Grímnismál – The Ballad of Grimnir

Of the sons of King Hrauthung*

King Hrauthung had two sons: one was called Agnar, and the other Geirröth. Agnar was ten winters old, and Geirröth eight. Once they both rowed in a boat with their fishing-gear to catch little fish; and the wind drove them out into the sea. In the darkness of the night they were wrecked on the shore; and going up, they found a poor peasant, with whom they stayed through the winter. The housewife took care of Agnar, and the peasant cared for Geirröth, and taught him wisdom. In the spring the peasant gave him a boat; and when the couple led them to the shore, the peasant spoke secretly with Geirröth. They had a fair wind, and came to their father’s landing-place. Geirröth was forward in the boat; he leaped up on land, but pushed out the boat and said, “Go thou now where evil may have thee!” The boat drifted out to sea. Geirröth, however, went up to the house, and was well received, but his father was dead. Then Geirröth was made king, and became a renowned man.

Othin and Frigg sat in Hlithskjolf and looked over all the worlds. Othin said: “Seest thou Agnar, thy foster ling, how he begets children with a giantess in the cave? But Geirröth, my fosterling, is a king, and now rules over his land.” Frigg said: “He is so miserly that he tortures his guests if he thinks that too many of them come to him.” Othin replied that this was the greatest of lies; and they made a wager about this matter. Frigg sent her maid-servant, Fulla, to Geirröth. She bade the king beware lest a magician who was come thither to his land should bewitch him, and told this sign concerning him, that no dog was so fierce as to leap at him. Now it was a very great slander that King Geirröth was not hospitable; but nevertheless he had them take the man whom the dogs would not attack. He wore a dark-blue mantle and called himself Grimnir, but said no more about himself, though he was questioned. The king had him tortured to make him speak, and set him between two fires, and he sat there eight nights. King Geirröth had a son ten winters old, and called Agnar after his father’s brother. Agnar went to Grimnir, and gave him a full horn to drink from, and said that the king did ill in letting him be tormented with out cause. Grimnir drank from the horn; the fire had come so near that the mantle burned on Grimnir’s back. He spake:

1. Hot art thou, fire! | too fierce by far;
Get ye now gone, ye flames!
The mantle is burnt, | though I bear it aloft,
And the fire scorches the fur.

2. ‘Twixt the fires now | eight nights have I sat,
And no man brought meat to me,
Save Agnar alone, | and alone shall rule
Geirröth’s son o’er the Goths.

3. Hail to thee, Agnar! | for hailed thou art
By the voice of Veratyr;
For a single drink | shalt thou never receive
A greater gift as reward.

4. The land is holy | that lies hard by
The gods and the elves together;
And Thor shall ever | in Thruthheim dwell,
Till the gods to destruction go.

5. Ydalir call they | the place where Ull
A hall for himself hath set;
And Alfheim the gods | to Freyr once gave
As a tooth-gift in ancient times.

Prose. The texts of the two manuscripts differ in many minor details. Hrauthung: this mythical king is not mentioned elsewhere. Geirröth: the manuscripts spell his name in various ways {footnote p. 86} Frigg: Othin’s wife. She and Othin nearly always disagreed in some such way as the one outlined in this story. Hlithskjolf (“Gate-Shelf”): Othin’s watch-tower in heaven, whence he can overlook all the nine worlds; cf. Skirnismol, introductory prose. Grimnir: “the Hooded One.”

2. In the original lines 2 and 4 are both too long for the meter, and thus the true form of the stanza is doubtful. For line 4 both manuscripts have “the land of the Goths” instead of simply “the Goths.” The word “Goths” apparently was applied indiscriminately to any South-Germanic people, including the Burgundians as well as the actual Goths, and thus here has no specific application; cf. Gripisspo, 35 and note.

3. Veratyr (“Lord of Men”): Othin. The “gift” which Agnar receives is Othin’s mythological lore.

4. Thruthheim (“the Place of Might”): the place where Thor, the strongest of the gods, has his hall, Bilskirnir, described in stanza 24.

5. Ydalir (“Yew-Dales”): the home of Ulf, the archer among the gods, a son of Thor’s wife, Sif, by another marriage. The wood of the yew-tree was used for bows in the North just as it was long afterwards in England. Alfheim: the home of the elves. Freyr: cf. Skirnismol, introductory prose and note. Tooth-gift: the custom of making a present to a child when it cuts its first tooth is, according to Vigfusson, still in vogue in Iceland.]

* Title added to match the Old Norse, Bellows had ommitted the title.

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