow, except a spear that never fails to kill in a horrific way.

There’s some repetition I that list. It lists “Vajra” twice, but “Vajra” simply means “thunderbolt” – it’s not a name for the weapon. So it’s listed at least three times. In addition, it seems virtually certain that “Caliburn” is just a different form of the name “Excaliber”, so distinguishing between them seems pretty pointless.

Something not mentioned in that list is the Aegis. This is either a goat-skin cloak or a shield, or possibly both, depending upon what source you’re using. It’s supposed to be the weapon of Zeus, according to many written sources, but he’s never depicted wearing it. On the other hand, it is shown being worn by Athena so often that it is virtually her identifier.

its use and nature are pretty confused in Greek art and mythology. According to legend, Perseus, after cutting off Medusa’s head, gave it to Athena, and she put it on the Aegis, which explains why the gorgon’s head is on her breastplate, or on her shield. (this despite the obvious fact that in many cases the face is simply raised relief, or painted on). Sometimes, confusingly, it’s shown on both.

But she’s not the only one to wear a breastplate or carry a shield with the gorgon’s head on it. If a warrior is shown with one, it’s usually Achilles. But in the Iliad, it’s Agamemnon who’s said o have a gorgon on his shield. And there’s a fragmentary poem called The Shield of Hercules that describes, in extreme detail, the hero’s shield, which not only has a Gorgon head in the middle, but plenty of other eye-monsters worked into it. In depictions of the Birth of Athena on vase paintings, Ares is often shown with a gorgon shield – even though, since Athena was Perseus’ helper in the quest for Medusa, that can’t be Medusa’s head on the shield. Mythology is not a slave to logical consistency.

Finally, there are terra cotta replicas of the aegis. But, instead of goatskin, the outside seems to be covered in scales. Or feathers. And, according to some early poems, the Aegis is really the storm cloud of Zeus.

Hah, so he did. Funny thing is that I read the OP twice and missed it and even after you posted, still had to read it twice before I found it. I need [coffee/my eyes checked/sleep] this morning. Or to use a word search.

I think that we need to clarify what we mean by both “named” and “famous”. I imagine that even before the Thor movies, most people knew that Thor’s distinctive weapon is a hammer; the mark of the geek was just in knowing its name (or even that it has a name). And while the Spear of Longinius is certainly famous, I’ve never seen any name associated with the weapon itself, and it’s just called by its wielder.

It’s unclear, at least from my vantage of not knowing any Hindu mythology, whether “Vajra” is a name of a weapon or just a description.

I’ve always been a bit confused about the Vorpal Blade?

The term was, as far as I know, coined by Lewis Carroll in the poem Jabberwocky, though I don’t think that he ever provided a definition of what “vorpal” meant.

It’s come to mean a particularly deadly weapon (esp. one capable of decapitating an opponent), probably largely thanks to it being defined as such in various editions of Dungeons & Dragons.

Yep, beat me to it. (But the sword I want is the Honjo Masamune.)

Charlemagne’s sword was named Joyeuse.

Yeah, I know – it’s Wikipedia. But it’s the quickest way to get the answer.

Roland’s sword Durandal (alternatively, Durendal) is famous. The name was also used for a runway-penetrating bomb designed by France and exported widely.

Curtana is the legendary sword of mercy carried by Justice. It’s also the name of the sword given to Charles the First.
You know a myth has been around for a long time when the guy had three different named swords. Aurthur had the Sword in the Stone, Excalibur and a third sword who’s name I can’t remember.

“Vorpal” is indeed a nonsense word, and like the other words in the poem we are left to puzzle out it’s meaning based on the context and alliteration. It always struck me as a portmanteau of “venom,” and “mortal.” In any event, the D&D people took the idea and ran with it by codifying “Vorpal” to mean something exceedingly lethal (eg an instant-death weapon)

Has anyone mentioned Hrunting and Naegling from ‘Beowulf?’ It’s the oldest known piece of English literature, so it indicates a very old tradition. There’s also Nothung, a sword which Odin places in a tree in a Norse equivalent of the ‘sword in the stone.’ Odin also has a spear named Gungnier.

I suspect that from a cultural perspective, the practice of naming weapons was largely derived from the fact that swords were rare and expensive. Especially so in places like Scandinavia, where iron was in short supply. It also took more skill to smith a sword than, say, an axe or a spearhead. It’s not hard to see why swords would be considered precious.

An interesting comment because the knight’s main tool was the spear and later the lance, not the sword. A sword was a side-arm. But swords are cool. Check out this Youtube channel about being a knight by a modern re-enactor.

Well, yes and no. The knights’ most prized ability was definitely their charge, no doubt, but they also spent a lot of time fighting on foot, especially during sieges and in urban warfare, where a lance would be useless. Knights would also do their share of running down and killing broken infantry, which is not something you can do with a lance.

I’d say that the lance got all the glory, but in terms of sheer numbers, my bet is that knights killed more people with swords and other melee arms.

Sanskrit vajra “thunderbolt” isn’t really a proper name per se, even applied to Indra’s weapon. As in, if you’re using a crowfoot wrench, that’s not the same as giving your wrench the individual moniker “Crowfoot”.

The bow of Arjuna in the Mahabharata, on the other hand, is called Gāṇḍīva, which AFAIK is a proper name, as is the bow Vijaya (lit. “victory”) of Arjuna’s adversary (and half-brother) Karna.

The sword of Karna’s teacher Drona is called Asi, but I can’t figure out if that’s originally just a Rgvedic word for “blade” or if the proper name of Drona’s weapon was applied to other blades as well.

The rest of the Indian weapons in the OP’s linked list would take some sorting through to determine which have names that mean something other than just “the standard word for this kind of weapon”.