Svipdagsmál II: Fjölsvinnsmál – The Sayings of Fjölsvinnr

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aka The Ballad of Svipdag, The Lay of Svipdag

Fjölsvinnsmál or The Sayings of Fjölsvinnr is the second of two Old Norse poems commonly published under the title Svipdagsmál “The Lay of Svipdagr”. These poems are found together in several 17th-century paper manuscripts with Fjölsvinnsmál. In at least three of these manuscripts, the poems appear in reverse order and are separated by a third eddic poem titled Hyndluljóð.For a long time, the connection between the two poems was not realized, until in 1854 Svend Grundtvig pointed out a connection between the story told in Gróagaldr and the first part of the medieval Scandinavian ballad of Ungen Sveidal/Herr Svedendal/Hertig Silfverdal . Then in 1856, Sophus Bugge noticed that the last part of the ballad corresponded to Fjölsvinnsmál. Bugge wrote about this connection in Forhandlinger i Videnskabs-Selskabet i Christiania 1860, calling the two poems together Svipdagsmál. Subsequent scholars have accepted this title.

In the first poem, Svipdagr enlists the aid of his dead mother, Gróa, a witch, to assist him in the completion of a task set by his cruel stepmother.

At the commencement of Fjölsvinnsmál, Svipdagr has arrived at a castle on a mountain top. There he encounters a watchman, Fjölsviðr, who tells him to be gone before asking him his name. Svipdagr conceals it, only revealing it later in the poem.

A game of question and answers ensues, wherein Svipdagr learns that Menglöð lives in the castle guarded by Fjölsviðr, and that the castle may not be entered by any save one: Svipdagr. He gives his true name and the gates are opened and Menglöð greets Svipdagr.

The poem is considered to be among the youngest of the Eddic poems. Nevertheless, it is cryptic and some stanzas are corrupt.

Bellows’s notes on the poem

Introductory Note:

The two poems, Grougaldr (Groa’s Spell) and Fjolsvinnsmol (the Ballad of Fjolsvith), which many editors have, very wisely, united under the single title of Svipdagsmol, are found only in paper manuscripts, none of them antedating the seventeenth century. Everything points to a relatively late origin for the poems: their extensive use of “kennings” or poetical circumlocutions, their romantic spirit, quite foreign to the character of the unquestionably older poems, the absence of any reference to them in the earlier documents, the frequent errors in mythology, and, finally, the fact that the poems appear to have been preserved in unusually good condition. Whether or not a connecting link of narrative verse joining the two parts has been lost is an open question; on the whole it seems likely that the story was sufficiently well known so that the reciter of the poem (or poems) merely filled in the gap with a brief prose summary in pretty much his own words. The general relationship between dialogue and narrative in the Eddic poems is discussed in the introductory note to the Grimnismol, in connection with the use of prose links.

The love story of Svipdag and Mengloth is not referred to elsewhere in the Poetic Edda, nor does Snorri mention it; however, Groa, who here appears as Svipdag’s mother, is spoken of by Snorri as a wise woman, the wife of Orvandil, who helps Thor with her magic charms. On the other hand, the essence of the story, the hero’s winning of a bride ringed about by flames, is strongly suggestive of parts of the Sigurth-Brynhild traditions. Whether or not it is to be regarded as a nature or solar myth depends entirely on one’s view of the whole “solar myth” school of criticism, not so highly esteemed today as formerly; such an interpretation is certainly not necessary to explain what is, under any circumstances, a very charming romance told, in the main, with dramatic effectiveness.

In later years the story of Svipdag and Mengloth became popular throughout the North, and was made the subject of many Danish and Swedish as well as Norwegian ballads. These have greatly assisted in the reconstruction of the outlines of the narrative surrounding the dialogue poems here given.

For the purpose of studying the poem fragment without distraction it has been separated from the Grógaldr; the numbering of the stanzas will be different than Bellows’ original numbering.

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