[Hrafnagaldur Óðins: A Study Guide]


Hrafnagaldur Óðins

or Förspjallsljóð



A Statement from the Authors

This website is an attempt to present an obscure Old Norse poem, Hrafnagaldur Óðins (Forspjallsljóð), in a comprehensive manner. We, the authors, want to make clear that we are amateurs, not academics. We are not affiliated with any university. The academic community has ignored Hrafnagaldur Óðins for over a century, and we see it as our duty to present our efforts, in the hope that this poem will, in the future, become a serious object of scholarly study. We realize that our treatment may not conform to strict academic standards in every instance, and hope that it will be criticized by layman and scholar alike, and initiate a productive discussion about this long-ignored poem, its revelations and complexities.


Our interest in and study of Hrafnagaldur Óðins was inspired by Viktor Rydberg (1828-1895), whose interpretation of the Eddaic corpus has been sadly ignored for over a century now. He is the "only begetter" of these pages, our veritable Mímir. For 15 years we have gazed into the well of his wisdom. In some cases we have modified and extended, even rejected, his theories, but we humbly hope that he is pleased with our work. Megi hann æ með Agnari yndi halda.



The Contest of the Artists

Skáldskaparmál 43


Within the epic myth determined by Rydberg to underlie the structure of Old Norse mythological poetry, the Hrafnagaldur speaks of the Fimbulvetur, a devastating winter affecting all creation, sent forth by the Sons of Ívaldi.


Ívaldi is the patriarch of the Elves. His three sons were raised by Mímir and the Dwarves, and from them learned the arts of creation. The Elves are master-smiths, second only to the Dwarves. The Elves are a fierce and proud race, whereas the Dwarves are gentle and humble. Knowing this, Loki devises a clever scheme sure to inflict harm on the gods.


To set his scheme in motion, Loki somehow manages to cut off the hair of Þórr's wife, Sif. Under duress, he promises to make amends, and turns to the Sons of Ívaldi for help. They aid him and create new golden tresses for Sif. In good faith, they also construct the spear Gungnir for Óðinn, and the ship Skíðblaðnir for Freyr. Loki, the father of deceit, now visits the Dwarves, Mímir's sons, shows them the Elves' creations, and wagers his head that they cannot better them. The dwarf Brokkur accepts the challenge, and with his brother Sindri then forges the hammer Mjölnir for Thor, the luminescent boar Gullinbursti for Freyr, and the ring Draupnir for Óðinn.


Loki lays these treasures out before the gods, asking them to choose the best one. After testing each one, the gods choose Mjölnir, the most potent weapon in their unending war against the Hrímþursar. They are unaware of the consequences of their judgment. Surely one group or the other, either the Elves or the Dwarves, will be offended by their verdict. By choosing the work of the Dwarves, they unwittingly insult the Elves, the proudest of all living creatures. Loki also manages to offend the Dwarves by cheating them of their prize, his head, with a clever bit of word-play.


The Sons of Ívaldi soon learn of the judgment of the gods, and are deeply insulted, especially the youngest among them, the master-smith Völundur. Accompanied by his brothers, he embarks on a self-imposed exile in the Wolfdales, deep down in the north of Niflhel, beyond the reach of the hated gods. He transforms himself into a giant and assumes the name Þjazi. Having hitherto used his magical powers as a means of creation, he is now intent on destruction. From his haven in the North he conjures a devastating winter, threatening all the worlds.


Loki has cleverly created a rift between the gods and both groups of artists, Dwarves and Elves. The consequences are grave.


The Elven artisans, who formerly provided the gods with treasures of beauty and power, now plot their destruction. With the help of Loki, Völundur/Þjazi captures Iðunn, the keeper of the gods' youth-renewing apples. She is Völundur's half-sister, and joins him in the Wolfdales as his lover. The loss of Iðunn, and her apples, insures that the gods in Ásgarður will grow old, and ultimately die. This is an apt metaphor of the approaching Ragnarök.


Here Hrafnagaldur Óðins begins. Óðinn is worried. Iðunn has disappeared, and an untimely winter is advancing from the north. He sends his ravens forth to learn its cause, but their report is enigmatic. He then sends three messengers into the Underworld in order to question Urður herself. She is silent, but her grievous tears leave no doubt that disaster looms ever nearer. In Ásgarður, the rest of the gods do not seem to realize how serious the situation is - they continue to feast and make merry. After the messengers have reported the futility of their errand, the gods retire, and Óðinn asks them to return in the morning with fresh advice.


Hrafnagaldur ends abruptly, with Heimdallur blowing his horn, announcing the break of day, alluding to the forthcoming Ragnarök. We are not told which measures the gods will decide upon, when the night has passed. Perhaps the poet considered this to be irrelevant; perhaps stanzas are missing. We will never know.



Hrafnagaldur Óðins

The Text




Alföður orkar,

Allfather works,

8. þrá] þjá most mss.



álfar skilja,

elves understand,


vanir vitu,

vanir know,


vísa nornir,

norns reveal,


elur íviðja,

íviðja gives birth,


aldir bera,

men endure,


þreyja þursar,

thurses wait,


þrá valkyrjur.

valkyries yearn.



1. Allfather is, of course, Óðinn.


2. skilja. Unlike the English "understand", the Icelandic verb skilja basically means "separate (one thing from another)". Other meanings are "part, divorce, cut off, sever, split". We interpret the poem as describing the effects of the Ívaldasynir (elves) severing their friendly relationship with the gods, becoming enemies of all creation. We suspect a poetic pun here.


5. Íviðja, "the giantess in the wood". A reference to Angurboða, who bears the brood of her own son Fenrir in the Ironwood (cp. Völuspá 40). Also known as Gullveig, Aurboða, Heiður.


The context here is not easy to determine. One possibility is that this is, indeed, the "Raven-chant" (Hrafnagaldur), croaked by Huginn (and Muninn) into Óðinn's ears, after he (they) return from his (their) expedition (see stanza 3). The content is even more difficult to interpret, and seems to imply a multiple riddle: What does Allfather work? What do the elves understand? What is it that the vanir know? Howsoever we interpret these lines, it seems certain that a world-wide catastrophe is impending, suggesting a future battle, which the Thurses are eagerly waiting for, and the Valkyries yearning for.


The order of the characters/species named may suggest the flight-path of Óðinn's raven(s) through the various worlds. From Ásgarður (Allfather) he flies directly down to the east of the Underworld (Álfheimur), then crosses the lower world westward to Vanaheimur. He then flies south towards Urðarbrunnur (Norns), then north to the Ironwood in Niflhel. Having visited the four points of the compass in the Underworld he flies upward into Miðgarður (the home of men), then northeast to Jötunheimur (Thurses) before returning to Ásgarður, and Óðinn's halls, where the Valkyries reside. (For clarification, refer to Mythological Background: World Picture.)





Ætlun æsir

The Æsir suspected

2. illa] alla most mss.

3. veður] verpir all mss. [EB/WR]

5. Óðhræris] Óðhrærir all mss. [GP]

6. Urður] Urðar all mss. [GP]

7. máttk at] máttkat most mss.

8. mestum] mest um all mss.

8. þorra] þeirra one ms.



illa gátu,

an evil scheme;


veður villtu

wights confounded


vættar rúnum;

the weather with magic;


Óðhræris skyldi

Urður was appointed


Urður geyma,

Óðhrærir's keeper,


máttk at verja

powerful to protect it


mestum þorra.

from the mightiest winter.




3. verpir. This word makes no sense, and neither do the various commentators' attempts to make sense of it. We have reluctantly decided to suggest an emendation, not arbitrarily, but along the lines of a similar error in three mss. of Snorri's Edda (RTU), which have "verþr" instead of "veþr" in Völuspá 41. "þ" and "p" can look quite similar in the mss. An inefficient scribe could possibly have read "verþr" as "verpr", and then done his best (or worst) to make sense of it.


4. Wights. They are Rögnir and Reginn (see stanza 10) who are causing the devastating winter (Fimbulvetur). The sons of Ívaldi have become enemies of the gods, and thus all of creation. See below.


4. with magic. Literally "with runes". The basic meaning of "rún" is "a secret, hidden lore, mystery". The better known meaning "written character, letter of the alphabet" is closely associated with magic.


6. Urður. Named here by her proper name. In the poem she is also referred to as Gjallar sunnu gátt in stanza 9, veiga selja in stanza 11, Gefjun in stanza 12, Jórunn in stanza 15, sprund in stanza 20, svanni in stanza 21.

8. mestum þorra. Þorri is the name of one of the coldest of winter months (approx. January 20 - February 20) in the old Icelandic calendar. This would be a "pars pro toto" usage, meaning "the greatest winter", i.e. the Fimbul-winter.

Þorri as also a name of a rime-giant (hrímþurs), son of Snær (Snow) and grandson of Jökull (Glacier). See commentary to stanza 17 (Fornjótur).


5.-8. If we accept the MSS reading Óðhrærir Urðar (i.e. Urðarbrunnur), we face a serious syntactical impossibility, the object of the sentence being missing. The emendations, originally suggested by Gunnar Pálsson, are minimal, and since they seem to make sense, they have been adopted here (Óðhræris - Urður). Trying to make sense of the rest, "máttk" should strictly be "máttig", but many forms of "máttigr" result in "máttk-" formations. "Máttk" could easily be a back-formation (cp. "regin" vs. "rögn", and various other examples.)


So what is the meaning of this stanza? We'll probably never know for certain, but here's one possible interpretation, based on Viktor Rydberg's theories (although not quite in accordance with his [grammatically impossible] interpretation):



The three Wells, which nourish the world-tree, are situated in the Underworld: Hvergelmir (cold) in the North, Mímisbrunnur (Óðhrærir) in the Middle, Urðarbrunnur (hot) in the South. The sons of Ívaldi ("wights") [Ívaldi's younger children, cp. stanza 6], now the gods' enemies, have fled to the northernmost edge of the Underworld (Niflhel). From there they intend to avenge themselves by ruining the gods' creation. Using sorcery they send forth (from the north) an icy winter, confounding the weather ("veður villtu vættar rúnum"). The Fimbulvetur ("mestur Þorri") creeps southward, and the Æsir realize the threat ("ætlun Æsir illa gátu"). As soon as the freezing cold reaches Mímisbrunnur (in the middle), it becomes apparent that even Mímir cannot protect his own Well. Should the Central Well of Creative Power freeze over, all of creation will be immediately endangered. Therefore Urður must be summoned. She is the guardian of the Well of Heat in the South (Urðarbrunnur), and she alone commands the power to generate the heat required to keep Mímisbrunnur from freezing over.



Hverfur því Hugur

Hugur then disappears

1. því] þar one ms. þur(r) most mss.

2. himna] hinna(r) all mss. [GM]



himna leitar,

seeking the heavens,


grunar guma

men's ruin is suspected,


grand ef dvelur;

if he's delayed;


þótti er Þráins

Þráinn's thought


þunga draumur,

is an oppressive dream,


Dáins dulu

Dáinn's dream


draumur þótti.

was thought enigmatic.



The text appears to be too corrupt for a straightforward translation to be possible, although the gist of the meaning seems apparent.


1. Hugur. At least one commentator has suggested emending this to Huginn. We can see no reason not to accept Hugur as a variant of Huginn's name.


2. himna leitar. Huginn flies off into the heavens. The Æsir have become aware of an evil force at work in the world (ætlun æsir / illa gátu). Óðinn's first act is to send his ravens forth on an investigative expedition. The fact that the poet only refers to one of the ravens is quite in tune with the economy of the poetic language (pars pro toto). It is possible to read stanza 1 as the ravens' message upon their return.


4.-5. grunar guma grand ef dvelur. Another possible interpretation is: Guma grunar grand [Hugins], ef [hann] dvelur, i.e. "The man (or men) suspect that Huginn may have come to harm, if he is delayed". This would suppose that gumi (or gumar) is here loosely employed to mean "god (or gods)", and would clearly echo Óðinn's worries, as expressed in Grímnismál 20: Óumk eg um Hugin / að hann aftur né komit, "I fear for Huginn, that he won't return". We have chosen a slightly different interpretation: [Óðin] grunar guma grand, ef [Hugin] dvelur, i.e. "Óðinn suspects the destruction of men, if Huginn is delayed". This would refer to the effects of the Fimbulvetur: Men are perishing from the immense cold, meaning that there's a lot of carrion tempting the raven, delaying his return.


5.-8. These lines are extremely difficult. The idiom is unusual, and puzzling. Þráinn and Dáinn are dwarf-names, and even if the lines are obscure, it seems that the dwarves are having ominous (prophetic) dreams. What is puzzling is the unusual syntax here. A further complication is that þótti can be either a noun ("thought") or a verb ("was thought to be"). Bugge suggests that Þráins þungi may mean "Þráinn's burden", i.e. the sky, and that Dáins dula similarly means "Dáinn's veil", i.e. the clouds; but unfortunately he doesn't explain how this would clarify the meaning of these lines. Dáinn also appears in stanza 13.


Possibly Þráinn ("stubborn one"?) is a byname of Dvalinn ("sleeping one"), who is associated with Dáinn ("dead one"). Ancient Greek mythology has two brothers, Hypnos (Sleep) and Thanatos (Death). Morpheus (Dream) is the son of Hypnos.





Dugir með dvergum

The dwarves' powers

3. niður] niði one ms.

4. niði] niðir some mss.

7. of] af one mss.



dvína, heimar

dwindle, the worlds


niður að Ginnungs

sink down


niði sökkva;

towards Ginnung's abyss;


oft Alsviður

Often Alsviður


ofan fellir,

fells from above,


oft of föllnum

often he gathers


aftur safnar.

the fallen again.




1.-2. Dugir ... dvína. Cp. dofna ... dáðir in stanza 14.


3. Ginnungs niði. Refers to Ginnungagap, the great primordial abyss of chaos. With the onset of the terrible fimbul-winter, the order of the world falls into disarray (see also stanza 5 ). The worlds are seen as sinking down towards the primal abyss. (This type of imagery, expressing downward movement [sinking, falling, dropping] is very prominent in the poem.) The word nið, in the meaning "abyss, chasm", does not occur anywhere else in Old Norse. But as Bugge pointed out, it does carry this meaning in Old English. Although the Old Norse meaning of the word is closer to "darkness", the kinship of the two languages surely indicates that the two meanings are related, and interrelated, cp. the Old Norse niðmyrkur, "total darkness", perhaps "darkness as black as that of the abyss". Since Ginnungagap must have been seen as being underneath all the worlds, below the Underworld, it is probably related to the adverb niður, and various names and words closely connected with the Underworld: Niðhöggur, Niðafjöll, Niðavellir, Niðuður, Niðfölur.


4.-8. Oft Alsviður ofan fellir .... This passage is obscure. Alsviður is the name of one of two horses that draw the Sun across the sky, according to Grímnismál 37, but it is unclear what it is that he "fells from above" and "gathers up again". One possibility, not quite applicable here, is that this is a reference to dewfall. We know from Vafþrúðnismál 14 that dew was thought of as the foam falling from the mouth of Night's horse, Hrímfaxi. Since dewfall evaporates after the Sun rises, it seems possible that Alsviður (and his companion Árvakur) gathered up the fallen dew. However tempting this image may seem, it is not really possible here, unless we assume a misunderstanding of the myth, or an hitherto unknown variation of it.


Interestingly, another source of dew is mentioned in Völuspá 19, i.e. Askur Yggdrasils, the world tree: "from there comes the dew / which falls in the valleys". In Gylfaginning 16, Snorri comments on this: "The dew, which falls from [the ash], is called by men honey-dew (lit. honey-fall)". Would it be too bold to suggest that Alsviður should be interpreted here as Alls-viður, i.e. "all-tree, universal tree"?



Stendur æva

Earth and Sun



strind né röðull

cannot stand firm,


lofti með lævi

malignant winds


linnir ei straumi;

do not cease;


mærum dylst

hidden in the glorious


í Mímis brunni

well of Mímir


vissa vera;

lies all knowledge;


vitið enn, eða hvað?

know ye yet, or what?



1. Stendur æva. The established order of the universe is severely undermined. Order is turning into chaos. The Earth and the Sun have become unstable - their fixed places are no longer certain, now that the worlds are sinking down towards the abyss (see stanza 4 ). [Cp. Völuspá 5, when at the beginning of time "the Sun knew not her place", and Völuspá 57, where "the sun grows black / the earth sinks into the ocean".]


2. röðull. Cp. álfröðull in stanza 26.


3. lofti með lævi. This must be compared to Völuspá 25: hver hefði loft allt / lævi blandið. The word læ has two basic meanings, both of which apply, "treachery" and "damage, harm". In the Völuspá passage it is Loki who has created the treacherous/harmful atmosphere. Here the "wights", Rögnir and Reginn, traitors to the gods, are sending forth "harmful streams of air" from the extreme north, endangering all of creation. But in this case Loki is also the ultimate villain - he has directly caused Ívaldi's sons to fall out with the gods. (Cp. also lævísi in stanza 8.)


4. straumi. Quite possible, although not a convincing word here. Scheving suggested emending to stormi, which is not necessary. If an emendation were needed here, we would prefer an emendation of lofti to lofts.


7. vissa vera. This can hardly be taken literally as "the certain knowledge of men". Surely "vera" is here loosely employed to mean "creatures, beings", even "gods"?


8. vituð enn eða hvað? Obviously echoes the well-known Völuspá phrase, proving that the poet was familiar with Völuspá (and therefore most aspects of the myth).




Dvelur í dölum

Dwells in dales



dís forvitin,

the curious dís,


Yggdrasils frá

from Yggdrasill's


aski hnigin;

ash descended;


álfa ættar,

of elven kin,


Iðunni hétu,

Iðunn was her name,


Ívalds eldri

youngest of Ívald's


yngsta barna.

elder children.



The language is unusually clear. The meaning, however, is obscure. But if Rydberg's penetrating analysis is accepted, the stanza instantly acquires multiple levels of relevance.


1. Dvelur í dölum. We take dölum as referring to the Úlfdalir (Wolfdales), the abode of the sons of Ívaldi, after they have fallen out with the gods. The Wolfdales are in the extreme North of the Underworld, i.e. in Niflhel. This place-name only occurs in Völundarkviða 5, 7, 14. A circumlocution of the name can be seen instanza 8, vé viggjar Naumu, i.e. "home of the giantess' steed = home of the wolf".


2. forvitin. The obvious meaning "curious" is quite possible, but "prescient" is also a possibility. A passage from Skáldskaparmál 2-3 actually gives us a reason for a portrayal of Iðunn as "curious": Þjazi (who is Völundur, son of Ívaldi) employs Loki to entice Iðunn away from Ásgarður. Loki tells Iðunn that he has found apples superior to hers, and tempts her to come along and bring her own apples for comparison. She is, of course, curious, and lets herself be fooled. The scheme results in her capture by Þjazi (Völundur), her half-brother and lover (already an enemy of the gods, intent on their destruction), referred to in Haustlaung 6 as "dólg ballastan valla" (earth's mightiest foe). It goes without saying that if this capture of Iðunn corresponds with her "fall" from the Tree down to Niflhel (where Þjazi resides), she has taken her apples with her - a devastating blow to the well-being of the gods. As the Fimbul-winter strikes, the Æsir no longer enjoy the effects of Iðunn's apples - they start growing old. [An aspect of the "falling" imagery of the poem should be pointed out, perhaps fancifully: As an apple falls from an apple-tree, so does Iðunn, the keeper of apples, fall from the World-Tree.


3.-4. Yggdrasils ... aski. The World Tree, growing from the Underworld towards Heaven. As an image of the created universe, the Tree is rooted in the Underworld (Jörmungrund), and its three roots penetrate the three Underworld Wells. Ásgarður (home of gods) is placed near the top of the Tree. Miðgarður (home of mankind) is placed midway. (For clarification, refer to Mythological Background: World Picture.)


The reason for the designation of the World Tree as Askur Yggdrasils, i.e. "the ash of Óðinn's horse" is a puzzle not yet (convincingly) solved. Scholars have come up with various conflicting (and often ludicrous) theories. This particular enigma will not be dealt with here, but we would like to refer to Ursula Dronke's fresh and illuminating treatment in her Poetic Edda, Volume II: Mythological Poems (Oxford University Press, 1997), especially pp. 125 - 126. [A variant form of "drasill", drösull, occurs in stanza 24].


4. hnigin. Cp. ofankomu in stanza 7. The language of the poem persistently evokes images of falling, sinking, descending.


5.-8. álfa ... barna. Here we are told that Iðunn is an Elf. Her father is Ívaldi (which makes the Ívaldasynir her brothers). We are also told that Ívaldi had two sets of children (obviously by two mothers), and that Iðunn is the youngest of the first set. Rydberg has convincingly shown that Ívaldi is one of the most ancient of elves (if not the firstborn). His elder children are three elven Dísir, also known as Swan-Maidens. Their mother seems to have been Sunna, the daughter of Sól (Sun). Ívaldi's younger children are Völundur and his two brothers, the Ívaldasynir. Their mother was a giantess. They are the "wights" in stanza 2, who are summoning forth the Fimbul-winter, in order to destroy both gods and men.




Eirði illa

Ill she endured

3. hárbaðms] harðbaðms most mss.

7. værri] væri all mss.




the fall from above,


hárbaðms undir

under the hoar-tree's


haldin meiði;

trunk confined;


kunni sízt,

disliked staying,


að kundar Nörva,

at Nörvi's daughter's,


vön að værri

used to better


vistum heima.

abodes back home.



2. ofankomu. There can hardly be any doubt that this word means "descent" (cp. hnigin in stanza 6). Another meaning would be "snowfall", known in modern Icelandic. Considering that Iðunn has arrived in Niflhel, this is a possibility.


3. hárbaðms. This form (which seems preferable to harðbaðms in most of the mss.) is explained by Bugge as a misunderstanding of Völuspá 19:3 hár baðmur, which is written as one word in the Codex Regius. But is it a misunderstanding? As Bugge himself later noted, hárbaðmur can be taken to mean a tree which is "hoar, grey, old".

The variant harðbaðms would mean "hard-tree". This cannot be ignored, since the ash is actually a "hard" type of wood, as opposed to other "soft" types. It should furthermore be noted that Grímnismál 40 states that trees were created from Ymir's hair: baðmur úr hári. We, of course, realize that the trees referred to here are the "created" trees of Miðgarður. The World-Tree can hardly be described as being created - it grew from a seed in Ginnungagap, before any creatures/creators existed. But there is a possibility that the Grímnismál statement is a retrospective interpretation of the word "hárbaðmur", perhaps anchored in a misinterpretation, but more likely a poetic pun.


Yet another possibility must be mentioned. Iðunn is captured under hárbaðms meiði, i.e. the trunk (or perhaps branch or root) of the "hoar-tree". Above the Underworld the World-tree splits into three roots: a northern one, which stretches towards Hvergelmir in the dark and cold Niflhel; a middle one, which descends into Mímisbrunnur in the central region; and a southern one, stretching towards Urðarbrunnur in the South. Could the Tree of trees have been variously named accordingly? If so, the term Hárbaðmur could be related to the northernmost root of the Tree, seen as being covered with rime ("hoarfrost"). A second name of the Tree is Mímameiður, "Mímir's tree (branch, root)" [Fjölsvinnsmál 20], obviously related to the central root. A third name is Mjötviður, "tree which metes out fate" [Völuspá 2], surely related to Urðarbrunnur, where Urður and her sisters create destiny.


6. kundar Nörva. Nörvi's daughter is, of course, Night (Nótt) [see below]. Since Iðunn has descended as far down as possible (below the World-Tree's trunk) from the bright fields of Ásgarður down to the cold and murky plains of Niflhel, she can be said to dislike her lodgings at Nörvi's daughter's. (Since Night descends in the West, and appears again in the East, surely her abode is situated in the North of the Underworld). It should not be forgotten that Iðunn is probably a daughter of Sunna, and a Swan-Maiden with ties to Urður's warm well in the South of the Underworld. Being in a place totally opposite to her usual haunts (vön að værri vistum heima) certainly explains her displeasure and unwillingness to be there. She has fallen from the top of the Tree (Ásgarður) to the very bottom (Niflhel). As a Sun-Maiden she dislikes staying in everlasting Night. As a Swan-Maiden of the warmth of Urður's Well in the South, she is most uncomfortable in the cold of Niflhel, where wolves, rather than swans, abound. (For clarification, refer to Mythological Background.)


6. Nörva. An obscure and grammatically complex name. In the poetic Edda the name occurs twice, in Vafþrúðnismál 25: "Nótt var Nörvi borin" (N. was the father of Night), and in Alvíssmál 29: "Nótt ... in Nörvi kennda" (Night, the daughter of N.). In both cases Nörvi is a dative, seemingly from a nominative Nörr [not attested to?]. In Gylfaginning 10 the same giant is named Nörfi or Narfi.





Sjá sigtívar

The divinities see

2. Naumu] Nönnu some mss.



syrgja Naumu

Nauma grieving


viggjar að véum;

in the wolf's home;


vargsbelg seldu,

given a wolf-skin,


lét í færast,

she clad herself therein,


lyndi breytti,

changed disposition,


lék að lævísi

delighted in guile,


litum skipti.

shifted her shape.


1. sigtívar. The literal meaning of this epithet is "victorious gods". It is, however, by no means certain that the Æsir (or Vanir) are meant here. In Fáfnismál 24, Sigurður Fáfnisbani uses the word in a way surely referring to human warriors (i.e. the Niflungar). The epithet also occurs in Atlakviða 30, but a lacuna in the manuscript makes it impossible to pinpoint the context exactly, although common sense indicates a meaning of "Niflungar" rather than "gods". Rydberg has established that the Niflungar are direct descendants of one of the sons of Ívaldi. However tenuous, this might indicate that sigtívar are, indeed, the Ívaldasynir.

2. Naumu. Thus in most manuscripts. This puzzling name has been treated in detail by Egilsson in the Lexicon Poeticum. The meaning "giantess" is confirmed. However, it is also used in many kennings as an equivalent for "woman", and occurs in the Nafnaþulur among "kvenna heiti ókennd". Egilsson interprets this to mean that Nauma must originally have been the name of a "now unknown" goddess. Rydberg's interpretation of the mythology clarifies this obscurity:


The elf Völundur, a son of Ívaldi, is originally a friend of the gods, but later becomes their greatest foe. As an enemy of the gods, he turns into a giant, and is thereafter known as Þjazi. Iðunn is his half-sister and lover. After his retreat to the Wolfdales, Völundur manages, with the help of Loki, to get Iðunn to join him in this dark and cold location. Obviously Iðunn is not happy in her new abode, being used to light and warmth, so she is given a wolf's skin, after which she adapts, the vulpine nature being more suited to Niflhel. Völundur (elf) has turned into Þjazi (giant), and accordingly Iðunn (elf) has become Nauma (giantess).


3. viggjar að véum. A very difficult line to interpret. viggjar is not a proper genitive of vigg = horse. [Viggjar actually occurs once in the accepted ON poetical corpus, but has been emended to viggja. Such an emendation might be in order here.] Our suggestion is that vigg naumu (the giantess' horse) is the accepted "kenning" for "wolf". Vé viggjar naumu (home of the wolf) would thus be practically a synonym for "Wolfdales" (Úlfdalir), cp. stanza 6. [We are aware that such an interpretation calls for "Naumu" doing double duty, grammatically. In this case it seems quite natural.]


5.-8. These lines hardly need comment. Iðunn is given a wolf's skin, and changes her "litur". Her outward shape affects her inner personality. She looks like a wolf, and acts like one as well ("lék að lævísi"). Her lævísi surely echoes lævi in stanza 5.






Valdi Viðrir

Viðrir selected

4. gátt] gat many mss.

5. hvívetna] hvívitna one ms.

6. hvert] hvort most mss.



vörð Bifrastar

Bifröst's guardian


Gjallar sunnu

to inquire of


gátt að frétta,

the bearer of Gjöll's sun,


heims hvívetna

whatever she knew


hvert er vissi;

of the world's affairs;


Bragi og Loftur

Bragi and Loftur


báru kviðu.

bore witness.



1. Valdi Viðrir. Óðinn (Viðrir) decides that the situation calls for messengers to be sent into the Underworld, in order to seek news from a certain wise woman. His choice of messengers is rather strange: Heimdallur, the leader, takes Bragi and Loki as companions. Heimdallur is, perhaps, the most surprising choice here - he is not usually seen in a messenger's role. Bragi may be chosen because he is, after all, Iðunn's husband in Ásgarður. Loki seems a natural choice, being as often as not expected to help repairing the disastrous results of the mischief he has caused.


3. Gjallar sunnu gátt. A kenning for "woman". Gjöll's sun is, of course, gold. (Gold was commonly designated as "fire of the river/sea/ocean", cp. Gjallar eimur.) The bearer of gold is a woman. We believe the woman in question to be Urður herself (see stanza 2). She alone could be expected to hold the knowledge needed (see also stanza 11). She is, indeed, identical with the great Völva of Völuspá, whose memory reaches back to the beginning of time, and who has foreknowledge of Ragnarök. The terms used in the kenning seem to be intentionally chosen. Gjöll is an underworld river, which the souls of the dead must cross before reaching Urður's court of judgment, where they will be judged. The Sun is a source of heat, as is Urður's well in the south of the underworld. Thus the poet's choice of the individual parts of this kenning seems to invoke images of Urður, her purpose, and her position in the world picture.


It must be mentioned that most commentators take the woman to be Iðunn. We see this as an utter impossibility. We already know that Iðunn has transformed into a wolf-giantess, and has changed her inner nature, and is "delighting in guile". She would certainly be a very unlikely choice for the three messengers. See also stanza 11, which surely clinches the matter.


8. báru kviðu. A simple translation is hardly possible here. The proper meaning of kviðu is closer to "jury", or "verdict". Bearing in mind that there's a court of judgment at Urður's well, the poet may have intended to invoke an image, with Heimdallur acting as inquisitor, Urður as witness, and Loki and Bragi as jurors.



10. Sorcery they sang,

wolves they rode,

Rögnir and Reginn

(i.e. Volund and the Sons of Ivaldi),

against the world's house;

Óðinn listens

in Hliðskjálf;

watched the travellers'

distant journey.







Galdur gólu,

Sorcery they sang,

4. ranni] rann many mss.

7. leit] let all mss. [HS]



göndum riðu,

wolves they rode,


Rögnir og Reginn

Rögnir and Reginn,


að ranni heimis;

against the world's house;


hlustar Óðinn

Óðinn listens


Hliðskjálfu í;

in Hliðskjálf;


leit braut vera

watched the travellers'


langa vegu.

distant journey.




Most commentators have interpreted the first four lines as referring to the three messengers, Heimdallur, Bragi and Loki, loosely reading "rögnir og regin" as "the god and the gods". Others have attempted to read "Óðinn and the other gods" into this. We reject both. Wolf-riding creatures howling sorcery can absolutely not be gods. They must be the gods' enemies.


1.-2. Galdur gólu / göndum riðu. Anyone familiar with the conventions will know that these lines could never refer to gods. Wolf-riders are Giants, not Gods. Gods do not chant magical songs while riding on wolves.


3. Rögnir og Reginn. We believe these names to refer to the Ívaldasynir, probably Völundur and Egill. They are the ones who are magically sending the ice-cold Fimbulvetur forth towards the created universe. As enemies of the gods they may easily be referred to as "wights" (see stanza 2) or actual Giants, as implied here (Wolf-riders).

One reason for not accepting the reading regin here is that the poet replaces this word with the puzzling form raknar (see commentaries to stanza 19 and stanza 26).


4. að ranni heimis. It is tempting to emend heimis to heims. "Heims rann" would indicate Miðgarður, which is twice referred to as an house in Völuspá ("salur" in Völuspá 4, "hús" in Völuspá 17). However, the distinction between heimur (m.) = world and heimi (n.) = home is not clear-cut. In Hávamál 6 "heimis garðar" means "home". In Völuspá 57 "heimstöð" seems to be identical with "homestead", meaning Miðgarður. Add the puzzling "heimis skógar" of Hárbarðsljóð 44-45. This term ("heimis" woods) here means "cairns" (dysjar). Scholars have not been able to make sense here, and the text is usually emended to "heimis haugar" (totally unwarranted).


Rydberg has pointed out that many references to the Underworld have been erroneously interpreted as referring to graves or cairns (haugar, dysjar). Could heimis rann and heimis skógar be related? Is there a proper name "Heimir" behind all of this? If so, who is Heimir?


að. Translated here as against. Cp. Oddrúnargrátur 7, where "Oddrún gól galdra að Borgnýju" (Oddrún chanted magic "towards" Borgný). The negative intent calls for a slightly more aggressive word.

5. hlustar Óðinn. Óðinn can hear the sorcerous songs sung by the "wights", but he can't see the singers. They are situated in the darkest reaches of Niflhel, enveloped by fog and snowstorms.


7. leit braut vera. The emendation seems necessary. The switch from "hlustar" (present) to "leit" (past) is quite normal. Braut, i.e. "road, path", means "journey" here (cp. stanza 11, stanza 16) . Verar seems to be used loosely here as referring to male gods (Heimdallur, Bragi and Loki).


8. langa vegu. The grammatical construction is ambiguous. It can either mean that Óðinn is watching the messengers' journey from afar, or that he is watching their long journey.




Frá enn vitri

The wise one asked

3. burður] burða all mss. [EB/WR]

4.sinnar] sinna all mss. [HS]



veiga selju

the server of mead,


banda burður

scion of gods


og brauta sinnar,

and his road-companions,


hlýrnis, heljar,

if she knew the origin,


heims ef vissi

duration, and end


ártíð, æfi,

of heaven, of hel,



of the world.



1.-3. The wise ... scion of gods is, of course, Heimdallur, and his companions are Bragi and Loki (see stanza 9). They have arrived at Urður's well.


2. veiga selja. A common circumlocution for "woman". Here the woman is Urður, who was named in stanza 2, and referred to as "Gjallar sunnu gátt" in stanza 9. Urður is the server of a particularly potent mead, i.e. the powerful liquid from her well, called "Urðar megin" in Guðrúnarkviða in forna 21. Swans swim upon these waters, and are, indeed, born from it (Gylfaginning 16). The consistent associations with heat (see stanza 2) and brightness are not surprising, since Urður's well is situated in the south of the Underworld. (Cp. commentaries to stanza 6 (swan-maidens) and stanza 9 (Sunna). For clarification, refer to Mythological Background: Genealogy.)


3. burður. The emendation seems inescapable. The word can mean offspring, descendant. Scheving suggested emending to vörður, which seems unnecessarily drastic.


4. brauta sinnar. Literally "companions on the paths". Braut here means "journey", as in stanza 10 (cp. also stanza 16). In Völuspá 5, the Sun is the "sinni" (companion) of the Moon.


5.-8. hlýrnis, heljar, heims ... ártíð, æfi, aldurtila.. Space and Time are perfectly encapsulated in six words. The Heavens, the Underworld, and Miðgarður mid-way between the two, succinctly encompass the material universe. The beginning, life-time, and end, add the temporal dimension. For an extremely suggestive parallel, see commentary to stanza 12, line 3 (Gefjun).


5. heljar. Rydberg has convincingly shown how Snorri misinterpreted Hel (the Underworld) to mean Niflhel (the northernmost part of the same), making it equivalent to the Christian Hell. The actual Old Norse Hel is quite different - an aboriginal Underworld, ruled over by Mímir and Urður; and also an afterworld, inhabited by the souls of righteous human beings, who have departed from Miðgarður.

7. ártíð. The only recorded meaning for this word is "the anniversary of a man's death". Here it obviously means "early days, times of yore", as in árdagar (e.g. Völuspá 62). Cp. also Völuspá 3: Ár var alda.





Né mun mælti,

Her mind she spoke not,

3. Gefjun] givom all mss. [HS]

5. tíndust] týndust one ms.

7. eljun feldin some mss.



né mál knátti

nor was Gefjun able


Gefjun greiða,

to utter a word,


né glaum hjaldi;

nor express any joy;


tár af tíndust

tears trickled


törgum hjarnar,

from the skull's shields,



the mighty one



was bereft of power.



This subject matter of this stanza is continued in stanza 15. The two intervening stanzas are slightly problematic - see commentary on stanza 13.


3. Gefjun. It is hardly possible to avoid an emendation here. Out of several ones suggested by early commentators, we have chosen this one, offered by Scheving, but for reasons totally different from his. It seems possible that Gefjun may have been a recognized by-name of Urður. Gefjun is usually taken to be Frigg, or even Freyja, but this is hardly acceptable, because all three goddesses are present in the Lokasenna. In this poem, Óðinn says of Gefjun that "she knows the fate of all mankind". Who but Urður (stanza 2) could have such knowledge? After all, she and her sisters are the norns of fate, who create men's destinies (cp. Völuspá 20). Scheving quotes a very interesting passage from Breta Sögur, Chapter 9: "Síðan gekk Brutus til skála Gefjunar og hafði ker í hendi og vín í og blóð, og mælti svo: Þú er veist himinsins tíðindi og setning allrar veraldar, og kannt helvítis deili, seg mér mín forlög." [Brutus, carrying a cup containing wine and blood, addresses Gefjun thus: "You, who know the tidings of heaven, the arrangement of the world, and the features of hell, tell me my destiny."] Not only is this very suggestive of Gefjun being Urður, but also curiously echoes stanza 11: "hlýrnis, heljar, heims ef vissi ártíð, ævi, aldurtila".


4. glaum hjaldi. We can only guess here. The basic meaning of glaumur is "loud noise, merry noise", but the meaning "joy, happiness" is obvious from Guðrúnarkviða in forna 42: "glaums andvana" = cheerless, bereft of joy. Hjaldi is apparently a variant of "hjalaði".


6. The skull's shields are the eyes. A normal kenning. Strictly "hjarna" is the correct form here, but we have decided not to emend "hjarnar", since the meaning is obvious. An unknown form of "hjarni" [hjörn?] may have existed. (Cp. björn - bjarnar, bjarni - bjarna.)


7.-8. eljunfaldin / endurrjóða.. These two words are extremely difficult. Our translation should be taken as an attempt to give an approximate meaning. Eljunfaldin would seem to mean "power-hooded", "power-crowned". Urður is a powerful lady (the creator of destiny), so this seems quite possible. Endurrjóða is a rare, local word in the language, meaning "astonished; at a loss; powerless". The implication may be that she, who has the greatest power, the power of shaping the destiny of all living creatures, is now powerless. Some of these living creatures have violently changed their destinies. Urður can see the future, and what she sees is Ragnarök, the destruction of the world. Her poignant sorrow forces her to be silent, but her tears say more than words can express.




Eins kemur austan

As from the East,

1. eins] ein one ms.

3. akri] atri all mss. [HS]

4. hrímkalda] hrímkaldi one ms.

4. hverri] hver/hvör most mss.



úr Élivágum

out of Élivágar,


þorn af akri

comes a thorn from the field


þurs hrímkalda,

of the rime-cold giant,


hveim drepur dróttir

with which Dáinn


Dáinn allar

smites all men


mæran of Miðgarð

of glorious Midgard


með nátt hverri.

every night.



Stanzas 13 and 14 might seem misplaced here. Stanza 15 is a direct continuation of stanza 12. The first word of stanza 13, eins, i.e. "like, as", seems to refer to something missing from stanza 12. But possibly jamt, i.e. "likewise, thus", at the beginning of stanza 15, should be taken in conjunction with eins, as ... thus also (see 15).

1. Eins. To the messengers, Urður's powerless state is similar to that of one smitten by the "sleep-thorn" (see also next stanza).


1.-2. austan úr Élivágum. Jötunheimur is commonly referred to as being to the East of Miðgarður. The two realms were separated by the river (or ocean) Élivágar.


3.-8. thorn. It should be noted that Þorn is also a giant's name, and the Thorn-rune is called Þurs. The myth referred to by this stanza has not been preserved. The thorn plucked from the rime-giant's field is obviously a relation of the "sleep-thorn" of Icelandic folklore, which can be used to put a person to sleep by placing it in his ear. The dwarf Dáinn ("death") appears here in a role similar to that of the "sandman", or the Greek Hypnos (see commentary to stanza 3). His brother Dvalinn ("sleep") might be seen as a better choice here. However, we believe that the choice of idiom in this stanza indicates a sub-text with a different meaning. The ice-cold Fimbul-winter has arrived in Miðgarður, and mankind is freezing to death. Sleep and death are closely related poetically, and here a sleep-related myth is utilized to describe the ultimate sleep, i.e. death. The freezing cold is indicated by the thorn's origin: it comes from the field of the "rime-cold giant", and Élivágar "the waves of the ice storm". The verb "drepa", translated here as "smite", can also mean "kill". Finally, as mentioned above, Dáinn ("death") seems to have replaced his brother Dvalinn ("sleep"). The men of Miðgarður fall asleep as usual, but this is a sleep from which they will never wake up. (See also next stanza, which further describes the effects of sleepiness [and, perhaps, death from cold]).










Dofna þá dáðir,

Actions are numbed,

3. svimi] svrmi/svurmi/svimt mss.

4. örvit] Órunn one ms.

6. rýgjar] rygar most ms.

6. glyggvi] glygju/glyggju mss. [SB]



detta hendur,

the arms slump,


svífur of svimi

a swoon hovers over


sverð áss hvíta;

the white god's sword;


rennir örvit

stupor dispels


rýgjar glyggvi,

the wind of the giantess,


sefa sveiflum

the mind's workings


sókn gjörvallri.

of all mankind.


The commentary to stanza 13 is relevant to this stanza (see). On the surface we have a description of the effects of simple drowsiness, but it could just as well apply to death from hypothermia.


1. Dofna ... dáðir. Cp. dugir ... dvína in stanza 4.


4. the white god's sword. The white god is Heimdallur, and according to Snorri's Edda his sword is a permissible kenning for "head". The head is overcome by dizziness.

5. rennir. We take this to be the transitive form of "renna = run", meaning "make run, put to flight, chase away, dispel".


6. rýgjar glyggvi. An emendation seems unavoidable. A variant form "glyggi" is also possible. The manuscript readings do not make any sense. We know from Snorri's Edda that "wind (glygg) of the giantess (rýgur)" is a permissible kenning for "mind". The mytho-logic is lost, but many examples support Snorri's statement.

We have adopted Bugge's emendation glyggvi (dative) here, although we would prefer the genitive glyggs, which would result in the (slightly different) meaning: "the stupor of the mind dispels all thoughts ..."


7. sefa sveiflum. An emendation to sveiflun or sveiflan is tempting, but unnecessary. The "swingings" of the mind can only mean "thoughts", regardless of the linguistic straits.


8. sókn. According to the Skáldskaparmál, this word is poetically equivalent to "men".




Jamt þótti Jórunn,

Thus the gods perceived

1. Jórunn] Jorna/Tjorna/Jormi most mss.

6. syn var] þekkja some mss.

8. dugði] dygði many ms.



jólnum komin,

the state of Jórunn,


sollin sútum,

swollen with sorrow,


svars er ei gátu;

when no answer came forth;


sóttu því meir

they grew more persistent


að syn var fyrir,

as response was denied,


mun þó miður

but all their words


mælgi dugði.

were to no avail.


This stanza seems to pick up the thread from stanza 12. The exact purpose of the intervening stanzas (13-14) is not quite apparent. It seems obvious that Urður's silent state is due to her overwhelming grief. She has seen the impending destruction, and her tears express her feelings more eloquently than any words. So why do the divine messengers perceive her condition to be akin to that of a person smitten by the thorn of sleep? Are we supposed to assume that the three gods are unable to interpret the situation correctly? Whatever the true meaning, it should be noted that on their return to Valhöll (stanza 21) there is no mention of Urður's grief.


1. Jamt = "likewise, thus". This seemingly refers back to stanzas 13-14, and ultimately back to eins, the first word of stanza 13. The gods seem to interpret the Norn's condition as a kind of sleep.

1. Jórunn. Thus in one manuscript. All the others have seemingly meaningless forms: Jorna, Tjorna, Jormi. Jórunn is not attested to as a name of Urður (stanza 2), or any other goddess. She is, nevertheless, obviously identical to the female divinity of stanza 12.





Fór frumkvöðull

Went forth the leader

6. nefa] nepa most mss.

7. Grímnis] Grímis some mss.



fregnar brauta,

of the expedition,


hirðir að Herjans

guardian of Herjan's


horni Gjallar;



Nálar nefa

chose as companion


nam til fylgis,

the kinsman of Nál,


greppur Grímnis

Grímnir's poet


grund varðveitti.

guarded the ground.


2. fregnar brauta. Literally "news-paths, news-journey". For the usage of braut in this poem, see commentaries to stanza 10 and stanza 11.


3. Herjans = Óðins. Að with dative is here equivalent to the genitive, as Scheving has observed:

" ... ógurlega skothent hefði orðið, hefði sagt verið 'hirðir herjans horns gjallar'" (i.e. three genitives side by side would have been extremely awkward).


6. Nálar nefa. Nál was Loki's mother. Interestingly it is Loki who will face Heimdallur in the final battle of Ragnarök.


7.-8. greppur Grímnis. Óðinn's poet is, of course, Bragi. The phrase grund varðveitti is puzzling. Should we take this to mean that Bragi stayed behind in the Underworld (Jörmungrund)? Perhaps he intended to search out his wife? Note that báðir (both) in the stanza 17 seems to support this.



Vingólf tóku

Arrived at Vingólf

5. iðar] í-þar, í þar some mss.



Viðars þegnar,

Viðar's thains,


Fornjóts sefum

by Fornjót's sons


fluttir báðir;

both transported;


iðar ganga,

they walk within,


æsi kveðja

greet the Æsir


Yggjar þegar

forthwith at Yggur's


við ölteiti.

merry ale-feast.


The messengers return to Valhöll. The atmosphere drastically changes. In contrast to the previous scene where we found the Underworld goddess, "swollen with sorrow", weeping over the forthcoming destruction of the world, we suddenly enter Valhöll, where the gods are feasting and making merry, seemingly oblivious to the impending disaster.


1. Vingólf. Obviously Valhöll here. Some scholars regard Víngólf as the correct reading, and equate this with Óðinn's palace. Snorri mentions it three times in Gylfaginning, but seems to be just as puzzled as we are. In Gylfaginning 3, Vingólf is stated to be another name of Gimlé, a place where righteous souls stay with Óðinn in the afterlife. In Gylfaginning 14, Vingólf is the palace of the goddesses in Ásgarður. In Gylfaginning 20, we learn that the einherjar live in either Valhöll or Víngólf.


2. Viðars. Nowhere else does Viðarr occur as a name of Óðinn. Rask wanted to emend to Viðris, but Scheving and Lüning have pointed out that Viðurs would be a better choice.


3. Fornjóts sefum. The sons of Fornjótur are the winds, according to Skáldskaparmál 35 (Fornjóts synir), where the wind is also referred to as "bróðir Ægis og elds". Strictly speaking, the Wind (Kári) is only one of Fornjótur's three sons [the other two being Sea (Hlér/Ægir) and Fire (Logi)], but since Fornjótur's son = Wind, the poets obviously allowed themselves the license of referring to the winds as Fornjótur's sons.

It must be mentioned here that in the myth Kári (Wind) is the father of Frosti (Frost). Frosti's son is Snær (Snow). Snær's son is Þorri (see stanza 2). It is proper that the various manifestations of wintertime should be personified as rime-giants, and considering the fact that the Fimbulvetur (mestur Þorri) is the subject of this poem, we may assume that the invocation of these frosty rime-giants is not coincidental. [A variation of the myth has Jökull (Glacier) instead of Frosti, and mentions Þorri's three sisters: Fönn (snow-dune, deep snow), Drífa (snowfall), and Mjöll (fresh, powdery snow). A cold tribe, indeed.]


4. báðir. Although three messengers went forth in stanza 9, only two return. Bragi seems to have been left behind (see commentary to stanza 16).


5. iðar. Equivalent to innar. Seemingly a back-formation from "iðri (innri)", where nnr > ðr.


6. æsi. Strictly, this should read ásu, and might, perhaps, be thus emended. Rask emended to æsir, making the æsir greet the messengers rather than the other way around. This is, of course, possible.


7. þegar. "Already" is another possible meaning, i.e. the Æsir are already making merry at their ale-feast, when the messengers arrive.





Heilan Hangatý,

"Hale be, Hangatýr,



heppnastan ása,

happiest of Æsir,


virt öndvegis

may you preside over


valda báðu;

the mead at the high-seat!"


sæla að sumbli,

"Sit, gods, in delight


sitja día,

at the drinking-feast;


æ með Yggjungi

may you, with Yggjungur,


yndi halda.

enjoy eternal bliss!"


We have taken a liberty with the translation. The indirect speech of the original is almost impossible to translate. By changing the whole stanza into direct speech, it is possible to achieve a much more exact translation.


1. Hangatý. The Hanged God is Óðinn. There are various theories why this is so, but we believe the reference is to Óðinn's self-sacrifice, when, as a young god, he hung from the World Tree for nine nights, wounded with a spear, whereupon he gained the sacred drink from Mímir's well, and learned runic wisdom.


3. virt öndvegis. Óðinn, in Valhöll, sits in the high-seat (öndvegi) and is in charge of the holy mead. Virt öndvegis may possibly refer to the "best of meads", i.e. the liquid from Mímisbrunnur. The öndvegi was placed in the middle, like Mímisbrunnur.


7. Yggjungi. Another name of Óðinn. A possible meaning is "he who fears, worries". Such a meaning would be proper for Óðinn in his "old age", when he has realized that the end of the world is near. Cp. Völuspá 28: "yggjungur ása", perhaps "he who worries about (the fate of) the æsir".


We suspect an ironic sub-text here. The innocent merriment of the gods here is surely meant to disturbingly oppose the utter despair of the underworld goddess of stanzas 12 and 15. Boldly, the three stages of Óðinn may be hinted at: The young Óðinn, who at the beginning of time sacrifices himself (Hangatýr), in order to gain the wisdom needed to become the king of the world; the middle-aged, carefree Óðinn, totally in charge, and freely giving endless drinking parties; and finally the old, fearful Óðinn (Yggjungur), who has realized that he is no longer in charge, and that "his" world is now heading towards destruction, and that he can't do anything about it.





Seated on benches

2. að] er some mss.

5. að] af onee ms.

8. Mímis] minnis some mss.



að Bölverks ráði

at Bölverk's bidding


sjöt Sæhrímni

the tribe of gods


saddist rakna;

were with Sæhrímnir sated;


Skögul að skutlum

Skögul, at the tables,


skaptker Hnikars

with horns meted out


mat af miði

Mímir's mead


Mímis hornum.

from Hnikar's vat.


1. Bölverks. Óðinn was known by this name (Evil-worker) to Suttung's sons, when he stole the mead from them. See Hávamál 104-110.


3. sjöt. A peculiar use of the word. In Völuspá 41 "sjöt ragna" means the home of gods, i.e. the heavens. In Völuspá in Skamma 15, Heimdallur is said to be "sifjaður sjötum gjörvöllum" (related, by kinship, to all the "houses"), and this is generally taken to imply a secondary meaning of "men". We, however, believe that sjöt (house) may have had the extended meaning of "household; family, tribe", as it does in English, and, undoubtedly, in other languages as well. [The Ancient Greek "oikos" has exactly the same range of meaning.] Heimdallur is, indeed, related to all three families of men, according to the Rígsþula. Similarly, in stanza 20, a word meaning "temple of a goddess" is used in the meaning "goddess".


3. Sæhrímni. The name of a boar in Ásgarður, which supplies the gods with a never-diminishing source of meat. This creature is purely allegorical.


4. rakna. This peculiar spelling of "ragna" was obviously noticed by the scribe of the manuscrict reproduced above, since he has written "ragna" in the margin. Bugge notes the spelling rekin for regin in Gísla Saga. See also stanza 26, and compare the related forms Rögnir and Reginn in stanza 10.


5. Skögul. The name of a Valkyrie. The Valkyries serve mead in Valhöll.


6. skaptker. An older, and more "correct" form is skapker.


6. Hnikars. Óðinn, once again.


8. Mímis. Some mss. have minnis, and this reading has been adopted by most commentators, who read the word in conjunction with hornum. "Minni" can mean "remembrance; remembrance-toast". We, however, prefer to read Mímis in conjunction with miði. The mead of Mímir, i.e. the liquid contained in the central well, is a precious drink, a veritable prototype of all meads. [Cp. the "soma" of ancient Indian religions, as described in the Rig Veda, and the Ancient Greek "ambrosia".] We do not exclude the possibility that "Mímir's horns" could refer to a lost mytheme. One ms. of Gróugaldur 14 contains the phrase "Mímis hjarta", where another ms. has "minnis hjarta". Neither phrase has been explained by scholars. Many aspects of the myth surrounding Mímir are obscure. Rydberg unveiled a number of these, but unfortunately his insights have not inspired the academics.


5.-8. Skögul ... hornum. The syntax is difficult, but not illogical. Skögul, with drinking-horns, measured out Mímir's mead from Óðinn's mead-vat.





Margs of frágu

Much was asked

7. of fram] offram, ofram, oframm mss.

8. húma] himin, himja, hinna mss.



máltíð yfir

during the banquet


Heimdall há goð,

of Heimdallur by the gods,


hörgar Loka,

of Loki by the goddesses,


spár eða spakmál

whether the woman had spoken


sprund ef kenndi,

prophecies or wisdom;


undorn of fram,

all day they asked


unz nam húma.

until twilight approached.


3. Heimdall. The name of the whitest of the Æsir is usually interpreted as "he who illuminates the world". This meaning of the word is by no means certain. Ursula Dronke (in The Poetic Edda, Vol. II, p. 107) has convincingly suggested that the meaning is "world-tree", and that Heimdallur is a personification (hypostasis) of this.


4. hörgar. Apparently used for goddesses here. This usage is otherwise unknown. Hörgur means "temple", and scholars have concluded that the word specifically indicates a temple devoted to the worship of a female divinity. Cp. Gylfaginning 14: "Annan sal gerðu þeir, það var hörgur er gyðjurnar áttu." (They built another hall, an "hörgur" which belonged to the goddesses.) We can offer no convincing explanation of this odd usage, but it peculiarly echoes the usage of sjöt (house) in stanza 19. There, a word meaning "house" seems to be used to mean "household, family". Here a word meaning "temple" seems to be used to mean "the divinity worshipped in the temple".


7. undorn. Untranslatable. This term can be used to indicate mid-morning, noon, or mid-afternoon. Possibly it is loosely employed here to indicate the afternoon, in which case the meaning might be "throughout the afternoon".

7. fram. The meaning of the word, when temporal, is not easily established. Cp. however Brot af Sigurðarkviðu 12: "fram var kvelda" = it was late in the evening. Perhaps of fram might be taken to be equivalent to fram yfir, meaning "past, throughout and beyond".

8. húma. An emendation seems unavoidable. The readings of the mss. make no sense at all.





Illa létu

Badly, they deemed,



orðið hafa

had gone amiss



their futile errand



of little glory;


vant að væla

it would prove hard


verða myndi,

to find the ploy needed


svo af svanna

to get an answer


svars of gæti.

from the woman.









Ansar Ómi,

Ómi answers,



allir hlýddu:

all listened:


"Nótt skal nema

"Night is the time


nýræða til;

for new advice;


hugsi til myrgins

think until morning


hver sem orkar

each that is able


ráð til leggja

to provide counsel


rausnar ásum!"

for the Æsir's benefit!"


1. Ómi. Óðinn.


3. Nótt skal nema ... This proverbial expression is equivalent to the English "Let's sleep on it" - the night will provide new ideas. Stanza 23 describes the setting of the sun and the advance of night.


8. rausnar. The word means "magnificence". This is quite acceptable. A possible emendation would be "lausnar" (solution; salvation; deliverance).






Rann með röstum,

Ran along the eddies

2. móður] móðir one ms. mosa(r) some mss.

3. fóður-] föður possible reading in most mss.

3. -larður] lærður one ms. jarðar one ms.

4. valla] valda variant in some mss.



Rindar móður

of Rindur's plains



the wolf's tired


fenris valla;

food supply;


gengu frá gildi

the gods left


goðin, kvöddu

the feast and saluted


Hropt og Frigg,

Hroptur and Frigg,


sem Hrímfaxa fór.

as Hrímfaxi ascended.


An exact translation is impossible. The textual problems of the first half are overwhelming. However, it seems obvious that the stanza describes the setting of the Sun in the West, as Night ascends in the East. In stanza 22 the advent of twilight signaled the end of the gods' banquet. Here the gods take leave of their hosts (Óðinn and Frigg).


1. röstum. Röst can mean "a current or stream in the ocean; eddy, whirlpool".


2. Rindar. Not much is known about this obscure goddess. Upon her Óðinn fathered Váli, Baldur's avenger. From Baldurs Draumar 11 we know that she lives in the West ("Rindur ber Vála / í vestursölum"), meaning that she is of the clan of the Vanir, whose realm is placed at the westernmost borders of the Underworld. [On the basis of Saxo's account of "Rinda" in Book III of the Gesta Danorum, we see her as identical with "Billings mær" in Hávamál 97.]. She may possibly also be identified with Sunna, Sól's daughter (see Mythological Background: Genealogy).


2. móður. Four mss. have mosa or mosar, which makes no sense at all. A couple of mss. have móðr, which could be the adjective móður (tired; panting), or the genitive of "móðir" (mother). Scheving, Munch and Erichsen prefer "móðr" (tired). Gunnar Pálsson, Vídalín and Rask prefer "móðir" (mother). The various resulting possibilities will be treated below.


3. fóðurlarður. Not an easy word to explain. We see it as identical to the English "fodder-lard" or "fodder-larder". The problem can not be easily resolved. For variations, see below.


4. fenris. Fenrir (Fenrisúlfur) is the mighty wolf, enemy of the gods. The word can also be used to refer to any wolf, here the wolf chasing the sun.


8. Hrímfaxa. Extremely puzzling. Hrímfaxi is the name of Night's horse. A nominative "Hrímfaxi" would solve the problem, but all mss. agree. Could Hrímfaxa be a feminine formation (meaning Night)?


APPENDIX: Textual problems of Stanza 23


1. móður can be read as a masculine adjective "móður" (tired). This would need to be read in conjunction with "fóðurlarður" (also masculine). The Sun is tired after her passage across the sky (or panting, trying to outrun the wolf).


2. móður can be read as a genitive of "móðir" (mother's). This can be joined with "Rindar", giving a meaning "of the mother of Rindur". So who is the mother of Rindur? She may be the Sun, in which case "rastir Rindar móður" could mean "the paths of the Sun". Not likely.


3. móðir may be the nominative of "móðir" (mother). "The mother of Rindur". See 2. above. "The mother of Rindur ran along the paths/eddies" is not a tempting choice.


4. In lines 3-4, fóðurlarður fenris may be seen as a kenning for the Sun. The Sun is the wolf's dinner (see above).


5. fenris vellir may be a kenning for "sky, heaven", if the wolf is seen as chasing the sun every day. If so, we would need to assume a "dovetailing" or a "double-duty" kenning, where "fóðurlarður fenris" = the wolf's dinner = SUN; and "the wolf's plains = SKY.


6. rastir Rindar valla (chosen here) = "the eddies of Rindur's plains" = the swirling seas in the West (at sunset). [Assuming that "Rindar vellir" equals "Vestursalir", see above.] If you think our preferred reading is dubious, please look at Bugge's reading first:


7. Bugge suggests: "Fenris fóður (i.e. sun) rann með röstum Rindar (i.e. westwards) ... sem móðir Jarðar (Night) fór Hrímfaxa (i.e. with/by means of Hrímfaxi). Ingenious, but hardly possible.





Dýrum settan

Delling's son




Dellings mögur

urged on his horse,


jó fram keyrði

well adorned



with precious stones;


mars of Manheim

the horse's mane glows


mön af glóar,

above Man-world,


dró leik Dvalins

the steed in his chariot


drösull í reið.

drew Dvalin's playmate.


In the previous stanza the sun was setting, and night advancing. Now night has passed, and the day comes forth.


2. Delling's son. This is Dagur (Day) - see Gylfaginning 10, Vafþrúðnismál 25. Little is is known of Dellingur, but we believe him to be identical with Óðinn's brother, Lóðurr.


5. Manheim. Could be amended to Mannheim, but according to the Lexicon Poeticum this spelling is attested to.


6. mön af glóar. According to Gylfaginning 10 and Vafþrúðnismál 12, Dagur's horse is called Skinfaxi (Shining-mane), and "the light of his mane illuminates both heaven and earth".


7. Dvalins leik. Presumably this means Dagur. In Alvíssmál 16 the Sun is called "Dvalins leika" (neuter), i.e. Dvalin's toy. The associated "leika" (feminine) means playmate (female). Interestingly, the masculine "leikur" does not normally mean a playmate (male), as the usage here seems to indicate. Unfortunately the myth behind these appellations is lost to us, and the problem can not easily be resolved. [One possibility is that the kenning does not refer to Dagur at all. It may refer to Sól (Sun). In this case Dagur would have to be envisaged as riding the horse, pulling a chariot in which Sól sits.]


8. drösull. One of various names for a horse. It might, actually, be a proper name of Dagur's horse. The Kálfsvísa (a catalog of horses' names) states "Dagur reið Drösli". The word is a back-formation from drasill (pl. dröslar) (cp. Yggdrasill, see commentary to stanza 6).






At Jörmungrund's

2. jódyr] iadyr, iaþir two mss.

2. nyrðra] neðra var. some mss.

6. gýgjur] gýgur one ms.



í jódyr nyrðra

northern border,


und rót yztu

under the outermost root



of the noble tree,


gengu til rekkju

went to their couches


gýgjur og þursar,

giantesses and giants,


náir, dvergar

dead men, dwarves,


og dökkálfar.

and dark-elves.


While Day ascends into the upper worlds, Night descends towards the netherworld. Morning in the upper worlds (Miðgarður and Ásgarður) is equivalent to evening in the Underworld. In this stanza, the various Underworld creatures retire, as Night returns to her palace.


1. Jörmungrundar. Usually translated as "spacious earth; immense surface" and taken to mean the Earth (Miðgarður). We consider this to be a formal name of the Underworld, the largest of worlds, older than either Ásgarður or Miðgarður. The three Wells are situated here: Hvergelmir in the North, Mímisbrunnur in the Middle, Urðarbrunnur in the South. The World Tree is rooted in Jörmungrund, via the three Wells. Mímir and Urður are rulers of the Middle and Southern realms. Their territory is known by various names: Iðavellir, Glasisvellir, Ókólnir, Hel, etc. This is the afterworld, a pleasant realm where the souls of the righteous spend their afterlife. At the northern border of Mímir's realm there is a huge mountain-range (Niðafjöll). The realm to the north of these mountains is called Niflhel, a cold and murky region, inhabited by Hrímþursar and other vile creatures. The souls of sinners spend the afterlife here.


2. jódyr. An extremely problematic word, which can only mean "horse-door". It actually occurs in the Codex Regius ms. of Völuspá 5: himin iodyr, while the Hauksbók ms. has ioður. The Codex Regius reading is traditionally emended to jöður, and we have accordingly based our translation on this.


We must, however, point out that the myth may have recognized the term "horse-door". Day, Sun, and Night all reside in the Underworld. They ascend regularly from the lower world to the upper, and vice versa; and they are all pulled by horses. It is not unlikely that the mythological world-picture included "horse-doors", through which the divine horses must enter/exit, when they pass the horizon. This would indicate at least two "horse-doors", one in the East and another in the West. [It must be mentioned that in the northern latitude of Iceland, the sun rises in NNE in midsummer, SSE in midwinter.]


There may also have been "horse-doors" in the North and South. We reject Gylfaginning's interpretation of Bifröst as the rainbow. Rydberg has shown that Bifröst must have been thought of as a solid bridge, reaching from the northernmost edge of the Underworld, up to Ásgarður, and down to the southernmost edge of the Underworld. The gods ride up and down this bridge every day on their horses.


3. und rót yztu. This would be the northernmost root of Yggdrasill, associated with Hvergelmir, and the northern realm of the Underworld, Niflhel. According to Rydberg, Hvergelmir is situated on top the Niðafjöll, the mountain range separating Mímir's realm from Niflhel.


6. gýgjur. Grammatically, this is a "modern" plural form of gýgur. A correct plural would be "gýgir" or "gýgjar".


7. náir. Literally "corpses".


8. dökkálfar. Dark Elves. Almost certainly "fallen" Elves, i.e Elves residing in Niflhel, i.e. the renegade Ívaldasynir.


In Gylfaginning 17, Snorri's Ljósálfar (Light-Elves) and Dökkálfar (Dark-Elves) seem to be an interpretative attempt to juxtapose Angels and Demons. The Christian myth of fallen Angels may have influenced Snorri (not unappropriately). Snorri also refers to Svartálfar (Black-Elves), and apparently equates them with dwarves. Snorri's knowledge of elves and dwarves was almost non-existent; he frequently confuses the two tribes. This confusion carried over into later times - dwarves and elves became hopelessly confused with each other.


All the creatures mentioned here reside in the Underworld. Most of them can be located in Niflhel. Giants and giantesses live in Niflhel. Some of the "náir" (the sinners) live in Niflhel. The Dwarves are Mímir's sons. According to Rydberg their abodes are situated in the southern slopes of the Niðafjöll, close to Hvergelmir.





Risu raknar,

The gods arose,

4. nam] rann some mss.

4. Árgjöll] ár gjöll most mss.

8. Himinbjarga] himni bjarga one ms.




rann álfröðull,

álfröðull ran,


norður að Niflheim

njóla advanced


njóla sótti;

north towards Niflheimur;


upp nam Árgjöll

Úlfrún's son


Úlfrúnar niður,

lifted up Árgjöll,



the mighty hornblower



in Himinbjörg.



The theme of stanza 25 continues. The sun rises, and night seeks the north of Niflheimur. Heimdallur blows his horn to announce the coming of day.


1. raknar. Presumably "regin" (gods). This strange formation is not easy to account for (cp. also rakna in stanza 19 and the related forms Rögnir and Reginn in stanza 10). The proper form is regin in the nominative, ragna in the genitive. The forms rögn, rögna are also known. Raknar might be seen as a back-formation from ragna, but the reason for replacing the g with k is not clear. [Rakni is the name of a "sea-king", but this fact is hardly relevant.]


2. álfröðull. "elf-sun", known as a name of the Sun from Skírnismál 4 and Vafþrúðnismál 47. Cp. röðull in stanza 5.


3. Niflheim. Equivalent to Niflhel, the northern part of the Underworld. The accusative is puzzling here, a dative (Niflheimi) being expected, but similar examples may be found in the poetry. See, for example, Atlakviða 30: Atli inn ríki / reið Glaum mönum.


4. njóla. A name of the night, according to Alvíssmál 30.


5. Árgjöll. Apparently a variant name of Gjallarhorn, "the early-loud-sounding". Heimdallur is seen as announcing the arrival of day, and the sound of the horn is equivalent to the cock's crow. Indeed, we believe that Heimdallur may have been seen as a cock, and that in this role he is referred to in Völuspá 43: "Gól um ásum / Gullinkambi / sá vekur hölda / að Herjaföðurs" (Gullinkambi crowed in Ásgarður, he awakens Óðinn's men). This same horn will ultimately be used to signal the advent of Ragnarök, which the events of this poem forebode, and the poet surely alludes to this.


6. Úlfrún. One of Heimdallur's nine mothers, according to Völuspá in Skamma 7, 9.


8. Himinbjarga. Heimdallur's abode near the northern end of the great bridge, Bifröst.



Mythological Background



Rydberg has given us an extremely convincing interpretation of the Old Norse world-picture, based on the Eddaic Poems, rather than Snorri's Gylfaginning. Rydberg demonstrates that Snorri cannot be relied upon in every instance, and also shows clearly why and how Snorri misinterpreted the data. We cannot possibly dwell on the various details here; a concise description of the world-picture will have to do:


The Underworld (Jörmungrund, Hel) is the oldest of worlds. The three wells that nourish the three roots of the world-tree (Askur Yggdrasils) are situated there. The Northern Well (Hvergelmir) is cold, the Southern Well (Urðarbrunnur) is warm. The Well in the middle (Mímisbrunnur) is the well of creative/generative power. The liquids contained in these wells are extremely potent, and a mixture of all three even more so.


Snorri fatally misunderstood some facts regarding mythic geography, as expressed in the poems, probably because he equated Hel with the Christian Hell. His account of the three roots is confusing and self-contradictory. Even if we take it seriously, and disregard the contradictions, we end up with a horizontal world-tree, instead of the expected vertical one. This is clearly not acceptable.


The World Tree, springing from the three Wells, grows upwards towards heaven. At the very top we find Ásgarður. Midway we find Miðgarður, the home of men. At the bottom we find the vast Underworld.


The Middle and Southern realms of the Underworld are ruled jointly by Mímir (middle) and his kinswoman Urður (south). Hvergelmir (north) is situated on top of Niðafjöll, a vast mountain range separating Niflhel from Hel.


The bridge Bifröst reaches from the northernmost edge of the Underworld (where Heimdallur resides in his palace Himinbjörg) all the way up to Ásgarður, and down to the southernmost edge of the Underworld.


In Mímir's and Urður's realm, properly called Hel, we find the Iðavellir, where the gods enjoyed their carefree existence, before the upper worlds were created. Here is Ókólnir (Never-cold), the vast and pleasant plain where righteous men spend their afterlife. After death each human being must descend to the Underworld, and be judged at Urður's great court near Urðarbrunnur. A chosen few, the noble warriors, are appointed to Valhöll, where they join the Einherjar. Out of the remaining majority, the blameless are allowed to join their ancestors in the glittering plains, ruled over by Mímir and Urður. Those who have committed mortal sins, however, are directed to the third realm, situated in the northernmost part of the Underworld. This is Niflhel, separated from Hel by a vast range of mountains called Niðafjöll. Niflhel, dark, cold and foggy, is the home of Hrímþursar, a world of terror and torture (equivalent to Snorri's "Hel").








At the beginning of time the creative power of the Central Well interacted with the element of Heat, and a living creature was born, the cow Auðhumla. She licked forth a human-like being, a divine creature called Búri. Búri's son, Borr, fathered Óðinn and his brothers.

The creative power of the Central Well also interacted with the element of Cold, producing another living creature, Ymir, the forefather of all giants. The benevolent Mímir and Bestla (Óðinn's mother) were born from Ymir's left armpit. The forefather of the malevolent Hrímþursar (Rime-Giants) was born from Ymir's feet. Urður was also born from Ymir, perhaps from his right armpit.



Mímir, guardian of the Well of creative wisdom, drank every day of the powerful mead contained in Mímisbrunnur (Óðhrærir, Són), the most precious liquid of creation, and thereby became deeply wise and skilled in creative craft. He engendered seven sons, known collectively as Dwarves, who also partook of the creative mead from the well. They became extremely skilled in handicraft, master-smiths who created all that adorns the world, grass and flowers as well as wondrous jewels and magical implements from fire, gold and other elements.


Mímir also begat a daughter, Nótt (Night). She was destined to become the foremother of a mighty clan of gods. By Lóðurr, Óðinn's first brother, she bore three children, Sól (Sun), Máni (Moon) and Dagur (Day). By Hænir, Óðinn's second brother, she bore two children, Njörður and Frigg. These gods, and their offspring are second only to the Æsir, and are collectively known as Vanir. The Vanir reside in the West of the Underworld, and their kingdom is called Vanaheimur. A marriage of brother and sister is quite normal amongst the Vanir. Njörður and Frigg bore two children, Freyr and Freyja.

From Sól's union with Máni two daughters were born, Nanna and Sunna. Sól's union with Dagur resulted in a new tribe of divine beings, the Elves. The Elves are the fairest of all beings. The most ancient patriarch of the elves, Ívaldi, fathered, upon a giantess, his three sons, Völundur, Egill and Slagfinnur. Raised in Mímir's palace, they were great artisans and creators, especially Völundur, who studied under Sindri, the mightiest of Mímir's sons. As master-smiths the sons of Ívaldi are second only to the Dwarves. The Elves' kingdom is situated in the eastern part of Jörmungrund, and is called Álfheimur.

Ívaldi also united with Sunna. Three daughters were born to them: Iðunn, Sif and Auða. Half-sisters of the Ívaldasynir, they were raised at Urður's palace, near the warm Urðarbrunnur, home of swans. They are sometimes referred to as Swan-maidens.






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[Hrafnagaldur Óðins: A Study Guide]