The Speech of Grimnir ("The Masked One")

Grímnismál Prose Introduction
Appears in Codex Regius and AM 748 I 4to.

Normalized Guðni Jónsson edition, 1954:


Frá sonom Hrauðungs konungs.

Hrauðungr konugr átti tvá sono; hét annarr Agnarr, en annarr Geirröðr. Agnarr var x. vetra, en Geirröðr viii. vetra. Þeir rero tveir á báti með dorgar sínar at smáfiski. Vindr rak þá í haf út. Í náttmyrkri bruto þeir við land ok gengo upp, fundo kotbónda einn. Þar vóro þeir um vetrinn. Kerling fóstraði Agnar, en karl Geirröð. At vári fekk karl þeim skip.

En er þau kerling leiddo þá til strandar, þá mælti karl einmæli við Geirröð.

Þeir fengo byr ok kvómo til stöðva föðurs síns. Geirröðr var fram í skipi; hann hlióp upp á land, en hratt út skipino ok mælti: "Farðu þar er smyl hafi þik!"

Skipit rak út, en Geirröðr gekk upp til bæiar. Hánom var vel fagnat; þá var faðir hans andaðr. Var þá Geirröðr til konungs tekinn ok varð maðr ágætr.

Óðinn ok Frigg sáto í Hliðskiálfo ok sá um heim alla. Óðinn mælti: "Sér þu Agnar fóstra þinn, hvar hann elr börn við gýgi í hellinom? En Geirröðr fóstri minn er konungr ok sitr nú at landi".

Frigg segir: "Hann er matníðingr sá, at hann kvelr gesti sína ef hánom þikkia of margir koma".

Óðinn segir at þat er in mesta lygi. Þau veðia um þetta mál.

Frigg sendi eskismey sína, Fullo, til Geirröðar. Hón bað konung varaz at eigi fyrirgerði hánom fiöllkunnigr maðr, sá er þar var kominn í land, og sagði þat mark á, at engi hundr var svá ólmr at á hann myndi hlaupa.

En þat var inn mesti hégómi at Geirröðr væri eigi matgóðr. Ok þó lætr hann handtaka þann mann er eigi vildo hundar á ráða. Sá var í feldi blám ok nefndiz Grímnir, ok sagði ekki fleira frá sér, þótt hann væri at spurðr. Konungr lét hann pína til sagna ok setia milli elda tveggia, ok sat hann þar viii. nætr.

Geirröðr konungr átti son x. vetra gamlan, ok hét Agnarr eptir bróður hans. Agnarr gekk at Grímni ok gaf hánom horn fult at drekka, sagði at konungr gørði illa er hann lét pína hann saklausan. Grímnir drakk af. Þá var eldrinn svá kominn at feldrdinn brann af Grímni. Hann kvað:




1996 Carolyne Larrington in her The Poetic Edda as “Grimnir’s Sayings”: 



About the Sons of King Hraudung. King Hraudung had two sons; one was called Agnar, and the other Geirrod. Agnar was 10 years old, and Geirrod 8. They both rowed out in a boat with a trailing line after small fish. The wind drove them out into the ocean. In the dark that night, they were wrecked on land and went ashore; they found a crofter. They stayed there for the winter. The old woman fostered Agnar, and the old man Geirrod. In the spring, the old man got them a ship. And when he and the old woman took them down to the shore, then the old man spoke privately to Geirrod. They got a breeze and came to their father's harbour. Geirrod was forward in the ship, he jumped ashore and pushed the ship out and said: 'Go where the trolls will take you!” The ship was driven out, and Geirrod went up to the house. He was greeted joyfully; his father had died. Then Geirrod was taken as king and became a splendid man.

Odin and Frigg sat on Hlidsialf and looked into all the worlds. Odin said ‘Do you see Agnar, your foster-child, there raising children with a giantess in a cave? But Geirrod, my foster-child, is king and rules over the land.’ Frigg says: ‘'He is so stingy with food that he tortures his guests if it seems to him that too many have come.' Odin says that is the greatest lie. They wagered on the matter.

Frigg sent her handmaid, Fulla, to Geirrod. She told the king to beware lest a wizard, who had come into the country, should bewitch him, and said that he could be known by this sign: that no dog was so fierce that it would attack him. And that was the greatest slander that Geirrod was not generous with food; however, he had the man whom no dog could attack arrested. He was wearing a blue cloak and called himself Grimnir, and would say nothing more about himself, though he was asked. The king had him tortured to make him speak and set him between two fires, and he sat there eight nights.

Geirrod the king had a son who was ten winters old, and he was called Agnar after Geirrod’s brother. Agnar went to Grimnir and gave him a full horn to drink from, saying that the king was acting wrongly to have him, an innocent man, tortured. Grimnir drank it up. Then the fire had come so close that Grimnir’s cloak burned. He said ...


The circumstance of this poem is most often compared to a similar domestic scene involving Odin and Frigg in History of the Langobards by Paul the Deacon (c. 720-799 AD). 

Translation and footnotes by William Foulke

Book 1 Chapter VII.


The Winnili then, having departed from Scadinavia with their leaders Ibor and Aio, and coming into the region which is called Scoringa, settled there for some years. At that time Ambri and Assi, leaders of the Wandals, were coercing all the neighboring by war. Already elated by many victories they sent messengers to the Winnili to tell them that they should either pay tribute to the Wandals (Vandals) or make ready for the struggles of war. Then Ibor and Aio, with the approval of their mother Gambara, determine that it is better to maintain liberty by arms than to stain it by the payment of tribute. They send word to the Wandals by messengers that they will rather fight than be slaves. The Winnili were then all in the flower of their youth, but were very few in number since they had been only the third part of one island of no great size.[1]

[1] Although it belongs to the legendary period of the Langobards, there may well be some truth in this statement of the refusal to pay tribute. Tacitus (Germania, 40) speaks of the slender number of the Langobards and declares that they are renowned because they are so few and, being surrounded by many powerful nations, protect themselves, not by submission but by the peril of battles.

Book 1, Chapter VIII.


At this point, the men of old tell a silly story that the Wandals coming to Godan (Wotan) besought him for victory over the Winnili and that he answered that he would give the victory to those whom he saw first at sunrise; that then Gambara went to Frea (Freja) wife of Godan and asked for victory for the Winnili, and that Frea gave her counsel that the women of the Winnili should take down their hair and arrange it upon the face like a beard, and that in the early morning they should be present with their husbands and in like manner station themselves to be seen by Godan from the quarter in which he had been wont to look through his window toward the east. And so it was done. And when Godan saw them at sunrise he said: "Who are these long-beards?" And then Frea induced him to give the victory to those to whom he had given the name.[2] And thus Godan gave the victory to the Winnili. These things are worthy of laughter and are to be held of no account.[3] For victory is due, not to the power of men, but it is rather furnished from heaven.

[2] A still livelier description of this scene is given in the ''Origo Gentis Langobardorum'' from which Paul took the story:


"When it became bright and the sun was rising, Frea, Godan's wife, turned the bed around where her husband was lying and put his face toward the east, and awakened him, and as he looked he saw the Winnili and their wives, how their hair hung about their faces. And he said: ‘Who are these long beards?’ Then spoke Frea to Godan: ‘My lord, thou hast given them the name, now give them also the victory.’”


Mommsen remarks that Paul has spoiled the instructive story why one does better to put his business in the hands of the wife than of the husband, or rather that he has misunderstood the account. The fable rests upon this, that Godan, according to the position of his bed, looked toward the west upon awakening, and that the Wandals camped on the west side and the Winnili upon the east. The true-hearted god could then appropriately promise victory to his Wandal worshippers in the enigmatical sentence, that he would take the part of those upon whom his eyes should first fall on the morning of the day of the battle; but as his cunning wife turned his bed around, he and his favorites were entrapped thereby. This can be easily inferred from the Origo. It may be asked what the women's hair arranged like a beard has to do with Godan's promise. Evidently, the affair was so planned that the astonishment of the god should be noted when he looked upon these extraordinary long-beards in place of the Wandals he had supposed would be there; perhaps indeed his cunning wife thus drew from her husband an expression which put it beyond doubt that he actually let his glance fall in the morning upon the Winnili.


[3] Paul's narrative of the origin of the name of Langobards gives the best example of the manner in which he has treated the legends which have come down to him. The transposition of the direct speech into the indirect, the introduction of the phrase '' to preserve their liberty by arms," and similar classical phrases, the new style and historical character given to the story, speak for themselves; but still the Langobard, in treating of the origin of the proud name could not disown his national character and even where "the ridiculous story told by the ancients "sets historical treatment at defiance, he still does not suppress it.

Chapter IX.


It is certain, however, that the Langobards were afterwards so called on account of the length of their beards untouched by the knife, whereas at first they had been called Winnili; for according to their language "lang" means " long" and " bart " "beard."[1] Wotan indeed, whom by adding a letter they called Godan is he who among the Romans is called Mercury, and he is worshiped by all the peoples of Germany as a god, though he is deemed to have existed, not about these times, but long before, and not in Germany, but in Greece.


[4] This derivation comes from Isidore of Seville. He says, "The Langobards were commonly so-called from their flowing and never shaven beards". The name of the people stands in close relation to the worship of Wotan who bore the name of the "long-bearded" or "gray-bearded," and that the Langobard name Ansegranus, "He with the beard of the Gods" showed that the Langobards had this idea of their chief deity.


1923 Henry Bellows in his The Poetic Edda as “Grimnismol: The Ballad of Grimnir


 Introductory Note:


The Grimnismol follows the Vafthruthnismol in the Codex Regius and is also found complete in the Arnamagnæan Codex, where also it follows the Vafthruthnismol. Snorri quotes over twenty of its stanzas.


Like the preceding poem, the Grimnismol is largely encyclopedic in nature, and consists chiefly of proper names, the last forty-seven stanzas containing no less than two hundred and twenty-five of these. It is not, however, in dialogue form. As Müllenhoff pointed out, there is underneath the catalogue of mythological names a consecutive and thoroughly dramatic story. Othin, concealed under the name of Grimnir, is through an error tortured by King Geirröth. Bound between two blazing fires, he begins to display his wisdom for the benefit of the king's little son, Agnar, who has been kind to him. Gradually he works up to the great final moment, when he declares his true name, or rather names, to the terrified Geirröth, and the latter falls on his sward and is killed.


For much of this story we do not have to depend on guesswork, for in both manuscripts the poem itself is preceded by a prose narrative of considerable length, and concluded by a brief prose statement of the manner of Geirröth's death. These prose notes, of which there are many in the Eddic manuscripts, are of considerable interest to the student of early literary forms. Presumably they were written by the compiler to whom we owe the Eddic collection, who felt that the poems needed such annotation in order to be clear. Linguistic evidence shows that they were written in the twelfth or thirteenth century, for they preserve none of the older word-forms which help us to date many of the poems two or three hundred years earlier.


Without discussing in detail the problems suggested by these prose passages, it is worth noting, first, that the Eddic poems contain relatively few stanzas of truly narrative verse; and second, that all of them are based on narratives which must have been more or less familiar to the hearers of the poems. In other words, the poems seldom aimed to tell stories, although most of them followed a narrative sequence of ideas. The stories themselves appear to have lived in oral prose tradition, just as in the case of the sagas; and the prose notes of the manuscripts, in so far as they contain material not simply drawn from the poems themselves, are relics of this tradition. The early Norse poets rarely conceived verse as a suitable means for direct story telling, and in some of the poems even the simplest action is told in prose "links" between dialogue stanzas.


The applications of this fact, which has been too often over looked, are almost limitless, for it suggests a still unwritten chapter in the history of ballad poetry and the so-called "popular" epic. It implies that narrative among early peoples may frequently have had a period of prose existence before it was made into verse, and thus puts, for example, a long series of transitional stages before such a poem as the Iliad. In any case, the prose notes accompanying the Eddic poems prove that in addition to the poems themselves there existed in the twelfth century a considerable amount of narrative tradition, presumably in prose form, on which these notes were based by the compiler.


Interpolations in such a poem as the Grimnismol could have been made easily enough, and many stanzas have undoubtedly crept in from other poems, but the beginning and end of the poem are clearly marked, and presumably it has come down to us with the same essential outline it had when it was composed, probably in the first half of the tenth century.



1996 Carolyne Larrington in her The Poetic Edda as “Grimnir’s Sayings”


The prose introduction to Grimnir's Sayings (Grimnismal) gives an unexpected account of Odin and Frigg as rival patrons to two kingly candidates the lost sons of King Hraudung. Odin uses cunning to give his protege an unfair advantage, and then precipitates a matrimonial quarrel by pointing out the different fates which have overtaken their proteges. Frigg is swift to get her own back, accusing Odin's favourite of stinginess, a serious charge, given the near-sacred character which Germanic societies ascribed to hospitality. Frigg duplicitously ensures that Geirrod does mistreat his guest, relying on Odin's practice of disguising himself when visiting strange hall. Odin arrives at Geirrod's hall, calling himself Grimnir (the Masked One). Geirrod's methods of torture, starvation and heat, have been thought to recall shamanistic rituals allowing access to arcane knowledge kept hidden from the uninitiated; such practices could have been known to the Scandinavians from their northern neighbours, the Lapps. On the ninth night (nine is a magical number), Odin reveals himself. Geirrod realizes his mistake too late; as eventually happens to most Odinic proteges, the hero loses his patron's favour and is doomed to die. Geirrod's son, Agnar, who, significantly, bears his uncle's name and is now the same age as his uncle was when the brothers encountered their divine patrons, has recognized the responsibilities of the host in giving Odin a drink, and the god's favour now falls on him.