Hávamál 73-84


“Be weary, be ready: No hazard no benefit”

 (73-84), followed byno benefit hazards(85-92)



***Hávamál 73***


A translation as literal as possible


Two are a host for a single one,

the tongue is the head’s bane;

for me, in each fur-coat

(is) an expectation of the hand (= a hand in expectation).


Prose explanation


Two enemies are as dangerous as a host for a man alone, this man’s language, however, by itself alone, can kill his head (and many other heads). For me, in each fur coat hides a ready hand (ready to react).


ON Text and its pseudo English literal translation



Tveir ro eins herjar,           Two are hosts of a single one,

tunga er höfuđs bani;        the tongue (often) is head’ s death;

er mér í heđin hvern          is to me in fur-coat each

handar vćni.                     of the hand readiness.




73. Two make a battle, | the tongue slays the head;

In each furry coat | a fist I look for.


Commentary on the vocabulary


In the formeins herjar’,eins’ can be taken as adjective qualifyingherjar’ and, herjar being a possible singular genitive in the old texts, this results inonly one army’. The sense of the first line would be then “two are a host,” something similar to Bellows’ translation. We can also see inherjar’ a nominative plural and, in the genitiveeins’, an isolated element of these hosts. More generally, the construction called partitive genitive accounts for the presence of a sub-group within a group by putting the sub-group in the genitive case. The meaning of this line is then “two are a host for a single one.” This is the solution chosen by modern translators, and the one giving the most meaningful line. Evans proposes a third solution that uses the verb herja, ‘to harry, destroy’ and introduces a plural personal form herjar, meaningthe destructors’. He would thus translate eins herjar by a traditional genitive: destructors of one alone. The sense of the word herr, ‘host, people’ is so much attested in the literature that his assumption appears not very probable.


Comment on the meaning


The first line recalls how valuable the advantage of number is. The reverse, however, is true for a friendless person who must fight alone.

The second line seems to be completely independent of the first. Thinking of a possible link with the first line leads to noticing that the tongue is alone in the middle of the head and that, with unwise words, it can lead the head to its ruin. Speech is one of the pleasures of life, but one awkward word may waste your life, and the life of many others. This line, which looks very negative, does not say who is dead. If you speak unwisely, you do risk your head. If your enemy does, too bad for him.

A hand can be hidden in a coat to be protected from the cold and it will be ready to shake your hand in pledge of friendship, but it can also be ready to strike you.





This stanza and 74 are widely regarded by editors as interpolated: they contain much obscurity, and interrupt the sequence of regular ljóđaháttr strophes (73 is in málaháttr, and either 7413 or 744 appears to be superumerary).

1 Finnur Jónsson takes herjar as genitive singular: ‘Two (men) are of the same host(but nevertheless one may inflict death on the other, as, for instance, tongue may inflict death on the head; so be watchful, even against your comrade-in-arms). Very little of this, however, is actually in the text. … gives the same general sense, though with unnecessary, and impossible, complications. Corpus Poeticum Boreale 16 inserts a neg. to read Tveir rot eins herjar, and renders ‘Two are never on one side’, adding the cryptic note (Corpus Poeticum Boreale 462)’ somehow wrong’…

It is far better to … take herjar as nom. plural … and translate: ‘Two are the destroyers of one’, i.e. two men are superior to one man. For this sense of herr cp. the verb herja, and herr alls viđar as a kenning for ‘firein Helreiđ Brynhildar 10. …



***Hávamál 74***


A translation as literal as possible


The night will be merry

for whom can rely on his supplies,

(but) the yards of the ship are short;

shifty is an autumn night

many changes (may occur)

during five days,

but even more during one month.


Prose explanation


[These lines, literally taken, are on the verge of idiocy. To understand their meaning, they need to be interpreted. The interpretation given here is explained below.]

Three first lines:

The sailor, while he is doing his hard work, can comfort his exertion by thinking that, after working time, he will be able to relax, provided that he does not lack of drinks (that is, if he can “rely on his supplies”). But, as the proverb says, “people build the yards too short” to mean that nobody deserves full confidence.


Last three lines:

We cannot have confidence in autumn nights because the weather quickly shifts during this time. When you are summoned at court, you have either five days, or one month to report before the court. During your travel, ablast of bad weather’ can happen, that is, your case can take a unexpected turn and worsen. If you choose a convocation giving you one month to present yourself in front of justice, there are even more chances than you will have a nasty surprise when coming in front of your judges.


ON Text and its pseudo English literal translation



Nótt verđr feginn               Night will be joy

sá er nesti trúir,                 to whom supply is faithful,

skammar ro skips ráar;     short are of the ship the yardarms;

hverf er haustgríma;          fickle is a Fall night;

fjölđ of viđrir                      many the changes

á fimm dögum                   during five days

en meira á mánuđi.           but more in one month.




74. He welcomes the night | whose fare is enough,

(Short are the yards of a ship, )

Uneasy are autumn nights;

Full oft does the weather | change in a week,

And more in a month’ s time.

[Bellows note 73-74. These seven lines are obviously a jumble.... In 74, the second line is clearly interpolated, and line 1 has little enough connection with lines 3, 4 and 5. It looks as though some compiler (or copyist) had inserted here various odds and ends for which he could find no better place.]


Commentary on the vocabulary


On trúir (= he believes, he has confidence). This is the third person of the present of verb trúa. Dronke is the only one to translate it as such (“never doubts”), the other translators speak about a good amount of provisions. The use of trúir (he believes) hints at the possibility that the sailor is not always right to believe that the end of his working day will bring relief to him.

On ráar. Plural of : a yardarm, that is, the bar on upon which is fastened the square sail of some boats of the Viking type. The broader the sail, the faster and riskier is the navigation. The Viking warships could have their yards larger than the width of the boat. By taking account of the proverb quoted by Evans, “men make short the yards of the boat,” it seems that it was not an easy thing to build a boat with large yards.

We cannot know what was exactly understood by line 3. For example, an English saying dating from the 18th century states: “the sun is above the yard,” which means that “it is time to make a pause to have some liquor.” A Breton saying is “the sun is in the shroud” (where ‘shroud’ takes its nautical meaning) as warning for rain. These two sayings, if used as if known to everyone, could be able to jumble a lot of texts. The meaning of line 3 should have been so well-known during Viking times that the poet could carelessly insert it in this stanza.

In the context of this stanza, we could read line 3 as “the yards of a ship are very seldom as long as requested from the boat manufacturer”, i.e. “nobody can be fully trusted.” This perfectly fits the two first lines meaning that the nights are pleasant when they are full of fun but nothing is for sure - even that our stores will be available.


On hverfr. This adjective is related to the verb hverfa:to turn over or around’ (as the sun) and, metaphorically, ‘to disappear’. C-V dictionary gives to this word a meaning derived from hverfa in a pejorative way: shifty, illustrated by hverfr hugr = a shifty mind. Lex. Poet. goes less far in this sense by giving variabilis (= mobile, flexible) or mutabilis (variable, elusive). De Vries does not quote this adjective, which implies that he finds it defined enough by a direct derivation from hverfa. As you see, dictionaries do not exactly agree on the meaning of hverfr. The expression hverfr hugr, translated in a very pejorative way by C-V, could, according to Lex. Poet., result ina mobile mind’ (slightly pejorative), ‘a flexible mind’ (laudatory) oran elusive mind’ (derogatory). The context only may help to choose between these versions. Here, we know well that Fall climate is very variable, this is why the derogatory solution appears most probable. When we again meet this adjective applied to women in stanza 84, we will see that the translators expressed what they believe to know of women, as I express here what I know of autumnal nights (which, by the way, may be totally false under other climates that the one I lived through).


On fimm dögum. We already discussed this expression (fimm dagar = five day) when studying stanza 51. Theold five days week’ was preserved in the legal uses according to which one had a week (= five days) or a month (= 30 days) to go to a legal summon. This supposed to travel under the difficult conditions of the time. Meanwhile, new charges could be raised against you, or you could be ambushed by your enemies. Instead of an allusion to a summoning time, all the translators let themselves influence by allusion to the changing weather in line 4, and this stanza seems to explain the obvious, that a good/bad weather is likely to change more during a month than in five days.


Still about fimm dagar, it should be remembered that the months were of 30 days, which left fiveempty’ days each year. These five days were heavy with mystery and could thus give place to mystical travels. I am unsure whether this stanza contains an allusion to this meaning but this is not impossible. During Yule, the doors between the world of living and the dead open and this is an appropriate time to be summoned in front of the gods’ court.


Comment on the meaning


The proverb of line 3, “short are the yards of the boat” indicates that this stanza refers to a person traveling and warns us against the discomforts of this journey. It moderates  the pessimism of the first two lines: you should not too much trúa (be confident) in your hope to have merry nights because it might be impossible to put a hand on your provisions.

In the same way, the fourth line says that the autumn is a season of abundance when you can trúa (be confident) in your food supply. Autumn nights, however, are not always merry, they are so shifty that it is necessary to be wary of them.

Lastly, the last three lines still refer to a travel, the one undergone to answer a legal summoning. It is advantageous to travel slowly during a month to join the place of the judgment, but it gives more time to your enemies to get at you.





… the drift of 1-3 is obscure; … we may compare the proverb in Málsháttakvćđi 12:

Skips láta menn skammar rár. [Men make short ship-yards]

Skatna ţykkir hugrinn grár. [Men seem to have spiteful minds]

Tungan leikr viđ tanna sár. [Tongue games at the tip of the teeth]

Trauđla er gengt á ís of vár.[Hardly is the river gone from Spring ice]



***Hávamál 75***


A translation as literal as possible


He does not know t

who nor heart nor spirit [or nothing] knows,

(that) for money he will become a monkey;

a man is wealthy,


this last one should not be blamed for (his) his woes.


Prose explanation


[Three first lines. Using the traditional meaning of vettki = nothing]

Who knows nothing at all the does not (even) know that being money greedy often changes people into stupid fools.


[Three first lines. Using the etymological meaning vettki = soulless]

Who is not conscious of his soul (or who is unaware of the existence of spirits) is unable to understand that being money greedy often changes people into stupid fools, and that he will himself undergo such a change.


[last three lines]

Some receive abundance of material wealth, others are deprived of it, and the latter should not be blamed for their misfortune.


ON Text and its pseudo English literal translation



Veit-a hinn                                     He knows-not, him

er vettki veit,                                  who no soul [or nothing] knows

margr verđr af aurum api;            often he becomes for riches an ape = (a fool)

mađr er auđigr,                             a man is wealthy

annar óauđigr,                              another not-wealthy (‘unhealthy’ )

skyli-t ţann vítka váar.                  one should not him blame for (his) woes.




75. A man knows not, | if nothing he knows,

That gold oft apes begets;

One man is wealthy | and one is poor,

Yet scorn for him none should know.

[Bellowsnote 75. The word “gold” in line 2 is more or less conjectural, the manuscript being obscure. The reading in line 4 is also doubtful.]


Commentary on the vocabulary


The irregular verb vita gives veit (he knows) in its third singular person of the indicative. Veit-a is a negative form: he does not know’.

On the word vettki: The meaning given by the dictionaries (and by all translators) isnothing at all’. The problem arising from this meaning is here that the second line becomes totally commonplace. As usual, my recommendation is to be wary of triteness in Hávamál. Vettki has the form vett-ki where the suffix -ki is a negation, as the one in veit-a. The name vettr or vćttr whose normal meaning is ‘soul, spirit’ and where ‘spirit’ has the same meaning as in land-vćttr where the landvćttir are the spirits of the land. As another example, galdra-vćttr meanshowling-spirit’ and describes a witch. I suppose that the poet made here a pun on vettki (nothing) / vett-ki (no soul).

Translating vettr by ‘soul’ or ‘spirit’ (of mystical nature) changes the understanding of this line. If ‘soul’ is chosen, it can mean that whoever does not know his soul will fall down to materiality. It is even possible to evoke Karl Jung and say that he / she who does not know his / her anima / animus (that is his / her unconscious dark side and his / her share of divinity) is always more or less neurotic and thus becomes a little insane. If ‘spirit’ is chosen, it can mean that whoever does not know the spirits (that is, whoever is not interested in the mystical and magical sides of our world) behaves like an animal in human shape.


You will see below that the expressionaf aurum’ raises a problem and that Evans calls it an emendation. As a matter of fact, as soon as 1818, the first editor, Erasmus Rask, reads avţrum = auđrum (dative plural ofwealth’), and Gering (1904) provides all the manuscript versions, that is: öţrum, aurum, afla(r?)đrom. The word plural aurar means the money, the word auđr means wealth. Both lead anyhow to the same meaning of the stanza.


The sixth line raises also problem: see Evans below. Vítka is a verb that neither C-V nor de Vries include in their dictionaries and which seems unknown to Evans. Lex. Poet. knows it and gives to it the same meaning as víta: to blame (reprehendere).


Comment on the meaning


Stanzas 20 and 21 clearly blamed the greed for material wealth. Stanza 40 insisted more on uselessness of piling up wealth. Stanza 75 is now openly insulting to who accumulates wealth.

The three first lines stress that love for money fills a human person with bestiality.

It could be possible to see in the last three ones lines an evidence of compassion for the unfortunate ones who could not pile up wealth. However, if the three first lines are taken into account, the last three ones show more contempt (how amonkey’ may judge a human?) for the “wealthy ones” than kindness for the “unfortunate ones.” People who become too wealthy lose their soul, they are vettki in the etymological interpretation which I give to this word, and their blame, or their contempt, towards those who have been less successful is nothing but ridiculous.





3 af aurum is an emendation (originated by S. Grundtvig) for the manuscript afláđrom, which is plainly corrupt. If af is the preposition, lauđrum (or löđrum) could not be right even if it made sense, since it lacks alliteration. Gould proposed af aulđrum (i.e. ölđrum ‘ale bouts’ ), which is palaeographically plausible but then there would be no sense connection with 4-6. Other suggestions are af öđrum …and af auđi um

6 is obscure. If vár is genitive of the noun ‘woe, misfortune’, vítka must be the infinitive of an otherwise unrecorded verb, apparently meaning ‘to blame’, perhaps related to víta, though that rather means ‘to punish’. Thus ‘One should not blame him for the misfortune’. Grundtvig emended to vćtkis vá, with as the verb apparently seen in stanza 19. [In 19, we translated vár byhe blames’ :vár ţik engi mađr by “he blames you no human,” i. e., “no human blames you.”]



***Hávamál 76***


A translation as literal as possible


Cattle and richness die

Parents die,

in the same way, we die ourselves,

but repute

never dies

that which is obtained (while having been) good and honest.


ON Text and its pseudo English literal translation



Deyr fé,                              Die cattle (or wealth)

deyja frćndr,                     die the friends

deyr sjalfr it sama,             dies-self as well,

en orđstírr                          but (good) fame

deyr aldregi                       dies never

hveim er sér góđan getr.    this to self honest he gets.





‘77’. Cattle die, | and kinsmen die,

And so one dies one’s self;

But a noble name | will never die,

If good renown one gets.


[Bellows comment : In the manuscript this stanza follows 79, the order being: 77, 78, 76, 80, 79, 81.]


Commentary on the vocabulary


The name orđstírr (or orztírr) is composed of orđs- (singular genitive of orđ (‘word, speech’) and metaphoricallyreputation, decision’) and of tírr (glory, reputation). Usually, the words constructed with orđ as a prefix majority use its plural genitive and thus have the form orđa-.

The adjective góđr meansgood’ with the connotation ofjust, honest’ andgifted’. Note that orđstírr is a nominative which cannot be qualified by the adjective góđan, which is in the accusative case. The two words góđan getr thus meanhe obtains the good’, which justifies my slightly involved translation.


Comment on the meaning


Stanza 76 has been quoted over and over. I translate its last line as “this to self honest he gets,” indeed less understandable than the usual translations. Its aim is however broader than them. The poem does not restrict what is left of you asgood repute’ but extends it to all what has been honestly carried out. A good reputation can be acquired through dishonest ways, and this is even often the case in our society. Repute is not as much important as living a honest life.





1-2 For the occurrence of these lines in Eyvindr skáldaspillir’ s Hákanarmál see p. 13 above [given below]. There is a close parallel in the OE elegy The Wanderer (of uncertain date), 108: hër biđ feoh lćne, hër bid frëond lćne (‘Here possessions are transitory, here friends are transitory’ ), where the addition of ‘here(i.e. ‘in this world’ ) conveys a Christian implication absent from Hávamál. The use of and frendr as an alliterating pair doubtless goes back to early Germanic poetry; that there is any more direct connection between The Wanderer and our poem, as suggested by von See…, is highly improbable.

4-6 … Von See… sees a Biblical echo in this strophe (Ecclesiastes 3.19); his further suggestion… that orđstírr had acquired a specifically Christian connotation in Norse is far from satisfactorily borne out by its use elsewhere in stanza and is contradicted by its frequent occurrence in prose without any such connotation.


Excerpt from Evans introduction (p. 13-14)


The view generally held by scholars has been that the Gnomic Poem is purely heathen: ‘there is no trace of Christianity’, in Jón Helgason’s words (3). True, the only explicitly heathen allusions are those to cremation (the brief reference to Óđinn’s adventure with Gunnlöđ cannot be counted, since tales of the pagan gods continued to be told for centuries after the Conversion, as Snorri’ s Edda shows, and in any case the strophes are very likely interpolated). But bautarsteinar [cp. s. 72] also belong to the pre-Christian era, and a dating to that period is further supported by what appears to be an echo of st. 76-7 in the final strophe of Hákonarmál, an elegy on the Norwegian king, Hákon the Good, mortally wounded in battle c. 960, some forty years before the Conversion. (That it is the final strophe has been used to support the view that 76-7 were once, too, the final strophes of a poem.) This strophe runs …:

Deyr fé,                         [Die cattle (or wealth)]

deyja frćndr,                 [die the friends]

eyđisk land ok láđ;        [waste-self land and meadow]

síz Hákon fór                [since Hákon travelled]

međ heiđin gođ,            [with the heathen gods]

mörg er ţjóđ of ţéu      [many are peopleofconstrained (are treated as slaves). ţéuđ is the past participle of verb ţéá, a form of verb ţjá]


    That there is a direct connection between these lines and the Gnomic Poem is not indeed absolutely certain, since deyr fé, deyja frćndr could conceivably be a traditional alliterating cliché used independently in the two poems, but since the author of Hákonarmál, Eyvindr skáldaspillir, [a 10th century poet] was notorious for plagiarism, as his nickname shows and as is plainly evidenced elsewhere in his work, the most natural view is that this is simply one of Eyvindr’ s borrowings (to suggest that, on the contrary, Hávamál borrowed from Eyvindr seems forced). If this is accepted, the Gnomic Poem must antedate 960 (note 6).


(note 6). A similar antedating is implied by the view (von See 1) that st. 17, 20 and 25 in Egill’ s Sonatorrek (c. 960 ) echo Hávamál 72, 22 and 15 respectively. (Von See can presumably only mean that these particular strophes antedate c. 960, since, as we saw, he does not believe that the Gnomic Poem ever existed as such.) Magnus Olsen, Edda og Skaldekvad IV (Oslo 1962) 49, thought the use of orđsdir in Egill’ s Höfůđlausn echoed Hávamál 76.





***Hávamál 77***


A translation as literal as possible


Cattle and wealth die

friends die,

in the same way, we die ourselves,

and I know one of them

who dies even less:

(this is) the judgment related to each dead person.


Prose explanation


Last three lines:

I know a thing that disappears even slower than cattle and wealth (or, by reference to the stanza before: even less than the reputation obtained by being good and honest). And this is the judgment that your close relations carried on you.


ON Text and its pseudo English literal translation



Deyr fé,                              Die cattle (or wealth)

deyja frćndr,                     die the friends

deyr sjalfr it sama,             dies-self as well,

ek veit einn                         and I know one

at aldrei deyr:                    even more never dies:

dómr um dauđan hvern.    judgment on dead each.




‘78’. Cattle die, | and kinsmen die,

And so one dies one’s self;

One thing now | that never dies,

The fame of a dead man’s deeds.


Commentary on the vocabulary


The three dictionaries which I use agree give to dómr the meaningcourt, judicial decision’. Here, it can only meanjudicial decision’, one favorable to the judged person or one that sentences him. In 77, the poet used the word orđstírr, reputation, and the last three lines made it clear that it must agood repute’. Nothing like that here, and Evans’ argument, based on statistics of this word use, is not convincing since it is obvious that there are many more laudatory (and even toady ones) poems than disparaging ones. Moreover, if 76 and 77 say the same thing, why both would have been preciously preserved?


Comment on the meaning


You recognized, at the beginning of 77, the three first lines of 76 that are thus identically translated here.

Stanza 76 says to us that the people who carried out an honest and good life will not be forgotten by their descendants. Stanza 77 specifies that the descendants will not forget the judgment that they carried on the behavior of their forefathers. There many enough parents who leave behind them an awful remembrance that we understand why 77 has to moderate 76 on its aspect “you must honor your ancestors.” It recalls that their dreadful deeds, if any, will not be forgotten. People having such an ancestry usually dislike speaking about it, but they do not think less about it*. This stanza states something obvious to each who had such a forerunner… it is however not politically correct to recall it, as Ódhinn does here.


*[A section of psychotherapy, called psychogenealogy, is devoted to this problem. It studies the various mistreatments the patient endured from his/her ancestors. This is a way to detect hidden causes of their present day mental diseases. Would Ódhinn be judged too primitive to be able to underline this fact, as he does in 77, at least as I understand it?]





6 dómr: literally ‘judgment(whether favourable or unfavourable); but, whereas the Norsemen commonly observed that a man’s fair fame would be remembered for ever, they very rarely stated that disgrace would never be forgotten … So, in the context, dómr is in practice restricted to ‘renown’ [The note above opposes this opinion. Evans is nevertheless aware that abusive ancestors may exist], just as … quoted in the note on 76, orđ, though in itself neutral, refers in the context only to fair fame. The substance of 76 and 77 is therefore identical. It is unnecessary to go further …



***Hávamál 78***


An enclosure (well) filled,

I saw for the children of Fitjung,

(and) now he carries “sticks of hope”;

thus it is richness,

like a wink,

it is more staggering of the friends.


Prose explanation


I could see that the children of a rich person (Fitjung) had an enclosure filled with livestock. Nowadays, they can rely on nothing more than a beggar’s stick. Wealth (can disappear) as quickly as a wink, it is the least stable (the most roaming and staggering) friend. A faithful friend is linked to you by a contract of mutual help. You cannot get any contract with your wealth.


ON Text and its pseudo English literal translation



Fullar grindr                     Full enclosures

sá ek fyr Fitjungs sonum,   saw I for Fitjung’ s sons,

nú bera ţeir vonar völ;      now carry they of hope stick [a hope stick = a beggar stick]

svá er auđr                        so is richness

sem augabragđ,                 same as the twinkling of an eye

hann er valtastr vina.         ‘he(auđr) is most reeling of the friends.




‘76’. Among Fitjung’ s sons | saw I well-stocked folds, -

Now bear they the beggar’ s staff;

Wealth is as swift | as a winking eye,

Of friends the falsest it is.


Commentary on the vocabulary


Grind meansgate’ orpen’.

Fitjungr has been thought to come from the word fita (grease) and it would then meanthe fat, obese’. Lex. Poet. translates fitjungs synir by ‘sons of rich person’. As you see below, Evans convincingly criticizes this choice. His final conclusion that the name is made up is quite possible and harmless.

Vonr or vánr meanshope’, thus vonar völ =’ stick of hope’, understood as’ stick of a beggar’.

Auđr, when feminine, meansfate’ and when masculinewealth’. Here, in lines 6, it is recalled by anaphora hann, ‘he’, and it clearly means herewealth’. Remember that in stanza 9 this problem had no solution. In 9, auđr is used as prefix and it is impossible to know its gender.

The adjective valtr, here in its superlative form, meanswandering, staggering’.


Comment on the meaning


To be rich is an obvious advantage, but wealth will never be yourfriend’, especially in the meaning given to this word in http://www.nordic-life.org/nmh/OnTheContracts.htm.

We already met and commented many stanzas that speak in a scorning way of the material wealth or which present another type of wealth, a spiritual one. Refer to 8, 10, 18, 20, 39, 40, 41, 52, 59, 79.





2 Most editors have seen Fitjungr (who occurs nowhere else) as a symbolic name for a prosperous man. Lexicon Poeticum, following some of the earlier scholars, took it as ‘Fatty’, as though connected with feitr. [Lex. Poët connects it with fita, a weak feminine word the declension of which contains no form asfitj-’ ] But the presence of ‘j ‘rules this out. In his 1924 edition Finnur Jónsson proposed instead a connection with fit (gen. fitjar) ‘the web or skin of an animal’s footand rendered the name (with a query) as ‘he who owns many cloven-footed beasts

Nevertheless, it was … Olsen rejected in its favour his own earlier and far more attractive proposa1… to deduce the name from the homonym fit ‘water-meadow’. This word, as Fit, or plural Fitjar, occurs in West Norse as a farm-name, mostly of fairly humble farms; great farms were higher up, not down in the water-meadows. But there is one big exception, Fitjar on the island of Storđ in Hörđaland, stróbú owned by Haraldr haorfagri. Olsen suggests that the Fitjungar were the once rich owners of this great farm, reduced to beggary when Haraldr seized it (he further suggests that the Icelandic settler Önundr breiđskeggr, grandson of Úlfr fitjumskeggi, was of this family and that this is why he emigrated).

It is very possible, however, that the name has no special significance. … takes Fitjungr as a pure fiction created to alliterate with fullar. Support for this approach can be found in the similarly arbitrary use of fictional names…

3 vánarvölr ‘a beggar’ s staff(literally ‘a staff of hope’ ) also occurs in Norwegian laws …



***Hávamál 79***


A translation as literal as possible


A non-wise person

if he happens to acquire

wealth or the pleasure of a woman

(his) pride (over-) waxes

but never does (his) good sense:

he plentifully proceeds in (his self-) conceit.


ON Text and its pseudo English literal translation



Ósnotr mađr,                                 Non-wise human

ef eignask getr                               if self acquire happens

fé eđa fljóđs munuđ,                      wealth or woman’s pleasure

metnađr hánum ţróask,                pride his waxes

en mannvit aldregi:                       but (his) good sense never:

fram gengr hann drjúgt í dul.        forwards goes he strongly in conceit.




80. An unwise man, | if a maiden’s love

Or wealth he chances to win,

His pride will wax, but his wisdom never,

Straight forward he fares in conceit.


Commentary on the vocabulary


The feminine word munuđ does not meanlove’ in general, but describes the physical pleasures associated to it, and its translation bylove’ is nothing but prudishness (or, at best, academic primness). De Vries translates it by lust (pleasure) and Poet. Lex. by voluptas (pleasure). It can be here in the nominative case, the accusative or the dative but certainly not in the genitive.

The neutral word fljóđ meanswoman’ in poetry, and can be here only in the genitive.

The only possible translation of fljóđs munuđ is thusa woman’s pleasure’ which carries a double meaning by leaving unsaid who receives the pleasure. To be precise, it may also mean what a manwins’ in providing his wife with her share of pleasure. All translators adopt the male point of view that “he wins a woman’s love.”

The word dul meansconcealment, self-conceit, pride’.


Comment on the meaning


(Recall of 57): Refer to stanza 57 where Óđinn points to those who, in his opinion, do not really belong to humanity. These despicable persons do not belong to arace’ as racists often believe, but to the genre of the dul ones, that is, who shows self-conceit and arrogance. Note that this position recommends a humanistic ethics very far from the brutal deviations which we still know. In particular, Óđinn implicitly says also that the insane and the disabled fully belong to humanity (obviously, except when they are dul). In s. 71, he even explicitly refers to the usefulness of some disabled persons.

We have another overtone of dul here: this stanza says clearly that the dul one isnon-wise’ one who, as soon as he achieves some success, will believe thathe got it’ and wallows in stupid self-satisfaction instead of working at preserving what he acquired. We can also understand the implied statement that a wise person is able to preserve these invaluable goods of obtaining “a woman’s pleasure.”



***Hávamál 80***


A translation as literal as possible


It is thus, when it has been tried

(and) he follows the track (which leads) to the runes,

these which, to the children of the gods,

the supreme divinities made for them

and that painted the huge-wise-storyteller,

he has then better to be quiet.


Note: the way of speech “to make something to children for them” is obviously redundant but it accounts well of the Old Norse text.


Prose explanation


As a matter of fact, who tries to follow the track leading to the runes, that the supreme divinities made, and that the immense-wise-storyteller painted for the gods’ children, then it is better for him to stay quiet.


ON Text and its pseudo English literal translation



Ţat er ţá reynt,                                         That is when tried,

er ţú ađ rúnum spyrr                                that you towards the runes you track

inum reginkunnum,                                   these ones to the godssons,

ţeim er gerđu ginnregin                            to them that made the supreme-gods

ok fáđi fimbulţulr;                                    and painted (or drawn) huge-wise-storyteller

ţá hefir hann bazt, ef hann ţegir.             then has he the best, if he be silent.




79. Certain is that | which is sought from runes,

That the gods so great have made,

And the Master-Poet painted;


                          of the race of gods:

Silence is safest and best.

[Bellow’ s 79. This stanza is certainly in bad shape, and probably out of place here. Its reference to runes as magic signs suggests that it properly belongs in some list of charms like the Ljothatal (stanzas 147-165). The stanza-form is so irregular as to show either that something has been lost or that there have been interpolations. The manuscript indicates no lacuna; Gering fills out the assumed gap as follows:

“Certain is that which is sought from runes,

The runes--,” etc.]

[Evans, Dronke and Orchard do not point at any missing part here. The only difference between Evansedition and the ON version provided above takes place in line 4. He gives gřrđu instead of gerđu.]


Commentary on the vocabulary


Reyna meansto try, to examine’. Its reflexive form, reynask meansto prove’. That changes the meaning of the beginning of the stanza: itproves’ nothing, but somebody ‘seeks the track of the runes’. This same verb is used in stanza 81 and everyone gives to it its usual meaning, ‘to try’.

The basic meanings of the preposition at (= ) followed by a dative, like here, are

1. to indicate a movement in direction of the limits of an object,

2. to be close to an object,

3. to indicate an interval of time, which can be very short, and metaphorically: a process of assimilation (possibly destructive).

The verb spyrja, ‘to trace steps, to track, makes spyr in the present indicative and thus spyrr meanyou tracks’ orhe tracks’.

Adjective kunnum is the plural dative of kunnr which usually meansknown’ and takes in poetry meaning of ‘son of’ orof the same family’.

The pronoun ţeim can have two meanings, either it is the dative ofthey’ (masculine and feminine) and it thus meansto them’. It can also be the singular dative ofthis’ (masculine only) and then meanto this’.


Comment on the meaning


The commentators (Evans is among them, but I jumped over this part of his comments) raise many questions about the three following personal pronouns: in line 2: ţú (you), line 4: ţeim (to him) and line 6: hann (he). They hesitate on the point of knowing whom this stanza addresses. For theyou’ and thehe’, I do not see a real problem: Ódhinn addresses at first a particular rune student (you) and later any rune student (‘he’), ‘you’ included. This sounds odd in English (this is why I used onlyhe’ in my translation) but it is usual in skaldic poetry. Theto them’ is a bit more difficult to understand. It suggests that the Ginnregin made the runes for several different races. This understanding agrees with other poems speaking of runes for the Elves, for example. In turn, this suggests that when Ódhinn spread runic knowledge to our world, he did not, as Prometheus did, oppose the Ginnregin. Our Scandinavian supreme-gods do not seem to fear the propagation of knowledge, and stanza 80 alludes to this fact.


We can also ask why silence is recommended to the rune student by line 6. Doesn’t that contradict the authorization to transmit knowledge? No, because there are other ways that the verbal one to transmit knowledge. In my own work on the runes, I do not try more than restoring knowledge that has been choked by the huge hubbub which nowadays goes with the use of the runes. I never say how to use them, which is looked upon as being too limited, but you now know the reason of my moderation.


Lastly, in a less direct way, this stanza informs us about the creators of the runes. Let usforesee’ what the last three lines of 142 say of the runes:

er fáđi fimbulţulr            that (has) painted, drawn Fimbulthulr [Powerful Wise or rather Immense-wise-storyteller]

ok gerđu ginnregin          and (has) made, manufactured, ‘made active’ Ginnregin [Supreme holy Power or supreme-divinities. Ginnregin is in the singular in Old Norse but denotes a group of people.]

ok reist hroftr rögna.       and (has) carved Hroptr (Ódhinn “who discloses hidden truths”) of the gods.


You see that the two first lines above are practically identical (in Old Norse) to lines 4 and 5 of 80. The difference is in last the line of 142 that speaks about Ódhinn, for whom Hroptr is classical name, and they say that he carved them. Then, either we claim that Fimbulthulr and Ginnregin are again twice Ódhinn, or he did not create the runes himself. The collective aspect of Ginnregin does not plead in favor of the assumptionÓdhinn everywhere’, and he is not either a storyteller. It is thus very unlikely that these two names would be Ódhinn’s. That agrees perfectly with the ćpandi nam (howling I (them) took) of stanza 139, which describes Ódhinn collecting the runes and not creating them.


As a last comment, this stanza integrates without problem to the set of stanzas 73-84. It is certainly not a detached fragment as Evans and the majority of the commentators believe. The present stanzas provide counseling and it is quite natural that Ódhinn would also advise us about the use of the runes. His advice is the following here: Clearly, rune studies are an enthralling topic deserving the effort of “tracking toward them.” But they are also a dangerous pursuit because they bring you in front divinities who are “fimbulţulr ok ginnregin” and, you take the risk of burning your fingers, be thus “quiet in your research.” They are large risks to be taken, but with an immense benefit.





This obscure and metrically very irregular strophe, with no apparent connection with its context, seems like a detached fragment of the mystical poetry about runes such as we find below in 142-45; note particularly the resemblance between 4-5 and 142/5-6. [As soon as magic is involved, the commentators are lost. The context of 73-84 is the one of weariness and acting careful. This stanza contains good advice for leading an honorable life when practicing runic magic. This stanza is thus perfectly in place here, and what will need to be said again will be in s. 142-145.] The reference of the initial ţat is unclear; as the strophe stands, it can only point forward to the last line, which Mullenhoff … understood as conveying the ‘very modest truththat silence is best; ‘mit komisch ironischem pathosthe poet presents this lesson in the ‘concluding stropheof the Gnomic Poem as the fruit of inquiry into the runes, which had been made by the gods and coloured by the fimbulţulr, the Great Sage (doubtless Óđinn himself) [Who is komischer in his statement, Mullendorf or Ódhinn could be a matter of discussion. Moreover, as explained above, I disagree with the identification of fimbulţulr and Óđinn]. This entails identifying ţú and hann. Von See … avoids this awkwardness by taking hann as the fimbulţulr: when his listeners inquire into the runes, Óđinn does best by denying them this knowledge and remaining silent. This, says von See, makes a fitting conclusion to the ‘first sectionof Hávamál, with its emphasis on caution and silence. Somewhat more plausibly, Heusler… took the last line as enjoining holy silence during the ritual of runic enquiry; this too necessitates identifying ţú and hann [and I agree with Heusler here, though with lesspathos’ ].

3 reginkunnum: ‘of divine descent(not ‘world-known’, as Cl- Vig); only here in literature, but clearly a traditional epithet of runes, cp. runo fahi raginakudo on the seventh-century Noleby-Fyrunga stone and rúnaR ţaR rćginkundu on the ninth-century Sparlösa stone, both in Vĺstergötland


Note on 81-84


After the flight of magic lyricism in stanza 80, the three following stanzas reconsider less serious topics connected to everyday life. They are a kind of pause preparing us to the severe warnings delivered by stanzas 85-90.


***Hávamál 81***


A translation as literal as possible


In the evening will the day be praised,

a woman, who is burnt,

a sword, which is tried,

a maid, who is engaged,

ice, upon which walking is possible,

bier, which is drunk.


Prose explanation


Do not laud your day before the evening, and do not praise a woman before she is burned, do not praise a sword that is not tested, do not praise a girl before she is engaged, do not praise ice before it is walked upon, beer until it is drunk.


ON Text and its pseudo English literal translation


At kveldi skal dag leyfa,         In the evening will the day be praised, [Latin: vespere laudari debet amoena dies]

konu, er brennd er,                a woman, who burnt is,

mćki, er reyndr er,                a sword, which tried is,

mey, er gefin er,                     a maid, who is given,

ís, er yfir kemr,                       ice, which upon he walks,

öl, er drukkit er.                     bier, that drunk is.




81. Give praise to the day at evening, | to a woman on her pyre,

To a weapon which is tried, | to a maid at wed lock,

To ice when it is crossed, | to ale that is drunk.


[Bellowscomment 81. With this stanza the verse-form, as indicated in the translation, abruptly changes to Malahattr. What has happened seems to have been something like this. Stanza 80 introduces the idea of man’s love for woman. Consequently some reciter or compiler (or possibly even a copyist) took occasion to insert at this point certain stanzas concerning the ways of women. Thus stanza 80 would account for the introduction of stanzas 81 and 82, which, in turn, apparently drew stanza 83 in with them. Stanza 84 suggests the fickleness of women, and is immediately followed--again with a change of verse-form--by a list of things equally untrustworthy (stanzas 85-90). Then, after a few more stanzas on love in the regular measure of the Hovamol (stanza 91-9s), is introduced, by way of illustration, Othin’s story of his [fp. 46] adventure with Billing’s daughter (stanzas 96-102). Some such process of growth, whatever its specific stages may have been, must be assumed to account for the curious chaos of the whole passage from stanza 81 to stanza 102.]

[Except the “curious chaos,” and “some reciter or compiler,” Bellows understanding of the structure of these stanzas seems quite logical.]


Commentary on the vocabulary


Reyna means ‘to test, to examine, as we saw in the preceding stanza.

On gefa, to give, past participle gefinn. A maid who is engaged is said, in Old Norse, to begiven’.


Comment on the meaning


As we have already seen, the experts have put a lot of attention in finding all kinds of possible influences on Hávamál. In this very case, the Latin influence is undisputable (see below my comment to Evans’). Evans citing a 12th c. influence falls into the trap of detecting Middle Ages ones while a much more ancient one is obvious, namely Latin: vespere laudari debet amoena dies.” This proves to me that, considering the huge effort done for finding Middle Age (‘thusChristian) influence on Hávamál, considering the general failure of this approach, it is now safe to claim that Hávamál is a genuine image of the pre Christian Northern world. Inversely, as long as the skalds were no mere ignoramus, it is obvious that they must have received some kind of Latin and Greek influence. This verse, among others, shows how they have been adapted to a Northern way of life.


The point of a “burnt woman” deserves some comments.

At first, note that all experts carefully underline the obvious, that the poem has thus not been composed in Iceland. Why do they forget to add that it proves also that the poem cannot be composed say, after the 10th century, again rejecting any Middle Age influence?

A deeper question comes from that we know about important men being burned, possibly with their female slaves. Does the poem allude to these slaves? This is contradicted by the use of the word kona which points at a mature woman or a wife (a wife in the Northern civilization, not in a Latin influenced one!), hence to a free and responsible woman. The only possible conclusion is that our poem speaks of an important woman since her corpse is treated in the same way as important men’s corpses. Any important person, be him/her male or female, is always a person we should praise covertly. In everyday life, Hávamál recommends to each man to be careful in praising too loudly his húsfreyja, his house-goddess, unless she may be spoiled, as any other chief is by an excess of praise.


In fact, the biggest problem lies in the last line. The difference between a burned woman and a beer drunkard is too large for us: it points at a significant difference between our way of life and the Old Norse’s. At first, notice that checking the day, a maid, a sword or the ice may be impolite, it is not morally reprehensible for us. On the other hand, to test beer appears slightly commonplace (it should at least be a great vintage!). I see two possible causes explaining why beer was so important in the Norse civilization. One is that beer consumption can be a sacred action, as during a sumbl, a form of religious ceremony during which considerable quantities of alcohol could be consumed. This assumption is to some extent confirmed by Evans’ irony on who want to see here an allusion to the Christian moral of the transience and unreliability of this poor fleeting life.” In our present day ethics, spirituality is impossible to a boisterous half-drunk person. Understanding Hávamál makes it necessary to replace us inside ethics where the beer was an “a drink immortality,” such as the Indian soma, and not a way of self-dazing.





See p. 23 above [See below] for suggestions that the málaháttr strophes [this is one of the skaldic poetical forms] beginning here might have some connection with the MHG poetic form known as the ‘Priamel’, and that the suspicion of women which they sporadically express may derive less from Nordic antiquity than from the Christian Middle Ages.

1 For the sentiment cp. Möttuls saga…  at kveldi er dagr lofandi and the twelfth-century Ysengrimus…: vespere laudari debet amoena dies. Singer…, who cites numerous Continental parallels, thinks the notion is of German origin, borrowed by the Norsemen at an early date.

[The Latin sentence : vespere laudari debet amoena dies means “In the evening must be judged a pleasant day.” This traditional Latin way of speech had a frequent later use, and Ysengrimus is nothing but one example of it. You can find it translated in several metaphorical ways, such as : “Out of beautiful grapes, often comes poor wine.” or “Beautiful maiden make old mothers.” or “Morning laugh means evening tears.”



Evansintroduction p. 23


Before leaving the Gnomic Poem, a few words should be said about the eighteen or so strophes that precede the tale of Óđinn and Billings mćr, which begins, properly speaking, at 96. Whether any of these strophes are to be regarded as part of the Gnomic Poem is, as already remarked, obscure; the theme of sexual love, which is fairly prominent in them, has not previously been touched on in the poem, and there is something to be said for the opinion that their view of woman as faithless and deceitful (note especially st. 84) is alien to the pagan Nordic tradition and reflects the misogynist attitudes of medieval Christianity; this would suggest that they are of later origin than the Gnomic Poem. The strophes in málaháttr (81-3, 85-7, 89-90), with their lists of things to do and things to beware of, are reminiscent of the medieval German genre known as the Priamel and have for this reason sometimes been regarded as of foreign inspiration. The German Priamel itself, however, appears to belong to the very end of the Middle Ages, so it can hardly be the direct source of the form in Norse, and so elementary a poetic mode as a list could arise spontaneously in many different cultures. The emphasis on the untrustworthiness of things has been taken by von See as a Christian theme, ‘die Unsicherheit alles Irdischen(4, 99) [the uncertainty of anything earthly], thus linking Hávamál yet again with the learned-Biblical tradition of the Middle Ages. (13) But mutability becomes a Christian theme only when it is brought into contrast with the security and permanence of Heaven; von See has achieved this contrast by inserting the word Irdischen [earthly], but there is no warrant for this in the text of the poem. It is going rather far to claim that a piece of advice like ‘Don’t praise ale until you have drunk it(81) implants the Christian moral of the transience and unreliability of this poor fleeting life! [my emphasis] (This very strophe, as a matter of fact, contains a pagan allusion in what is manifestly a reference to cremation.) As in the Gnomic Poem, the scene implied is Norwegian, or at any rate non-Icelandic: besides the cremation, note the wolf (85), the snake, the bear and the king (86), and the reindeer (90).


13 This view consorts uneasily with von See’s belief (I, 28-9) that 89/7-8 influenced Egill’s Sonatorrek (so also, independently, Einar Ol. Sveinsson 2, 299 note 2). If this is right, these lines must be older than c. 960.



***Hávamál 82***


A translation as literal as possible


He must strike [to cut] a tree in the wind,

row at sea [for fishing] by windy weather,

speak [to flirt] in the darkness with a maidservant,

many are the eyes of the day;

with a boat, he must work on (its) gliding

but with a shield, (its) protection,

with a sword, (its) blow

but with a girl, (her) kisses.


ON Text and its pseudo English literal translation


Í vindi skal viđ höggva,      In the wind shall (we) a tree strike

veđri á sjó róa,                  by wind at sea row

myrkri viđ man spjalla,      in darkness with the maid speak,

mörg eru dags augu;         many are during the day eyes;

á skip skal skriđar orka,             on a ship shall gliding work, [shall we work at gliding]

en á skjöld til hlífar,           but on a shield protection,

mćki höggs,                      on a sword, a strike

en mey til kossa.                but on a maiden, kisses.




82. When the gale blows hew wood, | in fair winds seek the water;

Sport with maidens at dusk, | for day’s eyes are many;

From the ship seek swiftness, | from the shield protection,

Cuts from the sword, | from the maiden kisses.


Commentary on the vocabulary


Vindr meanswind, air’ as when we feel the wind on our skin. Bellows’ translation, gale, is an error. Moreover, cutting down a tree during a storm is sheer suicide. Inversely, a moderate and constant wind enable the lumberjack to start cutting the tree side opposed to the wind, and safely finish his job on the other side, helped by the wind.

Veđri meansweather, wind’.

The way of speech in line 4: “many are the eyes of the day” answers English “Fields have eyes, and woods have ears.”

Man (a neutral word) is an old word initially for a war prisoner; it then took the meaning ofbondman or bondwoman’, i. e. someone who lost his/her freedom. A bondwoman is subjected to the goodwill of her master, where from the derived meaning oflover, mistress’ and finally oflove’. The man-rúnar are the runes of love, once again with a strong sexual connotation. This word is often confused with mađr (a human person) which has old forms in mannr and which makes mann in the accusative. Boyer’s translation of line 3, where man is rendered byvirgin’, can be attributed to his sense of humor. Dronke uses the wordgirl’ Orchardfriend’, this last one being also a little unexpected.

Skriđr indicates a gliding motion. It makes skriđar in the singular genitive. The verb orka meansto be able of’ but, when its complement is with the genitive (as it is the case here), it meansto be the cause of’.

The sixth line, by analogy with me fifth, is understood as: (á) mćki (til) höggs, where the prepositions are left unsaid.


Comment on the meaning



We meet here what seems to be small acts of everyday life, the magic significance of which is not obvious.

In order to attenuate this feeling, let us notice that the first three lines use the verbsto strike, to row, to speak’ that describe a precise action. On the other hand, the last four lines are controlled by the verbto work’, which describes a general behavior. Ódhinn could have said that a maiden deserves deep feelings, a sword strikes and a shield protects. The work to do relates to significant components of life: life at sea, weapons and love. I suppose that the mćr (a maiden) isworked upon’ for other reasons than sexual ones, especially as to become a partner, perhaps even the one about which s. 163 speaks: this one who “protects you with her arm” and who the magician entrusts the eighteenth rune song. On the other hand, a man (a girl) requests discretion and glibness but no “work” to be seduced.

This thinking leads us to examine more carefully the differences between lines 1-4, which tell how to behave in unimportant facts of life, and 5-8, which tell the behavior for important ones.

The second line speaks of rowing a boat (to go to fishing), that is a rather prosaic task whereas the fifth line speaks of the way a ship glides, a significant problem for long course navigation or in the event of a combat. By taking of account the preceding remarks, this implies that Ódhinn’s lesson is as follows: "Use your arms and a favorable wind to row, but use also your magic when your ship gliding is at stake;”

The first line speaks of cutting down a tree with an axe, while lines 6-7 speak of weapons deciding of life or death. This implies that Ódhinn’s lesson is then: “Use your arms and a favorable wind to cut a tree, but use also your magic when fighting your enemies.”

Coming back to lines 2-3 and 8, their comparison leads us to the following Ódhinn’s lesson: "Use your fluency and darkness to allure the maidservant, but use also your magic (“your kisses”) when the deal is finding a life-long love.”





1 í vindi - so that one can anticipate on which side the tree will fall? (so Finnur Jónsson). Hannaas 236 ingeniously suggests that the line is intended to contrast with what follows: when it is stormy, stay ashore, and then felling trees (or chopping up wood?) is suitable work.

2 For the sense ‘good weathercp. vesiđ međ oss unz verđi / veđr; nú’ s brim fyr Jađri in a stanza of Ţjóđólfr hvinverski...

4 This sounds like a proverb; so Heusler … compares mörg eru konungs eyru recorded several times…



***Hávamál 83***


A translation as literal as possible


He must drink beer near fire,

but slip on the ice,

(he must) buy a lean stallion,

but a soiled sword,

fatten a horse at home,

but (feed) a dog out of the house.


Prose explanation


He must offer to himself the pleasure of a good beer in the heat near a fire, but slip on the ice in the cold. He must buy a fit and trimgreaseless’ stallion, but acquire a sword greasy with the blood that stains it after having killed someone. One must feed his horse at home, but let the dog has to eat outside, nearby home.


ON Text and its pseudo English literal translation



Viđ eld skal öl drekka,       By a fire must-we bier drink,

en á ísi skríđa,                   but on ice glide,

magran mar kaupa,           lean steed buy,

en mćki saurgan,              but sword dirty,

heima hest feita,                 at home horse fatten,

en hund á búi.                    but a dog out of the dwelling.




83. By the fire drink ale, | over ice go on skates;

Buy a steed that is lean, | and a sword when tarnished,

The horse at home fatten, | the hound in thy dwelling.


Commentary on the vocabulary


Merr is a mare, marr is a stallion (in poetry).

The adjective magr means thin. Lex. Poet. translates it bymacer, macilentus’ both meaning’ slim’ and possibly holding the other meaning of ‘scanty’.

A mćkir is a kind of sword, here qualified by the last participle of the verb saurga, to soil (‘to dirty badly’ ).

In the expression á búi, the word , household, is in the dative. The adverb á, followed by a dative, positions an object on the surface of another, or right apart from one another. Here á does not translate byon’ as usually but byout of’. Do not confuse with the word búi (neighborhood) that would make búa in the dative and the accusative.


Dronke excepted, the translators tend to render the sequence of aphorisms in a single continuous file because they translate the word en (= but) byand’. This is perfecty possible, but seems to be an error here. These aphorisms go per pair, the second half of which is opposed in some way to the first, a way to spice up the stanza.

We will drink beer at ease in the warmth, but uncomfortably slip on the ice while Bellows and Dronke speak of skating, a pleasurable activity.

We will buy a slim stallion without fat on his body, but we will buy a soiled sword, meaning it has been covered with sticky blood, thus able to kill.

We will respectfully feed a horse with the best food, whereas a dog can manage its own food.


Comment on the meaning


It is still possible, as for 82, to see in this sequence of aphorisms a description in the normal way to live when the poem was made up, i. e.  an interesting testimony of the life of the time. The message relating to the magic of life is skillfully dissimulated.

We note at once that Bellows, Boyer and Orchard translate the sequence of aphorisms as if they were in line one after the other. This is why they translate the word en (= but) byand, or do not translate it at all (Orchard), which is often possible, but does not properly render the text. Dronke translates two of the three by but, and she jumps over one.

To my understanding, these lines go per pair, the second half of which is opposed in a certain way to the first, which gives spice and meaning to the stanza.

Thus, we comfortably drink beer in the warmth, but we slip on ice either by falling down, or by slipping at high speed on ice-shoes.

Thus, we buy a slim horse that is not burdened with fat, but we must buy a sword which has been soiled (as 81 already stated) and that isburdened’ with blood and knows what is to bring death.

Thus, we keep and fatten at home a horse, because its strength can be anytime useful will be thus useful, whereas a dog is left alone outside, in order to correctly fulfill its role of home guardian.

 The aphorism furthest from our present thinking is the one about purchasing a bloody sword. We consider, nowadays, that these sharp objects are without proper life. Many texts witness, for instance the healing of Kalevala’s hero, Väinämöinen, that the cure of a serious wound is conditioned by the knowledge of “the origin of iron.” This shows that the weapon was regarded as endowed with its own life and its proper functioning needed its ‘consent’. Boyer’s understanding of “a rusted sword” is interesting and convicing. It however destroys any magic in this line.

This stanza thus gives us, in a different style but as the preceding one, a lesson which is the following here: “Drink your beer, buy a slim horse, and keep it at home without using your magic, you will however need magic to easily glide on ice, to acquire a killer sword and to handle your dog is such a way that it makes the difference between enemies and friendly guests.”





[Evans gives examples of sentences where á búi cannot meanon the dwellingbut points at an outside position. He concludes that á búi means “in another person’s home”.]



***Hávamál 84***

(Does Hávamál say that women are frivolous?)


A translation as literal as possible


In the words of a girl

no man should have confidence

nor in what an (adult) woman says;

because on a revolving wheel

their hearts have been created,

cutting  (or flexibility, or change or inconstancy) is lying in their chest.


Prose explanation


A man should not have confidence in the words of a woman, whether she is a young girl or a person of some importance. This is true because their hearts were created on a revolving wheel and (thus) rupture (or flexibility, or change or inconstancy) is lying in their chest.


ON Text and its pseudo English literal translation


Meyjar orđum                    Of a maid the words

skyli manngi trúa               should no man have confidence

né ţví, er kveđr kona,        nor what, is to say [or sing, recite] a woman [or wife],

ţví at á hverfanda hvéli     because on a turning wheel

váru ţeim hjörtu sköpuđ,   were to them hearts shaped [or created]

brigđ í brjóst of lagiđ.        breach in the (their) breast is lying.




84. A man shall trust not | the oath of a maid,

Nor the word a woman speaks;

For their hearts on a whirling | wheel were fashioned,

And fickle their breasts were formed.


Commentary on the vocabulary


Line 3 : kveđr. The verb kveđa carries no hint at magic. It can also mean ‘to recite a poem’. In the sagas, when a character X wishes to recite a poem, the saga says “X kvađ … (X declaims …).”

Line 4. We already met the adjective hverfr in the stanza 74 where it could take several meanings. We have here the verb hverfa, in the participle present, which has the meaningto turn, to turn around’.

Line 5. Comment on sköpuđ. This word seems without problem because its grammar is clear: it is the past participle of the verb skapa, to shape/to create.  All translators use this meaning and say that “the women’s heart is shaped on a revolving wheel.” Associated to this verb is the word skap, state of mind or mood. Being associated the verb skapa its plural, sköp, tendsto take the meaning of the ‘shapings’ that are worked upon us, i.e. our fate. In poetic Edda, we meet some ten occurrences of the word sköp and all of them relate without ambiguity to the fates Moreover, there are 5 occurrences of sköpuđ . One of them,  (Reginsmál s. 5) describes a curse sent by Loki on a person whose ‘sköpuđ will be unhappy and the meaning of ‘fates’ is obvious.  In the four other instances the meaning of ‘shaped’ is as possible as the one of ‘fated’. In the present stanza, the meaning of ‘fated’ is not absolutely obvious, except that who else than fate could shape women’s heart of on a revolving wheel, in the context of using the word sköpuđ?

This is why I do not understand these lines as kind of jest ŕ la Offenbach. Óđinn states the women’s fates (sköp). He intended to imply that women are really brigđ (see below) because they are fated to. If this  word means ’fickle’  as everyone seems to believe, then for one Óđinn says a stupid thing, and for two and more convincingly, the illustrations of such women provided in the following stanzas do not fit at all this feature. Billings mćr is incredibly crafty and cutting since she joins insult to rupture (see s. 96-102) . Gunnlödh is not at all frivolous nor cutting, she is broken by Óđinn, showing her weakness.  These are two examples which occur in worlds where the women are not respected, they have the choice between being cutting (‘breaking’) or being broken, which explains their sköp.

Line 6, on brigđ. It should be obvious that the reading of Hávamál is not for male persons only, and that interpretations insulting to women must carefully be weighted.

According to C-V, the adjective brigđr meansunfaithful, fickle’ but the noun brigđ, as here where it is the subject of the verb leggja (with preterit lagđi), it does not mean inconstancy but it is a legal term which indicates “a right to claim something which belongs to you.” It can also take the meaning ofa break, a cut’. It needs to be associated to another word to clearly take the meaning offickleness’. For example, vináttu-brigđ = friendship-breach = inconstancy, or hvar-brigđ = always-breach = inconstancy. De Vries gives to it the meanings ofveränderung (change, modification), ‘wankelmut’ (fickleness) andlösungrecht’ (right of cancellation?). Lex. Poet. gives: varius / mobilis / inconstans (varied, variegated / mobile, flexible / inconstant, inconsistent). In conclusion, the word brigđ does not have the sole meaning offickleness’ (Bellows: fickle; Dronke and Orchard: fickleness; Boyer:inconstance’) but alsobreaching, flexibility, change’.

We will meet again this word in stanza 124 in the plural dative, brigđum. In 124 context that praised sincerity among friends, lack of sincerity is the context and brigđ translates by fickleness with the connotation of fickleness in friendship, i.e. as in vináttu-brigđ (= friendship-breach). We will meet it also in 91, it will then be an adjective, qualifying men’s behavior with women.

Stanza 84 context is not as clear. It is well understood that Ódhinn wishes to criticize the fair sex, but the nature of this critique is not obvious. We will now see whyfickleness’ fits in the stanza’s context but does not fit at all the one of the following stanzas and that “breach” or “change” returns a better meaning of brigđ in this stanza.


Comment on the meaning


- On the first three lines


They clearly state that men cannot count on the word of a woman, whatever her age. It should be noted that this of does not indicate aword given’, an oath, or a contract. This relates to ausual wording’.


- On the three last lines


Evans says that modern Icelanders use á hverfanda hveli to speak of an object or a person in an unstable state but it does not guarantee that it has been the case before Christianization. Gretti’s saga (he quotes) indeed describes a very unstable situation. It can however refer to Gretti’s destiny, meaning the wheel of fortune, i.e. his destiny, made him live the restless life of an everlasting runaway. As stated by Evans, this meaning is suggested by a quotation from Flateyarbók speaking of the “fortune’s turning wheel.”

Evans quotes also chapter 21 of the Saga of the sworn Brothers (Fóstbrćđra saga) in which a slave notices that his mistress becomes less tender and spends far too much time in the men’s building: “A small poem came back to his mind, one speaking of the prostitutes (lausungarkonur).” This ‘small poem’ is exactly the same as the three lines we are discussing. The slave thus thinks that these lines describe a prostitute. When he  meets his mistress, he says his discontent and the only answer he gets is “Hún svarar honum sem henni var í skapi til (She retorted exactly to him what she thought).” This text shows well that a jealous and uncouth man will interpret these three lines as speaking of female (sexual) inconstancy while the lady’s reaction suggest nothing more than she already broke with this man.

It does not seem to me reasonable to imagine such a crude Ódhinn, although this choice is implicit in a unanimous translators’ opinion as we have seen. I think that Ódhinn wants to stress here that women change their opinion and won’t budge from it, they arebreachy’ in their relations with men.

In order to get things straight, let us use some crude ways of speech. Crude men, when they are angry at their female companions, often call them names, such aswhore’. We found an Old Norse example of this behavior in the Saga of the Sworn Brothers. I think that the reproach Ódhinn means here is not an insult, even a polite one asfickle’, it would at worst be more likeunreliable’ or as I invented it, ‘breachy’. A feminist in charge will at once recall us that men also areunreliable’ and, by the way she would be faithful to Ódhinn’s word since, in s. 91, he will recall that “brigđr er karla hugr konum, (brigđr are men the heart with the women – where brigđr is an adjective).” As a consequence, if man-women equality is not respected, the balance is in favor of women since Hávamál says that women are ‘sharp’ with men, while men arefickle’ with women. Why then to insist so much on the difference betweenfickle’ andbreaching’? Fickle carries the connotation of being capricious, unstable as the typical 19th century Hoffenbach’s woman. This does not fit a responsible Scandinavian kona.


In my (male) view, the main problem here is not the one of female dignity, it is more the one of Hávamál coherence. In the reduced context of stanza 84, much insistence is given to a context of instability, by connecting a woman’s heart with arevolving wheel’. In the context of this stanza, a very pejorative meaning is possible. In stanzas 96-110, however, Ódhinn will give us two examples of those women who are so much brigđr. The one of Billings mćr describes a crafty woman one who tricked him by promising him her own body and offering the one of her bitch. Billings mćr cannot be calledfickle’. Calling herunreliable’ would be slightly unjust because forgetting that she defended herself against Ódhinn’s insistence, as we shall see while studying s. 98 and 102. The second example is that of Gunnlödh, a woman who accepted him, saved his life and who he dumped for unsaid reasons. In view of stanzas 104-108, we understand that Gunnlödh is “an excellent woman” (s. 108) with whom Ódhinn has been the fickle party, and he obviously feels ashamed of his behavior. In stanza 110, the poet comments on Ódhinn’s attitude in such a severe way that we can wonder if this stanza is not Ódhinn’s confession of shame or regret. In the broader context of the stanzas following 84, between a crafty Billings mćr and an excellent Gunnlödh, describing women asfickle’ amounts to call incoherent the skalds who wrote Hávamál. I refuse to scorn them in this way. Conversely, who scorns them without problem will naturally adopt the translation, in 84, of brigđr byfickle’.


Why placing this stanza as a conclusion of the section “No advantages without dangers? Here again, the following stanzas will say to us how much invaluable benefits a man gets from a woman. The overly pejorative tone of 84 can be explained by the need to stress that this benefit is not without its dangers.


As a last remark, we should remember that a very typical Germanic tradition lies in the fact that a human status has been simultaneously provided to Ask and Embla, as described by Völuspá. Hávamál does not negate it, it says, joining 84 and 91, that both their hearts were shaped on the same whirling wheel.





4 á hverfanda hvéli ‘on a turning wheel ‘; very possibly the reference is to a potter’ s wheel… However, in Alvíssmál 14 hverfanda hvél is given as a name for the moon, and CPB 483 suggests that this is the sense here too (‘women’s hearts are shifty as phases of the moon’), a notion recently revived by Kristján Albertsson. But this seems less probable, especially in view of the occurrence of the expression elsewhere, e.g. Grettis saga ch. 42: En til Grettis kann ek ekki at leggja, ţví at mér pykkir á mjök hverfanda hjóli (v.1. hvéli) um hans hagi. [This means “I have nothing to propose about Grettir, for all his doings seem to be at the mercy of the turning wheel.”] The phrase á hverfanda hveli is common in modern Icelandic, to denote something unstable and fickle; Halldór Halldórsson 7-12 thinks it derives from a fusion of the expression in our poem with the medieval notion of the wheel of fortune. This fusion appears already in Flateyarbók I 93: er med řngu móti treystanda á hennar (fortune’s) hverfanda hvél.

4-6 (omitting ţví at) are cited in Fóstbroeđra saga ch. 21; see p. 2 above [Here, see below]. The mss of the saga show a few verbal discrepancies: Flateyjarbók has eru for váru, … reads 5 as er peim hjarta skapat, both add ok before brigđ, and Hauksbók omits um.

In this strophe, as in 81 above and 90 below, we meet the concept of the fickle, deceptive woman so much exemplified in medieval Continental proverb lore, … derives the sentiments from medieval clerical misogyny).


Relevant part of p. 2 in Evan’s introduction


Further, the second half of st. 84 is cited in Fóstbrćđra saga ch. 21 (IF VI 225) where it is said of a thrall in Greenland who suspects his mistress of infidelity kom honum ţá í hug kviđlingr sá, er kveđinn hafđi verit um lausungarkonur and then the lines follow. This part of Fóstbrćđra saga is extant in two mss from the fourteenth century and in later copies of what is thought to have been another fourteenth-century ms. It is worth noting that neither the Prose Edda nor Fóstbrćđra saga attributes these quotations to a poem called Hávamál, which is indeed not named in any Old Norse document apart from Codex Regius itself. Lastly, it should be mentioned that chapters 6 and 7 of Ynglinga saga (in Snorri’s Heimskringla) contain manifest echoes of st. 148 and some of the following strophes, showing that Snorri must have known this part (at least) of the poem; and in one place Snorri’s wording is helpful in establishing the correct text (see the Commentary).


Below: Fate, Pompei version


Thanks to:



This image shows a picture of Fate. A structure seems to rest on the attributes of poverty (right), of royalty (left) and (center) a skull – death -, a butterfly – a dead one’s soul - and a wheel, perhaps the one of fortune .