Atlakvitha – The Lay of Atli

11. “The wolves then shall rule | the wealth of the Niflungs,
Wolves aged and grey-hued, | if Gunnar is lost,
And black-coated bears | with rending teeth bite,
And make glad the dogs, | if Gunnar returns not.”

12. A following gallant | fared forth with the ruler,
Yet they wept as their home | with the hero they left;
And the little heir | of Hogni called loudly:
“Go safe now, ye wise ones, | wherever ye will!”

13. Then let the bold heroes | their bit-champing horses
On the mountains gallop, | and through Myrkwood the secret;
All Hunland was shaken | where the hard-souled ones rode,
On the whip-fearers fared they | through fields that were green.

14. Then they saw Atli’s halls, | and his watch-towers high,
On the walls so lofty | stood the warriors of Buthli;
The hall of the southrons | with seats was surrounded,
With targets bound | and shields full bright.

15. Mid weapons and lances | did Atli his wine
In the war-hall drink, | without were his watchmen,
For Gunnar they waited, | if forth he should go,
With their ringing spears | they would fight with the ruler.

16. This their sister saw, | as soon as her brothers
Had entered the hall,– | little ale had she drunk:
“Betrayed art thou, Gunnar! | what guard hast thou, hero,
‘Gainst the plots of the Huns? | from the hall flee swiftly!
Brother, ’twere far better | to have come in byrnie,
With thy household helmed, | to see Atli’s home,
And to sit in the saddle | all day ‘neath the sun,
(That the sword-norns might weep | for the death-pale warriors,
And the Hunnish shield-maids | might shun not the sword,)
And send Atli himself | to the den of the snakes;
(Now the den of the snakes | for thee is destined.

Gunnar spake:

17. . . . . . . . . . .
“Too late is it, sister, | to summon the Niflungs,
Long is it to come | to the throng of our comrades,
The heroes gallant, | from the hills of the Rhine.”

18. Then Gunnar they seized, | and they set him in chains,
The Burgundians’ king, | and fast they bound him.

19. Hogni slew seven | with sword so keen,
And an eighth he flung | in the fire hot;
A hero should fight | with his foemen thus,
As Hogni strove | in Gunnar’s behalf.

20. . . . . . . . . . .
. . . . . . . . . .
The leader they asked | if his life he fain
With gold would buy, | the king of the Goths.


11. Myrkwood: cf. stanza 3 and note; the journey is here made by land, whereas in the Atlamol it is made partly by boat; cf. Atlamol, 37 and note. Whip-fearers: horses, but there is some uncertainty as to the word.

13. In line 1 the manuscript has “land” instead of “halls,” which involves a metrical error. Watch-towers: the word used is identical with the name of Othin’s watch-tower, Hlithskjolf (cf. Grimnismol, introductory prose). Buthli: the manuscript has “Bikki,” which has. led some editors to transfer this stanza to [fp. 488] the Hamthesmol, placing it between stanzas 16 and 17; it seems more likely, however, that “Bikki” was a scribal error for “Buthli.” Regarding Bikki cf. Sigurtharkvitha en skamma, 63 and note. Line 4 is apparently in Fornyrthislag.

15. Line 1 in the manuscript is apparently incorrectly copied, and some editions omit “Mid weapons and lances” and assume a gap in either line 1 or line 3.

16. This may be the remains of two stanzas, the manuscript marks line 5 as beginning a new stanza. Editorial conjectures are numerous and varied. Household: the phrase is the same “helms round the hearth” commented on in stanza 3. Some editions insert a conjectural line after line 3. Sword-norns, etc.: the line is exceedingly obscure, and the phrase rendered “sword-norns” may mean “corpse-norns.” Apparently it refers to the warrior-women of the Huns, the “shield-maids” of line 5 and of stanza 45. Roman writers refer to the warrior-women among the early Germanic tribes, and the tradition, closely allied to that of the Valkyries, attached itself readily to the ferocious Huns. Den of snakes: concerning the manner of Gunnar’s death cf. Drap Niflunga. *Note*: Stanza 17 in Bellows original translation is combined with stanza 16 to conform to the ON this has resulted in a re-numbering of the stanzas from 16 to 26 where the next restructuring occurs.

17. The manuscript indicates no lacuna and does not name the speaker; perhaps a line similar to line 1 of stanza 23 (or 25) should be inserted here. Rhine: Gunnar’s Burgundian home is here clearly localized. After this stanza it is probable that a passage describing the battle has been lost.

18. These two lines, apparently the remains of a full stanza, may belong after stanza 19. Burgundians’ king: the phrase may mean “Burgundians’ men,” i.e., they bound all the Burgundians who were left alive after the battle. This is the only place in the poems in which the name “Burgundian” appears; that the poet had no very clear conception of its meaning is indicated by the fact that in stanza 20 he calls Gunnar “king of the Goths.”

19. Apparently a Fornyrthislag stanza, though most editions have attempted to expand the lines into Malahattr. The exploits of Hogni (Hagene), with the names of many of his victims, are told in the Nibelungenlied. The fire: in the Nibelungenlied Kriemhild has the hall set on fire, and the Burgundians fight amid the flames. Line 4 is clearly defective, and some editors regard the name “Gunnar” as all that is left of the first two lines of stanza 20.

20. Again apparently the remains of a Fornyrthislag stanza. Editors have attempted various combinations of the lines. Gold: presumably Sigurth’s treasure.

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