Hávamál (High's Word)
Stanzas 1-7 on relationships among guests
Stanzas 53-56 Wisdom is not happiness
Stanzas 68-72 "The tolerable, the good and the best"
From 73 to 110, the stanzas seem muddled when advice about love is not looked upon just as normal advice. I ordered them as follows:
Stanza 85-89 “Be weary, be ready: No benefit hazards”
Stanza 90-85 "Initiation to love"
From 90 up to 110, Óđinn tells his love affairs with the maid of Billingr and with Gunnlöđ.
Stanza 96-102 "For Billingr's maid love"
"For Billingr's maid love"
Stanzas 103-110 "Gunnlödh's love"
Stanzas 103-110 "Gunnlödh's love"
Stanzas 138-145 “The language of the runes (Rúnatal)”
Stanzas 146-164 “Ljódatal: The List of Songs”
Why did I start this n-th translation of Hávamál?
What I propose here is not really another translation. It is rather a commentary and a discussion of its possible meanings. This discussion is more properly an attempt at a reconstruction of the several meanings that this text could carry for a Heathen of the, say, tenth century. As in any other reconstruction, humility is in order here since we are simply doing our best to reconstruct as honestly as we are able to.
This approach often leads to see Hávamál under a new light the four main directions of which are as follows.
1. Many stanzas allude to magic and these allusions are mostly ignored by academic translators. It even happens that this bias leads to some incongruity as, for instance, in stanza 8.
2. Another bias, the one of despising Heathen beliefs leads as well to incongruities, as in stanza 49.
3. I have the feeling that experts tend to see Hávamál as built from ill-assorted pieces. I do here my best to show how each stanza, each line in the stanza, is perfectly in place, and all fit in the general structure of the poem’s coherency. This relative indifference the coherency of the whole poem leads to choose meanings that fit the line but contradict the poem as a whole. A striking example is found in stanza 84. See also how stanza 74 is dealt with in an offhand way because it contains a line which obviously is a maritime saying the meaning of which has been lost.
4. Totally apart from the academic approach, a political approach gave to Hávamál a bellicose and supremacist aura. This is not always totally wrong since Hávamál’s options are quite harsh, very far from the compassion our society prides itself on so hypocritically. This opinion, however, forgets many stanzas filled with a deep humanism. See for instance stanza 57 on the value of speech in human exchanges and, more importantly, pointing out that the arrogant self-conceited person cuts his links with humanity. See also stanza 71 on the social value of handicapped persons and the many stanzas that commend a honest life without greed, as in 10, 68, 78 etc.
This poem has been divided in several parts by the commentators. As you see below in the list of translations put on line, I’ll not use all their choices. The classical divisions are as follows. Stanzas 1-78 are called the gnomic ones because they advise on the way of life. Stanza 79 begins what can be called Ódhinn’s love complaint even though gnomic stanzas are still included. Stanza 111 starts Ódhinn’s adventure with Billings mćr (Billing’s maid) and with Gunnlöđ. After stanza 111, a new set of gnomic stanzas starts. They are addressed to a character named Loddfáfnir, this is why it is called Loddfáfnismál. The runic part of the poem then starts. It is divided in two: Rúnatal and Ljóđatal (Rune- and Song-talk)
You are very welcome to email me for discussing my presentation. Here is my email address, given as an anti-spam riddle. My name is Yves Kodratoff and my email name starts with the third three letters of YVEs, followed by the first three letters of KODratoff. I am on gmail international, hence my address is as Y—K—atGMAILdotCOM.
Here, a few explanations about my motivations.
The structure I found the best to communicate the content of the poem is sevenfold as follows.
1. At first, I propose a translation which, though in plain English, tries to follow a word-for-word presentation. It tends to look like the classical academic translations, except for their care for literary worth (which is not my goal).
2. Follows a translation/explanation trying to make clear some of the ambiguities implicit in the translation.
3. We then can read the Old Norse text itself (including as few as possible versions, except when they deeply alter the meaning of the text) in front of a strictly word-for-word (often hardly understandable) translation. This part is for the readers who are interested in getting an inside view of the ON version.
4. Follows Bellows translation together with variations of several academic translators, when they significantly differ from Bellow’. Two brand new 2011 translations, both due to well acknowledged academics, have been used, namely Ursula Dronke's and Andy Orchard's. I also made use of Régis Boyer's (I'll always translate his French into English) who is particularly interesting due to the fact that, while he is an excellent specialist of the Norse language and civilization, he is also a devoted Christian– for instance his PhD thesis deals with: “Religious Life in Iceland (1116-1264)” which describes the raise of Catholic faith and tries to prove that several stanzas in Hávamál are inspired by biblical texts. Most academics claim their indifference towards religious feelings, while they are obvious, though maybe mild ones, representatives of our Christianity-based civilization. Boyer does not hide his feelings as well as more neutral persons, and his translations - otherwise excellent for a Christian reader – helped me to spot the differences I am trying to make explicit here.
5. I then analyze the meaning of some of the words which are particularly significant for a complete understanding of the stanza. I made use, here, of Evans' glossary which provides a very good view of the academic choices for the meaning of the words, of Hugo Gering's Glossar zu den Liedern der Edda, together with the three basic dictionaries of the ON language, namely Cleasby-Vigfusson's Icelandic-English dictionary, de Vries' Altnordisches etymologisches Wörterbuch. and Sveinbjörn Egilson’s Lexicon Poëticum antiquć Linguć septentrionalis. We find two important editions of this work, a slightly outdated one from 1860 written in Latin, and the other, dated 1931, which has been corrected by Finnur Jónsson, written in Danish.
6. Follows a discussion of the various meanings the stanza can take, depending on which of the possible word meanings we choose to use.
7. Finally, you will find a summary of Evans' commentaries on some of the stanzas. I'll give you only two full samples of these commentaries for stanzas 1 and 2. More details are available online as a pdf version, at