HRAFNAGALDUR ÓĐINS

FORSPJALSLJÓĐ

 

(Galdr of Óðinn's ravens)

 

This is a new 2015 translation of the one put on this site in 2002. The first version relied heavily on  Eysteinn Björnsson’s, (2002) still available at http://www.hi.is/~eybjorn/ . I did again the whole work and the new version is often very far from Eysteinn’s.

An easier to understand prose version  is presented as a 'tale' though it follows the commentaries given below. Find it HERE

 

This poem led to a mass of arguments and my goal is not taking sides in this dispute, but trying to understand what the unknown author meant, regardless of the period the text has been written. Besides, the first topic has been the one of Annette Lassen’s edition (2011) of Hrafnagaldur Óðinns. She clarified most of the mystery associated to this long-time disputed poem. Her honest scholarly pondering of the various opinions and facts does not lead to an obvious yes/no, but enables us to have a grounded opinion.

 

I give you here two Old Norse (ON) versions of the poem.

- The older one is due to Erasmus Christianus Rask (Edda Sæmundar hinns Fróda, Holmiæ, 1818). My guess is that this version reflects closely the manuscripts that Rask used. He provides a set of changes among the manuscripts that I will add. As far as I understand his explanations, his sources are paper manuscripts (chartaceus) and they are not so ancient: Codex Stockholmensis dated 1684, codex Gudmundi and codex Islandica N. 5.

- The second version is Annette Lassen’s recent one (2011). She provides a scholarly list of her sources. The changes she provides are mostly the same as Rask’s.

When Lassen’s edition provides new meaning for a word, which changes the poem understanding, I write these words in bold in both Rask and Lassen’s editions. When the cutting of the lines varies, I use Rask’s cutting.

 

Annette Lassen’s translation relies on her hypothesis that the poem reflects some kind of plot undertaken by Óðinn and it describes the reaction of the other Æsir to this plot. I will not adopt her point of view, which explains the differences between her translation and mine. I’ll nevertheless largely draw from her knowledgeable comments. In this translation, as I did in the other ones on my site, I’ll use the three main dictionaries of the ON language:

Cleasby-Vigfusson’s (C.V.) Icelandic-English dictionary, 

De Vries (deVries) Altnordisches etymologisches Wörterbuch

Sveinbjörn Egilson’s Lexicon Poëticum antiquæ Linguæ septentrionalis (Lex. Poet.)

 

 

This poem is known for being particularly obscure. How do I hope to do better than my fore comers, most of them vastly more knowledgeable than me in the Old Norse language? I will simply start with non-classical axioms.

1. Firstly, the traditional scholarly attitude which strives for a unique translation of the skaldic poems is not very imaginative. It reminds me of my Latin professors who gave bad marks if we did not interpret the text exactly the way they did. If this were to be true, let then this boring old poetry lie in its noble dust! It so happens that every time I could do a personal translation on top of the existing ones, I was overwhelmed by the multiplicity of the possible meanings of the poem at hand. Whenever I can, and when my version changes the meaning of this poem, I will try to share this multiplicity.

 2. A skaldic poem is supposed to reflect the Middle Age Scandinavian myths as we know them through skaldic and eddic poems, sagas, Snorri Sturluson’s theory of skaldic poetry  and both Snorri’s and Saxo Grammaticus’ historical works. This poem obviously does not fit into this scheme, and so it should not be too closely linked to them. My working hypothesis is that it is a tragic version of the Apples of Youth myth, either an unknown or ‘forged’ one. The starting point (first stanza excepted) is similar to this well-known myth where the Goddess Idun (Iðunn) goes away from Asgard (Ásgarðr). The rest has very little to do with this myth and is rather linked to the Ragnarök myth (I note ö the ‘tailed o’ that does not exist in most fonts).

3. Existing translations are written for modern readers who are mostly acquainted with a Christian and Greco-Latin cultural background. Skaldic poetry has been written for Heathen Norse people familiar with ancient Germanic culture. I will try, as much as I can, take into account this last fact. For instance, alluding to magic is systematically avoided when the text can be translated in a non-magical way and I’ll try to avoid this trap, which does not mean falling in the symmetrical trap of seeing magic everywhere (! and smiley).

4. Finally, skaldic poetry is not usually seen as feminist writing to say the least. However, working under the assumption that this poem is presenting a feminist view will help us to unravel some of its oddities.

 


Erasmus Rask
(1818)



Annette Lassen
(from her facebook image)

HRAFNAGALDUR ÓDINS

FORSPJALLSJÓÞ

 

Rask’s version

(1818)

Hrafna Gal|dur Oþins

For|spialls Liod

 

Lassen’s version’s version (2011)

 

Stanza 1

1 Alföþr orkar,

2 Alfar skilja,

3 vanir vitu,

4 Vísa nornir,

5 elr íviþja,

6 aldir bera,

7 þreyja Þursar,

8 þra [þrá] valkyrjur.

Alfoþr orrkar

alfar skilia

Vanir vitu

visa nornir

elur Iviþia

aldir bera

þreya þussar

þia valkyriur.

Allfather [Óðinn] is able

Elves analyze

Vanir [ancient Gods] know

show the way, the Norns

begets, Íviðja

human ones carry

‘strive for’, Thurses [bad giants],

chastise, the Valkyries.

 

Comments

 

The list structure of this stanza is interesting. Lines 1-3 describe intellectual features while liens 4-8 describe ways of acting. Lines 1-3 have the form ‘subject verb’ where subject is a divine being, lines 4-5 have the form ‘verb subject’, which indicates a change of nature of the list subjects (giants). Line 6 has the form ‘verb subject’ again: It is an “end of list marker.” The end of the list has the form ‘verb subject’ again and it is used as a ‘carryall’ to place beings of mixed nature (the female thurses are giants but can join to Æsir by marriage, the Valkyries are both divine and human). This corresponds to a list structure as shown by Elizabeth Jackson (alvíssimál 9 (1999): 73-88 and 5 (1995): 81-106)… and this does not mean that the poem is ‘authentic’ but that his/her author knew implicit rules of skaldic composition that waited until 1995 to be made explicit.

 

This first verse is overflowing with allusions at once understandable to the reader of the time. I will try to explain those I am able to. To be brief, I have rather abusively simplified the myths.

 

Óðinn is considered as the father of all the gods, called the Æsir, therefore he is «all-father». In the poem Völuspá, a seeress (“völva” genitive völu) tells and foresees “spá” the god’s örlög, that is their past and future. In stanza 17, she says that the first couple of humans, Ask(r) and Embla, before the gods would gave them real life, were lítt megandi and ørlöglausa. These two (absences of) features must be very important in the Nordic culture since lacking them excludes from humankind proper. Ørlöglausa means “destiny-less,” and an ongoing discussion of this concept is found here WYRD&ÖRLÖG   . Lítt megandi means “of little ability" and Óðinn being the epitome of the Nordic man, he has to be able to act. Verb orkka means to work, to perform.

 

The Elves are divinities that are not very well-known, and in fact, they are often seen as Æsir’s servants. Verb skilja means ‘to divide, split (including to divorce), discern, understand’. It is customary to oppose the faculty of analyzing to the one of synthesizing, this is why I translate by ‘to analyze’.

 

The Vanir are seen as gods of the previous generation who have been fighting the Æsir before they made their peace with them. They are actually quite knowledgeable, and they also know about the art of seidhr (seiðr), a shamanic method of their own that lets them know. This war is called “fólkvíg” in Völuspá, i.e., war of the folk. Verb vita = to know, to receive knowledge.

 

The Norns are three giantesses mastering the destiny of the gods and mankind. They are respected by the Gods. They know the past and they forge the future, they show what has to happen. The verb vísa means to show the way.

 

Íviðja is wolf Fenrir’s mother and she begets a large amount of other monsters. Völuspá stanza 40 alludes to her, who “begets Fenris’ kindred … shaped as trolls (fœddi Fenris kindir … í trölls hami).”

 

Human beings bear their destinies, their örlög, this is an essential feature of humanity in Nordic myths. As we pointed out just above, Ask and Embla were without destiny before they received their humanity. In fact, the concept of ørlög has nothing in common with the Greek destiny, except that nobody can avoid it. In the Nordic context, however, ‘bearing’ is to be understood as ‘to bear with pride or even haughtiness’ rather than ‘to bear with relinquishment’. Not only you bear your destiny, but you accept it (instead of uselessly fighting it as in the Greek myths), and you carry it with pride. Verb bera means to bear/bring/carry/drive/discover. More already and more to come on this fascinating topic a  WYRD&ÖRLÖG   .

 

The Thursar are the ice giants. This name is used when referring to their strength, resistance, meanness and their greed. They are often shown as being full of greed, constantly pushing their luck to get more power. They eagerly wait for something to happen. Verb þreyja means to want, wait, strive for’.

 

The Valkyries are Óðinn’s servants because he is the God of Battles and they slaughter the warriors who are going to die in this battle. They play the role of Óðinn’s executioners. In that sense, they chastise who shall die soon. This chastisement is indeed an honor since they bring their victim up to Valhöll. This line also tells us that Germanic good sense does not recommend haste in being such a chosen one.

The verb þrá has a meaning similar to þreyja, but the thursar already show this feature. Lassen’s suggestion to read, instead of Rask’s þrá, þiá = þjá = ‘to compel, chastise’ is thus very welcome. Her translation, however: “valkyries are distressed” introduces an unwelcome past participle that does not translate the active þjá, and that breaks down with the list of active form in the lines before. This is why I prefer to understand that they bring distress rather than receiving it.

 

 

Stanza 02

 

Rask’s version

 

Lassen’s ON version

Literal translation

Ætlun æsir

illa [alla] gátu,

verpir [verpar] villtu

vættar rúnum;

Óþhræris skyldi

Urþur [Urþar] geyma,

máttk at verja

mestum þorra.

 

Ætlun Æsir

alla gátu,

verpir viltu

vættar rúnum.

Oðhrærer skylde

Urdar gejma,

mattkat veria

mest-um þorra.

 

Guessed the Æsir

of (some) ill purpose,

twisters disturbed

the Wights with runes;

Óðhrærir should

Urðr watch,

powerless was (she) to protect

from the worse winter.

 

Lassen’s English translation

 

[But] the Æsir divined

the whole plan,

the unpredictable ones caused muddle

with the gods runes (or secrets).

Óðhrærir had to

look after Urður (fate),

he could not protect [her]

from the greater part [of the plan].

 

My translation is so different from Lassens’ that I must explain our differences. This drove me to somewhat heavy grammatical developments, written in font 10 and bold.

 

The verb ætla means ‘to think/suppose/plan’.

Gáta means ‘assumption/hypothesis’. To suppose an assumption has little meaning per se, we must understand that they guessed to be subjected to a bad judgment. The context thus leads us to translate by ‘purpose’.

The verb verpa means ‘to throw/fence/bend’. The verpir are beings that ‘throw/fence/bend’, understood here as ‘to twist’. Note that ‘to throw away’ or ‘to enclose’ would bring the same general meaning of runes being no longer usable. Lassen comments on this word and states that "It must refer to the gods", which is not at all obvious. In the context of ‘a day before’ Ragnarök, we can better think of ‘unspecified evil creatures’ who are trying to twist the course of destiny.

The verb villa means bewilder/falsify/forge. Villtu is a non-canonical but possible form of ‘they bewildered/falsified/forged’.

A vættr indicates a being, a person. For example, in stanza 22 of Guðrúnarkviða in fyrsta, Guðrún recalls that ‘her Sigurðr’ went to beg (the love of) Brynhildr (Brynhildar biðja). She qualifies then Brynhild of armrar vættar: wretched being. In many cases, though, a vættr specifically indicates a “supernatural being” as when we speak of the landvættir, the ‘land spirits’, or when Oddrún calls upon Frigg and Freyja by qualifying them as “hollar vættir (trustful people)” in s. 9 of Oddrúnargrátr. Thus, the nominative plural of vættr is vættir. This word should thus follow the feminine declension ending with - ir in the nominative plural. The only declension case authorizing an –ar ending with such words is the singular genitive. This is Lassen’s choice in her translation of line 4: “with the gods runes (or secrets)” where ‘god’ is a modifier for ‘runes’ (i. e., a genitive). I did another choice because of the very atypical conjugation of vættr. I saw here a plural accusative where vættar is direct object of ‘falsified’, which supposes that, in this case, vættr follows the regular conjugation of feminine words ending in –r.

The word þorri does þorra in the dative singular. It indicates the fourth winter month, which extends (approximately) from mid-January to mid-February. Thus, mestr þorri can indicate either the greatest part of the þorri month or a ‘greatest’ þorri, i.e. the worst one. From VafÞrúðnismál s. 44) it is known that Ragnarök will be preceded by a fimbulvetr, a ‘huge winter’. This mestr þorri could thus also be Ragnarök’s proclamation. Lassen interprets þorri as þori = ‘the greatest part’, which somewhat duplicates ‘mestr’.


Comments

 

Urðr, whose name means ‘destiny’, is one of the three Norns.

The gods (the ‘wights’) feel the situation is serious (the “worse of the winters” is coming) and they react as strongly as they can.

Óðhrærir is the mead of poetry, of which drink the knowledge seekers, it is also known under the name of Ódroerir. After many adventures, Óðinn recovers it. During this process, he risks his life and loses a share of his honor because he has to break an ‘oath done on the ring’, as explained by Hávamál stanza 110 .

The runes, one of the main elements of Scandinavian magic seems to be distorted and/or made unusable by some beings, called here ‘twisters’. It seems that destiny itself, Norn Urðr (= Destiny) is unable by herself to protect the runes and the Spirits.

In her comments, Lassen supposes that the ill purpose instigator is Óðinn himself and she thus dissociates him from the others Æsir who are supposed to attempt thwarting Óðinn’s plot. This is possible, Óðinn being one of the first beings knowledgeable with the runes (Hávamál, stanza 143). But nothing yet points at this hypothesis and we will see if the following confirms it. On the other hand, we can reasonably suspect one of the other beings able handle the runes: giants, elves, dwarves, human ones, or the Norns themselves.

 

Comments on the differences between Lassen’s and my translation

 

There are two main differences. One lies in the first 4 lines, it is of grammatical character and modifies not more than a detail in the poem comprehension.

The other is related to a choice on Óðinn’s personality and role, it lies in the 4 last lines and it modifies the understanding of the whole poem.

 

Let us explain the striking difference between  our translations of the first four lines without taking inti account the grammatical details. What Lassen says amounts to: [line 3:] the unpredictable ones disturbed everything [line 4:] with the gods runes (or secrets) (my comment:the god’, i.e., Óðinn). My own translation states something different: [line 3:] the twisters (or unpredictable ones) disturbed [line 4:] with runes some supernatural beings. I call them Wights because the words vættr and wight are cognates. You certainly know of famous landvættir, the Wights of the land; and the vocabulary above tells us that Frigg and Freyja are also vættir. This word can thus designate various supernatural beings - at least those favorable to humankind: I do not know an example where a troll is called a vættr, and the negative form úvættr (non-vættr) is used to indicate a bad spirit.

Thus, where Lassen sees an attack against Óðinn’s runes, I see an attack against all favorable supernatural entities. The two translations nevertheless agree on the point that an attack is fomented against Óðinn’s allies, whether they are the runes or the Wights. My choice is not dictated by the grammar which is ambiguous in any event, but by the fact that it makes it possible to better understand the following stanzas describing the changes that appear in the behavior of various Wights and mainly in Íðunn, as we shall later see.

 

Let us now consider the last four lines.

In the last line, Lassen provides a prosaic translation as :for the greater part” whereas my “from the worst winter” is an allusion to the arrival of Ragnarök, that I understand as the central topic of the whole poem. Another point is that Lassen dissociates a person called  Óðhrærir (yet another supernatural being) from the hydromel of poetry which is a ‘thing’ only its physical appearance of fermented liquid, while it is clear that it is also the Spirit of Odinic  poetry. In stanza 3, he will indeed behave as an individual who “seeks assistance.” This comforts Lassen’s view that Óðhrærir is seen as a spiritual being more than as a liquid but I claim that his/its physical appearance is anecdotal.

As I have already said, Lassen sees in this poem a plotting Óðinn who tries to mislead the other Æsir, while I see him as a responsible leader who deploys all his resources, in particular Óðhrærir, to delay the moment when Ragnarök will occur.

 

A last argument relating to the significance of Óðhrærir in this poem is as follows.

We knows through Hávamál s. 110 that Óðinn has, in some way, broken a baugeið, a consecrated oath done “on the ring” during the episode of Óðhrærir recovery. We can there also provide a prosaic explanation by stating that  that it is one of Óðinn’s straightforward  infamy. Conversely, my point of view on this topic combines information of Hávamál s. 110 and my present interpretation of second half of Hrafnagaldr Óðins s. 2. Insofar as Óðhrærir is one of the ultimate weapons which can delay Ragnarök, Óðinn’s responsibility as head of the Æsir supersedes his personal honor.

Urðr seems here representing gods’ destiny. The poem suggests that Ragnarök occurs following a falsification of the örlög, written down by the Norns and thus by Urðr herself.

I suppose that the author of the poem wanted to refer to another magic force called sköp. Our whole mythology seems to indicate that, in fact, the universe’s and our gods’ örlög announces an unescapable disaster that will disrupt this universe. Nothing says, however, when nor how this catastrophe will take place. The supernatural entities that the poem calls verpir (I translate this word by “twisters” and Lassen by “unpredictable ones”) will, according to my interpretation, use their runes and, according to Lassen’s, modify Óðinn’s runes in order to obtain the magic ‘shapings’, the sköp, which will shape örlög in such a way that Ragnarök will take place tomorrow and will evolve according to Völuspá’s last stanzas.
 

***

When studying the concept of örlög and sköp in Fáfnismál, we observed that Sigurðr, knowledge greedy as ever, asks several questions to a dying Fáfnir and that the last one answers them quite heartily. In stanza 14, he asks where Ragnarök will take place. Fáfnir answers that the name of this place is “Óskópnir (Unshaped).” This enables us to suppose that this place does not exist yet but that some sköp will shape it at the proper time. In turn, this hypothesis helps to better understand stanzas 2-5 which are very obscure and describe incomprehensible phenomena. We then can interpret these stanzas as describing the ‘shapings’ of the place where Ragnarök will happen, and we understand Óðinn’s concern when he realizes the plot fomented against the Æsir, that is, enabling Ragnarök by shaping its location.

***

Stanza 03

 

Rask’s version

 

Lassen’s version

Literal Translation

Hverfur því Hugin [hugr],

himna [hinna] leitar,

grunar guma

grand ef dvelr;

þótti er Þráins

þúnga draumr,

Dáins dulo

draumr þótti.

 

Hverfur þvi hugur,

hinna leytar,

grunar guma

grand, ef dvelur;

þotti er Þrains

þunga drömur,

Daens dulu

drömur þotti.

 

Disappears because spirit/Huginn

from them he [Óðhrærir] seeks help,

he [Óðhrærir] suspects of the human ones

destruction, if he [Óðhrærir] tarries;

thought is Þráinn's

with a burden dream,

Dáinn's with dissimulation/conceit

the dream the thought

 

 

 

English Translation

 

 

Since the Spirit/Huginn disappears

he [Óðhrærir] seeks their help,

he suspects destruction

of the human ones , if he tarries;

Þráinn's thought is

a dream with a burden [a somnolence],

With dissimulation/conceit, Dáinn’s

thought [is] a dream.

[Dáinn’s thought is a dream  with dissimulation or conceit]

 

First half vocabulary

 

A few word of explanation:  The four first lines comprehension appeared to me as a kind of grammatical puzzle when taking into account all the possible words meaning. For once, I found it funny to give you the details of the puzzle and why the translation above does solve this puzzle. It is also why I added the false assumptions, which gives an account of the complexity to handle. For example, at my first try, I found that the ‘membrane’ in line 2 could represent the sky but its nominative form did not tally with the general grammatical structure of this half-stanza.

 

Verb hverfa means ‘to turn around/disappear’.

The manuscripts show two versions: Huginn (Óðinn’s raven) or hugr (= thought/spirit). Since Huginn means Thought the difference between the two versions is not confusing. Note its declension case cannot be other than a nominative singular.

The verb leita either is followed by a genitive, or by the adverb at. It means to look for/to seek help/ to prepare to leave.

Hinna or himna can take two meanings. If it is a membrane or a film, then it is in the nominative singular case. If it is the demonstrative pronoun hinn, it is in the plural genitive case. In the above translation, it is complement of verb leitar (`he looks for assistance from them' = he seeks their assistance) and its case is genitive.

The word gumi (man), here guma, can be in several cases, among them the plural genitive. In the above translation, it complements the noun grand (“ruin of the men”) thus genitive.

The verb gruna means ‘to suspect’ and grunar would be then ‘it suspects’. It could also be the singular genitive of grunr = suspicion.

The noun grand, here possibly in the nominative or accusative, singular or plural, means ‘what causes evil/destruction’. In the above translation, it is direct object of grunar and thus in the accusative case.

The verb dvelja means ‘to delay/wait’. It does dvel in the present, and dvelur = dvelr = it delays/waits.

 

 Last half vocabulary

 

þotti means thought/anger.

þungi means burden/drowsiness.

Þráinn is a dwarf. His thought becomes a mere somnolence, in other words, he does not think anymore. The dwarves thus seem already put out of the play by stanza 2 ‘verpir.

Dul, dissimulation/self-conceit, it does dulu with the singular dative.

Dáinn is a dwarf or an elf, of which Hávamál, S. 143, known as that it carved (reist) the runes for the elves.I suppose that he is this elf here, since as the runes are used. Perhaps takes him part in the plot of verpir? Dissimulation or conceit can lead him to betray the Æsir.

Comments on the meaning of stanza 3 

 

 In stanza 2, the idea appears that only Óðhrærir is able to protect the destiny (Urðr) who seems unable to protect the gods’ universe from the “terrible winter” announcing Ragnarök. In addition, Óðinn brought the knowledge of the runes to the human ones, but no myth explains us the why of this generosity. Moreover, he knows the örlög of everything (we know that, among others, by the use of this word in Lokasenna): he also knows of Ragnarök. His plot, if reasonable, is not to suppress Ragnarök but to delay it as much as possible, if possible ad infinitum.

It thus seems that he tried so hard to recover Óðhrærir because he undoubtedly ‘knows’ that the human poets, rune knowledgeable and  inspired by Óðhrærir, will be a deciding factor to delay Ragnarök to happen.

If Óðhrærir takes too much time to provide inspiration to the poets magicians and the magicians poets,  whole humanity will  destroyed be too early, before he can integrate them into his plan.

 

All this may appear a little hazardous, I am conscious of it, but I did not seek anything than to find a meaning for the mystical puzzle contained in stanzas 2 and 3 of this poem. I would be happy to hear better founded assumptions than mine! (my email is given at the head of nordic-life page).

 

 

Stanza 04

Rask’s version

 

Lassen’s version

 

Dugir með dvergum

dvína, heimar

niður að Ginnúngs

niþi sökkva;

oft Alsviþur

ofan fellir [fellr],

opt of-favllnum

aptr safnar.

Dugir meþ dvergum.

Dvina heimar,

niþur at Ginnungs

niþi sökva;

opt Alsviþur

ofann fellir,

opt of follnum

aptur safnar.

The ‘doughtinesses’ with (of) the dwarves

dwindle, the worlds

down to  Ginnung

go down to sink;

often Alsviðr

from up there falls,

often, the victims (fallen)

back collects.

 

 

Meaning

 

“The dwarves’ firmness dwindles and they let the worlds sink to the bottom in Ginnung. The solar wagon, each evening falls with some the worlds and each morning it brings back some of them.”

 

Comments

 

IIn the first line, the fact that dwarves toughness decreases refers to the fact that they are in charge of ‘holding up’ the worlds. Snorri described four of them in this duty, posted at the four cardinal points of Hymir’s skull.

On the ‘hogback’ found in Heysham cemetery, we see four characters who undoubtedly support something, perhaps Jörmungandr (carved on upper face of the engraved block). This carving at least shows that ancient imagery associates four individuals to the function of holding some mythological figure.

The world breaks down in the abyssal zone, and this to be expected is normal since the thought of the dwarves (see s. 3) becomes “a dream with a burden,” and they cannot any more fulfil their function.

 

Ginnung indicates a magic or consecrated place. The original abyss in which our universe was formed is called Ginnunga-gap, i.e. the ‘of magic-abyssal zone’. Considering the trajectory of the worlds in this stanza, it is clear that we find here an allusion to Ginnunga-gap.

 

The name Alsviðr is classically the one of a horse that draws the carriage of the she-Sun. If we read it as ‘alsvitr,’ it means “very knowledgeable’ and can apply to Óðinn, which fits with the fact that Viðrir and Viðurr are two Óðinn’s names. But you see that in the two Norse versions above, it is clearly spelled with a ‘þ’ and not a ‘t’. Moreover, Óðinn does not seem to yet present in the tale, except by his plan to delay Ragnarök. It thus appears reasonable to me to keep here the traditional meaning of the name Alsviðr, and reading it as a heiti for the goddess Sun. We then can understand the ‘oft’ in line 5as ‘each evening’ and the one in line 7 as ‘each morning’. This interpretation agrees well with mythology and good sense. The sun goes down with a load of dead worlds and raises each morning with some re-awakened worlds.

Stanza 05

 

 

Rask’s version

 

Lassen’s version

Literal translation

Stendr æva

strind né ravþull,

lopte meþ lævi

linnir ei straumi;

mærum dylst

í Mímis brunni

vissa vera;

 

vitið enn, eða hvat?

Stendur æva

strind ne röþull,

lopte meþ lævi

linnir ei strömi;

mærum dylst i

Mimis brunne

vissa vera;

 

vitiþ enn eþa hvaþ?

Stand ever

earth nor sun,

(in) atmosphere with bale/imposture

stop never streams;

famous is hidden

in Mímir's well

certitude/wisdom of men;

 

Don’t you know yet, or what?

 

 

English translation

 

 

Earth nor Sun

stand ever quiet

in an ever stormy atmosphere

(polluted) with imposture;

human beings’ wisdom

shelters in famous

Mímir's well.

Do you understand now, or what?

 

 

The poet uses the two adverbs æva and ei that mean ‘ever’.

 

The word lopt or loft means loft, balcony, atmosphere, air. Here, lopte or lopti is in the singular dative, hence “in the atmosphere.”

 

The last line, “vissa vera, with its two ‘obvious’ nominatives singular is a little misleading, too.  I translated vera by the plural genitive of verr = a man.  Another solution is to keep the nominative singular and to see in vera the nominative of vera = shelter. This last line then becomes ‘the safe shelter’, which can be understood as humankind’s (last) safe shelter, attributing the shelter to humankind. It seems to me that sheltering wisdom there accords better to the mythological role of the well of Urðr: The fountain (or well) of Mímir is located at the foot of the world tree, and it contains all wisdom.

Lassen gives the two versions and translates by speaking of (a single) “wise being.”

 

Völuspá asks also several times: vitoð ér enn, eða hvat?” (Do you know enough, or what?. One would say that here the poet wished to parody this expression, while asking now, almost with the same words: “Did you understood yet what will happen?” This ‘parody’ cannot take place by chance, due to the author’s knowledge level. I think he/she winks at us: “Do we agree? You well understood that I present here my own version of Völuspá’s myths? "

 

 

 

Stanza 06

 

Rask’s version

 

Lassen’s version

Literal translation

Dvelr i davlum

dís forvitin,

Yggdrasils frá

aski hnigin;

Alfa ættar

Iþunni héto,

Ívalds ellri

ýngsta barna.

Dvelur í dolum

dys forvitinn,

Yggdrasils fra

aski hniginn;

álfa ættar

Iþunn hetu,

Ívaldz ellri

yngsta barna.

Delays in the dales

the inquisitive Dís

Yggdrasil from

the ash-tree gone down;

of the elves family,

Iðunn was named,

of Ívald the elders

the youngest of the children.

 

 

 

English translation

She delays in the dales

the inquisitive Dís,

from ash-tree Yggdrasil

gone down;

elfish of family,

Iðunn was named,

of Ívald elder children

the youngest one.

 

 

Comments on the vocabulary

 

Ívald is an elf patriarch and elves are often called Ívald’s children. Íðunn is thus the youngest of the ancient elves. Ívaldz and barna are genitives, and Íðunn and yngsta are nominatives, hence the grouping of the words. Ellri is a comparative and does ellri in the plural, nominative or genitive. It could thus integrate both groups. Íðunn cannot be both the elder and the youngest, hence the translation above.

The word dís is often translated as ‘woman’ but Íðunn clearly belongs to the divine beings as do the Dísir.

Forvitinn means ‘curious’ though mostly in a pejorative sense, hence the translation ‘inquisitive’.

 

Comments on the meaning

 

The whole poem hinges around this stanza.

A Dís is a feminine divinity who is similar to a Norn. This is underlined by Germanic poems, called the Mersebourg charms, beginning with “Eiris sazun idisi, sazun hera duoder” (Once the Idisi [Dísir] sat, sat here and there).

She has been living relatively high in up there” in Yggdrasil and she went down to stay in the dale. It is thus reasonable to suppose that she was living in Ásgarðr with the Æsir. She belongs to the Elf family, and the youngest of her generation, which is nevertheless ancient. We can also guess that she went down because of her inquiring mind, but nothing more is said later on this topic.

This prevents to hypothesize that she is one of the three Norns who are of the Giant race and do not live in Ásgarðr.

Her name was Iðunn, at least as long as she has been living with the Gods. Iðunn is Bragi's wife, the poet God, and she is in charge of the keeping the apples that prevent the Gods to age. Some commentators see here the famous myth where Iðunn is abducted by a Giant and her apples stolen. The following will clearly show that this myth is not at all alluded to. It is quite possible, however, that we meet here another version of Iðunn's departure. Instead of being a naïve girl who lets herself carried away by sweet words before being abducted, we see here a woman carried away by her will to increase her knowledge. Here, she takes no magical apples with her, but her needs to reach enlightenment, another kind of power. It is quite possible that we meet here a tragic version of the more traditional comic version, where the Æsir are ridiculed and where Íðunn looks like a foolish girl.

The name of Íðunn is very significant since it will vary in the present poem to indicate a new role. We have an indication on the composition of its name since a poet, Þjóðólfr ór Hvini, voluntarily cut out it in his Haustlöng:

þá vas Íð með jötnum / unnr [or, according to some editors: uðr ] nýkomin sunnan; (then was Íð with the giants unnr coming from the south).

It is traditional to understand Íð-unn as ‘for_always-young’. Íð means achievement or it is an intensifier. This interpretation is traditional and sticks very well to the myth. The meaning of ‘young’ for unn (= ung) is to some extent confirmed by this stanza.

There are other possibilities since unna means ‘to love’ and unnr means ‘sword’ or ‘wave’. Thus Íðunn can also mean something like the work of waves, love or sword. These meanings, however, do not evoke anyone young.



     

Stanza 07

Rask’s version

 

Lassen’s version

 

Eirþi illa

ofankomo,

hár-baþms [hárþ-baþms] undir

haldin meiþi;

kunni sizt

at kundar Nörva,

vön aþ væri

vistum heima.

 

Eyrde illa

ofann komu,

hardbaþms undir

haldin meiþi;

kunne sist at

kundar Nörva,

vön at væri

vistum heima.

She enjoyed badly  

from up there came,

the high (or rough) tree under

held to the post;

(she) knew very little

of the daughter of Nörr (dwelling),

used to she was

to (true) lodgings at home.

 

 

Comments on the vocabulary

 

Halda followed by a dative means ‘to forcefully maintain, to bind’. Followed by an accusative, it has the reverse meaning: ‘to maintain, keep’. Here, meiðr, a post, is in the dative case.

We can read, as Rask does, hár-baðmr (= high-tree) or, as Lassen, hard-baðmr (= rough-tree), both point at Yggdrasill, the world tree, at the foot of which Íðunn seems to be bound.

The verb kunna, ‘to know or being able of ‘, does kunni in the preterit. C.V. gives the expression “kunna ílla við sík” which means ‘to be unhappy’ in some place. Following this idea leads to conclude that that Íðunn liked neither under the tree, nor at Vörr’s daughter place. Vörr is a giant, the father of Night). But sízt can also be the superlative of síðr and then mean ‘very little’, which I kept in the translation (she had very little knowledge of this place – hence her unease).

Most often, the word kundr means ‘son’ but in the present context, since Nörr is Nótt’s (Night) father, I prefer to translate it by ‘daughter’. This implies that Íðunn is kept in the darkness.

 

The last four lines are a kind of brainteaser relative to dwellings. At first, at + genitive kundar is possible only if ‘at implies ‘at the home of’ as in English [This is obviously Eybjörn’s solution since he translates by “At Nörvi's daughter's.” ]. Then, væri can also indicate a dwelling, but I use it here as verb vera (to be) subjunctive preterit. Lastly, in the last line, the two words vistr and heimr, again, both mean home, dwelling. Heima can be also an adverb meaning ‘at home  and I use this meaning. Lastly, vistr indicates a ‘real’ dwelling, including the food it contains. The adjective vanr (or vön) means ‘used to’.

 

Comments on the meaning

 

Iðunn is clearly in an uncomfortable situation in the four first lines, since she is not free but bound to the world tree. The last four ones lines describe her as being shrouded in darkness, which was not her habit at home.

I am not certain that this last circumstance is necessarily negative. Stanza 6 describes her as an inquisitive lady, i.e. someone greedy for knowledge. Some kind of knowledge, obviously, cannot be acquired but in the light. But we tend to associate darkness to ignorance, which is very typical of our present civilization. Darkness can also bring a lot of knowledge, different from that brought by the light. A truly inquisitive person will wish to acquire knowledge of the two kinds. This assumption is confirmed in the following stanza that claims that she “lék at lævisi (became skillful at calamity)”as we shall see.

 

 

Stanza 08

Rask’s version

 

Lassen’s version

 

Sjá sigtývar

syrgja Navnno

viggjar aþ véom;

vargs-belg seldo,

lét í færaz,

lyndi breytti,

lék aþ lævísi,

litom skipti.

 

Sia sigtivar

syrgia nönnu

viggiar at veom;

vargsbelg seldu,

let ifæraz,

lyndi breytti,

lek at lævisi,

litum skipte.

 

Saw the victorious Gods

the sorrow of Nanna

of the horse at the sanctuaries;

a wolf’s skin was handed (to her),

she let (her) self-go in it,

her mood changed (spoiled)

(she) became doom-skillful,

(her) colors shifted.

 

 

This stanza indicates a capital modification in Íðunn’s behavior that will change her nature. Note that the sigtivar, the victorious gods, see her changing and, to some extent, will describe this change from their point of view. They see her afflicted at the beginning of the stanza and changed into a monster at its end.

 

Comments on the vocabulary

 

Nönnu, here the genitive of Nanna, is, like dís in s. 6, a lauding way to speak of a woman. It is an allusion to Baldr’s wife, Nanna. In the skaldic tradition, Nanna is devoted to Baldr up to sacrifice herself on her husband’s pyre. In another tradition, the one represented by Saxo Grammaticus, she is in love with another king, and she is vainly coveted in by Balderus who accumulates treasons and wars to try to grab her. She is obviously Íðunn here.

A indicates a consecrated place, a temple, a sanctuary.

In poetry, the word veggr, ‘horse’, is a masculine doing veggjar in the singular genitive. Line 3,viggjar at véom” thus means the “sanctuaries of the horse,” an obvious kenning for Yggdrasill since drasill means also a horse and the world tree is a consecrated place.

A vargr is a wolf and, by extension, an outlaw, an ill-doer. The expressionvargr í véum (a wolf in the sanctuary)is evoked here byat véum vargs-” which connects line 3 and 4. Belgr being a skin, Íðunn is covered with a wolf skin and does tend to become a kind ofwolf in the gods’ temple.”

The verb selja, ‘to hand out an object to someone’, is here in the preterit, third plural person, and seldu = ‘they handed (her) out’ (a wolf skin). It is clear that she was not forced, physically nor magically, to don this wolf skin, it was only handed to her.

The verb láta, to let, indicates an action we are free to ‘do’ or not ‘do’. The following verb, indicating what is ‘done’ is færaz in the manuscripts. It is read as a reflexive form (færast or færask) of the subjunctive preterit of fara. This verb has a multitude of meanings based on ‘to go, to travel’. We could thus translate the linelét færaz íbyshe let herself go insidethe wolf skin. It happens that this way of speech is also used for clothing, wherefrom come Lassen’s and Eybjörn’s translations: she clothed/clad herself”. To use the verb fara to get dressed is not innocent: while getting dressed in wolf skin, Íðunn undertakes a long journey towards a found or re-found wilderness, which has been lost while she lived at the Æsir’s.

The verb leika, here in the preterit, lék, means ‘to play, deceive, perform’ or ‘to sway, oscillate as fire or water do’ or even ‘to bewitch’. 

The word lævísi is composed of = ‘artifice, doom’ and of the postfix -vísi introduces the idea of ‘being skillful at’.

The word litr means color/complexion and the verb skipta to separate/divide/change. The expression skipta litum meansto change color.” In a metaphorical use Lex. Poët. states, in its section γ about litr: skipta svá litummodifying a  statute, a nature.” This of course evokes the end of s. 18 Völuspá describing Lóðurr’s role in creating human beings: … gaf Lóðurr / oc lito góða (… gave Lóðurr / and good color).” Thisgood coloris an important feature and when Íðunnchanges color ', she definitively leaves her primary nature, the one of an elf and a goddess.

 

Comments on the meaning

 

The “victorious gods" see, or believe to see, Íðunn afflicted because she went down (not “fell down”!) on the roots of Yggdrasill. Stanza 7 shows that she is indeed upset by her new condition, but the ease with which she endorses her she-wolf condition and transforms her nature shows that, in spite of the gods’ prejudices and their claim to victory, they cannot ignore the depth of the transformation she is undergoing (not “suffering”!).

She starts to practice an art, the one of shape changers, which seems to have been forbidden in Ásgarðr. She actually becomes a new being through thisdisastrouspractice: She becomes a witch, a völva as were called these women able of the best shamanic achievements. The ‘spá-ing’ völva in Völu-spá has been called by Óðinn as an adviser. Here the völva is a former female elf, becoming a new völva. The völuspá – though reluctantly –answers Óðinn's questions, but Nanna is still a living being and Óðinn cannot use his necromantic powers to force her in answering his questions.

 

Not only Íðunn leaves the joys of Ásgarðr and takes pleasure in her new condition, but moreover her independence goes up to refuse answering Óðinn’s questions!  My feeling is that whoever finds scandalous this attitude will not be able to understand the poem. Inversely, approving of Íðunn’s attitude clarifies it a lot. This is why I find it quite possible that this poem has been written by a poetess, and one obviously exasperated by the constant insinuations of skaldic poetry on the superiority of male values of physical resistance, courage in combat etc. This poem insists on the importance of greed for knowledge, quite a sexless one, together with the impudence to show a female hero showing that greed.


Stanza 09


Rask’s version

 

Lassen’s version

 

Valdi Viþrir

vavrþ Bif-rastar

gjallar-sunnu

gátt at frétta,

heims hvívetna

hvert er vissi ?

Bragi og Loftur

báro kviþu.

Valde Viþrir

vörd Bifrastar

Giallar sunnu

gátt at fretta,

heims hvivetna

hvƒrt er vissi;

Bragi ok Loptur

báru kviþu.

Used Viðrir                            Óðinn used

the ward of Bifröst                 Bifröst’s guardian/wife

Gjöll's sun                              to ask to the

the door-frame to ask             frame of Gjöll's sun (Íðunn)

of the house everywhere         in the whole world

what she knew;                       what she learned;

Bragi and Loptr (Loki)              Bragi carried a poem

bore words or a poem             and Loptr his womb.

or uteruses.

 
 

Comments on the vocabulary

 

The noun gátt indicates the framework of a door against which the door is closed. It follows that, for example, the kenning gátt hrings (the framework of the rings) describes a woman, who ‘frames’ her jewelry. The Gjöllr river runs in front of Hel and, very generally, as Snorri explains in his Skáldskaparmál “the light or the fire of any stretch of water or river indicates gold,” the kenning “gátt gjallar sunnr (the framework of the sun of Gjöllr)” means “the framework of gold” = a woman, here Íðunn. This type of kenning is a little particular, often the woman is simply the ‘gold carrier’. Here, it is specified that she frames, i.e. highlights the jewels she carries. This kenning is thus especially laudatory for women.

The verb valda means ‘to wield, cause’, it is normally followed by a dative. The masculine noun vörðr, guard, does vörði in the dative. Once that the kenning above is accepted, there does not exist anymore available datives for the verb valda, so that we should understand that the poet supposed that it was obvious to see here ‘Bifröst guardian’, Heimdall. But one can also think of a skald’s pun. The noun vörð can also be feminine and means ‘married woman’, and does not change in the dative singular, i.e. this is the grammatically exact meaning. As Íðunn is indeed a married woman and Óðinn obviously will seek to use her, we can understand at the first reading that vörð indicates Íðunn. Since a slightly complex kenning follows, we may hesitate to catch who is this ‘Bifröst married woman’ and be forced to disentangle the kenning to understand what has been expected: that the second line indeed points at Heimdall. We can then understand that the pun speaks of Heimdall as the “woman married to Bifröst” and that throws doubt on Heimdall’s maleness.

The verb bera, to carry, does báru in the preterit plural. 

The noun kviða, epic poem, does kviðu in the accusative singular; kviðr, a word, does kviðu in the accusative plural; kviðr, womb /uterus, does also kviðu in the accusative plural. In this case, the puns are straightforward and throw an even more serious doubt on Bragi’s and Loki’s maleness. The indication ‘carrying an uterus’ is almost gross and makes think of a níðstöng, this way of seriously insulting an adversary. The two translators whom I consult do not give these meanings.

Eybjörn (“they carry testimony”) understands that Bragi undoubtedly will compose a poem to describe Heimdall’s interview with Íðunn. He and Loki thus will carry testimony of this interview. It is of course exact but it also forgets the undeniable possibility of kviðr sexual meaning.

Lassen (“they were filled with apprehension”) may see here the verb kvíða, to feel apprehension, which does kvíðu in the preterit, but only into a (relatively) recent Icelandic and she then does not translate báru. Or, it could be “they carried apprehension" but the noun for apprehension kvíði would give kvíða and not kvíðu in the accusative. In a striking way, this translation that I do not approve, gives nevertheless the same feeling of Bragi and Loki great brittleness.

 

Comments on the meaning

 

At first, here is a recall of well-known facts. Bragi is the god of poetry, and Íðunn’s husband. Loftr or Loptr (= ‘air’, ‘the one of the loft’) indicates Loki. Bifröst is the bridge connecting Ásgarðr to the other worlds. Its guardian is Heimdall. He has a horn, Gjallarhörn, which means the howling horn. Gjöllr can be also the name of a river, or the name of the stone slab to which the Fenrir wolf has been bound.

 

Here is the stanza general meaning. Heimdall must go down to Yggdrasill’s foot to ask questions to the news völva that Íðunn became while learning doom-skillfulness, as said in s. 8. To do good measure, he is joined by Íðunn’s former husband who may convince her to speak, and Loki whose intelligence can always be useful during such a diplomatic mission.

 

During s. 8, Íðunn’s nature changes, her rupture with the beings of Ásgarðr is consumed, but she became a völva, a magician who can prophesy. We can suppose that Óðinn plans to learn through her some details which will enable him to slow down the arrival of Ragnarök. The insulting puns about Óðinn’s envoys can however lead to suppose that their action will turn out to be ridiculous, which we will see in the following stanzas.  Another hypothesis that I find more plausible is that the last line is shortcut to speak of two persons with the same words and different meanings. Bragi a poet and Loki's pregnancy are often recalled. Bragi is carrying a poem by which he will describe the discussion with Íðunn, as suggested by Eysteinn's translation. Loki should carry 'somewhere' a womb since he could give birth. Further than a mere insult, Óðinn may have believed that this female feature might create some mutual understanding between him and Íðunn.

 

Lastly, the kenning describing Íðunn is very laudatory, while the insinuations related to her three visitors are very pejorative. This scorn for anything male evokes some most vituperative present time feminists. It is one of the reasons why I suggest that the poem was composed by a feminist woman.

 

 

Stanza 10

Rask’s version

 

Lassen’s version

 

Galdur gólo,

gavndom riþo,

Rögnir og reginn

at rann heimis;

hlustar Óþinn

Hliþscjálfo í;

leit braut vera

lánga vego.

Galdur golu,

göndum riþu

Rognir ok reiginn

at rann heimis;

hlustar Oþinn

Hlidskialfi i,

let bröt vera

langa vegu.

Galdr they sung, screamed,

magics [or wolves] they rode,

Slanderer and Coward [Loki and Bragi]

at Heimir’s home;

listens Óðinn

Hliðskjálf in [a tower inside Asgard],

(and) judges the unruly way to be

(very) long roads.

 

 

Translation

 

Loki and Bragi

sung the galdr

and rode magic

to go to Heimir’s, in Giantland;

in Hliðskjálf

Óðinn listens

and estimates their route to be [and becomes impatient to see]

too long ways [how slowly they move].

Comments on the vocabulary
 
The verb gala takes the form gólu in the plural preterit. Its primary meaning is ‘to crow’ that led to ‘to sing’. When it is associated a galdr, the context sometimes enables possible to allot to him the meaning of howling (galdr).
Galdr is a magic song-howl, mostly using runes. 
There is a traditional expression similar to the one used here, renna göndum, which means to travel like a witch. Gandr means ‘magic, wolf’ and göndum is its plural dative. The well-known witches’s broom must result from this image. This word is used to indicate mythical beings: Jörmungandr, ‘huge magic' (see below a discussion of this word exact meaning in stanza 25) that circles humankind’s world, and Vánargandr, a name given to Fenrir wolf.
Hliðskjálf is a tower placed in Ásgarðr.
Heimir is the name of a giant and we thus learn that, among the ‘lower’ worlds, Íðunn is in the giants’ one. 
 
On Rognir/Rögnir and Reginn.
 
Practically all the translators see Óðinn in Rognir/Rögnir. Rögnir is one of Óðinn’s names, this is why I choose the orthography Rognir, i.e. the one of Lassen in version of the manuscripts. Translators show a tendency to see Óðinn everywhere. Here, it would really be absurd insofar as Óðinn would be at the same time on the way down and observing himself from the tower. If Rognir is not Óðinn we then can seek another meaning different from the traditional one, ‘master’. We notice that the noun róg means quarreler, slanderer, and is a very plausible nickname for Loki, who is quoted in the preceding stanza as undertaking the travel.  Regin is a traditional name for the divine powers. But our attention was activated by the fact that Rognir cannot be Óðinn and, moreover, Reginn (= the ‘something’) is different from Regin. We thus seek another possible interpretation for the name Reginn. We meet the noun regi meaning ‘cowardice’. This is why I chose to translate Reginn by Coward, a name which fits well traditional insults for Bragi.
This poem has a reputation of being obscure and I think that one should not hesitate to see a little unusual allusion, especially when they clarify obscure points.
 
Comments on the meaning
 
Titchenell’s and Thorpe’s translation implies that Heimdall, Bragi and Loki practiced magic to travel, while Eysteinn protests against this interpretation since the practice of the magic is strictly prohibited in Ásgarðr. To imply that a man practices sorcery is a traditional insult, sometimes with the gravelly insinuations relative to the pleasure felt by the man during the act. The text is however ambiguous and we can understand either that Heimdall, Bragi and Loki practiced magic, or that some giants came to carry them down. This last interpretation is possible, the more so as we will find in stanza 17 some confusion between the conveying giants and the conveyed gods. 
That the poetess was not conscious of this ambiguity appears completely impossible, and I see here yet another insult to the gods, mainly Loki and Bragi. In the preceding stanza, the sexual allusion with respect to Loki is simply coarse and goes on here. The one relating to Bragi is also present in the etymology of regi, cowardice. This word comes from two adjectives, ragr and ergi that both designate a man who has been sodomized.
              

 

Stanza 11

 

 

Rask’s version

 

Lassen’s version

Literallyt

Frá enn vitri

Veiga-seljo

Banda-burþa

og brauta-sinna:

hlýrnis, heljar,

heims ef vissi

ártíþ, æfi,

aldurtila.

Frá enn vitri

veiga selio

banda burþa

ok bröta sinna,

Hlyrnis, Heliar,

heimz, ef vissi

artid, æfi,

aldurtila

Asked again to the wise man le sage/a wise woman

of drinks/strength she-provider]

of the gods the birthdays l

and roads theirs

of heaven, of the dead’s dwelling,

of the world, if she knew

time-tide, life-length,

death.

 

Translation

 

He (Heimdall) asked again (and again) to a she wise one (Íðunn)

[or The he wise one (Heimdall) asked to the) ]

Bringer of drink [or of strength] (Íðunn)

(the story of) the gods’ birth and their movement

(asked) about the celestial kingdom, on the dead ones dwelling,

the inhabited world, if she knew

the tide of the times, the length of their cycles,

when they would end.

 

 

Comments on the vocabulary

 

Adjective vitr does vitri in the singular nominative when indefinite and, when definite, in the feminine dative form. Hence the two different translations.  

Noun selja means ‘willow’ or, with another etymology, a dealer. In poetry, these two meanings merge into the one of ‘woman’. It does selju in the dative.

Band, a neutral noun, means ‘the gods’ and does banda in its plural genitive. Burðr, birth, is a masculine and does burða in the plural, genitive and accusative.

Braut, the way, does brauta in the genitive plural. It specifies a hard way running through rocks and forests.

Noun ártíð means ‘a death anniversary’. We can read it as ár-tíð = time-tide, i.e., tide of the times, i.e., time cycles.

Noun æfi has no declension and means ‘lifetime. Here, we understand it more as ‘the end of times’.

 

Comments on the meaning

 

The two interpretations I give are plausible. One uses the traditional stereotype of the Valkyrie serving beer to the Valhöll warriors. The other one shows a wise Íðunn, strength giving, respectfully consulted. My intuition is that the author wanted this ambiguity, perhaps with some irony for those who will choose the first interpretation.

 

 

Stanza 12

 

Rask’s version

 

Lassen’s version

Literally

Né mun mælti,

né mál knátti

Givom [tívom] greiþa,

né glaum hjaldi :

tár af tínduz

tavrgom hjarnar [tjavrnom hjarna],

eljun feldin [faldin/feldinn]

endur-rjóþa

Ne mun mælti,

ne mál knatti

givom greiþa,

ne glöm hialde;

tar af tindust

rgum hiarnar,

eliun feldin

endur rioþa.

Non can express (herself)

non speech was able

for the sorcerers to perform

no joy chattered;

tears flowed again,

from the shields of the brain

energy cloak

again redden.

 

 

Translation

 

She could not express her thoughts

could not utter a word

nor perform for the sorcerers (nor achieve a coherent behavior for the three visitors)

and did not chatter joyfully;

her tears flowed again

in the brain-shields (a kenning for theeyesor the orbits’)

that redden (or are smeared with blood’) again

the life force cloak (a kenning for theeyelids’).

 

 

Comments on the vocabulary

 

Verb kná does knátti in the preterit, it means ‘to be able of’.

The verb greiða has many meanings, among them: ‘to perform, to express’.

The noun gífr is a plural used to speak of wizards in a pejorative way, his dative is gífum. Here, it must designate Loki and Bragi (and perhaps Heimdall) who, in stanza 10, joined her by “singing the galdr and riding magic” as wizards do. Thus, the poem goes on using ways of speech to designate Óðinn’s three envoys to Íðunn.

The form hjaldi can be interpreted as a preterit of verb hjala, to chatter.  

In poetry (Lex. Poët.), the verb tína means legere (to collect), repetere (to return, to bring back). The form tíndust is reflexive.

The feminine noun eljan means ‘energy’. Feldr is a coat. Here, it ends with the article and does feldinn, ‘the coat’, in the nominative and the accusative.

The adverb endr means either ‘in times of yore, before’' or ‘again’. The first meaning would control a verb in a past tense, this is why ‘again’ should be preferred.

The verb rjóða means ‘to redden, to smear with blood’. Its subject can be ‘the brain shields’ and its direct object be the ‘energy coat’. This supposes reverse the order of lines 8 and 9 and ant to add a relative pronoun (‘that’) being the proper grammatical subject. This is quite possible and I confess I could not find in another way of taking into account the grammar for these sentences.

 

Comments on the meaning

 

This stanza says to us that Íðunn has not been able to answer the many questions asked to her at the end of s. 11. The detail saying that she could not put up a good face (line 4) when questioned shows how much she now belongs to a world disconnected from the one of the Æsir.

The last four lines say that Íðunn again cries her eyes out over her condition. We can suppose that it refers to her sadness, as expressed in s. 7. If this is true, it emphasizes her sadness in this stanza.

 

Stanza 13

 

Rask’s version

 

Eins [inn] kemr austan

ôr Élivâgom

þorn af atri [öto/atu]

þurs hrímkalda,

hveim drepur dróttir

dáen [dáenn] allar

mæran of Miþgarþ

meþ [mid] nátt hvör.

 

Lassen’s version

 

Eins kiemur östann

ur Elivagum

þorn af acri

þurs hrimkalda

hveim drepur drött-e<r>

Daen allar

mæran of Miþgard

meþ natt hvƒria.

 

Literally

 

One comes from the East

out of Élivágar (Waves in a Snow Storm)

a thorn from the meadow

Thurs rime-cold,

 with which he strikes households

Dáinn all

glorious  Miðgarðr

with night each.

 

 

 

 

 

Translation

 

One brings from the East

from the land of snow storms, Élivágar,

a thorn grown in the meadow

of the rime-cold Thurs,

with which he strikes all households

Dáinn, each night

strikes a glorious Miðgarðr.

 

 

Comments on the vocabulary

 

The name Élivágar reads Él-vágr = ‘snowstorm-wave’ where Él is in the dative case and vágr a nominative plural. This gives the name ‘Waves in a Snowstorm’.

The word akr means ‘meadow’.

Hrím-kaldr = rime-cold.

Drótt = a household, plural accusative: dróttir.

We saw in s. 03 that Dáinn may represent the whole body of all Dwarves. He can also be an Elf. In the present stanza, the context presents him clearly as a Giant who comes to strike humanity with the spine of sleep. That Dáinn comes from the East, where the Giants live, confirms his Giant nature.

The substantive nótt, night, is used to describe the full cycle of a day. The Norse language says ‘each night’ in place of ‘each day’.

The adverb hvar means ‘where?’ As an indefinite pronoun, it means ‘in each place’. Lassen reads ‘hverja’, the feminine accusative singular of hverr, to accord it with nótt (night) which is feminine.

The adjective mæra, ‘glorious, famous, does mæran in the indefinite singular masculine accusative.

 

Comments on the meaning

 

Stanza 03 says to us that the Dwarves are sleepy but Dáinn’s action is not clearly defined.  We can suppose that his ‘conceit’ comes from his capacity to put humanity to sleep each ‘night’. One should not see in him a kind of “sandman” who each evening puts people to sleep, as it naturally happens. They sleep for a whole ‘night’ cycle, meaning that they always sleep, thus losing their capacity to act.  

 


 

Stanza 14

 

Rask’s version

 

Lassen’s version

Literally

Dofna þá dáþir,

detta hendur,

svífr of svimi

sverþ-ás hvíta :

rennir örvit [órunn]

rýgjar glýju,

sefa sveiflom

sókn gjörvallri.

 

Dofna þa dáþir,

detta hendur,

svifur of svimi

sverþ Ass hvita,

rennir örvit

rygar glygvi,

sefa sveiflum

sokn giörvallri.

 

Die then deeds,

drop down hands,

wobbles up in a swoon

sword of the god white:

(it) runs mindlessness/witlessness,

the gales of the housewife,

in the mind with ‘over-tippings’ (eddy-wise)

assembly whole.

 

 

Translation

Deeds become then numbed,

hands hang down ungrasping,

the white god’s, Heimdall’s sword,

wobbles up in a swoon:

the gale in the mind of the housewife, Íðunn,

runs eddy-wise as if witless

in the whole assembly.

 

Since Lassen’s translation is very different from mine, I’ll give it here, together with Eystein’s which is not as much different.

Lassen: “Then deeds become sluggish, hands fall idle, stupor hovers over the white gods sword (over the head); insensibility flows into the trollwifes wind (into the mind), these things calm in waves the whole parish. »

Eystein: “Actions are numbed, / the arms slump, / a swoon hovers over / the white god's sword; / stupor dispels / the wind of the giantess, / the mind's workings / of all mankind.”

 

Comments on the vocabulary

 

The verb dofna means ‘to die’ for a body member. We say rather, ‘to numb’.

Dáþ = deed, i.e. an action generally looked upon as positive, unless its negative aspect is specified.

The substantive hönd, a hand, does hendr in the plural. This word is connected to the verb henda, to catch, so that it is the hands catching aspect that this word underlines.

The adjective hvítr, white, does hvíta in the other cases that the nominative one when it is associated to a definite use (theopposed to a).

The verb svífa (svífur in the 3rd line) means ‘to wander, swing, (German: schwingen)’. For a sword, it evokes a shaky swing or a sword raised up by a weak hand. It could also be a sexual allusion to a weakness on this respect. Be it sexual or not, Heimdall is ridiculed here: a true warrior would not unsteadily shake his sword whatever the circumstances. Since he needs to convince a woman, Heimdall has no warrior to fight and the sexual meaning seems to me most probable. It is a traditional way of the modern woman to make fun of a man, especially of a macho one. This interpretation reinforces my feeling that the poem was written by an energetic and very educated woman who shared before the hour the current feminist sights.  

The substantive svimr means giddiness, as when close to a fell.

The prefix ör- indicates either a lack of something or the antiquity of what it prefixes. The prefix ór - means ‘out of’. In this case, örvit or órvit both mean ‘to be spiritless, foolish’.

Rygr, a housewife, does rygjar in the singular genitive. Here, Íðunn.

Glyygr = window, glygg = opening and, in poetry, a gale.

The verb sefa = to soothe, soften. Here it would be ‘they soothe’, and this is what reads Lassen. We however ignore who provides these ‘soothings’ and she must thus invent a subject to verb sefa: “these things.” The only assumption remaining is the one of the substantive sefi which means ‘mind, state of mind’ or ‘a relative’. Sefa is the dative of sefi: ‘in the houesewife’s mind whirls a gale.

Seifla is a term of the sport of wrestling when an adversary is tipped over, he kind of whirls around, as a gale whirls on itself.

Sókn = attack or assembly. In the Christian world: a parish. Lassen’s translation by ‘parish’ implies that the action occurs in a Christian world, which is an obvious anachronism.

Gjörvallr = gjörv-allr = clearly-all (completely, absolutely all), here in the singular dative feminine which indicates to us that sókn is also in the dative singular.

 

Comments on the meaning

 

The translation given higher is very clear and indicates that the chaos reigning in Íðunn’s mind extends to “the whole assembly.” The only remaining ambiguity is what this assembly exactly is: the four known protagonists, or the same together with other gods, or humanity?

Each stanza brings its small additional insult addressed to each of Óðinn’s envoys. Here, the white Áss is either unable to hold his sword, or to satisfy a woman sexually. Note that our hypocritical civilization finds obscene the comparison of the sword to a penis (and the one of a sheath with a vagina) are traditional in Norse literature and has to have been understood by any educated reader of the time.

The word order in lines 6 and 7 “the gales of the housewife in the mind” must change in an obvious way to “gales in the housewife’s mind” and this is subject of the verb to run, placed before him in the poem. These variations of order are common in skaldic poetry. Grammar and context generally enable to raise the ambiguities. In this case, for example, the choice of “sefa = they soothe” creates a vacuum because the verb to soothe does not have an obvious subject. Moreover, the context does not encourage to see any ‘soothing’ in the poem.  

 

Stanza 15

 

Rask’s version

 

Lassen’s version

Literally

 

Jamt þótti Jórun

jólnom komin,

sollin sútum,

svars er ei gátu;

sóttu [sókte] því meir

aþ syn [þögu] var fyrir,

mun þó miþur

mælgi dugþi [dygþi].

 

Jamt þotti Iorun

jolnum kominn

sollinn sutum,

svars er ei gátu;

soktu þvi meir

ad syn var fyrir,

mun þo miþur

mælgi dygþi.

 

Equally seemed Jórunn

with the gods ‘come’

swollen with griefs,

of the answer is not the door;

sought because more

to denial was in front of

the time of change already medium

the chattering (they) helped.

 

 

Translation

In italics, reminders of the original text, in bold explanations.

 

Jórunn, she too,

in front of the three visiting gods,

swollen with grief,

did not seem (to be) open (a door) to answers;

because they were hitting (‘in front of) a denial

they (the gods) looked for more, (however)

their chattering moderately (= very little) helped to

(create) an opportunity for changing (the denials).

 

Íðunn and Jórunn

 

We saw in s. 06 that the most probable meaning associated to the name Íðunn is ‘for_always-young’ since her mythological role is working at Æsir’s perpetual youth. This stanza says that her name changes, which corresponds to a change in her nature. To interpret this new name, let us keep the ending - unn read as ung, young person. The root ‘jor does not evoke anything. Jór, though, means in poetry, a steed. We can thus interpret her new name as ‘young person-steed’ that evokes an unruly animal and a very masculine one. This also recalls Hávamál s. 90 that compares also a woman to a steed (there , jór accusative case). It is inconceivable that the author of the poem would be unaware of this stanza, I thus see here an allusion to a woman as unruly as a “young steed without ice-spikes, on the slipping ice, etc.” as described by this stanza. The difference is that Íðunn is clearly far from being merry in this stanza.

http://www.nordic-life.org/nmh/NewHavamalEng90-95.htm

 

Comments on the vocabulary

 

Svella past participle, sollin means swollen.

The verb sækja, to seek, takes sometimes the form sóttu in its plural preterit, although this form misses in C-V and, curiously, he provides an example of it in a reflexive form (sóttusk). The substantive sótt means ‘disease, grugebut cannot decline into sóttu. The possibility of a pun is very strong here.

Syn = ‘denial, protest’.

The masculine munr, ‘time of change, the difference’, does mun in the dative and accusative singular.

þó means ‘though’ or ‘yet’.

Dygði could be the dative or the accusative of the feminine word dygð,virtue, probity, strength’. But a verb is ‘lacking’ here and it seems more judicious to me to see here duga, to help, his subjunctive preterit being dygði.

 

 

Comments on the meaning

 

 

The translation given above seems clear. Íðunn demoted from goddess to steed by her new name, refuses, or is unable to answer the mass of questions the gods ask to her in s. 11. They insist with flows of words (their ‘chatterings’) but fail to communicate with Jórunn. Besides, she seems deeply unhappy and the gods, powerless.

 Stanza 16


 

 

Rask’s version

 

Lassen’s version

Literally

 

Fór frumkvavþull

fregnar brauta,

hirþir aþ Herjans

horni Gjallar;

Nálar nefa

nam til fylgis,

greppr Grímis [Grímnis]

 

grund varþveitti.

 

 

For frumqvödull

fregnar bröta,

hirdir at Herians

horni Giallar,

Nalar nefa

nam til fylgiss;

greppur Grimnis

 

grund vardveitti.

 

1. Travelled, the first to summon

2. expert of the roads,

3. shepherd (Heimdall) for Herjan (Óðinn)

4. of Gjallarhorn;

5. of Nál the nephew

6. took as helper

7. the poet of Grímnir (Grímnir is one of Óðinn’s names and his poet is Bragi.)

8. Earth  defended.

 

 

Translation

Lines 5 and 7 become 7 and 8.

 

1. He travelled, the first to summon,

2. expert of the roads,

3. guardian (Heimdall) for Óðinn

4. of Gjallarhorn;

5. he took as helper

6. Nál’s nephew (Loki) [l. 5 et 7 à l. 7 et 8]

7. (and) Óðinn’s poet (Bragi)

8. (who) defended Earth, Jörð.

 

 

Comments on the vocabulary

 

Frum-kvödull = the first ‘summoner’ (the first to convene).

Fregna = ‘to hear, to be informed’

Fylgi = an assistance, a support, does fylgis in the genitive.

Grund = the ground, the field, but in poetry it indicates the Earth, Jörð, more known under her ‘new age’ name Gaia. Here, it is in the nominative or the accusative.

Varð-veita = ‘guard-to offer’ i.e. ‘to offer to guard, defend’. The verb veita can also mean ‘to trench’. As far as Íðunn became ‘grund’, a field, protecting such a place can be understood as ‘to protect with a trench around the field’.

 

Comments on the meaning

 

This stanza recalls what is already known by s. 9 in order to insure that anyone knows who are ‘the gods’ in stanzas 9-16. 

This stanza contains important additional information, though expressed through weak allusions. The last line could also be understood as an indication that Bragi becomes the equivalent of a kind of trench protecting Earth. In order tto insert this stanza in a coherent way inside the poem, it is necessary for us to admit that Heimdall and Bragi become aware that humanity is under the threat of a complete elimination. They stop their present mission with Íðunn and travel to Miðgarðr to save mankind.  The last line says that they protect it or, in as hint, that they isolate it from the rest of the universe, in such a way that the still living part of humankind survives the “terrible winter” before Ragnarök.  We will see that Bragi ‘disappears’ from the rest of the poem, which suggests that the god who carries the poetic power will not come back to Ásgarðr.

 

 

Stanza 17

 

 

Rask’s version

 

Lassen’s version

Literally

 

Vingólf tóko

Viþars [Viþris] þegnar,

Fornjóts sefum

fluttir báþir;

iþar ganga,

æsi kveþja

Yggjar þegar

viþ avlteiti.

Vingolf toko

Viþars þegnar,

Forniotz sefum

fluttir báþir;

jþar ganga

Æsi kveþia

Yggiar þegar

viþ aulteite.

Vingólf they caught

of Viðar [Óðinn or Viðar?] the warriors,

by Fornjót’s sons

flitted/floated both;

Inside they go,

the Æsir address,

of Yggr [Óðinn] at once

with beer-joy.

Translation

They reached Vingólf

Viðar’s or Óðinn’s warriors,

Helped by Fornjót’s sons

both carried as if by a stream;

inside they go,

they speak to the Æsir

at once, they join to

Yggr’s beer feast.

 

Comments on the vocabulary

 

Vingólf = vinr-gólf = “pleasing residence.” It is the name of a divine residence, known by Snorri that he identifies in a contradictory or confused way, either with Gimlé (name of gods’ residence after Ragnarök), or in Valhöll (Óðinn’ soldiers residence). This confusion is also implicitly present in Völuspá’s last stanzas, see their literal translation at Völuspá.

Fornjótr =          1. for-njótr = in front of-man = envoy, representative.

                           2. forn- jótr = ancient-dental_deformation.

Therefore, the meaning ‘representative’, evoking Óðinn’s envoys, is not possible since thy which are transported, and not the ‘conveying ones’. Fornjót is the name of a giant seemingly meaning ‘the ancient one with a deformed face’. His sons are bringing back the two envoys to Ásgarðr. The way they are brought back is described by the verb flytja, prét.  flutti, to transport, with undertones of flitting or being shaken by the waves. Here, if the poet tries to again ridicule the gods “they fluttered back” is possible.

Báðir = both. Only two of the envoys are brought back to Vingólf.

Þegar = immediately.

Ölteiti = öl-teiti = ale-cheerfulness. Teiti is an invariant ‘weak’ feminine: all its grammatical cases are ‘teiti.

 

Comments on the meaning

 

The kenning ‘Viðar’s warriors’ cannot represent here more than two (báðir) of the envoys of Óðinn to Íðunn. Stanza 20 will say that they are Heimdall and Loki. This kenning accentuates the ambiguity in the meaning of Vingólf. It is known that Viðar will survive Ragnarök (it crushes Fenrir with his enormous shoe). The action of this poem occurs a little before Ragnarök sand the one who dies, Óðinn, is brought closer, or slightly confused with, his successor, Viðar.

Again, all this occurs a little before Ragnarök and the gods are joyous at drinking alcohol, which strongly displeased commentators who deplore the “gods’ futility.” It may be that the gods thought that a battle is never lost in advance and they welcomed it a joyful spirit, which appears very typical of someone ‘Viking-spirited’, more so than the timid jitters seemingly necessary to most commentators.

 

 

Stanza 18

 

 

Rask’s version

 

Lassen’s version

Literally

 

Heilan Hangatý,

heppnaztan ása,

virt avndvegis

valda báþo;

sæla at sumbli

sitja día,

æ med Yggjongi

yndi halda.

Heilan Hangaty

hepnastann Ása

virt öndveigis,

vallda baþu,

sæla at sumbli

sitia dia,

æ meþ Yggiongi

yndi halda.

Holy Hangatýr,

happiest of the Æsir,

the beer wort from the high seat

to lead they requested ;

happiness [to be happy] at sumbel

(they asked) to sit the Gods,

for ever with Young Yggr

happiness to hold on.

 

Translation

 

They requested holy Hangatýr,

happiest of the Æsir,

to lead (the ceremony of)

the beer wort from the high seat;

[they asked] to keep the delight,

to sit down the gods,

for ever with Óðinn

[and] to be happy at the sumbel.

 

 

Comments on the vocabulary

 

Heppin = happy, heppnastan = happiest (accusative).

Virt is explained in detail by Lassen in the following way:

The word for wort or mash, the mixture of powdered malt and water before fermentation into beer, in Old Icelandic is virtr (n., dat. sg. virtri, Sigrdrífumál 17). Virt (f., dat. virt, same meaning), used here, is recorded in Orðabók Háskólans in texts, mostly rímur, from the sixteenth century onwards. In this poem the word is used to mean the beer itself (metonymy).”

Note that this philological remark tends to date the poem from the 15-16th centuries, neither really old, nor a ‘(pre)-romantic imagination’.

Önt-vegi = placed opposed to the entry-place = the high-seat, here in the genitive.

Valda =to use, direct, cause '.

Beiðja =to request, require, beg’, here of the plural preterit, baðu = they required. In the translation, baðu in the 4th line is used twice, with the meaning ofto require’ and ‘to ask’.

Sæla is feminine which can be only in the nominative. It means ‘happyness’ but cannot be the subject of one of the existing verbs (to ask, sit, preserve). This is why I do not translate it as yndi, as a direct object. I translate it by a verbal form, “being happy.”

Díar = ‘the gods, the priests’, día is its accusative or its genitive.

Yndi = delight. It is a neutral word which can be in the dative or the accusative. I htus translate it as direct object of ‘to preserve '. 

 

Comments on the meaning

 

Hangatýr, means ‘hung Tyr’, and it is once more a way to speak of Óðinn. This name points out the sufferings that Óðinn had to endure to acquire the magic of the runes. There are runes of beer besides, where the beer undoubtedly represents a form of magic. Seemingly, the Gods are holding a feast, and they would be, in the current context, indeed a little ridiculous. But this feeling is associated to an unrestrained, though justified propaganda relative to the dangers of alcohol consumption. It is completely anachronistic and does not take into account the obvious: of hard, frugal and active life in the old world.

This type of ‘drinking binge’ was called a ‘sumbel’ which can, according to circumstances, lead to an alcoholic intoxication. We drinks there, but only one (sometimes long) mouthful at the same time, and the horn full of beer or with hydromel circulates in the assembly. Each one, before drinking, utters an incantation, or calls upon a divinity or even, taunts a friend by criticizing a god, being understood that the friend will have to justify the god’s behavior. The horn passes then to a neighbor. It is thus a religious ceremony in which each one is a priest and drinks some beer. It is obvious that if the ceremony lasts several hours, the intoxication of the participants will slowly grow. Even in this case, it is the opposite of our drinking bouts where alcohol is consumed as fast as possible.


 

 

 

Stanza 19

 

Rask’s version

Lassen’s version

Literally

Bekkjar sett

At [er] Bölverks ráþi

sjöt Sæhrímni

saddist rakna;

Skögul aþ skutlum

skaptker Hnikars

mat af miþi

Mímis [Mínnis] hornum.

Beckjar sett

at Bölverks raþi,

siot Sæhrimni

saddist rakna;

Skögul at skutlum

skapt ker Hnikars

mat af miþi

minnis hornum.

Bench set

following Bölverk’s advice,

the host with Sæhrímnir

satiated of the gods;

Skögul of the plates

container (dative) of Hnikar

measured ‘at’ the mead

of Mimir in the (drinking) horns.

 

Translation

 

On the benches set,

as organized by Óðinn,

the host of the gods

satiated with Sæhrímnir’s flesh;

the serving valkyrie

drew mead out of Óðinn’s cask

and she measured the amount

to pour out in the drinking horns.

 

Comments on the vocabulary

 

Sjót = host or home.

Bölverk, “evil doer,” is again a name for Óðinn.

Rakni is the name of a sea king. The combination “sjót Rakna thus results in “Rakni’s host” a kenning to speak of the host of the gods. We can also read ‘ragna (genitive of rögn, gods), instead of ‘rakna and we obtains the same meaning. Still another possibility is to see yet another allusion to Óðinn since Rögnir is one of his name. This leads us to see here a “Óðinn’s host,” which is not very probable but illustrates the quantity of allusions which may sprout in the reader’s mind.

Sæhrímnir is the name of the pig that is eaten by Óðinn’s warriors in Valhöll. Here, it is the dative.

The verb seðja, to satiate, gives saddi in the preterit and the final -st indicates a reflexive form: ‘it was satiated’. The combination “Sæhrímni saddist thus results in “it was satiated by Sæhrímnir.”

Skögul is a Valkyrie. Völuspá, s. 30 gives a list Valkyries, starting as follows: “Skuld helt skildi ,/ en Skögul önnur Skuld carries a shield, and Skögul the second…).”   Skuld is thus a Valkyrie who carries a shield, i.e. a warlike one who protects another fighter. This shows how  Valkyries are regarded as warlike persons.

Skutill, dative plural skutlum, indicates either a harpoon, or a plate carrying food.

Skaptker is a late form of skapker, a large container, a barrel, from which drinks are drawn. It is here in the accusative, which implies an implicit preposition followed by the accusative.

The word mjöðr, mead, does miði in the dative.

Mímis mjöðr, the mead of Mímir, is often called the mead of poetry. This drink has been by Óðinn recovered. See the comments of Hávamál stanzas 13 and 14 and the myth in stanzas 103-110.

 

Comments on the meaning

 

This stanza provides some details on the way in which the gods held their sumbel feasts and underlines again the merry spirit of the gods, the day before Ragnarök.

A Valkyrie is a warlike maidservant of Óðinn. She is in general a princess and warlike and she is charged to bring back Óðinn’s share of combat dead ones. The other share is intended for Freyja. We know them also as serving beer for the dead warriors while they feast on Sæhrímnir’s meat. This stanza slightly modifies the myth by introducing a Valkyrie who serves the gods during their feasts. Note also that, here, the Valkyrie controls the quantities of mead to be served. That makes her more like a housewife than a simple maidservant.

 

Stanza 20

 

Rask’s version

 

Lassen’s version

Literally

Margs of frágo

máltíþ yfir

Heimdall há goþ,

havrgar Loka,

spár eþa spakmál

sprund ef kendi,

undorn ófravm [ófram/of-röm],

unz nam húma [húm/himia/ hinna].

Margs of fragu

maltid yfir

Heimdall ha goþ,

rgar Loka,

spar eþa spakmal

sprund ef kiende,

undorn oframm

 unz nam huma.

 

Much they exchanged words (asked)

the banquet along

(with) Heimdall, (with) the High god,

the gods (sacrificial stones), (with) Loki,

foreseeings or wise and quieting words

the woman whether had taught,

middle afternoon beyond

until caught twilight.

 

 

Translation

Throughout the banquet, the gods

heard much Heimdall, Óðinn (and) Loki,

beyond the middle of the afternoon (or beyond meal time)

until twilight came

(to know) if the woman had taught

prophecies or wise and quieting words.

 

 

Comments on the vocabulary

 

The verb fregna, does frágu in the preterit plural, and means ‘to listen, to ask’. The grammar of the beginning of the stanza is not comprehensible if this verb is not understood as ‘to speak with’, meaning that two persons mutually exchange information.

Until now, we spelled as Heimdall the name of the god, while it seems to be in this stanza better in the place of an accusative, the nominative of which is Heimdallr. The two spellings are found in the texts.

Yfir, ‘above, beyond’, takes here a metaphorical meaning: ‘throughout’.

Máltið = mál-tið = (meal tide), a meal. Mál has many meanings and among them, the one of ‘time of the meal’. Tið, ‘time, season’ is a feminine that reads also ‘tið in the accusative and the dative. In English, ‘máltið yfir means “throughout the meal.”

Hörgr is a rocky temple standing outside and sprinkled with sacrificial blood. It is here in the nominative plural. It differs from a temple (hof) which can contain images or sculptures and is built out of wood. I follow here Lassen who interprets it as ‘the gods’ and subject of verb fregna (fragu, they asked). A temple cannot ‘ask’ something, but it is constant in the Norse texts to meet the representation of a god (translated as ‘idol’, by translators impregnated with Christian culture) actually called a god or a god name. [For example, Frigg’s image will always be translated as an “idol” whereas the original text always calls it “Frigg.”]. Conversely, a hörgr, a temple, that represent the gods can well mean ‘gods’, as Lassen understands. Finally, hörgar is looked upon as being the subject of verb fregja and the other three characters as direct objects complements.

We already postulated that Heimdall should be an accusative, and há goð is the accusative of ‘hár goðr’, the high god. Here, Óðinn who is called often simply ‘High’ (Hár). Loka can also be an accusative form of Loki.

Spá, a prophecy, is feminine which does spár in the plural, in the nominative and in the accusative.

One of the other possible meanings of mál is ‘word, speech’, it is a neutral, which remains mál in the plural, nominative and accusative. The prefix spak - comes from spakr = ‘quieting, wise’. This is why I translate spakmál by ‘wise and quieting words’.

Verb kenna, to know, can also mean ‘to teach’, the taught thing is in the accusative and to the person taught is in the dative. Thus, they discuss to know if the woman, Íðunn taught prophecies or wise words.

Undorn means ‘middle of afternoon’ from which derives the possible meaning of ‘meal’.

Preposition umfram meansbeyond.

 

Comments on the meaning

 

As already announced, Bragi seems to be completely forgotten here. By his role of poet, he should be who tells the story. This confirms the assumption that in stanza 16, Bragi stays on Miðgarðr, i.e. he will not return to Ásgarðr. In stanza 17, Viðar’s warriors cannot be but Heimdall and Loki.

 

Stanza 21


 

 

 

Rask’s version

Lassen’s version

Literally

Illa léto

orþit hafa

erindisleyso

of lítil-fræga;

vant at væla

verþa myndi,

svô af svanna

svars of-gæti.

Illa létu

Ordid hafa

Erindis leysu

Oflítil fræga;

vant at væla

verþa mynde,

svo af svanna

svars ofgæti.

Badly, they let

the report bring

the mission-failed

of little glory;

wont at wail

they become (that) they shape

such of the woman

an answer they mention.

 

Translation

 

They clumsily did

their report

of a failed mission

of little glory;

(they) need to wail

(for) giving shape (to their failure)

(and) they thus could mention

an answer done by the woman.

 

Comments on the vocabulary

 

The first word, ílla is an adverb meaning ‘badly’. I suppose that it describes how they report of their mission failure.  

Láta, to let, does létu in the preterit plural. The way of speech ‘to let bring’ underlines their lack to bring a true report of their mission.

Orð means word, report, message’. It is a neuter that does, in the nominative and the accusative, orðit when suffixed with the article, i. e.  orðit = the message.

The verb geta, means when it is followed by the accusative to get’ and, when it is followed by a genitive, to mention’.

Erendi, eyrendi, orendi = errand, mission, erendisleysa: mission-failure

væla means to wail’.

 

Comments on the meaning

 

Loki and Heimdall not only failed in their mission but the poem stresses that they were also unable to assume this failure when confronted to Óðinn’ questioning.

 

 

Stanza 22

 

 

Rask’s version

Lassen’s version

Literally

Ansar Ómi,

allir hlýddo:

Nótt skal nema

nýræþa til;

hugsi til myrgins

hver sem orkar

ráþ til-leggja

rausnar-ásom!”

Ansar Ómi,

allir hlýddo:

Nótt skal nema

nýræþa til;

hugsi til myrgins

hver sem orkar

ráþ til-leggja

rausnar-ásom!”

Replies Ómi,

all listened:

“Night will teach

new advice;

thinks until morning

who so works (at)

an advice to increase

the glory for the Æsir!”

 

Translation

 

Óðinn replies,

all listened:

“Night shall bring

a new (good) advice;

let him think until morning

who so works (at)

an advice in order to add

glory to the Æsir!”

 

Comments on the vocabulary

 

Ómi is another of Óðinn’s names: ‘the speakeraccording to ómr: ‘sound, voice’.

anza = to reply

nema = to take and metaphorically, to learn.

ný-ræði = new-advice

leggja = to install, and metaphorically, to take interest in. Leggja til: to add to, and til is followed by a genitive.

rausn, ‘magnificence, gloryis a feminine that thus does rausnar in the singular genitive.

Ásum is the plural dative of Æsir, the gods.

 

Comments on the meaning

 

The festival highlighted the lack of result of Heimdall’s embassy. Óðinn cannot do more than conclude in a little disheartened way, but in a very emphatic form, that they need to sleep on all these events. We can guess that who will try “add glory to the Æsir” during his nightly work is Óðinn himself.

 

 

Stanza 23

 

 

Rask’s version

 

Rann meþ ravstum

Rindar móþir

Favþur Jarþar [þrlarðr/ larðar/larður]

fenris valla [valda];

gengo frá gildi

goþin, kvöddo

Hrópt ok Frigg,

sem Hrímfaxa fór.

Lassen’s version

 

Rann meþ röstum

Rindar moþir,

föþur lardur

 

Fenris valla

gengo fra gilde;

goþinn kvoddu

Hropt ok Frygg,

sem Hrimfaxa for.

Literally

 

She flew with streams

of Rindr the mother

fodder-lard 

 

of Fenrir hardly;

went from the banquet

the gods addressed   

Hróptr and Frigg

while Hrímfaxi travelled.

 

Translation

Rindr’s mother (Sunna) 

Fenrir’s bait

hardly succeeds

in flying away on air flows;

the gods left 

the banquet (and) addressed (their greetings)

to Óðinn and Frigg

while Hrímfaxi travelled

(while night was falling).

 

Comments on the vocabulary

 

The verb renna does rann in the preterit.  It means ‘to run, fly, slip’.

The substantive röst indicates a flow and it is used especially to speak about marine currents.

Móðir Rindar = Rindr’s mother.  Rindr can be a heiti for any of the goddesses present at the banquet.

valla = varla = hardly.

Faðir does föður in the cases other than the nominative. Many words are made up in the form föður-. Thus, Fenris-föður makes excellent a kenning for Loki, supposing it follows a preposition asking for a dative or an accusative.  

We are left with the problem of translating the word ‘lardr'.  Lassen solves the problem by reading ‘laraðr', tired.  Thus, she can see here a “scarcely tired Loki.”

The first translators (as C-V explains) found another solution where they read föþur as fóðr, fodder. They could then preserve ‘lardr’ which means ‘lard, fat’ and read Fenris fóðr-lardr as ‘Fenris’ fat-fodder’ i.e. Fenrir rich food, or Fenrir’s bait. This may look a bit overstretched but Lassen’s solution leaves us in front of a “Rindr’s  mother who runs/flies in streams/flows” what is hard to understand. Lassen still avoids this problem by using the fact that the word röst gave English ‘race, which enables her to say that she “ran with long strides” creating thus the problem to know which goddess might run with long strides. Considering the old hypothesis, we have to think that one goddess who can be said to leave the banquet by “flying on flows of air” is Sunna, the goddess sun, since night is falling. This will be stated in the second part of this stanza. According to several legends and myths, the ‘she’-sun is chased by a wolf seeking to eat her, as in the tale of ‘Little Red Riding Hood’. My translation thus uses the old assumption because it enables a better understand the first line and connects it to the last one.

 

The verb kveðja, ‘to call, address’ does kvöddu in the plural preterit.

The verb fara, to travel, does fór in the plural preterit.

Hroptr (‘le crier’) is an Óðinn’s traditional name.

Hrímfaxi is one of Night’s horses.

 

Comments on the meaning

 

According to the first line, the ‘she’-sun leaves the banquet and, according to the last, night is already here. This gives a great coherence to this stanza, otherwise somewhat useless.

This (male) wolf running thus after a ‘she’-sun in order to eat ‘her’ his met, as we said, in ‘Little Red Riding Hood’, and we know that Perrault, in year 1697, already claimed the strongly sexual meaning of the allegory contained in his tale. It happens that the word fóðr means, in addition to ‘fodder’, also ‘sheath, vagina’ (this second meaning is given by de Vries only) so Sunna is also Fenris’ ‘fatty vagina’. The double of meaning of the appetites of two kinds is thus quite present. It will be noted that ‘fatty fodder’ is odd, whereas the sexual allusion is perhaps shocking but much more logical. Moreover, the existence of at least a kenning meaning ‘under-belly, bosom’ is given by Meissner: "Schlecht ist die Kenning hjarta sals höll (the hall of the sale of the heart) für Unterleib (bosom).”

 

 

Stanza 24

 

 

Rask’s version

Lassen’s version

Literally

Dýrum settan

Dellíngs mavgr

jó framkeyrþi

jarkna-steinom [rokna/jokna/jarknast];

mars of Manheim

mavn af glóar,

dró leik Dvalins

drösull í reiþ.

 

Dýrum settan

Dellings mavgur

jo framm keyrþi

jarkna steinum;

 

mars of Manheim

mön af gloar,

dro leik Dvalins

dravsull í reiþ.

 

With expensive ones, well set up,

Dellingr’s son

the horse forwards let go

(with) precious stones;

 

of the horse over Manheimr,

the mane glows,

carried along the game of Dvalinn

the steed with the wagon

 

 

Translation

 

Dellingr’s son pushed forwards

The horse, well set up

with expensive precious stones;

the horse mane shone

over Manheimr,

the steed carried along

with its carriage

Dvalinn’s game opponent.

 

Comments on the vocabulary

 

Dellingr’s son, Dagr (Day), pushes forward his horse, i.e. the sun has risen over. We can say that dawn has the color of an invaluable stone. 

Manheimr is a residence sometimes identified with Sweden. For Snorri, it seems to be the place where human myths take place.

Leikr is a game that can be a sport. Dvalinn is a dwarf who plays a dangerous game with the sun. If the last catches up with him, the dwarf is changed to stone. “Dvalinn’s game” is thus Sunna, the sun goddess. Very often, leikr even implies a struggle; this is why I translate it by “game opponent.”

 

Comments on the meaning

 

This stanza says to us that night has gone away and that the day comes back.

 

 

Stanza 25

 

Rask’s version

Lassen’s version

Literally

Jörmungrundar

í jaþar [jokna/jarknast/ jodyr]

 nyrþra [néþra]

und rót yzto

aþal-þollar

gengo til rekkjo

gýgjur ok þursar,

náir, dvergar

ok dök-álfar.

Jormungrundar

i *jodyr nyrdra

 

und rót ytstu

adalþollar

gengo til reckio

gygiur ok þursar,

nair, dvergar

ok dockalfar.

Of Jörmungrundr

by the Northern border,

 

under the root the furthest out

from the primal young pine tree,

went to bed

Giantesses and Thursar,

corpses, Dwarves,

and black Elves.

 

Translation

 

At the northern limit

of Huge Ground (Earth)

under the furthest out root

of the (by essence) primal tree (Yggdrasill),

Giants and Thursar,

corpses, Dwarves

and black Elves.

went towards a bed

(they laid down on their death-bed).

 

 

Comments on the vocabulary

 

The substantive jaðarr, spelled once in Völuspá as jöðurr and here as jodyrr, means ‘limit, border’. This is a masculine thus doing jaðar/jöður/jodyr in the accusative. 

Yztr is the superlative of ytri = outbound.

Aðal indicates nobility, and in poetry, an “innate quality”, this is why I translate it by “by essence primary”.

Þollr is a young pine but, in poetry, it often indicates any tree and even human.

Nár, plural náir, means ‘corpse’.

Rekkja, a bed, does rekkju in the genitive.

 

Comments on the meaning

 

This stanza has a funeral tone which announces the forthcoming disaster. It provides details on the universe organization. We however do not know if this is the universe of the living or of the dead. All the characters in the list in the last three lines will soon die. The ‘corpses’ in the middle of the list thus are a surprise since they should twice die. Does this indicate that the poem implies the disappearance of the five worlds quoted after Ragnarök? This assumption which is not absurd since none of these worlds is mentioned in the only description we have of a universe after Ragnarök, at the end of Völuspá.

Anyhow, the lie under the most remote and Northern of Yggdrasill’s root near to  Hel, the abode of humans who did not die in combat. Here, Jötunheimar (always in the plural), are the residences of the giants (“Giantesses and Thursar”) are thus close to Hel, as are those of the dwarves and the black elves. The latter are elves who do not live in Ásgarðr because the ‘non-black’ Elves are divine creatures living with the Æsir in Ásgarðr. 

For a more detailed description of the mythical universe of the Scandinavian religions, I recommend Jan de Vries’ erudite version (quoted below, pp. 372-392, Das Weltbild).

In addition, Jörmungrundr indicates the earth but the etymology of the word is very significant. Grund is a field, the ground, but the meaning of jörmun is less clear. De Vries connects it - in his dictionary - to a primitive form *ermuna meaning “powerful, large.” That Earth might be an immense field is not surprising. But the same de Vries - in his History of the old Germanic religions (Berlin, 1970 - 1st edition 1957) - when he describes Tyr God, connects the forms Tiwaz and Irmin just as Jakob Grimm did. We can of course oppose to that, but we cannot dispute the documentation which he gathers on the forms Irmin, irmingot, eormengrund etc. and various Germanic divinities with a similar name (Hermegiselus, Ermanaricus, etc.). In other words, it seems to me clear that Jörmungrundr is, of course, “the immense ground,” but he is also a god - or the male form of a goddess - Earth, i.e. the masculine equivalent of Jörð, the earth and Þórr’s mother.

 

 

Stanza 26

 

 

Rask’s version

Lassen’s version

Literally

Riso raknar,

rann álfravþull,

norþr at Niflheim

njóla sótti;

upp rann [nam] árgjöll

Ulfrúnar niþr,

Hornþyt-valdr

Himinbjarga.

 

Risu racknar,

rann Alfröþull,

nordur ad Niflheim

Niola sokte;

upp nam ar Giöll

Ulfrunar niþur

hornþyt valldur

Himin biarga.

 

Rose up the Gods,

ran Elf-sun,

to the North, near Niflheimr

Night proceeded;

up took [ran] Ancient-Din

of Úlfrún the descendant,

Horn-Blow-Noisy warder,

(to) Himinbjörg.

 

 

Translation

 

The gods rose up 

(when) Sunna ran,

(and, simultaneously)

Njóla proceeded

towards North, near Niflheimr;

the warder of din-blow horn (Heimdall),

son of Úlfrún,

brought up Antique-Din (Gjallahorn)

towards the celestial peaceful homes.

 

 

 

Comments on the vocabulary

 

Röðull means halo and glory. In poetry, it means the sun, but its own meaning of ‘glorious halo’ is also interesting.

Norðr, north, is a neutral word, therefore invariant in the accusative so that it means also ‘towards North’. 

Stanza 24 says to us that Sunna’s cart drives over Manheimr, and this stanza says that Njóla, ‘night’ in the language of the gods (it is nótt in human language), goes towards Niflheimr.   Niflheimr is understood either as the world, or as the dead ones’ abode, different of Niflhel, the dead ones’ underground world. The etymology of the root nifl- is disputed: it would be ‘dark, or fog, or deep’.

Gjöll is related to verb gjala, to howl. In poetry, it means ‘din, alarm’. The prefix ár is often used to name an object or a person of ‘old times, antique’. In any case, the bond with gjala makes of this noise a powerful din.

Úlfrún means “Wolf-rune’ and this is the name of one of the nine Heimdall’s mothers.

Niðr has two possible meanings: either ‘son, descendant ', or ‘downwards’. 

The masculine þytr means a noise that is similar a blow as do the wind and wind instruments (whistle, horn etc.). 

Valdr or valdi is a holder, a keeper, warder.

Himinbjörg (sky-safety) is the name of the residence of Heimdall. Björg is feminine and thus Himinbjarga can be only a genitive plural. Lassen understands it as the possessive modifier of valdr, which is of course possible, but does not take into account the plural (she translates: “(Heimdallur), ruler of Himinbjörg.” I prefer to less torture the sentence and to preserve Rask’s interpretation which reads as an agglomeration the word Hornþyt-valdr (horn-noise-warder) and to explain the genitive by an implied ‘til’: Heimdall blows to (til) all the celestial residences in order to warn all the gods of the impending Ragnarök.

 

On ragnarök/ragnarökr

Gods’ twilight or judgement or destiny?

 

In this word, ragna is the genitive plural of rögn, the gods. But rök/rökr is a little harder catch, all the more so that it has been complicated at will.

Here are two false complexities. One, know that the ‘ö’ of word rök has been written in Old Norse as ‘ƍ’.  This does not create any confusion, everyone writes it at present time rök, except a few specialists. Two, the word rökr can have its ‘ö’ written as a ø. Moreover the letter ‘k’ can be doubled in rökkr. Here too, no confusions other than artificial ones because all these spellings are equivalent.

We are left with a unique problem, the one of differentiating rök and rökr.

In his Edda, Snorri systematically uses the word rökr, with a radical ‘r’, i.e. it does rökrs in the genitive. This word classically means ‘darkness, twilight’. You thus see that Wagner, in his “Twilight of the Gods” did the ‘error’ of using Snorri’s spelling: it is ridiculous to ridicule this choice.

The experts nevertheless became aware that this word appears nowhere else in the old authors who use rök. In particular, there are several agglomerated words on rök, and none on rökr. As I have just said it, the meaning given to rökr is not disputed. On the contrary, the one of rök varies much. It is, for C.-V.: ‘cause, origin; remarkable fact, event’. De Vries gives: ‘darelegung, grund (explanation, cause); verlauf (process); schicksal (fate). Lexicon poëticum more or less confuses the two words, and provides this example: rök rökra = tenebræ tenebrarum (‘the darkness of darknesses’, i.e. the deepest darkness).

Lastly, the meaning of ‘sentence’ is met in Old High German. I often use this meaning that accounts for the sentence applied to the gods during Ragnarök. In addition, when such a conflict arises, I tend to try to reconcile de Vries and C.-V. in the following translation for Ragnarök: ‘destiny of the gods’.

 

 

Comments on the meaning

 

This last stanza enables us to understand why the poem author believed necessary to describe the sun rise with so much pomp (s. 24) and why s. 25 is so gloomy: The day rising it is the one when where Heimdall will sound his horn to announce the beginning of Ragnarök.

The day rises after this gloomy night, and Heimdall will sound his horn (the poem says that he raises his horn) to announce the fate/ sentence of the Gods, Ragnarök, during which the universe will be shattered.

Many see in this myth a Christian influence, undoubtedly because of the Christian myth of the last judgement. Ragnarök is indeed a last judgement, but it is the one of the Gods, and not the one of the humankind, and we know that the Gods to be sentenced. This feeling is rendered in more usual translations of “twilight” (Wagner), or of “bitter destiny” (Boyer), or “Schlachtgötter Sturz (battle of the gods collapse)” (Genzmer). This myth is therefore deeply different from the Christian one. From another point of view, another source of knowledge on Ragnarök is Völuspá, in particular its last stanzas, that are always said to be very ‘Christian’. I oppose this opinion and I send you to my word for word translation of the 8 last stanzas you will find at VoluspaNOUVEng .