Near a wood, the goddess Sif rests her head on a stump while the half-deity Loki lurks behind, blade in hand. Loki intends to cut Sif’s hair per a myth recounted in Skáldskaparmál.

The second part of Snorri Sturluson’s Prose Edda the Skáldskaparmál (Old Norse pronunciation: [ˈskaldskaparˌmɒːl], Icelandic pronunciation: ​[ˈskaultskaparˌmauːl], “language of poetry”; c. 50,000 words) is effectively a dialogue between Ægir, the Norse god of the sea, and Bragi, the god of poetry, in which both Norse mythology and discourse on the nature of poetry are intertwined. The origin of a number of kennings is given; then Bragi delivers a systematic list of kennings for various people, places and things. He then goes on to discuss poetic language in some detail, in particular heiti, the concept of poetical words which are non-periphrastic (like steed for horse), and again systematises these. This in a way forms an early form of poetic thesaurus.

1.Ægir seeks out the home of the Æsir

A certain man was named Ægir, or Hlér. He dwelt on the island which is now called Hlér’s Isle,1 and was deeply versed in black magic. He took his way to Ásgard, but the Æsir had foreknowledge of his journey; he was received with good cheer, and yet many things were done by deceit, with eye-illusions. And at evening, when it was time for drinking, Odin had swords brought into the hall, so bright that light radiated from them: and other illumination was not used while they sat at drinking. Then the Æsir came in to their banquet, and in the high-seats sat them down those twelve Æsir who were appointed to be judges; these were their names:

Thor, Njördr, Freyr, Týr, Heimdallr, Bragi, Vídarr, Váli, Ullr, Hœnir, Forseti, Loki; and in like manner the Ásynjur: Frigg, Freyja, Gefjun, Idunn, Gerdr, Sigyn, Fulla, Nanna. It seemed glorious to Ægir to look about him in the hall: the wainscottings there were all hung with fair shields; there was also stinging mead, copiously quaffed. The man seated next to Ægir was Bragi, and they took part together in drinking and in converse: Bragi told Ægir of many things which had come to pass among the Æsir.

2. The giant Þjazi carried off Iðunn

He began the story at the point where three of the Æsir, Odin and Loki and Hœnir, departed from home and were wandering over mountains and wastes, and food was hard to find. But when they came down into a certain dale, they saw a herd of oxen, took one ox, and set about cooking it. Now when they thought that it must be cooked, they broke up the fire, and it was not cooked. After a while had passed, they having scattered the fire a second time, and it was not cooked, they took counsel together, asking each other what it might mean. Then they heard a voice speaking in the oak up above them, declaring that he who sat there confessed he had caused the lack of virtue in the fire. They looked thither, and there sat an eagle; and it was no small one. Then the eagle said: “If ye are willing to give me my fill of the ox, then it will cook in the fire.” They assented to this. Then he let himself float down from the tree and alighted by the fire, and forthwith at the very first took unto himself the two hams of the ox, and both shoulders. Then Loki was angered, snatched up a great pole, brandished it with all his strength, and drove it at the eagle’s body. The eagle plunged violently at the blow and flew up, so that the pole was fast to the eagle’s back, and Loki’s hands to the other end of the pole. The eagle flew at such a height that Loki’s feet down below knocked against stones and rock-heaps and trees, and he thought his arms would be torn from his shoulders. He cried aloud, entreating the eagle urgently for peace; but the eagle declared that Loki should never be loosed, unless he would give him his oath to induce Idunn to come out of Ásgard with her apples. Loki assented, and being straightway loosed, went to his companions; nor for that time are any more things reported concerning their journey, until they had come home.

But at the appointed time Loki lured Idunn out of Ásgard into a certain wood, saying that he had found such apples as would seem to her of great virtue, and prayed that she would have her apples with her and compare them with these. Then Thjazi the giant came there in his eagle’s plumage and took Idunn and flew away with her, off into Thrymheimr to his abode.

3. Loki secured Iðunn and the slaying of Þjazi

But the Æsir became straitened at the disappearance of Idunn, and speedily they became hoary and old. Then those Æsir took counsel together, and each asked the other what had last been known of Idunn; and the last that had been seen was that she had gone out of Ásgard with Loki. Thereupon Loki was seized and brought to the Thing, and was threatened with death, or tortures; when he had become well frightened, he declared that he would seek after Idunn in Jötunheim, if Freyja would lend him the hawk’s plumage which she possessed. And when he got the hawk’s plumage, he flew north into Jötunheim, and came on a certain day to the home of Thjazi the giant. Thjazi had rowed out to sea, but Idunn was at home alone: Loki turned her into the shape of a nut and grasped her in his claws and flew his utmost.

Now when Thjazi came home and missed Idunn, he took his eagle’s plumage and flew after Loki, making a mighty rush of sound with his wings in his flight. But when the Æsir saw how the hawk flew with the nut, and where the eagle was flying, they went out below Ásgard and bore burdens of plane-shavings thither. As soon as the hawk flew into the citadel, he swooped down close by the castle-wall; then the Æsir struck fire to the plane-shavings. But the eagle could not stop himself when he missed the hawk: the feathers of the eagle caught fire, and straightway his flight ceased. Then the Æsir were near at hand and slew Thjazi the giant within the Gate of the Æsir, and that slaying is exceeding famous.

Now Skadi, the daughter of the giant Thjazi, took helm and birnie and all weapons of war and proceeded to Ásgard, to avenge her father. The Æsir, however, offered her reconciliation and atonement: the first article was that she should choose for herself a husband from among the Æsir and choose by the feet only, seeing no more of him. Then she saw the feet of one man, passing fair, and said: “I choose this one: in Baldr little can be loathly.” But that was Njördr of Nóatún. She had this article also in her bond of reconciliation: that the Æsir must do a thing she thought they would not be able to accomplish: to make her laugh. Then Loki did this: he tied a cord to the beard of a goat, the other end being about his own genitals, and each gave way in turn, and each of the two screeched loudly; then Loki let himself fall onto Skadi’s knee, and she laughed. Thereupon reconciliation was made with her on the part of the Æsir.

4. About Þjazi’s line

It is so said, that Odin did this by way of atonement to Skadi: he took Thjazi’s eyes and cast them up into the heavens, and made of them two stars.

Then said Ægir:

“It seems to me that Thjazi was a mighty man: now of what family was he?”

Bragi answered:

“His father was called Ölvaldi, and if I tell thee of him, thou wilt think these things wonders. He was very rich in gold; but when he died and his sons came to divide the inheritance, they determined upon this measure for the gold which they divided: each should take as much as his mouth would hold, and all the same number of mouthfuls. One of them was Thjazi, the second Idi, the third Gangr. And we have it as a metaphor among us now, to call gold the mouth-tale of these giants; but we conceal it in secret terms or in poesy in this way, that we call it Speech, or Word, or Talk, of these giants.”

Then said Ægir:

“I deem that well concealed in secret terms.”

5. The origin of the mead of Suttungr

And again said Ægir:

“Whence did this art, which ye call poesy, derive its beginnings?”

Bragi answered:

“These were the beginnings thereof. The gods had a dispute with the folk which are called Vanir, and they appointed a peace-meeting between them and established peace in this way: they each went to a vat and spat their spittle therein. Then at parting the gods took that peace-token and would not let it perish, but shaped thereof a man. This man is called Kvasir, and he was so wise that none could question him concerning anything but that he knew the solution. He went up and down the earth to give instruction to men; and when he came upon invitation to the abode of certain dwarves, Fjalar and Galarr, they called him into privy converse with them, and killed him, letting his blood run into two vats and a kettle. The kettle is named Ódrerir, and the vats Són and Bodn; they blended honey with the blood, and the outcome was that mead by the virtue of which he who drinks becomes a skald or scholar. The dwarves reported to the Æsir that Kvasir had choked on his own shrewdness, since there was none so wise there as to be able to question his wisdom.

“Then these dwarves invited the giant who is called Gillingr to visit them, and his wife with him. Next the dwarves invited Gillingr to row upon the sea with them; but when they had gone out from the land, the dwarves rowed into the breakers and capsized the boat. Gillingr was unable to swim, and he perished; but the dwarves righted their boat and rowed to land. They reported this accident to his wife, but she took it grievously and wept aloud. Then Fjalar asked her whether it would ease her heart if she should look out upon the sea at the spot where he had perished; and she desired it. Then he spoke softly to Galarr his brother, bidding him go up over the doorway, when she should go out, and let a mill-stone fall on her head, saying that her weeping grew wearisome to him; and even so he did.

“Now when the giant Suttungr, Gillingr’s son, learned of this, he went over and took the dwarves and carried them out to sea, and set them on a reef which was covered at high tide. They besought Suttungr to grant them respite of their lives, and as the price of reconciliation offered him the precious mead in satisfaction of his father’s death. And that became a means of reconciliation between them. Suttungr carried the mead home and concealed it in the place called Hnitbjörg, placing his daughter Gunnlöd there to watch over it. Because of this we call poesy Kvasir’s Blood or Dwarves’ Drink, or Fill, or any kind of liquid of Ódrerir, or of Bodn, or of Són, or Ferry-Boat of Dwarves–since this mead brought them life–ransom from the reef–or Suttungr’s Mead, or Liquor of Hnitbjörg.”

Then Ægir said:

“These seem to me dark sayings, to call poesy by these names. But how did ye Æsir come at Suttungr’s Mead?”

6. How Óðinn got access to the mead

Bragi answered:

“That tale runs thus: Odin departed from home and came to a certain place where nine thralls were mowing hay. He asked if they desired him to whet their scythes, and they assented. Then he took a hone from his belt and whetted the scythes; it seemed to them that the scythes cut better by far, and they asked that the hone be sold them. But he put such a value on it that whoso desired to buy must give a considerable price: nonetheless all said that they would agree, and prayed him to sell it to them. He cast the hone up into the air; but since all wished to lay their hands on it, they became so intermingled with one another that each struck with his scythe against the other’s neck.

“Odin sought a night’s lodging with the giant who is called Baugi, Suttungr’s brother. Baugi bewailed his husbandry, saying that his nine thralls had killed one another, and declared that he had no hope of workmen. Odin called himself Bölverkr in Baugi’s presence; he offered to undertake nine men’s work for Baugi, and demanded for his wages one drink of Suttungr’s Mead. Baugi declared that he had no control whatever over the mead, and said that Suttungr was determined to have it to himself, but promised to go with Bölverkr and try if they might get the mead. During the summer Bölverkr accomplished nine men’s work for Baugi, but when winter came he asked Baugi for his hire. Then they both set out for Suttungr’s. Baugi told Suttungr his brother of his bargain with Bölverkr; but Suttungr flatly refused them a single drop of the mead. Then Bölverkr made suggestion to Baugi that they try certain wiles, if perchance they might find means to get at the mead; and Baugi agreed readily. Thereupon Bölverkr drew out the auger called Rati, saying that Baugi must bore the rock, if the auger cut. He did so. At last Baugi said that the rock was bored through, but Bölverkr blew into the auger-hole, and the chips flew up at him. Then he discovered that Baugi would have deceived him, and he bade him bore through the rock. Baugi bored anew; and when Bölverkr blew a second time, then the chips were blown in by the blast. Then Bölverkr turned himself into a serpent and crawled into the auger-hole, but Baugi thrust at him from behind with the auger and missed him. Bölverkr proceeded to the place where Gunnlöd was, and lay with her three nights; and then she gave him leave to drink three draughts of the mead. In the first draught he drank every drop out of Ódrerir; and in the second, he emptied Bodn; and in the third, Són; and then he had all the mead. Then he turned himself into the shape of an eagle and flew as furiously as he could; but when Suttungr saw the eagle’s flight, he too assumed the fashion of an eagle and flew after him. When the Æsir saw Odin flying, straightway they set out their vats in the court; and when Odin came into Ásgard, he spat up the mead into the vats. Nevertheless he came so near to being caught by Suttungr that he sent some mead backwards, and no heed was taken of this: whosoever would might have that, and we call that the poetaster’s part.2 But Odin gave the mead of Suttungr to the Æsir and to those men who possess the ability to compose. Therefore we call poesy Odin’s Booty and Find, and his Drink and Gift, and the Drink of the Æsir.”

7. The character of poesy

Then said Ægir:

“In how many ways are the terms of skaldship variously phrased, or how many are the essential elements of the skaldic art?”

Then Bragi answered:

“The elements into which all poesy is divided are two.”

Ægir asked:

“What two?”

Bragi said:

“Metaphor and metre.” “What manner of metaphor is used for skaldic writing?” “Three are the types of skaldic metaphor.” “Which?” “Thus: [first], calling everything by its name; the second type is that which is called ‘substitution;’ the third type of metaphor is that which is called ‘periphrasis,’ and this type is employed in such manner: Suppose I take Odin, or Thor, or Týr, or any of the Æsir or Elves; and to any of them whom I mention, I add the name of a property of some other of the Æsir, or I record certain works of his. Thereupon he becomes owner of the name, and not the one whose name was applied to him: just as when we speak of Victory-Týr, or Týr of the Hanged, or Týr of Cargoes: that then becomes Odin’s name: and we call these periphrastic names. So also with the title Týr of the Wain.3

8. Words just to younger skalds

But now one thing must be said to young skalds, to such as yearn to attain to the craft of poesy and to increase their store of figures with traditional metaphors; or to those who crave to acquire the faculty of discerning what is said in hidden phrase: let such an one, then, interpret this book to his instruction and pleasure. Yet one is not so to forget or discredit these traditions as to remove from poesy those ancient metaphors with which it has pleased Chief Skalds to be content; nor, on the other hand, ought Christian men to believe in heathen gods, nor in the truth of these tales otherwise than precisely as one may find here in the beginning of the book.

9. Heiti and kennings for Óðinn

Now you may hear examples of the way in which Chief Skalds have held it becoming to compose, making use of these simple terms and periphrases: as when Arnórr Earls’ Skald says that Odin is called Allfather:

Now I'll tell men the virtue
Of the terrible Jarl;
Allfather's Song-Surf streams;
Late my sorrows lighten,

Here, moreover, he calls poesy the Song-Surf of Allfather. Hávardr the Halt sang thus:

Now is the flight of eagles
Over the field; the sailors
Of the sea-horses hie them
To the Hanged-God's gifts and feasting.

Thus sang Viga-Glúmr:

With the Hanged-God's helmet
The hosts have ceased from going
By the brink; not pleasant
The bravest held the venture.

Thus sang Refr:

Oft the Gracious One came to me
At the holy cup of the Raven-God;
The king of the stem-ploughed sea's gold
From the skald in death is sundered.

Thus sang Eyvindr Skald-Despoiler:

And Sigurdr,
He who sated the ravens
Of Cargo-God
With the gore of the host
Of slain Haddings
Of life was spoiled
By the earth-rulers
At Ögló.

Thus sang Glúmr Geirason:

There the Týr of Triumph
Himself inspired the terror
Of ships; the gods of breezes
That favor good men steered them.

Thus sang Eyvindr:

Göndull and Skögull
Gauta-Týr sent
To choose from kings
Who of Yngvi's kin
Should go with Odin
And be in Valhall.

Thus sang Úlfr Uggason:

Swiftly the Far-Famed rideth,
The Foretelling God, to the fire speeds,
To the wide pyre of his offspring;
Through my cheeks praise-songs are pouring.

Thus sang Thjódólfr of Hvin:

The slain lay there sand-strewing,
Spoil for the Single-Eyed
Dweller in Frigg's bosom;
In such deeds we rejoiced.

Hallfredr sang thus:

The doughty ship-possessor
With sharpened words and soothfast
Lures our land, the patient,
Barley-lockèd Wife of Thridi.

Here is an example of this metaphor, that in poesy the earth is called the Wife of Odin. Here is told what Eyvindr sang:

Hermódr and Bragi,
Spake Hropta-Týr.
Go ye to greet the Prince;
For a king who seemeth
A champion cometh
To the hall hither.

Thus sang Kormákr:

The Giver of Lands, who bindeth
The sail to the top, with gold-lace
Honors him who pours god's verse-mead;
Odin wrought charms on Rindr.

Thus sang Steinthórr:

Much have I to laud
The ancient-made (though little)
Liquor of the valiant
Load of Gunnlöd's arm-clasp.

Thus sang Úlfr Uggason:

There I think the Valkyrs follow,
And ravens, Victorious Odin
To the blood of holy Baldr.
With old tales the hall was painted.

Thus sang Egill Skallagrímsson:

No victims for this
To Víli's brother,
The High-God, I offer,
Glad to behold him;
Yet has Mímir's friend
On me bestowed
Amends of evil
Which I account better.
He has given me the art
He, the Wolf's Opposer,
Accustomed to battle,
Of blemish blameless.

Here he is called High God, and Friend of Mímir, and Adversary of the Wolf.

Thus sang Refr:

Swift God of Slain, that wieldeth
The snowy billow's wave-hawks,
The ships that drive the sea-road,
To thee we owe the dwarves' drink.

Thus sang Einarr Tinkling-Scale:

'T is mine to pour the liquor
Of the Host-God's mead-cask freely
Before the ships' swift Speeder:
For this I win no scorning.

Thus sang Úlfr Uggason:

His steed the lordly Heimdallr
Spurs to the pyre gods builded
For the fallen son of Odin,
The All-Wise Raven-Ruler.

This is said in Eiríksmál:

What dream is that? quoth Odin,
I thought to rise ere day-break
To make Valhall ready
For troops of slain;
I roused the champions,
Bade them rise swiftly
Benches to strew,
To wash beer-flagons;
The Valkyrs to pour wine,
As a Prince were coming.

Kormákr sang this:

I pray the precious Ruler
Of Yngvi's people, o'er me
To hold his hand, bow-shaking.
Hroptr bore with him Gungnir.

Thórálfr sang this:

The Mighty One of Hlidskjálf
Spake his mind unto them
Where the hosts of fearless
Hárekr were slaughtered.

Thus sang Eyvindr:

The mead which forth
From Surtr's sunk dales
The Strong-through-spells
Swift-flying bore.

So sang Bragi:

'Tis seen, on my shield's surface,
How the Son of the Father of Peoples
Craved to try his strength full swiftly
'Gainst the rain-beat Snake earth-circling.

Thus sang Eínarr:

Since less with Bestla's Offspring
Prevail most lordly princes
Than thou, my task is singing
Thy praise in songs of battle.

Thus sang Thorvaldr Blending-Skald:

Now have I much
In the middle grasped
Of the son of Borr,
Of Búri's heir.

10. Kennings for poesy

“Now you shall hear how the skalds have termed the art of poesy in these metaphorical phrases which have been recorded before: for example, by calling it Kvasir’s Gore and Ship of the Dwarves, Dwarves’ Mead, Mead of the Æsir, Giants’ Father-Ransom, Liquor of Ódrerir and of Bodn and of Són, and Fullness of these, Liquor of Hnitbjörg, Booty and Find and Gift of Odin, even as has been sung in these verses which Einarr Tinkling-Scale wrought:

I pray the high-souled Warder
Of earth to hear the Ocean
Of the Cliff of Dwarves, my verses:
Hear, Earl, the Gore of Kvasir.

And as Einarr Tinkling-Scale sang further:

The Dwarves' Crag's Song-wave rushes
O'er all the dauntless shield-host
Of him who speeds the fury
Of the shield-wall's piercing sword-bane.

Even as Ormr Steinthórsson sang:

The body of the dame
And my dead be borne
Into one hall; the Drink
Of Dvalinn, Franklins, hear.

And as Refr sang:

I reveal the Thought's Drink
Of the Rock-Folk to Thorsteinn;
The Billow of the Dwarf-Crag
Plashes; I bid men hearken.

Even as Egill sang:

The Prince requires my lore,
And bound his praise to pour,
Odin's Mead I bore
To English shore.

And as Glúmr Geirason sang:

Let the Princely Giver hearken:
I hold the God-King's liquor.
Let silence, then, be granted,
While we sing the loss of thanes. 

And as Eyvindr sang:

A hearing I crave
For the High One's Liquor,
While I utter
Gillingr's Atonement;

While his kin
In the Kettle-Brewing
Of the Gallows-Lord
To the gods I trace.

Even as Einarr Tinkling-Scale sang:

The Wave of Odin surges;
Of Ódrerir's Sea a billow
'Gainst the tongue's song-glade crashes;
Aye our King's works are goodly.

And as he sang further:

Now that which Bodn's Billow
Bodes forth will straight be uttered:
Let the War-King's host make silence
In the hall, and hear the Dwarves' Ship.

And as Eilífr Gudrúnarson sang:

Grant shall ye gifts of friendship,
Since grows of Són the Seedling
In our tongue's fertile sedge-bank:
True praise of our High Lord.

Even as Völu-Steinn sang:

Egill, hear the Heart-streams
Of Odin beat in cadence
'Gainst my palate's skerry;
The God's Spoil to me is given.

Thus sang Ormr Steinthórsson:

No verse of mine men need to fear,
No mockery I intertwine
In Odin's Spoil; my skill is sure
In forging songs of praise.

Thus sang Úlfr Uggason:

I show to host-glad Áleifr
The Heart-Fjord's Shoal of Odin,
My song: him do I summon
To hear the Gift of Grímnir.

Poesy is called Sea, or Liquid of the Dwarves, because Kvasir’s blood was liquid in Ódrerir before the mead was made, and then it was put into the kettle; wherefore it is called Odin’s Kettle-Liquor, even as Eyvindr sang and as we have recorded before:

While his kin
In the Kettle-Brewing
Of the Gallows-Lord
To the gods I trace.

Moreover, poesy is called Ship or Ale of the Dwarves: ale is líð, and lið is a word for ships; therefore it is held that it is for this reason that poesy is now called Ship of the Dwarves, even as this verse tells:

The wit of Gunnlöd's Liquor
In swelling wind-like fullness,
And the everlasting Dwarves' Ship
I own, to send the same road.

1. Now Læssø.

2. See Burns, The Kirk’s Alarm, 11th stanza, for a similar idea.

3. Týr. See discussion in Cl.-Vig., p. 647. This word as a proper name refers {footnote p. 97} to the one-armed God of War; but, especially in compounds, it has the sense of God, the God, and is usually applied to Odin. The compounds mentioned here by Snorri are all epithets of Odin. See Gylfaginning Part 26.