Völuspá
The Prophecy of the Völva (Seeress)
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Codex Regius 10
Hauksbók 10


Normalized:
 
Þar var Mótsognir  
mæztr um orðinn  
dverga allra,  
en Durinn annarr.  
Þeir mannlíkön  
mörg um gørðu,  
dvergar, ór jörðu,  
sem Durinn sagði.
There was Mótsognir ('Mead-sucker')  
the master of   
all the dwarves,  
and Durinn ('Dusky') second.  
They made as many   
mannikins ('likenesses of men'),  
dwarves, out of earth,  
as Durinn said.

 

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The Creation of the Dwarves

by Meili Óðinsson

 

In his treatment of Völuspá, Volume One of the History of Icelandic Literature (1992),

Vésteinn Ólason states the following about stanzas 9 - 10 of this poem:

 

The next major act was the creation of Man, and for this the Dwarves were chosen, being the most skilled in handicraft. The Dwarves seem to have grown from the earth, and it is therefore quite likely that they may be brothers to the Giants. They made human shapes from earthly matter, among them two shapes from wood, Askur and Embla, which are then found by Óðinn, Hænir and Lóðurr, and endowed with life and divine shapeliness. Snorri relates this episode in a different way, and many scholars prefer to interpret Völuspá in a way conforming more to his account, but recently a scholar has shown us very convincing reasons for accepting a new interpretation of the text."

 

This is the basis of a new interpretation of Völuspá 9 - 10.

 

The two stanzas in question can be found in 3 major sources: Codex Regius (R), Hauksbók (H), and Snorri’s Edda (SnE). Snorri’s Edda exists in 4 major manuscripts: Codex regius, Trektarbók, Ormsbók, and Uppsalabók. Many minor variants may be found in all of these, but the crux of the matter is lines 5-6 in stanza 9. Line 10:7 is important as well.

 

Codex Regius::           Hauksbók:                 Snorra-Edda:

--------------------------------------------------------------------

 9:1 Þá gengu regin öll    Þá gengu regin öll        Þá gengu regin öll

 9:2 á rökstóla,           á rökstóla,               á rökstóla,

 9:3 ginnheilög goð,       ginnheilög goð,           ginnheilög goð,

 9:4 og um það gættust,    og um það gættust         og um það gættust,

 9:5 HVER SKYLDI DVERGA    HVERJIR SKYLDU DVERGA     AÐ SKYLDI DVERGA

 9:6 DRÓTTIN SKEPJA        DRÓTTIR SKEPJA            DRÓTT OF SKEPJA

 9:7 úr Brimis blóði       úr Brimis blóði           úr Brimis blóði

 9:8 og Bláins leggjum.    og Bláins leggjum.        og Bláins leggjum.

 

10:1 Þar Mótsognir         Þar var Móðsognir         "Móðsognir var

10:2 mæztur um orðinn      mæztur of orðinn          æðstur, og annar

10:3 dverga allra,         dverga allra,             Durinn" (given in 

10:4 en Durinn annar;      en Durinn annar;          prose).

10:5 þeir mannlíkun        Þeir mannlíkan            Þar mannlíkun

10:6 mörg um gerðu,        mörg of gerðu             mörg of gerðust,

10:7 DVERGAR ÚR JÖRÐU,     DVERGA Í JÖRÐU,           DVERGAR Í JÖRÐU,

10:8 sem Durinn sagði.     sem Durinn sagði.         sem Durinn sagði.

----------------------------------------------------------------------

 

Jón Helgason, Sigurður Nordal, and Ólafur Briem all agree that 9:5-6 should read thus:

 

hver skyldi dverga

dróttir skepja

 

It is a fact that none of the mss. actually have the text in this form, but I don't think any respectable scholar would insist on "dróttin" here. Even Snorri supports this slight emendation of (R), which is also supported by (H) anyway. The difference between "hver" (R) and "hverjir" (H) is basically irrelevant, although (H) seems more natural in the light of what follows.

 

In English translation, they are typically read to mean:

 

"Then all the gods went into assembly, and decided who should create the

race of Dwarves from earth. Mótsognir was the mightiest of all Dwarves, and

Durinn second to him. They, dwarves, created many man-like shapes from earth,

instructed by Durinn."

 

There are serious reasons to doubt such an interpretation.

 

First, if this is all about creating Dwarves, how can the Dwarves Mótsognir and Durinn be the creators? They are Dwarves themselves! Did they create themselves?

 

Second, the word "dróttir" is exclusively used of MEN. It is never applied

to gods, elves, dwarves or any supernatural being.

 

To make a long tale short, the most natural way to interpret here is:

 

Who of the Dwarves (hver Dverga) should create MANKIND (dróttir). It is

not the origin of Dwarves which is being described her, but the origin

of MAN, whom the Dwarves create!

 

In support of this, stanza 10 reads: "Mótsognir was the mightiest of all Dwarves, Durinn second". The Dwarves obviously already exist ("all Dwarves"), since M. and D can be described as their leaders. And what do they do? "They, the dwarves, created many human shapes from earth, as Durinn instructed." "Manlíkun" means "man-likenesses, human shapes".

 

And now we can see why Snorri emended like he does, creating new variations to fit his mistaken ideas. First he gets rid of the awkward "hver":

 

að skyldi dverga

drótt of skepja

 

"that the race of dwarves should be created".

 

Then he cuts 10:1-4 out of the poem, and incorporates it into his prose in a way that indicates that M. and D. only existed AFTER the Dwarves were created. Finally he shamelessly rewrites 10:5-8. He couldn't easily delete line 8, though, which really reveals the absurdity of it all:

 

þar manlíkun

mörg of gerðust

dvergar í jörðu

sem Durinn sagði

 

"There many human-likenesses took shape in the earth, as Durinn said".

 

Here the Dwarves are automatically created, as he states "like worms in dead flesh". Please! And I wonder how he would account for Durinn here I think I've made the point carefully enough, so let's continue:

 

After the two stanzas discussed above, the so-called Dvergatal follows. Not many modern scholars still stick to the idea that this belongs here. The author of Völuspá was extremely economical in his style, and indeed he would have to be so in order to squeeze the complete history of the world into such a short space. Why on earth would he have chosen to spend 10% of the poem on a meaningless list of Dwarves, which have nothing to do with his swift, but sure, recounting of the epic of the world, reaching from Creation to Ragnarök? He was obviously depending on his listeners' inside knowledge: his art isn't shown by the facts he presents, but in how he presents them. Surely the audience would have thrown eggs at him, as soon as he started chanting the Dvergatal?

 

If we accept (and how could we not?) the new reading of Völuspá 9 - 10, the absurdity of the Dvergatal becomes even more obvious.

 

This misinterpretation goes back centuries. Even Snorri was guilty of it. At some point a scribe, thinking that the subject here was the creation of Dwarves, must have thought it a good idea to insert here a nice list of Dwarves he had handy. I can easily enter his mind, and see exactly why he thought it was a good idea. It seemed to him to belong there, and there it would stay. Now he could scrape the bloody Dwarf List off the original, and re-use the precious skin!

 

But the proof that the Dvergatal is an interpolation is really this:

 

If we delete it, stanza 17 follows immediately upon stanza 10. Stanza 17 has long caused problems, first and foremost because it begins with "unz", meaning "until", which has no obvious connection with stanza 16. Scholars have thus presumed that something is missing from the poem. A stanza can not easily start with "unz" like this.

 

But if we accept the new interpretation of 9 - 10, and throw away the Dvergatal, all is explained!

 

In Völuspá 17 - 18 we learn how Óðinn, Hænir and Lóðurr find the lifeless bodies of Askur and Embla, and endow them with spiritual gifts, which turn them into living, radiant human beings. The connection here should be obvious:

 

The Dwarves create the material bodies of Men (from earth). These bodies are lifeless shapes, *UNTIL* Óðinn and his brothers find them and give them the gifts of the gods: Spirit, Mind, Warmth, Movement, etc.

 

Those who want to be sure that the above is really based on the research of academics, should read Tryggvi Gíslason's ground-breaking article, "hverr skyldi dverga dróttir skepja" (Festskrift til Ludvig Holm-Olsen, 1984), and for additional support Gro Steinsland's article, "Antropogonimyten i Völuspá" (Arkiv för Nordisk Filologi, 1983).

 

Short synopsis: Völuspá 9-10 has long been misinterpreted as describing the creation of Dwarves. Recently it has been convincingly shown that the two stanzas describe the creation, by Dwarves, of the material bodies of Men. This interpretation also indicates that the Dvergatal is an interpolation, and that stanza 17 should be seen as a direct continuation of stanza 10.

 

 

 

Völuspá 10

(After Viktor Rydberg)

 

The author of the dwarf-list inserted into Völuspá makes all holy powers assemble to consult as to who shall create "the dwarfs," the artist-clan of the mythology. The wording of strophe 10 indicates that on a being by name Móðsognir, Mótsognir, was bestowed the dignity of chief of the proposed artist-clan [þar (in the assembly of the gods) var Móðsognir mæztr um orðinn dverga allra], and that he, with the assistance of Durin (Durinn), carried out the resolution of the gods, and created dwarfs resembling men. There we can surmise that:

 

·         Modsognir was one of the oldest beings of the world, for the assembly of gods here took place in the morning of time before the creation was completed.

·         Modsognir possessed a promethean power of creating.

·         Modsognir either belonged to the circle of holy powers himself, or stood in a close and friendly relation to them, since he carried out the resolve of the gods.

 

Accordingly, we should take Modsognir to be one of the more remarkable characters of the mythology. But either he is not mentioned anywhere else than in this place or this name is merely a skaldic epithet, which has taken the place of a more common name, and which by reference to a notable characteristic indicates a mythic person well known and mentioned elsewhere. In fact, the name looks like an epithet. Egilsson (Lexicon Poeticum) defines it as the “mead-drinker.” If the definition is correct, then the epithet were badly chosen if it did not refer to Mimir, who originally was the sole possessor of the mythic mead, and who daily drank of it (Völuspá 28 - drekkur mjöð Mímir morgun hverjan). Still nothing can be built simply on the definition of a name.

     The problem as to whether Modsognir is identical with Mimir should therefore be decided by the answers to the following question: Is that which is said about Modsognir also said of Mimir?

Of Modsognir it is said (Völuspá 10) that he was mæztr um orðinn dverga allra: he became the chief of all dwarfs, or, in other words, the foremost among all artists. Have we any similar report of Mimir?

     The German middle-age poem, "Biterolf" (144) relates that its hero possessed a sword, made by Mimir the Old, Mime der alte, who was the most excellent smith in the world. To be compared with him was not even Wieland (Volund, Wayland).

      Thidreks Saga of Bern which is based on both German and Norse sources, states that Mimir was an artist, in whose workshop the sons of princes and the most famous smiths learned the trade of the smith. Among his apprentices are mentioned Velint (Volund), Sigurd-Sven, and Eckihard.

     These echoes reverberating far down in Christian times of the myth about Mimir, as chief of smiths, we also perceive in Saxo about Mimingus, who possesses the sword of victory, and an arm-ring which produces wealth (Book III, 70).

     The mythology speaks of several prominent artists. Sindri and Brokk forge Frey's boar Gullinbursti and the sons of Ivaldi forge from gold curls that grow like other hair. The ring Draupnir, which the dwarves Sindri and Brokk made, possesses creative power and produces eight gold rings of equal weight with itself every ninth night (Skáldskaparmál 43). Accordingly, Modsognir (the "mead-drinker") is the chief and master of all these artists. And on a closer examination it appears that Mimir's mead-well is the source of all these powers, which in the mythology are represented as creating, forming, and ordaining with wisdom.

      In Hávamál (138-141) Odin relates that there was a time when he had not yet acquired strength and wisdom. But by self-sacrifice he was able to prevail on the celebrated son of Bolthorn, who dwells in the deep and has charge of the mead-fountain there and of the mighty runes, to give him (Odin) a drink from the precious mead, drawn from Odrerir:

 

 

Then I began to quicken,
and become wise,
to grow and to prosper,
each word I sought
resulted in a new word;
each deed I sought
resulted in a new deed.

 

It is evident that Odin here means to say that the first drink which he received from Mimir's fountain was the turning-point in his life; that before that time he had not blossomed, had made no progress in wisdom, had possessed no eloquence nor ability to do great deeds, but that he acquired all this from the power of the mead. Odin's greatest and most celebrated achievement was that he, with his brothers, created Midgard. Is it reasonable to suppose that he performed this greatest and wisest of his works before he began to develop fruit, and before he got wisdom and the power of activity?

From Mimir's fountain and from Mimir's hand Odin has, therefore, received his creative power and his wisdom. Odin himself regarded this first drink from Odrerir so immensely important that he resolved to subject himself to the sufferings which are mentioned in strophes 138 and 139. Since the mythology makes him the possessor of the precious fountain, makes him drink from it  every day, and places him nearer to the deepest source and oldest activity of these forces in the universe than Odin himself, how can the conclusion be evaded, that the myth regarded Mimir himself as endowed with Promethean power?  The world-tree itself has also grown out of Mimir’s fountain and is called “Mimir's Tree.” Thus the creative power with which the dwarf-list in Völuspá endowed the "mead-drinker" is rediscovered in Mimir. It is, therefore, perfectly logical when the mythology makes him its first smith and chief artist, and keeper of treasures and the ruler of a group of dwarfs, underground artists, for originally these were and remained creative forces personified.

 

Mimir was the profound counselor and faithful friend of the Aesir. Thus we discover in Mimir, Modsognir's governing position among the artists, his creative activity, and his friendly relation to the gods.

 

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