Help on Hávamál

[1. This stanza is quoted by Snorri, the second line being omitted in most of the Prose Edda manuscripts.

2. Probably the first and second lines had originally nothing to do with the third and fourth, the last two not referring to host or guest, but to the general danger of backing one’s views with the sword.]

[6. Lines 5 and 6 appear to have been added to the stanza.]

[12. Some editors have combined this stanza in various ways with the last two lines of stanza it, as in the manuscript the first two lines of the latter are abbreviated, and, if they belong there at all, are presumably identical with the first two lines of stanza 10.]

[13. The heron: the bird of forgetfulness, referred to in line 1. Gunnloth: the daughter of the giant Suttung, from whom Othin won the mead of poetry. For this episode see stanzas 104-110.

14. Fjalar: apparently another name for Suttung. This stanza, and probably 13, seem to have been inserted as illustrative.]

[25. The first two lines are abbreviated in the manuscript, but are doubtless identical with the first two lines of stanza 24.

27. The last two lines were probably added as a commentary on lines 3 and 4.]

[36. The manuscript has “little” in place of “a hut” in line I, but this involves an error in the initial-rhymes, and the emendation has been generally accepted.

37. Lines I and 2 are abbreviated in the manuscript, but are doubtless identical with the first two lines of stanza 56.

39. In the manuscript this stanza follows stanza 40.]

[40. The key-word in line 3 is missing in the manuscript, but editors have agreed in inserting a word meaning “generous.” 41. In line 3 the manuscript adds “givers again” to “gift-givers.”]

[55. The first line is abbreviated in the manuscript.]

[56. The first line is abbreviated in the manuscript.]

[61. The fifth line is probably a spurious addition.

62. This stanza follows stanza 63 in the manuscript, but there are marks therein indicating the transposition.

65. The manuscript indicates no lacuna (lines I and 2). Many editors have filled out the stanza with two lines from late paper manuscripts, the passage running:

“A man must be watchful | and wary as well,
And fearful of trusting a friend.”]

[70. The manuscript has “and a worthy life” in place of “than to lie a corpse” in line I, but Rask suggested the emendation as early as 1818, and most editors have followed him.]

[73-74. These seven lines are obviously a jumble. The two lines of stanza 73 not only appear out of place, but the verse form is unlike that of the surrounding stanzas. In 74, the second line is clearly interpolated, and line I has little enough connection with lines 3, 4 and 5. It looks as though some compiler (or copyist) had inserted here various odds and ends for which he could find no better place.

75. The word “gold” in line 2 is more or less conjectural, the manuscript being obscure. The reading in line 4 is also doubtful.]

[76. in the manuscript this stanza follows 79, the order being: 77, 78, 76, 80, 79, 81. Fitjung (“the Nourisher”): Earth.

79. This stanza is certainly in bad shape, and probably out of place here. Its reference to runes as magic signs suggests that it properly belongs in some list of charms like the Ljothatal (stanzas 147-165). The stanza-form is so irregular as to show either that something has been lost or that there have been interpolations. The manuscript indicates no lacuna; Gering fills out the assumed gap as follows:

“Certain is that which is sought from runes, The runes–,” etc.]

[81. With this stanza the verse-form, as indicated in the translation, abruptly changes to Malahattr. What has happened seems to have been something like this. Stanza 80 introduces the idea of man’s love for woman. Consequently some reciter or compiler (or possibly even a copyist) took occasion to insert at this point certain stanzas concerning the ways of women. Thus stanza 80 would account for the introduction of stanzas 81 and 82, which, in turn, apparently drew stanza 83 in with them. Stanza 84 suggests the fickleness of women, and is immediately followed–again with a change of verse-form–by a list of things equally untrustworthy (stanzas 85-90). Then, after a few more stanzas on love in the regular measure of the Hávamál (stanza 91-9s), is introduced, by way of illustration, Othin’s story of his {footnote p. 46} adventure with Billing’s daughter (stanzas 96-102). Some such process of growth, whatever its specific stages may have been, must be assumed to account for the curious chaos of the whole passage from stanza 81 to stanza 102.

84. Lines 3 and 4 are quoted in the Fostbræthrasaga.

85. Stanzas 85-88 and go are in Fornyrthislag, and clearly come from a different source from the rest of the Hávamál.]

[87. The stanza is doubtless incomplete. Some editors add from a late paper manuscript two lines running:

“In a light, clear sky | or a laughing throng, In the bowl of a dog | or a harlot’s grief!”

89. This stanza follows stanza 89 in the manuscript. Many editors have changed the order, for while stanza 89 is pretty clearly an interpolation wherever it stands, it seriously interferes with the sense if it breaks in between 87 and 88. ]

[96. Here begins the passage (stanzas 96-102) illustrating the falseness of woman by the story of Othin’s unsuccessful love affair with Billing’s daughter. Of this person we know nothing beyond what is here told, but the story needs little comment.]

[102. Rask adds at the beginning of this stanza two lines from a late paper manuscript, running:

He makes these two lines plus lines I and 2 a full stanza, and line 3, 4, 5, and 6 a second stanza.

103. With this stanza the subject changes abruptly, and apparently the virtues of fair speech, mentioned in the last three lines, account for the introduction, from what source cannot be known, of the story of Othin and the mead of song (stanzas 104-110).

104. The giant Suttung (“the old giant”) possessed the magic mead, a draught of which conferred the gift of poetry. Othin, desiring to obtain it, changed himself into a snake, bored his way through a mountain into Suttung’s home, made love to the giant’s daughter, Gunnloth, and by her connivance drank up all the mead. Then he flew away in the form of an eagle, leaving Gunnloth to her fate. While with Suttung he assumed the name of Bolverk (“the Evil-Doer”).

105. Rati (“the Traveller”): the gimlet with which Othin bored through the mountain to reach Suttung’s home.]

[106. Probably either the fourth or the fifth line is a spurious addition.

107. Othrörir: here the name of the magic mead itself, whereas in stanza 141 it is the name of the vessel containing it. Othin had no intention of bestowing any of the precious mead upon men, but as he was flying over the earth, hotly pursued by Suttung, he spilled some of it out of his mouth, and in this way mankind also won the gift of poetry.

108. Hor: Othin (“the High One”). The frost-giants, Suttung’s kinsmen, appear not to have suspected Othin of being identical with Bolverk, possibly because the oath referred to in stanza I to was an oath made by Othin to Suttung that there was no such person as Bolverk among the gods. The giants, of course, fail to get from Othin the information they seek concerning Bolverk, but Othin is keenly conscious of having violated the most sacred of oaths, that sworn on his ring.]

[111. With this stanza begins the Loddfafnismol (stanzas 111-138). Loddfafnir is apparently a wandering singer, who, from his “chanter’s stool,” recites the verses which he claims to have received from Othin. Wells of Urth: cf. Voluspo, 19 and note. Urth (“the Past”) is one of the three Norns. This stanza is apparently in corrupt form, and editors have tried many experiments with it, both in rejecting lines as spurious and in rear ranging the words and punctuation. It looks rather as though the first four lines formed a complete stanza, and the last four had crept in later. The phrase translated “the speech of Hor” is “Hova mol,” later used as the title for the entire poem.

112. Lines 1-3 are the formula, repeated (abbreviated in the manuscript) in most of the stanzas, with which Othin prefaces his counsels to Loddfafnir, and throughout this section, except in stanzas 111 and 138, Loddfafnir represents himself as simply quoting Othin’s words. The material is closely analogous to that contained in the first eighty stanzas of the poem. In some cases (e. g., stanzas 117, 119, 121, 126 and 130) the formula precedes a full four-line stanza instead of two (or three) lines.]

[129. Line 5 is apparently interpolated.]

[131. Lines 5-6 probably were inserted from a different poem.

133. Many editors reject the last two lines of this stanza as spurious, putting the first two lines at the end of the preceding stanza. Others, attaching lines 3 and 4 to stanza 132, insert as the first two lines of stanza 133 two lines from a late paper manuscript, running:

“Evil and good | do men’s sons ever
“Mingled bear in their breasts.”

134. Presumably the last four lines have been added to this stanza, for the parallelism in the last three makes it probable that they belong together. The wrinkled skin of the old man is {footnote p. 59} compared with the dried skins and bellies of animals kept for various purposes hanging in an Icelandic house.]

[136. This stanza suggests the dangers of too much hospitality. The beam (bolt) which is ever being raised to admit guests be comes weak thereby. It needs a ring to help it in keeping the door closed, and without the ability at times to ward off guests a man becomes the victim of his own generosity.

137. The list of “household remedies” in this stanza is doubtless interpolated. Their nature needs no comment here.

139. With this stanza begins the most confusing part of the Hovamol: the group of eight stanzas leading up to the Ljothatal, or list of charms. Certain paper manuscripts have before this stanza a title: “Othin’s Tale of the Runes.” Apparently stanzas 139, 140 and 142 are fragments of an account of how Othin obtained the runes; 141 is erroneously inserted from some version of the magic mead story (cf. stanzas 104-110); and stanzas 143, 144, 145, and 146 are from miscellaneous sources, all, however, dealing with the general subject of runes. With stanza 147 a clearly continuous passage begins once more. The windy tree: the ash Yggdrasil (literally “the Horse of Othin,” so called be cause of this story), on which Othin, in order to win the magic runes, hanged himself as an offering to himself, and wounded himself with his own spear. Lines 5 and 6 have presumably been borrowed from Svipdagsmol, 30.

140. This stanza, interrupting as it does the account of Othin’s winning the runes, appears to be an interpolation. The meaning of the stanza is most obscure. Bolthorn was Othin’s grandfather, and Bestla his mother. We do not know the name of the uncle here mentioned, but it has been suggested that this son of Bolthorn was Mimir (cf. Voluspo, 27 and note, and 47 and note). In any case, the nine magic songs which he learned from his uncle seem to have enabled him to win the magic mead (cf. stanzas 104-110). Concerning Othrörir, here used as the name of the vessel containing the mead, cf. stanza 107 and note.]

[142. This and the following stanza belong together, and in many editions appear as a single stanza. They presumably come from some lost poem on the authorship of the runes. Lines 2 and 3 follow line 4 in the manuscript; the transposition was suggested by Bugge. The king of singers: Othin. The magic signs (runes) were commonly carved in wood, then colored red.

143. Dain and Dvalin: dwarfs; cf. Voluspo, 14, and note. Dain, however, may here be one of the elves rather than the dwarf of. that name. The two names also appear together in Grimnismol, 33, where they are applied to two of the four harts that nibble at the topmost twigs of Yggdrasil. Alsvith (“the All Wise”) appears nowhere else as a giant’s name. Myself: Othin. We have no further information concerning the list of those who wrote the runes for the various races, and these four lines seem like a confusion of names in the rather hazy mind of some reciter.

144. This Malahattr stanza appears to be a regular religious formula, concerned less with the runes which one “writes” and “tints” (cf. stanza 79) than with the prayers which one “asks” and the sacrifices which one “offers” and “sends.” Its origin is wholly uncertain, but it is clearly an interpolation here. In the manuscript the phrase “knowest?” is abbreviated after the first line.]

[146. With this stanza begins the Ljothatal, or list of charms. The magic songs themselves are not given, but in each case the peculiar application of the charm is explained. The passage, which is certainly approximately complete as far as it goes, runs to the end of the poem. In the manuscript and in most editions line 4 falls into two half-lines, running:

“In sickness and pain | and every sorrow.”

147. Second, etc., appear in the manuscript as Roman numerals. The manuscript indicates no gap after line 2.]

[151. The sending of a root with runes written thereon was an excellent way of causing death. So died the Icelandic hero Grettir the Strong.

155. House-riders: witches, who ride by night on the roofs of houses, generally in the form of wild beasts. Possibly one of the last two lines is spurious.]

[156. The last line looks like an unwarranted addition, and line 4 may likewise be spurious.

157. Lines 4-5 are probably expanded from a single line.

160. This stanza, according to Müllenhoff, was the original conclusion of the poem, the phrase “a fifteenth” being inserted only after stanzas 162-165 had crept in. Delling: a seldom mentioned god who married Not (Night). Their son was Dag (Day). Thjothrörir: not mentioned elsewhere. Hroptatyr: Othin.]

[162. Some editors have combined these two lines with stanza 164. Others have assumed that the gap follows the first half-line, making “so that-from me” the end of the stanza. This stanza is almost certainly an interpolation, and seems to have been introduced after the list of charms and the Loddfafnismol (stanzas 111-138) were combined in a single poem, for there is no other apparent excuse for the reference to Loddfafnir at this point. The words “if thou mightest get them” are a conjectural emendation.

163. This stanza is almost totally obscure. The third and fourth lines look like interpolations.

164. In the manuscript this stanza comes at the end of the entire poem, following stanza 163. Most recent editors have followed Müllenhoff in shifting it to this position, as it appears to conclude the passage introduced by the somewhat similar stanza 111.]