Oddrúnarkviða – The Lament of Oddrun

Oddrúnargrátr (Oddrún’s lament) or Oddrúnarkviða (Oddrún’s poem) is an Eddic poem, found in the Codex Regius manuscript where it follows Guðrúnarkviða III and precedes Atlakviða.

The main content of the poem is the lament of Oddrún, sister of Atli, for Gunnarr, her lost and forbidden love. The poem is well preserved and thought to be a relatively late composition, perhaps from the 11th century. The metre is fornyrðislag.


Introductory Note:

The Oddrunargratr follows Guthrunarkvitha III in the Codex Regius; it is not quoted or mentioned elsewhere, except that the composer of the “short” Sigurth lay seems to have been familiar with it. The Volsungasaga says nothing of the story on which it is based, and mentions Oddrun only once, in the course of its paraphrase of Brynhild’s prophecy from the “short” Sigurth lay. That the poem comes from the eleventh century is generally agreed; prior to the year 1000 there is no trace of the figure of Oddrun, Atli’s sister, and yet the Oddrunargratr is almost certainly older than the “short” Sigurth lay, so that the last half of the eleventh century seems to be a fairly safe guess.

Where or how the figure of Oddrun entered the Sigurth-Atli cycle is uncertain. She does not appear in any of the extant German versions, and it is generally assumed that she was a creation of the North, though the poet refers to “old tales” concerning her. She does not directly affect the course of the story at all, though the poet has used effectively the episode of Gunnar’s death, with the implication that Atli’s vengeance on Gunnar and Hogni was due, at least in part, to his discovery of Gunnar’s love affair with Oddrun. The material which forms the background of Oddrun’s story belongs wholly to the German part of the legend (cf. introductory note to Gripisspo), and is paralleled with considerable closeness in the Nibelungenlied; only Oddrun herself and the subsidiary figures of Borgny and Vilmund are Northern additions. The geography, on the other hand, is so utterly chaotic as to indicate that the original localization of the Atli story had lost all trace of significance by the time this poem was composed.

In the manuscript the poem, or rather the brief introductory prose note, bears the heading “Of Borgny and Oddrun,” but nearly all editions, following late paper manuscripts, have given the poem the title it bears here. Outside of a few apparently defective stanzas, and some confusing transpositions, the Poem has clearly been preserved in good condition, and the beginning and end are definitely marked.

Heithrek was the name of a king, whose daughter was called Borgny. Vilmund was the name of the man who was her lover. She could not give birth to a child until Oddrun, Atli’s sister, had come to her; Oddrun had been beloved of Gunnar, son of Gjuki. About this story is the following poem.

1. I have heard it told | in olden tales
How a maiden came | to Morningland;
No one of all | on earth above
To Heithrek’s daughter | help could give.

2. This Oddrun learned, | the sister of Atli,
That sore the maiden’s | sickness was;
The bit-bearer forth | from his stall she brought,
And the saddle laid | on the steed so black.

3. She let the horse go | o’er the level ground,
Till she reached the hall | that loftily rose,
(And in she went | from the end of the hall;)
From the weary steed | the saddle she took;
Hear now the speech | that first she spake:

4. “What news on earth, | . . . . .
Or what has happened | in Hunland now?”

A serving-maid spake:

“Here Borgny lies | in bitter pain,
Thy friend, and, Oddrun, | thy help would find.”

Oddrun spake:

5. ‘Who worked this woe | for the woman thus,
Or why so sudden | is Borgny sick?”

The serving-maid spake:

6. “Vilmund is he, | the heroes’ friend,
Who wrapped the woman | in bedclothes warm,
(For winters five, | yet her father knew not).”

7. Then no more | they spake, methinks;
She went at the knees | of the woman to sit;
With magic Oddrun | and mightily Oddrun
Chanted for Borgny | potent charms.

8. At last were born | a boy and girl,
Son and daughter | of Hogni’s slayer;
Then speech the woman | so weak began,
Nor said she aught | ere this she spake:

9. “So may the holy | ones thee help,
Frigg and Freyja | and favoring gods,
As thou hast saved me | from sorrow now.”

Oddrun spake:

10. “I came not hither | to help thee thus
Because thou ever | my aid didst earn;
I fulfilled the oath | that of old I swore,
That aid to all | I should ever bring,
(When they shared the wealth | the warriors had).”

Prose. Nothing further is known of Heithrek, Borgny or Vilmund. The annotator has added the name of Borgny’s father, but otherwise his material comes from the poem itself. Oddrun, sister of Atli and Brynhild, here appears as proficient in birth. runes (cf. Sigrdrifumol, 8). Regarding her love for Gunnar, Guthrun’s brother, and husband of her sister, Brynhild, cf. Sigurtharkvitha en skamma, 57 and note.

1. Olden tales: this may be merely a stock phrase, or it may really mean that the poet found his story in oral prose tradition. Morningland: the poem’s geography is utterly obscure. “Morningland” is apparently identical with “Hunland” (stanza 4), and yet Oddrun is herself sister of the king of the Huns. Vigfusson tries to make “Mornaland” into “Morva land” and explain it as Moravia. Probably it means little more than a country lying vaguely in the East. With stanza 28 the confusion grows worse.

3. Line 3 (cf. Völundarkvitha, 17) or line 5 (cf. Thrymskvitha, 2), both quoted from older poems, is probably spurious; the manuscript marks line 3 as the beginning of a new stanza.

4. Line 1 in the original appears to have lost its second half. In line 2 the word rendered “has happened” is doubtful. The manuscript does not indicate the speaker of lines 3-4, and a few editors assign them to Borgny herself.

5. The manuscript does not indicate the speakers. For the woman: conjectural; the manuscript has instead: “What warrior now hath worked this woe?” The manuscript indicates line 3 as beginning a new stanza. Line 5, apparently modeled on line, 4 of stanza n, is probably spurious. *Note*: From Stanza 5 to 32 in the Bellows original translation the numbering has been reordered to confrom the stanzas to the ON.

7. Charms: cf. Sigrdrifumol, 8.

8. Hogni’s slayer: obviously Vilmund, but unless he was the one of Atli’s followers who actually cut out Hogni’s heart (cf. Drap Niflunga), there is nothing else to connect him with Hogni’s death. Sijmons emends the line to read “Born of the sister | of Hogni’s slayer.”‘

8. Regarding Frigg as a goddess of healing cf. Svipdagsmol, 52, note. Regarding Freyja as the friend of lovers cf. Grimnismol, 14, note. A line is very possibly missing from this stanza.

10. The manuscript does not name the speaker. In line 2 the word rendered “earn” is omitted in the manuscript, but nearly all editions have supplied it. Line 5 is clearly either interpolated or out of place. It may be all that is left of a stanza which stood between stanzas 16 and 17, or it may belong in stanza 13.